What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The last minute. Look, when you suddenly realize that we now have a day and a half to do something I’ve been warning you about for six weeks, I hope you don’t mind if my giveashitometer stays somewhere in the “normal” range. Are bad things going to happen if this doesn’t get done in the next 12 working hours? Yes. Is is something that could have been avoided by taking action when I raised the alarm earlier? Yes. Will it result in death or dismemberment of anyone as it goes careening wildly off the rails? No. So is it something that I’m going to lose any sleep over? Not a bloody chance.

2. Gay. Did you see that Tim Cook is gay? Yeah. So what? Straight, gay, bi, undecided, whatever… I just don’t care. Are you a decent human being? Do you pay your taxes and contribute to society? If yes, then I say God bless and have a good life. Who you love or how you get your jollies doesn’t make a lick of difference to me. I don’t want to live your life any more than I want you to live mine, so as long as you’re not a douchecanoe we’ll probably get along ok.

3. Mutual exclusivity. I ate lunch at 2:00 yesterday afternoon. That’s only 150 minutes later than usual and mostly because many people decided that mid-day on Wednesday was a good time to stack meetings and a fire off a half dozen pesky questions that need answers right-the-hell-now. What you shouldn’t do after a day like that is show up asking about some random ass other thing that I was notionally working on before three kinds of hell broke loose. No. I did not get to it. I don’t have that answer. And the likelihood of my getting it in a timely manner (i.e. yesterday) is between slim and none. We’ve had this conversation before, but it’s worth repeating that I can either sit in meetings listening to other people talk or I can sit at my desk and actually get work done. The two options, however, continue to be mutually exclusive. It’s very simple, really. If you want 16 hours worth of work done in an 8 hours period, you can either hire another body or open up the overtime spigot. Failing those options, and given my slacker-like inability to be in two places at once, your courses of action are otherwise fairly limited.

The end of an error…

Having gotten the final call from my realtor a few minutes ago I can state for the record that as of 5PM EDT today I am no longer a property owner in Memphis, Tennessee. I send the new owners good tidings and best wishes and hope that they have better luck with the place than I did over the last four years… but I’m super glad they didn’t call from the closing table wondering what I was going to do about a dripping gutter on the patio roof. Honest to God after the concessions I gave those two already I would have torpedoed the deal at closing just as a matter of principle. I’m glad that between their relator, mine, and the closing attorney they were able to talk them out of that particular course of action.

What I can tell you tonight with certainty is if there’s anything harder than selling a house long distance, it’s probably being an absentee landlord. Like grad school, though, I suppose it’s only a lot of work if you actually do it. God knows I did the work… an entirely new driveway, rerun sewer pipe from the house to the street, every painted surface inside and out redone, tile, backsplashes, tripled the size of the patio and roofed over the whole thing, and more work on the interior than I want to mention or even think about at this point. It’s all their egg to suck now.

Although I’m not quite out of the landlord business, the one that kept me awake at night is now a thing of the past. Let it stay there, ending the longest running and most expensive error of my life to date. Consider that lesson well learned.

Anteres…

I was logged in to the NASA public affairs web stream to watch the launch of an Anteres rocket from the Wallops Island facility this evening. In my part of the mid-Atlantic region, about 60-90 seconds after liftoff, if they weather cooperates, you can watch the craft scrambling for altitude. Tonight what we saw was what is generously described as a catastrophic systems failure – an explosion six seconds after launch.

The launch was unmanned, its payload resupply materials for the International Space Station. Although there was apparently no loss of life, its a stark reminder that no matter how commonplace it’s come to seem, hurling manmade objects into orbit is an inherently difficult and dangerous activity. The fact that it almost seems normal is a testament to the ongoing hard work and dedication of the men and women of NASA and its contract partners.

P.S. You’re welcome, Jess.

Another helpful tip from Uncle Jeff…

I’m sure there are harder things than closing on a house sale from 900 miles away, but just now, in the middle of it, I’d be hard pressed to think of what those harder things might be. Everything that needs signed hurtles across the country via FedEx overnight, questions always take three days to answer, and you’re never entirely sure if what people say they’re doing is what’s getting done. It’s infuriating. It’s like trying to do business by telegram. Sure, it works in theory, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

At this point, I’m utterly convinced I would have ended this process a more sane human being if I had shackled a briefcase full of money to by wrist, flown to Memphis, dumped it on the closing table, signed my name in blood, and then flown back to Maryland for a good night’s sleep. I’m not kidding. Not even a little bit.

I’m beyond caring about costs. I just want this master class in asshattery to be over and done with. So there’s tonight’s helpful tip from your kindly Uncle Jeff – if you’re planning on engaging in any cross-continental real estate transactions, don’t. Just don’t. Take a day and a bucket full of cash and go handle things yourself. By the time it’s over maybe you’ll emerge with at least some of your sanity left.

Indoor outdoor…

Picture it… a semi-lit auditorium fills nearly to capacity, the public address system crackles to life, and a hush falls over the 600 gathered seat-fillers. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please,” the disembodied voice implores. “Today’s ceremony is an outdoor event being held indoors.”

And that’s the point where they lost me. The longer my career runs, you see, the more I come to realize it’s largely been a series of ridiculous propositions. As a writer I recognize that words are powerful. They are precise and have meaning. In the best tradition of the bureaucracy, however, the actual meaning of the words has little to no applicability to how we chose to use – or abuse – them on a daily basis.

By nothing more than an announcement from the podium, all of us in a partially filled auditorium collectively accepted that for all official purposes we were sitting outdoors. The sun was officially shining. The colors were officially fluttering in the breeze. They were decidedly not hanging limp and sodden from their staff. There absolutely was not official mud on the sidewalks from having bleachers towed into position during a driving rainstorm. Mud, droopy flags, and indoor ceremonies, you may know, never officially exist. They’re simply a figment of our collective, unofficial, imagination and a blatant violation of policy.

Why, you ask, perform the linguistic gymnastics of engaging in an indoor outdoor ceremony? As best I can tell it’s so the small group assembled on stage didn’t have to take off their hats. When you make the case thusly, how can it make anything other than absolutely perfect sense.

Experience has taught me that it helps dramatically if you’re willing to completely suspend disbelief for at least eight hours daily. On the other hand, if you you’re unwilling, it’s the kind of thing that might just drive a man to drink.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Meeting prep. My feelings about meetings are fairly well known and not at all surprising. As wonderful as the average meeting is, the time wasted just sitting in them isn’t the only thing that fuels my discontent. The real problem is everyone – and I mean everyone – seems to look for excuses to have a call a meeting. It’s like what alleged professions do to kill time when they’re bored or lonely. Add to that people’s natural tendency to take Mondays and Fridays off and most meetings stack up like cordwood on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The issue then becomes the inordinate amount of time a poor simple soul then needs to spend just to find and reserve an empty room that has all the required audio/visual bells and whistles. Getting that process done from start to finish usually takes two or three times as long as the meeting itself. To add insult to injury about 30% of the time once you’ve wasted half the day just getting the room itself, the crazy bastards that set up the meeting in the first place cancel it – or worse – they change the time, which leads directly into an endless cycle of wash, rinse, and repeat. The whole thing is maddening.

2. It could be worse. People who comment “it could be worse” as a response when situations go bad clearly miss the point. Of course it could be worse. You can always hit rock bottom and then start digging. Just because you can, however, doesn’t mean you should. Just because it’s not as bad as the worst possible scenario doesn’t mean it’s good and it sure as hell not something to be chipper about. Asshat.

3. Bad investments. I bought a house in December 2007. A month later the bottom fell out of the real estate market… and then proceeded to keep falling for the next four years before leveling off. You might have heard something about it on the news for the better part of the last decade. It’s only been in the last year that there’s been any progress towards clawing back a little of that value. It’s too little, too late. Even with the barking dog neighbors on one side and the regularly evicted neighbors on the other, I liked my house. I wish I could have boxed it up and moved it north with me. Instead it’s just sitting down there being a bad investment, bleeding me a few hundred dollars at a time. As much as I hate to admit the mistake – and making permanent the loss incurred – I’m ready to call it what it is, take my lumps, and move on expeditiously. What I lose in cash flow surely will be offset by the removal of the damed albatross from around my neck.

We stand on guard for thee…

o-CANADIAN-FLAG-facebookTonight, in the face of the day’s events, I stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors to the north. This isn’t the post I intended to write tonight. It’s a post I’ve hoped to never write again – after the attacks in Spain and England, after the coldblooded killings of civilian journalists, after 13 years of hard war.

Whether this attack on Canada was the act of a single lunatic, “self radicalized” individuals, or a directed effort from those cowering further afield this is the work of terrorism. Our ability to adapt and respond to the existential threat of extremism in all of its forms, from within and without, is being tested. In attacking the great pillars of Western civilization, foreign and domestic enemies must find no purchase. They must not be allowed a foothold. They must be ripped out by root and stem and destroyed utterly.

I stand with our friends in Canada because it’s where they’ve stood when our roles were reversed. An attack on one, regardless of its source, is an attack on all.