What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pay at the pump. Look, I did the B-school thing. I get the business model you’re using. I know that the average convenience store doesn’t make jack squat from selling gasoline… you make your money when people come in and buy a slurpee or a hotdog or a case of beer. If I’m paying at the pump, though, that’s probably because I don’t want to come in to the damned store. Can you knock it off with playing twenty questions before letting me buy a little gas? No, I don’t want a car wash. Why they actual eff do you need to know what my zip code is? I don’t care one way or another if you print a recipe… except when I say yes and then your little printer-in-the-pump is out of paper or ink or isn’t working for whatever reason. I just want to swipe my card, fill up the tank, and move on. I don’t come in and ask your employees their home address, what exactly goes in the chicken salad or if they can just put my beer in a paper sack instead of plastic. Please can we just complete our transaction and go our separate ways? I’d be willing to pay a few cents more a gallon just for that small mercy.

2. Working late. It’s hard to believe I ever sought out jobs where 12 hour days were the standard. Now I’m older, wiser, and my overtime rate isn’t worth a damn. I admit it, I’m a jealous guard of my personal time, but the other side of that coin is that I do my level best not to drag my personal life into the office. It doesn’t matter to me if its five minutes, fifty, or five hours. It’s not about the money. Time, once spent, is irrecoverable – money, by contrast, flies off the presses all day every day. What’s even more noxious is the assumption that I can just stick around as if there’s not another thing in the world to do. If you’re going to burn up my time, I’d appreciate at least an acknowledgement that it’s an inconvenience that’s been noted. Don’t worry, though, I’ll make sure the scales balance, but it will be balanced at the time of my choosing, regardless of what’s convenient for anyone else.

3. Palmyra. One of the greatest archeological treasures in the world has fallen to lunatic Islamic forces in Syria. It’s gotten some coverage. It will get a little more when the looting and destruction start in ernest. It’s the kind of place that’s worth defending, but mostly the world with shrug and wring its collective hands when millennia of history are smashed, bulldozed, or sold off onto the black market. I don’t have much use for radicals of any stripe, but for the ones who destroy history just for the joy of seeing it burn, slow death is too good for their ilk.

Neighborhood watch (or A healthy dose of paranoia)…

© 2015 Steel City Corp.

© 2015 Steel City Corp.

Picture it: Ceciltucky. Early Morning. The sun just kissing the tops of the stately oaks and maples lining our exurban streets…

Near the exit of our happy little subdivision, I passed a car coming inbound. That’s not so unusual in and of itself. Based on my observation of the neighborhood over the last six weeks, though, it’s the kind of beater that definitely didn’t look at home here. Still, there are plenty of those in the county. I’d be crazy to think one or two didn’t lurk on our streets. Despite that, it just didn’t feel right.

These are all snap judgements I’m making in the time it takes our two vehicles to close a 100 yard gap at 20 miles an hour. In passing, I may or may not have shot the opposing driver the stink eye, but for sure I made a mental note of the car’s tag number and then watched as it grew smaller in the distance.

For a moment at the intersection I pondered pulling a u-turn just to satisfy my own curiosity… and to be positioned to call the police when the driver sooner or later did something felonious.

At the last second, just before my tires brushed around the median, I saw the plastic wrapped newspaper sail out the car’s passenger window… and promptly felt like a horse’s ass for being a judgmental prick. And for mentally convicting the guy up before the crack of dawn delivering papers.

There’s a lesson there, somewhere. “See something, say something” is a good tag line – but given my experience it seems it could also be helpful to know what it is you’re looking at before firing off half cocked.

Gutter (or Why $15 an hour is a bad idea)…

“Hi, my name is Jeff. I’d like to scheduled someone to come out and clean my gutters.” That’s how it started. Simple enough. Like thousands of other calls for service across the country every day of the year. The rest of the conversation, though, went something like this…

Gutters-R-Us: Sure, we’d be happy to come out and give you a free estimate.

Jeff: Uh, no, that’s ok, I really just want to schedule the service.

Gutters-R-Us: We need to do a free estimate.

Jeff: So I can’t just tell you the linear feet, number of downspouts, and pitch of the roof?

Gutters-R-Us: We need to do a free estimate. It’s free.

Jeff: Yeeeeaaaaahhhhh. OK. When can you do that?

Gutters-R-Us: Next Wednesday.

Jeff: *Sighs deeply* What time next Wednesday?

Gutters-R-Us: Is one o’clock ok?

Jeff: Yes. That’s fine.

Gutters-R-Us: *90 second pause*

Jeff: *Clears throat*

Gutters-R-Us: Sir, are you still there? Is one o’clock ok?

Jeff. Yep. One is still ok with me.

Gutters-R-Us: Oh. I thought you were checking your calendar.

Jeff *Bangs head repeatedly on desk*

Gutters-R-Us: OK…We’ll see you on Wednesday. I’ll send an email to confirm.

Jeff: Thanks. *weeps softly for the future of the republic*

So I know “how much is it going to cost” is the first question most people ask. The fact is, I really don’t care. I know the ballpark they’re going to be in. Their service came recommended by two independent sources. I just want someone to show up and clean the damned gutters so I don’t have to schlep around for an entire afternoon doing it myself.

This should have been a simple thing. It’s not moving an armored division across a continent. It’s not flying around the world in a solar powered plane. It’s coming to my house with some ladders, a hose, and a couple of brushes and getting the gunk out of the gutter. I really would just like someone to show up and do that and then send me the bill. Easy peasy.

Instead, now I’m going to have to take at least part of two days off… one of which will be dedicated to someone coming to my house to tell me things I already know (that I would have been happy to tell them over the phone or document with photographic evidence in order to save them the trip and save me the time).

If anyone wants to know why I oppose a $15 an hour minimum wage, I’ll enter this as Exhibit A.

The payoff…

I could weave a yarn about doing the right thing and everything working out or how sometimes being kind is it’s own reward, but that would be so out of character that no one would believe it anyway. No, I’m going for “payoff” in a much more literal sense. As in I have a big red truck and it’s paid off. A few months ahead of schedule.

That’s a surprisingly big deal for me. There was a while there between 2002-2010 when I was swapping out rides every two years or so. Hanging on to one this long is something that hasn’t since I was knocking around in the old trusty Wrangler. Of the seven cars I’ve bought on my own, if memory serves this is only the second that survived long enough to see the note vanquished before I was ready to test my luck with something different.

Fact is, five years on I still like my big red Toyota. I like the room, the ride, and the fact that everything is basically worn in the way I want it. It’s the automotive equivalent to comfy couch. At this point I don’t even mind that it’s a thirsty, thirsty beast – of course that bit is variable based on the prevailing price at the pump.

I’m not fool enough to think there will never be another vehicle in the garage, but just now I’m more than content with a little extra cash flow and letting the Tundra live out her golden years right where she is.

Dark and quiet…

Last night I learned that my little corner of the world is incredibly dark and quiet when the magic of electricity fails in the middle of the night. We’re talking can’t see you hand in front of your face kind of dark… and wake you up out of a dead sleep because you’re not hearing all the running HVAC equipment and other background noises that electricity brings kind of quiet.

It was downright eerie… for about 40 seconds until one by one I could hear the neighbors backup generators springing to life to power life as normal in the 21st century. The power here only stayed out for about ten minutes, but it’s safe to say I now have one more home improvement on the list – if only because I’d be hugely ill tempered to find myself the lone person in the neighborhood sitting in the dark during a longer term outage.

Now if I can just count on nature to play nicely until after next tax season, that would be fantastic because I’m fairly sure the kind of genset I want isn’t going to be one funded out of petty cash. After that, dark and quiet will be someone else’s problem. I mean, sure, you can live without the modern conveniences, but why the hell would you want to?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Human interaction. Some people don’t get subtly. They don’t pick up on the social cues that the rest of us understand naturally. Occasionally that means you have to do things that under any other circumstances would make you seem and feel like a jackass… but when someone isn’t getting the message, sometimes that’s all that’s left. If that means I have to stand up and walk away from you mid-sentence, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to feel bad about it. I’m not going to apologize for it. As much as I’d rather handle it like a normal human being, I’m perfectly willing to be an asshole in the service of my own sanity.

2. The canonization of John Stewart. Stewart is a funny guy. I like the Daily Show. But I don’t get the left wing lionizing him for his take on Fox News. I mean does anyone not know they trend towards the right wing? I’m not sure that’s even a serious discussion. Like every media outlet, they have an agenda or an ax to grind. CNN, MSNBC, Sky, they all have their own brand of slant, but Stewart singles out Fox with glee as if they were the only ones pushing an ideology. It’s a case that could be just as easily made about just about every organization, everywhere. Then again, I guess it doesn’t hurt that the Daily Show’s viewers skew left… I suppose Mr. Stewart, too, knows how his bread is buttered.

3. Lunch. Turkey sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly. Ham sandwich. Turkey sandwich. Salad. Turkey Sandwich. Meatball sub. Turkey sandwich. Turkey sandwich. Salad. Ham sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly. As a cost cutting measure back in the dark days of the furlough I started packing my own lunch… but honest to God if I keep opening my bag and seeing nothing but deli sandwiches, salads, and wraps I might have to burn my cubicle to the ground. There simply has to be a better lunch than sandwiches, microwave “meals”, and leftovers. If there isn’t, the terrorists have already won.

Reason why…

Scotland_Forever!There are a lot of ways that making your living with your brain is a hell of a lot easier than making your living by lifting heavy things or digging holes. I very rarely come home physically exhausted from the day. I’m not particularly worried about joints giving out around my 50th birthday (which on reflection is closer than I really want to admit). Some days, like today, you just come home with your brain oozing out your ear or a headache strong enough to power several small northeastern states. Trust me, mental exhaustion is a very real thing.

It comes from trying to carry out tasks the point of which is uncertain in an environment where the endgame is obscured. It comes from a world where everything (and thereby nothing) is a priority. It comes from a place where “Mine is not to reason why…” is a completely justifiable answer to so many questions of purpose.

It’s been my professional experience that at any given time half the people are trying to do the right thing. Some of them are even doing it for the right reasons. The problems arise when there are no reasons – or because those reasons are a gut feeling, a hunch, or a best guess from echelons higher than reality. True, sometimes that’s all there is to go on, but when it becomes SOP, you’ve got yourself a problem. Even people who generally want to do the right thing are challenged to make that happen when they’re left in the dark about the big picture. Even for those who aren’t deep blue strategic thinkers, it’s helpful to know where your widget falls in the big picture.

My brain hurts… I supposed that’s what I get for a vain effort to reason why.