1. Being off schedule. I don’t know what it is about this summer, but I no sooner hit “post” on one week’s WAJTW entry and I’m right back here doing it all over again. It feels a little like Thursdays are separated by 60 hours instead of six days. I’m going to blame the unwelcome interloper of physical therapy on the fact that it feels like I’m always on the cusp of being late to do everything. Throwing an extra hour of “stuff” plus the drive time into the mix has really kept things pressed at the margins. It hasn’t been a recipe for keeping up with my usual activities – not surprisingly, cleaning and sleep have taken the worst of it. I’ve been trying to remind myself that it won’t last forever, which is fine, but at the moment it’s annoying the living hell out of me.
2. The Islamic State. ISIS needs but a single, swift lesson – that if you kill an unarmed American civilian anywhere, you don’t get your picture on every news website on the planet. What you get is the wrath of an angry god falling down on your house. It’s hard to bomb someone back to the stone age when they’re living there already, but I’m all for using those pretty B-52s we have and making the rubble bounce again and again and again and again. Every time ISIS pops up long enough to make a statement, a cruise missile should fly straight down their collective throats. I’m tired of pretending that we have to be tolerant and respectful. In some cases there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong and slaying an unarmed journalist guilty of nothing more than doing his job is an absolute wrong. I’m not naive enough to think we can solve every problem with 1000 pound bombs, but in this case I think they’d be a damn fine start until we think of something more permanent.
3. The news. I need to stop watching it. I need to stop reading it. I operate on the basic assumption that bad things were happening all over the world long before the magic of television brought all of those stories into our living rooms. It’s not like mayhem and chaos are a new force in the universe. Most of what passes for news today doesn’t inspire me to action, but it does tend to drive my blood pressure to new and probably dangerous heights. I can’t shake the feeling that I’d be better off on nearly level if I didn’t know (and didn’t care) what was happening around me. Ignorance, I fear, may truly be bliss.
I wish I’d have had the wherewith all to jot down a few notes today. I think it might be instructive in describing exactly why there is currently so much dissatisfaction with the state of things. To illustrate my point, here is my best recollection of an actual conversation that took place just after I got back from lunch:
Other Person: “Uhhh… he’s adamant that we get that random tidbit of information from that guy who doesn’t want to give it to us.”
Jeff: “Yeah. Well, this report has to be sent in by 1:00, I need to finish that thing that was due Monday but no one told us about until this morning, and that other thing that needs approved four levels above me before I can send it out at noon tomorrow needs finished by the end of the day. Oh, and I haven’t had time yet to prep for the meeting I’m nominally supposed to be in charge of tomorrow, so there’s that… but I’ll add the random tidbit to my list and see what I can find out after I managed to carve out some time to hector the Air Force into doing something they’re probably not going to want to do.”
Other Person: “So… Do you want me to look at the slides for tomorrow?”
As far as I can tell, today was mostly about learning to put the right coversheet on the TPS report. Again. And Again. And Again. And again. I’m fairly sure this is real life, but it feels so close to fiction that it’s almost frightening.
I got a real paper letter in the mail this evening telling me that my local branch of Bank of America is closing. Decreasing foot traffic, more people doing banking online or by phone, blah, blah, blah. The only reason I mention this is because I’ve kept an account with Bank of America for the last 14 years. I originated three mortgages with them. And have mostly been satisfied with dealing with them overall. I always liked that no matter where I ended up in the country there was always a Bank of America branch. They’ve taken a lot of flack as one of those “too big to fail” operations, but my list of complaints has been pretty minimal until recently.
About a year ago all of the BoA ATMs disappeared from Cecil County, which was marginally inconvenient, but not onerous since there was a branch a few thousand yards from the office. With that now closing up shop and the next closest being on the opposite side of town from my normal travel route, that pretty much ends all but one part of my business relationship with BoA. There are too many banks and credit unions out there to be bothered with one that doesn’t even compete to be convenient.
I got a good enough rate on my last refinance that I’m not throwing them over the side completely, but I’ll only be funneling enough cash through them to pay the note on time. Reserve funds, and everything else will have to transfer over to another institution. The local credit union may not actually appreciate my nickel and dime banking, but they somehow manage to give me that illusion anyway. So when it comes time to refinance again, someone else will get that business too.
They may be too big to fail. I may be too small to miss. But they’d be well served to know that even out here in the sticks, we still have options. I’ll be exercising mine as soon as practical.
Hard as it is to admit, my inaugural foray into non-fiction was not met with thunderous applause. I can count on two hands and a foot how many copies of Retribution wandered off the shelves at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m not saying that with any kind of self pity, although I do think the world is missing out on a fun little short story. Notwithstanding the monumental lack of sales, I enjoyed working in fiction. It’s a refreshing change from the usual 5W’s style professional writing that is one of the many banes of the average cubicle dweller’s existence. Trust me, writing reports, emails, cost estimates, and justifications memoranda does not constitute a rich literary life.
That being said, I think I’ve settled in on my next topic… and it’s one that takes us all back to the future. My bread and butter has always been an apparently bottomless ability to bitch and complain about whatever topic was set in front of me. As often as not, that ability turned itself on peculiarities of working inside the world’s greatest bureaucracy. Time and circumstances have conspired to bring me back around to where it all started.
If Nobody Told Me, was an tribute to a youth lost in service to the machine, I’m starting to flesh out the vaguest idea of the next effort to be more of a deep dive into the mid-career oddities, realizations, and situations that make you really want to consider where it was that your professional life to such a harebrained turn. It’s safe to assume there is plenty to say about those issues and I think I have just the point of view to make them both hilarious and thought provoking.
I haven’t started writing yet. I’ve barely scraped together some notes, a few snippets of outline, and the most ephemeral of notions in my head of where I think this should go, but it feels like the right topic at the right time. It feels like the project that might well keep me on a halfway even keel in increasingly turbulent waters. I don’t know how long it will take. I don’t know when I’ll have a draft. I don’t even have a fully formed central thesis. I do have an idea. As dangerous a spark as an idea can be, that’s all it takes to start. The rest will come later.
Stick around folks, I think this next trick is going to be a doozy.
I’ve written before about my love of roast beef for Sunday dinner. It’s the ultimate comfort food that takes me back a few decades in a single bite. Plus, it makes the whole house smell amazing all day long. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love the smell of roasting flesh permeating every square inch of their home, right?
As usual, of course, that’s not my point. What I’m trying to figure out this morning, is when a basic rump roast weighing in at a little less than 3 pounds (and needing another 1/3 of a pound of fat trimmed) started costing almost $20. By my back-of-the-napkin math, the steer that roast came from sold at auction for approximately $1.7 billion, or roughly the cost of 1.5 stealth bombers.
While it’s true that I’m probably going to make 4 complete meals from this roast and with sides the average cost per meal will still be about $5 a plate, $20 for a roast is a price point that bothers me on a philosophical level. I’m not what’s called a price conscious shopper. I have a list and I want to cross everything off that list in one stop rather than chase nickels and dimes all over the county. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
So look, I’m not going to start having Tofu Dinner Sundays or anything but I am starting to think it may be time to invest in a chest freezer and buying the whole damned cow direct from the source. The chances of it getting any cheaper from here on out seem somewhere between slim and none.
1. “Things are bad all over.” For the record, that might be the most dumbass reason anyone has ever given for avoiding taking action. If something sucks, change it. If something’s broken, fix it. If your only contribution is that it’s bad everywhere and are willing to sit around in your dissatisfaction being thankful it’s not worse where you happen to be at the time, well sweet baby Jesus, I’m not sure I even want to know you.
2. Rehash. Once you’ve decided on doing something, just go ahead and go do it. Don’t spend the next three weeks going back over the same tired ground, wringing your hands. There are plenty of new and interesting mistakes we can make without reliving all the old ones indefinitely into the future… so please, for the sake of whatever small sliver of sanity I can muster, can we just move on to new business?
3. Running behind. I’ve been running behind all week. I start the day on Monday 20 minutes late and it’s gotten progressively worse from there. By thursday night the whole damned carefully constructed schedule of events is in serious danger of collapsing on itself. It happens a couple of times a year… my best guess is it’s a function of a lack of sleep finally catching up with me. Sometime in the next few days, but certainly inside the next week, I’m going to have a small meltdown, the system will reset, and things will get back to what passes for normal around here. Getting to that point is an exercise in exhaustion, but at least I’ve been through it enough times now to know more or less what’s coming. Now if I can just keep the thing from stepping all over my weekend, that will probably be my biggest single accomplishment for the month of August.
So I was sitting in a meeting a few days ago (because that seems to be my professional raison d’être). I won’t go into the specifics of the discussion, but the general topic was the virtue of in person training versus “virtual” training delivered online. As I was only tangentially involved in the discussion, I quickly found myself engrossed in whatever notes I had previously scribbled onto my yellow legal pad.
What pulled my attention back into the conversation was a crack out of nowhere about not really thinking of academic excellence from people who get online degrees. Now what you should do when someone five steps above you on the org chart says something that ruffles your sensibilities is sit quietly and do absolutely nothing, lest in responding you incur their wrath. Sadly, as many of you know, sitting quietly and keeping my mouth shut is something I tend to struggle with on an almost daily basis.
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t go to Harvard, or Columbia, or the Wharton School of Business. I took my classes one at a time in the evenings and on weekends, while working full time, and traveling 2-3 weeks each month because that’s what Uncle said he needed me to do… so if you want to talk to me about academic excellence, I’ll be happy to go a few rounds with you on the virtue of an online education. Now I can be as elitist as anyone else, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m the one who got mine the hard way and if that doesn’t satisfy your century old notion about what constitutes “real” education, well that’s ok because I’ll be around long after your Paleolithic point of view is consigned to the pages of history.
I could have said more on the issue. That part of me that likes a good fight desperately wanted to go a dozen rounds, but I had to satisfy myself with looking an individual in the eye and telling them that as the holder of one of these online degrees, I didn’t feel educationally slighted in the least. I scored my point, but it wasn’t particularly satisfying. I didn’t want an apology or even a “present company excluded.” I simply wanted to provide a gentle reminder than no matter how high and mighty, it’s always best to know your audience before firing off at the mouth and losing credibility in the eyes of those who you would lead.