I’m pretty sure it’s a racket…

Tomorrow will start the first of a series of various doctor visits and lab appointments that I really had been hoping would somehow magically fall off my calendar. I’m sure they’re all very important and will reveal many interesting and entertaining things, but it’s a level of shit to do and sick leave I don’t want to burn off that’s just uninspiring.

A month or two ago I got myself an endocrinologist, who seems nice enough, but is determined to build her own history rather than just going on the eleven years of records I sent over from Johns Hopkins. So, over the next six to eight weeks, I’ve got multiple appointments lined up for basic blood work, thyroid testing, pituitary testing, a “nutrition assessment,” and one or two other things I’ve got noted as “Endo Appointment – UNK” on the calendar. I assume they’ll tell me what I’m there for. At this point, it only feels like I’m missing tests for color blindness and hearing.

The good news, I suppose, is as far as I know there’s nothing new actually “wrong” with me. The doc didn’t appear alarmed and used phrases like “establish a baseline.” Since I feel fine, my numbers are basically hanging around where they have been for a decade, and they didn’t immediately throw me in the hospital to conduct these tests, I’m proceeding from the assumption that this is either a) standard procedure for bringing a new patient into the practice or b) an unsophisticated scam to bleed me for copays while charging Blue Cross a small fortune. Either one feels entirely possible at this point – and both feel like some kind of a racket.

Now that the bathroom is in spitting distance of being done, I thought maybe this would be the time to get back to the series of dermatologist appointments I paused in the spring. Turns out that was wildly optimistic. Maybe I’ll see him again in November… assuming there isn’t some other ridiculous thing that comes up between now and then.

Seven months…

About a week ago, I surpassed the point where the total amount I’ve socked away towards my defined contribution retirement plan (think 401k) this year finally outstripped the amount of federal taxes I’ve paid over the same period of time. For seven full months of every year, there’s more deducted towards the maintenance and upkeep of the federal government than there is for my own maintenance and upkeep in old age. By the end of the year, I’ll have stashed away about $600 more in my 401k equivalent than will be deducted in federal income tax.

If you extend this mental exercise to include Social Security and Medicare, the numbers get even more egregious since the reasonable assumption is to expect the big-ticket entitlement programs to either see payouts reduced, be means tested, or go extinct between now and the time I’ll be eligible to tap them as a source of income / benefits. It takes an awfully big leap of faith for someone in my age bracket to think of either Social Security or Medicare as anything other than an additional tax drag for which we’ll never get back out what we put in.

Uncle Sugar knows his flagship entitlement program is running out of cash. Social Security was “saved” in the 80s using a combination of accounting gimmicks and changing the “terms of service.” It’ll have to be “saved” again sometime between now and 2035, when the most recent projections say it will no longer be able to pay out its full promised benefit. Coincidently that’s right about the time I’ll otherwise be eligible to walk out the door after a 33-year career, so I have more than a passing interest in what fuckery our alleged leaders will get up to in order to avoid grabbing the political third rail with both hands.

It seems to me that we have a system intentionally designed to encourage reliance on big government generosity rather than personal responsibility and savings. God knows I’d be in a far better position now if every nickel taxed away under the FICA withholding had been invested conservatively in a broad market index fund rather than converted into a Ponzi-esque promissory note. Encouraging people to invest their own money responsibly, though, doesn’t keep them beholden to Uncle for doling out a meager old age pension. It’s easier to tax their income at the state and federal level, tack on a bunch of various “withholdings,” and make it incredibly challenging to carve out enough income over and above day-to-day bills to generate a credible, independent nest egg. It’s a sure way to guarantee people will scream bloody murder if they’re told their entitlements are in danger.

However it’s “fixed” in the future, I operate from the assumption that none of the changes will be to my benefit no matter how much cash I’ve poured into the machine over my working life. Like most games, this one is rigged in favor of the house and at this point, I just take it as a given that the money taxed away is lost and gone forever. The only advice I’ve found that feels applicable is to shelter what you can, stash as much as you can of what you can’t shelter, and accept that in all likelihood you’re going to need to self-finance your last act. It’s annoying as all hell, but once I accepted it as reality, it got a whole lot easier to plan for that particular future instead of just being pissed off… but rest assured it’s going to chap my ass every single time I see a pay stub and the reminder what’s going where and how deeply the political class have their hands in our collective pocket.

The open bay petri dish…

Since March 2020, I’ve taken the reasonably prescribed precautions against the Great Plague. The regular advice to avoid crowded spaces didn’t feel particularly onerous to me. After all, avoiding crowded places has been my stock in trade for most of my adult life. It’s the kind of crisis situation I was built for.

When the bosses prioritize asses in seats, though, there’s no way to avoid the office, which is how you get a poor schlub coming in when he’s not feeling 100% and only hours later popping hot on a rapid test. That, of course, leads to the rest of us sitting around wondering if that brief conversation we had in the early hours of the morning was enough to swing us from exposed to infected. There’s no way to tell until something does or doesn’t happen, so we all just keep on keeping on.

I miss the front half of the plague experience. A positive test like this would have triggered an immediate quarantine and deep cleaning of the physical space. Anyone in the room would have been declared “exposed” and sent home to quarantine for as long as 14 days. Now guidance from the top is “Well, we just have to tell you that you may have been exposed” and an accompanying shrug.

Having been vaccinated and boosted, it’s reasonable to assume the plague isn’t going to be my cause of death. That shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s an experience I particularly want to have. Given the couple of underlying conditions I enjoy that don’t necessarily play nicely with the plague, it’s in my best interest to avoid it. If I catch this bug after two and a half years only because someone at echelons higher than reality is mired in the misguided notion that there’s anything at all I can do sitting at my desk in cubicle hell that I can’t do from my desk in the sunroom at home, there’s a fair chance I’ll absolutely lose my shit the very next time someone mentions some absolute tripe like “synergy, collaboration, and innovation” and the importance of having all the warm bodies back in an open bay petri dish.

Bathroom report: Day 82

We held the “pre-completion” conference on Tuesday afternoon. It basically consisted of the project manager stopping by so I could point at the things I had already told them via email last week. The net result is that I once again confirmed that the toilet paper holder, towel rod, and mirrors need to be installed. The backsplash, top of the shower tile, and shower dress plates all need to have silicone caulk applied. Finally, I confirmed again that the hand-held shower leaks at the supply tie in. I’ve lost track if this is the second or third week of repeating these few items.

The PM took his notes and pictures back to the office to confer with the scheduler, and theoretically work up a final schedule to finish off this project. The plumber, to his credit, was here the very next day and checked his items off the list. That just leaves the guy who does the silicone and hangs the hardware.

You wouldn’t think knocking off what’s maybe an hour’s work would drag into the 3rd or 4th week, but here we are. I’ll concede that calling it a 30-day project was probably over optimistic at the start, but the fact that we’re now running hard towards day 90 feels awfully excessive. With a little more project management, this effort could have been done, finished, and over in sixty days even allowing for the two week delay caused by the county’s johnny-on-the-spot inspection regime.

As of early this afternoon, the contractor says they’ll have the work finished next Friday morning, so we’ll give it another seven days from here. Maybe I’ll be able to report the mission accomplished next week when I post the update for Project Day 89. Even then it’ll have an asterisk because being well and truly “accomplished” will also depend entirely on the final county inspection.

If it feels like I’ve completely lost patience with this project, rest assured it’s because I have.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Good help. I’ve been trying to get a downspout cleaned now for the last 6 weeks. It’s the company I’ve been using for years without complaint or problem, but for this they “lost” my first appointment and now I’m told “Oh, the guy was out there about two weeks ago.” A couple of things there: 1) I’ve been home almost continuously at any time they could have been here and I’m fairly sure I’d have noticed ladders and someone stomping around on my roof; 2) Even if for some reason I missed them, the cameras wouldn’t have; 3) In the past, their guy has always left a bill either in the mailbox or suck in the front door; and 4) The goddamned gutter is still overflowing every time there’s more than a drizzle. I’ve had these guys out here twice a year for the last three or four years with no complaints or problems, so I have no idea why they’ve suddenly turned into a shitshow. I’m out of patience, but expect someone else will be happy to take my money.

2. Assumed representation. Twitter is full of posts that start with “I speak for all Americans when I say…“ Let me be clear – No the fuck you do not. Not one person who has ever led off with that phrase has ever spoken for me even when I happened to agree with what they said. I’m a grown ass adult. The only words put in my mouth are the ones I decide to speak on my own. The presumption that you can or should speak for me or anyone else is makes you sound like an absolute gibbering idiot.

3. Balloons. A couple of times a year I have to schlep out into my woods with a pole saw and attempt to recover a mylar party balloon that’s caught up in the trees. People who see balloon releases as the high point of an event rank somewhere in my estimation below the ones who think fireworks are the height of entertainment. There’s literally no reason to let balloons go “into the wild.” Your message didn’t get to Jesus or your dead grammy or anyone else. It ends up in the woods or in the water or in the fields and stays there forever unless someone happens to find it and clean up your goddamned mess – like mommy use to follow you around wiping your nose and tidying up after you. So maybe try being a responsible adult and holding a memorial, or an awareness raising event, or photo op that doesn’t end with your trash becoming someone else’s problem.  

The barking dog…

If I’m painfully honest, the first six months with Jorah was touch and go. There was a while there where I didn’t like him all that much. Housebreaking and cleaning up puppy accidents is one thing – doing it with a full-sized dog and the proportionally larger volume of liquid they hold is something altogether different. Mercifully somewhere around the five-month mark, everything started to click and he finally seemed to “get it.” Once we were over that hump, he has been a remarkably good dog – particularly considering I have no idea what his circumstances were until he was already half a year old.

The only thing I haven’t managed to get under control is the barking. Things in the back yard mostly get a pass, but if it’s something moving out front, he’s a shrill and persistent alarm until it has passed fully out of his line of sight. It’s a habit that ranges from annoying to near-rage inducing depending on the time and duration.

He sounds absolutely vicious and I don’t necessarily want to break him from being alert or alerting me to comings and goings along the frontal approaches. As far as that goes, I’m mostly happy for anyone who comes near to think he’s an absolute terror who will surely lunge for the throat. Still, though, I’d dearly like for him to tone it down just a little bit – or maybe give it a few barks and then go into standby mode for run of the mill things like the neighborhood joggers.

In reality, I’m well aware of my own limitations as a dog trainer. I’m a pushover and generally subscribe to a mostly benign philosophy of letting dogs be dogs and do their own thing (as long as their thing doesn’t include destroying the house or its contents). So, feel free to consider this one of those things I’ll bitch and complain about, but ultimately do little or nothing to change.

Don’t simp for sleazy, scumbag politicians… 

I spent a good amount of time raging about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified email back in 2016. I believed then and I believe now that if I stored classified email on my home computer, I’d be at best fired and at worst prosecuted and imprisoned. She shouldn’t receive special consideration due to her august and lofty position. 

In 2017 I called out Jared Kushner for use of private email to conduct official business on behalf of the U.S. Government. I recommended that his files and records be subpoenaed and if there was evidence of guilt he should be charged and tried.

In 2018 I called out Ivanka Trump for using her personal email address to conduct official business on behalf of the U.S. Government. 

Here, now, in 2022, I’ll state publicly and for the record that if Donald Trump is suspected of having unlawfully retained, stored, folded, spindled, mutilated, sold, or otherwise misused classified materials, his residence and/or place of business absolutely should be subject to a lawful search. If evidence is found based on that search, he should be tried. That would be my position regardless of whether we happened to be discussing a sitting president, a former president, or a private citizen.

Maybe it’s easier for me to say because I’m beholden to neither of our major political parties, though I like to think it’s simply because I have the intellectual integrity not to have different rules of behavior depending on what party I happen to support. I have many bad qualities, but being a hypocritical asshat isn’t one of them.

I know it’s far too much to expect people to dispense with their partisan blinders at this point. They’re too entrenched – too invested in the position that they’ve staked out. No one wants to admit they bought a pig in a poke. There’s too much face to lose. Nothing I say is going to change minds, so I’ll just be over here eternally grateful that I never wrapped so much of my own identity up in a sleazy, scumbag politician to have hurt feelings when they go out and do sleazy, scumbag politician stuff.

The joy of nothing…

It’s rare to get through from the time I post Friday night’s blog all the way to a Monday evening without having at least one idea jump out at me as being at least nominally worthy of writing up a few lines. It does happen, of course, but it’s rare enough to be noticeable – or at least it is for me. 

I’m going to attribute this weekend’s lack of anything particularly interesting to a combination of reasons. The first of them being that the only time I Ieft the house between 5PM last Tuesday and now, was for about 45 minutes on Saturday. That’s just long enough to get out for the weekly supply run and get home. It generally happens before most people have even properly started their Saturday – and that’s absolutely done with intention. 

It might have started as a pandemic-induced way to avoid standing in line and needlessly exposing myself to whatever bugs people are toting around in their respiratory system, but it turns out even absent a plague, it’s just a great way to avoid people, their small talk, their general bad behavior, and any need to interact with them en mass. Plus, two and a half years in and I’ve still managed to avoid COVID, so that’s a perk. I thought maybe I’d miss restaurants or going places, but it turns out I really don’t. The incentive to leave the house has to be pretty overwhelming. It happens, but it’s a rarity. 

Another reason there doesn’t feel like much to report is, I expect, due to having dialed back a lot of unnecessary spending. Between continuing inflationary pressure, general economic uncertainly, and home maintenance projects both scheduled and unscheduled, a lot of “fun” spending got either reallocated either directly towards covering other expenses or into various holding accounts to be banked against further unexpected requirements. Between shepherding cash, avoiding people/plague carriers, and generally being content to hang out at home with the animals, the number of things worth writing about – or at least the number that anyone other than me might be interested in, sometimes gets a bit limited.

I have no doubt I could gin up a few attention-grabbing posts if I went over and wandering around the local Walmart for an hour or two. You can understand, I hope, why that doesn’t sound like a particularly worthwhile trade off. Much as I enjoy writing, I’m not in any rush to put myself back in a position of having unlimited topics presenting themselves on any given day. 

For today at least, I’ll luxuriate in the joy of having nothing to say.

The Bathroom Report: Day 75

When I started this series of posts back in May, I really wouldn’t have guessed I’d still be writing them 75 days later… and yet here we are. If some past weeks went forward in leaps and bounds, progress now feels like it’s measured in fractions of an inch.

I did get to commemorate the 75th day of bathroom remodeling by seeing the last “major” item knocked off the list of things that still need installed. The 4’ x 4’ piece of glass that should, theoretically, keep most of the shower spray contained inside the shower got dropped into place around 8:45 this morning. After a 24-hour waiting period for the silicone to set, the house will have a working master shower for the first time in its 22-year history. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a hell of a big upgrade from the super-sized, dust collecting tub the last guy thought should dominate the room.

It’s still not quite a fully functional bathroom yet, though. The prime contractor needs to come back to put in a towel bar and toilet paper holder. Two mirrors still need to be hung. There’s a fair amount of caulking that still needs done on the vanity and shower fixtures. The hand-held shower’s connection to the supply line still needs tinkered with to stop a rather annoying “belch” of water from coming out of the joint when the diverter is cut over from the hand held back to the main.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, it means just one more visit from the contractor and this endeavor will be finished. I suppose I could spend every day hectoring them about getting the last of the work scheduled, but since I’m holding the last quarter payment until work is finished and accepted, I suppose they’ll be calling me sooner rather than later.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Alex Jones. Since he broke into popular consciousness, Alex Jones has been a bloviating douche canoe. I can only assume he was one long before anyone ever heard of him. He’s a living example of being able to fool some of the people all of the time. Now, not all of that is exactly his fault. You’d have to be particularly weak minded to buy into the absolute bullshit he peddles on a regular basis. Watching this cowardly twatwaffle get absolutely bitchslapped around the courtroom, trapped like a rat, has been an absolute treat. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. 

2. Republican spin. Whether they admit it or not, Republicans were shocked by Kansans voting by a large margin to retain abortion rights as part of their state constitution. Kansas is supposed to be a rock-ribbed, ruby red bastion of conservatism. Their two key takeaways should be: 1) Not all conservatives are cheerfully going along with the religio-fascist wing of the party and 2) The majority of voters in general oppose them to the point that brings them out in unexpectedly large numbers. I’m under no illusions that Republicans won’t win some of these votes in other places, but Kansas was absolutely a warning shot put across their bow… no matter how hard they try to spin it as something else.

3. Brittney Griner. The media is tangentially focused on the ongoing arrest, trial, and sentencing of Brittney Griner. While I share their general feeling that I’d want to be just about anywhere other than a Russian jail, it’s one of those issues I can’t quite bring myself to rend my garments over. As a traveler, I’ve always considered it my responsibility to obey the laws of the country I happened to be in at the time. At sixteen, I found myself somehow in the middle of a protest march working its way through the streets of Mexico City. Somewhere there’s a picture of me looking entirely perplexed about what was going on around me. I have no idea if it’s illegal in Mexico or not, but even as a child, I had a decent understanding that I, as an American citizen, had no business in the middle of a Mexican protest. We beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel. If I can sort that much out at 16, expecting a 30-year-old woman to not carry substances known to be illegal in the country where she’ll be traveling doesn’t feel like it should be a big ask. If it does happen to be too much to trouble yourself with, well, I suppose you have to accept that you’ve rolled the dice and may have to accept the consequences.