Dream sequence…

I pulled my Tundra into one of the three open parking spaces in front of Cambridge Hall, careful not to tap the semi-circular wall where we use to spend inordinate amounts of time sitting around, smoking and joking. It was a good spot. In fair weather the wall was perfect height for lazing about. In foul weather it was low enough to jump so we could hunker down in the lee of the building with enough overhang to stay out of worst of the wind, rain, or snow. Sometimes we were avoiding all three. It’s Frostburg after all and that particular trifecta wasn’t exactly rare. That was the late 1990’s, of course. I’m sure there’s no one smoking or joking there now. Both of those things are probably verboten acts, practically crimes against higher education in the modern era. But it’s my dream, and my memory.

It was dark. I was stopping, sometime during winter, to pick up clean clothes and a dry pair of shoes. The building itself was fully lit, welcoming, but seemed deserted. The lobby was twice the size as the one I walked through every day for four semesters. It was “modernized,” glass and chrome, with six new elevator bays. There was even a first floor lounge helpfully labeled the “Strategy Bar.” I knew it must be a dream, not because of the reconstructed building, but because the university would surely have named it something more exotic even if it was just a bar – perhaps the Gretchen R. Fussbucket Memorial Lounge and Center for Intra-Gender Socio-Economic Cultural Studies and Glassblowing at Cambridge Hall.

*flash forward*

As I exited the elevator (dream me didn’t see the need for a walking tour of 5th floor south side), I noticed two people loitering near the oddly named lounge, not quite out of my eye-line. A guy and a girl. Youngish, probably college age.  They were trying to be discrete, but failing. 

“You’re Jeff,” the guy said. It was more a question than a statement.

I nodded.

“Kate… Kathryn… She said we might meet you here… that you stop by sometimes.” The girl spoke from behind a shield of hair falling over her eyes

“Kate Reilly sent you? To find me?” I was incredulous as they invoked that name from the distant past. They nodded in unison, but didn’t speak.

“It must be important, then. Let’s go.” I pulled my collar up, bracing against the inevitable cold wind outside… and then I was awake.

Some people create wild fantasy worlds in their dreams. Me? Even asleep, I craft my world from the comfortable history of the last century.

Light a candle…

I’ve often noted that I’d happily drive over a line of people to help and animal in distress. I don’t suppose it would surprise anyone to find that the charities I choose to support are nearly exclusively devoted to “animal causes,” although the bent towards environmental awareness and protection will certainly surprise some.

If you find yourself in a giving mood after the gluttony of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, I heartily recommend sending a few dollars towards any one of these worthy causes:

Delaware SPCA. Delaware SPCA, the state’s first animal welfare organization, has provided shelter, veterinary care, and adoption services for over a century. Last year, Delaware SPCA placed more than 1,000 animals into loving homes, many of whom required urgent care and medical attention when they came to us. We are also a leading provider of low cost spay/neuter services, have a state-of-the-art wellness clinic for community pets, and offer regular, low-cost vaccination clinics. This organization was also responsible for bringing Jorah (then Sonny) from from a high kill shelter in Tennessee to be adopted.

Cecil County Animal Services. CCAS is the county animal control authority serving Cecil County Maryland. The staff and volunteers are doing yeoman’s work maintaining a no-kill philosophy here in a largely rural community that remains somewhat behind the times in terms of promoting animal care and welfare. Hershel was a CCAS bottle baby and supporting their continued good works is a cause near and dear to my heart.

International Fund for Animal Welfare. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish.

Chesapeake Bay FoundationServing as a watchdog, we fight for effective, science-based solutions to the pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Our motto, “Save the Bay,” is a regional rallying cry for pollution reduction throughout the Chesapeake’s six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to more than 18 million people and 3,000 species of plants and animals.

World Wildlife FundOur mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

I’ve heard it said that the coming months could be the bleakest in living memory, but doing your bit for the creatures and places that have no voice other than what we give them feels like a good way to light a candle instead of cursing the damned darkness.

Two paths to a “good” December…

It’s the last day of November. That’s important for a couple of reasons – not the least of which is it means I only have 17 work days between me and a glorious 16-day weekend. That’s sixteen days to stow my laptop and neither schlep to the office nor work from home. It’s two weeks and change of just hanging out. Let me tell you, friends, even in a plague year that’s already been filled with time at home, I’m kind of living for the long end of the year time off.

Even if my standard two-week Christmas vacation wasn’t in the offing, there’s actually a different, and possibly mor important date fast approaching. The 11th of December won’t stand out to anyone who doesn’t draw a check from Uncle Sam, but that’s the date most of the federal government runs out of money and would be forced into another shutdown. 

Look, I have no idea what a government shutdown would look like in a plague year, but hey, what’s one more bit of fuckery in the mix? With a mostly useless congress and a president who clearly has no interest in governing (and has a propensity for last minute tantrum throwing), it feels possible, even if not likely, that we could have a as much as 40-day break between funds running out and the new president taking office. Even though Congress seems to be working to stave off the possibility, it remains a wildcard.

Now I’m not saying I’m rooting for a crippling Christmas themed government shutdown amidst a rising tide of plague… but hey, if it happens, I won’t be marching in the streets or anything. Obviously, everyone’s circumstances are different, but I should be able ride out a 40-day shutdown without resorting to cat food and tree bark soup… and from that perfectly selfish perspective, more than a month just dicking around the house hardly sounds like the worst thing in the world. 

That’s true at least if precedent is followed, meaning there will be back pay for the shutdown and they’ll restore the two weeks of pre-scheduled leave that got overwritten by the closure and add it in my bucket of vacation time for 2021. If a shutdown happens without those two key components, then I might just be tempted to take to the streets after all.

My eyes are firmly on the calendar for the next couple of weeks, either way.

The white tree of memory…

Every Christmas season for my entire childhood, there was a white ceramic Christmas tree given pride of place in my grandparent’s front widow. When I say I remember it, what I mean is if I sit here and close my eyes, I can see it plain as day sitting atop the console record player and flanked, most years, by electric candles (with orange bulbs) and a panoply of Christmas-themed ceramic figurines.

In my mind there’s no more iconic symbol of Christmas in the back half of the 20th century than these plug-in trees. As it turns out, while I’ve always had this memory of the holidays, I’ve now also reached the age where I’m low key obsessed with recapturing those objects from my youth that trigger the most powerfully positive memories.

I’d like to say I scoured the planet to acquire exactly the version of the tree that I remember – the vintage, not tampered with, undamaged, tree of my memory. Actually, I did scour the planet. And I did find the exact tree that I remember. As much of a premium as I place on authenticity, though, I balked at the $400 + shipping securing that particular bit of my childhood would have required. I’ll keep looking, of course, and now that I’m on the hunt, it’ll turn up at an estate sale or flea market somewhere once I start going to those again.

In the meantime, since it’s the day after Thanksgiving (and for the record, that’s the only acceptable day to light up the Christmas decorations), I’ll be making due with a modern, and slightly larger, version of my white tree of memory.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Dinner time. After eight months of mostly working from home, I can report faithfully that there are many things that annoy me about days I have to go to the office. I could fill whole steamships with that particular list, but I currently find none more objectionable than the fact that on days when I’m in the actual office, dinner is not on the table promptly at 5 PM. I’m just assuming I’m finding that more onerous that usual because  we’re racing towards the winter solstice and the early evening darkness shades just about everything these days.

2. Canine behavior. For two days this week, Jorah was inexplicably afraid of going outside. He’d get to the door and freeze, tail tucked and hunkered down. Given the great speed at which he would normally race out the door and cut a muddy swath through the yard, kicking up clods of earth in his wake, you can say it’s a highly unusual situation. I’ve spent most of my adult life with dogs, but I’m not sure I’ll ever firmly grasp what they’ve got going on between those furry little ears sometimes. I’m sure, whatever the reason, it made perfectly good sense to him at the time.

3. Black Friday. I’m getting a metric shit ton of ads for Black Friday sales. Is Black Friday shopping even still a thing? I mean even before the Great Plague, there weren’t many deals at a brick and mortar location that couldn’t be equaled or bested online… and in those few cases where it couldn’t, the convenience of having the item dropped directly on my front porch beat the marginal extra cost every time. Now, here in throws of a plague year, I’m amazed at the pretense that stores and malls will be filled with eager shoppers still waddling off their 7500 calorie Thanksgiving dinner.  Maybe I’m misreading the room, but as far as I’m concerned 2020 is the year of “if I can’t find it online, preferably with two day delivery, I don’t want it.”

On the illusion of business as usual…

There are always a few days each year when Uncle Sam would be better served to close up shop and send everyone home rather than attempt to maintain the illusion that offices are open and it’s business as usual. The Friday after Thanksgiving is, predictably, one of those days year in and year out. Most offices I’ve worked in over the years have had to assign someone the short straw that day to come in, turn the lights on, and then watch the clock for eight hours. Sure, technically it’s a work day, but virtually no business is transacted. Calling it a work day is fiction at best, farce at worst.

In any given years there are other days that result in the same basic effect. You can count on it happening any time a federal holiday falls on Tuesday or Thursday through the year. People are going to want to maximize their leave by turning a one day holiday into a 4-day weekend. Thinking that won’t be the case is just swimming against the tide of human nature – and that makes it an extremely foolish activity. The bureaucracy, of course, is no stranger to foolish activity, so we press on as if these periodic days of bare bones staffing will somehow result in actual productive work.

Although the mid-week holiday effect can take place any time of year, it’s most pronounced here at the tail end of the calendar, when so many of the old hands have leave that needs to be used or lost before the end of the year. The day before Thanksgiving or the day before Christmas are almost as useless, though not quite. Today there were four people in my office, well less than half of what it would have been on any other day, even given the reduced staffing due to plague.

I’m sure a few odds and ends that could be considered actual work transpired today, but when balanced against the cost of turning on the lights and heating every federal building across the country, I have to wonder if anyone has every paused to consider if the return on investment even comes close to making sense. If they have, they’ve obviously put far more stock in the value of maintaining the illusion of being open for business than I do.

The plastic doohickey…

I inherited all the major appliances here when I bought the house. They’re all 20 years old and serviceable, so I haven’t been in a wild rush to replace anything. That said, though, I’ve hated the refrigerator from the day I moved in. The damned thing looks huge, but interior space is cut up and awkward. There have always been drawers that never seemed to sit level, shelves that were supposed to slide but didn’t, and an inexplicable missing piece of glass shelving that I replaced early on with a thick piece of plexiglass (because I’m too cheap to pay Maytag prices for a panel of tempered glass). 

The whole contraption went to pieces last week. The crisper drawers wouldn’t push in all the way, two shelves were wildly askew, and you could forget about anything sitting level. It was at some point during the great unpacking of the fridge that I discovered there was very clearly a missing piece somewhere in the middle of the mess. Whatever this missing bit was, it was obviously the lynchpin on which all of the slides and drawers depended to operate correctly.

The manuals for all these appliances are long gone, but thanks to the power of the interwebs, I was able to pull up some schematics and identify the missing bit through the process of elimination. So, after ordering up a $26 plastic doohickey, a couple of days shipping time, and once again pulling 75% of my refrigerated items out of the refrigerator, it’s all now working the way it should have done from the beginning. Reaching in for George’s spring mix is no longer an exercise in playing early morning Jenga, so that’s a thing I’ve got going for me now.

Mostly, the saga of the refrigerator leaves me wondering how the geriatrics I bought the house from lost both the oversized glass shelf and this particular bit of plastic in the first place. Alas, that will remain an unsolved mystery unless the ghost of the previous lady of the house starts leaving me spectral clues as to what tragedy befell them here.

It could be a reset, but “great,” not so much…

Over the weekend I read an article predicting that after the plague we’d see increasing population density in cities, people abandoning rural and suburban living, and abandoning the whole idea of home ownership in favor of multi-year leases on “semi-customizable” apartments.

These would be futurists foresee a “great reset” in consumerism and the rise of free public transportation, socialized healthcare, higher taxes across the board supporting more “free” at the point of use services, and generally adoption of ideas I’d generously call “the golden age of socialism.”

Who knows. Maybe the authors are right. Maybe the masses are just sucker enough to give up on capitalism. I’ve rarely been far wrong when I expect the worst from large groups of people in the past and I don’t see any reason that wouldn’t continue to be true in the future.

It’s a change program I’ll fight tooth and nail, of course. The capitalist economy took a kid from down the Crick, let him climb the property ladder, live what in any generation would be consider a good life of providing for myself and all the resident animals, and build a respectable retirement savings along the way.

I could be an outlier, I suppose, as I tend to want the exact opposite of what this particular author calls for in his vision of the utopian social order brought about by a Great Reset. If the plague has taught me anything it’s that I can’t wait to double down on home ownership – although maybe I’ll opt for a little less house next time in favor of a lot more land. Never once during the plague did I find myself wishing I was stuck in a 600 square foot box with minimal access to outdoor space, so I admit I have questions about their logic here. Likewise, I can’t remember a time when I wish there was just a little more bureaucracy in anything I was trying to do. The whole idea feels deeply counterintuitive.

The idea of living asshole to elbow with a thousand other people in some concrete and steel tower is my version of hell. If it works for you, have at it, I guess… though I’d appreciate someone explaining to me why it’s anyone else’s responsibility to fund your deluxe apartment in the sky, though that’s probably fodder for a different blog post.

If they’re right and I really am an outlier, I suppose all it really means is in fifteen years or so there’s going to be a hell of a lot of rural land ready to be bought cheap… assuming the wannabe Marxists haven’t managed to strip away all pretense of private property. The article’s authors were happy to hint around at that particular vision of the future, but lacked the academic fortitude to say it directly.

You’re welcome to your workers’ paradise, but I’ll be over here fighting it every step of the way. Call me old fashioned, but I’m still in the corner of the system I’ve seen working for me over the last 42 years rather than the one that’s brought us such interesting moments in history as the collapse of the Soviet Union, Venezuela’s frittering away of a king’s ransom in petro-dollars, and starvation rations under the panned economy of North Korea.

On Christmas music in a plague year…

I’m not a traditional “Christmas music” guy. In fact just about the only time I intentionally listen to Christmas music at all is during the holiday migration to Western Maryland from wherever in the country I happen to be living at the time. My Christmas playlist is approximately one hour and four minutes in length and features such luminary artists as Blink 182, Reliant K, Bad Religion, and The Pogues.

The only reason I mention it is that this morning I saw a Twitter post opining that “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in all its variations should be cancelled this year due to the Great Plague.

I’m pretty sure our friendly twitter poster was going for the quick laugh, but missed the entire point of this particular song. Bing Crosby recorded the original version in 1943 at the height of World War II. American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines were posted up around the globe, and most assuredly dreaming of being home for Christmas, as democracy waged its desperate, existential battle with the forces of fascism.

According to the Library of Congress, “It touched a tender place in the hearts of Americans, both soldiers and civilians, who were then in the depths of World War II, and it earned Crosby his fifth gold record. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows in both Europe and the Pacific and Yank, the GI magazine, said Crosby accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era.”

If ever there was a song fitting for Christmas in a plague year, this would be the one.

So, in conclusion, cancel culture really is stupid on its face.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The yawning gap in medical care. I’ve blown off most of my own medical appointments since March but the animals have all hit theirs on time or as needed. That probably says more about me as a person, or at least my priorities, than I’d really like to think about. It’s probably a function of simplicity, too. I can pull up to the vet, hand off the critters for a bit of the old poke and prod, and find a nice shady spot to wait. My doc, on the other hand, wants me to schlep into an office, sit in a socially distanced chair, and wait around with other people who have God knows what plague spewing from their face holes. I’m sure it’s completely irrational, but I’d have to be quite near death’s door myself before I thought that was a good idea.

2. Failure to communicate. I’ve long suspected that the biggest problem faced in dealing with Great Plague is one of basic communication. Given the patchwork nature of our republic (combined with a relentless 24-hour news cycle desperate for things to fill air time), the public is presented with as many as fifty different, often conflicting bits of advice on mask wearing, the benefits of social distancing, and what businesses can be open and how many people they can service. There’s also the discomfiture when schools must close, but bars and restaurants can be open. There may well be fine, scientific reasons for why this is perfectly reasonable, but on its face, it’s a position that feels like it defies common sense.  Add in the fact that science, by definition, isn’t a static and recommendations change based on new data and it’s a recipe for public confusion. Frankly, I’m not even sure that cohesive national-level messaging and policy would do much in the face of how much conflicting “information” is available through every website that proports to carry the latest news or medical advice.

3. America’s Mayor. In September 2001 Rudy Giuliani was lionized as “Americas Mayor” for his grit and determination in leading New York City through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center. His steady hand on the tiller and regular presence at press conferences, exuded a calm that almost none of us felt at the time. Fast forward almost twenty years and it’s hard to believe we’re even seeing the same person. From his presser live from the parking lot at Four Seasons Total Landscaping to his performance yesterday in federal court, where he seemed to forget the name of both the presiding judge and the opposing counsel, the mayor appears to be a poor shadow of himself. For those of us old enough to remember him as a masterful leader when we most needed one, it’s an awfully hard thing to watch.