Twelve chairs…

One of the many exciting “other duties as assigned” I enjoy during this, the worst month of the year, is that of circus roustabout. It’s toting, hauling, setting up, shifting, tearing down, followed by more hauling and toting. This time of year, my position description might as well read “Laborer, General” as opposed to anything that has “analyst” in its title.

Today’s major project was retrieving a dozen “VIP chairs” from one auditorium, loading them onto pickup trucks, driving them a thousand yards, and then unloading them into another auditorium so there could be a nice matching set on stage. I was reminded with every bit of toting and hauling why furniture moving is the kind of thing I happily pay someone else to do these days.

Believe me when I tell you I don’t in any way presume that moving furniture is beneath my dignity. I’ve had far worse jobs for far less pay… but then that’s kind of the point, I suppose. By the time you add up the hourly rate of all the people involved in shifting these twelve chairs and account for their individual overhead rates (to account for non-salary payroll costs), it would be far more cost effective to outfit each auditorium with twelve matching chairs instead of paying people to shuffle them from building to building as needed. If you assume a fifteen year life cycle for a chair that’s only used a few times a month, it’s an investment that would pay for itself in the first five years. That’s before you even look at lost productive time or basic opportunity cost of having a bunch of analysts move furniture around instead of working more “high value” tasks.

I’m sure there’s a parable about the nature of bureaucracy here. I try not to dwell on it too much.

Of feet and eyes…

One thing I can say for sure is that a year of working from home has not prepared me for a day of standing on a concrete floor. Even my best Docs are no match for a day on my feet.

By the end of it, sore feet wins hands down over the building flooding, last minute briefing changes, and scheduling problems that would have otherwise been contenders for the worst thing about the day.

It’s only Monday. I have no doubt the week will slide further and further from the rails as it trundles on towards Friday afternoon. There’s nothing to be done for it now, but to grimace behind my mask and get through it. Maybe the only good thing about mandatory mask wearing, aside from not passing on the plague, is that it least keeps some of the worst looks safely trapped behind cloth. They can still see my eyes though… and there’s no hiding what’s happening there, I’m afraid.

Listening to the television…

I’m not old enough to remember the days when, if you were lucky, television came into your home as three channels over the air. I am, however, old enough to remember a time before what we think of as cable TV was wide spread. Until quite late in my youth, TV consisted of 12 stations – at least eight of which were duplicates because due to quirks of geography, we got at least some of the “big three” broadcast network stations that served the Baltimore, DC, and Pittsburgh markets. You don’t really need three flavors of ABC, but we had it. 

Back in those olden days, you watched whatever happened to be on when you sat down in the living room. If you missed a favorite show, maybe you’d catch it in reruns, maybe you wouldn’t. At least in our house, having a VCR was no guarantee that what you thought would end up on tape would actually be there when you went looking for it. If there was something you really, truly wanted to watch, you needed to make the time for it. It was, indeed, a simpler age.

Just like those golden days of yore, I can still tell the day of the week by what’s on my television in the evenings. The biggest difference is that instead of being a destination, the shows mostly run as background noise while I’ve got my nose stuck in a book. 

What does my evening TV consumption look like? Probably nothing surprising here, but since I’m fond of lists, here’s what makes up the preponderance of what runs in the background while I’m doing other stuff.

  • Monday – American Pickers
  • Tuesday – The Curse of Oak Island, Maryland Farm and Harvest, and Outdoors Maryland
  • Wednesday – North Woods Law
  • Thursday – Lone Star Law 
  • Saturday – This Old House and whatever flavor of veterinary medicine programming National Geographic or Animal Planet is showing
  • Sunday – North Woods Law / Lone Star Law

I still miss regular doses of Live PD… sort of like having the scanner running in the background of the weekend… but I don’t suppose we’ll ever see that back given what passes for contemporary sensibilities.

In any case, it’s Friday evening now, and that means it’s time to settle in with a good book, and listen to a couple of episodes of Gold Rush while I lose myself in Elizabeth I’s England.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Objections. You know when the best time is to raise objections to something? Before it happens, that’s when. You know, during the weeks you’ve had to review it while it’s passing through the Byzantine approval process that involves you and 67 other people and organizations. There’s plenty of time to fix things while they’re trundling towards final approval. The time not to raise objections is a day after the thing is published for public consumption… when making a fix involves absolutely herculean efforts for everyone else involved. Whoever originated the phrase “better late than never,” was an absolute moron.

2. Facebook. Facebook keeps telling me that various people and organizations have scheduled events that “you may be interested in.” I have no idea what kind of impression I’ve given Facebook over the years, but I just can’t believe that it would include that I’m the sort of person who’s interested in events. I didn’t like crowds in the Before Time. I certainly didn’t do events in the Plague Year. Now that the world is waking up, I have no idea what would have given Facebook the notion that I’d suddenly be the kind of person who was chomping at the bit to go places and do things. I can take some comfort, I suppose, in knowing that despite all their efforts at data collection, big tech still doesn’t get me at all.

3. Executive Orders. Thanks to the Biden Administration, I’m out of pocket for membership in two more pro-Second Amendment organizations as of this afternoon. No, I can’t outspend the federal government as it attempts to further tighten the screws on those who legally own and use firearms, but I can damned well put my money where my mouth is and make sure I’m at least in the fight. 

Annual dusting…

I love books. I love the way they feel in my hand. I love the way ink looks on the page. I love the entirely unique smell a room takes on when it’s full of books. 

Much as I love them, there’s one book-related task that I dread among all others. It’s the annual dusting of the books… and I’m in the midst of that particularly onerous task now. That means physically taking each one off the shelf, dusting it, making sure there’s no unexpected wear or damage, and putting it back. It’s not a complicated endeavor, but it’s intensely repetitive – one that I’m bound to repeat at least 1100 times across 15 different bookcases over the next few days.

It would be easy enough to let it go. I mean with very few exceptions you can’t even see the top edge of a book sitting on a shelf. The dust finds its way in there though… and I shudder to think what that build up might look like in another ten or fifteen years when I have a reason to do another wholesale move. I’ve seen too many books offered for sale, otherwise pristine, that were caked with top edge gunk from untold years of not being tended.

I like to think that these books will outlive me – going on to reside elsewhere, with someone who values them as I do, on the inevitable day when this collection must be broken up. Unless I come up with a better process, it means keeping up with the dusting.

From my admittedly biased position, it’s literally the only down side of having hundreds or thousands of texts at your fingertips. 

Out of place…

I drive around from time to time looking for new places where the next interesting book to add to the collection could be hiding. The invariable part of every new town I pass through is that you can tell a lot about where you are by the kind of businesses occupying prominent or high traffic areas. 

As a general rule, once I hit the part of town where pawn shops, storefront check cashing, and empty buildings predominate, I’ve probably gone too far. The likelihood of finding what I’m looking for seems to diminish with every payday loan processor I pass. Often enough, these are parts of town when I have no business being or otherwise stick out like a sore thumb. If there’s treasure hidden somewhere there, I’ll leave it to someone else. 

Last week I had something of the opposite experience. Returning home from a successful book buying expedition, I found myself driving through a picturesque bit of Delaware – long lawns, gated drives, and the early 20th century impression of old money. Soon enough the residential gave way to the commercial – cheese mongers, wineshops, and a several block stretch of insurance agencies, understated banks, and “wealth management firms.” 

Sure, I felt altogether more comfortable there than I do driving down a block of abandoned and burned-out row houses, but it was still very much a case of being a stranger in a strange land. Less likely to get mugged, maybe, but far more likely to be offered a “can’t lose” investment opportunity, so perhaps they’re not all that different, really.

I don’t suppose there’s anything particularly insightful here… just a musing on the oddities of finding yourself out of place.

Sunday cooking…

Growing up down the crick in the 80s, Sunday dinner with the extended family wasn’t just something you saw in a Rockwell print. Sitting around the table, weighted down with metric tons of food, presided over by my grandfather, with aunts, uncles, and cousins jammed in elbow to elbow wasn’t a television trope. Living it then, I didn’t recognize it as anything other than the normal way of things. It’s only in hindsight I can see just how remarkable those Sunday dinners were. 

Sunday dinner was always the big meal of the week, but Sunday lunch is just as fixed in my memory. It was almost invariably hamburgers – fried up in a skillet, or more rarely from the electric grill on the patio, and served with chips and maybe baked beans. I’m sure there were other sandwiches, but it’s the hamburgers that seem to be stuck in my mind’s eye as I look back across the decades.

I’ve long maintained the spirit of Sunday dinner being a household “event.” It’s consistently the biggest and most wide-ranging meal I make every week… though unlike my grandmother, I’m mercifully not making it to feed a dozen or more hungry mouths.  

Now, these many years later, I find myself recreating those lunches, too. Sunday lunch is hamburgers or ham salad or BLTs. Perhaps it’s not an exact recreation, of the lunches that I remember so clearly, but it’s absolutely done with intent. 

I know the poet says “The good old days weren’t always good.” He’s probably on to something there. Even so, they weren’t all bad either. One of the great mercies of time is it tends to smooth off some of the rougher edges of memory. I appreciate that immensely. 

A rare bit of truth in advertising…

Today was my first planned “day off” in 2021. It was, in part, intended as a day to catch a deep breath before diving in to what are historically my most ridiculous two or three weeks of my year. It was also an opportunity to celebrate having all my shots and getting back to doing one of the few things I like doing that doesn’t involve staying home with the critters.

I didn’t plan a lot of these “one off” days during the plague year. A long weekend when things aren’t open or when going anywhere there might be people is ill advised felt a bit superfluous. Better to hold the days while I wait and see.

Today wasn’t actually the day I planned. I was going to troll through a couple of local used book shops, maybe do some antiquing, and call it a triumphant return to normalcy. A week or two ago, though, a friend inadvertently reminded me of a shop about an hour away that I’ve long had my eye on, but had never visited. What better way to note my newly acquired immunity than heading out to a new place?

The Baldwin Book Barn promises 300,000 volumes across four stories of a former dairy barn. A family run bookseller since 1938, I could hardly expect to find the dollar bin wonders I turn up from less specialized places. Still, the Baldwin’s place didn’t disappoint in any way. It was exactly as advertised in all respects. 

I walked away with half a dozen books – a few hole fillers, a few that drew my interest in the moment, and one rather nice 100+ year old history of colonial Maryland. A few others were a treat to hold and page through, but would have outstripped my merger book budget by about 1000%.

I got to spend the morning awash in a sea of books and as a bonus had a pleasant drive through southeastern Pennsylvania horse country. I’d be hard pressed to think up a better way to spend a Friday… even if it will take me weeks to recover from being in the same room with as many as ten people simultaneously.

What Annoys Jeff This Week?

1. Grass seed. One of the inevitable spring and fall tasks here, thanks to the resident dogs, is regularly reseeding the back yard to patch up half a year of wear and tear. Everyone likes to pretend we’re oh so advanced sitting here in the 21st century. If we’re so damned advanced here in the future, why is it I still have to wait between 14-21 days to find out if I’ve grown grass or just created a deeper mud pit?

2. The Biden “infrastructure” plan. Mentioning a few roads and bridges in a bill doesn’t make it a bill about infrastructure… especially when those features account for a minority of the overall appropriation. What the president has really given us is the first of two absurdly large revenue bills – a plan not so much about infrastructure as about jamming the federal government as deeply as possible into all manner of economic areas… and, of course, finding new streams of revenue to feed its insatiable maw. There are already hints that the administration will back off their promise that no one making under $400,000 a year in taxable income will see a penny of new federal taxes due. But, I suppose, telling people up front that in your first 60 days in office you’ll be proposing a massive bill to raise taxes isn’t really something advised by the successful politician’s handbook. So, call it an infrastructure plan, of course, because everyone likes infrastructure. Call it French toast if you must, but you and I will both know it’s a tax by any other name… and this administration’s hunger for more tax dollars is just getting warmed up.

3. Anticipation. This Friday is going to be the first day I’ve taken off since the glorious two-week weekend stretching across Christmas and New Year’s. Thanks to various federal holidays it won’t be the first long weekend of the year, but it feels like the first one in months… which it is. With every hour that ticks by, it’s in increasing distraction to even thinking about getting productive work done… and though I’ve got no defined plans, the anticipation is absolutely killing me. 

In our own hands…

I would never have the audacity to claim that I’m in any way attuned to the modern world. I’m generally more comfortable spending time somewhere between the Georgian era and the Eisenhower Administration. What passes for important news of the day mostly leaks in around the margins thanks to social media – and even then it tends to be the salacious bits that make it through to be rank as something to pay attention to.

I say all that only because it seems that over the weekend someone called Little Nasonex (?) set the world on fire. For me, the guy spending most of his current free time wading through the Napoleonic Wars, the whole spectacle more or less defied understanding. 

It’s bewildering, really. I’ve never quite understood people whose world flies off the rails because someone they’ve never met and who has no actual impact on their day-to-day life does something they don’t like. I have, however, gotten very good at ignoring those whose activities annoy me or otherwise make my life less pleasant. 

Giving any attention at all to someone flailing around screaming “Look at me! Look at me!” feels like it would be an exceptionally poor use of whatever limited time I manage to carve out of a day. Like people who don’t enjoy this or that television program or radio personality, the option to change the channel or not watch at all is literally in our own hands. It’s a pity more people don’t avail themselves of that option and let other people enjoy whatever it is they enjoy.