It was supposed to be a project over the long weekend, but coming home this evening, I found (literally) a ton of field stone had been shoved off a truck and spread across my front yard. That’s the sort of utter disorganization and chaos that I simply can’t tolerate. Three hours later, the front flower beds are edged, the pallet is broken down, and I may never be able to stand up straight again. The light was fading fast when I was wrapping up, but as far as I can tell, it looks damned good for my first effort at dry stone stacking. It’s always fun when home improvement meets OCD.
If you were thinking this post would include a link to some kind of damned dirty hippy music, you’re a moron. I actually learned an important lesson about self-restraint today. For the record, it’s best to avoid Home Depot on the Monday of three-day weekends. I knew better, but there were a few odds and ends I needed to pick up. One of those things was a 5-pound sledge so I can shape the stone that’s being delivered tomorrow. The other was a rubber mallet so I could level the stone and use it as lawn edging. The real danger here is the confluence of three factors: 1) Home Depot on a holiday weekend; 2) a rubber mallet in my left hand; and 3) a 5-pound sledge in my right hand.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some nascent desire to start swinging the above mentioned hand tools at some of my fellow customers. I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by the complete inability of people in general to perform more than one simple task at a time (i.e. walking and talking with the person who came with them). I thing just one soul-satisfying “thwack” of cold steel meeting noggin, would give me an indelible feeling of inner peace. Once again my heart-stopping fear of prison and sodomy have kept me on the straight and narrow. Damn you social contract! Damn you!
I’m a bit of an oddity in the ranks of the civil service; a fiscal conservative who rails against high taxation and the increased growth of government. This isn’t the first time I have realized the disconnect between thought and action that I live on a weekly basis. I’ve often thought about jumping ship to seek out greener pastures in the private sector, but the reality is even with new pay scales and pay-for-performance initiatives, the federal government is a gravy train for employees. Although similar work in the private sector comes with higher pay, companies that provide a comparable insurance, leave, and retirement package are few and far between. As an employee with nearly 5 years under my belt, I have nearly 4 weeks of annual leave each year (not including time earned by traveling during non-business hours), 10 paid holidays each year, 2 ½ weeks of sick leave per year (that rolls over each year). My health insurance runs around $100/month and the government matches the first 5% of the salary I roll into my retirement plan. Add to that the simple fact that federal employees are nearly impossible to fire as long as they are meeting very minimal standards. Why on earth would anyone leave that kind of benefits package to work for a company that can terminate them at will due to a downturn in the economy or for nearly any other reason (or for no reason at all)?
The federal budget process forces government employees to spend their entire budget by the time the books close in September. There is no reward for an office or an organization that saves money or executes its mission more cost-effectively. In fact, we must spend our entire budget or risk not receiving as much money the following year. We justify the mad dash to spend the “leftover” budget at the end of the fiscal year under the mantra “use it or lose it.” The bureaucracy couches its purchases in terms of being able to meet mission requirements and suddenly the entire office receives new 19-inch flat screen monitors. I’m no less guilty than others. I’ve enjoyed the fruits of this misguided process and cheerfully submit my end-of-year wish list each Fall. From flash drives to cell phones, laptops to desk chairs, anything is fair game in the frenzy of last minute binging.
I’ll confess that I want my new computer every three years. I want the newest cell phone. I want to knock down walls and increase the size of our inner-office empire. The question “do we need these things” never really comes up at the end of the year. The only question on the lips of employees, is “How can we spend it?”
I believe in small, but responsive government. I believe that the bureaucracy is bloated and wasteful. I also believe that the budget process used by the United States government is utterly broken. In the end, the Congress calls the tune when it appropriates the dollars. And the lie I tell myself to make it acceptable is that if I don’t spend it, someone else will.
The USA Today is the ash heap of American print journalism. Unfortunately, it’s a large ash heap and nearly unavoidable if you spend any time in a hotel. Yesterday’s business section dedicated a good portion of the front page and the entire second page feature to the “plight” of workaholics in the United States. According to the article, “about 60% of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours a week…” Let’s stop right here and do some quick analysis… I mean, is anyone surprised that those individuals between the ages of 25-34 making more than $75,000/year and those over 35 and up making more than $100,000 per year spend more than 50 hours a week at work? Maybe I’m the only one who noticed the general trend that the more I work, the more I make. That was true when I was flipping burgers at McDonald’s and it’s true now that I have a nice cushy desk job. My point, I suppose, is how the hell can anyone be surprised that income is related to how much someone works? Is this really news to anyone who has spent any time thinking about ways to make more money?
The other aspect of the article that raised my hackles was the “high-earning individuals” complaining that they have had to sacrifice personal time and relationships because of work or that they don’t get enough sleep. Know what? That’s a choice you made in order to become a high-income individual, my friend. No one is making you work 60 billable hours per week. If it’s too much for you to deal with, step off the fast track so you can spend more time at the kid’s soccer games. Bottom line is that you make the choice to work in a high pressure workplace. The trade off is that maybe you will get passed over for that next promotion or maybe you’ll have to adjust your lifestyle to meet your new income. Bitch and complain about long hours all you want, I know I do. But don’t try to pass it off as some big, bad employer tethering you to your desk with wireless chains. Take some responsibility for your own actions and make the change if you don’t think you can hack it with the big boys.
Most of you know that I’ve always harbored a secret love of photography. And now that I’m looking at DC with less of a jaundiced eye, I am finding some really good shots. It’s hard to think about taking pictures when all that’s on your mind is dashing to the Metro and getting to your car before the rush home starts in earnest. The last couple of days, I’ve had time to really walk around the monumental core of the city and watch how the light moves on it. With so much sculptural detail, it’s a really magnificent study in shadow and depth. Just sitting at the reflecting pool, or lurking in the trees along the north and south ends of the building give you a chance to get a sense of the building. I think the ones I posted here are a good example set of what I took early yesterday evening.
I’ve always liked to take pictures early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Getting the good horizontal light that softens the edges without sacrificing detail. Sure, you can shoot tourist shots at high noon and be perfectly happy with getting Aunt Franny and Uncle Cletus in the frame with the bottom half of the dome. You can even control aperture speed to compensate for the harsh mid-day light, but you lose something in the translation. I’ve never quite figured out how to keep everything from washing out on the edges even at high speed. For me, the hour between 6 and 7 is almost perfect; exhausted tourists are heading off to dinner and most of the staffers have started to clear out. And you have this window of opportunity where the sidewalks are deserted, the light is perfect. If you’re quick, you can even manage to avoid getting the ubiquitous Capitol Police in the picture. Pictures with people are a pet peeve of mine… I want pictures of the thing, not the thousands of jackasses who came to see the thing. Any time I can get some good pictures, unobstructed by Skippy and Suzy Dragknuckle and their 3 kids, I’ve had a good day.
After a full 24 hours of having no commitments other than showing up to work at what seems like the ridiculously late hour of 8:30, and walking around Capitol Hill for the better part of an hour and a half taking pictures, and walking to the Chinese place down the street for General Tso’s, it occurs to me that when I don’t have class (and don’t really have any reason to work OT), I have absolutely no idea what to do with myself. I think someone once referred to the concept as “free time.” I don’t really even have clue one what I want to do. Well, that’s not entirely true, but in the interests of maintaining this blog’s PG-13 rating, I’ll spare you the details.
Suffice to say that it’s taken a grand total of 24 hours for me to start going stir crazy. I just can’t quite shake the feeling that I should be doing something. I’m not sure, but I think I might have the DTs.
That’s the number of air miles I will have earned for the month of May when this week’s road stand wraps up. True, taken as a single trip, that distance would be something approximating the trip from here to London – only a 7 ½ hour hop. My 4740 will all be accrued on the trip between Memphis International and Reagan. There’s a certain wear and tear of three weeks of back and forth, of packing, doing laundry, and repacking. I’m a little frayed at the edges, but that’s nothing that won’t be solved by spending a long weekend firmly planted on the ground.
Here’s hoping I won’t see 6320.
It’s been a busy week. Very busy, actually. I’d love to have time to write and rant, but that won’t be in the cards for a day or two yet. Between class and work and travel for work, I’m reasonably convinced I may have passed myself going the other direction pulling into the driveway tonight. My current class wraps up on Monday, so I’m looking forward to a week of relative easy living. I can’t begin to tell you people how much I am looking forward to that.
I never really stopped to play tourist in the whole time I was working in DC. The Capitol and the White House were sort of landmarks you used when giving someone directions about how to get from point A to point B. They were just sort of “there,” but not something you ever really paid a good deal of attention to. I certainly never toted a camera around town between meetings and I guess that’s why I was so pleased with how some of my pictures from last week turned out. I was lucky enough to find a hotel downtown at 16th and K and had a perfect weather in the evenings for shooting.
It has been years since I have flown directly into Washington. Living in Baltimore, it was always more convenient for me to use BWI. This afternoon was one of those moments that gives even the cynical and jaded bastards among us a moment of pause… following the Potomac north the City spreads out from the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials in the West (ever stopped to think that the two presidents most identified with “the west” have their memorials on the west end of the Mall?) to the dome of the Capitol in the east. It’s later afternoon and the marble of the official city of Washington is catching the last orange rays of the day’s sun. It absolutely glows. Working here for the better part of four years, you grow a little immune to the charms of this place. You never really stop to look because you’re on a mad dash to the next meeting or trying to get home before the rush hour really gets fired up.
It’s good to be back here, in this place, in the beating heart of the American empire. Of course it’s even better to know that all I have to do is walk downstairs and hail a cab in the morning and someone else will drive me to work, too.