Forty-five years ago today Americans walked on the moon. Let that sink in for a minute. Three guys strapped themselves on top of the largest rocket ever built and were blasted away from the surface of the earth, traveled three days, and then landed for the first time on an alien world. Every other human being alive or who had ever lived was 238,900 miles away. If that’s not the stuff heroes are made of, I don’t know what is.
Today, we can’t even get a man into orbit without bumming a lift from a country who seems determined to start World War III. Seriously. What happened, America? In the last century we freed Europe, decisively crushed the Japanese Empire, and then raced into the heavens as a victory lap. Today, we can’t seem to find our collective ass with both hands and a flashlight. What happened?
This country has done great and remarkable things. We can do them again. If only we could find a leader or two who weren’t out playing small ball while Rome burns.
1. Being a ping pong ball. After many years of attending far more meetings than I want to recall. fortunately in that time I’ve cultivated a lead ass and a steel bladder, making it possible for me to endure just about any time suck thrown at me. What I don’t think I’ll ever get use to is the sheer volume of the damned things they throw at you while expecting you to get actual work done in the few minutes between them. Two before lunch, two after, and one blown off because it was scheduled after close of business. Add to that the slides, pre-meeting questions, general coordination, post-meeting minutes and that leaves about 45 minutes of the day in which real work might actually happen, except of course 30 of those minutes belong to lunch and even that gets interrupted a couple of times. It looks like I’m going to need to find a hidey-hole if I want to carve out a minute or two to have an actual uninterrupted thought for the foreseeable future.
2. Focus. Somewhere during my recently concluded vacation, I apparently lost my ability to focus. I’m sure it’s not helped by the ping pong routine referenced above, but it was brewing long before that. I can’t seem to string more than three sentences together without my brain running off in some other direction. I’m sure it’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s a damned annoyance when you get home, try to spend some time working your “second job” and can seem to squeeze a coherent thought out of the space between your ears.
3. My shoulder. I’ve been ignoring the nagging pain in my shoulder for a while now. For the last year or so it’s one of those things that comes and goes. Lately we seem to be in a mode of it coming more often than going. I’ll spare you the image of the face I make when I accidentally reach for something over my head. It’s probably one of those things that’s funny, just not to me. I’ve got a check up coming at the end of the month. Maybe I’ll remember to bring it up, if only because it might distract the German from yelling at me for packing on a few more pounds since he switched my meds and still loving red meat. Unfortunately, I suspect that kind of distraction would require some kind of major trauma in the head and chest region, but I’m willing to roll the dice on that.
So I had a bit of a surreal experience during my travels across the Eastern Shore last week. Thundering down some two-lane country road on the Delaware side of the Delmarva, I caught a quick look at a biplane in the distance. I only noted it because it was pulling vertical, as if maneuvering for the first half of a loop. It was cool seeing it, even from a distance. Nothing kindles the idea of the magic of flight like a biplane. After that, I didn’t think much of it, assuming that it was a wanna-be air show pilot dusting some crops (Is that something people still do?).
Fast forward a few minutes and a few miles and what appeared to be the same plane came screaming out from behind a no-longer-very distant overpass. He made a sweeping left turn, and lined up dead in the middle of the little road. From my perspective of trying to keep one eye on the plane and one on the road, it looked like nothing quite so much as him lining up for a strafing run. It was exactly like the kind of thing you’d see in the movies, if you happen to be a fan of films like North by Northwest.
Irrational as it was, I found myself holding my breath waiting for the telltale flames to jump from behind the propeller and seriously pondering the likelihood of survival if I jerked the wheel hard right to evade the rounds I expected to see plastering the asphalt in front of me. Like I said, it was a totally irrational moment and over before I really had time to give it more than a passing thought.
Still, I flicked my headlights in acknowledgement of the “kill.” I hope that’s how the pilot took it, anyway. In my mind he did. The deep thrumming radial engine passed maybe 100 feet over my head and I lost him in the treetops when he banked right and out over one of the approximately 18 billion cornfields along that stretch of road. There’s nothing like finding yourself under the imagined guns of a century old warplane to get the blood pumping… or maybe it’s just me.
I’m running down the clock on my last few hours of mid-summer vacation doing laundry, making dinner, and generally trying to smooth the transition back to work tomorrow. I’m not going to lie, there my have been a FML moment when I cracked my eyes this morning and realized I was 24 short hours from diving back into the grind. It’s not that I hate work, but like everyone else there are just a trillion and a half things I’d rather spend my time doing. Such is life.
One of the unavoidable conversations you hear at the office is contemplation about how people will keep themselves busy in retirement, whether or not they’ll be able to adjust effectively to a world where a third of their day isn’t pre-planned for them. Every time I get away, I’m reminded that I won’t ever have to ask myself that question. I know with absolute certainty that I’ll manage to fill my time with activities that feel way more rewarding than ginning up a well-crafted PowerPoint or thousand column spreadsheet. Mercifully, my interests don’t require a small fortune so when the time comes, it’ll be surprisingly easy to flip the switch and get on with it.
Yeah, so while I’m not ready to get back to the so-called real world, I’ve got readiness in spades for the day I don’t have to. Talk about long range planning.
It’s Monday again and while they don’t seem so bad when you’re not shuffling off to work in the dark hours of the morning, it’s still the kind of thing that turns your mind to thoughts of the office. Inevitably, that means I’m thinking about meetings, because, in a “professional work environment” apparently meetings are just about the only thing people do.
It’s been my experience that on any given day there are more meetings than people available to go sit in them. That problem compounds because everyone inevitably thinks their meeting is the most important of the day and demand that the most senior person available attend them in order to reinforce the perception of importance. And you see, that’s where things start coming off the rails, because some meetings get stuck with guys like me showing up. When I show up unescorted by someone of senior grade, there’s a good chance your meeting isn’t nearly as important as you think it is.
It’s not that I’m in any way incapable of expressing official thoughts or ideas, it’s just that I have no standing to actually make or enforce decisions on behalf of my large bureaucratic organization. Those activities are reserved to pay grades far higher than mine (and I’m OK with that). The other thing that you really should be concerned about when I show up alone is that there’s always a chance that my filter will slip off and I might accidentally open my mouth and let my actual opinion fly out. While there’s always a price to pay for telling truth to power, I generally don’t think about that until the cat’s well out of its bag.
As it is, I’m amazed on a weekly basis how many times I’m left alone with an open mic and a naive optimism that I won’t say something stupid directly into the ear of someone at echelons higher than reality. Also, and I’ll give you this one for free, if the only time you can schedule your meeting is after lunch on a Friday, go ahead and kill your project because that’s a sure sign there isn’t a single person anywhere on the planet who actually cares about what you’re doing.
So, yeah, on this Monday morning, I’m reaching out to meeting organizers everywhere and giving them an opportunity to reevaluate their actions, how many gaggles they schedule, when they’re held, and where they stand in the grand scheme of things.
The modern world is full of cameras. I’m willing to bet that every person who reads this post has at least one of them within arms reach at all times of the day and night. With that being said, I have not earthly idea how there is still a small army of college students employed by a company to spend their days trolling up and down the beach taking pictures and then selling them inside $.10 plastic key chains for $15. I would have thought that was a business model that should have died off with the rise of the cell phone. Apparently, though, it’s still very much a thing and steps in to fill in the gap when even the most artful selfie won’t do.
That was my one piece of learning for the week, so if you were stopping by hoping to find something deep and insightful on a Sunday night, boy did you come to the wrong place.
1. Unintended consequences. I read an article this week decrying the fact that so many fuel efficient cars on the road are causing the federal highway trust fund to go broke. All I could do is sit back and wonder if this is something that should have come as a surprise to anyone when they were laying on tax incentives and pushing people towards higher efficiency standards and cute matchbox car looking vehicles. Less fuel used, but definition will lead to lower revenue if all else is held equal. Now of course the writers of this article lead that into the discussion of whether we should raise the national gas tax or lay an entirely new tax based on miles driven or some other calculus. I noted with much annoyance that prioritizing funds and making due with what’s available, leaning out the highway construction and repair process, or privatizing antiquated infrastructure weren’t even part of the discussion. It troubles me to no end that a goodly proportion of people in this country only ever look at the revenue (and how to increase it) side of the equation rather than first looking at how we reduce costs and gain efficiencies using what should be a massive economy of scale that Uncle could generate if he were spending judiciously rather than just chasing the next dollar. If they didn’t think the problem past the “fuel efficiency is good” phase, why on earth should anyone trust them with even more money?
2. Being wrong. Remember back six months ago when I was complaining about the polar vortex? I have a confession to make. I think I may have gotten that one wrong, because quite frankly putting on another layer felt way better than reaching the point where modesty, social convention, and the county sheriff say you can’t take any more layers off. But don’t worry, wait six months and you can be sure I’ll be right back to complaining about being frozen right down to the bones. Wash, rinse, and repeat as needed.
3. The “working lunch.” There’s no such thing. Either I’m working or I’m at lunch. They are, in my mind, mutually exclusive activities that have no business occurring simultaneously. Lunch, for purposes of this discussion is defined as a 30-minute period of not work dividing the four morning hours of work and four afternoon hours of work during a standard business day. Dragooning everyone in the office into a conference room, “asking” them to bring food, and then talking about “work stuff” for an hour is a thinly disguised meeting. The only reason it has a passing resemblance to lunch is that there happened to be food in the room while it happened. As for me, I need my 30 minute break in the middle of the day to help prevent my brain from melting and leaking out my ears. I think we can all agree that’s something we should all try to avoid if we can.
I’m good at a lot of things, but as I’ve mentioned previously, packing judiciously is not one of them. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to see much difference in how I prepare for a 4-day trip to a location less than 100 miles from home as compared to let’s say a 2-month expedition to the source of the Amazon. I’ve spent a very large percentage of my years acquiring items that bring me comfort, make life easier, or that I otherwise just enjoy having around. In setting up shop in a home away from home, I’m basically of the opinion that as many of those items as possible should make the trip with me. My packing calculus recognizes no actual difference between being gone overnight or wandering off for a year.
The good news is that whenever I get where I’m going, I almost always have what I need – sometimes (often) to the point of being duplicative. The down side, of course, is that since I don’t have a Sherpa, I’m the one who ends up toting and hauling this mess from Point A to Point B and back again to Point A with whatever additional provisions I’ve laid on during my stay. It’s particularly bad when I’m driving from place to place with basically unlimited capacity to tote more “essentials” with me. The $50 a bag fee on most flights helps keep my over packing in check when I fly, but certainly doesn’t eliminate it.
I’d like to say I’ll try to change – that I’ll try to mold myself into that kind of traveler who can set off at a moment’s notice with just a carryon bag and a passport, but I know that’s not me. That’s never going to be the way I travel. Traveling with me is always going to be more akin to supplying the Normandy landings than it is to backpacking across the Continent with a Eurail pass. Sherpa or not, I’m totally alright with that.
Last night was the first time in over a year that I didn’t have two furry little heathens keeping me company. It felt surprisingly unsettling. Once you’re use to waking up to a cold nose in the middle of your forehead, the buzz-saw like snoring you can hear from three rooms away, and having a couple of shadows following every step, it seems thoroughly unnatural not having them around.
What surprised me most, though, was how much my schedule was influenced by having them around. Morning, afternoon, and night, all my activities are apparently informed by their schedule of meals, needing to go out, and endless toys dropped at my feet. I had no idea how much time they bite out of the day until I showed up at work half an hour early this morning. I ran my normal weekday routine, minus the dog-related stuff, turned off the coffee pot, got in the truck, and drove away not realizing I was way, way early for everything. Feeding, medicating, and then trying to corral everyone back inside apparently takes far more time each morning than I thought it did. I’ve been doing it the same way for so long now that most of it happens on autopilot.
They way I figure it, I have just enough time to adjust to them not being around that it will be a shock to the system when they come home this weekend. Then I’ll get to muddle through a few days of running behind schedule for everything. Even with the expense, hassle, and (apparently) sheer volume if time they consume, I have to admit I like it better when they’re around than I do when they’re not. George is pleasant enough company, but at heart I’m a dog person. As giddy as I am about getting some well-deserved down time this week, I’ll be just as giddy to get back to drool covered floors and tireless barking at the neighbors.
I had an interview this morning, a something a few of you might have guessed by the fact that I had bothered to put on a tie. Generally speaking a tie is only something I wear when it can’t otherwise be avoided. As a rule of thumb, that means when the number of stars in the room is equal to or greater than five – Five one star generals = wear a tie; A three star and a two star = wear a tie; Reanimated corpse of Douglas MacArthur = wear a tie. It’s a simple rule that I adopted years ago to prevent any confusion about what to wear and when to wear it.
Breaking with that longstanding custom today made me feel a little awkward. After all, two of the three people on the interview panel were people I’ve worked with for the last four years. Surely by now they’ve caught on to my basic reluctance to willingly put my neck in a noose each morning. With that, wearing one today felt like something of a cop out, a unilateral caving in to the throat constricting requirements of social convention. It made me feel a little dirty and a lot like a sellout.
Interviews are always a roll of the dice – especially since this is the first one of done live and in person since July of 2000 when I was hired as a first year teacher. All my other jobs over these last 14 years have been gotten as a result of phone interviews or directed moves into new positions. That being said I think I answered all their questions effectively and efficiently, while interjecting my own brand of folksy humor and sarcasm at appropriate points. How well that translates into the live interview process remains to be seen.
I work with at least half the people in the running for this gig. They’re good people with solid resumes and every bit as reasonable a claim on the job as I feel I have going for me. I’d like the chance to do something different without traipsing halfway across the country to find it. I’d definitely like the grade and corresponding income bump. Still, knowing who else is in the running I won’t shed bitter tears if I didn’t make the cut on this one… though that’s no promise I won’t be more sulky and irritable than usual for a while if the vote breaks against me.