The route to my salvation…

Four years ago at this time I was sitting in a very empty house wondering if I had lost my mind for accepting a demotion and dragging all my worldly possessions a third of the way across the country to start a job with an outfit I didn’t know anything about. Anyone who was following along back in 2011 knows I wasn’t quite so much running towards this new life as I was running away from the one in Memphis that seemed to implode at every turn. I was following that most basic of animal instincts: Home = Safety. Now of course I was never in any real physical danger, but mentally I knew my position was untenable. Stay put and I was going to slowly (or not so slowly) come unglued.

Interstate 40 to I-81 to 70 was the route to my salvation. It was the route home. With every mile West Tennessee dropped behind me the more like myself I felt. The last four years have had their own set of issues, of course, but none of them have ever felt existential in the way they were before. I was correcting my Great Mistake and my psyche knew it.

Sitting here now, in a different house, looking out at the last of the day’s sun streaming through the towering oaks and maples, brightening the stark white mountain laurel blooms, I think that listless, wandering part of life is finally behind me. Maybe I haven’t found enlightenment, but finding a sense of place seem to be just as important.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Drink your Ovaltine. I had a meeting last week. That’s not unusual in that the bulk of my professional life is spent getting ready for, attending, or recovering from meetings. This one was special though, because we had a 4-star general spend twenty minutes telling us to eat right, exercise, and get eight hours of sleep a night. A full general. Eat your veggies and get lots of sleep. I have a hard time imagining Eisenhower or MacArthur or Patton spending so much time ensuring their people enjoyed a nice kale salad and got tucked in at night. So do me a favor out there and remember to drink your Ovaltine so you can grow up big and strong.

2. Our big thing. Our grandparents went from riding horses to riding rockets. Our parents built the internet. So far what our generation has done is develop faster and faster methods of sharing pictures of cats with everyone you’ve ever known. No cure for cancer. No flying cars. Just incremental improvements on stuff that’s been around since we were kids. Where’s our big thing? What is it we’re supposed to be doing to leave our mark on the world? I’m as clueless as everyone else I guess, but someone needs to figure this mess out and get working on it.

3. Only when it’s convenient. There are a slew of stories in the press this week about the meteoric rise in Baltimore’s murder rate this month. An AP story weeps that “Now West Baltimore residents worry they’ve been abandoned by the officers they once accused of harassing them.” Well shut my mouth. You treated officers like dirt, sued, and badmouthed them at every turn and suddenly the community is surprised to learn the blue line between civilization and chaos is a little more thin than they realized. I appreciate their efforts to have it both ways – to have a deep and active police presence banging heads and taking down criminals but not the “low level” criminals who are “members of the community.” Sorry folks, it’s a binary system. The law is the law – felonies or civil violations – and when you break that law you recognize that there could be consequences for your actions. For decades parts of Baltimore thought they’d be better off without law and order. Well gang, next time let’s go ahead and remember to be careful what we ask for… because unintended consequences can be a real mother.

Prune juice…

While I’ve been fiddling around on the internet this week I’ve gotten a steady stream of reminders that friends from high school are becoming parents of high school graduates themselves. I’ll just sit here for a minute and let that sink in. Their kids are finishing something I feel like we just finished ourselves a few years ago… Except of course we didn’t. As I was reminded when I saw someone mention the impending arrival of our 20th high school reunion next summer. How exactly that happened, I have no idea. It’s like I turned around to get something on the other side of the room and 19 years snuck away while I wasn’t paying attention.

I won’t get into the realization that these days 50 is way closer than 15. Aside from the occasional ache and pain (and other assorted indignities), I don’t feel like that could possibly be true. It is, though. Don’t bother to consult a calendar. Trust me. It’ll be unnerving if you do the math.

So if you’ll excuse me I’ll shuffle off to the kitchen now to enjoy a refreshing glass of prune juice and see if my dentures need scrubbed.

[Adjective] Professionals…

My little part of Uncle’s vast army of minions has been plagued with morale issues for what feels like as long as I can remember. As usual, there’s no one root cause. There is a conglomeration of issues that beset and bespoil any engendered feelings of goodwill. Maybe that’s just the natural state of things in an enormous bureaucracy – the unhappy rabble fester in a simmering cauldron of discontent while the gods on Olympus conduct studies, launch pilot programs, dither, and tune their fiddles. They may well be trying to do something corrective, but either they’re too far removed to really understand the fine points, bad choices are being foisted upon them from still higher up the mountain, or they’re simply living embodiments of the Peter Principle. Not altogether rarely, you’ll find a combination of all three – an Unholy Trinity of Bureaucracy if you will.

The latest trend-of-the-moment is making everyone refers to themselves as “Trusted Professionals.” I’m sure someone came up with it as a means of improving the esprit de corps, of conveying the privilege of being part of something greater than any one individual, but seriously the phrase just begs for mockery. Crusted Professionals. Rusted Professionals. Busted Professionals. Take your pick. Insert the adjective of your choice and you, my friend, are now well on your way to being as jaded and cynical as the rest of us.

As a writer, I firmly believe that words are important. Words can change the course of history. Words only do that, though, when they’re back up by deeds. When they’re not, words are just words – more flotsam and jetsam on the mighty sea of brainstorms that fizzled before they ever really got started. If you want someone to be a trusted professional, then start trusting them to be professionals. Set the standard and then hold them accountable for results. The rest will follow.

Or just make them repeat an otherwise meaningless catch phrase at the end of meetings and hope it catches on. At least that way it will be fodder for the interwebs.

By their blood…

For generations unbroken stretching back to before the Revolution, America’s bravest sons and daughters have shouldered the burden so many of the rest of us studiously avoided. They shouldered the nation’s hopes and dreams, answered the call, and stood on point to defend our collective ideals and advance the proposition that democracy and liberty are worth defending.

They died in the hundreds and thousands in places with names like Niagara, Ticonderoga, Vera Cruz, Chancellorsville, Manila, Ypres, Guadalcanal, Tunisia, Anzio, Normandy, Inchon, Khe Sanh, Granada, Mogadishu, Kandahar, and Fallujah.

The world and popular culture may want to forget – to pretend that peace and love are enough to sustain us. The men and women who served, though, know differently. They know that we’re sustained only because so many of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors were willing to pay out that “last full measure of devotion.”

The modern world was built on their backs and paid for by their blood. Let us never diminish their sacrifice by pretending otherwise.

Nested…

After sitting on the kitchen counter for a week (as most small home improvement projects do when I bring them home), I got the Nest thermostat plugged in this morning. All I can say at this point is that it successfully turns the furnace and air conditioning on when requested – but like most other people who buy a “smart” appliance, I’m really more interested in how it’s going to perform without direct human intervention.I can’t give you a review of how well that part works just yet, but will once we’ve passed the 30 day mark.

Installation was just about as simple as you could hope to make it. Two screws, four wires, and then snapping the “brain” into place is all there is. All-in, the process, including setting up bells, whistles, and cleaning up the packaging took about 40 minutes. That included drinking a cup of coffee and spending five minutes in the basement (where I had to go to kill power at the electric panel) looking for something unrelated in the boxes that still live down there.

Based on where my thermostat is located in the house, I have some lingering doubts about how well it will “learn” my living patterns over the next few days. That’s easy enough to remedy by manually setting a schedule for the system, but that does take away at least some small virtue of this type of automation. Still, being the creature of habit I am, a set schedule may prove to be more effective.

Regardless of how it gets to learn my preferences – either by observation or from me just telling it what to do – Nest surely has to do a better job than the old school mercury switch it’s replacing. Once you’re past the idea that you’re giving up another little slice of your privacy to a wholly owned subsidiary of Google (and the price), I think it’s going to be a hard device not to like.

If nothing else, it does look awfully nice hanging there on the wall.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pay at the pump. Look, I did the B-school thing. I get the business model you’re using. I know that the average convenience store doesn’t make jack squat from selling gasoline… you make your money when people come in and buy a slurpee or a hotdog or a case of beer. If I’m paying at the pump, though, that’s probably because I don’t want to come in to the damned store. Can you knock it off with playing twenty questions before letting me buy a little gas? No, I don’t want a car wash. Why they actual eff do you need to know what my zip code is? I don’t care one way or another if you print a recipe… except when I say yes and then your little printer-in-the-pump is out of paper or ink or isn’t working for whatever reason. I just want to swipe my card, fill up the tank, and move on. I don’t come in and ask your employees their home address, what exactly goes in the chicken salad or if they can just put my beer in a paper sack instead of plastic. Please can we just complete our transaction and go our separate ways? I’d be willing to pay a few cents more a gallon just for that small mercy.

2. Working late. It’s hard to believe I ever sought out jobs where 12 hour days were the standard. Now I’m older, wiser, and my overtime rate isn’t worth a damn. I admit it, I’m a jealous guard of my personal time, but the other side of that coin is that I do my level best not to drag my personal life into the office. It doesn’t matter to me if its five minutes, fifty, or five hours. It’s not about the money. Time, once spent, is irrecoverable – money, by contrast, flies off the presses all day every day. What’s even more noxious is the assumption that I can just stick around as if there’s not another thing in the world to do. If you’re going to burn up my time, I’d appreciate at least an acknowledgement that it’s an inconvenience that’s been noted. Don’t worry, though, I’ll make sure the scales balance, but it will be balanced at the time of my choosing, regardless of what’s convenient for anyone else.

3. Palmyra. One of the greatest archeological treasures in the world has fallen to lunatic Islamic forces in Syria. It’s gotten some coverage. It will get a little more when the looting and destruction start in ernest. It’s the kind of place that’s worth defending, but mostly the world with shrug and wring its collective hands when millennia of history are smashed, bulldozed, or sold off onto the black market. I don’t have much use for radicals of any stripe, but for the ones who destroy history just for the joy of seeing it burn, slow death is too good for their ilk.