I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I’ve reached the end of having interesting things to say. These posts get harder and harder to finish. In truth they get harder and harder to start too. For a guy who generally likes to use his words, that’s something of a problem.
Fact is, you’d probably be surprised by the sheer amount of energy that goes into dreaming up a fresh new post five times a week, trying to be at least marginally entertaining (or at least informative), and do it before my eyes go hopelessly crossed from too much staring at a monitor over the course of a typical weekday. Add in the mostly undeniable fact that I’ve been mentally and intellectual bankrupt by the time I back up the driveway these last few weeks and you’ve got a healthy part of the recipe for really bad writing… or at least really forced writing. Those two things don’t always arrive together, but they’re often found as two sides of the same coin.
I take great solace in the fact that the shitshow at the center of my current state of mental decrepitude will be at an end by this time next week. At which time I’m quite confident I’ll “lay me down and bleed a while, and then rise up to fight again.” Until then, I’m almost certain to remain nearly unable to string two reasonably coherent sentences together or really make a decent point of any kind.
And that, friends, is What Annoys Jeff this Week.
Just down the road from my office, two government-owned aerostats (we’ll call them blimps for simplicity from here on out), were tethered as part of air defense test program. I say “were” because around mid-day, there was only one… mostly because the other one slipped it’s leash and was rushing due north with the prevailing wind and trailing 6,500 feet of inch-thick kevlar tail behind it.
How does this relate to the further adventures of a half assed event planner, you may ask? Well, in all honesty it really doesn’t. Not directly anyway… Except that when a $175 million, 7,000 pound, 242 foot long unmanned airship jumps out of harness to threaten air traffic and the electrical grid in the northeast corridor, every ounce of available attention is radically shifted away from your little party and violently focused elsewhere.
Usually I’d feel bad for the poor bastard who lost his radar platform, but that noble fool bought me some breathing room today. He will know far worse suffering than could be mustered against me, no matter how badly bungled my event becomes. In fact, I’d probably half to walk naked into the middle of a packed house and then proceed to set the building on fire to even garner a fraction of the angst and gnashing of teeth those unfortunates are enduring tonight.
The lesson here tonight is that sometimes bad things happen… and when those bad things are happening to someone else you should always be prepared to use them to your advantage while everyone is looking the other way.
Lest anyone grow suspicious, I have a room full of people who can vouch for my whereabouts from 10:00-12:00 today, so I’m fully alibied.
Fifty weeks our of the year the right high and right mighty redoubtable right noble lords of our realm don’t know I exist. I like it that way. In fact I sought out anonymity and willingly stepped away from a track likely bound for leadership. If I ever wanted that life for myself it’s a notion I lost quickly, much preferring a role as simply one of many.
Two weeks out of the year, usually sometime between October and November, those mighty lords turn their eyes upon me… and it’s a terrible thing to behold. It’s a little like having the Eye of Sauron taking a good long look at you. That eye. That unwavering, soul crushing eye turns on you. God help you then. “Leadership” and helpful “recommendations” will fall from the sky like hammer blows. You’ll get executive level “assistance” until it’s oozing our your ears.
When you’re a half assed event planner the very first thing you learn is that nothing you’re doing is important to anyone above your immediate boss until about a week before whatever it is you’re planning is supposed to happen. Guidance, intent, guests, and outcomes are all helpful things that could be given well in advance, but they won’t be. You don’t have a prayer of getting those until it’s too late to matter – so you muddle through making up your own guidance for lack of any better until someone tells you to stop.
Under the circumstances, the very best outcome you can hope for is to avoid having a heart attack, a stroke, or saying something to get yourself fired. Beyond that, your two weeks basking in the withering glare of Sauron’s unblinking eye are simply something to be endured. You can’t measure success or failure in conventional terms. Just surviving is all that matters.
The United States Office of Personnel Management is the big daddy human resource office for the federal government’s executive branch. From hiring, to pay and benefits, to security clearance investigations, there’s OPM, standing watch over a treasure trove of government employee’s personal information. So bungling are they at the job of protecting that information that 20-odd millions past and present employees are now “protected” by a third-party identity theft prevention company.
So well protected are the data stored in OPM’s vast archive that they apparently don’t know who’s who themselves. Which might help explain why I got a letter addressed to an Edward Tharp at my current mailing address. I’m not now nor have I ever been known as Edward Tharp (which they’d know if they had bothered to reference any of the information I have on file with them). Edward isn’t even my middle name, so that excuse won’t carry them very far.
In the vast swath of the bureaucracy, I’m sure somewhere there is an Edward Tharp wondering why he didn’t get his security breach letter.
Mistakes happen. I make plenty of them. But mixing up something like an employee’s name and home address when you’re trying to restore trust that you are on the job protecting our personal information really just reinforces the idea that you have no bleeding idea what you’re doing down there. Name and address should be up there near the top of our HR folders. That should be an easy win for you guys… but if you can’t get that right, I hope you’ll forgive me if I remain permanently skeptical of your ability to handle the big things.
My daily schedule is so well ingrained by now that it doesn’t even feel like a schedule. It just feels like life taking it’s natural course. That’s how it feels right up until something sends the future careening off into a different timeline, which is what happened this morning.
Fortunately it wasn’t accompanied by the arrival of a time-traveling version of me from the future and a rift in the space-time continuum, but it was accompanied by the blaring of klaxons and a general confusion about why the universe seemed to be crashing down on my head at 5AM on a Sunday. Even the dogs seemed perplexed at what was happening, so at least I wasn’t alone in my confusion.
As it turns out, my daily habits are far more deep-rooted than I imagined, because without giving it a thought I’d apparently managed to set all of my normal week-day alarms on my way to bed last night. Unintentional. Unthinking. Just the sheer force of habit from so very many early mornings past.
Fortunately I only cheated myself out of about an hour, since 6AM is what passes for sleeping in around here. I may have started out life as a night owl, but I’ve grudgingly come to appreciate the deep quiet of these small hours of the morning.
1. Being filler. So a funny thing about events is that when you plan one that people are interested in, they tend to show up. When you plan an all day snoozefest, they tend to avoid it if they can. The easy solution to this problem is just to declare the snoozefest a designated place of duty for the day and *poof* you have an instant packed house. The problem of course, is even though you can mandate that people be somewhere in body, you certainly can’t force them to be present in mind or spirit. So instead of working my own projects – and tending to my own nearly sold out event – I get to be filler. Because a 2/3 empty auditorium looks bad… and not looking bad is far more important than actually doing good.
2. I’ve spent the week basically regurgitating the same seven or eight points for people who either didn’t bother to read the source material or were incapable of understanding it. Since many of these people have fancy titles like CEO, Vice President of Whatever, Owner, and Doctor, I have to wonder who exactly is out there keeping the lights on in the business community. I’m sure they’re all very busy, very important people, but a bit of basic reading and comprehension really doesn’t feel like too much to expect… and yet it is.
3. A monopoly on good ideas. Just because someone has a star on their uniform (you know, like the Texaco man), we really owe it to ourselves not to fall into the trap of assuming that he or she is the font of truth and all good ideas. No one, not even the high and the mighty have a monopoly on good ideas. Telling truth to power is hard work. It demands personal courage, but if no one else in the room is brave enough to correct the man in the big chair when he insists the grass is purple and the sky is green, we’re not doing anyone, including ourselves, any favors.
Sure, under most circumstances I’d be diligently working on tonight’s post, but just now it feels more important to watch Back to the Future Part II. Which is exactly what I intend to do with the evening. On such an important historical day, even a dedicated blogger deserves a break.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have a philosophical compunction with working past my scheduled end-of-tour time. That is I don’t have a compunction about it as long as it meets several criteria, such as the situation being such that the intervening overnight hours would cause serious harm to a project or program, an action or inaction on my part is going to have a negative consequence for some far flung Joe sitting at the pointy end of the spear, or immediate action is required in defense of life or property. In a situation failing to meet one or more of those criteria, 999 time out of 1,000, it’s going to be utterly irrelevant to the universe whether I take action at 4PM or 7AM.
But you see, the thing is when you run a meeting right up to the end of the day, there’s no way to ever know why the little light is flashing on my phone or what catastrophic messages are waiting in my inbox. They’re simply a mystery to be revealed the next day. Over a decade of experience has taught me that the subject of both is going to be the need for a new PowerPoint chart, adding someone to the guest list, or making sure a temporary smoking area gets designated. None of those things rises to the level of my three criteria – Jeff’s Three Justifications for Staying Late; like the three laws of robotics, only currently applicable to your day to day life.
Once I got it through my thick skull that in almost every case imaginable, there’s always tomorrow, I started to sleep a lot better at night. And when that day arrives when I’ve run out of tomorrows, well, then it will be someone else’s hot mess to worry over. In either case, I’m out. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.
I wasn’t part of the conversation, mercifully, but it strikes me that people who should have better things to think about spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decide where they’re supposed to sit… or instructing their functionaries to spend time thinking about where they’re going to be sitting at some point in the future.
Rank, privilege, order of precedence, protocol, say what you will but from my observation nothing productive ever came from worrying too much about those things. I’ve met presidents, potentates, and captains of industry, but none of them have really overawed me. That’s probably because no matter how they rank among the great and the good, I know they still look ridiculous dropping a deuce or having an orgasm. It’s the human condition. Best not to forget that despite what ornamentation you might be wearing, your turd shooter ain’t gonna wipe itself.
Although some of the high and the mighty might even be nice enough people, but I’ve still never met one I like more than I like my dogs. I guess maybe there’s just too much Western Maryland left in me to care much about where I sit or who’s on my left or right. There are enough real, honest to God issues in the world that need dealing with. It seems that the least we might be able to agree on is that as long as there are enough chairs in the room, who’s sitting where really, truly, doesn’t make any difference.
It’s no surprise that I’m a man who enjoys his comforts. For fifteen years, one of those comforts was a second hand La-Z-Boy that came into my possession in 1997. Since then it moved through two college dorm rooms, a travesty of a senior-year apartment, an efficiency at the southern tip of Maryland, my bunker-style condo, Petersburg, Virginia, three months in Army storage and then onward to Ellicott City, my Memphis exile, and two houses here in the northeastern corner of Maryland.
I think it cost all of $50 way back when. A lot of furniture has passed through my hands since then, but it was the one item that stayed. Some would say it stayed longer than it should have, but I kept it because it was still comfortable and, maybe more importantly, because it was surprisingly sentimental. It was one of the few things still around from when I set out on my own.
It reached the end of it’s run when I moved into the new place here. Even I couldn’t come up with sufficient justification to keep a broken down, worse than threadbare, La-Z-Boy around. In the early hours of Saturday morning, I consigned it to the good earth of Cecil County. It feels like the whole thing should have been done with a bit more ceremony than simply hurling it off the back of the truck – a sad end for 17 years of good and faithful service.