The list maker…

I’m a list maker. I’ve got a list for groceries, a list of projects that needs done around the house, a list of books I want to read, and countless others of varying lengths.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve started keeping what feels like it could be the most dangerous list of all. No, it’s not an enemies list. I’ve earned a few of those over the years, but I don’t consider my enemies in any way dangerous enough to need to keep the little shits on a list. This new list that has been evolving lives on my phone under the heading of “Things I want to Learn More About.” It’s a deceptively simple title for what’s threatening to become a weighty issue.

My reading, especially in history, has long suffered because of my habit of allowing myself to fall down research rabbit holes either because of footnotes or random tidbits that caught my interest but were only tangentially related to the main theme of whatever I happened to be reading. I’d often find myself stopping to google something and then spend half an hour or more picking up the basics. Interesting as it is, that methodology is a hard way to get through a book.

So, for the last few weeks I’ve been making a conscious decision to just take a note of the people, places, or things that warranted further reading. It’s hard to say for sure, but I feel like my reading pace and retention rate are both at least a little better off for this new way of conducting myself.

The down side, because of course there’s always a down side, is that I seem to be adding an innumerable amount of topics to my already lengthy reading list. Just from the past weekend’s reading of Arsenal of Democracy, I want to dig in to a) The transfer of power at Ford Motor Company from Henry to his grandson; b) Henry’s Fair Lane estate; c) General Motors early corporate history; d) Bill Knudsen, biography; e) Alfred P. Slone, biography.

There’s no particular reason I need to know any of these things other than having a curious mind and an interest spurred on by some passing references in what I was reading. It’s only a problem when each new book leads to four or five other things and you realize, as always, that time is a limited and non-renewable resource. If I’m lucky, my thirst can be slaked for most topics with a quick read through a Wikipedia article. Others, though, will deserve full books in their own right and each one of those will lead to its own list of more things I want to know.

There are times I wonder if it wouldn’t be altogether more satisfying to be a little bit stupid. It feels like it would certainly save me a great deal of time and effort… and probably reduce the number of items on all my lists significantly.

Saturday, in the morning…

It’s Saturday. By now it shouldn’t be a suspense to anyone that I have a plan for that. Even in the absence of a plan I’d have a routine to surely keep myself in track.

Wake up. Do dog stuff. Shit, shower, and shave. Coffee. Pay bills, check finances, etc. then my favorite part – after establishing that the household will be on a sound financial footing for at least the next week – the 90 or so minutes of calm and quiet before launching out to get groceries and run the other errands necessary to keep the homestead functioning.

Its probably the most singularly peaceful block of time in my entire week and I love it for that.

What I learned this week…

After you’ve been almost twenty years a bureaucrat, you think you know all the tricks in the book. With that kind of experience, one might be forgiven for thinking they’ve seen it all before. Even so, I’ve learned an important new skill this week that is sure to improve my abilities as a professional bureaucrat going forward.

Like the very best skills in every field, this technique seems deceptively simple. All you have to do to start is say “I agree with everything you’ve just proposed.” Then follow that statement with the qualifier, “with the following changes” and proceed to list half a dozen ways in which you’re going to change the proposal you’ve just nominally agreed with.

For a moment, the poor unsuspecting fool you’re dealing with might even think they’ve gotten the approval that they need to move something forward. Only later once they’ve digested the proposed changes will they realize their proposal may have been changed root and stem.

The good news is that this approach doesn’t have to be a one-and-done. You can keep on agreeing with the thing you just changed while proposing further changes through endless iterations. It’s the bureaucratic gift that keeps on giving. If you’re confident enough, you can keep this self licking ice cream cone rolling on for days or weeks, maybe even months under the right circumstances.

A lesser man might be enraged when realizing he’s been played by such a smooth operator. Not being a lesser man, I’ll just consider it a lesson learned and a new skill I’ll very quickly adopt for my own kit bag.

What Annoys Jeff this week?

1. The US Postal Service. I probably shouldn’t say this out loud while my taxes are in transit, but they should have arrived at their destination by now. Emphasis on the “should have.” In any case, I’ve just received a Christmas card. It was postmarked on the 20-somethingth of December and delivered to me here on the homestead just in time for Valentine’s Day. Maybe I should award points for it getting here at all based on some of my other recent experiences. Increasingly the expectation that products and services should work as advertised feels like something that’s just too much to hope for.

2. Baltimore. One of the perennial joys of living in the State of Maryland is the unending shitshow that is Baltimore City. In a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, we somehow are home to one of the world’s largest live action shooting ranges. Year after year the legislature pours ever increasing amounts of money into the city, because surely that will fix all the problems. Let’s not get hung up on the fact that when asked, the city government generally doesn’t seem able to tell anyone where the money they’ve already been given went or what improvements were made as a result. For my entire adult life, Baltimore has been governed by increasingly feckless “leaders” whose sole purpose in life seems to be finding new and more ridiculous ways to convince Annapolis to give them mountains of cash. The city government either needs to get its house in order or the state should step in and get the city into line. Allowing it to continue to swallow prodigious amounts of tax dollars without showing even the most marginal of improvements feels downright criminal.

3. Mind reading. It’s worth repeating from time to time that mind reading is not among my many varied talents. If you tell me you want something, I’m going to proceed from the assumption that you know what you want. I’m going to do my best to give it to you – not some version of what you requested, not something with the flavor of your request, but the honest to God thing you asked for to the best of my abilities and within the time allotted. If it turns out what you end up with isn’t what you want, I can promise you that the issue is almost always with the description of the requirements, not with my being way out off the edge of the map somewhere.

Getting up…

I’ve started getting up early. Maybe I should say I’ve started getting up earlier. My standard wake up time at 5am seems to have been early enough to make most people a little twitchy. A morning that starts at 4-something would likely send them ranging completing around the bend.

I don’t hate my slightly early wake up time though. I’ve always had something of a fondness for the early hours of the morning, before the rest of the world wakes up and tries to ruin the day. I generally resent the fact that the human mind and body require sleep at all. Laying there in the darkness for hours at a time doing nothing of note feels like a tragic waste of more than a quarter of the available hours in the day. That’s fertile enough ground that I’ve covered here before.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve consciously made the effort to be out of bed no later than 4:30. Some people would use that time for working out or making breakfast. It’s what I should do. Of course what I’m really doing is using the extra thirty minutes to read another chapter or two and giving the critters some extra ear rubs before leaving for work.

It’s been good having a reminder first thing in the morning of why there’s value in tolerating monumental levels of fuckery during the day ahead. It helps stifle the quiet inner voice that tells me to load up the truck and just keep driving instead of turning into the parking lot. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would rather get that extra thirty minutes of sleep in the morning, but I’m finding those few extra minutes spent actually doing things I enjoy to be almost invaluable.

It’s whatever gets you through the day, I guess.

Fifty days…

There are a grand total of 50 working days between me and kicking off a what I affectionately think of as The Greatest Shitshow on Earth. Fifty days sounds like a fair amount of time. Maybe it should. The reality, in the belly of the one of the world’s great bureaucratic organizations, though, is that 50 days is almost nothing. It’s closer to the time it takes to order and receive supplies than it is to what it takes to deliver a major project.

It’s fifty days to start, two more to do the thing, and a grand total of fifty two more days before this particular piece of work slips astern. It means I’m going to wake up every morning for the next fifty two days a little bit more annoyed than I was on the previous morning. It’s possible that at some point during this endless march of days, my eyes will physically roll right out of my skull.

I’d love to tell you it’s all for a good cause or that the return on investment makes the sheer weight of aggravation somehow worth it. I can’t and it isn’t. The whole thing is a fucking vanity exercise devised and propagated by echelons higher than reality. Look, I’ll go whatever way someone points me, and deliver whatever they ask for as best I can, but don’t ever expect me to pretend it’s an exciting opportunity to do great things. It’s just one more dumbass thing I’m doing to stay off the breadline.

The trouble with Washington's Birthday…

Look, I’m as big a fan of federal holidays as anyone in the country. There’s a problem with Washington’s Birthday, though. Well, technically it’s not a problem with the day itself. It’s more of a problem with what comes after it… which is a long, monotonous, fifteen week slog through spring to the next officially recognized holiday.

Fifteen five day work weeks in a row. Hell might be other people, but that long stretch between holidays gives it a yearly run for its money as far as I’m concerned.

There’s nothing to be done about it, of course, except remember that I have a small mountain of annual leave I have to burn off before the end of the year that I can tap into if things get dire. I’ll do it if I have to, but those days never feel quite as good as the freebies.