Typhoid Mike…

I see that Vice President Pence is out, about, and on the campaign trail… despite being directly exposed to COVID-19 and nominally being subject to a 14-day quarantine period. 

His team has said the ongoing campaign makes the vice president an “essential worker.” Aside from essential workers (think doctors, EMTs, etc.) not being exempt from quarantine or isolation procedures, let me explain why running for vice president wouldn’t qualify as “essential” even if such an exemption existed.

The following are quotes about the nature of the vice presidency, some from men who have occupied that high and illustrious office themselves:

A spare tire on the automobile of government.  John Nance Garner

The Vice-Presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit. — John Nance Garner

The vice presidency is the sand trap of American politics.  It’s near the prize, and designed to be limiting. Howard Fineman

There were once two brothers.  One ran away to sea, the other was elected Vice President, and neither was ever heard of again. Thomas R. Marshall

The man with the best job in the country is the Vice President. All he has to do is get up every morning and say, “How’s the president?” Will Rogers

My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived. John Adams

If you are very active as vice-president, everyone in America knows your name.  But that is your only property.  It is not the same as real power—more like being a movie star.  Norman Mailer

There cannot be a great vice president.  A great man may occupy the office, but there is no way for him to become a great vice president because the office in itself is almost wholly unimportant. John Nance Garner

I have serious doubts that any job described in such ringing terms could ever, really, be defined as anything approaching essential… especially not when there’s a significantly greater than zero percent chance the incumbent could be the administration’s very own Typhoid Mike, crisscrossing the country spewing contagion at every stop.

Don’t worry, someone else will do it…

I’ve realized this week, though hardly for the first time, that a disturbing amount of my workload exists purely because people can’t be trusted to do what they’ve been told to do. 

Let me give you an example. There’s a report that’s been due every Friday for months. Instead of doing something like sending out a message that says “Hey, you need to turn this information in every Friday until we tell you to stop,” and then expect that grown adults will be able to do that, every Friday morning we prep and send out an Official Reminder that the exact same information is going to be due again next week. Instead of doing a thing once time, we do it 52 times… because expecting alleged professionals to do their job is a problematic course of action.

Another example? Sure. We have a system that keeps track of all the official things people are supposed to be working on. Every office has access to this system and can see what’s assigned, what’s in progress, what’s due, and what’s late with the click of a few buttons. We send out a weekly reminder on those things too… actually, now we send out that reminder twice a week since, again, alleged professionals can’t be troubled to keep track of what they’re supposedly doing.

If you’re thinking that failing to do your damned job would lead to some kind of adverse action, you get partial credit. Nothing bad happens to the people who are days or weeks late getting the job done, but my little part of the Great Green Machine finds itself with more work to poke, prod, cajole, and plead with people to do whatever it is they were assigned to finish.

Those at echelons higher than reality seems to think that the problem is in not passing out enough reminders. I tend to think the problem lies in people being irresponsible and not getting a well-deserved ass chewing as a result.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Ammo. The ongoing shitshow that is 2020 has had many troubling moments. One of the bright spots, from my perspective, is that it’s brought a huge number of first time gun purchasers into the fold – people who have made a conscious decision that self-defense isn’t something they can or should leave to “the authorities” and decided that owing a firearm isn’t, shouldn’t be, the sole province of local Bubbas and Gomers. I think it’s absolutely terrific… but holy hell, this year has made it somewhere between hard and impossible to lay your hands-on ammunition at anything approaching a reasonable price. 

2. Housekeeping. If life in a plague year has revealed nothing else to me, it’s uncovered how much I truly despise basic housekeeping chores like dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms. In the before time, I could get away with doing them no more than once a week since for huge stretches of time there was no one here getting things dirty. With me and the animals now occupying all parts of the house 24/7, though, I’m after it three times a week. Sure, it’s better than the alternative of being back in cubicle hell full time, but I’m not a fan of the new cleaning regime. I’ll keep at it, of course, because my deep desire for neat and orderly is far stronger than my aversion to running the vacuum one more time.

3. Cooking. Over the years I’ve grown reasonably competent at keeping myself fed. I have a three-ring binder of recipes I know I like – and most of which will provide me with a few days of leftovers so I can make large dinners for myself three nights a week instead of seven. I love every meal that comes out of that binder. The trouble is, now that we’re well into the seventh month of the plague year, I’ve made each of those recipes multiple times and the regular infusion of things picked up on the way home from work has dropped to almost non-existent. As competent as I am at feeding myself, sometimes you really just want someone else to do it. Those opportunities, by my own choice, are few and far between. Sure, I could drum up some new recipes, but, for the same reason I don’t pick new things off a menu in my favorite restaurant, that would inevitably lead to ending up spending time an effort making food I won’t necessarily enjoy. I’d rather sit down to a meal I’m bored with than risk something that’s inedible… so it looks like I’ll be spending some time over the next few weeks tweaking some of the old recipes to see what I can come up with.

The vagaries of memory…

Picking Concord grapes is one of my first vague childhood memories. There were friends of the family (distant relatives, maybe) living way the hell north in Erie. They had a house in town, an endless supply of Pez candy, and what now would be called a vintage Volkswagen van. Back then, in the early 1980s, it was just an old van, of course. It’s funny, the things we remember.

We’d go north to Erie in the fall. There was grape picking. I know my memory isn’t completely faulty on this because not long ago I saw the photographic evidence. I’d eat those damned Concord grapes until I got sick. Forty years later, if I don’t impose a touch of self-discipline, I’ll still eat those uniquely purple grapes to the point of making myself sick.

I’m convinced it’s these partially formed memories that are responsible for my ongoing love of grape soda, or candy, or anything flavored in that particular grape-y profile. 

My local Mennonite fruit stand had Concord’s by the quart basket this weekend. I didn’t clean them out, but I put a dent in their stock. They’re the kind of thing that have to be enjoyed in season so when they’re ready it’s a race to eat as many as possible. I’ve avoided making myself violently ill (so far), but boy I’m right there on the cusp… and I regret nothing – especially the memories.

A vote of conscience…

There was a minor outcry here in Maryland last week when our moderately Republican governor of this deeply blue state cast his vote for the corpse of Ronald Reagan. It took about 30 seconds for social media to start glowing with dozens of “Hogan threw away his vote” posts.

I’ve been hearing the outcry that voting for anyone except a Republican or a Democrat is throwing away your vote since before I was even registered. Here’s the thing, the idea that someone is throwing away their vote is utter bullshit. Let me tell you why.

You see, despite what people seem to want to tell me, my vote belongs to me. It’s not bought and owned property of whatever candidate has my usually preferred letter after their name… and it’s certainly not automatically destined for the other just because he seems less bad than the other major party option. We’ve puttered along far too long with parties that assume “well, they have to vote for one of us.” 


I went along with their line of reasoning for a long time myself, but this year is the end of that. I’ve absolutely finished casting my last vote for the “lesser.”  

I’ve voted this year for Jo Jorgensen because she’s the better option and speaks more to the issues I care about than either the Republican incumbent or the Democratic challenger. We don’t agree on every position… and I’m ok with that, because if your default setting is maximizing personal liberty, I don’t think you can go too far wrong in most cases.

There are plenty of people who will tell me I tossed my vote just like my governor did, but it’s the first vote for president I’ve cased in 12 years that I’m not almost embarrassed by. I like Jo and thing she’d be an admirable president… but in all honesty, the corpse of Ronald Reagan would still be a better president than either major party candidate, so even that’s a vote of conscience. 

Eleven too many…

It took well under fifteen minutes of being back at work for the restorative effects of nine days of rest and relaxation to be completely worn away.

Even in a plague year, even doing nothing of any significance, not having to dick around with “work stuff” was absolutely lovely. I’ve often heard people say they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they didn’t work. I literally have no idea what they’re talking about. Get a damned hobby or something. I’ve been accused often enough of not knowing how to “properly” have fun, but sitting quietly in an empty room, staring at a blank wall is better than the endless trickle of emails and questions that could have been resolved if someone had bothered to read the God forsaken memo.

I didn’t so much as give a though to needing to be off-site support for fluorescent lit cubicle hell until about 3:00 Sunday afternoon. Within 40 minutes of being at it, though, the only thing on my mind is how many days are between me and the next long weekend. In case you’re wondering, the answer is 11… and that’s awfully close to 11 too many. 

I’ll always be glad of having a job that allows be to take care of the animals in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed… but there’s no power in heaven or on earth that can make the think it’s a good time.

Rolling back the clock…

For the duration of the Great Plague thus far, I’ve been even more of a recluse than normal. Avoiding places where people congregate is a decided lifestyle choice and hasn’t felt like much of a burden. 

During this last week, I’ve taken the opportunity to catch up on some errands I’ve been putting off. I almost wish I wouldn’t have done that. What I observed out in the world does not fill me with confidence. While some are making concerted efforts, at least as many seem to have decided that masks, and distancing, and… basic hygiene rules of any kind don’t really need to be observed. 

Seeing the virus come roaring back across Europe as they’ve loosened their restrictions – and yes, watching the infection rate surge here in the US over the last couple of weeks, it’s become painfully obvious that no one anywhere really has a firm grip on how to be open and doing it safely.

So, with that, I’m rolling back the clock. From here at Fortress Jeff, we’ll be leaving the homestead for essential business only. All of you are more than welcome to go sit in your favorite bars or restaurants, wander around Walmart to your heart’s content, forgo your mask, or bunch up in any crowded place that strikes your interest. I don’t want any part of it.

I’ve always thought I had a reasonably well developed self-preservation instinct. Smart people are telling me there is a problem and have offered remarkably simple ways to avoid it. If you can’t be bothered to follow their bare minimum advice or recommendations, I truly don’t have any desire or interest in sharing space with you for the foreseeable future. I can’t control what anyone else does, of course, but I bloody well can control what I do as a result. 

If anyone needs me, stand at the end of the driveway and shout loudly, I guess. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Look, it’s increasingly easy to find three things a week in this tired old world that annoy me to no end. Turn on the news, pick the first three stories they cover, and I’m probably annoyed about each and every one of them.

This week, though, is an oddity. Being in the midst of burning off a tranche of vacation time, most of the noise has faded into the deep background. I’m getting up, drinking my coffee, spending quality time with the critters, reading a bit, cooking, and fiddling around with a few minor projects around the house. 

At least for the last few days, I’ve created a happy little bubble here and thoroughly enjoyed staying in it while whatever is going on “out there” stays out there. For these few moments, I’m not annoyed by a single damned thing in the world… except the certain knowledge that this particular idyll will soon enough come to a tragic finish.

And that’s far worse than the combination than any other three things I can imagine.

Maybe it’s more of a “you” problem…

There are a few things that make my eyes roll harder than the idea that women are held back in the world because they have to cook, do laundry, and tend to the basic chores of running the household while implying that men somehow don’t need to do those same things.

For most of the last twenty years, of my own volition, I’ve been breadwinner, cook, bottle washer, launderer, housekeeper, maintenance technician, armorer, groundskeeper, appointment maker, shopper-in-chief, and animal care officer. Somehow, I’ve managed to do those things while exerting the effort to reach a wide array of personal and professional goals.

Whatever perceived “male privilege” with respect to basic household management some seem to think accrues due to having a penis hasn’t shed its divine grace on how we do things here at Fortress Jeff. If it had, I clearly wouldn’t be typing this with one ear cocked to hear the buzz of the dryer or while casting the occasional thought towards what to make for dinner tonight.

So, when someone tells me I don’t understand that “Nobody cooks for her…,” honest to God, I have no earthly idea what they’re talking about. As a fully formed human adult, I possess the ability to do all of those things for myself – and I do them, because I like to eat and wear clean clothes. Since setting up housekeeping on my own twenty years ago, I’ve never expected anyone to manage those things on my behalf.

If you’re not happy with whatever domestic arrangement you’ve created for yourself, I struggle to think of it as a structural issue rather than a “you” problem. To the best of my knowledge there’s no Constitutional amendment, executive order, or holy writ codifying that ovaries are required to operate the damned stove or to take something out of the washing machine.

We live and die with the choices we make and the things we decide are acceptable or not. If someone or something is standing between you and the life you think you should be living, the onus is on you to find a way over, under, or through them… or just post funny, funny memes on the internet.

That probably works too. 

What I’d rather be doing…

I’m not working this week. It’s the first time in this plague year I’ve taken a block of days off in sequence. I’ve spent the last couple of them knocking around the house, cleaning, and running errands. It’s nothing spectacular, but all things that needed doing. Here on Tuesday, we’ve arrived at the point in time where I have nothing particularly pressing to do.

What I’d like to spend this new-found free time doing, is digging around some of my favored used book shops and carrying home untold treasure. What I am doing, as you can see, is sitting here at the keyboard writing about what I’d rather be doing. 

There are, of course, reasons for this. Perhaps I should say there’s one main reason that’s not happening at the moment… but to tell that story, I have to first tell you a bit about my general philosophy of acquisition. 

Some collectors focus on a particular author, a genre, a time period, or topic. They might want signed copies or first editions. Me, well, I want nice copies, firsts if I can get them, but ultimately, my focus is on bringing in books I actually want to read. That goal has been achieved in spades. There’s literally nothing on my “to be read” shelves that I don’t want to read. 

With 500+ volumes now lingering on those to be read shelves, though, I’m beginning to feel like a victim of my own success. Based on my average yearly reading rate, I’ve built up a slightly less than eight-year backlog… and because I keep the to be read anti-library separate from the ones I have read, space is becoming something of an issue… again. I’ve lost track of how many times this has been the case already. This time, though, I’m running up against a physical limit on available wall space for more shelving in that particular room.

With all that being the case, it seems that I have a couple of possible courses of action: 1) Dramatically reduce the number of books being brought in until I’ve freed up space; 2) Viciously cull the to be read list with a goal of jettisoning somewhere between 25-50% of titles that are “below the line”; 3) Let the to be read pile bleed out into new space; 4) Box up titles I’m not likely to get to any time soon and allocate them to deep storage in an under-utilized closet; or 5) Accept that this is just life now and buy a warehouse.

So, I’ve got some decisions to make. I like the idea of bringing some discipline to the collection – of focusing in my reading on whatever I decide are the highest priority books. I absolutely hate the idea of conducting a great cull. It’s an admission of defeat – that no matter how interesting, I’m accepting that I’ll never, ever get to it. It’s even worse knowing that a year or two from now I’m likely to be in the same position… although it guarantees that after a few cycles of binge and purge, I’d have a heavily curated reading list with every title intensely focused on what appeals to me in a book. There’s an appeal there, to be sure.

Right now, at this minute as I’m writing, I fully intend to drastically slow down the number of books arriving until I’ve made some decisions. That’s not saying tomorrow I won’t be schlepping through a used book shop fondling a new box of books I just couldn’t live without. Still, I feel like I deserve some credit for even considering the issue in depth.