Social media is full of posts about how we all need to carry our commerce out with small businesses, that they’re very important, and that they support the local community. All those things are possibly true, but at the same time I’ve been doing my level best to hire various small, local plumbing outfits for a job for the last six weeks. Some don’t pick up their phone. Others don’t return calls once they’ve talked to you or just don’t show up when they’re scheduled. One even when so far as drawing up the plans and then disappeared.
By comparison, I called one of the big regional plumbing operations at 9:00 this morning and at approximately 10:45 I had in my hand three separate proposed set ups, had made a selection, confirmed the parts order, and scheduled the installation time for next week.
Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t support small business. Where you spend your money is a deeply personal decision. That said, I’m absolutely finished bending over backwards and practically begging them to take my money. If getting a decent level of service means dealing strictly with the big players – and paying the corresponding premium – that’s what it’s going to have to be from here on out.
My apologies to small business owners out there, who I’m sure work very hard, but honestly getting quality work done in a timely manner is far more important to me than either where the guy who owns the company lives or getting the rock bottom price. That won’t win me any friends from the Main Street Business Association, but I’m over here trying to run a household. I have neither the time not inclination to go on playing championship phone tag with companies that don’t seem to want to be bothered.
Every time someone mentions requiring a formal system of voter identification, a hue and cry arises that it’s just people placing a structural and financial impediment in the way of someone exercising their rights under the Constitution. It’s all I can do not to laugh them out of the room when they roll out that old chestnut.
Let’s assume I’m a responsible adult with no criminal record who has never owned a firearm, but wants to purchase a handgun to protect my home and property. In order to exercise my rights under the Second Amendment, here’s a taste of the structural and financial hurdles the State of Maryland throws up between me and my rights.
To begin the process, I need to apply for the Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL). All told, the basic requirements involve paying a $50 application fee after completing a 4 hours course ($95) and submitting fingerprints ($65). Then I’ll wait for between 2-4 weeks while the state adjudicates my application. After that, I can go to a gun shop, purchase the handgun I want and wait an additional week or longer for that application to be reviewed by the state. This first hurdle involved a minimum of $210, 4 hours of class time, and 3-5 weeks of various waiting periods. Assuming everything is approved, I’ll then pay $20 every 10 years to renew my HQL.
In order to take the next step and be approved to carry my handgun outside the home, I’d need to check off all the boxes to secure the Maryland Wear and Carry Permit. Submitting this application involves a $75 application fee, another set of fingerprints ($65), and a 16 hour class ($350). The state then has 90 days to review the application. The cost of meeting all the requirements for the wear and carry permit is $490, 16 hours of classroom time, and up to a 90 day wait. If successfully approved, the wear and carry permit in Maryland requires renewal after two years for the initial permit and three years for each subsequent renewal. There is a $50 renewal fee and 8 hour class ($125) for each renewal application.
Without factoring in the additional costs of renewal or the cost of the actual gun, the all in cost to fully exercise your Second Amendment rights in Maryland involves $700 cash out of pocket, 20 hours in the classroom, and about 120 days of wait time. Talk about setting up financial and structural roadblocks.
So, you see, when they screech that the $24 fee for state issued photo identification that can be issued on the day it’s applied for is a roadblock to someone’s right to vote, I find that argument wildly unmoving… unless, of course, their argument really isn’t about helping people exercise their rights and more about maintaining institutionalized power among the political class. In that case, it makes perfect sense.
It’s new supervisor day at the office. I’d like to pretend raging indifference, but the fact remains that whoever signs your leave requests and timesheets has a tremendous influence on whether the eight hours you rent yourself out for on a daily basis go well or badly.
After almost twenty years in harness, I’ve accumulated a long list of former bosses. If I feel like being polite, I’ll say that some were better than others. If I’m not, I’d say that some were princes among men and others were oxygen thieving asshats I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if they were on fire. Most were somewhere in between the extremes.
I don’t know the new guy, so I’m withholding judgement until there’s a reasonable basis for deciding where he falls on the spectrum. A lot of that is going to depend on just how “energetic” they decide to be in their new position. All new bosses will inevitably make changes, but the real determinative factor is whether they wants to change the things that need changing or whether they end up chasing wholesale changes just because they want to “leave a mark” or because he knows better than anyone ever before.
The dude has got big shoes to fill… and I’m not just saying that because the old boss is now my senior rater. It’s a hard, thankless job made all the more difficult because echelons higher than reality can never quite agree on what the job is actually supposed to entail. I’ve had two chances now to apply for what would be a respectable promotion and opted against doing so both times. I wouldn’t want the job at twice the pay. I’m happy enough letting others sit in the councils of the great and the good while I tend my widgets and get home at a reasonable hour.
Yesterday I got a fancy yellow sticker from the county building inspector signifying that the job is complete.
I’m not entirely sure what he inspected. He certainly didn’t turn any nobs or flip any switches. He didn’t go to the basement to check anything. But he was here and I have a sticker and I guess that’s the important part.
We may be finished in the eyes of the county, but there remains a small hitch. The shower floor – all 35 square feet of it – was carefully sloped in the general direction of the drain. It was almost bang on except for the part where the lip of the drain grate is approximately 1/16th of an inch higher than the surrounding tile. The end result is a shallow puddle of water that collects around the drain and then sits there for 18-24 hours. How long it stays there seems to depend largely on the relative humidity in the house more than anything else. In any case, it feels like a long-term invitation to mold issues and grout problems if it’s allowed to continue year after year.
After giving it a look over, the builder agrees that it needs to be addressed, so at some point in the near future I’ll have another appointment with the tile guy who can hopefully resolve the issue with a combination of dremeling and building up grout immediately surrounding the drain to bring things flush. After that, this project should be well and truly complete.
1. Shopping local. There’s a local shop that will remain nameless that I’ve been trying to go to for weeks now. According to the sign on the door and the internet, they open at 10:00 every morning seven days a week. I know they’re not closed as I’ve seen the place open when I’ve been on my way to do other things, but the three times now I’ve tried to go there between 11:00 and noon on Saturday, they’ve been locked up tighter than a drum. Sometimes their “open” light will even be on, but the place is dark and the tumbleweeds roll across the parking lot. I like doing business with this outfit – otherwise I wouldn’t have already given them three chances – but there’s way too much competition out there from other brick and mortar shops and the internet to keep getting met with a dark storefront at the times that are convenient and when you’d think would be some of the most lucrative sales hours of the week.
2. Good help. As the master bathroom limped towards completion, I began turning my attention towards a few minor projects I wanted to have knocked out before the cold weather arrived. The first, getting the exterior trim scraped and painted, was lined up. It would have been a quick hit, $1,000 “fill in” project. Something one painter could have knocked out in half a day when they had down time between other, larger projects. I thought we were set to go, but the painters have gone radio silent. The second, an upgraded and improved whole-house water filter was also on the drawing board. Water tests were done and the design was supposed to be in progress. And now the plumber has stopped replying to calls and messages. Don’t get me started on the gutter people who said they’ve been here but weren’t (as evidenced by the lack of them being on camera and the fact that they never sent me a bill). I’ve got jobs to do and cash money to spend, but finding someone who wants to do the former to get the latter is like pushing shit uphill. I absolutely get why people say “no one wants to work anymore.” So instead of hiring a local company, I’ll go out and spend twice as much with the big national or regional outfits that have consistently showed up when I’ve called.
3. Free shit. In the last fifteen years we’ve been given every kind of handout you can imagine. From the days of the 2008 financial crisis to student loan forgiveness, there’s cash flowing for everyone. Well, as long as you’re the right kind of everyone, I suppose; one that checks the box on whatever social, demographic, or political group our elected representatives are trying to curry favor with at the time. My key take away is that I don’t fit into any of those groups. I apparently fall into a separate category that’s always the billpayer and never the beneficiary of the largess that’s poured out the Treasury’s back door. A million years ago when a group of us asked our high school principal to schedule an expanded slate of AP classes, he waived us off by explaining “You smart kids will do okay no matter what we do to you.” I think he even believed that was some kind of compliment. It’s different lyrics, but the same old song.
The Great Plague era, for me at least, will always be remembered as a golden age.
I estimate that I avoided driving about 40,000 miles over the last two and a half years – saving on fuel, maintenance, and general wear and tear both on the vehicles and on me too if we’re being honest.
It was perhaps the first time in my life when being an introvert positioned me uniquely to thrive in a world that is normally built to service and reward extroversion. Staying home, hanging out with the animals, reading as many books as I could get my hands on, and doing almost all of my own cooking is almost entirely the life I was really built for.
Most weeks for the last 30 months, I got to spend four workdays out of every five working from home. No commute, no small talk or interruptions, and not listening to the guy two cubicles over hack up a lung while suffering from “just allergies.” It was a chance to knock down whatever work was thrown my way using a brave, new approach. It feels like, for a while there, we almost embraced it.
I’m enough of a student of history to know that no golden age ever lasts. Eventually the conditions that fuel them gives out and the world then tends to revert to the mean. I’m told that my own personal golden age now has an official expiration date… so now all that’s left is to take a few weeks and mourn the future that almost was.
The world has been and continues to be in a rush to “get back to normal.” You’ll have to forgive me, because I just don’t see the appeal.
Back at the beginning of the Great Plague many animal shelters and rescues couldn’t meet the demand of people wanting to bring a dog, cart, or other small animal into their homes. That’s a great problem to have if you’re in the business of trying to get animals off the street or out of hoarding situations. Even as it was happening, I imagined what the inevitable downstream consequences would look like. Based on a couple of online reports I’ve read, we have now arrived “downstream.”
The animals adopted en mass over the last few years are now being abandoned to shelters at growing rate. It was perfectly predictable if you operate from the assumption that human beings are the literal worst. Sure, people will want to blame going back to their in-person jobs and not having time. Others will blame inflation. Others will dream up whatever excuse allows them to sleep better at night after abandoning a creature that was entirely dependent on them for food, shelter, and protection.
Look, no one knows better than I do that situations change. Eleven years ago, I was hurtling towards Maryland one day ahead of my belongings with two dogs in the back seat and no housing locked in because most landlords didn’t want to rent to someone with pets. It was damned stressful, but putting Maggie and Winston out on the side of the road was never going to be an option. If that meant I had to drive further or pay more, that was just the price of doing business.
I’m damned if I’m going to be lectured by anyone about vet bills being expensive. More than once I had to take out a loan to pay for treatment I couldn’t afford out of pocket. Conservatively, I’d estimate I’ve paid out $30,000 in vet bills and medication over the last decade. That’s before even figuring in the day-to-day costs like food, toys, and treats. I didn’t always pay the bill with a song in my heart, but I found a way to get it done even if that mean sacrificing other things I wanted or needed.
I struggle mightily to think of a situation where I’d hand over one of these animals or where I wouldn’t go without or change my living situation if that’s what it took to make sure I was able to look after them. Hell, if I drop dead tomorrow there are provisions in place to make sure Jorah, Hershel, and George can live out their days in comfort and get whatever care they need for the rest of their natural lives. That’s the unspoken compact I made with them when I brought them home.
If you’re the kind of person who would just dump them off on the local shelter or rescue, hope someone else will do the hard work for you, and then wash your hands of the whole sorry state of affairs, well then Jesus… I don’t even want to know you.
For a long time now I’ve been a holdout in the world that seems determined that all music should stream through services like Spotify or Pandora. It’s something I really got thinking about this weekend while sitting through an excruciatingly slow series of traffic light changes – and I think I know why I’m so resistant to a change that should theoretically be more or less painless.
There are a couple of things at play here, in my estimation. First, I’ve lived through the change from cassette tapes to compact disks to MP3s. In some cases that means there’s music I’ve now purchased in three different formats… and now the streamers want me to pay rent for them on top of it. There’s a bit of adding insult to injury there and is definitely part of why I hold on grimly to the way we use to do things.
But there’s another, probably more important factor.
As I flicked from song to song in my heavily curated iTunes playlist, waiting for the light to change so I could pull a few car lengths closer to being able to turn, each song that came up spurred a very specific memory of time and place. Some of them from high school, some from college. Some late nights with good friends. Some bitter, heartbroken mornings. Every single one of the thousands of possible songs I have teed up evokes thoughts and feelings otherwise lost to memory.
Creedence, Queen, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Genesis, Waylon Jennings, Good Charlotte, Lou Reed, Louis Armstrong, Mayday Parade, Steve Miller, and an absolute shit ton of others are all jammed into my phone. They sing the songs I want to hear… and I didn’t need any artificial intelligence to pick them out for me. Maybe that’s old fashioned of me, but I’m ok with that.
I’m not one of these people who thinks all new music is awful. New stuff finds its way onto my lists when it speaks to me. Having the internet serve up what it thinks I might like after running me through an algorithm just doesn’t hit the same way as organically finding the songs “in the wild.” It’s been my experience so far that music by algorithm is about as useful as Facebook trying to decide what random articles and information I want to see on its platform. Sometimes it gets close, but it never quite gets it right.
Right, wrong, or indifferent, I’ll keep on with my own way of doing things until I’m absolutely forced into making a change. It feels a lot like messing with something that’s working for me to achieve very little gain in function. I’ll take a pass.
The contractors arrived as scheduled at 8:30 this morning and set to work hanging the last of the hardware and caulking every fixture. After about 30 minutes the lead man for the day poked his head into the office and inquired where he could find the mirrors that they were supposed to hang.
That’s a problem only in the sense that the last time the mirror frames were discussed, they were being delivered to the shop that was supposed to put the glass in them. That was near on six weeks ago and I haven’t given them another thought – in the assumption that they were being stored by the contractor temporarily with the rest of the hardware that was going in today.
In any case, the mirrors weren’t here. And they weren’t in the small stack of stuff the contractors brought with them. And that triggered a flurry of texts between the contractors and their home office while they, I presume, tried to figure out where the missing mirrors actually were.
In the end, the lost was found… after someone from the office stopped by the glass shop and took an unplanned 45-minute drive up from Middletown to the Elk Neck. There was a bit of additional delay as they then had to schlep over to Lowe’s since no one along the line had realized they’d also need mounting hardware.
As I’m writing this, the contractors have departed for what, hopefully, will be the last time. The hardware is hung. The mirrors are up. Everything that was supposed to be caulked has been treated to a generous helping of silicone. After that gets 24 hours to dry, it looks like I’ll have a fully functional, dedicated master bathroom for the first time since 2011, when I ran screaming from Tennessee. All that’s left is moving all the bits and pieces from the guest bath over into the new space. I expect I’ll be taking a middle of the day shower tomorrow just because.
I won’t pretend to be surprised that this project ended with one last stick in the spokes. I signed the contract on this effort back on September 9, 2021. Thanks to COVID related backorders and labor shortages, work didn’t kick off until May 25th, 2022. Here we are on August 19th, struggling right to the end. Except it’s not the end, of course. Not really. There’s still final plumbing inspection to go through next week and final, final inspection on a date yet to be determined. On and on it goes.
Even with the time involved and the absurd expense, I don’t regret the decision to tear this bathroom back to the studs and cause it to be built back to suit my needs. The final product is near enough to what I wanted to not quibble over one or two minor points of detail. It has, however, been the most significant home improvement project I’ve ever signed off on and it has been an eye-opening experience in a multitude of ways.
Having been thus enlightened, it’ll be a good long while before I want to set off on another quest like this… which is exactly why I’m trying not to think about eventually needing to change up the other bathroom so that there’s at least one bathtub in the house… and that the kitchen really could be freshened up with new countertops and flooring. The list is never ending, but I expect after this year of improving interior fit and finish, the next little while will be occupied by taking a hard look at upgrading the now 22-year-old cooling system and starting to plan for a new roof.
1. Conflicting reports. I watched back-to-back news report earlier this week that focused on aspects of the current economy. The first story railed about inflation, average pay being too low, and mulling the idea of eternal bailouts for everyone/universal basic income. The very next story went on to report that Maryland’s casinos had their most profitable month ever. I’m not saying those stories are mutually exclusive, but I’m going to need a bit more in depth analysis before I accept that the economy is collapsing while the citizens of our fair state have allocated so much of their disposable income to packing the local casinos to the rafters.
2. Door-to-door sales. Does anyone really hire a pest service on their front stoop at 7 PM on Wednesday evening? I just can’t believe it’s the kind of thing that’s an effective business model in 2022. And yet they keep on coming, so I guess someone must be buying. I honestly can’t remember anything I’ve ever bought based on random people showing up at my front door, with the possible exception of Girl Scouts pushing cookies. I truly believe the world would be a better place if we all agreed that it’s time to end the era of door-to-door peddlers. The only thing they’ve ever done for me is drive the resident animals into a high state of agitation and that’s not a good look for someone who wants me to give them money.
3. Florida. This week a Florida court decided that a 16-year-old girl was not “sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy.” The logical extension of that argument, therefore, is that the court believes the teen is sufficiently mature to have and raise a baby, which strikes me as a complete inversion of basic common sense. I’ve, fortunately, never needed to raise a baby into a functional human, but it seems to me that it’s the kind of activity that would benefit from an over-abundance of maturity and responsibility to be done properly. I might go so far as to posit that the state has a vested interest in encouraging the most responsible and mature of their citizens to have children rather than the other way around. Here’s the State of Florida, though, cleaving to the lesser, ass-backward standard. I won’t even pretend to be surprised.