Revisiting a deep subject…

I’ve had my share of well issues over the last three years. I’d never have guessed the easy one would have been that time two years ago when I suddenly started pumping sand up from deep below the front yard. Raising the pump a dozen feet solved that problem and for a while I was back to enjoying clear, sweet water from the depths. 

That continued to be true right up until I started seeing the infamous “black specks.” Those specks, upon closer inspection, included legs, antenna, and various other ant pieces that made their way down to the pump and through the filters. That led to installing bigger, badder filters to mitigate the flow and hiring a series of pest control experts to eliminate the problem at the source. I sent the exterminators packing when their proposed solution was seeding the entire yard with bait stations and dumping the industrial equivalent of Raid into my primary water source.

After those three consultations, I knew I was on the hunt for a mechanical solution. The best possible course of action, replacing the well cap, has been in the works for nine months – with my go to plumbers scouring the supply warehouses of the world for the right replacement cap. I only put them on the job after I failed miserably over a period of weeks at finding the right parts. You wouldn’t think finding a cap or even just a replacement gasket for a four inch well would be so difficult, but it’s gone on for three quarters of a year. After much waiting and burning through many filter cartridges, they arrived today with a shiny new 4-inch well cap… that didn’t quite fit. 

Their work through most of the morning, did confirm that after 23 years sitting out in the weather, the gasket on my original cap was quite literally falling apart and undoubtedly what was letting an army of tiny ants into the well every spring. The caulk and duct tape expedient solution applied late last summer was also failing – surely it didn’t look up to withstanding another ant onslaught.

I’m pleased to report that after about three hours of tinkering, a bit of unexpected electrical work to change how power enters the well, and not a little bit of swearing and cursing, I have a brand spanking new well cap with a perfectly intact gasket that has a pretty good chance of resolving my ant problem. We’ll see what things look like when temperatures start climbing into the 70s and 80s. I would dearly love to think that this problem is well and truly resolved, but I’m weighing that hope against almost three years of experience at being disappointed after each new “fix” was applied.

It should be the right solution… in theory. I’m still not throwing away my filter pitchers, bottles, and cartridges. 

Towards business as usual…

It’s been a long time coming, but over the weekend I finally broke down Maggie’s crate and rejiggered the laundry room / animal services resources center over the weekend. The room, oddly large for just a laundry room, was built to spec by the original owner to use as a place to do watercolor painting. Not being a watercolorist, I pressed it into service as home base for crats, food, litter boxes, and all manner of pet supplies. For a year now, I’d been looking at Maggie’s empty crate taking up a not insignificant bit of the room’s floor space and simply didn’t have the heart to do anything with it.

I was a two dog household for a long time and expected I would be again – sooner or later. Part of my reluctance thus far, has been never expecting to find a dog with as good a temperament and personality of my chocolate lab. Another part is the undeniable fact that Jorah can be a bit temperamental and selective about the dogs he meets. Alighting on the wrong one would throw this fortress of domestic peace and tranquility into abject chaos… and that doesn’t really feel like any way to live. If I’m entirely honest, the simple fact that everything from dinner time, to vet care, to taking them on the road, is simply easier when contending with just one dog also has something to do with my continuing hesitance.

Crates and bowls are tucked safely away ready to be called back into service on short notice, because I’m absolutely not ruling out another dog. It was time, though, to not have the house rigged for something that might not happen for months or years yet. Since the rhythm of the household was clearly in turmoil over the last week, it felt like a good opportunity to get all the “newness” out of the way in one go, so I can drag the world inside these four walls back towards business as usual.

The blocked cat…

Because I’m both inquisitive by nature and also a glutton for punishment, recrimination, and self-doubt, over the last few days I’ve been reading a lot about feline urinary blockage. I had a cat for the better part of seven years and never heard the issue mentioned at all my various visits to veterinary offices.

I wish someone along the way had warned me that this was a common occurrence and that there were some key indicators to watch out for. The early warning signs are subtle and there’s no guarantee that even if I had been home, I’d have noticed them right out of the gate, but forewarned is forearmed and all that.

One particular article that doesn’t go too deeply into veterinary jargon or advanced biology is: The Nightmare That is Blocked Cats. I found it a helpful place to start that didn’t lead off by trying to give me a degree in veterinary medicine. The number of comments left on this article feels like a telling indicator of just how common this issue may be for our pets.

So, having said that, if there’s a cat in your life – particularly one that’s male and in middle age – I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and do your reading. The sooner you recognize something might be off kilter, the better for you and the fuzzy little critter living in your house. I hope it’s information you’ll never need to have at your fingertips, but if you do, I promise you’ll be glad you made the effort.

Together again…

It’s Thursday and I know this space is almost fanatically reserved for What Annoys Jeff this Week. However, the call from the vet’s office this morning to let me know that Hershel’s remains had been returned by Pet Memorial Services effectively pushed every other thought out of my mind.

Another trip to Delaware to bring home a member of the family. That’s the 3rd one of these drives in the last four years. I hadn’t really added up those numbers until last night… though it explains at least some of why this one hit so hard. It’s a lot of punches to the gut across a not very long amount of time.

In any case, Hershel is home now and safely tucked between Maggie and Winston in the living room. That makes for a hard day, but I’m glad to have everyone back under one roof and together again. It doesn’t make everything right in this little corner of the universe, but it’s something.

Undue strain…

Focus is a funny thing. I say that because for most of the day today seven minutes seemed like just about the maximum amount of time I was able to focus on any one thing before my eyes started going twitchy. By ten minutes, I’d be working on a dull ache in the back of my head. Past fifteen and the ache would be running down my back and I’d find my shoulders somewhere up around my ears. Good times.

Honestly it reminds me of nothing so much as the one time, many years ago, when I had inflicted a mild concussion on myself by falling over and bouncing my head off the driveway. I’m just assuming it’s all some kind of reptilian brain trauma response running in the deep layers of the human operating system. I’m sure the brain is a remarkable organ, but sometimes it’s a real pain in the ass.

It’s well that no one came along asking me to do something that required any level of academic rigor, because I’m not at all sure I could have managed it even under duress. Getting out a few unremarkable emails and sitting through a thoroughly a probably necessary, but thoroughly uninteresting meeting seemed to be just about the limit of my mental prowess today. I’m sure I won’t win any prizes for the off the cuff word salad I spit out during that last meeting of the day, but I’m putting it squarely in the pile of things I’m choosing not to care about. 

Even under those conditions, today felt like putting a lot of undue strain on the engines.

Credit where it’s due…

I spend a lot of time on this blog bitching and complaining about things. No apologies. It’s just who I am as a person. However, when credit is due, I like to think I cover those bases too. So, with that said, here’s the credit due this week:

1. Summit Bridge Veterinary Hospital. As soon as I found Hershel on Sunday morning, I was on the phone immediately to Summit Bridge. The fact that on a Sunday morning, they were open and immediately available for an emergency phone consult put them steps above just about any other practice I’ve used. Assessing that the situation was likely beyond their capabilities, they immediately referred me to two local emergency vet options. Quick, professional, and focused, they’re a solid recommend in my book if you have veterinary service needs in the local area.

2. BluePearl Pet Hospital – Christiana. BluePearl, like a lot of the other large chain veterinary practices get a lot of guff. I suspect that’s at least in part because of the prices involved when it comes to emergency or specialty vet medicine. I get it. However, everyone I worked with there on Sunday morning was fantastic. Hershel was in triage within 45 seconds of walking through the doors and the receptionist seeing his condition. Fifteen minutes later, the emergency vet was providing a detailed breakdown of his condition, pros and cons of treatment, and likely outcomes. She was compassionate and responsive to questions throughout our conversation. The tech who walked me though options for cremation or other arrangements was incredibly professional. The vet and tech tending to the actual euthanasia somehow managed to be a physical presence and yet disappeared in plain sight, allowing as much time as I wanted both before and after administering the final drug cocktail. From start to finish, the team at BluePearl displayed competence, professionalism, and compassion both for Hershel and for me. I don’t regret a nickel of their fee.

3. Jorah. This sweet, slightly neurotic boy has been unfailingly happy through what has felt like a very long couple of days. After sniffing around a bit Sunday night, he settled in to his own routine of snoozing in the living room, barking at the squirrels, and chasing the birds from the back yard. I honestly don’t know what I’d have done if he hadn’t been here when I got home with an empty crate on Sunday afternoon.

Jagged edges…

Well, the initial shock has mostly worn off and the enormity of how big a change a missing 17 pounds can be has begun setting in. 

I’ve moved on from one yawning pit of generalized loss to noticing the small changes – like closing my bedroom door all the way instead of using the contraption that keeps it propped open enough for a slightly chunky cat to enter and exit at will through the night. Remembering not to set out fresh breakfast and dinner or clean out the litter box has also presented a challenge.

The house is still strewn, of course, with toys, climbing towers, scratching posts, and all manner of other items now sitting idle. I haven’t had the heart to do anything at all with those. Since Maggie’s crate is still fully assembled in the laundry room, I don’t imagine clearing out any of this will be something I get after any time soon. File that under “too hard / do not want.”

Maybe the more challenging idea to get my head wrapped around is that Hershel was the living link back to Maggie and Winston – the youngster of the house while they grew into old age. Just by being, he connected me back to long ago days with my first pack when we were all so much younger.

Intellectually, I know each tomorrow will look just a bit better than the preceding day. Time will round over the jagged edges. Just now, though, those edges remain awfully raw… and if I’m honest, I’m in no way prepared for them to be smoothed. 

My sweet, tabby boy…

Hershel came to live with me on October 29th, 2016. A tiny spit of a thing, he showed absolutely no fear in the face of either a bulldog or a chocolate lab. In fact, from the beginning, Hershel mostly thought he was one of the dogs. There’s a backstory there, of course. 

Our Hershel, you see, was the sole survivor of a litter dropped off in the dead of night at my then veterinarian’s office. The office manager there took him in and got him fixed up. There’s where I came into the picture. I mean I couldn’t really have that kind of fighter just dropped off at shelter, could I?

So, home he came and within the week, he was running both dogs and firmly ensconced as leader of my motley pack. Every day from then to now, he was the best cat a boy could ask for. After dinner, every single night, he tucked into his spot on my lap, purring happily while I read or grumbled at the television. After more than six years, you could have kept time with our routine. 

Sometime in the last 24 hours, Hershel suffered a blockage of his bladder or urinary tract. I found him sprawled on the floor, barely conscious when I got home this morning from a weekend trip. Thirty-five minutes later, after breaking most of the traffic laws in two states, we were rushed through to triage at the local emergency vet’s office. His kidneys were shut down, bloodwork was off the charts, and his temperature was described politely as “incompatible with life.” He was obviously in pain and there was virtually no chance of recovering. 

Letting him go and ending his suffering was the last kindness I could offer this magnificent member of the family. Even to the last, he took endless chin scratches and ear rubs as if they were simply his due. Under other circumstances, he would have almost looked happy. It’s certainly how I’d like to remember him, but mostly I’ll remember not being here last night when he was sick, and scared, and needed me most. I’ll carry that guilt every day from now until my own end.

I miss my sweet, tabby boy. I just walked around with the assumption that we’d have so much more time and I’m whatever it is that exists beyond broken. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 20 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. I’m sure someone could make the case that there’s enough blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 20 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing to deliver for their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) and for continuing to stand in the way like some bloody great, utterly misguided roadblock. No one’s interest is served by their continued intransigence. The elected “leaders” of AFGE Local 1904 should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.

2. Artificial intelligence. Everywhere you turn, there’s an article or news story about AI – Deep fakes, creepy chatbots, ChatGPT – warning that we’re standing on the precipice of SkyNet. I’m somewhere between indifferent and intrigued. I mean I don’t especially want to spend the last 30 years of my run on this rock serving some new robot overlord, but the technology itself is undeniable fascinating. Honestly, if you take a look around at how humans have royally fucked up the 21st century, maybe it’s time we give AI a chance. I have to wonder if some of the fear surrounding AI is more concerned with it making better choices than we do rather than making everything worse. Take the humans out of the decision loop – our emotions, our ego – and hey presto we could be in for an interesting new world… or SkyNet. At this point, just roll the dice and see where they land. 

3. Office sickies. Look, it’s bad enough we’re piled back in the office, but when you have big buckets of sick leave and the ability to request unlimited telework on an ad hoc basis, there’s no reason for anyone I work with to be in the office hacking, snorting, snot dripping, and generally spreading whatever contagion they’ve come in with on any given day. “You look like shit and sound awful” should be the kind of thing that triggers someone, somewhere in leadership to send plague carriers home to reduce the chance of the crud spreading… but it’s increasingly obvious that we’ve functionally learned nothing about how to manage illnesses over the last three years. Y’all were screaming about wanting to “get back to normal,” well I guess here we are. Same as it ever was.

The broken promise of streaming entertainment…

I read an article this morning that cited a survey reporting that American adults are now getting more of their screen time through streaming services and apps like TikTok than through traditional television. The comments section was filled by people talking about the glory of cord cutting. 

That’s fine. Good on them. My cable TV subscription is still the one stop shop for 85-90% of anything I want to watch. For all my hostility to Xfinity and Comcast before them, the presence of their “set top box” means I don’t have to constantly go hunting for something. The older I get the more willing I am to pay for that kind of convenience.

I get it. I’m a contrarian… but needing to jump between from Netflix, to Hulu, to Amazon, to Disney+, to Peacock, to HBO Go, in order to watch one show on each of them, in my opinion, tends to be a marvelous pain in the ass that inevitably means stopping to log in to one app or another when all I want to do is push a power button and go to the right channel. Layer on the joy of finding that half the seasons of a particular show are on App A while the rest are on Streaming Service B and forget about it. Whatever percentage of a dollar I’m saving for making my life more complicated just isn’t worth it.

Frankly, we’ve reached a point in this evolution where I’m more apt to cut streaming services rather than cable television. The promise of streaming was that I’d be able to select just the channels and content I wanted instead of buying the whole universe of programs that included bundles of things I couldn’t care less about. That future never materialized and instead streaming became ordering up bundles of bundles instead of one big one with everything included.

Increasingly, if there’s a series I want to watch and I can’t find it free through my cable service, I’ll just wait until I can buy the damned thing on iTunes or Amazon – one and done, commercial free, for a fixed price. I imagine my days of being subscribed to multiple streaming services is just about over. They’re quickly approaching the point of being more bother than they’re worth.