The year without a Christmas (party)…

This time of year my social media posts are usually well represented by comments about an upcoming office nondenominational winter holiday party. In recent memory these events have mainly consisted of an office pot luck lunch or if the power that be were feeling more expansive, heading out to one of the nearby food service vendors. These activities weren’t so much festive as falling into the broad category of just being better than being in the office. Their highlight, as often as not, was that after lunch and the requisite amount of socializing with coworkers, we were able to punch out a few hours early.

I didn’t always participate in these functions. Some years meetings interfered and during others I just didn’t have the mental energy to devote to small talk or other mandatory niceties. What I did enjoy, though, was having the option of “buying” a few hours of time off for the low, low price of going out to lunch. 

This year, it seems we’ve decided that it’s not worth the effort to even pretend to be interested in morale and dispensed with the holiday lunch altogether. I’m not here to shed any tears over the demise of forced employee social functions, but I do hate to see the fine and noble tradition of those couple of extra hours off fall by the wayside. Some traditions are, after all, worth preserving.

It could have been me too…

A couple of months ago, during a contentious Senate hearing over a nominee to the Supreme Court, I not particularly subtly voiced my concern about relying on imperfect memories of events that happened 30 or 40 years ago. Now that tempers have cooled slightly, I’d like to expand a little on why I came down where I did… and for the record it’s not because I think then nominee Kavanaugh was going to be the best Supreme Court Justice ever. It has everything to do with memory and how perception of distant experiences and events could wildly differ over time.

To start let me take you back to the long ago years of the middle 1990s. Every fall from 1992 through 1996 I and my nearest and dearest friends spent every Saturday crammed onto school buses often traveling for hours to the nearest marching band competition. Marching band has a sometimes well earned reputation as a shelter for geeks, nerds, and misfits. It also has a more concealed seedier side. Tell any former band geek a story prefaced with “this one time at band camp” and most of us will give you a knowing smirk.

You see the dirty little secret of marching band, at least back then, was that it could be an absolute den of depravity and what some segments of the population might be tempted to describe as “immoral conduct.” Now I’m not in any way admitting that I myself participated in any of this questionable conduct, but in close quarters, on a dark bus full of hormone-fueled teenagers crossing a hundred miles late into the night, things sometimes happen beneath the protective cover of a large blanket. There were a lot of first experiences on those long, late bus rides.

Then there were the parties. Compared to today, they feel like something incredibly tame. As far as I know there wasn’t even booze or drugs at any of  these parties – though there were a few sub sets of the group where that, too, could be had if you wanted it. Mainly our parties were a grand excuse to shove two giggling teenagers into a closet together for 7 minutes and then wrench the door open hoping to catch them “having a moment.” There was old school spin the bottle, regular semi-clothed cuddle puddles, and many, many “long walks in the woods on a moonlit evening” to pass the time.

It was the kind of rampant teenage b movie sexuality that Gilbert Gottfried use to host on USA’s Up All Night on weekend late nights. To the best of my knowledge everything that ever happened during our parties was completely consensual between all combinations of willing participants. The catch, of course, is that all this happened 20+ years ago. Maybe that’s not how everyone remembers those days. Memory is an imperfect instrument and with every year its rough edges get worn down even smoother. If someone from that long ago past rose up today and said it wasn’t, I don’t have any idea how one might defend himself from the accusation, particularly if the accusation itself is enough to establish a presumption of guilt.

So, you ask me why I was vocal in defending someone from 30+ year old accusations? It’s because it very easily could have been me or any number of people I know being pilloried in the press for activities that no one so much as looked at askance way back in the prehistoric days when they happened.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The time of the year. There’s a popular perception that people’s moods tend to improve has we head into the Christmas season. Maybe that’s the case for some, but not so much for me. By this time of year I’m just about worn down to the nub from relentless repeats of leaving home in the dark and returning there many hours later again in the dark. I loath and despise this time of year for the simple reason that for all practical purposes it means living like a mole for two months. If I manage to leave work on time and if it’s not cloudy, I do manage to catch the last few rays of watery sunshine on an occasional weekday. On a good day at mid-winter that lasts for somewhere between 5-15 minutes. So while everyone else is preparing their celebration of the birth of the Christian’s nailed God, I’ll be over here quietly awaiting the solstice and celebrating Sol Invictus.  

2. Thirty minutes. That’s how long it takes my work computer to boot up from a cold start on the average day in the office. Look, I can dick around for the first 30 minutes of the day with the best of them, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly great use of time. But hey, whatever. I can only use the tools and resources I’ve been assigned… Which is why I keep a stack of magazines on my desk.

3. Bulldogs. I love my bulldog. He’s almost eleven now. He’s got a permanent limp, only hears when he wants to hear, and seems happy enough to pass the time between feeding and being let outside lounging comfortably in one of his beds. He’s an old man and I don’t begrudge him any of that. For the last two months, though, we’ve been trying to get on top of what’s become a particularly aggressive skin issue. After two month of antibiotics and medicated baths we don’t seem to be any closer to a solution than we were at the back in late October. The condition itself isn’t something unusual – we’ve been working with bad skin for years – but the amount of time it’s taking to knock this one back is far more than history suggests should be necessary… and don’t get me started on $80 bottles of pills that don’t seem to do a damned thing. I love my bulldog, but if you find yourself ever thinking you want to fall in love with their wrinkly little faces, my advice for you is to take a hard pass. I’d never deny this one anything, but get yourself a dog instead of an eating, breathing, ongoing medical disaster… unless you have a sick desire to take lots of time off for vet visits and would rather not have to worry about disposable income. Then, by all means, bring home that adorable, smushed faced little pup.

On the wrong side of truth in the internet age…

The internet may be a cesspit catering to humanity’s worst instincts, but one thing I can’t take away from it is that this interconnected series of tubes and wires had made it very, very difficult to lie. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just that it’s the kind of unintended consequence that I don’t think anyone expected when the internet came along and let us all start downloading songs on Napster.

By way of example, I’ll offer you a short story from 2002, my third and final year as a teacher, when I was already desperate to get out and mostly indifferent to the concept of consequences.

Picture it… St. Mary’s County… 2002… While I was busy lining up another job that I knew was starting in January, several friends were planning their week-long vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The problem was that the week they picked was somewhere towards the tail end of September – when the weather along the Atlantic coast was beautiful, but also when school was most decidedly in session. They wanted to know if I wanted to go along.

Me, being all of 24, did what any rational person would do and concocted a wild story of needing to be away from the classroom for a week. It couldn’t be that I was sick. Being away for a full week would have triggered the need for pesky things like a doctor’s note. I don’t remember what excuse I ginned up in the moment, but it worked well enough that I wasn’t asked for any additional evidence of need and I got to spend a long late summer week boozing with my friends and driving my Jeep on the beach. A few weeks later I was able to tell those long ago bosses that I wasn’t going to come back after Christmas break. I’d also managed to burn off all of the personal days and sick time I was entitled to take that year. So it was a win-win for me at least.

Admittedly that wasn’t my finest professional moment. Today, backed by the power of the internet, social media, and the fact that we all carry around a world-class video production center / photo studio in our pocket, trying to pull off a similar scam would be almost guaranteed career suicide. I can’t imagine a circumstance where me and a bunch of my closest friends and their significant others could spend a week beach bumming around the Outer Banks and managing to avoid being tagged in a picture. Surely I would forget to remove the geo-tag on some innocuous tweet or when posting the great view from somewhere north of Corolla Light to Insta. 

I’m not implying that the internet and our current brave new era of modern technology has in any way made us more honest, but it does feel like it has made us a hell of a lot more likely to get caught living on the wrong side of the truth. 

Easing towards the end…

Chalk this up to one of those nights where my worst enemy is a blank screen and a flashing cursor. There are worse problems to have – ass cancer for instance – but I really do try rather hard to have something engaging, interesting, or otherwise worth reading here four days a week… even if sometimes the word count runs a little bit short.  There are a few days a year when getting across that bar is harder than others. 

I’m going to blame it on the onrushing calendar and the impending arrival of Christmas and the long sweep of days off that goes along with it. It wouldn’t be entirely true to say that I’ve engaged cruise control and switched my brain over into rest mode, but it would’t be entirely misleading either. The fact is, I’m doing my level best to make the next week and a half as absolutely low key and minimally demanding as possible. 

There are plenty of external factors I can’t control, but there are plenty that I can exert influence upon – like when someone asks if I’m going to scheduled a meeting about some random project coming up in April. The answer to that one is a hard no, spoken with conviction. Something, of course, could come along and convert that no to a yes, but it won’t be because I’m calling a meeting just because we haven’t had one in a while. 

I’m easing into the end of 2018. So bear with me if anything around here feels just a little less energetic than usual. 

Missing the mark…

Online marketing has a long and impressive history of trying to sell people things they don’t really need. With their add on items and overwhelming presence on social media, the “things” are hard to miss most of the time. Some people find targeted advertising intrusive, personally I’m a bit more ambivalent about it. That ambivalence comes largely because of how often Amazon and the other online retailers shoot their shot and get it laughingly wrong.

My all time favorite is still the real estate company in New York City that somehow ended up with me in their target demographic for “people who want to live in New York and have $2.5 million to spend on an apartment.” There’s literally no part of that estimation that they got right, though in their defense I’m sure the apartments they were hawking were very nice.

The add that’s giving me the most current belly laughs is brought to you by Amazon, who seems determined to sell me a “Ember Temperature Control Ceramic Mug, Black.” I like tech as much and in some cases more than the next guy, but I have never sat down with a steam cup of coffee and thought, “You know what I need? I need a battery powered, rechargeable ceramic mug that I can control from my phone.” The idea of needing such a thing has simply never occurred to me. I mean I can melt my face off well enough after an hour or two with coffee traveling in one of my $12 Yeti knock off mugs.

I’m all for the forward march of technology, but paying an extra $67.99 for the added “benefit” of the mug having a battery with a one hour run time feels, well, just a little bit like someone’s trying to solve a problem that no one really has.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Second Monday. Look, I’m 100% thankful for the unscheduled Federal holiday on Wednesday. The unintended consequence of this Executive Branch largess, though, was that this week had what is effectively a “second Monday.” Going back the the work after a bureaucracy-free and relaxing weekend is a regular, recurring minor trauma that fills Sunday evenings with angst and dread. Once the week gets going though, the follow-on weekdays are each slightly less traumatic than the day before. Plopping an unexpected day off down in the middle of the week created an unnatural imbalance in the normal flow – and in doing so made Second Monday feel even worse than regular Monday. It’s hard to believe that such a thing is possible, but there it is.

2. Cubicle Hell. For all of the wonderful management literature written extolling the virtues of “open concept” workplaces, none of them bother to take into account how the average employee may actually require some time to analyze, read, or complete a work product that requires some level of concentration. I only bring it up because of the increased frequency of people holding entire goddamned meetings with groups of 4-5 others spilling out into walkways or shouted over the top of adjacent walls. Multiply that by as many as 5 of these impromptu “meetings” fired up all at the same time, well, you might as well sit back and start counting ceiling tiles because even pretending to look productive under the circumstances is a lost cause.

3. The human tailbone. I’m not a fancy big city doctor, so I don’t know exactly what a tailbone is supposed to do for a person. I reckon it’s mostly like an appendix – except that when something goes wrong with it it doesn’t burst and kill you so much as it stays right where it is and hurts like a sonofabitch whenever you sit down. In any case, it seems to me that there should be some kind of corrective option beyond, well, just don’t sit so much. That’s fine advice, I suppose, when your day isn’t spent tethered to a desk and reading  volumes of fine print for the minutia that someone is trying to bury in the fine print. And yes, before someone points it out, I know that Churchill worked at a standing desk. He also worked in the bathtub and I am, clearly, no Winston Churchill.