The Bathroom Report: Day 1

Seven years after moving in despite my hatred for it and just shy of nine months after signing the contract, the master bathroom remodel is underway. There’s been a steady stream of dismantled parts and pieces getting schlepped down the hall, out the front door, and to the comically oversized pink dumpster that’s now posted up in the driveway.

All things considered, the crew that’s here doing the demolition work has been surprisingly good at keeping the mess contained. That said, I’m glad I had the foresight to abandon my bedroom for the duration of this project. There’s a shocking amount of equipment, supplies, and random stuff being staged in there. Trying to sleep in the midst of that wouldn’t have given me a moment’s rest.

Walls have come down. New doors have been punched through. The cabinetry was folded, spindled, and mutilated. And it looks like a right disaster area. I’m trying to remind myself that this is, by definition, a process and that it has to look worse before it can look better. 

The tub… the tub that almost stopped me from buying this place… remains unscathed for the moment. It’s sitting under the windows in an otherwise empty room as if mocking me by its continued presence. It’s the one thing left when everything else is gone. I’m confident, mostly, that it won’t survive the hammer blows tomorrow, though.

There’s inevitably going to be about 30 days of intense grumbling here, but don’t think for a minute I’m not happy to finally have this project underway. 

It’s like a penis…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

I was raised Methodist, but as an adult the only interest I’ve really had in religion is an academic one. It’s hard, after all, to study any aspect of European (and by extension, American) history since the Romans pulled out without at least tangentially touching on the premise of Christianity and how it has been practiced and applied during the centuries.

My take is pretty consistently that religion, in spite of whatever uplifting and comforting elements it may have, has mostly been used as a cudgel against anyone who refused to live and die by its tenants. The Crusades, the European wars of religion, witch hunts, orthodoxy tests, and more laws based on “church teachings” than you could shake a forest of sticks at are just the most obvious examples. And that’s only including the violence-in-the-name-of-God delivered up under the auspices of Christianity. The rest of the pantheon is hardly less bloodthirsty.

Despite what the Moral Majority or whatever the religious right wants to call themselves these days says, the United States was not founded as a Christian country. I’m sorry. It just wasn’t. Saying that it was is simply presenting facts not in evidence. Actually, it’s flat out lying. The Founding Fathers went out of their way to codify the prohibition against establishing a state religion right there in the Bill of Rights. It follows directly from that prohibition that “because it’s what Jesus would want” is a singularly problematic reason to pass a law – it’s every bit as invalid as justifying your laws in the name of Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, or Ra. 

I know it’s a hard pill for the seriously religious to swallow, but it’s entirely possible to be an upright and honorable man without the threat of eternal punishment hanging over your head. In fact, if the only reason you’re “doing the right thing” is because you fear eternal hellfire, one might say you’re responding only to fear rather than any actual personal commitment to being morally upright. Being a decent person only because you’re under duress means you’re not, by definition, a decent person to begin with. 

I’m sure organized religion has many virtues for its practitioners. That’s fine. I don’t want to take any of those virtues away from them. They can rule their homes by the precepts of whatever God or gods they see fit. If they’re really feeling froggy, they can probably even gaggle up some like-minded folks and live their theocratic dream in a community setting. I am, however, going to insist that they don’t expect me to subscribe to and live quietly under some evangelical theocratic nightmare government they want to inflict on everyone else. I presume only the same liberty of conscience I extend to them. In fact, I insist on it… because otherwise, I’ll raise up and army myself and strike their tract-quoting, puritanical asses down.

As the poet said, “Religion is like a penis. It’s nice to have one and fine to be proud of, but don’t whip it out in public or shove it down someone else’s throat.” When you choose to ignore such wisdom, it makes it awfully difficult to see any significant difference between Christian extremists and the goddamned Taliban. The lesson, probably, is maybe try not to be some kind of asshole extremist and try some of that peace and tolerance that your God was so fond of talking about.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Random IT issues. I was issued a perfectly decent laptop a month or two ago. When I shut it down Friday evening and tucked it away for the weekend it was running just fine. For some reason, when I booted it up on Monday morning, I found it had turned into an underpowered and sclerotic piece of shit for no obvious reason. Opening files or programs took minutes. Some, like VPN never did work. I managed to limp along using webmail for a while, but eventually that too stopped working. After some begging and pleading to pull my helpdesk ticket forward in the queue and making an unplanned trip in to the office for our IT types to poke and prod at it a bit, the issue “seems to have resolved itself.” Look, I’m thrilled and happy to be able to function again, but I have no confidence at all that this has been a one-off incident and won’t now start happening at the most inconvenient possible moments.

2. Jorah. Before anyone gets up in arms, let me explain… I love my sweet, slightly neurotic boy, but the least little unanticipated sound sends him rushing the front window in a fit of barking rage. That’s fine enough, if not something to be outright encouraged most of the time. Where this tendency of his gets us into trouble is when the people across the street are in the middle of a major project to re-landscape their front yard. Then, it’s constant noise and movement that draws his loud and undivided attention. This, of course, does not bode well to how he’s going to respond when all the banging and foot traffic is coming from inside his own house. Yeah. That’s gonna be some good times.

3. Erdogan. Turkey’s president is threatening to torpedo the application of Sweden and Finland to join NATO. He’s accused them both as being “home to terrorists.” I’m not an expert on Turkish terror, but since it’s Erdogan doing the talking, I can only assume what we’re seeing is a good old-fashioned shakedown. Now that Turkey’s president has planted his flag, I’m expecting that way below the radar, someone from the State Department will swoop in with a big bag of cash or a novelty-sized check, and for reasons that aren’t discussed in front of the media, Turkey will quietly reverse its position. Failing that, there’s always the option of going with a stick – where the U.S. will have to threaten to withhold something that Erdogan wants in order to get his capitulation. Maybe it’ll be a combination of the two, but letting the tin pot dictator of Turkey dictate terms to the rest of NATO just feels like bad policy overall. 

Approaching the line of departure…

I’ve been in pretty steady contact with the project manager who’s going to be in charge of Operation Functional Bathroom. It really does look like this show will be getting on the road starting next Monday – with the 9AM delivery of a 20 cubic yard dumpster. I’m sure the neighbors will be thrilled with that sitting on the curb for the next 20 or 30 days. Fortunately, the master HOA agreement covers many topics, but giant dumpsters isn’t one of them.

I’m still fiddling with the plan on how to keep the resident critters separated from the working party. What I’ve come up with is mostly a reversion to Jorah’s misspent youth – with all of us spending our days blocked in the kitchen or pressed into the laundry room if there’s a need for truly close confinement at any point. That should be fine in theory. In practice, I’m mostly worried how Hershel will take to this temporary new normal. His food and litter box has resided in the bathroom since the first day he came home… and with cats being creatures of habit, I definitely have questions about how well he’ll respond to suddenly finding them located elsewhere.

I’m also contemplating abandoning my bedroom entirely for the duration of this project and decamping across the hall to the guest room. I mean it would be comfortable enough, even if space would feel a bit tight. The cable jack in that room is, of course, currently buried behind one of the jam-packed bookcases holding the nonfiction section, so there’s one minor drawback to an otherwise decent plan. How well the furry critters who have never known a different sleeping arrangement on the homestead will take to it, remains to be seen.

I’ve hired a good crew. God knows getting that right was something I obsessed over. Now that we’re just a few days from the line of departure, though, the full weight of how radically this whole effort is going to impact my cherished daily routine – and how little direct control I have over the details – has left me feeling a bit wild-eyed and twitchy.

Idiocracy…

It’s primary election day for seven states. I’m sure I should be paying more attention than I am, but other than next-door Pennsylvania I don’t think I could reliably name any of the other six states who went to the polls today. I won’t say that I don’t care, but I’ll confess to being disinterested. 

Even without knowing details or specifics I can surmise what’s going to happen. The Republicans will end up with seven candidates who move forward to the general election and fall somewhere along the political spectrum between January 6th apologists and Benito Mussolini. The Democrats will advance their general election candidates who land somewhere between Uncle Fluffy and Chairman Mao. The Republicans will be horrified by the Democrat’s candidates. The Democrats will revile the Republican’s candidates. All the while, the vast sea of voters who fall between the extremes will look at the candidates, yawn, and wonder how the hell these are the best, most qualified candidates we could find.

Look, I’m engaged in the process and informed about the issues… and I’m struggling when I look at the whole field of potential candidates. Across the board it’s hard to see one I’d want to spend an hour talking to, let alone one I’d feel comfortable elevating to high public office.

So it goes, on and on, election after election into the future as we all slide increasingly closer to living in a live-action version of Idiocracy. 

Sweet emotion…

I read a lot of financial news, but I’m the furthest thing from an expert in the field. I do it because I have a basic interest in how that part of the world works. When a guy says you should do X instead of Y, I like to have some basic understanding of the “why” behind the statement. If nothing else, I like to be able to ask intelligent questions when I don’t quite understand why things are the way they are.

Much of what I’ve been reading over the last few months is hammering the notion of fear in the market and the various behaviors that are being driven by it. It’s academically interesting enough, I suppose, but I feel like the discussion could be taken a step further. Emotion, not just fear, drives the market. I suspect it drives far more than that – and often enough it points people in a direction that isn’t particularly helpful.

I’m sure there are those out there who say they don’t feel emotions. I can only assume that a large percentage of them are lying, sociopathic, or a combination of both. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with feeling the emotion – whether it’s fear, lust, joy – but people seem to get themselves into a world of trouble when they never get past the feeling stage. They dwell in it until whatever it is they’re feeling causes some kind of mental paralysis.  

There’s nothing wrong with feeling the full range of emotions. It’s inherently human, but I see very little good that comes from them being the master rather than just elements that serve the whole. Control is illusory, but I do think it’s entirely possible to manage your emotions, despite what the clips of people having public meltdowns on TikTok want us to believe.

Look, I’m not saying everyone needs to be an automaton, but maybe finding a way to channel some of the good and the bad into more reasoned and less knee-jerky responses to outside stimuli would be just a little bit helpful in going about the day. Not everyone needs to be a philosopher king, but swinging from pillar to post based on the market, the news, or life events feels like a damnably bad way to run a railroad.

Show me your papers…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

I’ve spent a few Friday evenings opining on topics that would inevitably annoy my friends on the right, so it only feels fair that I offer up something to antagonize my friends on the left. 

You see, I support the notion that only citizens should be eligible to vote in our elections. What’s more, I believe where people vote should be inextricably tied to where they live. For instance, Mark Meadows should not have in any way been considered eligible to vote in North Carolina elections while not domiciled in that state any more than I should be allowed to vote in Tennessee elections simply because I use to live there once upon a time.

That there should be some form of identification required to ensure someone who seeks to participate in the electoral process is, in fact, eligible to participate feels like it should be a no brainer. 

“But,” I can hear the cry, “Voting is a right protected by the Constitution.” Yes. It is. Licenses and permits are required for many constitutionally protected activities. If I wanted to exercise my 1st Amendment right to stage a protest on the National Mall, for instance, I’d need a permit from the National Park Service. If, heaven forfend, I wanted to use my 2nd Amendment rights to purchase a handgun in the state of Maryland, I’d need to show ID, get finger printed, spend money to apply for a special Handgun Qualification License, and undergo an additional background check through the Maryland State Police. That hardly feels like unrestrained and unfettered exercise of a Constitutional right. 

As a nation, we’ve already accepted limitations placed on how and when we can exercise our rights under the Constitution. Unless we’re going to suddenly agree to roll back the others, needing to show some valid form of ID at the polling place hardly seems onerous or out of line with limits already in place for other rights. 

Perhaps more unpopular than my take on voter ID is my heretical notion that just because people are eligible to vote doesn’t mean they should. I think often of George Carlin’s quote that encourages us to “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” It’s a reality that makes me question if we really should be making such a big push by saying everyone should vote. Expecting everyone to have an informed grip on who or what they’re voting in favor of or against doesn’t feel strictly reasonable… which in my estimation leads to people simply voting for whatever voice happens to be loudest in their ear rather than any kind of informed self- or community interest.

So maybe we should back off this “get everyone to the polls” bit. If you’re not interested enough to know it’s election day without being bludgeoned over the head with that information, what are the chances you’ve spent even ten minutes “studying” the issues at hand? This business of getting everyone to the polls has contributed largely to getting us exactly the kind of government we deserve, so all I’m saying is maybe try a slightly different approach and focus in more on eligible voters who are halfway informed than the broader pool of eligible voters who don’t know or don’t care what’s happening in the wider world.

For most of us, voting is the most important responsibility we’ll ever exercise as citizens of the republic. Cleaning up the process a bit doesn’t feel like it should be a bridge too far. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Crypto. I hold a vanishingly small position in Bitcoin. Of course, that position has grown even smaller over the last week. The collapse of Bitcoin has been met with the expected gnashing of teeth. Crypto was billed as a lot of things – including the future of online transactions as well as a hedge against inflation and the vagaries of traditional stocks. It was going to be the New Gold. Its behavior in the current downturn hasn’t proven any of that out. I mostly bought in wanting to learn about this new technological wonder, rather than execting Bitcoin would pop to $1,000,000 and I’d make my fortune. Crypto, for all its hype, has an astonishingly unproven record of being useful in the broader economy outside of being an item of curiosity. At best, it’s felt like even more of a casino than your run of the mill investment opportunities, so as they say, “don’t gamble with funds you can’t afford to lose.”

2. People. After attempting to resolve my ants in the well issue last summer by working with well and water experts and meeting with only temporary success, I turned to a local exterminator this spring to get a second opinion. I’m not sure whether I should be insulted or not that the first thing he said to me was “Yeah, don’t dump any poison down the well.” I suppose just the fact that he said that so quickly implies that there’s a non-zero number of my fellow residents of Cecil County who do respond to similar issues by actually running out and poisoning their own water source. I assured him that I had no intention of emptying a bottle of Terro into my drinking water supply and that I was consulting him for alternative approaches that wouldn’t result in potentially killing myself. The more unsettling part of this whole conversation is that the people who do have to be cautioned against drinking poison are also the people we encounter on the roads each day. They’re the people we encounter while we’re getting groceries. They’re the ones who sit in judgment of us as jury members. They’re the people who go to the polls to elect our leaders. Honestly, the fact that such a warning needed to be said explains a lot about why things are the way they are.

3. An unnamed online brokerage. On a lark, I opened an online brokerage account years ago. I threw a few dollars in it and attempted to teach myself a bit about the exciting world of penny stocks. Believe me when I say that didn’t go anywhere beyond giving me a solid lesson that I have no business spending time being a stock picker. As the market began its fall back around the first of the year, I dug out my log in and set up a small weekly buy order for a broad index fund. It was a chance to use the falling knife to begin capturing some shares outside what’s locked up, sacrosanct and untouchable, in my retirement accounts. I try very hard to be a set-it-and-forget-it investor. In fact, going weeks or months between looking at things isn’t uncommon. The fact that this particular broker has somehow managed to bungle my last two automatic transactions, though, has me double checking all their work to this point. Add in the apparent impossibility of getting authoritative answers from customer service and I’m left to wonder if it’s not time to decamp for an alternative platform. That’s its own flavor of pain in the ass, so I’m begrudgingly staying the course for the time being. If the next transaction inexplicably goes wonky, I’ll have to try elsewhere for my own sanity.

Freebooters…

The filibuster has a long and storied history as a delaying tactic employed by members of the minority party in U.S. Senate. In its most simple form, the filibuster means the minority can prolong or delay a vote as long as they can keep a solid block of 41 senators behind the effort.

The problem isn’t really the filibuster in and of itself. It’s the fact that since the 1970s, the threat of a filibuster has been enough to derail legislation. Since then, all a senator has had to do is signal their intent to filibuster and the majority leader most often opts not to bring the bill to the floor. It wasn’t always thus. 

Rather than eliminate the filibuster – and the need to get to 60 senators to invoke cloture – simply fall back on the more historic rules of the Senate. If the minority party, a small segment of senators, or even an individual wants to block legislation, go back in time to when they had to earn it. Make the bastards hold the floor. Make them talk until their exhausted. Don’t let them eat. Don’t let them drink. Don’t let them sleep. Make them grind the machinery of state to a halt right there in the chamber with the cameras on them. Make them stay in session on Fridays and over the weekend. If they want to filibuster, make these octogenarian asshats do the work.

Right now, the minority party can weaponize the filibuster and the majority just stands around and takes it… but the majority can weaponize the rules and procedures of the Senate just as easily. Plus, taking the filibuster back to the future is the far more poetic option than throwing it over and turning the Senate into a smaller, more elderly, simple majority needing version than the House. 

Make the Filibuster Painful Again. That’s Ol’ Doc Tharp’s prescription. 

Well, well, well…

The bullshit of homeownership continues at pace. I’ve often thought whoever coined the notion of finding joy in owning your own home probably never owned one himself. Or maybe he had staff and an unlimited sinking fund for doing maintenance and repairs. In any case, unbridled joy is rarely my first thought when I consider what goes into keeping the roof over my head.

Maybe that’s because every damn time I turn around something needs fixing or replacing. You regrade the back yard because the basement leaks, then replace a water heater, then a furnace, then get the gutters tinkered with every few months, then you’re due for a new clothes dryer before replacing the faucet on the kitchen sink. That’s all before you take on more basic general maintenance tasks that need done weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Don’t get me wrong, I like the place well enough, but it’s all a labor of necessity rather than one of love.

It’s possible that my view of the whole things is currently jaundiced because the ants that I thought we cast out last summer and now comfortably (for them) back in my well casing. I know this because teeny tiny ant parts are getting sucked into the well, passing through my fancy filter system, and showing up in the sink, the shower, and every other place water is piped through the house. It’s almost equal parts disgusting and infuriating.

Last year, I tried the advice of the well and pump experts. This year I’m starting off seeking a fix from a local exterminator. I think I was very clear with him on the phone that I was going to insist on a solution that didn’t involve pouring poison directly down my own well. I like to think that would go without saying, but life experience tells me sometimes you need to say that obvious out loud.

I have no idea what the next step is if there’s not an effective way to kill these little bastards without killing myself in the process. I wonder if I need to pull a county permit to dig up the front yard, bury a cistern, and have potable water trucked in once a month.