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. 

My lying eyes…

I’ve worn glasses since I was in 7th grade – meaning I’ve had them now far longer than I ever lived without them. They feel like a natural extension of my face at this point. 

My prescription has changed over the years, but for the last decade or so has been fairly stable. That’s why it was painfully obvious early this year that I was struggling to keep the small print in focus. What’s worse, after long sessions with the book of the day, I’m regularly finding the words blurring together and my eyes just too tired to focus on anything that’s not halfway across the room.

It hasn’t been debilitating, but has been thoroughly annoying and disheartening from day-to-day as it sets limits on how many pages I can get through in a sitting. I don’t make a habit of living in fear, but if there’s anything in life that causes me an unreasonable amount of dread, it’s the idea of losing my vision. It’s precisely the kind of perverse plot twist the Olympians would devise for me. 

I took a few hours of sick leave this morning and schlepped over for my annual eye exam and diagnostic for this new issue. This appointment has been on the schedule for months and given the sum of other circumstances in this plague summer it’s one I would have probably cancelled… but since current situation is standing between me and fully enjoying the books, I’m 100% willing to risk painful, suffocating death to get it resolved.

As it turns out, Doc assures me I’m not, in fact, going blind… but it’s yet another instance of bodily succumbing to the ravages of middle age. My fancy new transition lenses should be here in about two weeks. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find some tennis balls to put on the legs of my walker.

Getting cleaned…

Google reminded me this morning that I have a dental cleaning appointment in two weeks. 

Through the sweep of the last four months living under plague conditions, I haven’t done anything that made me particularly nervous. Going for groceries didn’t bother me. Stopping off at Asian Garden for a carryout order of General Tso’s and some egg rolls didn’t feel particularly threatening. Even a quick pop into one of my favorite book shops, depopulated of customers, was fine. 

The idea of sitting calmly, unmasked, while someone hovers inches from my face while prodding, poking, scraping, and kicking up the dreaded aerosolized droplets, and “defenseless” against whatever the patient before me kicked up, leaves me feeling deeply uncomfortable. Score one for my highly developed sense of self preservation, I guess.

I’m sure my dentist is following whatever protocols are required to make the experience reasonably safe… which does nothing to eliminate that nagging, and probably completely unreasonable thought that it feels like some kind of high-risk maneuver best avoided at the moment.

At the moment, I’m leaning soft no, but with two weeks to go you can count on me to spend an inordinate amount of time overthinking the situation and creating entire universes of arguments in favor and against. That gives me room to change my mind twenty or thirty times before it really matters.

The cost of getting the job done…

I moved into my current house five years ago. Sure, the movers got everything through the door, but my job was making sure once it’s was in that it was situated in the right spot. Over the years I’ve acquired some cheats and tools – a vast collection of furniture dollies, hand carts, straps, and plastic sliders – to make moving large objects easier. Working smarter, not harder, is an absolute necessity when you’re an army of one.

I was more than capable of slinging my big oak bookcases through the house five years ago. That was 37. This morning I’m finding that getting them across the room left me twisted up in a curly que and just barely able to put down fresh water for the dogs. Yeah, I definitely pulled something. This is apparently 42. 

I still feel strong as a bull moose… and I still got the job done, though it seems there’s an increasingly high price to pay for brute strength-ing things into place. I’ve always tried to work smart, but it looks like I’ll have to work smarter yet to keep from wrecking myself.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here popping ibuprofen and and reeking of IcyHot.

Doubts…

Maryland’s governor started out a few weeks ago cautioning residents about the virus. Over the last several weeks, those advisories took on ever increasing urgency as it because clear that politely asking people to stay at home wasn’t working – as they continued to congregate at beaches, parks, and bars. Then he ordered those places shuttered… and people found other ways to gather. This morning he announced a wide reaching “stay at home” order, providing criminal penalties for for doing those things we were previously advised to avoid.

Aside from my own instinctive chafing at government so dramatically curtailing the scope of our collective liberty (even in the name of a good cause), I have serious doubts about the average citizen’s ability or willingness to comply with what are currently open ended orders to stay put. Americans have a long and storied history of going where the government of the day tells them not to go. It’s in no small part the story of our nation’s westward expansion… although I don’t think the desire to move the family west to homestead Nebraska is going to be the issue in the here and now.

I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life being utterly happy staying home. That’s not true for most people. It’s even less true when you can’t tell them how long they’ll be expected to stay put. Many of us are starting week 2 or 3 of this new normal and despite the gallows humor that suffuses social media, there’s a decided undercurrent of fear and worry out there too. How long my fellow citizens are willing to sit in their homes with those two companions remains to be seen. 

I’ve got my doubts that “indefinitely” is going to be an answer some, or even many, will accept as the weeks continue to stretch on, even if that means going about against the best medical advice and in violation of our newly instituted executive orders. 

Taking it on the chin…

A few months ago I, somewhat tongue in cheek, told a coworker the best thing that could happen for my hopes of eventual retirement would be a few years of a bear market to suppress prices and let me “back up the truck” to buy shares at deep discount prices. As long as I can keep working and manage not to drop dead of the Andromeda Strain or whatever the appropriate name for this bug is, I suppose I’m technically not wrong… but boy is it a great big case of be careful what you fucking ask for.

The US economy is currently suffering through a system-level shock the likes of which almost no one alive has personally experienced. For those of us above a certain age, the closest we’ve come is listening to grandparents or family elders tell their stories – and wonder uncomprehending about why all those years later they still saved their soap slivers in a mason jar or insisted on getting three cups of tea out of each bag.

I like to think this isn’t the start of Great Depression 2.0. The fact that the economy was roaring along at breakneck speeds just a couple of weeks ago gives me enormous faith that it can be resuscitated… eventually. Once they’ve exhausted all other options, Congress will push through bailout plans to pour trillions of dollars through the front door of the Treasury. The Federal Reserve has committed to buying government debt with reckless abandon.

Even with herculean efforts, a host of businesses will fail. No economic recover package ever passed through government can prevent that. Cash flow is the life’s blood of business and with that flow stopped, even temporarily, many won’t have the deep reserves it will take to emerge once we’ve arrived at the new normal. The best we can manage in the moment is likely following a “harm reduction” strategy – of propping up what we can and finding as soft a landing as possible for those in the workforce who are displaced.

It seems that President Trump is determined to take a short cut through the amount of time science says we need to keep the clamps on the economy. That’s a foolish and stupid take, but in some ways, I can understand the instinct. Even those who get through the pandemic with little or no ill effects will feel the unnatural consequences of an economy gone to hell in a handbag.

There’s a point where declaring business as usual will make sense. I don’t think that’s this week. I don’t think it will be next week. If you believe science, and you should, it’s not even likely to be in the next month.

As you know, I despise the media obsession with calling this the “war against COVID-19.” Even so, I take a degree of comfort in knowing that historically, the United States almost always loses the first battle of every war we’ve ever been in. We take a punch right to the chin, get knocked down, and then get up off the ground angry and looking for payback.

Today we’re still on the ground, but we’re going to get up, and when we do, we’re going to be collectively pissed the hell off and ready to do what needs to be done.

Morality and ethics aside…

I’d be lying if I said I don’t have deep misgivings about what appears to be the exercise of increasingly unchecked power by both the federal and state governments. That’s especially true when the discussion turns to the he power of the state to “lock down” people within entire geographic areas or perhaps the entire country. Where it makes perfect sense from a medical or harm reduction standpoint, it creates ponderous questions about due process rights, false imprisonment, and the Constitutional protections Americans enjoy against arbitrary government action. Where government reasonably can require a contagious person into quarantine, does that power also extend to people who aren’t sick? Should it?

I guess you can go ahead and add constitutional scholar and medical ethicist to the long list of things that I’m not.

The morality and ethics aside, I’m wondering at what point people begin to reject medical advice in favor of “living their best life” and rolling the dice. Having spent a lifetime watching people, and Americans in particular, I hope you’ll forgive me if I doubt the average person will be perfectly willing to live under a regime of social distancing, isolation, closures, and economic armageddon for as long as the 18 months or more that Imperial College is speculating it may take for COVID-19 to run its course

You’ll be glad you did…

You can’t miss the funny, funny toilet paper memes. I got it. Large numbers of people pummeling each other in the grocery store isles is good humor, I don’t deny it.

I’ll be the first to agree with you that panic buying is stupid. With that said, I think it’s stupid for reasons different than “coronavirus doesn’t cause you to die of shitting yourself.” For me, the rolling of eyes is triggered more by looking at people who don’t already have a “safety stock” of items essential to keeping a household running for a few days, a few weeks, months, a year or more depending on what your risk tolerance and budget will support.

I know some real, honest to God end of the world prepper types. I’m not even close to being in their league. I’ve got no interest in taking it to that level. They’re legitimately trying to be prepared for the collapse of civilization. It’s not out of the realm of the possible, but I’m not entirely convinced I want to hang around for that party. My personal cognitive bias tends towards the belief that over time, things will trend towards that status quo… that tomorrow will be more or less the same as yesterday. I could also be 100% wrong about that assumption.

I’m extremely comforted in knowing that if, for some reason, I needed to button up Fortress Jeff for a period of a few weeks or a month or two, I could get along without any significant impact on my standard of living. We could probably hold out a bit longer than that if I did a little rationing. It’s the level of insurance and peace of mind that I’m comfortable with maintaining over the long term.

Because I’ve done a little advance planning and bought extras a few items at a time, there’s no need for panic buying. My regular shopping trips involve simply replacing what I’ve used from week to week to maintain the baseline – usually a few canned goods, some fresh mean and vegetables, dog or cat food, and so on. Keeping a bit of extra on hand just makes good sense. When everyone else is panicking and buying up 54-packs of Charmin, you can smile, make another cup of coffee, and get on with your day.

Next time you make your weekly grocery list, add a few extra items that are good for long term storage. Buy stuff you know you’ll use anyway. Try having a little bit of a plan that extends beyond the next three to five days. At some point, because of flood, fire, snow, or pandemic, you’ll be glad you did.

Peak bureaucrating…

So this week I’m engaged in something of a thought exercise. In one file, I’m continuing to develop, refine, and otherwise prepare a program of events suitable to feed and entertain 800-1000 guests. In another folder, I’m starting to build a list of what would go in to turning the whole thing off with little to no notice.

I’m planning for the success and demise of this particular product simultaneously. It’s like trying to hold two mutually exclusive thoughts in your head at the same time. It’s possible that I’m starting to smell colors and see music. It’s like I’m dangerously close to reaching Peak Bureaucrat… or possibly having a stroke. I won’t rule out either option at this point.

In any case, I’m now officially rooting for COVID-19 and the collapse of civilization. We had a good run, but it’s time to go.

Against the tyranny of the cubicle…

I spent most of the morning having another close encounter with modern dentistry. It was a little “warranty work” on a filling that failed way earlier than it was supposed to, so at least I wasn’t out of pocket for the extra pain and aggravation. That said, my general hatred for visiting the dentist’s office isn’t really the point.

Since I was a slobbery mess and the day was more or less half over, I plugged in my laptop and spent the late morning and afternoon working from home. If I’m going to spend a few hours dribbling coffee down my chin, I’d rather do it in the comfort of my own office than in the open bay cubicle hell where I practice my trade most other days.

Let me start by saying that I’ve missed working from home. Circumstances the last couple of weeks have conspired to make it something like too hard to do. eventually I hope to get back on a semi-regular schedule. Instinct tells me that’s going to be a long time coming, so I’ll need to steal a day wherever I can.

What struck me most today, though, was how easy a time I had getting through something that I’d spent the last two days in the office trying to knock out. It wasn’t a particularly hard task, but it required integrating information from a couple of different sources into a reasonably coherent whole. It’s the kind of thing that requires attention to detail… and frankly I can’t think of any place worse than a standard office cubicle to try to make sense of something that requires focused attention. Between the random meetings, people dropping by just to chat, the gods on Olympus deciding you need to work on other “priorities” for a few hours, and the general hum and buzz of 30-odd people all working in the same 25’x75′ space, it’s a bloody marvel that anything ever gets finished. Of course that’s assuming that anything actual does ever get finished, which could easily not be a valid assumption.

In conclusion, whoever decided that cubicles represent the best way for information workers to get their job done was a fucking idiot and I hope his soul is condemned to eternal torment… like by never getting more than 37 uninterrupted seconds to try completing a fairly simple and routine task.