Global wealth, exceptionalism, and mediocrity… 

According to an article in The Guardian, in 2021 the number of millionaires in the United States increased by 2.5 million, bringing the total of millionaires in the US to 24.5 million. Put another way, approximately 7% of the people living in this country have a net worth of at least one million dollars. That number is so high compared to historical levels that according to the article “the number of millionaires was becoming so large that it was becoming ‘an increasingly irrelevant measure of wealth.’” 

In my mind, having 39% of the world’s millionaires knocking around the country is a good news story. It speaks to the unprecedented level of wealth creation the American economy and global trade have fostered. We’re creating wealth in greater amounts and more quickly than ever before in history and it’s a testament to what’s still possible with brains, effort, and a bit of luck.

The Guardian, of course, takes pains to point out that the largess of the global economy hasn’t been fairly distributed. As if anything in the world has ever been distributed fairly. Natural resources aren’t sprinkled evenly across the world. Intellect isn’t awarded equally at birth. Gnashing your teeth over issues of equity is, of course, the trendy take, but it’s not how the universe works. 

Personally, I’m far happier knowing it’s possible to be exceptional, somewhere towards the right end of the bell curve, than knowing for a certainty that we can all look forward to an equal share of mediocrity.

An utterly cotton headed loss for words…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been far better at expressing myself in writing than in words spoken aloud. Something about the slowing down and crafting the words on the page versus simply opening my mouth and letting them fall out as unorganized or partial thoughts, I suppose.

Even though writing is supposed to be my strong suit, it’s all a dry well tonight. I’m lucky to string together a coherent thought about not being able to put more than half a dozen words together without my eyes crossing and my brain going into vapor lock.

I’m going to go mix a very tall gin and tonic, get a night’s sleep, and expect the cotton in my head to be a bit less dense tomorrow and the day after that and the one after that. Before long, I’ll be back to full throated raging against annoyances, wry observations, and occasional bad takes on current events. For now, I’m just going to let coming down from forgoing a lot of sleep and mainlining a single story for the last eleven days take as long as it takes.

I know a lot of people keep saying they wish they weren’t living in such interesting times… but I wouldn’t miss it for the world, even if it does occasionally leave me bleary eyed and nonsensical.

The last project of 2022 (probably)…

I started 2022 with a long list of projects that needed doing. Some were minor and I managed to knock them off one by one as the months crept past. Others – some electrical work, replacing the well filters, the gut and redo on my bathroom, and maintenance on the exterior trim work – were all things I opted to farm out to more competent hands.

The painters, at long last, were here yesterday. It wasn’t a particularly big project, but it involved a level of detailed effort and agility atop a ladder that I’m decidedly not able to deliver. Still, it was badly in need of doing. All the front windows needed recalked, the steel lentils above each window and the garage doors needed to be scraped, primed, and repainted, a deeply weathered wooden door frame needed a bit of patching and a fresh coat of paint, and lastly the iron pipe that keeps the generator fueled was beginning to wear through its original battleship gray.

I’m working from the assumption that all of those bits, except for the last one, probably haven’t been looked after since the house was built in 2000. The previous owners gave it good bones, but as they aged, it was obvious basic maintenance was let go. I’m told that’s something that tends to happen with older home owners. God preserve me from living through such a fate.

I’ve slowly worked through taking the multitude of deferred maintenance problems in hand. It was an impressively long list that included fixing the entire drainage scheme for the back yard, bricking up an undrained window well, replacing the furnace, clearing the shrubbery that at one time grew in the gutters, and a whole host of other smaller efforts. It’s taken the better part of eight years, but I’m pretty much done with the things that were on my original list. 

Aside from keeping up with the preventative maintenance now that it’s caught up, there’s the large and growing list of new projects that I want to take on. The air conditioning condenser unit is 22 years old. The carpet in the master bedroom and sunroom is warn and approaching tatty. The kitchen could use a bit of a refresh. Before long the roof will reach the end of its service life. Those are just the known projects. Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns are always lurking out there waiting to spring a surprise bit of home repair on me when they’re least expected or wanted.

I haven’t formally decided what’s next. If I can keep the air conditioner blowing through one more season, I’d like to take on some worrisome limbs that overhang the house and trees that have grown a bit too close. That’s probably the top of my wish list for 2023. Well, that, or really getting someone in here who can diagnose why my gutters suck and giving me a plan to fix them once and for all. 

As it turns out, the vast array of projects as a homeowner never actually ends, you just decide at some point to take a break. That’s absolutely where I am now.

It’s one or the other…

The last month or so has felt like a street fight between dragging the bathroom renovation across the finish line, attempting to schedule some other service appointments, keeping up with a few medical appointments for me and the critters, and generally trying to keep the household running. It feels a bit like we hit a breakthrough this week. Even if there wasn’t much that ended up in the “done” pile, there was forward motion on a wide front 

September is still shaping up to be a hectic couple of weeks with various home repairs, doctor’s appointments, long deferred training classes, occasionally putting in a full day of work, and taking care of everything else that needs doing week in and week out. It’s busy, but for the first time in a month or two everything doesn’t feel like a bloody fistfight for every inch of progress.

There’s a very small number of activities for which I’ll claim any special skill. Whatever I manage to get done, I’ll generally attribute more to dogged determination than raw talent. Having said that, I’m cautiously optimistic that September is ushering in a season where I’ll start seeing the payoff for a couple of months of repeatedly flinging myself against the same brick walls. 

It’s either that or every damned thing is about to fly uncontrollably off the rails. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. 

That was predictable…

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.

The barking dog…

If I’m painfully honest, the first six months with Jorah was touch and go. There was a while there where I didn’t like him all that much. Housebreaking and cleaning up puppy accidents is one thing – doing it with a full-sized dog and the proportionally larger volume of liquid they hold is something altogether different. Mercifully somewhere around the five-month mark, everything started to click and he finally seemed to “get it.” Once we were over that hump, he has been a remarkably good dog – particularly considering I have no idea what his circumstances were until he was already half a year old.

The only thing I haven’t managed to get under control is the barking. Things in the back yard mostly get a pass, but if it’s something moving out front, he’s a shrill and persistent alarm until it has passed fully out of his line of sight. It’s a habit that ranges from annoying to near-rage inducing depending on the time and duration.

He sounds absolutely vicious and I don’t necessarily want to break him from being alert or alerting me to comings and goings along the frontal approaches. As far as that goes, I’m mostly happy for anyone who comes near to think he’s an absolute terror who will surely lunge for the throat. Still, though, I’d dearly like for him to tone it down just a little bit – or maybe give it a few barks and then go into standby mode for run of the mill things like the neighborhood joggers.

In reality, I’m well aware of my own limitations as a dog trainer. I’m a pushover and generally subscribe to a mostly benign philosophy of letting dogs be dogs and do their own thing (as long as their thing doesn’t include destroying the house or its contents). So, feel free to consider this one of those things I’ll bitch and complain about, but ultimately do little or nothing to change.

The joy of nothing…

It’s rare to get through from the time I post Friday night’s blog all the way to a Monday evening without having at least one idea jump out at me as being at least nominally worthy of writing up a few lines. It does happen, of course, but it’s rare enough to be noticeable – or at least it is for me. 

I’m going to attribute this weekend’s lack of anything particularly interesting to a combination of reasons. The first of them being that the only time I Ieft the house between 5PM last Tuesday and now, was for about 45 minutes on Saturday. That’s just long enough to get out for the weekly supply run and get home. It generally happens before most people have even properly started their Saturday – and that’s absolutely done with intention. 

It might have started as a pandemic-induced way to avoid standing in line and needlessly exposing myself to whatever bugs people are toting around in their respiratory system, but it turns out even absent a plague, it’s just a great way to avoid people, their small talk, their general bad behavior, and any need to interact with them en mass. Plus, two and a half years in and I’ve still managed to avoid COVID, so that’s a perk. I thought maybe I’d miss restaurants or going places, but it turns out I really don’t. The incentive to leave the house has to be pretty overwhelming. It happens, but it’s a rarity. 

Another reason there doesn’t feel like much to report is, I expect, due to having dialed back a lot of unnecessary spending. Between continuing inflationary pressure, general economic uncertainly, and home maintenance projects both scheduled and unscheduled, a lot of “fun” spending got either reallocated either directly towards covering other expenses or into various holding accounts to be banked against further unexpected requirements. Between shepherding cash, avoiding people/plague carriers, and generally being content to hang out at home with the animals, the number of things worth writing about – or at least the number that anyone other than me might be interested in, sometimes gets a bit limited.

I have no doubt I could gin up a few attention-grabbing posts if I went over and wandering around the local Walmart for an hour or two. You can understand, I hope, why that doesn’t sound like a particularly worthwhile trade off. Much as I enjoy writing, I’m not in any rush to put myself back in a position of having unlimited topics presenting themselves on any given day. 

For today at least, I’ll luxuriate in the joy of having nothing to say.

Junk drawer…

In every house I’ve ever lived in from the time I was old enough to have memories until now, there has been one drawer in the kitchen that was simply “the junk drawer.” It’s one of those facts of life that is so certain, I’ve never questioned it and, in fact, assumed it was a universal feature of all kitchens everywhere. 

Need a needle and thread? Junk drawer. A pen and note pad? Junk drawer. Any type of battery every devised by the mind of man? Junk drawer. Playing cards? Junk drawer. I just go with the assumption that the junk drawer is simply some kind of quantum space that exists outside the boundaries of the natural laws of the universe. How much junk can fit in the drawer has no relationship to the apparent physical space the drawer itself occupies. 

After more than seven years here, I finally grew impatient with the process of digging through every object I’ve ever owned in order to find an AA battery. The resulting clean out revealed, among many other things, a total of 10 pairs of eyeglasses, five flashlights, four decks of playing cards, and literal handfuls of bits and pieces whose original source or function I couldn’t identify.

The net result was a third of a trash bag to throw away, a few items that someone, somewhere might possibly use tossed in my “to donate” box, and a drawer that still seemed mostly full after I’d returned the array of things that live there permanently. Keeping a firm grip on the amount of accumulated stuff was fairly easy when I moved house every two or three years. Now that I’ve more or less homesteaded, it doesn’t just accumulate, it multiplies.

Reaching the bottom of the junk drawer feels like an accomplishment, but that’s only because I studiously avert my eyes every time I walk through the garage. For now, I’ll just keep telling myself that’s a “cool weather” project better suited for the fall. Once the weather turns, I’ll let you know the next lie I’ll tell myself to keep putting it off. 

The good neighbor policy…

I’ve organized my life in such a way as to be reasonably unobtrusive and minimize the impact my day-to-day activities have on others. It’s probably reasonable to say I actively go out of my way to avoid people in anything but necessary interactions. Much as I’d love it to be otherwise, there are still times when people are unavoidable if you’re not an entirely self-sufficient operation. In those cases, I try to be polite, professional, and end the engagement quickly as possible so we can all get on with our day. In essence, I have a policy of trying to be exactly the kind of neighbor I want to have. Do unto others and all that.

I don’t let the dog stand at the edge of the fence line and bark at all hours of the day and night. I don’t have live bands on the patio well past 11 PM. I don’t light off a barrage of fireworks in celebration of July 27th. I don’t encourage any resident or guest to wander the property screeching and screaming at top volume for hours on end. The loudest, most intrusive thing I do is run the mowers, trimmers, and blowers that keep the yard neat and tidy once a week. All in, it takes about 45 minutes and with very few exceptions it takes place during a time when one or more of my neighbors are doing the same thing.

I suspect it’s our setting, being surrounded by woods, that gives people the illusion of privacy and distance from their neighbors. At the height of summer with trees in full leaf and thick undergrowth on three sides, perhaps it’s easy to forget that the next guy can be as close as 30 or 40 yards away. Then again, it also feels entirely possible that people are just legitimately the worst animal and do what they do without even a thought behind their glazed over, soulless eyes. As much as I’d like to believe it’s the former, the latter is likely more the case.

I won’t cast aspersions on all neighbors, of course. Some are obviously better than others. The best of the bunch are the ones who throw a wave when you drive past or speak and keep walking when picking up their mail. I’m lucky to count most of my immediate neighbors as falling into this good category. Sadly, it doesn’t take more than one of the other kind to disturb the tranquility of the place overall.

Without investing in thousands of acres, I don’t imagine you can ever completely control for how other people behave or what they choose to do for entertainment. The big ranch in Montana probably isn’t in the cards for me, though. I can certainly keep muddling along with how things are, but I’m definitely of the opinion that I’ll need more seclusion from the general population than 1 or 2 acre lots provides when I settle in for my last act.

Unfavorable odds…

Every time one of the big multi-state lottery jackpots gets up towards record territory, there’s a flurry of reports decrying the whole concept of state sanctioned gambling. I can tick most of the main arguments off by heart: They’re a tax on the poor; They’re a tax on those who don’t understand math; They divert funds that people should use for long term investment; They destroy the lives of the people who win. The list goes on and on and on and on… but you get the gist. 

Like most other activities in life, there’s no end to people who want to tell you why you shouldn’t do something and why you’re an idiot if you do. I tend to fall more in line with the “let people enjoy the things they enjoy” school of thought. Deciding to buy a $2 Mega Millions ticket, even if it’s your last $2, literally doesn’t hurt anyone else. You buying a ticket doesn’t impact me in any way. In this country we’re all free to bankrupt ourselves in any way we’d like. 

With no hand wringing at all, I’m happy to throw a few dollars every week at various games sponsored by the Maryland lottery. I’m putting plenty back to care for myself in old age, it’s not taking food out of anyone’s mouth, or a roof from over anyone’s head, so why the hell shouldn’t I take a flyer on fabulous wealth? It’s a happy dream that costs next to nothing.

Now if anyone needs me between now and Friday night, I’ll be over at Country Life getting a read on what English country homes are heading to market in the near future. A billion dollars probably won’t buy me a peerage, but it’s more than enough to live like it did.