Clawed back…

Looking at the various trackers I use to keep tabs on “money stuff” it appears I’ve clawed back somewhere around 80% of what was lost when the floor fell out from under the stock market during the opening days of the Great Plague. I wish I could take some kind of credit for having a shrewd financial mind. It has far more to do with being willing to just stand there and take a beating without locking in all those losses by fleeing to the safety of cash equivalents… though I suppose sitting around watching the market erode your nest egg day after day after day without screaming “uncle,” is a certain kind of financial bravery of its own.

I’m happy to see a lot less red ink on the page, but I’m not even cautiously optimistic of the market’s ability to hold on to its gains in the absence of the truly massive amount of money the Federal Reserve has pushed into the system. Until I start seeing unemployment numbers normalizing, consumer confidence picking up, and a reckoning about how the foreclosures and evictions that have been held in abeyance for the last few months will be addressed, I won’t be convinced it’s not an aberration.

Call me a pessimist, if you will, but aside from there being a nice blue sky and sunshine overhead I don’t see how or where we’ve really turned a corner – and I’m fairly sure the economy doesn’t turn on how pretty a day it happens to be outside. Then again it’s possible I have completely lost track about what it is that actually does drive the economy. So much seems to have changed since I took my basic classes twenty years ago… or at least we’re pretending they’ve changed right up until the old rules jump up and bite us in the collective ass later this year.

After the break…

I took a break this long Memorial Day weekend. I didn’t watch a bit of news. I didn’t write a word. The only bit of information leaking through came to me via social media… and that wasn’t utterly intolerable after last week when I silenced the dozen or so most ridiculously ill-informed and/or confrontational of the people in my various feeds. It was a few days where I mostly lost myself in the books, and futzing around the house, and tending to the critters. Aside from needing the mask for my early morning grocery run on Saturday, it was exactly the kind of weekend I’d have had been gunning for even in the absence of the Great Plague. 

As it turns out, finding a “new normal” isn’t particularly difficult when it’s nearly indistinguishable from the old normal. 

That sense of normalcy will, of course, fade when I have to start rescheduling doctor, dentist, and vet appointments that shouldn’t be deferred too much longer. It will be rattled to its core once Uncle decides we should all pile back into Cubicle Hell. With beaches crowded, hosts of businesses reopening, 

I’m living my own little Golden Age over here… and know with certainty that it’s drawing to an end. No matter how much we’ve proven can be done while remote, regardless of the best scientific advice, people who have what I’ve always considered an inexplicable need to see and be seen will call the shots. Because surely if no one sees you doing the things, there’s nothing getting done. As if visual confirmation is all that measures output.

So now all that’s left is to enjoy as much of this brief golden age that remains. The new normal can’t last forever… but if the old normal makes a comeback soon, at least I can go ahead and start looking forward piling up some leave around Independence Day and making a last stand.

What I learned this week…

It’s a harsh truth. What I learned this week is that three-day weekends don’t hit the same when you’ve mostly been home for most of the last 2+ months. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way hating the arrival of Memorial Day Weekend. An extra day not spent tapping away at the laptop is always, always welcome… but Friday afternoon didn’t really arrive heralding great plans and interesting things to do. I’m still thrilled beyond all measure to have three days in a row where not a thought will be spared for The NeverEnding Project.

I’d be a little more enthused if I were using the time to cull through book stores and junk shops, but I’ve got some new stuff to read and a nice new place to sit on the patio while I do it, so it’s not as if the Great Plague is really putting all that much of a damper on my plans.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even mask up and brave the Plague Lands to bring home a giant burrito as an extra special treat. I’m pretty sure I can manage to justify that as an essential component of the holiday weekend. 

Grains of truth…

I live in a reliably Republican voting county in a blue-voting state. Being one part interested in what’s happening in the community and one-part nosy bastard, I’m a member of several “community based” Facebook groups. Nowhere I visit online is more politically charged than most of these groups. Both the free shit for everyone lefties and Trump is the best president in history crowd are well represented. I think both sides there are idiots, but that’s not my point here.

If you’re anywhere on social media it’s probably impossible to miss the people who are rabidly clamoring to “open now.” Their argument almost universally is centered around some variation of “Well, if you don’t feel safe just stay home” and/or “Small businesses need to start making money.” Take away the vitriol with which those sentiments are spewed across the internet and I fully understand the argument. 

Small businesses, having largely been shuttered for two months, are absolutely in danger of never opening their doors again. The “open now” crowd wants desperately to believe proclaiming businesses open will restore the world to the way it was in February. When the doors to all these businesses finally fly open, this sub-section of people will, I’m sure, crowd in. The other, and I presume larger percentage of people, will not be part of the swarm. This second group are those who don’t feel safe and, on the advice of the first group, have opted to “just stay home.” Sure, they may loosen their self-imposed restrictions a bit, but it won’t be with the free-for-all, madcap, devil-may-care embrace that the “open now” crew advocates. 

Even here in reliably red Cecil County, I have a hard time imagining businesses small and large filled anywhere even close to capacity again any time soon. Business can be all the open they want to be and if people don’t show up in mass, they still won’t make their margin. No one wants to hear this nugget, but my take is that whether open or closed here in last third of May, hundreds of thousands of businesses that were going concerns at Christmastime will be shuttered permanently by Independence Day… and there’s virtually nothing that’s going to stop it from happening.

I don’t take any pleasure in even thinking it because there’s a laundry list of businesses, both small and large, that I patronize, or I use to patronize, fairly regularly. I may be tempted back to a few of the used book shops sooner rather than later – as often enough I’ve had those places to myself even before the Great Plague. But sitting down in a restaurant, packing in shoulder to shoulder at a concert, or even wandering the aisles at the average retail establishment? Yeah, that’s a no from me for the foreseeable future. 

The grain of truth in the “open now” argument is that yes, I will do my own risk assessment and keep my ass at home until I determine (based on the advice of scientists and not politicians) that it’s reasonably safe to do otherwise. Then again, no one has ever had to encourage me to stay home, so maybe I simply lack the impulse that inspires other people to need to pull up a stool to their favorite bar in defiance of basic logic and common sense.

What I learned this week…

I’ve never picked up a book that I didn’t learn something from it. One of the most unexpected things I’m learning due to my enormous “to be read” pile is how much more I enjoy reading history written in the 20th century than I do many of the modern reinterpretations. That probably shouldn’t be surprising given my general intolerance for most aspects of the 21st century. I’m fortunate though to have a keen interest in topics – the world wars, the Roman republic and empire, England from prehistory to the present – that have already been extensively plumbed by some of the true giants in those areas.

While I’ll pick up some of the new releases, I don’t find myself particularly enjoying many of them – or the modern historian’s penchant for wanting us to believe that everyone who ever carved their name into the historical record is evil and we should all feel badly about it. It makes me wildly appreciative of having such a wide selection of the older works that don’t nearly as often read like someone’s effort at forcing the past into a mold that supports the social agenda flavor of the week. I like my history a little less preachy.

I welcome and encourage everyone to read what interests them, but I’ll stick with delving into the saga of great men and great deeds. I guess it’s my own variation of dancing with the one that brung ya.

Marks on the wall…

It’s mid-May, a magical time on the calendar where the end of the long slog through the months of spring bereft of federal holidays is in sight. The long holiday weekend for Memorial Day is almost upon us. That usually marks the first of my planned four-day weekends, with Fridays as often as not spent trolling through used book shops, antique stores, flea markets, and barn sales. Given the climate, that normal kickoff to summer doesn’t feel likely to happen, which is, in a word, disappointing.

The next mark on the wall is a week of leave starting on June 1st that I scheduled back in the depths of winter. That’s historically a week when I go further afield on my quests for the next interesting item – ranging widely through eastern Pennsylvania, the Delmarva, and central Maryland. That too seems like an activity that will surely still be out of reach just three short weeks from now. I also question the value of taking a restorative week of vacation time when I’ve already mostly been home for the best part of two and a half months. I’ve often enough needed a proper break from the office, but needing a rest from being at the house is beyond my understanding.

In any case, the marks on the wall by which I plan my year appear to be lining up to fall in 2020. Admittedly, two months into the Great Plague and its associated closures probably makes me a little late to this particular party. Although I find this impending change of plans annoying, they’re not debilitatingly so. They certainly don’t drive me to take to the streets in protest… even if that’s the cool new thing to do.

There will be other marks on other walls at some point in the future yet to be determined. My vacation time balance isn’t going anywhere (as long as I’m not dumb enough to let it expire at the end of the year) so holding those plans in abeyance isn’t cause for alarm just yet. Getting all up in my feelings about anything that’s not happening feels about as useful and productive as wandering down to the river and ordering the tide to go out. 

What I learned this week…

There’s a whole subset of people out there who really think the government has come up with some far reaching, super-secret plan to take over the world / give all of us a tracking chip / cull the surplus population / some other wackadoodle idea that they’ve trolled up from the depths of the internet.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years working for the government that these nutjobs think is plotting the subjugation of the masses. Having worked in the belly of this particular beast let me just say from experience that most days it barely manages to keep the lights on.  

Sure, they’ve had a couple of good days – the Manhattan Project was mostly kept secret – but largely, the whole creaking apparatus leaks like sieve. At its very best the workforce is managed rather than led. Good luck getting the thousands of government employees needed to carry off such a far-reaching scheme, each with their own interests and petty empire to build, all lined up and moving in the same direction. Then remember that they’ll be orchestrating these devious plots using technology that the average Fortune 500 company would be embarrassed to have in their inventory. 

If there was some generation’s old plan for the Illuminati to seize control there’s not a chance it stays secret. If, in defiance of all logic and common sense, it did stay secret, the government would lack the leadership ability of basic infrastructure to see it through. Even if all that wasn’t true and there is a conspiracy of unprecedented scope and scale at work, what on earth would make someone believe that the whole house of cards depends on the “truth” not spewing out on YouTube? Surely if these shadow forces are crafty enough to circumvent all other checks and balances, they’re savvy enough to keep their tracks off social media, no?

Still, this week I learned that people who I personally considered reasonably sane and rational, educated, and thoughtful have dived down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole… and that’s just disappointing on so many different levels.