While parents across the country are lamenting going “back to school” at home today, I got the unbridled joy of spending the day in the office. It’s not the first time I’ve been back since the Great Plague kicked off. Over the course of the last six months I’m probably averaging a day a week actually sitting in cubicle hell. Frankly, I don’t recommend it.
The only saving grace of being in the office right now is that most of your colleagues won’t be there with you. Sure it’s not as conducive to peaceful reflection and deep thought as the quiet of your home office might be, but you aren’t being afflicted with 20 simultaneous and overlapping conversations like you were in the before time. Still, I envy little Bobby and Suzy for their new online existence.
Everyone is awaiting the moment when the world goes back to normal. When their little darlings are back to school and when cube farms are once again filled elbow to asshole. I can’t help but think it’s a case of being careful with your wishes. A school or office full of potential plague carriers, mouth breathers, and assorted oxygen thieves was our collective normal. I’d like to think our new normal could, and should, be something better.
When the great plague started and everything closed, the one I thought I’d miss most was going to see movies at a proper theater. Sure, I liked going to the earliest possible showing of whatever I wanted to see in order to avoid any semblance of a crowd, but I enjoyed the theater experience… by which I might mean the overly buttered popcorn and proper fountain Cokes. Despite my general intolerance of public spaces, there was just something about seeing a first run movie on the big screen that can’t be replicated in the comfort of my own living room.
It’s been nine months since I’ve gone to see a movie… and surprisingly I haven’t really missed it. In fact, I haven’t thought much about it at all. I wonder how much of that has been the general lack of movies being released in the plague era. It’s not like there have been a parade of blockbusters just begging to be watched this summer.
In the before time I almost always used a long weekend as an excuse to check out the latest offering at the local multiplex, so I guess Labor Day has me thinking about the old days. I’m wondering when the next time will be for gorging on popcorn and sucking down a 44-ounce soda… or if that’s one of those things I’ll ever go back to doing. With every month gone by, it feels distinctly less likely that I’ll ever be completely comfortable sitting in a dark theater even if it’s only with the six other people there for the 10 AM showing.
I miss the proper theater popcorn, though. I wonder if Regal would do a carryout order.
I’m in a mood today. I don’t mind admitting it. It’s the first day of a four-day weekend and I don’t hate that, but sitting at the keyboard writing is just about the last thing I feel like doing just now. It happens from time to time.
It’s Friday evening, anyway. Let’s all just agree that we have better things to do than hanging around on my blog for just this one night and we’ll get things back on track next week.
1. Training. A month or two ago I made a concerted effort to knock out all the mandatory online training I was supposed to get done this year. Generally, figuring out how to sign on to the system is far more difficult and time consuming than the actual training, but fine. Every week, though, some new ridiculous “important mandatory training requirement” gets added. Look, I’m a bureaucrat, I’ll waste an hour or two doing whatever the bosses decide is important, but could we at least pile all up so I can blast through it in a day or two instead of inflicting slow death by a thousand cuts?
2. “First Amendment” violations. I feel like I have to say this once every three months, but Facebook literally can’t infringe upon your First Amendment right to free speech. Facebook is a publicly traded company, not a branch of government. They’re free to do whatever they want on their platform – including flagging and deleting anything that doesn’t conform to the broadest possible interpretation of their established terms of service. No company is no more required to let you use their intellectual property as a soapbox than I am to let you stand on my front porch spouting nonsense. If you don’t like the terms under which Facebook lets you use their platform, the answer is to stop using it and find an alternative… because ranting and raving about Facebook violating your rights makes you sound like a moron.
3. Election 2020. We’re exactly two months away from the 2020 general election. I was occasionally checking in prior to the conventions, but with the ongoing tantrum throwing by candidates and surrogates, go ahead and color me uninterested. I haven’t missed voting in an election since I first registered in 1996 – and I have no intention of missing this one – but there’s absolutely nothing currently being bandied about across traditional, social, or alternative media that I find helpful in any way. Honestly, I can’t believe we’re paying good money for this abject fuckery.
My home state of Maryland is moving swiftly towards ending the last of the COVID-19 related business closures. Now we’ll be able to go to the movies and concerts in addition to bars, restaurants, and retail establishments. It’s surely good news if you’re dependent on any of those businesses to make your living. Personally, it’ll still be a good, long time before I take advantage of most of these reborn opportunities.
I’ve never been what one might call “social,” but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less during a plague year than sit in a movie theater for a few hours, belly up to the local bar, or go out for a long, lingering meal at a neighborhood restaurant. I wasn’t terribly keen on it in the before time and I’m even less so now that as many as one in twenty could be walking around blowing the plague out of their face holes.
Other people, I’m sure, will be happy to do those things. They’re welcome to it… as long as they keep the hell away from me afterwards. Though I don’t suppose that’s much of a break from my usual approach on interacting with people.
Fortunately, the bookstores and junk shops that I tend to haunt aren’t generally hotbeds of activity. Their few, but loyal clientele are well versed in avoiding other consumers. We were doing it well before anyone was worried about the Great Plague. Who knows, maybe while everyone else is busy going to movies and loading in to bars and restaurants during this long holiday weekend, I may even try to sneak in a visit to pick out a few new (old) books or find a hidden gem buried among shelves of junk… or I could just make a pre-dawn supply run and head on back to the house for four days on interrupted peace and quiet. Neither course of action would break my heart.
I spent the morning starting to think about the next iteration of the project that over the last seven years has become the bane of my existence. I’d have rather spent the morning crushing my thumbs in my bench vice… but since I used up most of the last two weeks finding other things to do that could theoretically excuse the lack of progress on this particular project, I had a hunch the forbearance of those at pay grades above mine was nearing its end.
We laid the 2020 version of this benighted event to bed back in June – all online and a shadow of the usual circus of a boondoggle we throw each spring. Maybe I had fever dreams that somehow it would never come back. More likely I had secret hopes that someone, somewhere would have realize that by being online we can get the same results without acres of “stuff” tacked on because everyone likes a party.
But here we are, starting to gin up a 2019-style plan as if we have learned exactly nothing from this plague year. I won’t even pretend I’m in any way shocked… but I will say a two-month break from this mess wasn’t nearly enough.
My grandparents were products of living through a Depression and a couple of world wars in the heart of what was then Appalachian coal country. They picked of some quirky habits that I always attributed to being young during those times.
The minor eccentricity I remember clearly was my grandmother’s insistence on using a tea bag well past the point where it would just barely turn a cup of hot water vaguely tea-colored. Another was the jar of soap slivers that would eventually be re-pressed into a “new” multi-hued bar of soap. Waste not, want not, I suppose.
In the basement, though, through the door that separate the finished part from the rest, in the far corner was a room that wasn’t quite cold enough to be a fruit cellar and not quite finished enough to be a walk-in closet. That room was where the canned goods were stockpiled. If it was a food product they put in a can any time between 1965-1990, I have to believe you could find it in there. As late as the early 1990s, I’m absolutely sure I saw cans come out of that room with “best by” dates in the early 70s. No one ever died of food poisoning from a home cooked meal there, so I don’t suppose any of it was the worse for wear.
Having come of age myself in the halcyon days of Regan-era plenty, as a kid I never quite understood the virtue of having a room full of canned goods. After living through the dawn of the Great Plague, though, I feel like I’m starting to understand the undeniable beauty of having large stacks of things that could become unexpectedly scarce.
And now that it’s coming back in stock, it’s why over the last few weeks I’ve been making sure I’ll never again be caught with less than 100 rolls of two-ply Charmin.
As if I needed any more proof that my inner child is a slightly eccentric 75-year-old man.
Wednesday was allegedly “International Dog Day.” I have no idea what duly constituted international body anoints these days, but that’s not the point.
I was happy to see Facebook filled with dogs of all shapes and sizes. For a few minutes it shouted down the rest of the abject asshattery that fills social media, which was nice.
My only real objection to this state of affairs is that I’ve never needed a special day to recognize dogs. Here at Fortress Jeff, every day is a celebration of these stalwart creatures whose ancestors long ago chose to throw their lot in with humanity. Given how many people seem to treat dogs so shabbily, I’m quite sure we got the better part of that bargain.
There’s no day that hasn’t been made better just by having the presence of these fuzzy hoodlum in my home. They’ve paid back every minute spent scrubbing it steam cleaning a hundred times over. I can’t even begrudge them the accumulated veterinary bills.
In a contest between dogs and people for my love and adoration, the dogs are going to win every time. I’m not even sorry about that. In fact, I tend to question the judgement of anyone who has spent time with both people and dogs and doesn’t agree.
This week offers a real grab bag of topics that could easily be slotted into tonight’s post. There are rioters who the media insists we call protestors, there are those who want us to fall all over ourselves apologizing for the long history of the United States, there are people who refuse to follow simple, lawful instructions, there are local governments all over the country that are failing to provide the most basic services of government – the safety and security of their citizens, and there are those from every corner who are working all possible angles to find advantage in the chaos – whether that’s through committing acts of violence, theft, or injecting outside agitation into already unstable situations.
Like I said, there’s almost no limit to what I could have written on this Thursday. The problem is, I don’t want to. The only goal I’ve had for the last five years or so, really, is to be left in peace on the side of this hill… and that litany of topics brings me anything but peace.
I spent some time at the office this week. I spent some time at home. I did a little work. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve laid down on the floor and let myself become a human chew toy. I’ve worked through a not insignificant volume of gin. None of those things led me towards burning down a car dealership or taking pot shots at someone in the street. It leads me to wonder if we wouldn’t collectively be better off if we all just stayed in our damned lane, take a breather, and give the moment a chance to unfuck itself since continually ratcheting up the pressure doesn’t appear to be getting us anywhere productive.
Since that doesn’t seem likely to happen, I suppose I’ll just stay here on the hillside, rolling my eyes ferociously and muttering to myself.
Once upon a time a category four bruiser churning up the Gulf would have been just the thing to get my juices flowing. I’d have had a bag packed a week before the thing even got in sight of landfall. Being seconded over to FEMA during these big storms was one of the few times in my career I could see an immediate impact of whatever I happened to be doing. In retrospect, turning loose a 25-year-old with a blank check and a sense of purpose may not have been the most well thought out idea anyone ever had, but it all seemed to turn out for the best.
Maybe it’s the years I’ve picked up since then… or the deep joy of sleeping in my own bed after not working a fourteen-hour day for the 45th day in a row, but the big storms don’t seem to get my heart rate up anymore. Oh, I’ll still keep an eye on the Weather Channel this week, but that’ll be purely for the fun of armchair quarterbacking how the response is handled – and how we’d have done it better way back when.
If you’d have asked me fifteen years ago what I wanted to do with my time working for Uncle, I’d have immediately said I wanted to live that emergency manager life. Now I’m not sure it would rank in the top twenty answers. At this point, the only things I want to do are those that can be safely bookended in an eight-hour day, with further preference given to those I can accomplish while wearing shorts and fuzzy slippers at the house.