Divisible by ten…

Every year I’m surprised at the end of May when I find myself inexplicably even more irritable than usual. Like salmon returning up river to die, the run up to June comes on without me consciously taking notice of it. Or rather not taking note of it until I sit down and ask myself why I’m dramatically more agitated that normal.

Yes, friends, you guessed it. It’s birthday time again. You see, the fare that accompanies the traditional American birthday is just a little bit of personal hell as far as I’m concerned. A room full of people, dumb hats, forced polite chatter – it sounds perfectly awful. It’s more tolerable when I’m not at the center of it, but I’d just as soon the day slide astern with as little fuss as possible.

It does explain why I’ve largely been feeling “off” this last week or so. Once you’re past 21 – or maybe 25 if you’re really excited about being able to rent a car – the whole exercise of birthday celebrating takes on a decidedly “so what” flavor. Maybe that flavor is even worse this year because it’s one of the big ones divisible by ten.

I take more than a little comfort in knowing it will be past soon and once that happens my mood will improve dramatically if I can go out on a limb and use past performance to predict future results.

Ten…

IMG_0305.jpgWalk up to the average bulldog owner and tell them that you’re thinking about adding one to your pack. I’d be willing to bet that 4 out of every five of them will warn you off the breed. They’re sickly – prone to a list of illnesses as long as your leg. They’re rife with potential genetic abnormalities – their airways are too small, their joints are prone to problems, their skin, God help you, will demand seeming around the clock attention. The most common dog foods are apt to trigger a host of potential allergies for them. Bulldogs, despite their popularity, are a troubled breed and not for the faint of heart or thin of wallet.

Having a bulldog means spending a ridiculous amount of time tending to their needs – with medicated baths, lotions, ointments, sprays, and a cabinet full of medication in addition to their basic care and feeding needs. You will develop a closer relationship to your veterinarian and their staff than you ever imagined possible. If the dog itself is an outsized expense, your medical bills for his care are going to spiral quickly into the five figure range and easily keep climbing from there.

My bulldog turns ten today. He’s been my near constant companion for almost every day of those ten years and he’s been a burning hot mess for almost the entire time. I’d hate to calculate the dollar cost of our time together or the number of trips to the vet for everything from noshing an Atavair inhaler weeping skin sores that erupted overnight without warning to months long recuperation from leg surgery.

I know though, that Fortress Jeff wouldn’t be what it is without Winston’s inquisitive eyes, slobbering IMG_0304.jpgjowls, smiling under bite, and undiluted obstinacy. Reaching his tenth birthday today, I’m acutely aware that I’ve got far fewer days left with him than I’ve had with him already. It’s one of life’s great inequities that the time we get with these animals is so incredibly short.

Any conversation I have about bulldogs invariably starts with “I love Winston more than nearly any living creature on the planet, but there will never be another bulldog…” The truth is, I’d be hard pressed to think of what this house would be like without a bulldog in it. The thought itself feels unnatural. There may well be other bulldogs in the future, but Winston will always be my first and the yardstick against which any other would be measured.

Today, of course, isn’t a day to ponder the costs or the future. It’s a day to give him a few extra ear rubs and chin scratches and marvel at the fact I’ve had so long to enjoy the companionship of this incredible dog.

Today in history…

I had planned for today to be one of those most rare of occurrences where I make two blog posts on the same day. First and foremost, it’s Thursday and regardless of what else Thursday might be it’s a time for What Annoys Jeff this Week. If you came here tonight hoping for your daily does of what three things annoyed the hell out of me this week, sadly you can’t read them because WordPress completely overwrote that post a few minutes ago.

However, all is not lost because in addition to the weekly spectacular that is WAJTW, this particular Thursday is also important for many other reasons.

First and foremost on June 1, 1495 Scotch whisky appears in the Exchequer (tax) rolls of Scotland for the very first time. If that doesn’t make it a red letter date worthy of celebration, I don’t know what does, really.

On June 1, 2011 I made the 879 mile drive from Memphis to Maryland for the last and final time. That was a big deal.

On June 1, 2015 I discovered that the basement of the new house I’d so eagerly purchased leaked like submarine with a screen door in anything harder than a drizzle – triggering ten thousand dollars in unplanned back yard renovation work to correct and landing my plan for fancy new master bathroom on the indefinite hold pile.

More important than any of those past events, perhaps, is that June 1, 2017 marks exactly 18 years until I’m eligible to retire and begin my life as a proper hermit on some far off mountaintop hideaway.

Oh, yeah, and as many of you have sussed out through various means, it’s also my birthday, so I guess there’s that. I appreciate all the kind words and texts and emails and calls. You guys are just the best.

The real celebration…

First and foremost I’ll take this opportunity to thank the many people who reached out to me through Facebook, or text, or email, phone today. Your birthday wishes are, by me, appreciated.

In other news, while I was digging around the site today in hopes of coming up with a suitable message for the day that I haven’t tread too heavily on the previous anniversaries of my birth, I was struck by something remarkable. As it turns out, June 1st isn’t just my birthday. I know. I’m as shocked as you are to learn that anything else of importance might have happened previously on this date. I’m still a little perplexed and amazed by this particular discovery.

Today also marks ten years since publishing my very first blog post. It’s bad. I mean really bad. It’s badly written. It’s badly thought out. It’s just bad in almost every conceivable way. If you don’t believe me, you can dig it up in the archives but scrolling down to June 2006 and hitting the link, but I’m not going to link it directly because it really is just that bad. I even contemplated making the post private rather than remarking on it, but that really defeats the purpose of what I’ve been trying to do here.

Those first posts really are awful. I’m struggling to find a voice and it readily shows. Looking back across those ten years, though, what I also see is upward trajectory of improvement – tighter writing, better reasoning, and the development of ability to tell a bit of a story in just a few hundred words. Still, I like the idea that if someone were so inclined they could map the constellation of things that have rattled through my head from then to now as the posts rattled around the internet from their original home on MySpace (seriously), to Blogger, and finally here to my own site powered by WordPress.

Ten years doesn’t seem like a lot of time until I start thinking about what’s changed from then to now. Looking back on some of the things 28 year old me thought were important enough to take up blog space, 38 year old me would love to sit him down for a nice long talk. There are lots of posts I wish I hadn’t made and some others I wish I’d have had the guts not just to publish, but to nail right to the mast. I like to think I’ve learned a lot about the world around me and even more about myself over the last 2,176 posts.

So unlike many of products that reach their tenth anniversary, there won’t be a lot of changes. I’m not going to go all New Coke or tinker around with the Colonel’s secret recipe. Whatever improvements happen will be organic and develop naturally in the fullness of time. I can only hope the writing is as much improved over the second decade of blogging as it was in the first.

We’ll all have to come back in June 2026 to find out.

Such fine company…

I’m not a big birthday celebrator. I don’t need or really want a party a cake or really any kind of a deal made about it at all. Being an introvert by nature, a lot of glad-handing and forced socialization is less like a party and more of a jail sentence. I’m uncomfortable with the singing and being singled out and the (even small) spectacle of the thing. I’ve made a studied effort at learning how to be in the action without being the center of attention. It doesn’t suit me. Frankly I’d rather just get home, throw a couple of burgers on the grill, have a beer or two and call the day mission complete.

That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to all you crazy bastards who called, emailed, texted, tweeted, or messaged me on Facebook. It didn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. I’ll do my best to reach out to everyone individually over the next day or two – but in the event I inadvertently miss someone, please, for the love of God, consider this a blanket statement of appreciation.

It’s immensely gratifying to have survived another year in orbit on this strange rock – and to have had the opportunity to do so in such fine company.

3rd anniversary…

I’m approaching today not so much as a 36th birthday as the 3rd anniversary of making a 900 mile drive from Memphis to reclaim my Maryland residency. Frankly, it’s the event that feels more important… and I’ll explain why (of course).

As far as my birth, I had very little to do with that other than being present. While I’m pleased that I’ve managed not to step in front of a bus or be eaten by a shark between 1978 and this morning, a lot of that has probably been simple dumb luck more than anything else. As you might guess, celebrating simple dumb luck isn’t really my style.

What is my style, though, is celebrating a very intentional decision I made to extract myself from what had become a hopelessly toxic situation. That’s a real milestone event for today. It’s one of the few decisions I’ve ever made without having doubts or second thoughts after the fact. Coming back to the good soil of my home state was arguably the single best decisions I’ve made to date. That’s not to say that everything is puppies and butterscotch, but at least as I’m sitting here looking out the window writing this post, I know I got the geography right this time. Human beings are generally a resilient bunch, but I’ve long suspected that we are each best suited for and thrive in a particular place… and even as I rant about the out of hand taxes and lunatic nanny government here, this place seems to be it for me. No matter where my travels have taken me, I always seem to come around again.

If nothing else, I can say with certainty that enjoying this fresh-brewed Kona in the rental kitchen is superior in every way to being just past Nashville and screaming east at 90 miles an hour with two dogs and a truck loaded to the gills. I appreciate and thank you for the birthday wishes today friends, but what I’m most proud of on this June 1st is my 3rd anniversary.

Taxation (with representation)…

The sales flyers and ads on TV will tell you that today is Presidents Day. Title 5 of the United States Code, subsection 5103(a) defines it as Washington’s Birthday, and for my purposes, Washington’s Birthday is what I’m going with… Mostly because he was field commander who led the nation-in-waiting in a bloody war of independence at least in part over taxation without due representation. Despite his heroics, George Washington goes into the modern history books simply as a southern aristocrat. Most people don’t know much more about him than he owned slaves and may have been president at some point. That’s a shame, because Washington was basically America’s first badass action hero. He could have been king, but he laid down his sword and went home. What kind of ridiculous self control does it take to say no to a crown?

As usual, none of that is really the point. The point, dear friends, is that I’ll be spending a good chunk of Washington’s Birthday gathering my tax information and preparing to render unto Caesar. Washington’s war of liberation may have ensured that we’d have representation, but the taxation part is still completely out of hand.