The Bathroom Report: Day 12

It’s day 12 of the master bathroom remodel.  Plumbing and electrical rough in are complete. It’s also the second full business day of no work happening because we’re waiting on the county inspector to sign off on what’s been done so far.

I’m sure building inspectors do some kind of important work, but at the moment they’re at the very top of my shit list for being the reason there hasn’t been any forward progress on this project in two and a half days. Currently there isn’t even a date specified when the fine people from the county building will grace me with their presence. 

My enthusiasm for this project is, just now, at low ebb. The notion that the government should have a vested interested in when it’s ok to go ahead and put up drywall and stary laying tile in my bathroom would feel a bit farcical if it wasn’t so damned frustrating. Paying for the privilege of being hamstrung by slow-as-Moses county inspections is made all the more insulting because I’ve had to pay for the privilege of pulling the permits in the first place.

I’m a professional practitioner of the art and science of the bureaucracy. I know there’s nothing for it but to endure the process… but don’t for a moment think that I’ll be doing it with joy in my heart. 

Dull and duller…

There are any number of things I’m reasonably interested in. Some of those things I may even have a limited amount of talent for pursuing. I’m a passible amateur historian. I’m a tolerable planner… even though no one ever seems to make a differentiation between the strategic kind of planning and the weddings and events kind. I’ve managed to make a decent enough living from doing “operations stuff” in all its sundry forms.

What I am not, and have no interest in ever being, is a “contracts person.” Having wrapped up my second straight day of listening to people talk about contracts in all their glory, it’s hard to imagine something in which I could ever be less interested. I’m sorry, it makes paint drying or grass growing look downright engaging.

I know, at least intellectually, that getting the contract stuff right is important. This Big Green Machine of ours needs stuff and there are whole industries built around making sure we get it while they pocket a comfortable profit for their troubles. I’m never going to be the guy who makes it sound in any way engaging, though. It’s simply a fact of life… something to be endured… like dentistry. 

You could be forgiven for wondering why a whole week of contracting stuff isn’t actually run by the contracting people rather than by some random guy from a different office whose dog isn’t even in the same county as the fight. I actually know the wildly bureaucratic reason why it’s the way it is, but don’t for one single minute think knowing the reason means I’m ever going to like it.

My own personal hell…

The only sure things in life, it’s said, are death and taxes. Those do seem to come with alarming regularity while most other aspects of getting by are a bit more sporadic.

There are, though, other truisms of life in the bureaucracy that feel as if they are just as certain. Unsurprisingly, the one I’m most focused on today relates directly to events… because no bureaucracy worth its salt can seem to resist the temptation to throw itself big, showy parties for no discernable reason whatsoever.

In terms of bang for the buck, I’d be hard pressed to give you any real return on investment for these adventures. I’m sure it makes someone, somewhere, probably those managerial gods on high Olympus, feel good. For the rest of us, it’s nothing so much as a good old-fashioned pain in the ass. One more thing to do on a list that never, ever gets any shorter regardless of how many items a day you manage to strike down.

The only thing consistent across the universe of these parties and events is that they start more or less on time, some bits in the middle go well, some others slide off the rails, and then they end slightly earlier than scheduled. Everything else is details and by the time the next week starts, no one remembers any of those as they race off to do the next Very Important Thing and try to scratch out a modicum of credit from whatever bosses they serve.

My career is well into its back half now. Mercifully the days of feeling the need to get every attaboy or head pat are long gone. Now, my only love language comes in the form of a time off. I’ve already got a box full of certificates and general officer notes that will never see the light of day again. Cash awards end up being taxed away before you even know you’ve gotten one. There’s no appetite for time off awards at echelons higher than reality, though. They mean for some fixed amount of time there’s some other Very Important Thing you’re not working on… and the bosses hate that.

I’ve reached a stage of bureaucratic enlightenment beyond the trivialities of cash, certificates, or time off awards. All I really want is for this thing to start so that it can eventually end and we can all forget the part in the middle. With this agonizing exercise in organizational self-gratification wrapped up, so I can think about something – anything – else for the next six months before the planning cycle starts for the 2023 version of my own personal hell.

Now is the spring of my discontent…

And so it begins. The two weeks a year when I’m forced to put on a brave face and transform into a cheerleader, a producer, a confessor, a circus roustabout, a tyrant, and a Chatty Cathy all in the name of passing along some information that could just as easily be set loose into the world by putting it on a website.

“But that misses the personal touch,” they cry. Knowing how much money you’re going to spend and how isn’t enough. We can’t do without the networking, the back slapping, the crab puffs, and little finger sandwiches. Though they’ll howl just as loudly when we go back to charging $700 a head instead of giving the information away for free online.

COVID and the Plague Era has given me a great respite in that at least the last few iterations of this great dog and pony show have been online. No vast sea of party tents, no outdoor equipment displays, no tickets, no 700 extra people jammed elbow to asshole in an auditorium to listen to presentations they could have heard just as easily from home. Next year might be back to “normal”… and that’s a threat that hangs over me like a goddamned death sentence.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sleep. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of sleep. I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that its hours of the day being utterly wasted laying around when I’d rather have my nose in a book, or honestly be doing almost anything else. The only virtue sleep seems to have, apart from it being a physiological necessity, is that at least I’m not consciously aware of the hours passing. I at least appreciate that the time from closing my eyes to them popping open again feels nearly instantaneous… so it doesn’t feel like totally wasted hours in the moment. That would just be adding insult to injury.

2. Communication. One of the constants across my career has been the frequency with which we fail to communicate. Vertically, laterally, inside, outside – where the communication is supposed to be happening doesn’t make much difference. The only thing consistent is that the left and right hand are almost universally unaware about what the other is up to. It would almost be fun to watch if it wasn’t so often just a enormous pain in the ass leading to endlessly repeating the same thing to 47 different people.

3. The “working lunch.” At the risk of reinforcing my reputation as generally incorrigible about such things, let me go on record as saying I don’t believe in the concept of the working lunch. There’s work and then there’s non-work (like lunch). I know this is true because my regularly scheduled weekday is 8.5 hours in length. That extra on half hour is tacked on because of the expectation that somewhere in the middle of the day, we’re supposed to “take lunch.” If that weren’t the case, I’d be happy to forgo the break and end the day 30 minutes earlier. No matter how much the powers that be wish it was otherwise, throwing some lukewarm pizza in a conference room while having a full-on meeting will never count in my mind as taking lunch – otherwise known as a pause to let your mind reset and take a breath before diving in for the last half of the day. If you’re going to do it, at least have the personal courage to call it what it is – a meeting where we’ll give you a slice of pizza in hopes that you won’t realize we’ve snuck an extra 30 minutes of work into your day. Personally, I’ll always recognize it for what it is.

Get off my list…

I’m making a list and checking it twice, because one of my fun little “other duties as assigned” is filling in as the Keeper of COVID Numbers whenever one of my distinguished colleagues is out of the office. Today was one such day.

Without giving away state secrets or anything confidential, let me just say that the number’s we’re putting up aren’t good. They’re not good on a level much higher than previous iterations of my sitting here plugging away on the spreadsheet thinking “Damn, that’s a lot of people.”

I’ve never really been a fan of people, but increasingly it’s hard to think of our species collectively as anything more than unmitigated plague carriers.

Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask. Stay the hell away from people. 

Even if none of those things are perfectly effective, combined they go a long way towards keeping people off my list… because quite frankly trying to track this many lines on a spreadsheet is just an enormous, time-consuming pain in the ass. 

More of the same…

It’s the 3rd working day of certain applications not being worth a damn. That’s five days if you count the intervening weekend.

Today, the app in questions has been up, down, partially up, partially down, throwing off errors when it is up and generally being an absolute nightmare to use. 

Despite all that, I just about managed to catch up on processing through two solid work days of backlog… even with the sonofawhore fighting me every step of the way. Thank the gods that the computer has made everything so much easier for information workers.

I’m trying very hard to remember the things that I have absolutely no control over… but I also will not be checking my blood pressure this evening. Who’d have guessed being a bit player in the most technologically advanced fighting force in the broad sweep of human history would be so rage educing? 

Time, distance, and the laws of men…

It’s that special time of year again when the gods on Olympus like to pretend that they are not in any way constrained by time, distance, or the laws of men. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving and those high and mighty gods have, right on schedule, realized that the minions on whom they depend to work their will will increasingly be unavailable thanks to end of the year leave taking.

Now what someone with a modicum of common sense might do, is prioritize whatever effort or efforts are legitimately “most important” and concentrate on getting those through the gate first. What we’ll actually be doing, of course, is piling on increasing levels of stuff to do and then watching as “leaders” gnash their teeth and rend their garments because it’s not getting done.

The pool of available people to keep up with whatever wild-ass new ideas the bosses dream up will get a little smaller every day between now and the end of the year. It would be comical if it weren’t absolutely predictable. I’ve watched this spectacle first hand since 2003 and can only assume this great green machine has been up to the same kind of pre-holiday fuckery since Washington was a Lieutenant.

Look, I really am sorry… but if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to jump through his own ass, moan, and wail, because your failure to plan has become an “emergency,” I’m just not your huckleberry. Never have been. Never will be. You have my word on it.

On making a difference (or not)…

The number of people who call my phone thinking they can steamroll me with some variation of the phrase, “My boss said…” would honestly blow your mind. I’m sure whatever their boss said carries some relative weight… with them. Since their boss is almost never anywhere on the list of people who sign my yearly performance evaluation, what we generally have is them passing along information that could, in a certain light, be considered interesting to me, but that is also almost entirely irrelevant.

I promise, I’m not out here making shit up as I go along. If I’ve done something, it’s because someone who does figure into my rating chain has either told me to do it or will support my interpretation of whatever led me to take a specific action.

After nearly twenty years at this, I don’t get impressed or intimidated by titles or shrill voices. But feel free to call and raise your complaint. I may even smile and nod sympathetically right before I proceed with doing whatever I was about before you called.

Follow my advice. Don’t. Either way, it honestly makes absolutely no difference to me. But good luck when someone higher up the pecking order asks your boss why it didn’t get done.

The eighth time around…

This morning I was granted official permission from the gods on Olympus to begin preliminary planning for the annually reoccurring piece of this job that I hate the most. Yay.

Putting a six month long planning process that stretches across a dozen different organizations, nearly a hundred separate contacts, and relies on offering a happy, welcoming face to our partners from the private sector into the hands of a well known introvert and misanthrope feels like the height of bureaucratic folly. It’s the kind of thing I’d intuitively want to give to someone who didn’t unflinchingly use the phrases “wedding planner,” “circus roustabout,”, and “welcoming the great unwashed masses” to describe his role even to the most senior of leaders.

But here we are. This year will be my eighth as wedding planner in charge of this particular effort. Years ago the bosses promised “just one more year” and we’ll get someone else to do it. They don’t even bother with those lies now… so I guess it’s eight down and thirteen more to go… unless I manage to cock it up in some truly spectacular and unanticipated manner. I’m not one to go in for sabotage, but I’m told that accidents happen, so a boy can dream.

That happy dream notwithstanding, I’ll get it done on time and to standard, but don’t think for a moment that I’ll be enjoying any of what I must do these next six months. It’ll be a product not done for love or pride of a job well handled, but purely because I enjoy getting paid every two weeks and would like nothing to interfere with that continuing well into the future. Nothing more, nothing less.

One of my best friends from college had a simple sign in his dorm room. It said “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” On such words, whole careers are built.