Thanks to Facebook, I know that today is the 6th anniversary of accepting the job offer that ultimately let me escape West Tennessee and more importantly, carried me back to Maryland’s blessed shores. Believe me when I tell you that’s not what annoys Jeff this week. In fact it’s a day that I should probably be celebrating with feasting and fireworks and parades. As disgruntled as I now may be, I know that six years ago my mood was far more vile.
What annoys me is the realization that it’s actually been six damned years. That took more than a couple of minutes to really sink in. Even then it still doesn’t seem quite right – like maybe I’ve misapplied some basic mathematical concepts somewhere.
I’ve been forced to admit that it’s more likely the days have crept past at their petty pace more or less unnoticed to cobble together the passage of so many years just 24 hours at a time. Even that feels like a bit of a stretch, though, because I really have no idea where the time went – and that’s profoundly annoying.
There are other people who do the things I do. Most of them do one or two of those things, but individually my skill sets are not particularly unique. What is unique, apparently, is my capacity to do all the things more or less at once. That doesn’t usually bother me far beyond my normal daily baseline level of thinking the world is going to hell in a handbag, but today is one of those rare exceptions that sent my blood pressure soaring to new and interesting levels.
I had the occasion today to observe a program that is about two thirds smaller in scope than just one of the projects I’m working on had been assigned a full time project manager, who was leading two full teams of subject matter experts developing content and managing logistics, and a full staff of support personnel. By contrast my own project has me and a pick up team of folks who make it to the meetings when it doesn’t interfere with something else they’re doing, where I’m managing my own logistics, and hoping that someone, somewhere might actually develop the content we’ve agreed needs to be developed.
Because as has been noted in this big green machine of ours, gripes go up the chain of command, I noted the discrepancy and opined that things might go better if we applied a few additional resources in the race down the home stretch. Given the time and manpower the collective “we” seem willing to throw at other projects, it didn’t feel like an unreasonable request.
If anyone wants to know the exact moment I stopped caring whether this mother turns out to be a success or failure, you can trace it directly back to that time that leadership shrugged and responded that, “well, you know life’s not fair.”
I’ve built a career on getting shit done on time and to standard, but you can damned well believe I’ll remember that one the next time someone calls wanting to pick my brain on a day off or comes around looking for me to pull another minor miracle out of an empty ruck sack.
When I worked in the District, the most important question asked at every social engagement was some variation on “What do you do?” or “Who do you work for?” The answer, of course, would immediately raise or lower your social standing or level of attractiveness. There was a while there I was introducing myself as Jeff, the young and idealistic Chief of Legislative Affairs for Some Random Made Up Hippy Dippy Non-Profit. That had way more cache than being a bureaucrat from deep within the bowels of some big agency.
To those who know me, I often answered the question with a touch more realism. When asked what I did, my stock response was almost always “I do PowerPoint.” For long stretches of my career it had the additional benefit of also being largely true. There was a while there I could diddle a PowerPoint the same way a virtuoso can make a Stradivarius violin sing. Plus it always seemed just a little bit funnier than the usual, “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.”
Now if people ask, well, the answer always comes with a little less humor. What do I do? Depending on the day you ask, I either have meetings about meetings or I’m the Organizational Party Planner in Chief. The irony of an arch misanthrope being the touch point for planning your next 1500 person event isn’t in any way lost on me. It’s one of the reasons I know the universe has a sense of humor.
At least when the time comes to punch out of here, I’ll know that I am fully prepared to begin my second career as the most overly officious and bureaucratic wedding planner in all of human history… because dealing with overly sensitive, emotional clients who want their special day to be just perfect sounds an awful lot like dealing with the day-to-day demands of your run of the mill general officer. The only thing missing is the poofy white dress.
I found out this week that one of my oldest friends was going to be in the area over the weekend. Of course I’m using “in the area” here in the broadest possible sense of the word to mean somewhere within a three hour radius. There are precious few things that might tempt me out of the house, but the chance to nosh on steaks, have a few cold beverages, and shoot the shit telling stories about the olden days is just too good an opportunity to pass up.
From that long ago day – almost fourteen years past now – when we met as interns at a Shoney’s in Petersburg, Virginia to a few golden years in the District to the misadventure that was life in west Tennessee to our continued years in service to the great green machine there’s plenty of ground to cover. He’s one of the very few people from back there at the dawn of time who I’ve managed to stay in contact with. Even more important, he’s one of the few living human beings who I’ve learned to trust implicitly.
When we last parted company, I remarked that I always counted myself fortunate to play the role of Sherman to his Grant. I still do… and just now I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than sit down and rehash our war stories. Think of it as a mid-career assessment of just what the hell we’re doing and the long strange road that got us here. It’s a hell of a long way from where the story started.
Five years have come and gone since I was sitting in a West Tennessee cubicle and received a call from Mother Maryland that it was, at long last, time to come home. I will always celebrate it as one of my personal high holy days – the beginning of the end of a particularly troublesome personal and professional period otherwise known as my late twenties and early thirties.
Somehow it feels like it was a lot further away than just five years ago. The transition came with its own set of pains and problems, of course. The rental and eventual sale of a decidedly underwater house, footing the bill for dragging my gear a third of the way across the country, renting a house here sight unseen, the drug addict neighbor, the property manager who wouldn’t, and finding that the grass on the other side of the fence is still just grass no matter how green it may appear.
Every minute of that slog was worth it. It would have been worth the cost at twice the price. Even with the incumbent ups and downs, it’s one of those rarest of moments that I can look back on and say without sarcastic intent, that I regret nothing.
In my 13+ years of service I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been reorganized. Half a dozen is the “for sure” number and if I were guessing there are probably two or three more occasions that I’ve mentally blocked out. Technically, reorganizations don’t have to be a bad thing. Theoretically they should be employed to achieve some long term goal like improving the efficiency of operations or to refocus an office on areas that historically are part of their core mission set. Good ideas, those. Unfortunately, what a reorg usually means, though, is that someone, somewhere has no other idea what to do so changing the lines on the wire diagram is the logical place to start. If things aren’t broken already, you can always count on a reorg to bend them till they are cracked and bleeding… It’s got to be the oldest make work project in government.
So it seems we’ll be at the old games again. New desk, new boss, new mission, new projects, but the same old faces and ever aging technology. But then the pay’s the same and it’s the same eight hour day that it’s always been. In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter if it matters… as long as the checks don’t bounce on every alternate Thursday.
I’ve always had something of a temper. It’s a family trait. Over the years I’ve learned, mostly, to suppress the worst of it. I’ve got plenty of tells if you know what you’re looking for, but for the most part I get away with it. Any facial expression that ranges from indifferent to annoyed and you’ve basically strayed into the red zone. It’s hardly the work of a zen master, but it’s what I can manage.
My carefully cultivated facade cracked for a moment today. I found myself halfway down the hall in what could generously be described as a blinding fit of rage before that small voice of reason cut through to remind me that grabbing someone by the tie and bouncing their head off the closest available wall is considered inappropriate… and probably detrimental to my career. I reigned it it, walked it off, and seethed quietly for the next hour.
I’ve spent my adult life working on the art of mastering my temper and learning what I need to do to keep it in check. I slipped today and I hate myself for it – not so much that it happened but because it offered up a brief glimpse at what evil lurks in the hearts of men.