After getting my first job out of college I moved into a tiny apartment with a rattling old window air conditioner that I would only turn on at night (because electricity is hella expensive) to change the room from furnace to obnoxiously hot. I could sleep fitfully under those conditions… and some sleep was better than the none that I’d have had otherwise.
It was sweating through those late summer nights at the southern tip of southern Maryland that I vowed, with God as my witness, that when I’d “made it,” I would set the temperature in my home for comfort rather than economy.
For me, the ideal indoor temperature in both summer and winter hovers right around 67-68 degrees. When I’m home, that’s where I set it and let the furnace or a/c do it’s thing.
Here I am now, almost twenty years later, having officially “made it” by my 22-year old self’s definition. Living the fully controlled indoor air temperature dream…
So, the whole point of this post: What I learned this week is that I’ll tolerate the house being 1-2 degrees colder than the optimal 68 degrees if I’m wearing wool socks. I feel like that’s something I probably should have known years ago. Better late than never, or something.
Asked in a certain way, by a certain kind of person, the question, “So, what’s do you like to do?” can be something of a loaded gun. It’s marginally less awful than the introductory questions in DC that always seemed to be either “What do you do?” or “Who do your work for?,” but it’s only a very slight degree of less awful.
It’s almost the perfect encapsulation of a no-win question. You see, the things I like to do are not the things that most people want to base a conversation around, let alone a lifestyle. I like taking trash to the dump. I like cutting the grass. I like fiddling with projects around the house. I like hanging out with dogs, cats, and sundry other animals. I like sitting on the back porch in the summer time with a cold beer and a thick, meaty book about English history.
I forgive you if those aren’t the activities that set your heart aflutter… but I’m never going to be someone who longs to spend holiday weekends at a bed and breakfast, or driving into the city for a show, or really wading into all but a rare few circumstances that involves me and a large group of people. I enjoy the beach, though I’ve never felt the compulsive need to take long sunset walks on it. I’m far more likely to fall down the basement steps than I ever am to consider climbing K2.
At 40 I’m acutely aware that time is increasingly limited. I spent a large amount of that time already finding out what I like and what I don’t and given the option, I’d like to continue doing the bits that I enjoy as often as possible. I think you’ll find that if your follow up question is “Yeah, but what do you do for fun,” our conversation is very rapidly drawing to a close because it’s likely we’re never going to actually understand each other.
I’m not saying that all new things are out of bounds, but whatever it is you’re reaching for had better be spec-goddamned-tacular to convince me it’s better than the joy that only comes from comfortable familiarity.
I’m going to take an entire day’s post today to celebrate the often unsung genius of Willis Carrier, the man responsible for bringing us modern electrical air conditioning. Sure, those first air conditioners contained all manner to toxic gasses that destroyed the ozone layer and would occasionally burst into flame, but right up until they suffocated or burned to death, people were comfortable. And in the end, being a relatively short lived animal, personal comfort is going to trump the risk of environmental destruction or immolation just about every time.
So, as I nudge the thermostat down a notch or two to compensate for the late afternoon sun streaming through the windows I tip my hat to Mr. Carrier… and wonder how, after our sainted ancestors spent their first summer in the mid-Atlantic, they didn’t immediately board the Nina, the Pinta, and the Get-Me-the-Hell-Outta-Here and set sail for Canada.
After the better part of three days living with a new heat machine in the basement, it feels like I should say a few words. This is one of those rare occasions when an experiences actually exceeds expectations and therefore deserves special notice.
Being the creature of habit that I am and how much time I spend at home avoiding other people, I’m particularly well attuned to the sounds and rhythms of the house. I’ve gotten to know it’s noises and quirks. The new furnace has thrown a bit of a twist into what I’ve come to expect.
First and maybe foremost, the two stage blower appears to have fixed one of my biggest gripes about forced air heat. With the old furnace, the fan kicked on full bore before the air warmed and forced the cold air in the ducts out into the conditioned space with a noticeable “puff.” the cold air blown right up your back if you happened to be sitting near a register was an annoyance. With the two stage, the blower starts off slowly and displaces the cold duct air at an even, effectively unnoticeable pace before ramping up the speed. it’s a nice touch. I noticed and am appreciative of it.
This particular model also makes considerably less noise in operation – so much less noise that my normal television volume levels are noticeably more loud. (See, I told you I notice things). People seem to think I’m resistant to change, but the reality is that I generally welcome changes that make life more comfortable and peaceful. Why someone wouldn’t actively resist things that made their lives less pleasant or more of a pain in the ass eludes me completely, though that’s probably the topic for another night.
So, with the exception of the un-budgeted procurement costs, I am well pleased with the new bit of household mechanical equipment that we laid on here. It’s allegedly 6% more efficient than the unit it’s replacing so I’ll be curious to see how that works out now that we’ve replaced the two largest consumers of propane fuel in the house. Even if there’s no net savings, the improvements to comfort and safety are probably a win overall.
In a lot of ways my little part of Sam’s wide-ranging operation is one of the last true bastions of the command and control business model. High atop Olympus, decisions are made and the filter down through the organization like water through so many layers of sedimentary rock. Just like our notional water finding its way to the aquifer, along the way, the decision is filtered through each layer – it picks up things from one, the next strips something away, and by the time it drips down through the lower rock strata sometimes it’s barely recognizable as the thing that started the journey back on Olympus.
That’s a long way of saying that things don’t generally happen fast where I live. Slow and ponderous is the nature of the bureaucratic beast. That’s why it’s not surprising that it’s long been one of the great holdouts to working remotely. Anyone who can’t be seen at their desk, hoeing their row down on the cube farm, is suspect at best. That attitude is slowly changing among some of the first tier supervisors – usually though whose advance through the ranks started fairly recently.
Eventually though, if the anyone is paying attention and you’re more than a halfassed employee, they’ll start to realize that you really can get the work done despite your location far away from the hive. The down side of that is when it happens, the home office starts feeling less home and more office. On balance, though, wading through the daily mess in fuzzy slippers, in the company of your favorite members of the animal kingdom, and with a really stellar commute help offset that trouble reasonably well… in fact I’ll remain forever perplexed that the highly relaxed dress code and proximity to snoring dogs don’t make this the most sought after work arrangement known to man.
1. Being right. A few months ago I told someone I was afraid if X happened that Y would be the result. Now I’m not an expert in game theory, but I’ve got some small experience with strategic and operational planning. I also have a good sense of consequences and second and third order effects. The problem is being able to see a move or two ahead can be a real mixed bag and sometimes. Being right has a funny way of tasting so much like ashes in your mouth.
2. Group Hugs. About once a quarter the workforce is summoned together to participate in our version of a “town hall meeting.” It’s the preferred method here for leaders to give the impression that communication has happened. It’s fine, though it usually contains no more actual information than could comfortably be put in an email message. We all have our part to play in the show. This week’s iteration, though, included a new feature – the back half of the hall was roped off in order to drive all comers towards the front of the venue where we then spend the better part of two hours sitting elbow to eyeball with our colleagues with space feeling like it was allocated by the same people who decide how much space is need for your average coach seat on an airliner. It’s not so much like being treated as a valued employee as it is being made into a human sardine. Just add oil. Perhaps the reason people so often spread out across all 750 seats is we don’t *want* to sit in each other’s lap. Then again your way looks better for the photo op so at least we know where the priorities lay.
3. Charitable overreach. There are several charities I give to year in and year out. There are some I give to once and then never again. The fastest way to get dropped from my list is to bombard my email and old fashioned mail box with supplications for more money less than two weeks after I sent you a respectably sized check. If I sent you money, I believe in your cause and keep an eye on both you and it during the course of the year… but honest to God, if you keep bombarding me with mailers, you will be dead to me forever.
As we all know by now I’m a devoted creature of habit. Some of them are so well worn in that I’m not sure I’d know who I am without them. Others are more malleable based on circumstances. Contrary to opinion popular in some quarters, I’m not completely inflexible on all points – though I am on a few of them to be sure.
The real trouble comes when, of necessity, one of those more ingrained habits must change. Since unwelcome change in all its myriad forms is something that must be resisted at almost any cost, migrating one of these habits towards something new and different is rarely a course of action I’ll embark on willingly. I don’t like spending that much time with a warning klaxon rattling around my head that something isn’t right. The whole idea mostly just serves to remind me of a sign a friend of mine kept in his dorm room lo those many years ago. Perched above his desk, the sign gave off the constant reminder that “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.”
That seems to have become my unofficial motto across several fronts lately. My reading of history informs me of all manner of destruction/creation cycles and their near-inevitability. Mythology is filled with tales of the old giving way for the new to rise. It’s all very inspirational, of course… But that damned interregnum between one habit dying and the next taking hold tends to throw my whole neatly ordered universe temporarily out of kilter and that just sucks.
1. Protocol. Apparently over the last week we’ve had royalty in America. The reason I know this is because on several occasions, I ran across articles written to advise my countrymen on the proper manner of bowing before the future English sovereign and his future queen. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Brits – their television, their sense of humor, and yes, even their quaint old fashioned notions of nobility… but here in the States, we’re citizens rather than subjects. On points of procedure for when it’s appropriate for an American to bow to the future monarchs of a foreign power, even one with whom we have a long and special relationship, the correct answer is simply “it isn’t.” We’re Americans. We don’t dip our colors and we don’t bow to royalty (or anyone else for that matter).
2. Sweats. In conversation many months ago a friend was shocked when I mentioned something about not having worn sweat pants since some time in the George H. W. Bush administration. She was shocked – possibly appalled – at my lack of concern for issues of comfort. In an effort to show that I do occasionally try something new, I picked up a pair recently and was duly impressed by their level of comfort compared to my usual Wrangler jeans. I supposed the biggest problem is I’m not exactly the type to go through the day just lounging about. Generally I’m doing something even if never leaving the confines of historic Rental Casa de Jeff. My real problem was what the hell you’re supposed to do with all the ephemera that usually ends up in my pockets – a pen knife, my phone, keys, etc. Sure, they were plenty comfortable, but I found myself trying to reach into pockets that weren’t there for objects that over the course of the day ended up scattered all over the house. As far as I’m concerned that level of inconvenience is too high a price to pay for a stretchier pair of pants.
3. The 113th Congress. The honorable members of the House of Representatives once again are spending the dying hours of a continuing resolution haggling over what amounts to peanuts in terms of the federal budgetary process. While no one is seriously talking about another shut down at midnight tonight it’s a possibility at the outside if they can’t find their way clear to passing a CR to cover the next few days while they rehash the omnibus spending bill before them. That they finish this way sums up the totality of this Congress nicely – even unto the end they’re collectively incapable of exercising one of the very few responsibilities entrusted to them in the letter of the Constitution. How very typical. Asshats, one and all.
I’m good at a lot of things, but as I’ve mentioned previously, packing judiciously is not one of them. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to see much difference in how I prepare for a 4-day trip to a location less than 100 miles from home as compared to let’s say a 2-month expedition to the source of the Amazon. I’ve spent a very large percentage of my years acquiring items that bring me comfort, make life easier, or that I otherwise just enjoy having around. In setting up shop in a home away from home, I’m basically of the opinion that as many of those items as possible should make the trip with me. My packing calculus recognizes no actual difference between being gone overnight or wandering off for a year.
The good news is that whenever I get where I’m going, I almost always have what I need – sometimes (often) to the point of being duplicative. The down side, of course, is that since I don’t have a Sherpa, I’m the one who ends up toting and hauling this mess from Point A to Point B and back again to Point A with whatever additional provisions I’ve laid on during my stay. It’s particularly bad when I’m driving from place to place with basically unlimited capacity to tote more “essentials” with me. The $50 a bag fee on most flights helps keep my over packing in check when I fly, but certainly doesn’t eliminate it.
I’d like to say I’ll try to change – that I’ll try to mold myself into that kind of traveler who can set off at a moment’s notice with just a carryon bag and a passport, but I know that’s not me. That’s never going to be the way I travel. Traveling with me is always going to be more akin to supplying the Normandy landings than it is to backpacking across the Continent with a Eurail pass. Sherpa or not, I’m totally alright with that.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I wore a suit to work today for what was possibly the first time in nearly four years. Given my regular “uniform” of solid colored polo shirts, khaki pants, and Doc Martens, apparently the appearance of a suit was a sufficiently big deal as to require the taking of photographs as documentary evidence. Had I known it was going to be a thing, I would have found something in a nice plaid or maybe a classic of the leisure variety. Alas, I’ve missed that opportunity.
As a dweller in cubicles, the idea that I should wear something that seems designed to be as uncomfortable as possible while spending eight hours in my little 6×6 slice of the world just strikes me as patently ridiculous. I’m not sure where anyone would have ever gotten the idea that wearing a tie will result in generating more fantastic PowerPoint slides. If I do say so myself, my slides are already pretty freaking fantastic. I’ve got this funny way of being more concerned with the end results than I am with how someone looks while getting there. Usually that leaves me a bit out of step with generally accepted practice. Trust me, I’ve gotten use to being out of step. It’s a role that feels like it suits me – no pun intended.
I don’t want anyone to think this represents the beginning of a great change in my personal dress code. I’d show up every day wearing ratty jeans and beat up boots if I didn’t think it would cause the worst crisis to face the government since the beginning of the Great Recession. As long as we can keep the suit wearing to once every thousand days or so, I think it’s a compromise we can all live with.