A trip to Disney it ain’t…

The first week of June is usually the point in the year where I start taking time off in bulk. The first half of the year is for slogging through. The back half is for maximizing days not tethered to a desk or laptop. Historically, this is a week allocated for sweeping through antique and book shops ranging from Philadelphia to DC. After two years of Plague measures, 2022 was supposed to be a return to normalcy. Except, of course, that’s not how it has turned out. At least not for this week.

With a team of plumbers, carpenters, and electricians crawling around and under the house, stretching my legs like that is off the table this year. Sure, they’re bonded and insured and I’ve got cameras keeping an unblinking eye on everything, so I don’t strictly need to be here. Still, it looks like I’ll mostly be spending the week knocking around the house if only to answer random questions as they come up.

It’s not an ideal week of vacation, but after seven months of waiting to start, I certainly wasn’t going to delay further in the name of saving a cherished early summer tradition. Besides, I’ve got another tranche of time off coming up for the first week of July. This whole thing has been a bit of an exercise in delayed gratification. Why shouldn’t this be as well?

Fortunately, I’ve got a wall full of books I’ve been meaning to read and a list of odds and ends that need doing but never quite make it to the top of the list. There’s no time like the present to get after those things. Quite a few of those items got lined through today. If it all gets too tedious, I can always forgo a few vacation days, log in for telework during the tail end of the week. That feels like he worst possible option, but one never knows.

We’ll see how everything looks after a few days of just hanging out while other people stream in and out doing the heavy lifting for the week.

Approaching the line of departure…

I’ve been in pretty steady contact with the project manager who’s going to be in charge of Operation Functional Bathroom. It really does look like this show will be getting on the road starting next Monday – with the 9AM delivery of a 20 cubic yard dumpster. I’m sure the neighbors will be thrilled with that sitting on the curb for the next 20 or 30 days. Fortunately, the master HOA agreement covers many topics, but giant dumpsters isn’t one of them.

I’m still fiddling with the plan on how to keep the resident critters separated from the working party. What I’ve come up with is mostly a reversion to Jorah’s misspent youth – with all of us spending our days blocked in the kitchen or pressed into the laundry room if there’s a need for truly close confinement at any point. That should be fine in theory. In practice, I’m mostly worried how Hershel will take to this temporary new normal. His food and litter box has resided in the bathroom since the first day he came home… and with cats being creatures of habit, I definitely have questions about how well he’ll respond to suddenly finding them located elsewhere.

I’m also contemplating abandoning my bedroom entirely for the duration of this project and decamping across the hall to the guest room. I mean it would be comfortable enough, even if space would feel a bit tight. The cable jack in that room is, of course, currently buried behind one of the jam-packed bookcases holding the nonfiction section, so there’s one minor drawback to an otherwise decent plan. How well the furry critters who have never known a different sleeping arrangement on the homestead will take to it, remains to be seen.

I’ve hired a good crew. God knows getting that right was something I obsessed over. Now that we’re just a few days from the line of departure, though, the full weight of how radically this whole effort is going to impact my cherished daily routine – and how little direct control I have over the details – has left me feeling a bit wild-eyed and twitchy.

A mark on the wall…

I signed the contract for my bathroom renovation back in September. A few days before Christmas I got an email from the contractor stating that all supplies are backlogged, half the employees are out with the Great Plague, and every project they have is running way, way behind. Here we are in May, five months hence, and I’ve finally talked to the company’s operations manager and have a tentative start date plugged into the calendar towards the end of the month. At long last, there’s a mark on the wall.

Look, I’ve loathed the master bathroom in this house since the first time I saw the place. I almost took a pass on the house because of it. The giant tub and no shower made it mostly dead space to me. For the last seven years it has been serving as a glorified hallway where I kept the cat’s food and litter box and that I have to walk through to get to the master closet. Aside from the very big windows facing the woods and excellent natural lighting, it has no redeeming qualities at all. The room is cold as blue hell in the winter and for reasons I’ve never managed to figure out, has no particular aesthetic at all. It’s as if the original owners realized three days before they finished construction that they needed a master bathroom and scrounged up whatever parts and pieces they could on short notice.

I’m not saying this new bathroom is going to be particularly beautiful, but it’s damned well going to be functional. I’m cautiously optimistic that the designer (probably) didn’t let me get the overall look and feel too far out of whack. I mean it all looks good enough on the renderings, but there’s no way of telling what it’s really going to look like until it’s all there live and in person… which now looks like it’ll be sooner rather than later.

My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes that I haven’t spent tens of thousands of dollars on something I’ll hate once it’s all thrown together… Though the simple fact that I won’t have to schlep down the hall to shit, shower, and shave every morning will go a long way in making it a favorable outcome. Being able to do it all with toasty warm floor tiles will probably seal the deal regardless of appearance… and then I can rack and stack the list again and see what project is next.

My new obsession…

Some people have used the last few months of forced disengagement to learn languages, write their great American novel, or somehow make themselves into more productive human beings. Meanwhile I’ve been over here mostly living the same life I’ve lived for years.. with the exception of developing a new minor obsession. I now find myself spending at least a few minutes every day looking over floorplans of houses I’ll never build.

I’ve spent time looking at floorplans for old houses, new houses, prop houses from TV series and movies, castles, Roman villas, and family compounds. At first blush, it doesn’t make much sense, but hear me out.

Even though the Tennessee house was “new construction,” the only personalization came in picking the finishes. The bones of the house were all pre-determined by others. Every other place I’ve lived was designed and built originally to meet someone else’s expectations and needs. In every one of them, I’ve found myself asking often, “Why the hell did they do it this way” as opposed to in an alternate way that would make more sense to me. Having spent my life living with other’s decisions, the only grand ambition I have left at this point is to build a house from the basement up – Fortress Jeff achieving its final form that puts walls, switches, and doors exactly where I want them and all with a general layout that makes sense for how I intent to live in it.

Even though I’ve spent months looking at floorplans, none of them has been quite right. Most of them have been miles off. Many of them, though, have had distinct elements that are perfect – or that could be perfect with just a bit of architectural rejiggering. I’m keeping an open file (a self-contained Pinterest board?) with screen shots and notes about each of them. That goes a long way towards showing what right looks like from my perspective here and now. We’ll see what right looks like after it’s had a decade and a half to percolate.

So, what does this perfect place look like? Well, my current kitchen layout basically gets transposed into a new setting, the front door doesn’t dump directly into the main living area, there’s a room for dogs – tiled and suitable for hosing down – a pocket office to keep the computer and other bits that keep the household running from dominating whatever other room they’d be in, three garage bays, and some bedrooms, I suppose. Forgive me, please, but I haven’t put much brainpower into the rooms whose purpose is largely to be places to go lay down in the dark with your eyes closed.

I know, describing it doesn’t do justice to what I’m seeing in my head. Sorry about that.

The heart, though, of any house I would ever build is almost certainly a “great hall of books.” You know, something medieval, but with excellent shelving. In fact, if the construction budget looks thin, you should probably just expect a library with a monk’s cell bedroom and kitchen attached… although giving up the garage would be extraordinarily painful.

The real trick, of course, will be figuring out how to cram everything I want into a footprint that doesn’t go sprawling across the countryside and send me into bankruptcy. Those details, though, are far less interesting than where, exactly, to put the inglenook. Hopefully my next obsession will be a self education in creative construction financing.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The bridge into North East, Maryland. It might be a mild exaggeration, but it feels like various companies have been working on the bridge that provides the only direct access into “downtown” North East for about 87 years. The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall, spanning the width of Britain in about 14 years. The Empire State Building took one year and 45 days to build. But the state and the county and the original contractor who got his ass fired off the project and everyone else wants to cry the blues that it’s “only” taken five years so far to replace a fairly straightforward two lane bridge the crosses over a railroad track. What we have to show for that five years of effort is the northbound lane – and that hasn’t even been opened for traffic yet. When I’m out on the weekends and run into people, I often wonder how they function in the day-to-day world. I’m increasingly convinced that they actually don’t.

2. This is probably too much information, so if you’re feeling overly sensitive, it may be best to skip on to the third weekly annoyance. You see, recently at work I hurt my back standing up after taking a shit. It was showing marked improvement and I really thought it was well on the way to being serviceable again… but I know the inability straighten my back completely for those few minutes means it’s going to be twitchy for at least another week or two. That’s ok. It’s not like I have a list of spring yard work tasks that need to be accomplished anytime soon. It seems that this is your 40s.

3. I have a dream. I dreamt the lottery pool I participate in won the Cash For Life jackpot. I sprung up from that dream fully awake with the shit-eatingist of shit eating grins on my face. You can well imagine the disappointment on really waking up and realizing that a) the pool doesn’t play Cash for Life; b) It wasn’t even the correct night for the Cash for Life drawing and; c) it was all my brain’s little way of saying “fuck you very much.”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Brand new paving. You spent many weeks this spring pushing traffic into one lane or another so you could pave the one route into town. Then you promptly cut a hole in this nice new paving and laid down steel plates that have been there for the last three weeks. Solid work that.

2. Sleep. I use to comment that I didn’t sleep long but at least I slept well. I can’t even claim that lately. Tossing. Turning. Dumbass dreams that I can’t quite remember but know I had. It’s the opposite of restful. Of course it’s not every night, but lately it’s been more than it hasn’t and that’s a problem.

3. Shelving. I can buy a reasonably priced couch. I can buy a reasonably priced mattress. I can even buy a reasonably priced car. When it’s time to buy a bookcase my options are include the used market where most will be best to Hell and no two will match, go to Ikea for a product that will inevitable bend and warp under the weight of hardbacks stacked on them, paying the Amish $1500 for a basic unit, or hiring a carpenter for $8500 to build a whole unit in place. It just seems to me that finding a reasonably priced place for your books to live shouldn’t involve a months long exhaustive search.

Cubicle hell…

I’ve been a cube dweller for all of my 15 years working for Uncle. The one constant across all those years is a firm belief that if there is a hell, at least one level of it has cubicles stretching out to the horizon in all directions. In effect, to work in a cube is to already be condemned to toil in a hellscape to get credit for your eight daily ours.

Most days, cubicle hell is a land of minor irritations – of people who talk too loudly, non-existent air conditioning, 30 conversations happening simultaneously, an utter lack of privacy, and an endless parade of small distractions seemingly devised to prevent anything that could be mistaken for productivity.

The small annoyances are punctuated occasionally by the large distractions. These are what you may expect to find when the Powers That Be will decide that everyone in the room needs to face a different direction or that the cube walls are one row too tall or too short. The Powers will then, in their infinite wisdom and goodness, decide to address these grave shortcomings in the most expeditious way possible.

If you’ve never tried to conduct business in the middle of a construction zone, I think you owe it to yourself to give it a try. At any given time your 30 square feet of cubicle hell could be made inoperable when they have to re-route the electric or network cables, when they have to disassemble your desk, or when they need to remove a panel so you can stare obnoxiously across 30 inches of open space at the face of the person with whom you use to share a “wall.” Now the Powers have removed even the pretense that you aren’t packed in elbows to assholes with your fellow condemned souls.

Even if your desk happens to be one spared that day, there’s the general construction noise – the power drills, and shifting metal, dropped tools and banging. All the while, you’re careful to pretend that everything is business as usual. There are no distractions. Everything is going according to plan. You love the new floorplan that the Powers have granted unto you, for they, in their spacious offices, behind actual closing doors, are secure from what they wrought. Surely they know best.

As it turns out, cubicle hell isn’t so much a place as it is a process – ongoing, evolving, and always looking for ways to make every day just a little bit harder and such just one more drop of joy from the marrow. We have met the enemy and it truly is us.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Meeting prep. It’s bad enough when someone wants me to sit in a meeting on a topic way outside my general area of expertise. If they could at least do a little prep work first, though, that would be terrific. Maybe get me the slides an hour or two in advance so I can speak on the topic like I have some semblance of a clue what’s going on. It doesn’t feel like that’s too much to ask before someone shows up asking a lot of questions about material I haven’t ever seen before. But if past experience is any kind of guide, it’s at least as hopeless as asking one of the dogs for the winning Powerball numbers.

2. Bridging the gap. I have to pass through one of those sleepy one stop light kind of towns on my way to and from work every day. The main route is bottlenecked by a bridge that has been in urgent need of repair for at least the last five years. Now that the state has finally gotten around to doing something with it, we’re met by the usual bane of construction everywhere. Before work started, the bridge was going to be open for the duration of the project. Shortly thereafter it was declared “worse than we thought” and promptly taken out of service – expected restoration time 4 weeks. Tomorrow is the end of the 4th week and the latest word is “wait two more weeks”. Then, maybe, we’ll be able to press one lane back into service for gods know how long. The detours, the improvised 4-way stops, the drivers who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground; those things would all be OK if in two weeks we had a good working bridge. Of course what we’re going to have instead is the end of the “preparation” for construction phase of the project and a bridge that will be open or closed on a completely unpredictable schedule for the foreseeable future. I get the distinct impression that I could be stuck in detours for the rest of my natural life.

3. Unknown callers. I’ve been receiving a call from an “unknown” number once or twice a night for the last three or four days. Is there someone out there who sees a number is unknown and answers anyway? I don’t. Hell, I don’t even bother to answer calls when a number comes up that isn’t associated with someone in my address book. Usually those are a one-time occurrence. No message. No repeat calls. Wrong number. It happens. But the unknowns, yeah, they just keep on calling. I’m sure they just want to sell me something so they could save themselves a whole lot of time by just leaving a message and then knocking it off. Messages I’ll at least listen to eventually. Spamming my phone with missed and rejected calls, though, that’s not going to get you anywhere. Sadly, I’m sure they only do it because some reasonably significant percentage of people they dial take the call and give these asshats the time of day. That makes those people just as guilty as the tools who are instigating the calls in the first place.

From Point A to Point B…

With the new job, I’ve made a concerted effort to keep work things off the blog. In retrospect, if you’re going to blog under your own name on a website that literally is your name, some degree of professional circumspection is probably for the best. I can’t resist the temptation, though, to occasionally call a spade a spade.

One of the perks of the job is that everything is shiny and new, from the desks to the light fixtures. The place practically has new car smell. What I don’t quite understand is why, when they were plowing under acres of virgin land to construct a brand spanking new campus, the decided to locate the training building, which it feels like we use at least once a week, as far away from everything as technically possible based on the site plan. I’ve provided a handy graphical reference for your convenience.

Look, I wouldn’t be making an issue out of this if A) The building in question had adequate parking anywhere in proximity to it and B) There wasn’t a perfectly useable auditorium for this kind of thing not more than 150 yards from the buildings where 90% of us actually work. I’m thinking that someone didn’t run this little slice of idea all the way through the deliberate planning process when they decided to throw that one building down way out in the wilderness. Not a sermon, just a thought.

Under Construction…

We are quite literally “under” construction. The office suite the floor above us is, as far as I can tell, undergoing some type of renovation that requires the repeated dropping of bowling balls onto the bare concrete slab. This activity has the unpleasant side effect of making it sound like the entire second floor could become the first floor at any moment. It’s not bad, as long as you don’t find loud, hollow thumping and continual rending of metal distracting or annoying in any way. Other than that, it’s practically unnoticeable.

I’m probably an idealist, but I’ve always thought this kind of work would be best done outside of “core business hours.” You know, when the vast majority of employees are not making their limited effort at being productive for the day. It’s sort of the same way I look at day-time janitorial service. Sure, having my cube vacuumed is nice and all, but it’s awfully distracting when I’m sitting in it making a phone call or actually trying to get something done. In television shows, the cleaning crews always come at night. Maybe that happens in the executive suite, but for the drones, everyone seems bent on showing up at the most inopportune time.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.