What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I’m about as freedom loving a libertarian leaning Republican as you’re likely to find. Smart people are telling me that covering my face holes with as simple piece of cloth is helpful in reducing the spread of a disease that’s currently wrecking the economy and killing some people. They’re not telling me that a mask is the cure. They’re not saying it will magically stop the spread of all airborne particles. They’re saying that in their best scientific estimate, a mask will reduce transmission if I wear one when I’m away from home and in proximity to other people.

Yep, it’s hot and uncomfortable. My glasses fog up and the four-month lack of barbering means my beard sticks out at the edges in a way resembling nothing so much as a 70s porn star wearing a bikini. I don’t like wearing a mask, but doing it because smart people say I should isn’t in any way infringing on my constitutional liberties. There’s no part of the Constitution that guarantees your right to make others look at your stupid face.

If you’re one of the people tempted to respond to this post arguing that “it’s just the flu” or “it’s the media” or “it’s a vast left-wing conspiracy,” just go ahead and shut the fuck up. This isn’t about politics. It’s a very simple matter of smart versus stupid… although it has gone a long way towards showing which mouth breathing yokels we should collectively avoid even when masks are no longer needed.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Research.” The internet is crawling with people who think they have “done research” or “studied” all manner of troubles that have lain undiagnosed by any of the other eight billion or so people on the planet. I mean if there really was a legitimate thread by which vaccinations lead to all developmental problems in human, I have to suppose it would have been uncovered at some point by serious medicos who would be happy to make a name for themselves. We’ve been inoculating people against disease since the early 18th century… and yes there have always been adverse reactions, but since tens of thousands of people aren’t falling down dead from smallpox anymore I’m willing to take my chances because people smarter than me who are credentialed in medicine, biology, and chemistry tell me it’s a good idea. The same is true when the internet lights up with warnings that dinner plates made before 2005 contains toxic levels of lead that sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids – all turning on the “research” conducted by someone using their kitchen counter as a laboratory and going out of their way to avoid presenting actual data, methods, or independent verification. But hey, feel free to go ahead and base your “research” on the rantings of some uncredentialed, ill-informed, and mentally questionable rando on the internet. I’m sure their information is better than the sum total of the knowledge acquired by western medicine over the last thousand years.

2. Questions. I’ve heard it sad that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. If you really believe that I’ll just have to assume you’ve never actually met people. Ever. Take, for instance, one of the most popular questions I’ve seen swirling around the office this last week. It basically asks “I’m worried that COVID-19 can be transmitted by toilets. We can’t expect people to hold it all day so what’s being done to protect people from the potty?” I can only presume this was an actual question and not, in some way, sent as an effort to find the funny since it was asked at least twice almost verbatim in two different forums. The answer, in case you’re curious, is that restrooms will be cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis (as they have been before and during the initial phases of the Great Plague). If you’re wearing your mask, washing your hands, and not touching every surface in the bathroom and then jamming your hands in your mouth, eyes, or nose, your chances of a toilet-related disaster are probably pretty low… although that feels like a pretty big ask for a lot of people.

3. The Great Plague. After three months we’re finally hitting a moment when I’m personally being inconvenienced by the Great Plague. You see, my favorite cut-rate discount used book warehouse is open again, the truly massive barn sale in southern Pennsylvania where I always seem to find some treasure or another is scheduled for this weekend, and I find myself about to be desperately in need of more shelving in the non-fiction section here at Fortress Jeff. Being the proud possessor of “underlying health conditions” and now seeing the ongoing increase in cases and hospitalizations being reported around the country heading out on the search for old and unusual or more books and places to put them is something of a roll of the dice. My local area currently has a respectably low positivity rate despite the increased number of tests being administered. Part of me wants to use the moment to get a few long-delayed items off the to do list before we cycle back towards another spike… while of course the other part wants to just stay comfortably home, avoid any unnecessary exposure, and watch the world burn itself down. 

Clawed back…

Looking at the various trackers I use to keep tabs on “money stuff” it appears I’ve clawed back somewhere around 80% of what was lost when the floor fell out from under the stock market during the opening days of the Great Plague. I wish I could take some kind of credit for having a shrewd financial mind. It has far more to do with being willing to just stand there and take a beating without locking in all those losses by fleeing to the safety of cash equivalents… though I suppose sitting around watching the market erode your nest egg day after day after day without screaming “uncle,” is a certain kind of financial bravery of its own.

I’m happy to see a lot less red ink on the page, but I’m not even cautiously optimistic of the market’s ability to hold on to its gains in the absence of the truly massive amount of money the Federal Reserve has pushed into the system. Until I start seeing unemployment numbers normalizing, consumer confidence picking up, and a reckoning about how the foreclosures and evictions that have been held in abeyance for the last few months will be addressed, I won’t be convinced it’s not an aberration.

Call me a pessimist, if you will, but aside from there being a nice blue sky and sunshine overhead I don’t see how or where we’ve really turned a corner – and I’m fairly sure the economy doesn’t turn on how pretty a day it happens to be outside. Then again it’s possible I have completely lost track about what it is that actually does drive the economy. So much seems to have changed since I took my basic classes twenty years ago… or at least we’re pretending they’ve changed right up until the old rules jump up and bite us in the collective ass later this year.

What I learned this week…

It’s a harsh truth. What I learned this week is that three-day weekends don’t hit the same when you’ve mostly been home for most of the last 2+ months. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way hating the arrival of Memorial Day Weekend. An extra day not spent tapping away at the laptop is always, always welcome… but Friday afternoon didn’t really arrive heralding great plans and interesting things to do. I’m still thrilled beyond all measure to have three days in a row where not a thought will be spared for The NeverEnding Project.

I’d be a little more enthused if I were using the time to cull through book stores and junk shops, but I’ve got some new stuff to read and a nice new place to sit on the patio while I do it, so it’s not as if the Great Plague is really putting all that much of a damper on my plans.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even mask up and brave the Plague Lands to bring home a giant burrito as an extra special treat. I’m pretty sure I can manage to justify that as an essential component of the holiday weekend. 

Grains of truth…

I live in a reliably Republican voting county in a blue-voting state. Being one part interested in what’s happening in the community and one-part nosy bastard, I’m a member of several “community based” Facebook groups. Nowhere I visit online is more politically charged than most of these groups. Both the free shit for everyone lefties and Trump is the best president in history crowd are well represented. I think both sides there are idiots, but that’s not my point here.

If you’re anywhere on social media it’s probably impossible to miss the people who are rabidly clamoring to “open now.” Their argument almost universally is centered around some variation of “Well, if you don’t feel safe just stay home” and/or “Small businesses need to start making money.” Take away the vitriol with which those sentiments are spewed across the internet and I fully understand the argument. 

Small businesses, having largely been shuttered for two months, are absolutely in danger of never opening their doors again. The “open now” crowd wants desperately to believe proclaiming businesses open will restore the world to the way it was in February. When the doors to all these businesses finally fly open, this sub-section of people will, I’m sure, crowd in. The other, and I presume larger percentage of people, will not be part of the swarm. This second group are those who don’t feel safe and, on the advice of the first group, have opted to “just stay home.” Sure, they may loosen their self-imposed restrictions a bit, but it won’t be with the free-for-all, madcap, devil-may-care embrace that the “open now” crew advocates. 

Even here in reliably red Cecil County, I have a hard time imagining businesses small and large filled anywhere even close to capacity again any time soon. Business can be all the open they want to be and if people don’t show up in mass, they still won’t make their margin. No one wants to hear this nugget, but my take is that whether open or closed here in last third of May, hundreds of thousands of businesses that were going concerns at Christmastime will be shuttered permanently by Independence Day… and there’s virtually nothing that’s going to stop it from happening.

I don’t take any pleasure in even thinking it because there’s a laundry list of businesses, both small and large, that I patronize, or I use to patronize, fairly regularly. I may be tempted back to a few of the used book shops sooner rather than later – as often enough I’ve had those places to myself even before the Great Plague. But sitting down in a restaurant, packing in shoulder to shoulder at a concert, or even wandering the aisles at the average retail establishment? Yeah, that’s a no from me for the foreseeable future. 

The grain of truth in the “open now” argument is that yes, I will do my own risk assessment and keep my ass at home until I determine (based on the advice of scientists and not politicians) that it’s reasonably safe to do otherwise. Then again, no one has ever had to encourage me to stay home, so maybe I simply lack the impulse that inspires other people to need to pull up a stool to their favorite bar in defiance of basic logic and common sense.

The up side of the Great Plague…

My undying love of all things Buffy the Vampire Slayer is well known. I suppose it was only a matter of time before that abiding adoration found its way onto my book shelves.  A fluke thrift shop find about a year ago spurred me towards putting together a complete set of Buffy novels. Let me start off by saying there are a lot of them – and I mean an absolute shit ton – and that’s before you start into the cadet branches of the written Buffyverse. They’re short, written for the young adult demo, and don’t take up all that much space on a shelf. War and Peace they aren’t, but they’re fun reads layered on to a fictional universe that I enjoy spending time in. 

One of the keys to collecting (as opposed to hoarding) is starting off with some idea of what the final collection should look like. I opted to focus my attention on the “main stem” books – and excluding the novelizations of the actual TV show, books from the Angel series, and a handful of choose-your-own-adventure style books (that were wildly overpriced in fine condition anyway). I closed the loop on that collecting effort about a month ago. A few pieces are in rougher shape than I’d like – cracked spines, loose pages, etc. – but I found them cheap and they’ll do until I can replace them with better copies. In any case, now that I have them, I’m slowly enjoying injecting these books periodically into the reading list.

A few days ago, I noticed something unusual happening. The collector sites were starting to show an unusual volume of items for sale rather than just collectors showing off their finds for one another. Some heavy-duty collectors were slowly starting to turn loose of their wares – and the prices were maybe not quite at the fire sale level, but they were markedly lower than the same items would have commanded months ago. In light of the current situation, I’ve opened the scope of my hoard collection to encompass many of those titles that I had formerly excluded. A few of these them are currently trundling towards me via post even as I write this.

So, the Great Plague is bad, sure, but let us not completely ignore its up side here. Now I just need to find someone who needs to turn loose of their prop replica Scythe at a price that doesn’t require drawing a personal loan. Sure, a scythe doesn’t exactly fit into a book collection, but if people are determined to sell off the good stuff I’ll have to do my best to be a buyer and prop up the economy where I can. 

Marks on the wall…

It’s mid-May, a magical time on the calendar where the end of the long slog through the months of spring bereft of federal holidays is in sight. The long holiday weekend for Memorial Day is almost upon us. That usually marks the first of my planned four-day weekends, with Fridays as often as not spent trolling through used book shops, antique stores, flea markets, and barn sales. Given the climate, that normal kickoff to summer doesn’t feel likely to happen, which is, in a word, disappointing.

The next mark on the wall is a week of leave starting on June 1st that I scheduled back in the depths of winter. That’s historically a week when I go further afield on my quests for the next interesting item – ranging widely through eastern Pennsylvania, the Delmarva, and central Maryland. That too seems like an activity that will surely still be out of reach just three short weeks from now. I also question the value of taking a restorative week of vacation time when I’ve already mostly been home for the best part of two and a half months. I’ve often enough needed a proper break from the office, but needing a rest from being at the house is beyond my understanding.

In any case, the marks on the wall by which I plan my year appear to be lining up to fall in 2020. Admittedly, two months into the Great Plague and its associated closures probably makes me a little late to this particular party. Although I find this impending change of plans annoying, they’re not debilitatingly so. They certainly don’t drive me to take to the streets in protest… even if that’s the cool new thing to do.

There will be other marks on other walls at some point in the future yet to be determined. My vacation time balance isn’t going anywhere (as long as I’m not dumb enough to let it expire at the end of the year) so holding those plans in abeyance isn’t cause for alarm just yet. Getting all up in my feelings about anything that’s not happening feels about as useful and productive as wandering down to the river and ordering the tide to go out. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Masks. Yes, I know they make at least a marginal amount of sense, but that reality just doesn’t make wearing one to conduct day to day business any less annoying. That’s mostly because I can’t social distance while wearing my mask. Despite the various application of dish detergent, shaving cream, and other home remedies, my glasses are fogged over and I literally can’t tell a stationary person apart from a soda machine.

2. Hummingbird feeder. I put out the hummingbird feeders a few days ago. Because I have “less processed” sugar that’s about the color of nice beach sand, it looks for all the world like I’ve hung bottled urine in my backyard. Very soon thereafter I also learned that you should only use normal white sugar for hummingbird feeders, so the whole issue turned out to be a short lived and regrettable test run for actual spring feeder deployment.

3. Maybe the thing that surprised me most about how people are individually responding to the Great Plague is what I’ve started thinking of as the general lack of ability or interest in seeing the long view, opting instead to focus on the next day or week. Maybe I’ve always known people en mass tend to be short sighted pleasure seekers, but I was happily oblivious to how little thought they were putting in to the months and years ahead. So many seem to be bumbling through the day-to-day without any thought at all about what lies beyond that brief horizon. I’m not saying the here and now isn’t important, but hey, maybe cast an eye out towards the future every now and then.

Carnival…

Carnival, the cruise line that I vaguely remember from life in the 80s and 90s as advertising vacations aboard the “fun ship,” is planning to start cruising again on August 1st. I’m sure that some courageous souls will be tempted aboard these plague ships buy unbelievably discounted prices, but I’m not sure you could tempt me to on board with an offer of giving me the actual ship at the end of the cruise.

With at least one of the other large cruise lines already flirting with bankruptcy, it’s not surprising that Carnival is chomping at the bit to get back to business. I’ll be curious to see how many people take them up on the opportunity, though. Are there enough people still holding onto their vacation money in the face of 20% unemployment who also have a wildly under-developed sense of self-preservation to make the effort profitable? Watching the increasing reports of asshattery from around the country, at first blush, the answer is a definite maybe.

I don’t suppose you’ll ever go too far wrong trading on the stupidity of the average person – even, or maybe especially, when the penalties for stupid range from debilitating viral illness on up through death. Go ahead and enjoy the buffet and that sweet, sweet balcony room though.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Missing appointments. So far during the Great Plague, I’ve deferred my regular medical checkup, a dental cleaning, a crown replacement, and three vet appointments. That’s six things right out of the gate that need rescheduled over the summer – assuming the plague actually gets tamped down. It’s not all down side, of course. Having a full year’s worth of leave to cram into the back half of the year won’t suck. It’s mostly about the number of phone calls I’ll need to make to get everything made up.

2. Research. Reading things on Facebook and then doing a Google don’t make you a researcher. Going down an internet rabbit hole is not research. It just isn’t. Even in the softest of soft sciences, there’s a methodology to research, a way of doing things. Buying whole cloth, the wisdom of egirls selling cleansing tea on Instagram versus the nuanced explanations of actual scientists who have spent a lifetime studying their field makes you look like an idiot. Spewing that mess in public doesn’t make you a researcher. It makes you a clear and present threat to yourself and anyone unfortunate enough not to read your blathering with a critical eye.

3. Shipping. There’s nothing to be done for it, but it feels like we’re back in the olden days of online shopping, or more specifically of shipping those orders. Amazon trained me too well to expect items to tumble onto my porch the day I ordered them or at worst in a day or two. Now that we’re back to items showing up five or seven days later – or weeks later in some cases – it all feels so damned clunky.