Culling the stack…

Before I fell ill with whatever crud wore me down after Christmas, one of the major items I managed to knock off my to do list was culling the to-be-read shelves. You can count on one hand the number of times I’ve willingly let things fall out of the collection. Buy enough books over enough years, though, and things have a way of accumulating. Despite your best efforts, some of those things turn out to be real dogs. 

I’ve never been shy about buying a nicer volume to replace something I already have on the shelf, so some of them were duplicates I was happy to move elsewhere. Occasionally I’ll look at something occupying shelf space and realize no matter how much time I have, I’m never going to read it. I hate to admit it, but when you start approaching 2000 volumes in your average home, space starts to become something of a premium. That’s all a way of saying that even for me there are good reasons to sometimes get rid of books.

I filled the back seat of the truck with my culls and cast offs. I’d waited until the volume justified taking a minor road trip. The local shop might have offered a few dollars for the lot – hardly worth going there versus just donating the bunch to Goodwill. I don’t blame the local shop owner. He knows his business and that he’s the only game in town when it comes to buying used books. Judging from the unopened boxes sitting in his aisles and stacked in every foot of space the fire marshal will let him get away with, getting inventory is never a problem.

The trade off with taking my batch on the road is that I’m sure to spend far more filling the gas tank than I’ll recoup from selling everything I’m hauling with me. There was nothing special or rare in the mix and the return on most used books is pennies on the dollar. It’s just part of the obsession that you accept when you’re into it deeply enough.

Knowing I wouldn’t even recoup my travel cost was worth it though, to hand them off to a proper bookman at one of the great east coast used book shops. They’ll get most of these good reading copies placed into the hands of someone who will appreciate them. Better that than dropping them somewhere where they’ll inevitably end up turned to pulp in the hands of a paper recycler.At my level of collecting, it’s not about turning a profit. With the exception of a few high points, all I’ll manage to do is make sure most of the books here are able to survive another generation or two into the future. If I’m lucky, one or two of them might survive to have a bicentennial and find their way into the hands of someone who loves them like I have. That’s not bad compensation for the time, effort, and expense. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The cost of comfort. The cost of propane this winter is going to be stupid. By contrast, my electric bill in the winter is usually minimal. By my way of thinking, I could reasonably knock a degree or two off the thermostat if I just put a space heater in the office where I spend my telework days. It’s a fine idea. The office is a nice steady 68 degrees, which by my standards is perfectly comfortable. The problem now, predictably, is that every time I walk out of that particular room – to get a fresh cup of coffee or to make lunch – the rest of the house feels like wandering around a damned icebox. It’s downright unpleasant. I’m not at all sure this new cost saving scheme of mine will survive the arrival of actual winter. I suspect my desire for comfort and convenience will trump my aversion to paying overinflated fuel bills. The next major project here might just be scoping out what it will take to replace my current, elderly air conditioning unit with a heat pump to drive the operating cost of keeping the whole place warm down to something more reasonable.

2. Missing historical context. For some reason the algorithm keeps feeding me all sorts of articles in which people – usually the under 30 set – are opining about all of us now living in the era of a great reset. Most of their puff pieces seem to be based on the idea that some combination of the Great Plague, hundreds of thousands of jobs available, rising inflation, the collapse of the modern financial order under the weight of “late state capitalism,” and a litany of other leftist fever dream issues are the birth pangs of some kind of brave new world. Their earnestness is kind of adorable… but I can’t help but think they’re missing every shred of historical context when they decry their lives in “the worst timeline.”

3. An expired card. The card that I use to pay for basically everything online expired a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been on the receiving end of a near constant barrage of “card expired” emails when various companies have tried to push through their charges. Updating this information isn’t particularly hard and in most cases it’s not even all that time consuming, but it’s a bleeding nuisance. It really feels like one of those elements of online retail / bill paying that should have a much more elegant solution… and no, the answer shouldn’t be to just hand over my bank accounting and routing information and trust 20 or 30 businesses to keep it secure forever. 

Unacknowledged milestones…

It seems to me that we’ve largely been conditioned as a society not to talk about money. I’m sure there’s a plethora of sociological studies that define exactly what this is, but I’m not quite interested enough in the details to go digging. Suffice to say, the number of conversations I’ve had with anyone other than various paid advisors about issues of salary, retirement, and general finance is, in a word, limited.

Money and finances are just not topics we bring up in polite company, though maybe it should be. It feels like there would surely be a whole lot of people who would be better off if only they had a bit of financial education – or even just a passing interest and some kind of basic financial literacy. 

I only mention it now because after the terror of watching the hemorrhaging in February and March 2020, and wondering if the blood in the streets would ever stop flowing, a few weeks ago I passed through what I consider a major milestone on the road to reaching a decently funded retirement. Unlike most of the other major milestones we celebrate or at least acknowledge in life – graduations, weddings, births, deaths – there’s no accepted way to mark the occasion.

So don’t mind me, I’m just over here screaming into the void of the internet because we as a society have some kind of complex when it comes to talking about money… except when it comes to complaining about the price of gas or why on earth a beef roast now costs $20.

I’m going to sleep on it…

Six weeks ago, I was on a wild tear to get the master bathroom, at long last, updated to the point where it was a functional space for something beyond walking through to get to my closet and an out of the way corner to keep Hershel’s litter box. Getting proposals back that saw my own preliminary cost estimate bested by about 50% has given me a moment of pause… not because I want a real functioning master bathroom any less, but because it is only one item on my list of things to do.

The others, in no particular order of importance are: 1) Patch and reseal the asphalt driveway; 2) Repair or replace leaking gutters; 3) Replace 21 year old air conditioning condenser unit; 4) Replace kitchen counter tops; 5) Be prepared to replace all major kitchen and laundry appliances since every one of them is now well past the point of economical repair; 6) More bookcases (because we always need more bookcases here). There are, of course, other more minor items that need continuous repair and replacement as needed.

Before the cost run ups associated with the Great Plague, the price of a new bathroom would have been an all cash operation. Funding was saved and earmarked. Now, it would mean pulling a loan to cover the unanticipated increase in cost. Doing the bathroom now means sucking all the oxygen out of the room – and being unable to address any of the other projects without further borrowing or kicking them years into the future in order to reestablish a sufficient cash reserve.

I’m going to take the weekend to sleep on it. The most likely solution feels like taking on some of the smaller projects while stashing away more cash to get the bathroom done right. That’s all hoping, of course, that rampaging inflation doesn’t completely throttle the value of the dollar and that at some point the COVID premium on construction supplies and labor moderates back towards historical levels. Those are two significant “maybes’ that there is no way to control for other than sucking it up and paying the bill now.

So yeah, tell me more about this joy of home ownership, won’t you?

A rare moment of indecisiveness…

I’ll admit that a decade ago I picked the vet whose office location was the most convenient. I was just back to Maryland with a bulldog who at least once a month seemed to need to go to the vet immediately. Their office being between five and seven minutes from the house was a much appreciated convenience.

That office closed a few years ago and folded many of their clients, myself included, into their sister facility twenty-five minutes away. We’ve gotten good service there and I like my regular vet and the staff, but their fees tend towards eyewatering territory on a pretty regular basis.

I’m leaning towards transitioning the two youngest members of the household over to a different vet – one that’s still locally owned and operated (and presumably with lower costs for basic veterinary care). With Maggie’s long and complex history over the last several years, though, I expect to keep her with people who know the full back story until we’ve played that hand all the way through.

Part of the reason I liked the big corporate chain vet in the first place was having ready access to emergency and specialists “in the family.” With a host of them now sprung up within reasonable driving distance, I’m not sure that’s the selling point it was then. It feels likely that nothing more than the inertia of dealing with a known quantity is what really kept us where we’ve been this long.

Or not. I’m currently feeling mightily indecisive… and since a decision isn’t needed right the hell now, I’ll probably continue to dither for a bit yet.

Something of a novelty…

After six days of waiting impatiently, I got a call back from the emergency vet Maggie visited last week. The good news is that the tests they ran confirmed the preliminary diagnosis of a urinary tract infection. After the long and growing list of canine ailments I’ve dealt with over the years, a run of the mill UTI was just about as good an outcome as I could hope to have.

Because in this household we can’t do anything entirely basic, Mag’s urine culture showed that the E. coli bacteria causing the infection wasn’t likely to be fully treated by the particular antibiotic originally given. It did, fortunately, help alleviate the worst of it. Since I’m looking for knock-down, drag-out eradication, though, I’m more than happy to spring for the second 10-day course of targeted antibiotics. It’ll be a small price to pay to get my girl to a place where she’s a) more comfortable, b) not as likely to pee all over the house in the dead of night, and c) can resume her duties as my 70 pound live action foot warmer.

A few weeks ago I laughingly posted on Facebook about a meme showing the average dog owner spends $1000 a year on care and feeding. That sounds awfully low to me, even for a bare minimum of food and medical care. As the science of human medicine marches forward, veterinary medicine marches along a few steps away… with the a corresponding increases in price for the kind of services that owners can now expect and demand.

I’m very thankful that this time around, we didn’t have to chase down anything too dramatic or crash into an aggressive treatment plan. You’ll forgive me, I hope. “Normal” illnesses are still something of novelty here.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Every six months the or so they put a slightly cheaper brand of paper towel in the dispenser. Eventually I expect we’ll just have a damp wood plank sticking out of the wall. Look, I know we should all be looking for ways we can stretch a dollar, but at some point quality really does matter. If we’ve reached a point where the budget is so thin that drying your hands may result in splinters, it may be time to take a hard look at where we can save a few dollars in other places and stop trying to balance the books on line items for the men’s room.

2. eBay. I ordered two items last week on Monday and Tuesday. As of today I don’t have any shipping information or other confirmation other than the receipt from eBay. Coupled with several items I’ve had to return recently for undisclosed damage or damage due to shit packaging, I think my my days of using eBay for anything that’s not a bulk or commodity item are pretty much over.

3. Netflix. Another email from Netflix. Another price increase. Yes, I’ll probably give them another $12 a year, but they’re starting to tread close to the point where I’ll deem them too expensive for just a “nice to have” streaming service. The entertainment line item in the budget is only going to tolerate so much upwards creep between cable and individual content providers before the ax falls.

Approach avoidance…

A few months back I’m pretty sure I cracked a tooth, or to be more specific I’m pretty sure I re-cracked a tooth that I had fixed about a decade ago. It only caused minimal and occasional discomfort and could be easily ignored. We seem, currently, to have slowly worked our way past discomfort and are edging into the legitimate pain category. I’m going to go ahead and blame the sudden appearance of cold weather since it appears to be introduction of cold air that’s set off the sensation of someone occasionally jamming a teeny tiny ice pick into my jaw.

This, of course, is where my problem starts. You see it’s not so much that I’m afraid of the dentist, per se. The one’s I’ve met seem like decent enough human beings and individually are not a fear-educing bunch. I am, however, entirely and completely in favor of avoiding pain for as long as possible. This, unfortunately, has now caused me a dilemma. At some point in the near future this untreated tooth is going to start being more than an occasional discomfort. That may be weeks or months from now. An appointment at my local dentist is a guarantee of pain and a sure and certain time. It’s one of the few occasions in life where I generally prefer the unknown future to the known.

Yes, I know this is a ridiculous approach towards dental health. Yes, I know I should have had it taken care of months ago. Yes, I know it’s utterly out of character for a guy who thrives on adding things to a list and getting them knocked off as quickly as possible. I’m unpredictable like that.

I also know that the last three times I’ve walked into a dentist’s office for anything more than a cleaning I’ve walked out chewing on a couple of thousand dollars worth of bills to pay. Pain in the mouth. Pain in the wallet. Completely ridiculous or not, there’s no doubt in my own head why my approach to “modern, painless” dentistry is so often avoidance.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Hard right. Since Mr. Trump has bailed out of the primary debate this week as part of his ongoing “strained relationship” with Fox News, I’ve been quite literally stunned with the number of times I’ve run across posts labeling Fox a part of the “left wing media establishment.” I get my news from a lot of sources, both domestic and international, and thinking of FNC as a lefty mouthpiece just boggles the mind. See, that’s the real problem with the current Republican party. If you’re not in lockstep on abortion, marriage equality, and Jesus, well there’s just no room in the party for you. Sorry gang, but I’m going to call bullshit on that. I’m a Republican the same way Reagan was a Republican. The same way Goldwater was a Republican. The same way Eisenhower was a Republican. What I’m not is a fanatic who assumes mine is the One True Way. I’m a Republican. We use to be a “big tent” party and we could be again, if only we the rest of us have the personal courage to stand up and tell the dogmatic hardliners to GTFO. Otherwise we might as well fold the tent and go on back to the house, because the days of expecting a platform of “be like me or else” winning at the national level are profoundly numbered.

2. Underutilization. There’s not many jobs I’d consider myself too proud to do. From slopping barns, to stacking hay, flipping burgers, dropping fries, parking cars, accounting for tarps and body bags, ordering hundreds of thousands of tons of ice, or managing 1000-person events. I’ve done all of them and too many more to bother listing. The point isn’t that I’m too proud to do any of these things. The point is that it makes absolutely no economic sense for me to some of them. There’s always an opportunity cost that no one takes into account. Because I’m schlepping buckets of rock salt, that means there are five or six other things that aren’t getting done in a timely manner – things that generally tend to require thought, analysis, and problem solving. With half a career’s worth of experience behind me, my services don’t come cheap. The all-in “fully burdened” cost of having me on the clock is something approaching $100 an hour. Whether that money is spent on turning ice into water or on making sure the uber-boss gets the information he wants is decided by someone else. I’ll go where and do what I’m told, but I’ll always wonder why we so rarely seem to take the time to match the skill set with the person instead of just grabbing the nearest body and making it fit.

3. Cities. Watching the news out of Baltimore all week and wondering how in seven hells they’ve managed to spend an entire week tinkering around with their plows and not give every street at least a courtesy pass with one of their trucks. Yes, cities are densely packed and often streets are narrow, but still. Come on. You’ve had a week to give everyone at least a fighting chance at getting out of their frozen prison. I live in a subdivision in what might charitably be called an out of the way location. By Sunday evening we’d had enough of a route cut that someone with 4-wheel drive could safely navigate out to our principle access road. By Monday night it was largely down to blacktop. I’m simply perplexed that a major American city – especially one prone to snow in the winter – has this much trouble figuring out what to do. I avoid Baltimore as much as humanly possible, but in this case I’m throughly annoyed by a city government that seems largely made up by the gang that can’t shoot straight.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Everything being bad for you. Sunscreen is bad for you. Sun burns are bad for you. GMO crops feed the world, but they’ll make your kid grow a tail. Egg whites are ok. Egg yellows steal your soul or some such foolishness. As much as I appreciate living in an age of seemingly limitless information, I need to break down one cold, simple truth: We’re all going to die. Some will die young. Some will die old. It’s been that way forever and there’s no current way around it. Everything is bad for you. Everything in the world is trying to make you sick and speed you to your grave… As much as I appreciate people who honestly want to live a healthy lifestyle I just don’t have the mental energy to worry about whether the tomatoes at the Amish market was raised without pesticides or antibiotics in a free range, organic environment. Maybe it should concern me more, but it really, really doesn’t.

2. Delmarva Power. Yes I know I can save money on “peak savings” days by turning off my air conditioner between the hours of 2PM and 8PM when demand is highest. No, I’m not going to do that, though. Your job is to produce and distribute power to satisfy demand – yes even on the hot days – so no I won’t be sweating my ass off in my own home on the next 97 degree day so you can avoid lighting off the last few boilers or skip buying energy from a 3rd party producer. I’ll keep doing my job so I can pay the bills, you go ahead and do yours so we don’t unexpectedly plunge back into the 1870s.

3. Manual signature required. We’re in the year AD 2015. It defies imagination that there is still a situation where I would have to print something out, sign it with a pen, scan it, and then send it back to someone in order for something to be “official.” It’s even more fanciful when we decide to send the same document around for electronic signature “so we have both on file.” Two exact copies of the same document. One signed by pen and then sent back electronically, the other signed by ID card and then sent back electronically… both then printed out and stuffed into a manila folder to be deposited in a file drawer and then not to see the light of day for potentially a decade or more. The fact that this is still how we do things is, sadly, not at all a cause for surprise.