Get off my list…

I’m making a list and checking it twice, because one of my fun little “other duties as assigned” is filling in as the Keeper of COVID Numbers whenever one of my distinguished colleagues is out of the office. Today was one such day.

Without giving away state secrets or anything confidential, let me just say that the number’s we’re putting up aren’t good. They’re not good on a level much higher than previous iterations of my sitting here plugging away on the spreadsheet thinking “Damn, that’s a lot of people.”

I’ve never really been a fan of people, but increasingly it’s hard to think of our species collectively as anything more than unmitigated plague carriers.

Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask. Stay the hell away from people. 

Even if none of those things are perfectly effective, combined they go a long way towards keeping people off my list… because quite frankly trying to track this many lines on a spreadsheet is just an enormous, time-consuming pain in the ass. 

The closet…

My master bathroom contractor called right before Christmas to let me know they had filed all the paperwork with the county to apply for the necessary permits. I’m glad to see some forward motion on this project. I’ve lived with it for seven years so I’m not really impatient, but now that I’ve started spending real money, I’d just like to get it over with. 

While I had some unallocated free time, before succumbing to whatever crud laid me temporarily low, I decided to start clearing out the linen closet and master closet attached to the master bath. The linen closet is going away completely and my closet is losing a foot to give me enough width in the shower to never worry about banging a shoulder or elbow. It’s a lot of shower, but it feels fitting to replace the enormous bathtub that’s occupied the room, unused, all this time. 

It felt like a real inconvenience at the time, but I’m beginning to see the value of moving every couple of years. It forced me to clear out the proverbial dead wood periodically instead of paying to haul it across the country. Having no such forcing function over the last seven years, things have… accumulated. This place is twice the size of the old Memphis house and even so, storage is beginning to feel constrained. It could be time for a general purge… or hiring another contractor to give me some climate-controlled storage in the basement. 

Last week, the contractor let me know that some of his team tested positive and others were exposed to the Great Plague. The translation of that, I assume, is that all previous schedules are in the wind. I expected this project would be underway in January. Now, perhaps, it’s a dream of spring… though delaying the time when I’ll have complete strangers trapsing through the house on a regular basis doesn’t bother me at all just now.

In any case, mucking everything out of my closet is now feeling very premature. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Logging in. When I boot up my work computer in the morning, I have to log in using my access card and PIN. When I log into Outlook, I use my access card and PIN. One Drive? Access card and PIN. Teams. One more time, log in with access card and PIN. Just to start the day I have to log in using the same credentials four to five times depending what opens on startup. I’m sure there’s some important network security reason this is necessary, but it feels dumb and is 100% a daily irritant. 

2. Upgraded masks. For the last two years, I’ve survived plague free by 1) being vaccinated and boosted, 2) generally avoiding people as much as practical and 3) wearing a standard cloth face covering whenever I had to go into a questionable indoor environment. It hasn’t felt like all that big an ask. With the latest variant, word has gone out that it’s advised to switch over to more robust masks – primarily N95 or KN95 style respirators. That’s well and good, but I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money so far on various upgraded masks and a host of add on extenders, inserts, and other bits to get a better fit. So far, no combination of any of them has given me a mask that doesn’t immediately blow hot air around my nose and cheeks and turning my glasses into a solid wall of fog sitting on the end of my nose. Not falling victim to the Great Plague is important, but if I can’t be both maximally protected and fog-free, I’m going to have to err on the side of being able to see what the hell I’m doing when I need to leave the house.

3. Maryland’s Republican governor has proposed eliminating taxes on retirees as a means to discourage people from spending their working lives here and then immediately decamping for jurisdictions that don’t tax retirement income. For those who will face a potential tax bill from Maryland when they retire, it has to be a consideration. For instance, if you have the longevity to enjoy a 20-year retirement and the state reaches into your pocket to the tune of $4,000 a year, that’s upwards of $80,000 you’re leaving on the table for the convenience of not moving to a more tax friendly state. That’s not the kind of win the Democratic controlled general assembly will want to hand a popular Republican governor. Given Maryland’s historic love of raising taxes on its residents, it’s not the kind of thing they’d want to do if there the governor was a Democrat, either. I’m an unabashed lover of my native state, and I’d love to be able to make a plan to stay here along the shores of the Chesapeake forever, but unless our fearless leaders end up endorsing a plan like this, finances are all too likely to dictate otherwise when the time comes.  

The interregnum…

The week between Christmas and the new year is more or less a lost week. Let’s face it, it was still 2021 and there was still plenty going on. Even if you weren’t paying attention to world events there was more than enough that needed doing, but the whole week has forever felt like it exists out of time or in a universe where time has no meaning. 

It’s an interregnum as the old year closes out and the new one starts. I don’t hate it. I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s an odd sequence of days that don’t feel quite right.

Add in that I spent most of my time alternating between the bed, the couch, and one of the various La-Z-Boy’s scattered around the house and it’s pretty much the week that wasn’t. At least it (probably) wasn’t COVID, so I’ve still got that going in my favor, even if it was one of the nastier head colds I’ve had in the last half-dozen years.

Here we are a little more than a week later and the last remnants of this particular crud are finally dissipating… but hey, I have one of those fancy oxygen meters, a few boxes of KN-95 and N-95’s, and a few other odds and ends now due to my paranoia of the Great Plague. Given how hard it is to find a simple test, even my NyQuil addled brain was able to grasp with growing realization that if I should come down with it, I need to be prepared with whatever tools I can muster to triage and treat myself.

The interregnum is over. I’ve put together a decent little stockpile against what feels like an increasingly inevitable bout with the plague. Still, I can’t quite shake the feeling that mostly it was a perfectly good week of annual leave utterly wasted.

Crud…

Today was supposed to be my first day back at the office after Christmas vacation. The crud I’ve been, unknowingly, fighting since Wednesday said otherwise. I really thought I just had a sore throat from kicking up dust when I started clearing out my closet to prep for the eventual renovation. Obviously, it wasn’t just the dust, but that wasn’t painfully obvious until late in the day on Friday.

The good news is that if the rapid test is to be believed, I haven’t been snookered by the Great Plague, but some other upper respiratory bug that’s set up shop in my head. At least I think that’s good news. It’s kind of hard to tell at this point.

I was feeling good enough this afternoon to prop myself almost upright and type this out with my thumbs. That’s quite an improvement from the last couple of days when dragging myself off the couch to let the dog out was a downright Herculean feat of strength. My voice is less gravely and every once in a while, I’ve found I’m able to breath through both nostrils simultaneously. Progress.

With a “not Covid” test result I probably could have hauled my carcass to the office today and been a slightly warmer than usual body in the room. If life in a plague era has taught us nothing else, though, I feel like “keep your germs to yourself” should be an important lesson. I’ve got a mountain of sick leave and won’t feel a moment’s guilt at using it.

Maybe I’ll try to dip my toes back into the exciting world of work tomorrow with telework Tuesday. Or maybe I won’t. I think a lot of it is going to depend on how long I can stare at a computer screen without my eyes crossing or my incredible 15-minute attention span completely losing the thread of whatever I’m supposed to be doing. 

Anyway, today was better than yesterday, so I guess that’s something. 

Running out the clock…

With three days left in this grand 16 day weekend, I guess you could say the only thing I have left to do is run out the clock.

With a bit of a sore throat and a touch of post nasal drip, but no other signs or symptoms of crud, COVID, or anything else catching, I’ve laid in groceries and have no further plans besides three days of proper hermiting before work raises its ugly head and demands my time again. It’s celebrating this long stretch of days off by doing that which I most enjoy.

These last two weeks seem to be ending with more a whimper than a bang, but I’m not exactly complaining. Being holed up with the animals, rooms full of good books, food to cook, and vast quantities of tea and gin hardly sounds like a disaster. Who knows, I might even get crazy and watch something on Netflix or Hulu instead of just using the television as background noise.

All while in the back of my head rumbles the warning that Monday is coming. I don’t think any amount of time off will ever change how I feel about that.

Party in a plague year…

Glancing through my Outlook calendar this morning, I noticed an appointment labeled “Holiday Gathering.” Based on past precedent that could mean anything from a non-denominational holiday afternoon of food and drink at a local watering hole, or more often a soulless pot luck served around a conference room table.  

In the (plague) year of our lord 2021 both options have at least one thing in common: The distinguished representative from Cecil County votes no.

In the last 21 months I’ve sat down in a restaurant exactly one time. It was in the middle of the afternoon with one other person at the table and maybe 10 people in the entire building. The idea of gaggling up elbow to asshole with 20 or 30 people to spread both holiday cheer and pathogen, feels like something I can avoid with absolutely no regrets. 

Plus, it looks like it happens to fall on a day I’m already scheduled to work from home, so there’s one more reason it doesn’t have any significant appeal. I’m sure if there’s something pressing, someone can dial me in on Teams.

I’ve never been on Team Office Holiday Party, but a party in a plague year feels even less enticing and like it’s missing a bit of the big picture. 

Pondering on an Egg McMuffin…

Most mornings when I’m due in the office, I stop by McDonalds for an egg sandwich. I know, I know. Health implications aside, I’ve made a decision that I’d rather read a chapter or two before schlepping down Route 40 than spend that limited time making breakfast.

This morning I found the drive through inexplicably vacant. Pulling in to order, I wasn’t greeted with “May I help you,” but rather “Just so you know we can only do exact cash right now.” I’m assuming it meant I’d need exact change because their electronic payment systems (credit card, Apple Pay, etc.) were down. Networked payment systems go down, I totally get that, but as a matter of principle I wasn’t going to just round up the cost to the nearest dollar or worse, since the only paper money I had in my wallet was a $20 bill. Their prices are near piratical levels already and I can’t remember the last time they didn’t have a “We have no change” sign in the window.

I pulled away without my Egg McMuffin secure in the thought that there’s a Burger King not quite on my route, but close enough to not make a difference in the morning’s timing. Burger King, however, was closed this morning during what should have been about the peak of their breakfast rush. Lights off, drive through barricaded, and not a car to be seen in the parking lot. Looks like I wasn’t going to be getting a bacon, egg, and cheese Croissanwich, either.

After two strikes, the clock had run out on me, which meant heading directly to the office sans breakfast. It’s hardly the worst thing in the world, but it feels like part of the wider trend where everyone seems to be throwing up their hands, giving a shrug, and muttering “Eh, COVID.”

A year ago, I was pretty tolerant of stutter stepping and odd moments that went with figuring out how to live in a plague year. Here we are nearly two years in, though, and I’m not in any way convinced we’ve collectively learned anything. I mean how is there still a change shortage? How have nationally branded businesses not figured out how to, you know, do business… or at least keep the doors open during business hours?

The more gentle-minded among you will be tempted to tell me that everyone is “trying their best during this difficult time” or some other platitude. Based on my observation, I’m not in any way convinced that’s true… and even if it was, it just seems to me that after eighteen months of practice, everyone’s best should be a little better than it is currently.

On trumping festivity…

Last year was the first time in 42 years that I wasn’t in western Maryland for Christmas. It was different and decidedly subdued, but I didn’t particularly hate it. Now, here we are in December again and I’m starting to put together the plan for this year… even though it feels like we just did Christmas about seven weeks ago. 

Barring any significant Great Plague related issues, I’m more comfortable with the idea of making the trip this year… even if I’m not thrilled with the idea of driving into an area where every other Facebook post seems to mention friends, friends of friends, or family members who are militantly anti-vax or who are being throttled by the bug. 

Assuming I do go home for Christmas this year, it’s going to be another different experience. Excursions to the local watering holes, the casino, or restaurants are probably right out. I’ve avoided those things for the last eighteen months and making a Christmas exception probably doesn’t exactly pass the common sense test in the current environment. That alone opens up expanses of time I’m not use to having during these flying trips. Historically they’re a mad dash to see everyone I’ve promised to drop in on while I’m in the area. I don’t expect to make many of those promises this time around.

In all reality, what Christmas could mean this year is a change in where I’ll be tucked in with a dog and a few good books… and the need to potentially recruit a cat and tortoise sitter for a few days. It doesn’t feel particularly festive, but for the time being prudence continues to trump festivity.

Cubicles aren’t the problem…

Even back in spring 2020, in the early days when the Great Plague raged unchecked, some of us were still coming to the office. Often it wasn’t many – and certainly some came more than others, but on the average day there may have been five or six people spread out in a room built out to hold around thirty. For good, bad, or otherwise, those who make decisions were determined that the place was going to have at least the loose appearance of conducting business as usual. They were determined to keep the lights on.

I only mention it, because I had a bit of a unique career experience today. For most of this day before Thanksgiving, I was the last man standing… or maybe the only one without the foresight to drop a leave request for today and Friday. In any case, I spent most of the day with the place entirely to myself. The only time I’ve had an even similar experience was a million years ago when I was a fresh, young GS-7 working in DC who wasn’t banking enough vacation time to be extravagant about taking the Friday after Thanksgiving. Even then, there were a few other people knocking around the far reaches of the GAO Building’s 3rd floor, so I wasn’t completely on my own there.

Today was a real Time Enough at Last moment, which is to say it was kind of ideal. As it turns out, just being stuck in a room full of cubicles and awful fluorescents for the day isn’t necessarily the problem with the modern office. It wasn’t quite as good as a day working from home, but without all the people, I mean it didn’t particularly suck.

It looks like I’ve learned my one new thing for today, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.