What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Still waiting. Here we are 6 weeks past the “end of max telework” world and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published six weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

2. Just a cold. I can’t tell you how many times this week I’ve heard, “oh, I know I look awful but it’s just a cold.” You’d think that over the last three years one thing we might have collectively learned is bringing your germs to an enclosed working environment maybe isn’t a great idea. But no. People are absolutely re-goddamned-diculous and operate under the illusion that this 200+ year old institution can’t possibly operate without them. It can. It has. And it will. Take your sick ass home and work from there if you think you’re that important. Jesus wept.

3. November surprise. In a surprise to no one but hard-core Republican partisans, it turns out that if you single mindedly pursue a laundry list of policies the majority of the electorate disagrees with, nominate a wide slate of candidates who redefine the phrase “sleazy politician,” and hew in lock step with a twice impeached former president who attempted to raise a rebellion against his own government, then come election day you might have a bad time of it. In a mid-term being held amidst historic inflation and economic angst, the party out of power should have walked away with big wins across the board. Republicans should have had a banner night. It turns out that policy still matters. Candidates still matter. Messaging is important. Even if the Republicans squeak out a majority in the House or Senate, this election should be a wakeup call. It probably won’t be. The true believers will double down and get even more loud and obnoxious. 

A look back, fondly…

I miss the early days of the Great Plague. Chalk that up to yet another unpopular opinion, but I said what I said.

I miss the complete lack of traffic on the roads during those moments when I couldn’t avoid leaving the house. I miss the wide berth that everyone gave one another as they scurried through the grocery store, masked, and avoiding eye contact. I miss living my best life “safer at home.”

For a guy who has never had much use for people at the very best of times, those days were a glimpse into a world I never imagined could exist. Despite the lingering threat of sudden and unexpected death lurking on the breath of every passerby, my blood pressure went down and my general level of annoyance became almost entirely manageable. You might even be forgiven for taking the impression that I enjoyed it.

Look, I’m not sociopathic enough to advocate for having ongoing, continuous waves of deadly virus spreading around the world just to make me more comfortable, but it has painted me a picture of a world that could be. The lately departed plague season feels increasingly like a preview of the world I’d want to build myself once I get past the stage of life that involves trading time for money. After that it’s venture out for food, venture out for books, and to hell with most everything else.

I wouldn’t have suspected it at the time, but it seems that those first, uncertain days of the plague will be the ones I look back on most fondly.

The open bay petri dish…

Since March 2020, I’ve taken the reasonably prescribed precautions against the Great Plague. The regular advice to avoid crowded spaces didn’t feel particularly onerous to me. After all, avoiding crowded places has been my stock in trade for most of my adult life. It’s the kind of crisis situation I was built for.

When the bosses prioritize asses in seats, though, there’s no way to avoid the office, which is how you get a poor schlub coming in when he’s not feeling 100% and only hours later popping hot on a rapid test. That, of course, leads to the rest of us sitting around wondering if that brief conversation we had in the early hours of the morning was enough to swing us from exposed to infected. There’s no way to tell until something does or doesn’t happen, so we all just keep on keeping on.

I miss the front half of the plague experience. A positive test like this would have triggered an immediate quarantine and deep cleaning of the physical space. Anyone in the room would have been declared “exposed” and sent home to quarantine for as long as 14 days. Now guidance from the top is “Well, we just have to tell you that you may have been exposed” and an accompanying shrug.

Having been vaccinated and boosted, it’s reasonable to assume the plague isn’t going to be my cause of death. That shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s an experience I particularly want to have. Given the couple of underlying conditions I enjoy that don’t necessarily play nicely with the plague, it’s in my best interest to avoid it. If I catch this bug after two and a half years only because someone at echelons higher than reality is mired in the misguided notion that there’s anything at all I can do sitting at my desk in cubicle hell that I can’t do from my desk in the sunroom at home, there’s a fair chance I’ll absolutely lose my shit the very next time someone mentions some absolute tripe like “synergy, collaboration, and innovation” and the importance of having all the warm bodies back in an open bay petri dish.

Six months to bend the curve…

I managed to sneak away from the homestead the Saturday before last to do a bit of old school book shopping. It felt good to be back on the hunt through towering stacks of warehoused volumes. I knew I didn’t find anything wildly rare or collectable. That’s the trouble with buying from book people. Even those who trade at the wholesale level, despite the massive number of items on their shelves, know what they have… and have probably paid someone to cull the stock for things that shouldn’t be sold off at half of their marked price. Still, filling a basket or two at Second Story Books is among one of life’s great pleasures. Their stock is unpredictable, but I never fail to walk away with items that close gaps in my collection or that will simply be a pleasure to read.

The real shock to my bookish system came when it was time to catalog my new finds and get them loaded up onto the to be read shelves. Thanks to the requisite poking around on Goodreads and LibraryThing, I learned that I’ve fallen significantly off the pace. By the mid-point of 2020 and 2021, I’d read about 40 books. This year, I’ve notched only 25. Those were Plague Years, of course, so it’s possible I’m simply reverting to the mean now that the world has stumbled along being open for business again. In 2018 and ’19 I was reading about 60 books a year so I’m on track to get close to those numbers.

In any case, I’m feeling that I’ve inexplicably let myself get distracted and not at all happy with the meager numbers I’m putting up. The to be read stack grows far too quickly to let the number of books being read slip too far. The solution, I think, is obvious… I’m going to have to quit being a post-plague social butterfly and get back to the ease and comfort of the days of “safer at home.” I’ve got six months left to bend the curve in the right direction.

On movies, popcorn, and convenience…

I went to the movies this weekend. While at first blush there doesn’t feel like anything much unusual about that statement, it’s the first time I saw a movie in a theater since fall of 2019… so about two and a half years ago – in the Before Times. 

The good news is that the movie going experiences hasn’t changed much. The bad news, of course, is also that the movie going experience hasn’t changed much. The big pleather lay-z-boy style seating is a nice touch. The cost of popcorn and a Coke is still wildly overinflated. In a lot of ways it’s a bit of a time capsule to the way things used to be – something that hasn’t changed when so much else has done.

Watching Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen felt like a worthwhile reason to go back. It was exactly the flavor of 1980s nostalgia that I love. Plus, it’s every bit as good as (if not better, in some ways, than) the original. I guess you can do that when you’re not in a rush to turn out three or four sequels in as many years. In this case, 30+ years was not too long to wait.

Maybe the great and surprising disappointment was the popcorn. It was decidedly “flat.” That’s probably more my fault than Regal’s. I spent the two years of the Great Plague dialing in theater-style popcorn to exactly suit my taste. I’ve got it just about perfected now and as it turns out, my own concoction trumps the original inspiration rather than matching it exactly. I won’t claim to be too brokenhearted about that.

The other thing I learned from a two-year absence from the theater, is I really like being able to pause the film. I like being able to take a bathroom break, grab a refill, or top off the popcorn with a fresh batch without missing any of the story. The screen at home isn’t nearly as big, but the ease and convenience are hard to beat. I suspect that from here on out, seeing a movie in a building specifically designed for that activity is going to be reserved for those films that unabashedly take advantage of the full size of the screen. For everything else, the perks of watching from the comforts of my own living room outweigh whatever the theater provides.

Now is the spring of my discontent…

And so it begins. The two weeks a year when I’m forced to put on a brave face and transform into a cheerleader, a producer, a confessor, a circus roustabout, a tyrant, and a Chatty Cathy all in the name of passing along some information that could just as easily be set loose into the world by putting it on a website.

“But that misses the personal touch,” they cry. Knowing how much money you’re going to spend and how isn’t enough. We can’t do without the networking, the back slapping, the crab puffs, and little finger sandwiches. Though they’ll howl just as loudly when we go back to charging $700 a head instead of giving the information away for free online.

COVID and the Plague Era has given me a great respite in that at least the last few iterations of this great dog and pony show have been online. No vast sea of party tents, no outdoor equipment displays, no tickets, no 700 extra people jammed elbow to asshole in an auditorium to listen to presentations they could have heard just as easily from home. Next year might be back to “normal”… and that’s a threat that hangs over me like a goddamned death sentence.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Return to work. I’m starting to see emails pinging around discussing the plan to “return to work.” What they’re really talking about is bringing people back to the office, which, if you’ve been paying attention for the last two years is not synonymous with “returning to work.” I won’t speak for anyone else out there, but for me, work has been work and the geographic area I’ve occupied while doing it has made effectively no difference in the end product I’ve churned out. Frankly, calling it “return to work” strikes me as wildly insulting. If you’ve got a shitbird who doesn’t do anything in the office, you’ll have a shitbird who won’t do anything while working from home. If you find you have a bunch of people sitting around not doing a damned thing, what you’ve got is a management and supervision problem, not a “working from home” problem. Of course that’s not the kind of answer that will satisfy those who are obsessed with seeing asses in cubicles. 

2. Failure to plan. So, here’s the thing… If some tells you that they need Thing A by the 6th in order for Thing B to happen by the 12th, you really don’t have any standing to act surprised when you send Thing A in on the 12thand Thing B cannot simultaneously happen on that day. That’s not how this works. It’s not how it should work. When there have been monthly and then weekly warnings of the dates involved over the last six months, you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I’m not overwhelmed by feeling like I need to jump through my own ass. I feel like there’s a very telling old saying about your failure to plan not being an emergency for other people that’s very pertinent here.

3. Situational awareness. It costs absolutely nothing to pay attention to what’s going on around you. It’s a freebie and I have no idea why so many people insist on not taking advantage of it. In the approximately 14.4-mile round trip from home to physical therapy today, I had to take evasive action three times to avoid being driven into by another driver. There’s the truck speeding out of the shopping center aisle into my travel lane without looking, the car who decided to drive in through a one-way exit, and the minivan who was fully in my lane coming around a turn on a winding country road. The only reason I avoided two T-bones and a head on today as because I happened to have just a touch of goddamned awareness of anything happening outside my own vehicle. 

Comfortably at home…

Once upon a time, a three-day weekend invariably triggered a round of book hunting. I’d slip out to shops from the Philly burbs all the way down to Rockville.

Here in the 3rd plague year, I’m just having trouble finding that level of motivation. It’s not that I like the books any less, but that I hate people all the more. Obnoxious behavior in public seems to be the rule rather than the exception. It’s impossible to be out and avoid the Karens and Kens insisting common sense, decency, and decorum aren’t things they need. Decent behavior is, obviously, just for other people and not for these self-important twatwaffles.

Most of the mask “mandates,” to the extent that they were ever really enforced, have fallen, but good sense along with both my personal physician and RN sister still strongly recommend them. I’ll defer to their knowledge of best practices over taking unsolicited advice from the average American politician. I’ll also fully admit, though, hours of browsing for books fully masked with glasses periodically steamed over, frankly, just isn’t fun. 

I miss spending a good part of these long weekends picking through endless stacks. I’ve gotten out a few times since cold weather set in, but not often – and those trips rarely resulted in real treasures, even if they coughed up plenty of good basic reading material. As a former boss of mine was overly fond of saying, the juice simply isn’t worth the squeeze. 

Someday I’m sure it will be again, but just now I’m perfectly willing to rely on the internet to let me get my book fix either until the browsing environment gets more fun or I recover some lost motivation. It’s hard to say which of those things may happen first. Between the general fuckery of people as a group and the persistent low-level threat of plague, assuming it happens at all, could be out of order on its face. There are way worse ways to spend three days than comfortably at home.

The way we used to…

My Facebook feed has been flooded over the last week or two with “promoted” articles heralding the end of the Great Plague… notwithstanding the fact that the case rate remains 2/3 of what it was at the peak of the “second wave” in the fall of 2021. Admittedly, we’re well off the highs seen at the peak of the omicron variant, so that’s something. 

The articles I’ve seen have a few things in common. They all want everything to go “back to normal.” Like New York’s new mayor, they want to see office buildings filled to the rafters and busy hot dog carts on every corner. I get it. There’s intense pressure from politicians, landlords, and service sector business owners that have seen taxes and profits slashed over the last two years while information workers realized they can conduct business from anywhere.

Mayor Adams argues that by not working from the office, people are not going to the drycleaner, or restaurants, or spending money on other services. That feels like a bit of a specious argument. I’m still doing most of those things, but I’m doing them and spending that money in the community where I live rather than at places that are in geographic proximity to a random office building. It sounds a lot like the arguments of “back to work” proponents like Mayor Adams boil down to wanting to get back to treating office workers as cash cows versus presenting an argument for why it’s in any way beneficial for them to go back to spending 40 or more hours a week sitting in a cubicle. 

A million years ago when I was boss, I had team members all over the damned country. While I sat in west Tennessee, others sat in Texas, Illinois, and Virginia. For all practical purposes we were all “working remotely” from each other even if we happened to be working in an office building. The trick was, as long as the work got done, I didn’t care where they were physically sitting, or if they took a two-hour lunch, or if they knocked off early on a Friday afternoon. In my mind, it’s about the work, not about taking attendance like some kind of 19th century schoolmarm. 

When politicians, business leaders, and managers, tell me they want everything to be normal again, they’ve obviously got their own axe to grind. I suspect they’re missing the larger point, though. There’s a pretty large subset of high value employees who are no longer going to be satisfied schlepping into an office every day just because that’s what used to be normal… and management is going to run an unanticipated risk in trying to jam that recently squared peg back into a round hole. 

To put in another way, there’s no reason to expect “normal again” will mean we’ll do everything the way we used to. The sooner that sinks in, the better.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Rabbit holes. I’ve lived these last 43 years without ever needing much more than my regular checkups and copays. Despite that, I recently went down an internet rabbit hole reading about my insurance plan’s catastrophic health coverage and how to avoid out-of-network charges. I mean it’s nice to know and surely will come in useful someday, but there’s an hour or two of my week I’ll never get back.

2. Normal. Turn to any news provider and you’re bound to hear stories about “getting back to normal” or “the new normal” or “life after COIVD” or “life with COVID.” Most of those stories turn on the same general theme of wanting something analogous to pre-pandemic life to return as close to immediately as possible. Personally, I’m in no rush… although that could be because most of what I’ve enjoyed during the Great Plague are the same things I enjoyed doing back in the Before Times. The only significant change I’ll notice in getting to whatever “normal” looks like in the future will be inevitably spending more time commuting and sitting in a cubicle. If you’re waiting on me to do handsprings about that kind of normal, it’s like you don’t even know me.

3. Mud. I plant grass seed in the back yard every spring and fall. Jorah, on the other hand, spends all four seasons doing his best to turn everything inside the fence line into a sodden morass. It’s not entirely his fault. The soil is thin and surprisingly bad – mostly clay and rocky – so what grows there doesn’t grow thick. Being a deeply shaded area, at least a third of the green is moss rather than grass. The minute it’s disturbed, it opens a gash and mud ensues. I only bring it up because his favorite thing to do on rainy days is go every outside at full speed kicking up mud like some kind of teenaged bubba with a lifted F-150. That’s fine outside, I suppose, but it’s current on him, the floors, a couple of walls, and a bit of the ceiling from when he had a good shake.