Back when I was a young, still wet behind the years bureaucrat, I thought I wanted to be a professional emergency manager. You may remember me from such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina, when I spent two months learning more about the bottled water, ice, and refrigerated trucking industry than is strictly reasonable.
You might be wondering what that has to do with what I learned this week… Well, it’s mostly that it seems so very little has changed in that world. Reports will never be on time. No one will read them when they are published. And the numbers being reported will never ever match.
I also learned that emergency management is probably a young man’s game. Things I once would have savored now regularly leave me trying to hold back a disgusted cry of “What is this fuckery?” and “What ignorant sonofabitch thought this was a good idea?”
Maybe that last part hasn’t really changed so much, though. I vaguely remember a whole lot of eye rolling during Katrina too.
I had three things all laid out for today. But all three of them combined don’t hold a candle to the one big thing that has been absolutely crazymaking this week… and that’s waiting until the last fucking minute to decide to pay attention to the onrushing train bearing down on you.
It’s not that I have a philosophical problem with needing to do things at the last minutes in and of itself. Sometimes a crisis really is a crisis, something that arrived by surprise and was otherwise unavoidable. However, what we here treat as a crisis is almost always something that we’ve seen coming for months, but have elected to ignore until it shows up on the front stoop like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving. That is to say that nearly all of the chaos brought on by suddenly engaging at the last minute is completely self inflicted.
If there’s nothing else I’ve learned in my 16+ years here in the heart of the Great American Bureaucracy it’s that no amount of planning I can do that will offset late-in-the-cycle visits from the Executive Good Idea Fairy. No amount of anticipating needs, or prep work, or casting entrails will ever get you ready for things that should have been mentioned three months ago but show up with less than three weeks to go.
So Wednesday has now come and mostly gone. I could say that something significant happened – that there was some high or low point that distinguished the day. I could say that, but I won’t. That’s mostly because when you stack today up against every other it was probably within spitting distance of perfectly average.
I should probably be celebrating that it wasn’t a crisis every 37 minutes, but the best I can manage is a solid “meh.” Believe me when I tell you that there is no one happier that the wheels didn’t happen to come flying off today than I am. I’m also realist enough to know that just because today was perfectly average and my lunch was not eaten by some unplanned and intensely problematical event, there’s no reason to believe that tomorrow will be more of the same.
Living day to day in a place that manages by whatever happens to be the crisis of the hour, seems to breed a cynicism that’s deep and probably fundamentally unhealthy. It leads the average days to feel like bad ones and the good ones – those days when you walk away feeling like you’ve accomplished something in spite of the system become almost mystically non-existent. They’re spread so far apart that they couldn’t possibly be real, but rather just a figment of our collective imagination.
It was a perfectly average day and should probably be glad of that… but in the back of my mind I’m stuck wondering what fresh hell is gaining strength unseen somewhere in the Land of Tomorrow.
As it turns out, a failure to prepare on your part actually does constitute a crisis in my part. So fucking pissed off that I’m pretty sure I can actually see my blood pressure.
1. Clowns. Ok, some people have irrational fear of clowns. Got it. But I’m not entirely sure why a handful of them standing along the roadside is being covered as a national crisis. I don’t see how they’re substantively any different than anyone else just milling around. Like those other non-clown idlers, as long as they’re not standing in my back yard or at my door, I’m not sure why I should care. Here in a few weeks millions of otherwise reasonable adults are going to get dressed up for Halloween and turn themselves loose on our highways and neighborhood streets. Just because the exploding population of “evil clowns” doesn’t do it under cover of a sanctioned holiday makes very little difference in my mind.
2. The level of discourse. I generally tend to shy away from political discussion on social media. I make an occasional post that reflects my opinion and leave it be. There are a few people however, with whom I can manage to have an actual discussion without turning on one another like slobbering idiots. Today I had one of those discussions with someone who I both respect and like very much as a person. We’re miles apart on many of the big issues of the day. When it comes to politics I think she’s a bleeding heart socialist do-gooder and she probably think’s I’m a hard hearted gun-toting redneck. We still find a way to talk. We’re still friends after all these years. That’s what the discourse in this country should look like. But it doesn’t. And that’s annoying as hell.
3. Seven millions of people. Seven million is the current estimate of people who could be without power as a result of Hurricane Matthew dragging himself up the East Coast. That’s well over and above the 2 million people who have been ordered to evacuate their homes. I won’t get into a discussion about the virtue of following evacuation orders, because frankly I’m not at all sure I’d be willing to just walk away from home and hope for the best under the same circumstances. That said, I seems very unlikely that there are seven million people out there well prepared for what’s coming for them. It’s going to be a rough couple of days… and for some of them a long couple of weeks or months if we have to figure out how to turn the east coast power grid back on.
1. Someone I’ve never met. The human mind is a curious thing. I’ve been given a lot of thought to how amazing it is that I can feel such visceral dislike towards someone I’ve never met, talked to, or interacted with in any way. In all likelihood I wouldn’t recognized them if we passed on the street. But in my heart of hearts I’ve wished all manner of misfortune to come crashing down on their head… purely because of circumstances. I’m utterly ambivalent about most things, but this is just one of those times where every nerve seems to get aggravated. Every now and then, though, maybe you need a little malice in your heart just to know you’re alive. I’m not sure if that makes me a bad human being or just a normal one.
2. Lack of planning. When you’ve been told that shit’s going to get real but choose to ignore that reality rather than committing resources against it, you shouldn’t be surprised or think it’s a crisis when shit actually gets real. I’ll do what I can with the time and resources I’m given, but you can damned good and well know that the days of beating myself bloody from the effort of filling a five pound bag with ten pounds of work are a long way gone and they’re never coming back.
3. Glasses. I was sitting at my desk minding my own business when the bridge of my 6 month old glasses frame just gave up. I’m not exactly hard on glasses. They go on my face at the beginning of the day and then just sit there until it’s lights out. Should be a pretty stress free existence. But hey, at least the shop where I got them can get me replacement frames under warranty in “probably 8 or 9 days.” They did offer to tape up my old frames if I wanted them to. I declined politely while resisting the temptation to cleanse their cute little shop with the purifying goodness of fire.
1. Greece. What’s the problem? You ginned up a mountain of bills and now suddenly don’t want to pay because it’s too hard. It’s unfair. The big countries are picking on you. God it sounds so familiar – like exactly what happened when so many people in this country found themselves in homes they couldn’t afford “through no fault of their own.” Except see, there is fault. There is definite fault when you spend other people’s money without any reasonably expectation of ever being able to pay it back. Putting your financial house in order is painful. It sucks. All the free stuff people thought they were entitled too is suddenly not free – or not there because you can’t afford it. And the only way the economy keeps on working is if people who loan money can expect to get that money back. It’s a loan, not a gift after all. I feel ever more strongly that the US is headed in a similar direction to our Greek friends. $18 Trillion in loans aren’t going to pay back themselves – and they’re certainly not going to get paid while we continue to add more debt to the pile. If Greece’s gnashing of teeth is any indicator of the howl that will go up when the US realizes we can’t afford to be all things to all people, we’re in for one hell of a rough ride.
2. Negotiating with terrorists. According to the US government it’s now OK for our fellow citizens to negotiate with terrorists. While I won’t pretend to imagine the nightmare that is having a family member or loved one in the hands of ISIS, I can tell you that I wouldn’t want my family to be responsible for providing aid and comfort to the enemy in the form of a substantial cash donation on my behalf. What I would like, on the other hand, is for the armored fist of the most powerful nation in the world to come crashing through the terrorist’s front door in an effort to a)rescue me and b) eradicate the terrorists who believe kidnapping an American citizen will end well for them. If Option A and Option B are mutually exclusive, please feel free to exercise Option B with as much lethality as necessary to get the job done. And then drop a few more 1000-pound bombs just to stir up the dust and make the rubble bounce a bit for good measure.
3. The joys of home ownership. Don’t get me wrong, I love the house. It crossed off just about every feature I had on my list. Having been in it now for three months, though, some of its warts are showing… and by warts I’m referring to the perpetually moist basement / piss poor foundation grading and drainage / sieve-like window well combination that I’ve been fighting since spring time turned into Maryland’s version monsoon season. Between the landscape contractors looking at fixes to my own modest efforts at improving the around-the-house drainage situation trying to get a grip on the underside of this not so old house has become something of a second job. Now I know it’s mostly just a function of sealing up the window well, correcting the drainage, and adding on a secondary source of electricity to keep the pumps chugging along… but just now, with another couple of days of rain in the forecast, my patience – something never know to be in vast supply – is wearing even more thin than usual.