Unfavorable odds…

Every time one of the big multi-state lottery jackpots gets up towards record territory, there’s a flurry of reports decrying the whole concept of state sanctioned gambling. I can tick most of the main arguments off by heart: They’re a tax on the poor; They’re a tax on those who don’t understand math; They divert funds that people should use for long term investment; They destroy the lives of the people who win. The list goes on and on and on and on… but you get the gist. 

Like most other activities in life, there’s no end to people who want to tell you why you shouldn’t do something and why you’re an idiot if you do. I tend to fall more in line with the “let people enjoy the things they enjoy” school of thought. Deciding to buy a $2 Mega Millions ticket, even if it’s your last $2, literally doesn’t hurt anyone else. You buying a ticket doesn’t impact me in any way. In this country we’re all free to bankrupt ourselves in any way we’d like. 

With no hand wringing at all, I’m happy to throw a few dollars every week at various games sponsored by the Maryland lottery. I’m putting plenty back to care for myself in old age, it’s not taking food out of anyone’s mouth, or a roof from over anyone’s head, so why the hell shouldn’t I take a flyer on fabulous wealth? It’s a happy dream that costs next to nothing.

Now if anyone needs me between now and Friday night, I’ll be over at Country Life getting a read on what English country homes are heading to market in the near future. A billion dollars probably won’t buy me a peerage, but it’s more than enough to live like it did.

Hunting season…

I haven’t done any proper book hunting since a few days after Christmas. Even that was more of an excuse to drop off a couple of boxes of my own discards than an effort to bring any more books into the house. The fact that I didn’t take more time then to pillage the shelves was probably the first, unheeded sign of the non-COVID sickness that struck me down a few days later. Since then, it’s been an occasional online order and walking through a couple of the local thrift shops while I was out to do other things. 

With our collective decision to operate as if the Great Plague is over, I suppose it’s time to get back into the habit. Subject to weather, my personal return to normal should be kicking off this weekend with a trip down to Anne Arundel County. The local historical association’s spring sale has been good to me over the last few years. The only thing that would keep me away is the steady rain currently in the forecast. My obsession with books doesn’t, as of yet, extend to waiting in line getting rained on for the opportunity to fight through low-roofs and narrow aisles of boxes for the opportunity to pick through items constantly being dripped on. A that point, better to spend an hour or two in a proper shop even at the risk of paying full retail. Either will likely scratch this particular itch until my annual birthday week buying binge.

On a related note, I’ve recently learned one of my favorite local used book sales – a fundraiser for Wilmington-based scholarship fund – has decided to throw in the towel. Until this spring it was held twice a year and consistently produced amazing books for pennies on the dollar of their retail value. According to their Facebook post, they’re facing a dearth of volunteers to keep the event running. It’s not surprising, but it is disappointing. I’ll miss their run-down storefront that opened into an Aladdin’s cave of the printed word once you got through the front door.

I’ve been feeding this addiction long enough to see a lot of these sales and shops disappear. It’s awfully rare to see one pop up unexpectedly. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing that happen. In a world that didn’t have bills to pay, retirement to plan for, and in which I was slightly more insane, I’d lease a storefront or maybe a little warehouse space and offer to buy any book that came through the door for $1 a box or a $10 charitable donation receipt – Yes, yes, I know, I’d have to set up a legitimate charitable organization before offering to take tax-deductible donations… and then run a store and deal with people. That last bit alone ensures it’ll never happen. I’d never have the patience for it.

All these books that use to end up at sales and shops are going somewhere… probably directly to the nearest landfill or pulp paper buyer… I’d just like to get a fraction of them to pass through my hands and skim off the cream before they meet their otherwise ignominious fate. Wonder Book has a brilliant business model for this, but I’m hard pressed to figure out how to do it without it being a full time “day job,” needing to hire a staff, or it becoming a 30-hour a week side hustle. 

It’s a dream – a happy dream to be sure – but still, just a dream. Better to keep focusing on my niche and let the sellers and scouts keep doing their thing. It’s going to be one of those ideas that festers, though. As the shops and sales continue to disappear from the landscape, finding the good stuff outside the full retail or auction environment is going to go from rare to impossible. If I come up with a way to game that system that doesn’t involve opening my own business, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Not bloody likely…

I think I’m suffering from annoyance fatigue. There are plenty of things this week that should have annoyed me to no end, but the most I’ve been able to muster is a shrugging dismissal. To quote a line from one of the great influential critiques of modernity, “It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.”

In a world increasingly determined to find new and interesting ways to agitate the living shit out of me, I find the number of things I feel compelled to dedicate any mental bandwidth to decreases every day. Where there used to be concern for global and national problems, my current span of concern regularly contracts to the point where it barely extends beyond the house, its residents, and whatever activities need done to meet our short- and longer-term goals.

Sure, that still leave plenty of space for being annoyed, but it’s as if somewhere in my head is a magical shrinking give-a-shit. At this rate, by mid-2035 maybe I’ll have reached some level of Zen consciousness where I truly don’t give a shit about anything and we can dispense with What Annoys Jeff this Week forever.  

That’s not bloody likely, of course, but it’s a happy dream.

Dream sequence…

I pulled my Tundra into one of the three open parking spaces in front of Cambridge Hall, careful not to tap the semi-circular wall where we use to spend inordinate amounts of time sitting around, smoking and joking. It was a good spot. In fair weather the wall was perfect height for lazing about. In foul weather it was low enough to jump so we could hunker down in the lee of the building with enough overhang to stay out of worst of the wind, rain, or snow. Sometimes we were avoiding all three. It’s Frostburg after all and that particular trifecta wasn’t exactly rare. That was the late 1990’s, of course. I’m sure there’s no one smoking or joking there now. Both of those things are probably verboten acts, practically crimes against higher education in the modern era. But it’s my dream, and my memory.

It was dark. I was stopping, sometime during winter, to pick up clean clothes and a dry pair of shoes. The building itself was fully lit, welcoming, but seemed deserted. The lobby was twice the size as the one I walked through every day for four semesters. It was “modernized,” glass and chrome, with six new elevator bays. There was even a first floor lounge helpfully labeled the “Strategy Bar.” I knew it must be a dream, not because of the reconstructed building, but because the university would surely have named it something more exotic even if it was just a bar – perhaps the Gretchen R. Fussbucket Memorial Lounge and Center for Intra-Gender Socio-Economic Cultural Studies and Glassblowing at Cambridge Hall.

*flash forward*

As I exited the elevator (dream me didn’t see the need for a walking tour of 5th floor south side), I noticed two people loitering near the oddly named lounge, not quite out of my eye-line. A guy and a girl. Youngish, probably college age.  They were trying to be discrete, but failing. 

“You’re Jeff,” the guy said. It was more a question than a statement.

I nodded.

“Kate… Kathryn… She said we might meet you here… that you stop by sometimes.” The girl spoke from behind a shield of hair falling over her eyes

“Kate Reilly sent you? To find me?” I was incredulous as they invoked that name from the distant past. They nodded in unison, but didn’t speak.

“It must be important, then. Let’s go.” I pulled my collar up, bracing against the inevitable cold wind outside… and then I was awake.

Some people create wild fantasy worlds in their dreams. Me? Even asleep, I craft my world from the comfortable history of the last century.

Dreaming the vampire slayer…

If you’ve known me for any time at all, you’ll know I have a deep and abiding love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I shouldn’t be surprised that Buffy and the whole Scooby Gang eventually found their way into my subconscious.

I don’t remember much in the way of details. The setting was distinctly southern California, though the sun-walking vamps made for some dissonance even in my dreamscape.  Buffy was there, and Giles, Willow, Zander, and Cordy. Spike and Dru were the baddies, but not the baddies. 

The only thing I remember with clarity is I was dumbass civilian who decided to take a swing at the Big Bad. In a standard fight scene trope, he caught my fist on the fly and squeezed until I could feel the joints starting to strain and pop… and then he dusted. Thanks Buffy.

That’s where I woke up, with my hand jammed uncomfortable underneath me, bearing my not insignificant weight, clinched into a fist, and hurting like nobody’s business. 

Apparently, my brain generated Buffy and the Scoobies to let me know I needed to roll over. So I’ve got that going for me, which I guess is nice. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The bridge into North East, Maryland. It might be a mild exaggeration, but it feels like various companies have been working on the bridge that provides the only direct access into “downtown” North East for about 87 years. The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall, spanning the width of Britain in about 14 years. The Empire State Building took one year and 45 days to build. But the state and the county and the original contractor who got his ass fired off the project and everyone else wants to cry the blues that it’s “only” taken five years so far to replace a fairly straightforward two lane bridge the crosses over a railroad track. What we have to show for that five years of effort is the northbound lane – and that hasn’t even been opened for traffic yet. When I’m out on the weekends and run into people, I often wonder how they function in the day-to-day world. I’m increasingly convinced that they actually don’t.

2. This is probably too much information, so if you’re feeling overly sensitive, it may be best to skip on to the third weekly annoyance. You see, recently at work I hurt my back standing up after taking a shit. It was showing marked improvement and I really thought it was well on the way to being serviceable again… but I know the inability straighten my back completely for those few minutes means it’s going to be twitchy for at least another week or two. That’s ok. It’s not like I have a list of spring yard work tasks that need to be accomplished anytime soon. It seems that this is your 40s.

3. I have a dream. I dreamt the lottery pool I participate in won the Cash For Life jackpot. I sprung up from that dream fully awake with the shit-eatingist of shit eating grins on my face. You can well imagine the disappointment on really waking up and realizing that a) the pool doesn’t play Cash for Life; b) It wasn’t even the correct night for the Cash for Life drawing and; c) it was all my brain’s little way of saying “fuck you very much.”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I’m not making things up. If I tell you there’s a new requirement, it’s not because I went home the night before and dreamed up some new and complicated way to screw with your universe. In each and every case I’m passing along decisions made by those at echelons higher than reality. You are, of course, perfectly free to ignore me. However, when a shitstorm rains down on your head it won’t be because I didn’t warn you.

2. Dreaming in PowerPoint. There comes a point in this one particular project I work on every year when the dream shows up. It’s never quite the same dream, but it always deals with PowerPoint in some way. The dream showed up Tuesday night. Like the three ghosts warning Scrooge of his sure path to hellfire and damnation, my PowerPoint dream has arrived and it’s a sure as anything warning that I’m heading at speed in the general direction of a breakdown – or at least a profound hissy fit. Possibly both.

3. Everything else. Frankly over the next 22 or so days it would probably just be easier to talk about whatever happened during the week that hasn’t annoyed me. There’s a far better than usual chance if I’m awake and not at the house I’m just barely restrain a scowl, eye-roll, or sarcastic comment. Occasionally the temptation will be so great that all three happen simultaneously. The only appreciable bright point is that on day 23 onward life should get considerably less rage inducing.

What Chicken-Fueled Dreams May Come…

I’m going to have to stop eating chicken. Every time I’ve had chicken for dinner in the last six months I’ve had these bizarrely realistic dreams. Realistic in that they feature almost entirely people that I know in the real world and bizarre in that the situations range from mildly entertaining to something just shy of horrifying.

Last night’s edition of What Chicken-Fueled Dreams May Come featured a long time friend of mine standing high on a rock outcropping overlooking a ten story building that disappeared into the darkness on either end of the dream frame. Flicking her wrist, snarling “fuck them,” the building collapsed in on itself, bursting into flame from the center out. The wind swirled in, feeding the growing conflagration. Her face danced, colored alternately in darkness in bright flicking oranges and yellows, while I stood gape jawed staring at the destruction.

I turn, my own fury rising, shouting over the now howling wind, “What did you do? What the fuck did you…”

Then she kissed me. Not the soft peck of a years long friend, but more a full body porn star quality kiss. Sure, I just dream-watched one of my oldest friends lay waste to everything in my field of view, but that part at least didn’t suck so much.

Then I woke up, safe in my own bed, and not watching the world around me collapse into flame and chaos.

Living in my head is awfully strange sometimes… but obviously chicken turns it into a raging dumpster fire. Good times.

Dream theater of the absurd…

I know I dream at night, but I very rarely remember them in any kind of detail past the moment my eyes flicker open. Last night was indeed a rarity, because not only do I remember that I dreamed, but there seem to have been two of them back to back. It’s practically unprecedented.

In the first dream I found myself at the alter. That would be nightmare enough in my waking moments. I don’t remember features, but I can tell you that my mind conjured up a tiny brunette for the scenario. The pipe organ thundered through some hymn or another, the padre said a few words, and all the while the slight brunette to my left seemed to develop a magical growing stomach. Within minutes she was very, very pregnant. Dream Jeff gulped hard and I woke up in a cold sweat having scattered the bed sheets and pillows in every direction. It was 12:34 AM.

I reordered the bed and found a cool drink before settling myself back under the covers. Sleep came quickly. I immediately recognized the place where my subconscious carried me. It was on Main Street of the small town in the west of Maryland where I went to college. What in the real world had been one of the most dive-y of bars was transformed in my dream landscape into a banqueting hall in the original sense of the term. Family and friends past and current were assembled, the table gleamed with silver, and polished wood everywhere glowed by candlelight. This was formal dining, white tie and tails.

The doors to this gothic revival gem of a dining hall slammed open with a thud. Conversation halted as another group pours into the room – they too were dressed for the occasion. In the lead was a tall redhead, someone who looked vaguely familiar but far too tall to be anyone I know from the real world. She was striking – in that tall Jessica Rabbit kind of way. She was also, like her predecessor from earlier in the evening, very pregnant.

She pulls me aside and just before the alarm drug me into the waking world, in my dream theater I mumble what proved to me my only spoken line of the night: Just give me a minute, I’ll figure this out.

Byron it’s not, but I’m at least a little impressed that even in a dream state the old brain box was trying to logic its way through the situation. That’s something I guess.

A little bit of insight into what terrorizes us in the deepest reaches of our subconscious is a healthy thing, I think. That my deepest fears stem from something so commonplace isn’t a particular surprise. People fear spiders, swimming pools, and germs and those are all perfectly normal parts of everyday life too. All things considered, though, if I could go ahead and get back to not remembering any of my nightmares in the morning that would be great.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. What dreams may come. I don’t know what I spent the night dreaming about. I very rarely remember dreams. What I can tell you is whatever it was it left me well and truly annoyed. I can only surmise from the result that it somehow involved people being stupid. That hardly seems insightful but I can’t think of anything else that leaves me with such a general feeling of annoyance and disappointment in the universe.

2. Christmas. Go ahead and call me Grinch, Scrooge, Krampus, whatever, but it’s three days before Christmas and I’m just not feeling it this year. Maybe it’s because I’ve usually already started my Christmas vacation by this point in the week. Maybe it’s because it was 50 degrees today. Maybe it’s because I want to bludgeon the next person who whistles past my cubicle wearing an ugly Christmas sweater to death with my keyboard. I might not be ready for Christmas this year, but I’m damn good and ready for this eight-day weekend… and that’s not nothing.

3. Backup. I’ve been saying for months now that I needed someone to at least get familiar with some of the things I’m working on. I don’t need someone to do the work, just someone who can speak intelligently about it if I happen to get hit by a bus, win the lottery, or, you know, take a few days off. Now that the latter scenario is upon is, let’s not act like anyone is surprised it’s happening. The decision that every project was going to have a single point of failure was made at echelons far above mine and despite all evidence to the contrary, decisions have consequences. The consequence here is that while I’m gone, no one is going to be around to answer whatever questions happen to come up. Yes, it means there will be an unmitigated shitshow when I get back. I may not be able to avoid those problems, but I can sure as hell defer them and for the time being that’s good enough.