It’s been a minute since the last time I spent a day glued to NOAA weather briefings, memorizing Department of Transportation route plans, and casting a professional eye towards America’s excess bottled water and ice production and storage capacity. It was a gig that required finding ways to say yes as often as possible, but also offering definitive “no’s” when there was no way to get there from here. I mostly enjoyed the work… and I was good at it.
On days when the storm flags are up, I almost miss it. Working hurricanes was one of the few times in my career I could draw a straight line between the work and the outcome. It was more than editing version 26 of the next set of PowerPoint slides. Getting personnel and supplies marshaled and delivered to the people and places where they were needed was possibly the only time in my long career I’ve felt like I was legitimately accomplishing something.
Now, the TV screens are flickering between cabinet secretaries resigning under fire and the arrival of what should be a routine, if not trivial, tropical storm along the Gulf Coast. With unseasonably high water on the Mississippi, a few feet of storm surge, and the potential to drop ten or more inches of rain in a few hours, Barry isn’t an unusual storm… but he does does arrive bring an unusual confluence of factors that probably don’t bode well for New Orleans and southern Louisiana.
My armchair professional best guess is that the levees will hold this time, but the bigger factor will be the city’s pump capacity. Not even the vaunted pumps installed after Karina are sized to de-water that much sustained rainfall over a period of hours.
I know tonight over at 500 C Street, SW there’s a small army of FEMA personnel and an array of planners from the federal partner agencies making educated guesses on what’s needed, when it needs to get there, and how to deliver it effectively. On days like this, I miss the urgency of that kind of work… but lord, I don’t miss the 16 hour days.
People will spend a lot of time telling you about the trials and tribulations of life with a new puppy. Poke around Google and the internet is littered with Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to the foibles of puppy ownership.
You’ve got to dig a little deeper to find the blogs and message boards that talk about what it’s like to live with an elderly or ailing dog. It’s not the wide-eyed adorableness and puppy breath side of having pets. It’s the astronomical vet bills, fists full of medications, and a body slowly wearing out even when the spirit is still more than willing.
Old pets are heartbreaking not just because we can sense that our time together is growing short, but also because their compressed life cycle points us inexorably towards our own fate at some point in the future. It’s one of the reasons I’m always a little bit perplexed by people who give up and give away their old pets. They have no sense of the broader context of life.
My dear sweet Maggie had a bad morning today. After years of perfect behavior, I knew she was embarrassed and upset. I could read it all over her face – and especially in her eyes. Climbing out of bed to scrub the bedroom carpet wasn’t exactly on my list of things to do today, but looking at those cloudy brown eyes I couldn’t even bring myself to scold her. Going on 11 years together she’s earned the benefit of a few hundred doubts.
Maybe this morning was a one off. Maybe it’s a warning sign of things to come. I’m trying not to let the first thoughts of my sleep addled brain read too much into it. I hope beyond measure this isn’t something that will become the new normal… but if it does, we’ll cope. Maggie is the grand dame of the family I got to pick for myself. She’s entitled to expect that level of effort in her golden years.
I wrote most of this before seeing the bloody urine this evening that set my alarm bells clanging – and before I took off to the local emergency vet to have my girl checked over. Maybe I’m paranoid or at least a bit too cautious. I’ve also seen how fast things can go bad and when warning signs start stacking up, it’s not the moment to prioritize time or money.
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.
1. “Emergencies”. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating. The way people throw around the work “emergency” in the contemporary office is basically laughable. No one is bleeding. No one is about to start bleeding. The word you’re probably looking for most often is “embarrassing” as in you’re about to be embarrassed due to something you did, were supposed to do, forgot about doing. Alternately, you might be about to get blasted because of poor decision making skills. In any case, those things might represent a legitimate personal emergency to you, but to the rest of us it’s really just a shrug and a so what. Let’s try to leave the talk of “emergencies” to the times when there really are barbarians at the gate or brass hitting the floor, ok?
2. County taxes. The proposed Cecil County budget for FY18 includes increases in both the real property and income taxes. It’s made all the more noxious because it was proposed by a Republican county executive who ran less than a year ago on a platform of fiscal accountability and no tax increases. I know, lying politician isn’t exactly breaking news. Still, though, I’m left to wonder why at some point it isn’t perfectly acceptable to say that we have X number of dollars to spend against Y number of services and when there’s no additional revenue for new or existing services, some things need to be cut. The politicians first response is always to borrow or tax their way into all the revenue they need instead of being required to live by an actual budget in which they can’t always purchase all the goods and services they’d like to have. In the end the bastards always end up with their hand just a little deeper in our pocket. I suppose that’s just what you get when every level of government desperately wants to buy the love and affection of the voters and seeks ways to be all things to all people.
3. Keeping my head in the game. I’m probably expending at least as much energy just trying to keep my head in the game as I am actually doing any productive work. That doesn’t feel like something that’s going to be sustainable over the long term. It’s easier some days than others, but for the most part by the time mid-afternoon rolls around I’m dumping every bit of available effort into just staying awake and some delusory productive activities. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t want to read some of the written products that fly off my desk after 2PM. Unless I absolutely can’t avoid it, I hold them as drafts and then clean them up the next morning when I’m still relatively fresh. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.
So it’s Thursday and by now you’re surely wondering what annoys Jeff this week. From a host of things, here are the three that made the final cut this time around:
1. Religious zealots. Every religion since the dawn of time has been based on what it’s followers (or creators) considered some kind of “revealed truth” about the universe and our place in it… and mostly, the central tenant of most major religions is the same: Try not to be a doucebag. The problem arises when people make an addendum to this basic philosophy and you end up with something more like: Don’t be a douchebag, unless the person you’re acting like a douchebag towards doesn’t subscribe to every particular detail of your system of beliefs. I’m not known as the most laid back guy in the world, but at the end of the day, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Jesus, Vishnu, Buddha, and Mohammed all seem to agree on that point. So yeah, don’t be a douchebag zealot, regardless of who hears your prayers.
2. First world problems. I don’t need a new iPhone. I definitely don’t need a $600 new iPhone. I’m not even particularly impressed with the incremental design improvements the leaks have shown this time around. And yet somehow despite those three pieces of evidence to the contrary, I really, really want to order the new iPhone when it’s launched next week. Not even my best mental gymnastics can manage to transform this from a “want” into a “need.” And lord knows I’ve tried. That a slightly lengthened form factor, a marginally larger screen, and a couple of as yet unknown new bells and whistles can cause me this much gnashing of teeth is an impressive tribute to the power of marketing… and a slightly disturbing testament to my priorities.
3. It’s not the end of the world. I’m constantly amazed at people’s misguided assessment of their importance in the grand scheme of things. Nothing makes me want to bang my head against the keyboard more than people who spend all day lost in a haze of everything they do being an emergency. Things worked just fine before we showed up and unless you’re actually the next Einstein of your field, they’re keep going along in more or less the same direction long after we’re all singing with the choir invisible. The sooner you come to grips with that fact, the less bothersome these nominal “emergencies” become.
I’ve said it before, but this seems like the perfect opportunity to reiterate that I love both my dogs beyond any sense of reason or logic. That’s the only reason I can think of that would have had me at the emergency vet at 1:00 in the morning on a Sunday with a Bulldog that wouldn’t stop throwing up even when there were no cookies left to hurl. I’m not a fancy big city vet, but I do know that no well animal blows chunks nine times in three hours. I’m enough of a diagnostician to know that gums are supposed to be pink and not gray. And of course being paranoid as I am, that let to an early morning visit to the closest emergency vet clinic. I’ll say up front that I’m glad they were open and I didn’t have to wait until Monday to have him seen by someone.
The good news is that after a metric crapload of scans, samples, and IV meds, my boy seems to be holding his own and I should be able to bring him home tonight. The down side, of course, is that the estimated bill for treatment and an overnight stay is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1500. Seriously. $1500. If that’s what it costs to fix him up, fine, but in the back of my head I can’t quite shake the thought that I’ve just spent 3/4 the cost of a new bulldog… or put another way, as much as it would have cost to adopt ten dogs from the pound. You can’t exactly put a price on the love and loyalty of a good dog, but we’re definitely getting into the neighborhood where one might start having second thoughts.
So yeah, consider this official notice that Christmas is cancelled this year. Gift money has been sent directly to VCA Animal Hospital. I won’t feel nearly as bad about dropping the cash when he’s back here snoring in the living room, but at the moment it’s feeling like a kick in the gut. In case anyone is wondering, when the vet called with an update at 9:00 this morning, the diagnosis was “yeah, we think he ate something that disagreed with his system.” I’m glad it wasn’t the intestinal blockage I was worried about, but still that’s a damned pricy upset stomach. Better safe than sorry. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
So you guys may have seen that the media are making a big stink about the impending hurricane of doom that will be sure to devastate the East Coast over the weekend. Judging from the current models and from watching these things semi-professionally for the better part of the last ten years, I’m more inclined to think that eastern Maryland will end up getting a little soggy on Sunday and maybe have a few branches blown around if things “get bad.” That said, there’s always the off chance that this thing doglegs left and shoves a wall of water directly up the Chesapeake. That would fall directly in the category of Situation Other than Good. With the track edging east with every model run, that unhappy outcome seems less and less likely.
What seems more likely at this point is that the regional weather personalities and newscasters are going to whip the local indigenous population into frenzy by close of business Friday regardless of what the reality looks like. What this means is that every idiot with a pickup truck, a car, or a moped is going to come out of the woodwork and descend on Walmart, Costco, and every grocery store within driving distance and buy six gallons of milk, two dozen eggs, five loaves of Wonder bread, and a metric ton of toilet paper. I ordinarily don’t begrudge anyone their pre-apocalyptic stockpile, except in this case their panic is going to conflict with my normal grocery shopping schedule.
In the event that this was an actual emergency, I’d be the first to institute the no harm, no foul rule, but in the case of purely fictitious disaster, I’m less inclined to give stupid people the benefit of the doubt. My inclination at the moment is to go ahead and make due this weekend by drawing down my own fairly impressive stockpile. Sadly, like Christmas shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, I just don’t know if I can stay away from the spectacle of so many asshats gathered in so few places. I know I shouldn’t, but I might not be able to keep myself from going to watch the spectacle first hand.