That was predictable…

Back at the beginning of the Great Plague many animal shelters and rescues couldn’t meet the demand of people wanting to bring a dog, cart, or other small animal into their homes. That’s a great problem to have if you’re in the business of trying to get animals off the street or out of hoarding situations. Even as it was happening, I imagined what the inevitable downstream consequences would look like. Based on a couple of online reports I’ve read, we have now arrived “downstream.”

The animals adopted en mass over the last few years are now being abandoned to shelters at growing rate. It was perfectly predictable if you operate from the assumption that human beings are the literal worst. Sure, people will want to blame going back to their in-person jobs and not having time. Others will blame inflation. Others will dream up whatever excuse allows them to sleep better at night after abandoning a creature that was entirely dependent on them for food, shelter, and protection.

Look, no one knows better than I do that situations change. Eleven years ago, I was hurtling towards Maryland one day ahead of my belongings with two dogs in the back seat and no housing locked in because most landlords didn’t want to rent to someone with pets. It was damned stressful, but putting Maggie and Winston out on the side of the road was never going to be an option. If that meant I had to drive further or pay more, that was just the price of doing business. 

I’m damned if I’m going to be lectured by anyone about vet bills being expensive. More than once I had to take out a loan to pay for treatment I couldn’t afford out of pocket. Conservatively, I’d estimate I’ve paid out $30,000 in vet bills and medication over the last decade. That’s before even figuring in the day-to-day costs like food, toys, and treats. I didn’t always pay the bill with a song in my heart, but I found a way to get it done even if that mean sacrificing other things I wanted or needed. 

I struggle mightily to think of a situation where I’d hand over one of these animals or where I wouldn’t go without or change my living situation if that’s what it took to make sure I was able to look after them. Hell, if I drop dead tomorrow there are provisions in place to make sure Jorah, Hershel, and George can live out their days in comfort and get whatever care they need for the rest of their natural lives. That’s the unspoken compact I made with them when I brought them home.

If you’re the kind of person who would just dump them off on the local shelter or rescue, hope someone else will do the hard work for you, and then wash your hands of the whole sorry state of affairs, well then Jesus… I don’t even want to know you.

Aging and other inconveniences…

This week, I’ve had an appointment with my dermatologist and two physical therapy sessions. Next week I’m back at PT for two more rounds. The week after that it’s an appointment with my primary care doc. Three weeks from now it’s a follow-up with the dermatologist. Then, four weeks from now, I’ll turn 44. 

I’m not saying all those things are in any way related, but I can’t help but feel like there is, perhaps, a vague connection between the never-ending parade of doctor’s appointments and the increasing number of times I’ve been around the sun. None of these appointments are for critical care issues. Just a bevy of regular appointments, follow-ups, and treating some minor issues.

My inner historian can’t help but note that our caveman ancestors right up through our dark age predecessors had a life expectancy of about 35 years. From the Tudor era right through the dawn of the industrial age, expectancy creeped up to almost 40 years. Over the last 200 years, expectancy has raced upward into the low to middle 70s. So yeah, we’ve managed to eliminate or at least mostly control many of the common causes of early death – ranging from accidents to disease – but we’re still walking around in meat suits that evolved over millennia with the expectation to get no more than 35-40 years of service.

From that perspective, it’s not hard to understand why there are occasionally bits and bobs that aren’t working quite right or how waking up in the morning so often reveals a new and unexpected pain somewhere. Sitting here looking at 44, I’m well past my warrantee date and from here on out will apparently need increasingly skilled mechanics to keep the whole thing cobbled together and running tolerably well.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here reading reviews on hyperbaric chambers and researching gene therapy.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. As I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, I couldn’t help but observe one of my fellow patients, a full gown adult woman, who had kicked off her shoes and was “sitting” with her feet all over the damned chair. Maybe it shouldn’t have filled me with absolute burning rage, but it did. I don’t appear out in the world very often so I can’t exactly pinpoint when adult humans completely lost the thread about how to behave in public, but I’m sure this small incident was just a symptom of a broader problem both with the individual and with the wider society. I’m trying to imagine a situation where I’d be comfortable taking off my shoes and putting my feet all over God knows what. Maybe I should just be happy she managed to change out of her pajamas before she left her house. I’d question whether I could set the bar for decent behavior any lower, but we all know there’s obviously no lower limit to what people will do if they have no personal sense of dignity, decorum nor propriety and there are no obvious consequences for shit behavior.

2. Spam texts. My phone is currently being overrun with spam text messages. I’m getting a dozen or more of them a day. Is it the Russians trying to do a bit of fundraising? Don’t know. Don’t care. The first person to devise a way to get it to stop and keep it stopped should get $1 Billion tax free and the chance to sleep with the damned prom queen.

3. Gutters. I have them cleaned religiously every year. I have leaf guards installed. I’ve even had the pitch corrected on a couple of sections. Somehow, they continue to clog on what I can only call a regular basis. Two or three times a year I can count on water shooting off the roof and cascading down the outside of the house. It happens almost invariable after spending hundreds of dollars doing spring prep and therefore has the added perk of washing out some significant section of fresh mulch. Short of hiring someone to clean the gutters as often as some people hire people to clean their homes, I’m quickly running out of good ideas to mitigate this particular joy of home ownership.

Plugging away…

It’s Monday. More specifically it’s Monday before the long Independence Day weekend. By itself, that would be all the reason by brain needed to be vaguely uninterested and disengaged for the next four days. I’m sure that’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to say out loud. I should be filling this space with key words like “commitment,” “dedication,” and “focus,” in case any of the bosses stop by to have a look around. 

In my defense, though, it’s not just a response to a three-day weekend. Those are common enough – and while I surely appreciate them, they’re not usually enough to drive me completely to distraction. Tacking on an extra four vacation days to round out the second (and last) nine-day weekend of the summer, though, is a different animal altogether. 

The first half of the year – the good half with plague restrictions and social distance and encouragement to stay home – seems to have slipped by effortlessly. I don’t in any way imagine the back half of the year – the part where we’re supposed to get back to an approximation of “normal” from the before times – will be nearly as pleasant. That means whatever days off I scrape together from here on out are going to be carrying an increasingly heavier weight of expectations. 

So yeah, I’m just over here plugging away and trying to get through the week with as little fuss and headache as possible… and maybe looking out over the next six months and figuring out where I want to jam in the remaining 123 hours of vacation time to get the most bang for my buck. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Expectations. Facebook is filled with people who can’t wait for this year to be over. As if they expect someone to wave a magic wand and January 1, 2021 will magically recreate the world as it was in December 2019 – The before time.  2020 wasn’t great for most people. I get it.  Will 2021 be better? Maybe. Maybe not. It will simply be different. Spending weeks and months believing it’s going to be the pinnacle of good times, or even in any significant way different than today feels, in a word, delusional.

2. Republicans. Every idiot coming out of the woodwork to cry “fake news” or “stolen election” is systematically working to suppress the number of Republicans who come out to vote in the Georgia special election for two open Senate seats. If you’re a Republican and not laser focused on holding a firewall in the Senate, you’re letting your teenaged girl-like infatuation with one person get in the way of seeing the whole board. You can stan Donald Trump as much as you want, but he lost. Period. We’ve got a chance to save the Senate and through that body temper the more extreme legislation being pushed from the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party. If you’d rather litigate history than get suited up for that fight, honestly, I have no idea what you’re doing here other than wasting your damned time.

3. Pay freeze. I see that the White House has joined the Senate in calling for an FY21 pay freeze for federal employees. Trump, Obama, Republican, Democrat. Party doesn’t matter as they’re both happy to implement pay freezes during their tenures in office. In a year that saw a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 bailout and individual cash payments of up to $1,200 per person (if you didn’t have the audacity to sell a property in 2019 and be ranked in the 1% for the 15 minutes between closing the sale and paying off the mortgage), pleading governmental poverty feels like a stretch… especially when the original proposal called for an already austere 1% increase and the federal government (despite the virus) is on track to receive a near-record amount of tax payments.

Maybe it’s more of a “you” problem…

There are a few things that make my eyes roll harder than the idea that women are held back in the world because they have to cook, do laundry, and tend to the basic chores of running the household while implying that men somehow don’t need to do those same things.

For most of the last twenty years, of my own volition, I’ve been breadwinner, cook, bottle washer, launderer, housekeeper, maintenance technician, armorer, groundskeeper, appointment maker, shopper-in-chief, and animal care officer. Somehow, I’ve managed to do those things while exerting the effort to reach a wide array of personal and professional goals.

Whatever perceived “male privilege” with respect to basic household management some seem to think accrues due to having a penis hasn’t shed its divine grace on how we do things here at Fortress Jeff. If it had, I clearly wouldn’t be typing this with one ear cocked to hear the buzz of the dryer or while casting the occasional thought towards what to make for dinner tonight.

So, when someone tells me I don’t understand that “Nobody cooks for her…,” honest to God, I have no earthly idea what they’re talking about. As a fully formed human adult, I possess the ability to do all of those things for myself – and I do them, because I like to eat and wear clean clothes. Since setting up housekeeping on my own twenty years ago, I’ve never expected anyone to manage those things on my behalf.

If you’re not happy with whatever domestic arrangement you’ve created for yourself, I struggle to think of it as a structural issue rather than a “you” problem. To the best of my knowledge there’s no Constitutional amendment, executive order, or holy writ codifying that ovaries are required to operate the damned stove or to take something out of the washing machine.

We live and die with the choices we make and the things we decide are acceptable or not. If someone or something is standing between you and the life you think you should be living, the onus is on you to find a way over, under, or through them… or just post funny, funny memes on the internet.

That probably works too. 

Lowest common denominator…

I’ll admit it. I’m vaguely fascinated by news reports of some of the fringe actors in the modern “protest” movement – particularly the ones that define themselves as being “resolutely anti-capitalist.”

The Cold War kid in me has definite feelings about that. 

The middle aged adult me, the one with a vested retirement and decades of proven growth a tax advantaged savings account, has big feelings about it.

Far from seeing capitalism as the disease, I’ve always viewed it as the cure, though it’s far from a magic pill. I took my lumps back in 2008 just like everyone else – maybe a little more because I was determined to make good on my debts rather than just walking away from them or expecting someone else to foot the bill. Even after taking those lumps, though, I’m miles ahead of where I would have been had I opted out of capitalism to chase a Marxist pipe dream. Color me an enemy of the state for that, I guess. 

I’ve long mistrusted people as individuals – and have had virtually no trust at all of large groups of them who are convinced beyond reason that they have uncovered the One True Way. I don’t have the time or energy to do anything with fanatics other than mock them mercilessly. Life experience tells me that expecting everyone around the globe to link arms, sing happy songs, and do everything out of the goodness of their collective hearts is going to do not much more than shatter the hopes and dreams of a bunch of idealistic youngsters when the realize the world truly doesn’t give two shits about them or whatever cloud castle they’re trying to build. 

The history of our species is a long list of violence and blood-letting. If we pull back the curtain far enough on this wave of “anti-capitalists,” I’d speculate what we’ll find is just another group of elites who are inching along what they’ve identified as a newly feasible path towards gathering up the reins of power into their own hands. 

Me? I prefer the market-based approach. It doesn’t pretend to be kinder and gentler – but a system that rewards personal initiative and risk seems infinitely preferable to one that wants to smash everyone into the mold of lowest common denominator “equality.” 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Handholding. If you’re a “professional” well into middle age and need constant hand holding and reassurance, perhaps you’ve got into the wrong career field. I don’t have the time or inclination to sooth your forehead with a cool rag and assure you that everything really will be alright. You might be the most important player in your own drama, but I can promise you’re not carrying enough rank or influence to convince me to give much of a shit before I write you off as a whiny sonofabitch and consign your future efforts to the ever growing file of received, but unread email.

2. $15 an hour. Want $15 an hour, you can start by doing a good job to begin with. The last three times I’ve been through a particular fast food joint they’ve gotten the order wrong – wrong size, wrong item, and then the last time, the whole order, fries included, dumped loose into the bag. I went in to complain about that last one. The manager looked like she couldn’t be bothered, her blank stare clearly not comprehending why I wasn’t satisfied. Pay rates should, in part, reflect the level of difficulty of the job and the quality with which it is performed. Why anyone expects a 100% raise for what seems to be an increasingly abysmal level of service is well and truly beyond me. Maybe think about earning that raise, you’d be amazed how good it feels to have a little self respect instead of getting something for nothing.

3. Interest rates. Mortgage interest rates are bumping along towards or at historic lows. They currently make the first mortgage I got 20+ years ago look almost usurious by comparison. The problem is mostly that the rates are low enough now that it’s starting to tempt me towards refinancing the mortgage on the ol’ homestead. Without fully running the numbers, I’ve got to think there are a few dollars to be saved if I can drop my rate a couple quarters of a percent. And that’s when I start to remember the absolute rage-inducing process that accompanies mortgage refinancing… and I’m left wondering if any kind of savings is really worth going through it unnecessarily. I’ll be off to the next place well before I pay off the note on the current house. The less crazy making course of action may well be keeping what’s already a respectably low interest rate and just ignoring the promise of a few less dollars flowing out every month, tempting though it is.

The week ahead…

It’s the week before my annual burning off of use-or-lose leave. Sure, plenty of people are festive and jolly because Christmas is coming. They have their priorities and I have mine. I’d be thrilled with idea of sixteen work-free days in a row regardless of whether it was accompanied by a couple of holidays or not. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

So, you ask, what does the week before two weeks off look like? Well, I could say it was a week filled with high motivation and determination to cross all the t’s and make sure nothing is undone… but yeah, let’s not set those kind of unreasonable expectations.

It’s a week where I spent Telework Monday clearing my inbox (that was productive at least). Tomorrow will be a standard Tuesday – random meetings and more email to be sure. The next two afternoons are taken up with my semi-annual checkup and the office non-denominational holiday party. You can make your own assumptions about how productive I’ll manage to make either one of those days. The first four days of the week should be non-events.

Then we come to Friday. The final day of the work week. It’s the wildcard. Hard life lessons in Uncle’s service have taught me that it will either be a vast sweeping sea of nothing at all or it will be an unmitigated shitshow from start to finish. Historically it’s been my experience that there is no middle way. Not on Fridays. And certainly not on Fridays before an an ultra-long weekend.

Personally, I’m planning for the shitshow option. I think the universe likes to give you one last kick in the teeth before it gives you something so valuable as a long stretch of days off. I’d gladly accept a nice, easy Friday, but to stave off the almost inevitable disappointment, planning for the worst feels like a far better use of the limited time I’ve got left.

When I literally can’t even…

I like to think consistency is one of my better personality traits.  I like plans. I like order. I like having at least a passible ability to know what to expect… not that you’d know it by my fairly fanatical love of routine and schedule. I can get along without being scheduled or maintaining a routine, but I’m hands down better when there’s at least some level of effort put into restraining the forces of chaos.

I’ve long suspected that what seems to me a natural lack of consistency in most people is at least one of the reasons I struggle so much in dealing with them. In general, we’re a wildly inconsistent bunch – running hot and cold, present or distant depending on the day or hour. It’s hard to account for the vagaries of human inconsistency and I don’t always respond well to that.

Yes, I also recognize that expecting other people and the universe to bend to accommodate the way I best function is something of a fool’s errand – and one of my less endearing personality traits. What can I tell you, I’m a pretty uncomplicated guy running on a ridiculously complex operating system. It could be a bug or a feature. It rather depends on your perspective.

I’ve got to remind myself from time to time that I really can’t control the world or the people in it through personal preference. I can, however, mostly hold the chaos at bay here inside the well-defined boundaries of Fortress Jeff. I’ve put a fair amount of blood and treasure into making it “just so.” It’s into this world that I’ll choose to retreat every time, to dwell among the animals and the books, when I literally can’t even with people any more.