An awful lot of time…

Sitting in the office all day gives you time to think.

It gives you time to think about smelling other people’s meals, and listening to their phone conversations, and their wandering around from cube to cube looking for an ear to bend, and the hour wasted traveling to and then another hour wasted going from that monument to early 20th century management philosophy.

Yes, sir, sitting in the office gives you an awful lot of time to think.

I’m quite sure there are people out there who are dying to get back to the office full time. God knows there will be plenty of senior leaders who can’t wait to get back to preening in front of town hall meetings and capacity crowds conferences – and seeing their toiling minions stacked elbow to asshole across whole floors filled with cubicles.

More than anything, though, sitting in the office is full of time to think about how utterly ridiculous it is to sit in an office when every single touch point of your day involves email, phone calls, and shuffling electronic information from one place to another. If you’re heart doesn’t seeth with just a little bit of rage knowing it could all be accomplished from any place on the globe with a reliable internet connection and a cell phone, well, I’m not entirely sure you’re thinking about work as a product and not as some kind of half-assed social activity.

As long as those running the show put as much or more premium on the quasi-social elements like maintaining a “corporate culture” and the farcical notion that “real” communication can only happen face to face, no amount of real world evidence seems likely to move the needle away from 1950s ideas of what working looks like.

There’s still no formal guidance on what the new and improved “return to work” plan will look like here in the belly of the bureaucracy. I’m told they’re working on an updated plan at echelons higher than reality. If precedent is prologue, I’ll expect this new plan to cleave as close as humanly possible to exactly how things were done in the Before Times and ignore as much as possible the last two years happened at all.

Pondering on an Egg McMuffin…

Most mornings when I’m due in the office, I stop by McDonalds for an egg sandwich. I know, I know. Health implications aside, I’ve made a decision that I’d rather read a chapter or two before schlepping down Route 40 than spend that limited time making breakfast.

This morning I found the drive through inexplicably vacant. Pulling in to order, I wasn’t greeted with “May I help you,” but rather “Just so you know we can only do exact cash right now.” I’m assuming it meant I’d need exact change because their electronic payment systems (credit card, Apple Pay, etc.) were down. Networked payment systems go down, I totally get that, but as a matter of principle I wasn’t going to just round up the cost to the nearest dollar or worse, since the only paper money I had in my wallet was a $20 bill. Their prices are near piratical levels already and I can’t remember the last time they didn’t have a “We have no change” sign in the window.

I pulled away without my Egg McMuffin secure in the thought that there’s a Burger King not quite on my route, but close enough to not make a difference in the morning’s timing. Burger King, however, was closed this morning during what should have been about the peak of their breakfast rush. Lights off, drive through barricaded, and not a car to be seen in the parking lot. Looks like I wasn’t going to be getting a bacon, egg, and cheese Croissanwich, either.

After two strikes, the clock had run out on me, which meant heading directly to the office sans breakfast. It’s hardly the worst thing in the world, but it feels like part of the wider trend where everyone seems to be throwing up their hands, giving a shrug, and muttering “Eh, COVID.”

A year ago, I was pretty tolerant of stutter stepping and odd moments that went with figuring out how to live in a plague year. Here we are nearly two years in, though, and I’m not in any way convinced we’ve collectively learned anything. I mean how is there still a change shortage? How have nationally branded businesses not figured out how to, you know, do business… or at least keep the doors open during business hours?

The more gentle-minded among you will be tempted to tell me that everyone is “trying their best during this difficult time” or some other platitude. Based on my observation, I’m not in any way convinced that’s true… and even if it was, it just seems to me that after eighteen months of practice, everyone’s best should be a little better than it is currently.

Time, distance, and the laws of men…

It’s that special time of year again when the gods on Olympus like to pretend that they are not in any way constrained by time, distance, or the laws of men. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving and those high and mighty gods have, right on schedule, realized that the minions on whom they depend to work their will will increasingly be unavailable thanks to end of the year leave taking.

Now what someone with a modicum of common sense might do, is prioritize whatever effort or efforts are legitimately “most important” and concentrate on getting those through the gate first. What we’ll actually be doing, of course, is piling on increasing levels of stuff to do and then watching as “leaders” gnash their teeth and rend their garments because it’s not getting done.

The pool of available people to keep up with whatever wild-ass new ideas the bosses dream up will get a little smaller every day between now and the end of the year. It would be comical if it weren’t absolutely predictable. I’ve watched this spectacle first hand since 2003 and can only assume this great green machine has been up to the same kind of pre-holiday fuckery since Washington was a Lieutenant.

Look, I really am sorry… but if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to jump through his own ass, moan, and wail, because your failure to plan has become an “emergency,” I’m just not your huckleberry. Never have been. Never will be. You have my word on it.

Observations from an unpleasant week…

I’m sure it will come as a surprise to no one here when I say that I don’t, as a general rule, like new things. I like the same meals I’ve been eating for decades. Every object in the household has its place and should be in it. I mostly can’t control what happens outside the doors here, but what happens inside is done with good order and discipline. I suppose it’s the kind of thing that could make a person hard to live with, but the animals don’t seem to mind, so all is well.

Over this last week we’ve been adjusting, by necessity, to the new order of things. From that, I’ve made a few observations.

The most surprising of the bunch, is just how much water Maggie was taking in every day. I was refilling their gallon bowl at least three times a day. Now I’m averaging about a quarter of that. No wonder she wanted to go outside every two hours. I knew she was a thirsty girl these last few months, but the slow upwards creep of her water intake just didn’t seem overly alarming – except in retrospect. As always, hindsight is a bitch like that.

Jorah, fierce guardian and barker at of anything that moves in the yard or on the street has become terribly fearful of the backyard at night. For most of the last week he’s had to be trussed up in full harness and nearly carried outside for his pre-bedtime bathroom break. For these last two years, I had no idea that he was relying on a security blanket the approximate size and shape of a labrador retriever to cover him while charging off to bark at and chase anything that rustled during his nightly rounds.

The cat, not surprisingly, seems to be the most adaptive of us all. Hershel was back in the warm embrace of his own daily routine inside 48 hours. A week along, I’m quite convinced he’s starting to throw the stink eye at the rest of us who are still deviating, even if only slightly.

We’re still very much in a transitional mode here, but our wild ride over the last week is starting to settle into a new and slightly different rhythm. The sooner that comes together, the better, because new sucks.

A trusted professional…

I am a professional bureaucrat. Not the best pusher of paper that ever lived, but there aren’t many cases where I have trouble holding my own.

In that role, one of the things you are faced with is that while you can be an advisor – a voice of reason – you’re not in any way to confuse your position as being that of a decision maker. That function is performed by others. It’s a fact that you either accept fairly early in your career or it slowly drives you towards a special kind of madness.

I’ve come to terms with it.

I’ll give the very best advice my seven years of running certain projects can provide. It will generally be insightful and guided by the experience of having been there and tried that at some point in the past. I can tell you where the bodies are buried, why certain ideas have never worked, and the kind of feedback we’re likely to get if you follow any specific course of action. What I can’t do is force you, as the decision maker, to follow the best path. That part is wholly out of my hands – and often beyond my ability to influence.

I can only promise that I’ll always give you my fair and honest estimate of what should be done, the resources it needs, and how to avoid the foreseeable pitfalls… but don’t think for a moment that means I won’t be right there cheerfully dispensing a loud and hearty “I told you so” when the thing turns into a barely mitigated shitshow because you wanted to go your own way.

I might be a trusted professional, but don’t think for a moment I’m above gloating even when the cock up means I’m doing 5x more work than we’d have needed to if we did things the right way from the start.

Duty done (for today)…

There are times when doing your duty is also an absolute pleasure. I’ve always, for instance, enjoyed physically going to cast my vote on Election Day.

Today, though, was not one of those moments when duty and pleasure merge. There’s nothing that fills me with less confidence in our justice system than looking around at my fellow citizens in the jury pool holding area. Just in my little room of 20 COVID-distanced potential jurors we had granny in her housecoat and fuzzy slippers, the 20-something reeking of patchouli oil, the open mouth snorer who sat directly in front of me, and two people who spent hours inexplicably staring at a blank wall.

These, should I ever find myself in the dock, are the pool of those eligible citizens who would constitute a duly sworn jury of my peers. That idea makes me tremble down to my very core.

I don’t suppose we can institute an IQ test as I’m sure that’s bound to offend someone… but maybe a general knowledge quiz… or demonstrating the ability to dress yourself or even just to stay awake. Those feel like reasonable expectations for an alleged peer group.

No matter how low I set my expectations when faced with the general public, coming face to face with that them never fails to give them the opportunity to find the bar and drag it lower than I would have normally thought possible.

Four more days of on call status. Sigh.

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. 

A next week problem…

After going through this past Friday like a scalded dog, I didn’t have high hopes for today. I mean Monday is bad by its very nature. Non-telework Mondays pile badness upon badness. I expected today to be an unmitigated shitshow – just a continuation of Friday by other means.

A perk of my generally pessimistic view of the world is that every now and then things don’t go as abysmally as I anticipate. That’s not to say they go altogether well, but from time to time, the universe momentarily forgets to conspire against you and all your works.

That was today. It wasn’t great – cubicle seating and fluorescent lighting made sure of that – but the day had a reasonable ebb and flow that last week lacked in its entirety. The day had breathing room instead of presenting eight solid hours of things that needed to be reacted to immediately. That’s not to say that all the things with immediacy issues were important. My experience in the belly of the bureaucracy is that the really important stuff almost never requires an immediate, off the cuff reaction.

I fully expect there’s a price to pay for avoiding ridiculousness today. The universe will have to balance the scales… but just now I’m hoping to skate through two more days and get to my long weekend. Then balancing the scales can be a next week problem.

See you Monday…

It’s the day before Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s technically a work day. Yes, I am technically working. You see, though, the thing is that no one actually expects they’ll need to do any heavy lifting on a day like this. Maybe that should be almost no one has those kind of expectations

There’s always that one guy. He usually lives well up on Olympus and is the one person in all the land who thinks somehow we’re going to move something forward with less than 50% staffing and way less than 50% interest.

Look, I’m not saying that’s the way it should be. In a perfect world I’m sure we should all be 100% committed for every one of our 8 hours on every single day. We don’t live in a perfect world, though. On a good day, we probably live in a world that could best be described as “tolerable.”

I’ll do what I can with the time and people that are available, but honestly, if you’re looking for something to happen after about 2:00… well, I guess I’ll see you Monday.

Confessional…

This blog has become something of my own personal confessional. There’s no privacy of course and there are plenty of thoughts I’d never dare put in writing, but it’s definitely got the catharsis of spilling your problems out to a benevolent and receptive audience.

The challenge though is it’s on the days you most need to write, you find the list stocked with things you just can’t say for general consumption.

So you file it away, wondering if maybe it will see the light of day again someday. You go fix a whisky drink and turn your full attention to anything that isn’t what made you want the drink so much in the first place.

The days like that are the exception rather than the rule, but sometimes they do stack up like cordwood. Especially when you realize it’s only bleeding Wednesday.