What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Just talking. I occasionally find myself in the position of “just talking,” or “hanging out” with women I have, for one reason or another, found preliminarily interesting. Most recently, I was involved in a conversation that led to the statement that she “like adventuring.” Honest to God, I’m a reasonably well-educated man, but I have no idea what the fuck that even means. Are you telling me you enjoy raising the jolly roger and raiding the Spanish Main, hiring up a party a Sherpas and summiting Everest, or free diving with great whites? In any case, I’m not sure exact meanings are important. Unless your definition of adventuring involves endless rooms of books, 2 o’clock tea, dinner served promptly at 5 PM, and to bed absolutely no later than 10 o’clock, I’m fairly sure I’m going to take a pass. But feel free to go on enjoying whatever hoodrat shit you’re up to with my best wishes for your continued success.

2. Gas. Thanks to the “safer at home” mandates and my own hermetical nature, I bought very little gasoline over the last 18 months. Now that safer at home has been replaced by “get your ass back to the office” mandates, that budget line has gotten entirely too big. I mean not big enough that I’d consider switching to something small and fuel efficient, but more than I want to pay in full knowledge that I’m doing so only because someone’s vision of a workplace fantasy involves full cube farms. It’s just a bit of insult to injury.

3. Masks. The Biden Administration is talking about bringing back mask requirements for vaccinated people. Look, I was in full support of masks in the early days of the Great Plague. They were the best defense we had against a new and unknown threat. Now, we have wide availability of three vaccines that are proven to be effective at preventing the vast majority serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Now severe illness and death is back on the rise precisely because some portion of the population refuses to take advantage of one of the scientific marvels of the 21st century. In the early days, we wore masks to protect on another – the presence of vaccination on demand makes that unnecessary. It’s time that we inconvenience those who want to pretend science isn’t a real thing rather than whose who have done the responsible thing all along. Being a dumbass should be painful. It should be inconvenient. Let them bear the burden of their own intransigence – and let the rest of us get on with it.

A mid-summer thaw…

I don’t think I’m giving away state secrets when I say the internet connection that my office uses is about as reliable and effective as two tin cans tied together with twine. If shame was a thing people still felt in this modern world of ours, I’d say whoever was supposed to be making the whole mess work should be rightly embarrassed by how often it doesn’t. 

Before the Plague Era, our frequent network outages were one of the reasons I kept a pile of magazines on my desk. You just never knew when you were going to need to kill a few hours at the office in the absence of any way to actually do any work. The magazines filled that gap.

In the post-Plague Era, I like to think the bosses have started to see the virtue of working from home – or at least how it’s a system that can be of reasonable benefit to them. After only two hours of sitting around shooting the shit and watching Jeff Bezos hurled into space, word made its way around that anyone who couldn’t connect should head home to work for the rest of the day. I could comment on it taking two hours to reach that decision, but since it represents an unprecedented move by management in the direction of favoring the notion of teleworking, I’m going to withhold any judgment there.

The fact is, it’s issues like today’s outage that having a remote-enabled workforce was built to help address. For the cost of letting people drive home “on the clock,” the bosses bought back five hours of productive time. It feels like a reasonable deal for everyone involved. 

It’s the barest hint of a sign of reduced resistance of the very notion of working from home, but it’s progress – a mid-summer management thaw – and I’m here for it. 

Twenty percent…

There’s a recent survey that shows 20% of those Americans polled believe the COVID-19 vaccine is being used to imbed a tracking chip in all who receive it. The “good” news is that only 5% said it was “definitely” true while 15% said it was only “probably” true. 

Twenty percent of our fellow Americans believe something that is patently absurd. That’s one in five people – a number that feels like it almost guarantees that we all know someone or possibly many people who are part of the 20%. Some of them may even be reading this blog right now.

I’m never entirely sure what bit of the brain has to be badly wired to convince people to buy into some of the more wild-assed conspiracy theories. What on earth would possess someone to think that the government (or new world order for that matter), would bother with something so pedestrian as implanting a chip… when we’ve pretty much all long ago agreed to carry one of the most advanced tracking devices in history in our pocket all day every day.

This 20% are among us, though. They’re our politicians, our teachers, our religious leaders, our lawyers, our firefighters, and pretty much anyone else you can imagine. That’s the thought that horrifies me far more than the idea of any kind of chip the big, bad virologists might have slipped me. 

The new, new normal…

Back in the heyday of the Great Plague, there was a lot of talk about the “new normal.” Adjusting to it, living in it, surviving it. It was the phrase people used when they had no idea what else to say.

I’ve made no secret that I loved life in the new normal. Staying home and avoiding people was the kind of world I was built to inhabit. Sure, there was death, chaos, and economic turmoil, but beyond a nagging fear of dropping dead due to unseen and seemingly un-fightable forces, it wasn’t just a case of surviving in the new normal, or even living in it. It was sixteen months of absolutely thriving – or living my best life as the damned kids these days insist on saying.

This week, I’ve started back into the new, new normal. It’s slightly less problematic than Old Normal, but nowhere near as good as I found life in New Normal. This New, New Normal is far more about just living – maybe “enduring” would be the more descriptive. Returning to the land ruled by extroverts after a year and a half in which the attributes of the introvert were ascendant is just plain hard and I’m not a fan.

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. Parking. One of the only perks of going to the office occasionally during the height of the Great Plague was that parking was absolutely amazing. There were always spots directly in front of the building, no more than 10 spaces back, regardless of what time you arrived or whether you had the audacity to go out to grab lunch. It was an absolute idyll compared to crossing acres of burning pavement to your car in the Before Times. Alas, what was old is becoming new again. Parking is still decent, but landing the really prime spots is getting harder and harder to do as people are forced back to their cubicles. I’ve said it before, but I really will miss the plague months of 2020-21 as a wildly underappreciated golden age.

2. Matt Gaetz, Mike Waltz, et al. The testimony of General Mark Milley and Secretary Lloyd Austin before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday illustrated what’s probably my bigger frustration with Republican lawmakers. Matt Gaetz, Mike Waltz, and their ilk demonstrate through their questioning that there’s an undeniable stripe of fear among this group. They’re knee-knockingly afraid of ideas. If they were truly convinced they are right, they’d have no hesitation of having a conversation, of encouraging study, or gaining broader understanding. Instead, they assert the rightness of their position as received truth. No further information is needed. Dissent is not to be tolerated. Personally, I tend to think critical race theory and most of the other touchy feely soft science theories that posit everyone is oppressed or needs a hug are largely hokum… but like the good general, I’ll keep reading Mao, Marx, Lenin, and their modern equivalents while being utterly unafraid I’ll be injured by ideas.  

3. Twitter. Of all the social media I consume, Twitter is, in my estimation, the most toxic. I’ve made a point to greatly reduce my time over there for the last few weeks and it’s made for considerably less crazy making. The thing I struggle to remember sometimes, is that even though everyone is entitled to their opinion, I’m under no obligation to in any way pay attention to them. Ignoring them won’t make asshats any less asshatt-y, but like a tree falling in the forest, I don’t need to care if it makes a sound.

It was a golden age…

I don’t suppose there will be any official notification. No proclamations. No drums or trumpets. There’s likely to be nothing but my own angst and deep disappointment to mark the passage of what I’ll always consider a golden age.

You see, by the time I get back from taking a bit of time off next week, we’ll have already passed out of the era of “maximum telework” and begun phasing back towards “normal” operations. As it turns out, we’re opting not to observe any of the lessons of 2020 and making preparations to restore things to precisely what they were before the Great Plague. Passing on this literal once in a lifetime opportunity to create a better way to work, we’re going to take a knee… because our particular Olympian god doesn’t get a warm fuzzy unless he sees asses in seats. It would be laughable if the outcome wasn’t so utterly predictable.

After 18 and a half years on the job and with 14 years left to go, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that the best, most rewarding fifteen months of my career are about to be over. It’s hard to imagine a circumstance more suited to my personal and professional temperament than the one we just worked through. Watching what worked so well being garroted to suit one man’s vision is damned near heartbreaking.

If there’s ever a time in the next 14 years where you think I’m sounding bitter about a stark refusal to embrace new modes and methods of “accomplishing the mission,” there will be a good reason for that… because I don’t plan on passing up an opportunity to continue agitating for a workplace that isn’t mired somewhere in the land of the gray flannel suit when it comes to their philosophy and practice of management.

It won’t make me the most popular kid in class, but fortunately I’ve had a lifetime of experience in knowing how to carry that role. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lip reading. Until everyone started wearing masks, I had no idea how much lip reading I do. Short conversations are ok – checking out with groceries or picking up a carryout order – but anything longer, and certainly conversations that involve any level of detail, are just harder when I can’t see someone’s mouth moving. I find myself asking for repeats way more often than would seem to be necessary… and yet here we are. I suppose it’s good practice for when the years of loud radio playing and Jeep noise catch up to me in earnest.

2. CNN. God love them, CNN seems to take a special delight in painting surging home prices as the worst thing ever. Sorry. What? I’m supposed to be upset that I’m building fantastic amounts of equity while simultaneously having a place to live? If nothing else, home ownership through this moment is an excellent hedge against the creeping inflation that CNN also likes to wring their hands over. Yep, it’s hard to be a buyer right now. In other markets at other times, it was hard to be a seller. Trying to pretend the real estate market can or should be static is a bad take for an alleged source of financial news.

3. Waiting. I’m just about a week shy of kicking off Summer Vacation Part I. It’s not decamping for the islands for a week or anything, but it is the first stretch of uninterrupted days off I’ll have had since the new year started. Five months into 2021 and it’s safe to say I’m ready for the break… beyond ready. Eager is probably a better description. Perhaps you could even say I’m giddy with anticipation of 11 days without email, Teams, ringing phones, door buzzers, meetings, or network problems. That’s the issue, really. Slogging through another week when my head is desperately fleeing into vacation mode is going to be exhausting. 

Utterly impractical, but yet…

My mother made the trip down to Fortress Jeff a few weeks ago. It was the first visit since the Great Plague kicked off fifteen months ago. I suspect that anyone who has moved away from home will recognize that it’s the kind of visit that can be fraught with opportunity for… uhhhh… “adventure.” 

A few days into her visit, I pondered aloud about re-organizing the living room to free up an extra wall to install bookcases when the collection eventually overruns the newly designated library area that formerly did business as an ill-used dining room. That comment earned me a long look…. And yes, it was most definitely that look. The kind we’re all familiar with from growing up. 

The look™ lead to a perfectly reasonable discussion of why it would make the room look too crowded, not match the rest of the furniture, and in general be a bad idea. She wasn’t wrong. At best, it would make the room’s layout vaguely awkward. It wasn’t a project on my short list anyway – more something to be pressed into service only if all other blank wall space was consumed. 

Leaving the assessment of too many bookcases already, and too many books, and why don’t you just use the library like a normal person (Answer: Largely, because the average local library doesn’t carry much in the way of older, more obscure titles that I’m lucky to have lurking on my own shelves), I really expected that particular conversation was over. It probably should have been…

But then, a completely offhand remark, probably in jest, suggesting that if I just moved into the guest bedroom, there would be room in the master bedroom for at least a dozen bookcases around the walls with another dozen in aisles down the center. 

Yeah, that one sent my head spinning off to places it really has no business going. It’s a ridiculous idea, obviously. I mean just hiring a structural engineer to assess the dead weight load the floor in there could take is going to be an effort… Maybe I’ll roll that in to the bathroom renovation plan. You know, just to have the information in my hip pocket if I ever need it.

The honor system…

According to the Centers for Disease Control, those who have been fully vaccinated are more or less free to unmask and get on up in each other’s personal space again. It’s a decision that certainly speaks to their growing confidence that the vaccine is very nearly bulletproof. Yes, if you’ve been vaccinated, you can still contract COVID-19, but the research they referenced yesterday seems to conclude that the instance of becoming truly sick from it is negligible. Likewise, the risk of a vaccinated person spreading COVID-19 is next to nil. 

Those who aren’t vaccinated, which by this point is largely a group of people who do not want to be vaccinated, are supposed to keep wearing their masks. There’s a catch, of course… and that’s this is largely the same group of people who have been violently opposed to something as simple as wearing a mask at the height of the Great Plague.

There’s no way of looking at someone and telling whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. Our friends from the CDC basically say we’ll be on our honor as to whether we’ve been vaccinated or not and behave accordingly. Personally, I hear that as a very polite way of saying “We’ve saved as many of you who want saving as possible and from here on out, if you want to go out and catch the bug, you’re on your own.” Put another way, if you’re part of the minority who refuses to acknowledge science, the immortal words of Ivan Drago can be your valedictory: If he dies, he dies. 

It’s not an elegant solution, but at some point it’s important to accept that you simply can’t protect people from themselves. According to the CDC, at least, we’ve arrived at that point. Now all that remains to be seen is how state and local governments and businesses respond. 

My personal prediction is that we’ll make every bit as much of a hash of exiting the Great Plague experience as we did getting into it in the first place. We’ll soon see, I expect, a country that isn’t so much divided between those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated as between those who are vaccinated and those who are infected.