A mark on the wall…

I signed the contract for my bathroom renovation back in September. A few days before Christmas I got an email from the contractor stating that all supplies are backlogged, half the employees are out with the Great Plague, and every project they have is running way, way behind. Here we are in May, five months hence, and I’ve finally talked to the company’s operations manager and have a tentative start date plugged into the calendar towards the end of the month. At long last, there’s a mark on the wall.

Look, I’ve loathed the master bathroom in this house since the first time I saw the place. I almost took a pass on the house because of it. The giant tub and no shower made it mostly dead space to me. For the last seven years it has been serving as a glorified hallway where I kept the cat’s food and litter box and that I have to walk through to get to the master closet. Aside from the very big windows facing the woods and excellent natural lighting, it has no redeeming qualities at all. The room is cold as blue hell in the winter and for reasons I’ve never managed to figure out, has no particular aesthetic at all. It’s as if the original owners realized three days before they finished construction that they needed a master bathroom and scrounged up whatever parts and pieces they could on short notice.

I’m not saying this new bathroom is going to be particularly beautiful, but it’s damned well going to be functional. I’m cautiously optimistic that the designer (probably) didn’t let me get the overall look and feel too far out of whack. I mean it all looks good enough on the renderings, but there’s no way of telling what it’s really going to look like until it’s all there live and in person… which now looks like it’ll be sooner rather than later.

My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes that I haven’t spent tens of thousands of dollars on something I’ll hate once it’s all thrown together… Though the simple fact that I won’t have to schlep down the hall to shit, shower, and shave every morning will go a long way in making it a favorable outcome. Being able to do it all with toasty warm floor tiles will probably seal the deal regardless of appearance… and then I can rack and stack the list again and see what project is next.

Now is the spring of my discontent…

And so it begins. The two weeks a year when I’m forced to put on a brave face and transform into a cheerleader, a producer, a confessor, a circus roustabout, a tyrant, and a Chatty Cathy all in the name of passing along some information that could just as easily be set loose into the world by putting it on a website.

“But that misses the personal touch,” they cry. Knowing how much money you’re going to spend and how isn’t enough. We can’t do without the networking, the back slapping, the crab puffs, and little finger sandwiches. Though they’ll howl just as loudly when we go back to charging $700 a head instead of giving the information away for free online.

COVID and the Plague Era has given me a great respite in that at least the last few iterations of this great dog and pony show have been online. No vast sea of party tents, no outdoor equipment displays, no tickets, no 700 extra people jammed elbow to asshole in an auditorium to listen to presentations they could have heard just as easily from home. Next year might be back to “normal”… and that’s a threat that hangs over me like a goddamned death sentence.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Return to work. I’m starting to see emails pinging around discussing the plan to “return to work.” What they’re really talking about is bringing people back to the office, which, if you’ve been paying attention for the last two years is not synonymous with “returning to work.” I won’t speak for anyone else out there, but for me, work has been work and the geographic area I’ve occupied while doing it has made effectively no difference in the end product I’ve churned out. Frankly, calling it “return to work” strikes me as wildly insulting. If you’ve got a shitbird who doesn’t do anything in the office, you’ll have a shitbird who won’t do anything while working from home. If you find you have a bunch of people sitting around not doing a damned thing, what you’ve got is a management and supervision problem, not a “working from home” problem. Of course that’s not the kind of answer that will satisfy those who are obsessed with seeing asses in cubicles. 

2. Failure to plan. So, here’s the thing… If some tells you that they need Thing A by the 6th in order for Thing B to happen by the 12th, you really don’t have any standing to act surprised when you send Thing A in on the 12thand Thing B cannot simultaneously happen on that day. That’s not how this works. It’s not how it should work. When there have been monthly and then weekly warnings of the dates involved over the last six months, you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I’m not overwhelmed by feeling like I need to jump through my own ass. I feel like there’s a very telling old saying about your failure to plan not being an emergency for other people that’s very pertinent here.

3. Situational awareness. It costs absolutely nothing to pay attention to what’s going on around you. It’s a freebie and I have no idea why so many people insist on not taking advantage of it. In the approximately 14.4-mile round trip from home to physical therapy today, I had to take evasive action three times to avoid being driven into by another driver. There’s the truck speeding out of the shopping center aisle into my travel lane without looking, the car who decided to drive in through a one-way exit, and the minivan who was fully in my lane coming around a turn on a winding country road. The only reason I avoided two T-bones and a head on today as because I happened to have just a touch of goddamned awareness of anything happening outside my own vehicle. 

My ticket to 1986…

The final trailer is out for Top Gun: Maverick. Like any movie of this particular genre, you can poke holes in a lot of details. God knows the internet has spent much of the last 24 hours doing just that. 

Look, I know this new iteration of Top Gun is going to be formulaic. The notes it’s going to hit are predictable. It’s not going to be a Best Picture nominee.

All of those things can be simultaneously true and in no way limit how much I’m looking forward to seeing it. Any faults it has are going to be overwhelmed by the sheer weight of nostalgia this movie is hauling along with it. I am, quite simply, here for it. 

I haven’t been to a movie theater since well into the Before Time. None of what Hollywood put on offer was compelling enough to contend with both people and plague. For a trip back to Pete Mitchell’s universe, though, I’m willing to make any exception necessary. 

I’ll be there with a 55-gallon drum of Coke, a bathtub-sized popcorn, and a two hour ticket to everything that was good about 1986.

Comfortably at home…

Once upon a time, a three-day weekend invariably triggered a round of book hunting. I’d slip out to shops from the Philly burbs all the way down to Rockville.

Here in the 3rd plague year, I’m just having trouble finding that level of motivation. It’s not that I like the books any less, but that I hate people all the more. Obnoxious behavior in public seems to be the rule rather than the exception. It’s impossible to be out and avoid the Karens and Kens insisting common sense, decency, and decorum aren’t things they need. Decent behavior is, obviously, just for other people and not for these self-important twatwaffles.

Most of the mask “mandates,” to the extent that they were ever really enforced, have fallen, but good sense along with both my personal physician and RN sister still strongly recommend them. I’ll defer to their knowledge of best practices over taking unsolicited advice from the average American politician. I’ll also fully admit, though, hours of browsing for books fully masked with glasses periodically steamed over, frankly, just isn’t fun. 

I miss spending a good part of these long weekends picking through endless stacks. I’ve gotten out a few times since cold weather set in, but not often – and those trips rarely resulted in real treasures, even if they coughed up plenty of good basic reading material. As a former boss of mine was overly fond of saying, the juice simply isn’t worth the squeeze. 

Someday I’m sure it will be again, but just now I’m perfectly willing to rely on the internet to let me get my book fix either until the browsing environment gets more fun or I recover some lost motivation. It’s hard to say which of those things may happen first. Between the general fuckery of people as a group and the persistent low-level threat of plague, assuming it happens at all, could be out of order on its face. There are way worse ways to spend three days than comfortably at home.

The way we used to…

My Facebook feed has been flooded over the last week or two with “promoted” articles heralding the end of the Great Plague… notwithstanding the fact that the case rate remains 2/3 of what it was at the peak of the “second wave” in the fall of 2021. Admittedly, we’re well off the highs seen at the peak of the omicron variant, so that’s something. 

The articles I’ve seen have a few things in common. They all want everything to go “back to normal.” Like New York’s new mayor, they want to see office buildings filled to the rafters and busy hot dog carts on every corner. I get it. There’s intense pressure from politicians, landlords, and service sector business owners that have seen taxes and profits slashed over the last two years while information workers realized they can conduct business from anywhere.

Mayor Adams argues that by not working from the office, people are not going to the drycleaner, or restaurants, or spending money on other services. That feels like a bit of a specious argument. I’m still doing most of those things, but I’m doing them and spending that money in the community where I live rather than at places that are in geographic proximity to a random office building. It sounds a lot like the arguments of “back to work” proponents like Mayor Adams boil down to wanting to get back to treating office workers as cash cows versus presenting an argument for why it’s in any way beneficial for them to go back to spending 40 or more hours a week sitting in a cubicle. 

A million years ago when I was boss, I had team members all over the damned country. While I sat in west Tennessee, others sat in Texas, Illinois, and Virginia. For all practical purposes we were all “working remotely” from each other even if we happened to be working in an office building. The trick was, as long as the work got done, I didn’t care where they were physically sitting, or if they took a two-hour lunch, or if they knocked off early on a Friday afternoon. In my mind, it’s about the work, not about taking attendance like some kind of 19th century schoolmarm. 

When politicians, business leaders, and managers, tell me they want everything to be normal again, they’ve obviously got their own axe to grind. I suspect they’re missing the larger point, though. There’s a pretty large subset of high value employees who are no longer going to be satisfied schlepping into an office every day just because that’s what used to be normal… and management is going to run an unanticipated risk in trying to jam that recently squared peg back into a round hole. 

To put in another way, there’s no reason to expect “normal again” will mean we’ll do everything the way we used to. The sooner that sinks in, the better.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Rabbit holes. I’ve lived these last 43 years without ever needing much more than my regular checkups and copays. Despite that, I recently went down an internet rabbit hole reading about my insurance plan’s catastrophic health coverage and how to avoid out-of-network charges. I mean it’s nice to know and surely will come in useful someday, but there’s an hour or two of my week I’ll never get back.

2. Normal. Turn to any news provider and you’re bound to hear stories about “getting back to normal” or “the new normal” or “life after COIVD” or “life with COVID.” Most of those stories turn on the same general theme of wanting something analogous to pre-pandemic life to return as close to immediately as possible. Personally, I’m in no rush… although that could be because most of what I’ve enjoyed during the Great Plague are the same things I enjoyed doing back in the Before Times. The only significant change I’ll notice in getting to whatever “normal” looks like in the future will be inevitably spending more time commuting and sitting in a cubicle. If you’re waiting on me to do handsprings about that kind of normal, it’s like you don’t even know me.

3. Mud. I plant grass seed in the back yard every spring and fall. Jorah, on the other hand, spends all four seasons doing his best to turn everything inside the fence line into a sodden morass. It’s not entirely his fault. The soil is thin and surprisingly bad – mostly clay and rocky – so what grows there doesn’t grow thick. Being a deeply shaded area, at least a third of the green is moss rather than grass. The minute it’s disturbed, it opens a gash and mud ensues. I only bring it up because his favorite thing to do on rainy days is go every outside at full speed kicking up mud like some kind of teenaged bubba with a lifted F-150. That’s fine outside, I suppose, but it’s current on him, the floors, a couple of walls, and a bit of the ceiling from when he had a good shake. 

Joe who?

Let me say up front that I wouldn’t recognize Joe Rogan if he happened to be sitting right next to me while I’m typing this. I don’t have any idea what his background is or why an apparently large number of people seem to listen to his podcast and believe whatever it is he says. I’m not even intrigued enough about him to bother doing the Google search that would inevitably provide me with that information. 

So, with my understanding that Joe is “some guy with a podcast,” let me dive in with some basic thoughts:

1. Celebrity =/= Knowledgeable. I don’t get my medical advice from Kylie Jenner or my financial advice from random TicTokers. I’m not at all sure why there seems to be a popular correlation between someone being well known and the need to give their opinion any more weight than that given to any other random stranger from the internet.

2. The “Lincoln” Principle. One of the quotes most often attributed to Abraham Lincoln (without, interestingly, any supporting contemporary evidence) is, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” If people, in mass, are fool enough to be taken in by whatever internet huckster happens to be popular in the moment, there’s really not much to be done to protect them from themselves. In this country, we’re generally free to be just as stupid as we want to be.

3. There is no “standard” standard for responding to bad behavior. Whoopi Goldberg got suspended by her parent corporation over making a decidedly ill-advised comment about the Holocaust. Joe Rogan, in contrast, is free to pump out buckets full of misinformation to an apparently gullible audience with little or no oversight or consequence from his corporate host. 

Is one worse than the other? That’s hard to say since what the standard of what constitutes bad behavior is nearly impossible to define in a way that’s universally acceptable.

I use to watch Fox News back when they were just the outlet that reported news from a right of center perspective. As their content shifted increasingly away from news towards commentary and hyper-partisan propaganda, I switched them off in favor of other news sources. I think, perhaps, our individual ability to choose is the real point here. None of us are under any personal obligation to watch or listen to content from any specific source. Expecting “big business” to protect our delicate eyes and ears from words and images we don’t personally agree with doesn’t feel like a solution that goes anywhere we’d really want to be by the time it’s finished.

The wild west of podcast, blogs, and electronic media overall has given us an embarrassing wealth of resources representing every political and social stripe. The catch is, this degree of choice means that every individual has to make a choice about what media they consume – and what sources they believe. We can collectively encourage listening or watching content into which some academic rigor has been put, but we can’t, in the end, fix stupid.

I don’t miss it…

It’s the first of February. That means I haven’t set foot in a Walmart in a little over two years now. So much for the idea that you can’t get by in rural America without the overawing presence of that particular big box establishment. In the age of online retail, the idea that any one business is indispensable is illusory, at best. 

I made my last trip to Walmart on the last Saturday in January 2020 – just as reports of a strange new virus circulating through the United States were beginning to heat up. It was a “stocking up“ trip. If I remember correctly, I ended up topping off the larder to the tune of about $300 of non-perishables and shelf stable products, laid in just in case things got weird.

I’ll never be a doomsday prepper. Once supplies of certain medications are depleted, my days are most likely numbered, so that relieves me of needing to plan for anything more than about six months of surviving in any post-apocalyptic hellscape.

I know there are plenty of people out here on the internet who are more than happy to tell you that you need a to have a basement filled with years’ worth of dry beans and rice and thousands of gallons of potable water. For 99.99% of any scenario most of us are likely to face, that’s probably multiple levels of planning past the point of overkill. 

Being ready to ride out something less than the complete collapse of civilization, though, just makes good sense. I mean why set yourself up to be caught out by a freak weather event, a temporary supply chain disruption, or the general uncertainty that seems to be the hallmark of life in and around the Great Plague era?

As for Walmart, I don’t miss it even a little.

The protestor mentality…

I’ve never quite understood the “protestor mentality.” You know the ones I’m talking about – everyone from the kids a decade ago who hated Wall Street so much they wanted to physically occupy it or the Canadian Convoy who are determined to stay in Ottawa until the government there agrees to their right to die horribly from a largely preventable illness or the fading rock stars who threaten to take their catalog and go home unless someone gives in to their demands.

Mostly I don’t understand from where these people find the time. I mean I’m not the busiest guy on the planet, but while they’re out marching around waving signs, I’ve got a job to do, meals to make, animals to tend, and the thousand other things that go into keeping a household running. Most of the time, that’s a full day’s work right there… and what hour or two of unallocated personal time I do manage to carve out, I can find more rewarding things to do than standing on a street corner with my bullhorn antagonizing people like some kind of asshole.

Maybe some of these people have valid grievances, but it seems that I’ve always had better results in finding redress by talking directly to the people who can do something about whatever my problem happens to be. I can’t think of anything less apt to convince me of the rightness of your position than seeing you and your friends throwing big adult sized tantrums for the benefit of the howling mob, or news cameras, or your social feeds.

It doesn’t make you look principled, it makes you look like a moron. If you’re bored enough that marching around in the cold sounds like fun, shoot me an email, I’ll be happy to set you about doing some winter yard projects for me. With a little bit of my own time freed up, maybe I’d even find time to more deeply consider, but probably still not care about, whatever happens to be the flavor of popular outrage this week.