What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Things from the Before Time. People are returning to the office. What I’ve noticed, particularly among a certain set of semi-senior or management types, is a quiet, unspoken determination to do things the way they were done in the Before Time. There’s a willful effort at suspending disbelief and denying the reality of the Great Plague. The fact that people aren’t quietly going along with their fervent wish to roll the clock back to February 2020 almost hits them as a surprise… as if they want to wish away the fact that over the last 30 months, the people didn’t find a better way to work and arguably a more rewarding way to live. But here they are, shocked and surprised that most of their colleagues aren’t thrilled and excited to commute, spend eight hours a day siting in florescent hell, or pile into a charter bus packed elbow to asshole with 53 of their new closest friends to take a two-hour ride. The powers at echelons higher than reality can make people return to cubicle land, but their expectation that anyone will do it with a smile in their heart is going to be sorely disappointed. 

Hurricane coverage. I’ve never really understood why networks make their anchors stand in the rain looking like drowned rats for their newscast. I know television is a visual medium, but I think everyone watching has had enough experience with rain to know what it looks like when you get caught in a downpour. Sure, show the aftermath. That’s probably newsworthy at some level. During the storm itself, though, there’s honestly just not that much to see that can’t be caught through a window or from under some minimal level of shelter. Sending grown ass adults to stand outside to demonstrate that it’s raining and windy, doesn’t feel particularly useful to my understanding of the coverage.

Being a dollar short and three months late. The plumbing company I had originally planned to use to install and new and improved water filtration system (more than two months ago) called rather sheepishly on Monday morning. The voicemail went a little something like “Oh, hey Mr. Tharp… We, uh, have a plan here for your filter system… We, uh, must have put it in someone else’s file and, uh, wanted to schedule a time to come out and get started on that work.” I appreciate the level of audacity it must take to make that call, particularly after I spent a month calling weekly to see where the plan was and when they were going to get started, before giving up and handing the project to a company that came out, drafted the plan, and did the work all within a week’s time. Mistakes, I’m told, happen. This, however, is one that could have been avoided at any of five or six points along the way if they had responded to a customer’s efforts to make contact. I encourage this company to go, and I can’t emphasize this enough, fuck themselves. 

The open bay petri dish…

Since March 2020, I’ve taken the reasonably prescribed precautions against the Great Plague. The regular advice to avoid crowded spaces didn’t feel particularly onerous to me. After all, avoiding crowded places has been my stock in trade for most of my adult life. It’s the kind of crisis situation I was built for.

When the bosses prioritize asses in seats, though, there’s no way to avoid the office, which is how you get a poor schlub coming in when he’s not feeling 100% and only hours later popping hot on a rapid test. That, of course, leads to the rest of us sitting around wondering if that brief conversation we had in the early hours of the morning was enough to swing us from exposed to infected. There’s no way to tell until something does or doesn’t happen, so we all just keep on keeping on.

I miss the front half of the plague experience. A positive test like this would have triggered an immediate quarantine and deep cleaning of the physical space. Anyone in the room would have been declared “exposed” and sent home to quarantine for as long as 14 days. Now guidance from the top is “Well, we just have to tell you that you may have been exposed” and an accompanying shrug.

Having been vaccinated and boosted, it’s reasonable to assume the plague isn’t going to be my cause of death. That shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s an experience I particularly want to have. Given the couple of underlying conditions I enjoy that don’t necessarily play nicely with the plague, it’s in my best interest to avoid it. If I catch this bug after two and a half years only because someone at echelons higher than reality is mired in the misguided notion that there’s anything at all I can do sitting at my desk in cubicle hell that I can’t do from my desk in the sunroom at home, there’s a fair chance I’ll absolutely lose my shit the very next time someone mentions some absolute tripe like “synergy, collaboration, and innovation” and the importance of having all the warm bodies back in an open bay petri dish.

The joy of nothing…

It’s rare to get through from the time I post Friday night’s blog all the way to a Monday evening without having at least one idea jump out at me as being at least nominally worthy of writing up a few lines. It does happen, of course, but it’s rare enough to be noticeable – or at least it is for me. 

I’m going to attribute this weekend’s lack of anything particularly interesting to a combination of reasons. The first of them being that the only time I Ieft the house between 5PM last Tuesday and now, was for about 45 minutes on Saturday. That’s just long enough to get out for the weekly supply run and get home. It generally happens before most people have even properly started their Saturday – and that’s absolutely done with intention. 

It might have started as a pandemic-induced way to avoid standing in line and needlessly exposing myself to whatever bugs people are toting around in their respiratory system, but it turns out even absent a plague, it’s just a great way to avoid people, their small talk, their general bad behavior, and any need to interact with them en mass. Plus, two and a half years in and I’ve still managed to avoid COVID, so that’s a perk. I thought maybe I’d miss restaurants or going places, but it turns out I really don’t. The incentive to leave the house has to be pretty overwhelming. It happens, but it’s a rarity. 

Another reason there doesn’t feel like much to report is, I expect, due to having dialed back a lot of unnecessary spending. Between continuing inflationary pressure, general economic uncertainly, and home maintenance projects both scheduled and unscheduled, a lot of “fun” spending got either reallocated either directly towards covering other expenses or into various holding accounts to be banked against further unexpected requirements. Between shepherding cash, avoiding people/plague carriers, and generally being content to hang out at home with the animals, the number of things worth writing about – or at least the number that anyone other than me might be interested in, sometimes gets a bit limited.

I have no doubt I could gin up a few attention-grabbing posts if I went over and wandering around the local Walmart for an hour or two. You can understand, I hope, why that doesn’t sound like a particularly worthwhile trade off. Much as I enjoy writing, I’m not in any rush to put myself back in a position of having unlimited topics presenting themselves on any given day. 

For today at least, I’ll luxuriate in the joy of having nothing to say.

This time it’s different…

History doesn’t repeat. Sometimes it doesn’t even rhyme. There are, however, in my estimation, any number of trends we see again and again. Often, though, those trends flow across such long sweeps of time that there’s little or no “generational memory” of the last time they happened. 

COVID-19 was a great example. Confronting widespread plague or communicable disease isn’t something that was fresh and new for 2020. Humans have been dealing with pandemics since the rise of civilization. The last time we faced a pandemic of such scope and scale was a hundred years previously with the Great Influenza of 1918. Given the hundred-year interval, it was an event that had nearly passed out of living memory. Although civilization had seen pandemic many times before, “this time is different.”

The major stock market indexes are down 20% from their highs in 2021. Business reporters and talking heads are wringing their hands about wealth destruction, there being no floor, and the end of capitalism. They’re obviously ignoring the fact that bear markets are a normal part of the economic cycle. In fact, we’ve seen 14 bear markets since 1945. It generally takes about two years for markets to regain their previous high-water mark. We’ve been there and done that, but “this time is different.”

Currently, the United Sates is experiencing a year over year rate of inflation of 8.6%. It’s driving prices of all manner of goods and services higher at the fastest pace we’ve seen since 1981. Many of us are too young to remember anything from 1981, but there it is, right there in the recent history books. In all likelihood the Federal Reserve will crank up interest rates to and a little beyond the pain threshold, pull money out of circulation, and inflation will cool to a manageable level. You can already hear the cries that “this time is different.”

I hate to throw cold water on the almost gleeful panic, but the only thing different this time is that we’re the grown ass adults who happen to be the ones experiencing these events rather than our parents or grandparents. Nothing that’s currently dominating the news is new. It’s the same shit different day that people have been dealing with as best they can for hundreds of years – it’s just that our lifespan is too short to effectively pull back and see the whole board. It’s far easier to believe we’re living through special and unique circumstances that could happen only to us.

Let’s all come back in about 30 months and check my work. 

Six months to bend the curve…

I managed to sneak away from the homestead the Saturday before last to do a bit of old school book shopping. It felt good to be back on the hunt through towering stacks of warehoused volumes. I knew I didn’t find anything wildly rare or collectable. That’s the trouble with buying from book people. Even those who trade at the wholesale level, despite the massive number of items on their shelves, know what they have… and have probably paid someone to cull the stock for things that shouldn’t be sold off at half of their marked price. Still, filling a basket or two at Second Story Books is among one of life’s great pleasures. Their stock is unpredictable, but I never fail to walk away with items that close gaps in my collection or that will simply be a pleasure to read.

The real shock to my bookish system came when it was time to catalog my new finds and get them loaded up onto the to be read shelves. Thanks to the requisite poking around on Goodreads and LibraryThing, I learned that I’ve fallen significantly off the pace. By the mid-point of 2020 and 2021, I’d read about 40 books. This year, I’ve notched only 25. Those were Plague Years, of course, so it’s possible I’m simply reverting to the mean now that the world has stumbled along being open for business again. In 2018 and ’19 I was reading about 60 books a year so I’m on track to get close to those numbers.

In any case, I’m feeling that I’ve inexplicably let myself get distracted and not at all happy with the meager numbers I’m putting up. The to be read stack grows far too quickly to let the number of books being read slip too far. The solution, I think, is obvious… I’m going to have to quit being a post-plague social butterfly and get back to the ease and comfort of the days of “safer at home.” I’ve got six months left to bend the curve in the right direction.

On movies, popcorn, and convenience…

I went to the movies this weekend. While at first blush there doesn’t feel like anything much unusual about that statement, it’s the first time I saw a movie in a theater since fall of 2019… so about two and a half years ago – in the Before Times. 

The good news is that the movie going experiences hasn’t changed much. The bad news, of course, is also that the movie going experience hasn’t changed much. The big pleather lay-z-boy style seating is a nice touch. The cost of popcorn and a Coke is still wildly overinflated. In a lot of ways it’s a bit of a time capsule to the way things used to be – something that hasn’t changed when so much else has done.

Watching Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen felt like a worthwhile reason to go back. It was exactly the flavor of 1980s nostalgia that I love. Plus, it’s every bit as good as (if not better, in some ways, than) the original. I guess you can do that when you’re not in a rush to turn out three or four sequels in as many years. In this case, 30+ years was not too long to wait.

Maybe the great and surprising disappointment was the popcorn. It was decidedly “flat.” That’s probably more my fault than Regal’s. I spent the two years of the Great Plague dialing in theater-style popcorn to exactly suit my taste. I’ve got it just about perfected now and as it turns out, my own concoction trumps the original inspiration rather than matching it exactly. I won’t claim to be too brokenhearted about that.

The other thing I learned from a two-year absence from the theater, is I really like being able to pause the film. I like being able to take a bathroom break, grab a refill, or top off the popcorn with a fresh batch without missing any of the story. The screen at home isn’t nearly as big, but the ease and convenience are hard to beat. I suspect that from here on out, seeing a movie in a building specifically designed for that activity is going to be reserved for those films that unabashedly take advantage of the full size of the screen. For everything else, the perks of watching from the comforts of my own living room outweigh whatever the theater provides.

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.