On the illusion of business as usual…

There are always a few days each year when Uncle Sam would be better served to close up shop and send everyone home rather than attempt to maintain the illusion that offices are open and it’s business as usual. The Friday after Thanksgiving is, predictably, one of those days year in and year out. Most offices I’ve worked in over the years have had to assign someone the short straw that day to come in, turn the lights on, and then watch the clock for eight hours. Sure, technically it’s a work day, but virtually no business is transacted. Calling it a work day is fiction at best, farce at worst.

In any given years there are other days that result in the same basic effect. You can count on it happening any time a federal holiday falls on Tuesday or Thursday through the year. People are going to want to maximize their leave by turning a one day holiday into a 4-day weekend. Thinking that won’t be the case is just swimming against the tide of human nature – and that makes it an extremely foolish activity. The bureaucracy, of course, is no stranger to foolish activity, so we press on as if these periodic days of bare bones staffing will somehow result in actual productive work.

Although the mid-week holiday effect can take place any time of year, it’s most pronounced here at the tail end of the calendar, when so many of the old hands have leave that needs to be used or lost before the end of the year. The day before Thanksgiving or the day before Christmas are almost as useless, though not quite. Today there were four people in my office, well less than half of what it would have been on any other day, even given the reduced staffing due to plague.

I’m sure a few odds and ends that could be considered actual work transpired today, but when balanced against the cost of turning on the lights and heating every federal building across the country, I have to wonder if anyone has every paused to consider if the return on investment even comes close to making sense. If they have, they’ve obviously put far more stock in the value of maintaining the illusion of being open for business than I do.

On Christmas music in a plague year…

I’m not a traditional “Christmas music” guy. In fact just about the only time I intentionally listen to Christmas music at all is during the holiday migration to Western Maryland from wherever in the country I happen to be living at the time. My Christmas playlist is approximately one hour and four minutes in length and features such luminary artists as Blink 182, Reliant K, Bad Religion, and The Pogues.

The only reason I mention it is that this morning I saw a Twitter post opining that “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in all its variations should be cancelled this year due to the Great Plague.

I’m pretty sure our friendly twitter poster was going for the quick laugh, but missed the entire point of this particular song. Bing Crosby recorded the original version in 1943 at the height of World War II. American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines were posted up around the globe, and most assuredly dreaming of being home for Christmas, as democracy waged its desperate, existential battle with the forces of fascism.

According to the Library of Congress, “It touched a tender place in the hearts of Americans, both soldiers and civilians, who were then in the depths of World War II, and it earned Crosby his fifth gold record. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows in both Europe and the Pacific and Yank, the GI magazine, said Crosby accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era.”

If ever there was a song fitting for Christmas in a plague year, this would be the one.

So, in conclusion, cancel culture really is stupid on its face.

Why I plan ahead…

Back in March, people we shocked when a global pandemic hit and grocery store shelves were stripped bare of bread, milk, eggs, meat, toilet paper, canned goods, and a host of other products we deem essential. 

I was watching reports of this new virus in January – and made my last “stocking up” trip to market sometime in the last half of February. I’m not claiming any particularly deep insight, but a lifetime of pondering what ifs and worst cases and a bit of professional training in emergency management gave me a bit of a head start on seeing what was coming along and the short term results we were likely to see.

This week the virus is seeing a resurgence in Europe, while we here in America have never fully been able to get our arms around the problem. It’s obvious from seeing how people are acting that we’ve already collectively grown tired of even the minimal restrictions we managed to put in place. Smart people are telling us that the results of this behavior will be, in a word, bad. We here in America, of course, have a long and storied history of not believing what smart people tell us.

Why am I bothering to mention any of this?

I think there’s a significantly larger than zero percent chance that prevailing conditions could adversely impact long-standing and traditional holiday travel plans over the next two months. With that in mind, I’ve started laying in the essentials to make myself a proper Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, should staying put at Fortress Jeff be a more rational option than traveling out into the plague lands.

I hope it’s not necessary, but just like in February, I’d rather have everything I might need on hand and discover I didn’t need it after all. I’d don’t want to have to fight it out for the last can of sweet potatoes or friend onions when the masses realize they won’t be travelling over the river and through the woods because granny caught the damned ‘rona and is in isolation.

Panic buying for “safer at home” was unpleasant. Panic buying for Thanksgiving would be its very own mini apocalypse.

Mood…

I’m in a mood today. I don’t mind admitting it. It’s the first day of a four-day weekend and I don’t hate that, but sitting at the keyboard writing is just about the last thing I feel like doing just now. It happens from time to time.

It’s Friday evening, anyway. Let’s all just agree that we have better things to do than hanging around on my blog for just this one night and we’ll get things back on track next week.

Friday on Wednesday…

I’m on the cusp of taking my first vacation day since January. With a four-day weekend stretching out in front of me, I’m nearly as giddy as the proverbial school girl. I’m not going anywhere and I have no particular plans. It’s just an extra day not spent fighting with the help desk, or figuring out what the right teleconference number is, or ferreting out what people are actually asking for through email that was possibly written by four-year-old ring-tailed lemurs. 

It doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but it really is.

At 4:00 this afternoon, I packed my work laptop away – out of sight and mind – instead of letting it occupy the same real estate on my desk where it’s been nearly every day since mid-March. It’s a small thing, but for me, deeply symbolic of the transition between working from home and just being at home. It’s a small difference, but an important one.

So, it’s Friday on Wednesday and that, friends, does not suck.

After the break…

I took a break this long Memorial Day weekend. I didn’t watch a bit of news. I didn’t write a word. The only bit of information leaking through came to me via social media… and that wasn’t utterly intolerable after last week when I silenced the dozen or so most ridiculously ill-informed and/or confrontational of the people in my various feeds. It was a few days where I mostly lost myself in the books, and futzing around the house, and tending to the critters. Aside from needing the mask for my early morning grocery run on Saturday, it was exactly the kind of weekend I’d have had been gunning for even in the absence of the Great Plague. 

As it turns out, finding a “new normal” isn’t particularly difficult when it’s nearly indistinguishable from the old normal. 

That sense of normalcy will, of course, fade when I have to start rescheduling doctor, dentist, and vet appointments that shouldn’t be deferred too much longer. It will be rattled to its core once Uncle decides we should all pile back into Cubicle Hell. With beaches crowded, hosts of businesses reopening, 

I’m living my own little Golden Age over here… and know with certainty that it’s drawing to an end. No matter how much we’ve proven can be done while remote, regardless of the best scientific advice, people who have what I’ve always considered an inexplicable need to see and be seen will call the shots. Because surely if no one sees you doing the things, there’s nothing getting done. As if visual confirmation is all that measures output.

So now all that’s left is to enjoy as much of this brief golden age that remains. The new normal can’t last forever… but if the old normal makes a comeback soon, at least I can go ahead and start looking forward piling up some leave around Independence Day and making a last stand.

What I learned this week…

It’s a harsh truth. What I learned this week is that three-day weekends don’t hit the same when you’ve mostly been home for most of the last 2+ months. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way hating the arrival of Memorial Day Weekend. An extra day not spent tapping away at the laptop is always, always welcome… but Friday afternoon didn’t really arrive heralding great plans and interesting things to do. I’m still thrilled beyond all measure to have three days in a row where not a thought will be spared for The NeverEnding Project.

I’d be a little more enthused if I were using the time to cull through book stores and junk shops, but I’ve got some new stuff to read and a nice new place to sit on the patio while I do it, so it’s not as if the Great Plague is really putting all that much of a damper on my plans.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even mask up and brave the Plague Lands to bring home a giant burrito as an extra special treat. I’m pretty sure I can manage to justify that as an essential component of the holiday weekend. 

The trouble with Washington’s Birthday…

Look, I’m as big a fan of federal holidays as anyone in the country. There’s a problem with Washington’s Birthday, though. Well, technically it’s not a problem with the day itself. It’s more of a problem with what comes after it… which is a long, monotonous, fifteen week slog through spring to the next officially recognized holiday.

Fifteen five day work weeks in a row. Hell might be other people, but that long stretch between holidays gives it a yearly run for its money as far as I’m concerned.

There’s nothing to be done about it, of course, except remember that I have a small mountain of annual leave I have to burn off before the end of the year that I can tap into if things get dire. I’ll do it if I have to, but those days never feel quite as good as the freebies.

Yeah, because circumstances…

I always know I’m ending a good couple of days when I get to Monday and have nothing significant to report. If nothing else it helps confirm that I’m, in fact, not a miserable fuck by nature, but rather made so one day at a time by… uh… circumstances.

Covering why those circumstances are unavoidable is well trod ground for me so I won’t repeat myself so soon after the last post on the topic… other than to say how incredibly fortunate I am to have been able to spend the last two days mostly in interrupted communion with the cat, dogs, books, and home cooking.

It’s probably good to remind myself why I put up with a monumental kind of asshattery… and to remind myself that, like a prison sentence, there’s a fixed end in sight.

Now I just have to make sure my blood pressure doesn’t drive me into an early stroke before I can run out the clock and focus on spending the days on something that matters.

It’s not exactly a new thing I learned…

This space is usually reserved for a retelling of something ridiculous I learned this week. I wouldn’t have much trouble filling the space. Though maybe a second edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week would be more appropriate.

Instead of that, though, I’ll just say I put my 59 minute early departure from work to good use. I stopped on the way home for groceries, got home and turned out the dogs, got them fed, loaded out the bird feeders, and then bolted the house on the couple of errands I almost always relegate to Saturday mornings.

I say that to say this… I’m kicking off a three day weekend and I wouldn’t have to leave the house until Tuesday if I didn’t want to. If you don’t think it’s a real possibility, do you even know me?