What Annoys Jeff this Week?

​1. Spoofed calls. In the last 7 days I’ve gotten twelve calls that caller ID indicates are originating in the greater Baltimore area. I’m sure there are still many people who answer every time their phone rings. That these spoofed calls even exist as a thing is proof enough of that. I mean scammers wouldn’t be doing it in the first place if there wasn’t money to be made. Of the 37 ways you can communicate using a modern cell phone, actual voice calls are my least favorite. If I barely use the thing to make or receive calls to people I actually know, I’m not sure what chance the average phone scammer has at getting me to pick up. All their doing at this point is basically finding a new and interesting way to interrupt me when I’m trying to use the phone for something else… and that’s really their unforgivable sin.

2. Packaging. Since last Thanksgiving or so, I’ve observed a continuing trend of my online orders regularly arriving damaged. Some of the damage can easily be attributed to being beaten to death by the delivery service – smashed boxes, items left where they can be rained on, etc. More often though, the outer boxes arrive in fine shape, while what they contain is scuffed, mangled, or mutilated well beyond what I’d consider “fair” for an item purchased in “new” condition. I’ve lost track of how many items I’ve returned to Amazon and other retailers at this point because they can’t be bothered (or most likely just don’t want to pay) to package items in an appropriate way to prevent damage in transit. Until they do, I’ll keep making them spend twice as much in returns and replacement of damaged items as they would if they’d have just packed the damned box the right way the first time around.

3. Weekday Protestors. I first observed this behavior when I worked in DC. Someone would get a bee in their bonnet and the next thing you know a couple of thousand people would show up on The Mall to protest in the middle of the week. I see it now all over TV. What I want to know is who are these people that have nothing better to do in the middle of the damned work week than finding a position in front of the television camera, stamping their feet, and throwing a hissy fit until they get their way? Seeking redress of grievances is well and good, but I’m curious about the people who have time to do it day after day and sometimes week after week when the rest of us poor working stiffs are busy, you know, actually working. I mean even on my days off, there’s errands to run, laundry to do, yard work to tend, and a list of projects a mile long that wouldn’t get done if I were out wandering the streets waving my homemade poster-board sign with its cheeky slogan. Feel free to do what you want and all, but I’ve got a household to run and actual shit to do.

Cubicle hell…

I’ve been a cube dweller for all of my 15 years working for Uncle. The one constant across all those years is a firm belief that if there is a hell, at least one level of it has cubicles stretching out to the horizon in all directions. In effect, to work in a cube is to already be condemned to toil in a hellscape to get credit for your eight daily ours.

Most days, cubicle hell is a land of minor irritations – of people who talk too loudly, non-existent air conditioning, 30 conversations happening simultaneously, an utter lack of privacy, and an endless parade of small distractions seemingly devised to prevent anything that could be mistaken for productivity.

The small annoyances are punctuated occasionally by the large distractions. These are what you may expect to find when the Powers That Be will decide that everyone in the room needs to face a different direction or that the cube walls are one row too tall or too short. The Powers will then, in their infinite wisdom and goodness, decide to address these grave shortcomings in the most expeditious way possible.

If you’ve never tried to conduct business in the middle of a construction zone, I think you owe it to yourself to give it a try. At any given time your 30 square feet of cubicle hell could be made inoperable when they have to re-route the electric or network cables, when they have to disassemble your desk, or when they need to remove a panel so you can stare obnoxiously across 30 inches of open space at the face of the person with whom you use to share a “wall.” Now the Powers have removed even the pretense that you aren’t packed in elbows to assholes with your fellow condemned souls.

Even if your desk happens to be one spared that day, there’s the general construction noise – the power drills, and shifting metal, dropped tools and banging. All the while, you’re careful to pretend that everything is business as usual. There are no distractions. Everything is going according to plan. You love the new floorplan that the Powers have granted unto you, for they, in their spacious offices, behind actual closing doors, are secure from what they wrought. Surely they know best.

As it turns out, cubicle hell isn’t so much a place as it is a process – ongoing, evolving, and always looking for ways to make every day just a little bit harder and such just one more drop of joy from the marrow. We have met the enemy and it truly is us.

My lane…

In each and every job I’ve ever had I’ve had a standard list of issues and items that are defined, at some level, as being things that I am responsible for doing on a regular and recurring basis. These are “primary duties.” There are also secondary duties – perhaps items that I do when someone is on vacation or that require more than one person to complete in a timely manner. Lastly, there are the ubiquitous and ill-defied set of “other duties as assigned.” These ODA have a tendency to be ash and trash actions that aren’t particularly time consuming but that have a bit of a tendency to be dull, thankless time sucks.

Through them all, the primary, secondary, and ODA, though, I’ve always made it a point to know my lane – all of those things for which I am collectively responsible to carry out at any given time. Now, the list isn’t static. It changes based on manpower, skills, personal preference, and sometimes (usually) the whim of senior leaders everywhere. In a more ambitious age, I knew not just my lane, but also had a fair depth of understanding of the lanes to my left and right. I won’t say those days are gone forever, but I certainly pay a lot less attention to the things that are outside my currently assigned channel markers these days.

Knowing your lane and its boundaries is, in my opinion, one of the most important tasks you can master as a run of the mill employee drone. Knowing what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, where it comes from, and where it goes will put you in good stead 85% of the time. If nothing else, it gives you at least a little bit of ammo when someone asks you to do something that you know well and good lies in the purview of some guy who sits down the hall.

I make it my first order of business to know my job and where its limits lie. Now if everyone else could just find their own lane and bloody well stay in it, what a wonderful world it would be. Yeah. I’ll be holding my breath on that.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

It’s one of those weeks where it would have been far easier to pick out that which did not annoy me than that which has, but I’ll give it my best effort.

1. The last minute. When a large group of people have been working on a project for a very long time, what you shouldn’t do, unless you outrank the people in the room by a whole shit tonne, is show up to the very last meeting making suggestions and trying to change the world. Fuck of with that jackassery.

2. Just (not) doing it. At the moment I’m tracking approximately 4,746 moving parts across a dozen different organizations that all have to mesh close to seamlessly in order to avoid looking like amateur hour. If you are responsible for 1 of those 4,746 things – and only 1 of them – it doesn’t feel like too much to ask that you at least half ass it instead of needing me to call down the whole mountain on your head when we’re measuring time in hours instead of days. Get in the damned sea.

3. New computer day. I’m as big a tech head as anyone and you can count on exactly one finger the times I’ve turned down a new computer – especially considering the elderly and decrepit state of the laptop I’m currently using. The only time I’m going to raise a stink and scream and yell is when you tell me New Computer Day falls right in the middle of the biggest work effort of my year. It would be like taking your accountant’s computer on April 14th and telling him he might get it back in a few hours or maybe a few days depending on “how it goes.” Just no. Not today Satan. Not today.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Good ideas. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with good ideas. There is, however, a point in every project when your thoughts need to turn away from adding bells and whistles and focus in on executing the damned mission. Some guy with a bunch of stars on his collar and a shit ton of fruit salad on his chest once said “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Words that we’d be well served to keep in mind.

2. Voicemail. Calling a designated customer service number and having to wait a few minutes is standard operating procedure. I got it. Calling the customer service line for a major business and then getting shunted to voicemail isn’t going to get the job done. I’m trying to give your company a not insufficient amount of money. I’m calling you at a time that is convenient for me to talk. Chances are you’ll return my call at a time that is not convenient. Then I’ll call you and leave a message. Then you’ll call me and leave a message and so on. Instead of that, I’ll just go ahead and call the next closest registered dealer that handles the same product and spend my money at their location. Thanks for playing, though.

3. Confusion. Job: “a paid position of regular employment.” Holy Quest: “a chivalric journey undertaken by a knight in order to procure or achieve a particular object or end.” More people should know the difference.

Your tax dollars (possibly) not at work…

This isn’t my first government shutdown. I remember the one brought about by the clash between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the 90s. I sat at home through most of the 2013 shutdown. The reality is a “shutdown” of the federal government is something of a pantomime. No president or member of Congress is quite mad enough to threaten to really shut things down – to send the troops back to their bases, close the country’s airspace, and dismiss the people who send out Social Security funds. Maybe they should, because shutting down the US Government is stupid – and stupid should be painful.

There’s plenty enough blame to go around when Sam runs out of money. Since funding the government is one of the very few specified tasks assigned to Congress, I tend to lay the blame squarely at their feet. They really only have a handful of “must do” items every year – the rest of the things they spend their time doing is grinding personal axes or chasing their party’s stated objectives. We the people, however, are the ones who vote for members of Congress – so in my estimation their failures are our failures as well. We make the decision to keep sending the same useless asshats back to Washington year after year. Perhaps we’ve finally gotten the government we deserve.

I’m one of the 800,000 “unessentials” whose furlough will start tomorrow in the absence of an appropriation. In one of the great moments in which I realize the universe has an odd sense of humor, if the Senate manages to remember their duty and tomorrow is just another Monday, I’m scheduled to stay home and telework. If they screw the pooch and let the shutdown run its course, I actually end up having to go to the office tomorrow. If the fact that I’m headed to the office if we don’t have money, but staying home if we do tells doesn’t tell you all you’ve ever needed to know about the appalling strangeness of federal employment I don’t know what will.

Miles to go: or Reaching for that long, long weekend…

When I see stories like the death of Malcolm Young at age 64, I’m even more convinced of the need to retire at the earliest available moment. All life is a gamble. Sure, your day is probably going to go without much trouble – or it might be the day you get run down by a bus. Malcolm was 64 – an age that I increasingly think of as “not that old.” He has the resources of a lifetime spent as a rock star to draw on to fight the disease that struck him down. He died anyway.

Just last week, someone in the office next door went to meet her maker. She left Friday afternoon, called out on Monday, and on Tuesday she was dead. She had four decades of good and faithful service under her belt. She died anyway.

Given my lifestyle – with its love of red meat and carbs – I can’t reasonably expect to be a centenarian. I’m under no illusions there. Still, I don’t intend to die in harness, although I understand random chance could have something to say about that. As of right now, unless Congress weighs in and changes the rules mid-game, I need to reach the magic combination of 57 years of age and at least 30 years of service. I’ll land on that milestone on June 1, 2035. It’s a date that still seems awfully far away, but not nearly so far as it was once.

The very fact that time is limited drives me to gather up what I can as fast as I can and then get on with enjoying that (hopefully) long, long final weekend. I’m determined that I’m not going to allow myself to be the guy in the office who sticks around until 70 out of fear that the money might run out before I do. At least I’m well served that my desired lifestyle in retirement is largely quiet and relatively inexpensive. As long as I’ve got coffee, a few books, a quiet place in the woods, and a handful of critters warming themselves at my hearth, my needs and wants are largely met.

Now I’ve just got to try to not drop dead before I can get all the pieces lined up.