It’s been a minute since the last time I spent a day glued to NOAA weather briefings, memorizing Department of Transportation route plans, and casting a professional eye towards America’s excess bottled water and ice production and storage capacity. It was a gig that required finding ways to say yes as often as possible, but also offering definitive “no’s” when there was no way to get there from here. I mostly enjoyed the work… and I was good at it.
On days when the storm flags are up, I almost miss it. Working hurricanes was one of the few times in my career I could draw a straight line between the work and the outcome. It was more than editing version 26 of the next set of PowerPoint slides. Getting personnel and supplies marshaled and delivered to the people and places where they were needed was possibly the only time in my long career I’ve felt like I was legitimately accomplishing something.
Now, the TV screens are flickering between cabinet secretaries resigning under fire and the arrival of what should be a routine, if not trivial, tropical storm along the Gulf Coast. With unseasonably high water on the Mississippi, a few feet of storm surge, and the potential to drop ten or more inches of rain in a few hours, Barry isn’t an unusual storm… but he does does arrive bring an unusual confluence of factors that probably don’t bode well for New Orleans and southern Louisiana.
My armchair professional best guess is that the levees will hold this time, but the bigger factor will be the city’s pump capacity. Not even the vaunted pumps installed after Karina are sized to de-water that much sustained rainfall over a period of hours.
I know tonight over at 500 C Street, SW there’s a small army of FEMA personnel and an array of planners from the federal partner agencies making educated guesses on what’s needed, when it needs to get there, and how to deliver it effectively. On days like this, I miss the urgency of that kind of work… but lord, I don’t miss the 16 hour days.
It’s Monday, but it’s a short three-day week and there’s at least one telework day between me and the start of the weekend on Wednesday afternoon. Summer and fall are my favorite times of year to be in Uncle’s employ. Unlike the interminable, holiday-free stretch from February to May, the holidays flow with reasonable regularity in 4-6 week intervals. They’re always something to look forward to on the horizon – a minor way-station on the long trip to 2035.
I make a point of pride out of making sure I’ve burnt off all my leave by the end of the year. I generally aim to carry precisely the maximum amount of leave across from year to year… not an hour more or an hour less. Keeping a big honking pile of leave available is a safety blanket of sorts – an insurance policy – against the idea that something catastrophic could happen at any time, but I have a cushion of paid time off owed to me to help mitigate whatever the problem might be.
Life experience has also taught me that I appreciate time off more in small doses than I do en block. With the exception of maybe a week or ten days across Christmas and New Years, I take most of my leave a day or two at a time. A four day weekend seems to hit some sort of neurological sweet spot for me – enough to feel rested, like it’s been something more than a regular weekend, but not so long that the very act of coming back to work feels torturous. Coming back after a long stretch – like the “Christmas break,” has a funny way of leaving me more annoyed and dispirited than I was before I left. For me that’s the real danger of taking too much time in one run.
So, here I am, my projected leave schedule covering the calendar like shot from a scattergun. Most aren’t random strikes, though. I try to set them to maximize preexisting holidays or to compliment the few days of the year I know I like being somewhere other than work. Throw in four or five more days held in reserve for the inevitable mornings I just can’t face eight hours in the cube farm, and it’s my own special, patent pending formula for dragging my carcass through another year while preserving some semblance of sanity.
1. The 80/20 rule. The reward for good work is more work. The reward for bad work is less work. Other than a sense of personal satisfaction of doing a job well, there’s damned little incentive to do top notch work in an environment that doesn’t really reward anything above the baseline or punish anything below the baseline. Things just slide along while everyone hopes equilibrium is maintained and no one makes too many waves. Meanwhile we’ll just keep throwing stuff at those that can instead of demanding performance from those who should.
2. Puppy energy. Folding a new dog into the routine is has been challenging – probably in large part because the resident dog is old and happy to spend most of her day sleeping. By contrast, the now 7-month old pup, is still full of teenaged asshole dog energy and requires constant oversight. It’s no so bad on the days when I’m home with ample time to wear his fuzzy little ass, but God help us on the days when I’m working and he gets to rest up. We were all a decade younger the last time there was a puppy in the house. I don’t remember being better rested at 30 than I am at 40, but maybe I was. Who knows. Maybe I was even energetic myself way back when. Somehow I doubt that. Jorah is going to be a fantastic dog… just as soon as I get him through the stage where he’s a total pain in the ass.
3. The FCC. The FCC has spent decades chasing “crude and rude” broadcasters across the airwaves – levying fines and trying to make sure all the poor sensitive souls don’t accidentally get offended by something. If the honorable commissioners of the FCC want to do something even remotely beneficial to actual people, they’d dragoon the Special Operations Command into hunting down and killingly the people responsible for spam and scam cell phone calls and text messages. Slap a bounty on the scammers heads and pay out dead or alive for every one drug across the threshold of their glass and steal headquarters building lobby. That’s the kind of proactive service I want to see them providing instead of page after page of tips on how to not get scammed.
There was a time in my career I would have done back flips about the possibility of working 12-hour shifts. The work week that consists of basically three days on four off, the possibility of a steady supply of overtime, night differential, and holiday pay. Now that I’ve over-topped my projected career halfway point, though, the idea is less appealing on just about every level.
I’ve never wanted or expected something for nothing. I don’t mind doing the work in exchange for the pay… but in any duration that stretches on for much more than eight hours, I lose interested and focus at an alarming, perhaps even exponential, rate.
I’m not shy about telling anyone that I’ve long since reached the point in life where, with a handful of possible exceptions, the only place I really want to be is home. I’ve spent a not insignificant amount of money just to have those four walls and a roof. There are dogs and a cat and a tortoise there. The furniture is comfortable. I control the temperature and in a pinch can even make my own electricity. I’ve spent a half a lifetime filling the space with objects of at least personal significance. If it wasn’t the place I most wanted to be, I’d be concerned that I was doing something completely wrong.
I suppose that’s all a long way of saying that I’m going to take a pass at “volunteering” my name for the short list of people who might be willing to sign up for 12-hour days at some indeterminate point in a possible future.
Telework. This time of year, the slow choking off of my coveted weekly telework day in inevitable. This week, I moved my regular day to accommodate a meeting that ended up getting cancelled. Another meeting was scheduled creating a conflict with the day I moved it to, so slipped it to a third day and now another meeting has cropped up. I fully expect this third meeting will be cancelled or reschedule around the time I show up in the office tomorrow. My day for next week already conflicts with a meeting request. Everywhere I go I’m often met with an, “Oh, I can’t meet that day because I’m on an alternate work schedule” or “I’ll have to call in because I’m working from home that day.” I’ve clearly got “sucker” stamped on my forehead in giant block letters. I know this time of year it’s inevitable, but I was really hoping to squeeze in one more decent week before the shit began overwhelming the fan.
Voicemail. On Wednesday I got two voicemails in a row that indicated they were from my dentist. One of them was, in fact, from the dentist. The other was from a vendor I’m working with on the current party planning extravaganza… except when I called him back he said he hadn’t called my cell in weeks. So, thanks Verizon, I guess, for delivering the message both late and from the wrong source entirely. This should just serve as a reminder to everyone that voicemail is archaic and really need not be used in the modern era.
Facebook activists. I saw several posts this week decrying the fact that former Vice President Biden was being pilloried by the popular media for being a little handsy on the campaign trail. The argument was something along the lines of “why is the media talking about Biden when Trump is grabbing ’em by the pussy.” I could be wrong here, but I seem to remember the mass media making a fairly large story about that particular quote from then private citizen Trump. In fact they still trot it out from time to time. I’m pretty sure the media isn’t ignoring it… the bigger issue, perhaps, is that large swaths of the population think the job of the media is to tell them only what they want to hear and go apoplectic when it doesn’t.
There is a world of difference between being busy and getting things done. I was looking at my calendar for the next ten days or so and it’s absolutely undeniable that I’m going to be busy. Meetings are stacked up like cord wood and on a few days there might even be time to eat a lunch that won’t feel like either a late breakfast or an early dinner.
Although I’m going to be busier than a one armed paper hanger, what I can tell you with almost perfect certainty is that I’m not going to be getting things done. Experience tells me that the amount of work accomplished is inversely proportional to the number of hours spent sitting in meetings. It’s a known fact across the bureaucracy, but doe some reason the illusion that meetings in some way equate to work accomplished persists in the minds of people who call meetings.
Maybe it’s possible to both attend meetings and be a productive and contributing member of society, but I’ve never cracked the code on making that happen when the meetings and the work insist on occupying the same eight hours of the day. I suspect that the people who pull off spending all day in meetings and also somehow manage to get something done are willing to slip in a few extra hours on the side.
If you’re sitting around waiting for the same from me, my best advice is to get comfortable, because you’re going to have a bit of a wait.
Assuming I keep up with it so long, I think I can safely say that this blog will expire on or about the day I retire. It turns out that when I don’t have the job sucking every ounce of fun out of five days each week, I really just don’t have that much to say. That explains the spotty schedule of posting I maintained over the last couple of weeks. Not only didn’t I have much to say, but I had virtually no interest in sitting down and writing up whatever was rattling around in my head. It turns out you don’t need much catharsis when you don’t have something agitating the hell out of you on a regular basis.
The good news, or bad news, depending on your perspective is that the days of not needing to vent my spleen on a regular basis are still far off in the future. Now that we’re back on the normal schedule, I have a feeling that my notebook will soon be refilled with all manner of angst-causing stories just begging to be told.
Look, I’m thankful for the pay check – and glad I’m not one of those poor bastards at State, or Treasury, or Homeland Security either working for nothing or stuck sitting around waiting and wondering when the next direct deposit is going to hit. That shouldn’t put anyone under the delusion that there’s nothing I’d rather being doing than clearing two weeks worth of emails from my inbox while scouring them for the one or two nuggets that might need some actual attention.
We’re back… and that’s probably a good thing in that long march out towards the back half of this career… but don’t think for a minute I’m not missing the long, lazy days when a few critters and a good book was more than enough to fill the passing hours.