Government work isn’t generally known as a hotbed of excitement. Still, there are people in Florida heaving heavy objects into deep space, bean counters at Treasury striving mightily to keep the economy on track, agricultural inspectors keeping an eye on our meat and produce, or Coasties rescuing sailors in distress. There’s a lot of good work going on out there.
I should put heavy emphasis on the “out there,” because none of those things is reflective of what I’m currently fiddling with on behalf of my rich uncle. I spent at least some part of today reviewing the website of a local porta potty company and talking with their very special customer service team about getting a quote to provide services to an upcoming event. Lest you think that we’re talking about hauling in a bunch of standard plastic single seater units that we’ve all seen or used at outdoor venues, you can get that image out of your head completely. We’re talking about trailerable units that are fully powered and ventilated, plumbed with hot and cold running water, and feature the latest in mobile bathroom design elements.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like living as a planner in one of those little corners of my universe that does the cool stuff… or what might have been if I’d have landed back in the strategic planning world I thought I was headed towards when I made the leap back to Maryland. I, and the world, will never know. It’s the path not taken.
If anyone needs me I’ll be over here thinking about executive porta johns and wondering which particular career decision put me inexorably on the path to this exact moment.
So I just realized that I haven’t posted anything in ten days. As much as I’d like to say I missed it and can’t wait to get back on the schedule, truth is I haven’t even really been thinking about it. I haven’t made many notes and the general aggravation that fuels most of my writing is decidedly absent.
The obvious point here is that it’s clearly the job that pushes me into writing regularly and to vent my spleen. I mean people as a whole are still every bit as annoying as they always are, but without the overarching influence of being in the office, they’re just not agitating me like they usually do.
Vacations don’t last forever, of course. By this time next week I’ll be up to my eyeballs in it and feeling like I was never away at all. I’ll try to squeeze in a couple more posts this week, but believe me when I tell you that the spirit just isn’t moving me. It really makes me wonder if I’ll have to shelve the whole blog completely on the happy day when I finally retire (or hit a multi-state lottery jackpot, whichever comes first).
As it turns out when I’m left to my own devices and away from the influence of working for money, I really have very little I’m compelled to bitch about. Go figure.
1. System access. There’s a system at work that I nominally need access to in order to do my job. The last time I’ve had access to this system is on the 25th of November. A few help desk phone calls, a few opened and closed help tickets, and I’m still no closer to being able to use it. That’s fine, though. I suppose when Uncle wants me to be able to do that part of my job someone, somewhere, will figure out what’s supposed to happen. Until then, it’s shrugs and pursed lips all around when I mention it, so whatever, yo.
2. I told you so. There really aught to be a unmitigated right in every employee’s conditions of employment document that allows them to kick in the door of senior leaders and scream “I TOLD YOU SO!” while gesticulating wildly and pointing accusatory fingers whenever such a display is made appropriate. This would generally be because advice was ignored, actions were delayed, and “somehow” a nine month planning window suddenly condensed into three months. Maybe that’s too specific circumstance. Still, I’d like to “I told you so” a whole bunch of people right now, but no, that’s not “a professional attitude.” Bugger that. Maybe if I’m lucky they’ll see it here.
3. Scheduling. I’ve got a pretty substantial stretch of non-work days coming up. This week I’ve started laying out what I want to do against the amount of time available. Before the vacation has even started, I’ve got slightly more than half of the days accounted for by at least one appointment, task, or “to do” item. Some of those activities will be more entertaining than others, of course, but what’s really chaffing right now is how little of this long awaited down time is legitimately going to be restful or relaxing.
As I’ve said countless times before, I’m not a decision maker.
I can present information. I can counsel. I can advise. In more dire moments I can even warn.
What I am not empowered by policy, regulation, or law to do, however, is make any actual decisions.
After almost 18 years in harness, I feel strongly the right and a duty to express my views on matters of interest. I’ve reached the period of my working life where there’s not much particularly new under the sun. I may not have seen it all before, but laying eyes on a truly unique situation is becoming an increasingly rare event.
Someday, perhaps, there will be those on Olympus who look down upon my pleas and decide that fiddling about for four months before paying any attention may not be the best idea. It turns out, as usual, that today isn’t that day.
Anyway, it turns out I’m almost exactly like the Queen. I can tell the great and the good that they’re about to do something dumb, but there’s not a thing in this great wide world I can really do to stop it happening.
One of the truly underrated perks of telework Monday is throwing Monday’s dinner in the crockpot at lunchtime and spending the rest of the day smelling it come together. Sure, there are a few better smells than kielbasa and sauerkraut, but it’s one of those that ranks right up there. Yes, the 20 foot commute is hard to be upset about, but having a fresh hot meal ready when you close the books on the day is just hard to beat.
This, sadly, was not one of those nice quiet telework days where you can get a little bit caught up. It was more of a steady drumbeat of questions already asked and answered and repeating yourself until beating your head bloody against the keyboard felt like a reasonable option. There’s nothing about the experience that would have been made better by spending it in a 6×8 foot cube. Far be it from me not to recognize the small mercy of at least endure it while wearing fuzzy slippers and in the company of dogs.
So I’ll use what would otherwise be my commute time to stick my nose in a book and wait for dinner to reach peak sauerkraut-y goodness. It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was good enough.
In my mind, a few quality perks are fine compensation for a whole host of minor sins.
I went to lunch at 2:30 this afternoon. Because reasons. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about that other than the fact I usually try to snag lunch around 11. That’s reasonably close to the mid-point of my normal work day and it’s when you can run out and back without returning to find the closest parking somewhere in south Uzbekistan.
Mostly I don’t like eating that late in the afternoon because I stick to a fairly early dinner schedule. Even of weekdays, dinner is made, eaten, and cleaned up before 6:00. A late lunch throws that schedule out of whack, which nudges other bits of the nightly routine our of order. It’s all minor stuff that conspires to create a big mood by the time the day is done.
I still went to lunch at 2:30 today… not so much because I wanted to eat at that point, but because not going to lunch at all has the potential to create a precedent that I have no intention of adhering to in the future. In the absence of direct threats to life or property, lunch is a thing that’s going to happen, as much my time and inviolable as the small hours of the morning.
Long experience tells me that doing something for nothing only ratchets up the expectation that you’ll do a lot more somethings for the same amount of nothing. Even when that’s not the intention, it’s an idea that I’m determined not to allow to take root even by accident… although getting back at 3:00 and leaving at 4:00 does have a certain charm.
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.