1. The US Postal Service. I probably shouldn’t say this out loud while my taxes are in transit, but they should have arrived at their destination by now. Emphasis on the “should have.” In any case, I’ve just received a Christmas card. It was postmarked on the 20-somethingth of December and delivered to me here on the homestead just in time for Valentine’s Day. Maybe I should award points for it getting here at all based on some of my other recent experiences. Increasingly the expectation that products and services should work as advertised feels like something that’s just too much to hope for.
2. Baltimore. One of the perennial joys of living in the State of Maryland is the unending shitshow that is Baltimore City. In a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, we somehow are home to one of the world’s largest live action shooting ranges. Year after year the legislature pours ever increasing amounts of money into the city, because surely that will fix all the problems. Let’s not get hung up on the fact that when asked, the city government generally doesn’t seem able to tell anyone where the money they’ve already been given went or what improvements were made as a result. For my entire adult life, Baltimore has been governed by increasingly feckless “leaders” whose sole purpose in life seems to be finding new and more ridiculous ways to convince Annapolis to give them mountains of cash. The city government either needs to get its house in order or the state should step in and get the city into line. Allowing it to continue to swallow prodigious amounts of tax dollars without showing even the most marginal of improvements feels downright criminal.
3. Mind reading. It’s worth repeating from time to time that mind reading is not among my many varied talents. If you tell me you want something, I’m going to proceed from the assumption that you know what you want. I’m going to do my best to give it to you – not some version of what you requested, not something with the flavor of your request, but the honest to God thing you asked for to the best of my abilities and within the time allotted. If it turns out what you end up with isn’t what you want, I can promise you that the issue is almost always with the description of the requirements, not with my being way out off the edge of the map somewhere.
It’s the third day in a row that I’ve been late getting away from the office. If anyone despises this turn of events more than me, it’s Maggie and Winston. Thanks to their upbringing to take joy in the marvel of a well executed routine, they’re finding the whole thing unsettling. The net result is from the time I do get home until lights out these two are attached even more closely to my hips than usual. I don’t see the week getting any more “regular” from here on to the end. In fact the next two days at a minimum can be relied upon to have a monumental amount of stupid baked right in.
I don’t think I’ve pulled a legitimate 12 hour shift since Hurricane Dean threatened the Gulf Coast in 2007. It’s not a level of effort I’m particularly eager to reprise. Even though I’ll be made whole for those additional hours at a later date I really have gotten to the point with this fiasco that eight hours at a time is more than enough to test what little patience I have left. Given their attitudes over the last few nights it’s clear that the dogs agree with me.
I do my level best not to let a trifle like work interfere with the important work of blogging and trying to deliver my next sarcasm-laden book to an expectant world. Most days I’m successful on that front. This week, my expectations are somewhat more limited. Tonight for example I’m sitting here at the computer just barely able to keep my eyes open. It’s the second night in a row that I’ve been at least an hour late heading home and on balance the week should only really get worse from here.
I’ll make every effort to keep up with fresh posts for the duration, but let me go on record as making absolutely no promises in that regard. At the rate this week is currently spiraling out of control, by this time tomorrow it’s possible I’ll be subsisting entirely on a diet of coffee and whatever I can find from a vending machine. By Thursday I’m beginning to think I’ll have lost the capacity for coherent speech and default to communicating through prehistoric grunts and pointing in the general direction of what I want.
As far as I can tell at the moment, this week plans to be nothing but a time thief and that means you’ll have to suffer right along with me… so please forgive me for whatever drivel ends up filling these otherwise respectable pages over the next few days.
1. “Things are bad all over.” For the record, that might be the most dumbass reason anyone has ever given for avoiding taking action. If something sucks, change it. If something’s broken, fix it. If your only contribution is that it’s bad everywhere and are willing to sit around in your dissatisfaction being thankful it’s not worse where you happen to be at the time, well sweet baby Jesus, I’m not sure I even want to know you.
2. Rehash. Once you’ve decided on doing something, just go ahead and go do it. Don’t spend the next three weeks going back over the same tired ground, wringing your hands. There are plenty of new and interesting mistakes we can make without reliving all the old ones indefinitely into the future… so please, for the sake of whatever small sliver of sanity I can muster, can we just move on to new business?
3. Running behind. I’ve been running behind all week. I start the day on Monday 20 minutes late and it’s gotten progressively worse from there. By thursday night the whole damned carefully constructed schedule of events is in serious danger of collapsing on itself. It happens a couple of times a year… my best guess is it’s a function of a lack of sleep finally catching up with me. Sometime in the next few days, but certainly inside the next week, I’m going to have a small meltdown, the system will reset, and things will get back to what passes for normal around here. Getting to that point is an exercise in exhaustion, but at least I’ve been through it enough times now to know more or less what’s coming. Now if I can just keep the thing from stepping all over my weekend, that will probably be my biggest single accomplishment for the month of August.
The better part of a decade ago the then Secretary of Defense befuddled members of the Pentagon press corps with a discussion of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Love him or hate him, Secretary Rumsfeld had a certain happy felicity of phrase that made his press events a thing of beauty to watch. Believe it or not, though, I did’t log in tonight to talk about the former Secretary.
Instead, I came to complain about the known knows – namely that I know the weekend is ending in a few hours and I know even before Monday gets here that I’ll be working late tomorrow night. I don’t mean that I’ll be there until the small hours of the morning, but there is an unavoidable afternoon meeting that’s definitely going to step all over what is normally a very happy time of the day. In this case, it’s not exactly my fault. I inherited this meeting from someone who has moved on to practice other opportunities to excel and it was set in concrete long before it landed on my desk. I like to think you all know me well enough to know there’s no way in hell I would schedule a meeting at end-of-tour. That’s just not my style.
So that’s my known known before the new week even starts. It’s a fair bet that it’s a known that will annoy me for the rest of tonight and throughout the day tomorrow. I wish it didn’t. Things that screw with my carefully cultivated schedule are one of those things that bother me well beyond all reasonable levels. With all that said, the knowns aren’t likely to be the things that really jam up the week. It’s the whole host of unknown unknowns lurking right below the surface that promise to blow the week to hell and back.
With that said, I’ve got a bottle of wine to finish and a good book to stick my nose in for the balance of the evening. That should decisively keep both the knows and unknowns at bay for the time being.
1. Strike 3. With the USPS fighting for it’s life, one of the simple issues they could work on is get things from Point A to Point B when they say they will. The last three items I ordered online that were shipped through USPS all encountered inexplicable delays. Maybe I’m just finicky, but when I pay for second day arrival, I generally expect to get my items two days after I ordered them. It doesn’t feel like that’s an unreasonable expectation. I know it’s a trifle, but logging in to a website a day or two after the “guaranteed arrival date” and still wondering where the hell my package is is just infuriating and just one of the many reasons I don’t use USPS when I have an option. On time and to standard; that’s the way to build a happy customer based. What USPS is doing is pretty much just telling me that they’ve given up.
2. Mission: Impossible. When the assigned mission is to give a 3 minute presentation about what you’re working on, that’s what you should do. Actually, you should wrap it up in two minutes, thirty seconds to allow a moment for questions, but that’s not the point. What you shouldn’t do is ramble all over the damned world while everyone’s eyes glaze over in benign indifference. Remember, it’s called a “brief” for a reason.
3. Dropped calls. Cell phones drop calls. Since they’re magically connecting to far away towers without the benefit of wires, I’ve learned to accept that limitation. When using a land line to connect to another land line, there’s just no justification for dropping the call not once, not twice, not thrice, but four effing times in the span of 35 minutes. After attempt four failed to take hold for more than three minutes, I officially lost interest in whatever was being said. If it appeared to anyone that I had thrown my hands in the air like I just don’t care, well, there’s a good reason it looked like that.
1. Christmas shopping. I know the old saying goes “It’s better to give than to receive” and while I’m sure there are some very good socio-religious reasons for that adage, my own Christmas shopping does not in any way reflect it. After a week of hitting the sales at my usual haunts, it’s pretty much Jeff: 10, Everyone Else: 0. I’m shooting to get most of my list covered down over this coming weekend. Fortunately, in the finest tradition of 21st century man, gift cards are pretty easy to find and I can have just about all of that knocked out in about an hour. I’m sure I could go spend the next three weeks carefully pondering what the recipients might want, but in the end, shopping for other people is mostly a wild ass shot in the dark. It’s better all around to take my chances with them knowing what they want instead of giving it my best blind guess.
2. Arguing on the internet. I’m a regular member of several online forums. One of the best aspects of the internet is that no matter what you’re interested in, there’s almost guaranteed to be a group of people out there interested in talking about the same thing. From investments to tortoise keeping, there’s a discussion out there for you. What I don’t understand is why so many people spend an inordinate amount of time and effort on these sites arguing with one another over nitpicky details that really make all that much difference. There’s something about having an internet connection that imbues people with the sense that they alone are the herald of the One Truth. I’m of the opinion that there is room for smart people to disagree, for there to be more than one version of the truth, without everyone being a bunch of doucheknockers. Then again, that theory depends largely on it being a discussion between smart people. Which may be the ultimate flaw in my logic.
3. Thirty minutes. That’s how much later than normal I left work on Tuesday. I signed off on it in advance and for once actually wanted to go to a meeting, but that didn’t take into account the fact that apparently leaving 1800 seconds after the end of my usual duty day approximately doubles the duration of my drive home from 45 minutes to nearly an hour and a half. If I wanted to deal with that kind of asshattery, I would have accepted the job down at Ft. Myer and not here in the sticks, thank you very much. File that one under the category labeled “Mistakes I Won’t Make a Second Time.”
I’m an early bird. I don’t just mean that I get up early even on mornings when it’s not strictly necessary. I mean I’m early to damned near everything. Meetings, doctor’s appointments, oil changes, you name it. I’m the guy who shows up well in advance of the designated time. Even movies, where we all know the listed “start time” is fictional at best, I’m in my seat sometimes even before they start running the pre-film advertainment. Admittedly even I can accept that there’s no good reason for that one.
This compulsion to be early if possible and on time at a minimum leads to an inordinate amount of sitting around waiting for other people, which ironically, is one of the most visceral of my pet peeves. Experience has taught me that expecting from others what I expect from myself is good in practice, but lousy in theory. While I don’t envision many of my lifetime habits changing at this late date, I’m doing my best to scale back my expectation that others at least make a minimal effort to be on time if there’s no possible way for them to be a few minutes early.
While I’m coming to grips with the fact that most people seem to go through life in a constant state of late for everything, that doesn’t mean I’m not quietly judging you based on your distinct lack of time management skills. If we’re on friendly terms, I probably won’t make a big deal out of it, but I’ll still think you need to invest in a watch and actually consult it now and then. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not early you’re already late.
Last Saturday I commented on the more or less mundane weekend routine I like to slip into. As usual, life has conspired to turn me into a liar at the first available opportunity. Someone (I’m looking at you, Cait) bet me a chicken dinner that I couldn’t stay awake until midnight… which was summarily changed to 1:30 when I showed signs of getting it done. I might have seen the clock roll past 3AM before finally dropping off. It was a matter of principle, after all. Sadly, my internal clock doesn’t stand on principle so I was still wide awake at 7:30. That’s fine. I mean who needs more than four hours of sleep anyway?
Fortunately, I managed to find the coffee without too much trouble and even got a roast in the crock pot (yeah, I don’t know when I’m going to get my chicken dinner prize). Winston decided it was a good morning to eat a bottle of hand sanitizer, so I’m keeping an eye on him, too. And the person who instigated this chain of events is still asleep. Somehow I thing I’m getting the short end of the bet-you-can’t-say-awake deal. It’s decidedly not a routine Saturday.
If anyone needs me, there’s a good chance I’ll be right here – asleep at the keyboard.
I got to spend an entire day this week in class. You can imagine my unrestrained joy at being given this “opportunity.” Still, there’s an old saying that goes something like “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” Of course sometimes life happens and even the most obsessive of us can arrive a few minutes late to our destination. On any given day when how long it takes you to get back from lunch doesn’t really matter to anyone, extending your meal a bit doesn’t hurt at all. Since this was one of those moments that we were all in it together and nothing was going to happen until all the butts were back in all the seats, what possessed one car full of you to decide it was a good day to take a two hour lunch? I mean, I don’t like this class any better than you do, but somehow I managed to wander back it at something approximating on time, even if that was mostly driven by the desire to get things over with as soon as possible. You tools, on the other hand, seemed dead set on dragging a long day out even further.
I thought the lip smacking and crinkling of paper wrappers when you got back was an exceptionally well planned touch, by the way. I mean how on earth could you have spent two hours out wandering around and not managed to spend at least some of that time jamming half a sandwich into the filthy stinking sewer that you call a mouth? Your incompetence, lack of interest in anything other than yourself, and dare I say apathy, has reset the bar for the rest of us. Look, I may be an apathetic fuck, but I somehow manage not to let my own proclivities bleed over and cause problems for other people. All I’d ask is for the same courtesy of not screwing the rest of us because you’re having a bad day or can’t be bothered to do two things simultaneously.
The crowning irony of our little drama today was that we were all part of a new mandatory-for-the-universe class on improving professional conduct in the workplace. Maybe this was part of the class – A living example of how not to do things.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.