What I learned this week…

I spent the day Thursday scouring the dark recesses of used book shops. I didn’t find any treasures, but made off with a fair few reading copies of things that looked interesting. I spent the night Thursday reading books and dispensing ear scratches between three critters.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that my natural calling in life was to be a used book shop owner. Then, of course, I remember that particular line of effort would mean daily interaction with customers, who I would in no way be able to treat as “always right.” Putting me anywhere near the general public could only result in disaster for everyone involved.

So this week I learned the thing I’m probably most suited to do by inclination is something I’m utterly unsuited to do by temperament.

Not all learning is helpful.

You won’t see this…

A few nights ago, I was wondering what someone was up to and realized we hadn’t talked in a while. This was a friend from way back there and back then, one who once might have almost been something more, but for unlucky timing, fate, or whatever interceding. It wasn’t all that long ago we carried on endless late-night conversations, just talking about the day that was or what we hoped for tomorrow. Maybe it wasn’t Big Love, but there was a connection there, a real friendship if nothing more.

I guess I was surprised to find we’re not even electronic “friends” anymore. That’s fine. People don’t really change, but circumstances do. I don’t have any expectation of ever knowing or standing to ask for the what or why.

I’m not angry, but I am just a little bit sad. 

I’m not the kind of guy who runs out and makes new friends. I don’t have the energy or interest. It’s why I’ve always put a premium of hanging on to the old ones.

I don’t suppose they’ll ever see this, but I hope our paths cross again someday. I miss their insight and honesty and trusted counsel from someone who always seemed to get what oddities were floating around in my head.

At the risk of falling victim to internet outrage…

In the age of financial panic, COVID-19, and riots in the streets, my day to day experiences bear very little resemblance to what I’ve been watching on the nightly news. It’s very much like watching the whole thing unfold like an oddly scripted TV series where facts are made up and the plot is almost entirely nonsensical.

I’m getting up, feeding the animals, going to work, making dinner, and doing those million things a week that keep a household running. I think the so what here is that for every criminal cop, every window smashing rioter, and every grasping politician there are millions of people who are basically like me – focused more on whatever it is they do to get through their own day than whatever it is the news broadcasts and social media channels are spewing.

You’ll never see pictures of that, because people getting on with life isn’t flashy. It’s not newsworthy. It is, though, just about the most common thing in the world.

So if you want to hang your social media in black bunting, go for it. You want to imagine yourself a daring revolutionary standing tall among the barricades, that’s fine. Want to rend your garments because you hate wearing a face mask? It’s your funeral.

Just know that outside the echo chambers of social media and the news outlets there’s a vast swath of America that’s sick to death of fuckery in all the forms 2020 has decided to present to us… and it’s not that we don’t care about what’s happening so much as it is that while everyone else in the country seems to be able to spend weeks on end rallying or marching, a couple of us are still working and trying to manage the day-to-day.

Maybe some people won’t say it for fear of drawing the ire of the interwebs, but I’ve never posted anything for fans, or clout, or praise, but just because it’s what happened to be rattling around my head on any given day. Why should today be any different?

What I learned this week…

What I learned this week in a lot of ways is just a confirmation of what I’ve known my entire adult life – and that’s that I have absolutely no interest in ever living in a city. Yes, I’m aware my disinterest in city living means I’m “missing out” on untold cultural opportunities, fine dining, education, and whatever else it is that attracts people to live in America’s dense urban centers. I’ve made my peace with being able to access those opportunities as needed from a distance if I ever really need to avail myself of them.

I’m not built for living in a place that prides itself on ginning up ever increasing population density or warehousing people stacked 20 floors deep with a thousand next door neighbors. I’m not a great outdoorsman, but I can’t fathom living somewhere my only outdoor space is ten feet of concrete sidewalk or the part six blocks away that can be closed at a moment’s notice by executive fiat. When I want access to green space, I like the option of walking across my own yard and being there – already with the forest at my doorstep.

As much as I like “home,” finding myself confined to a few hundred square feet indefinitely is the stuff of nightmares. I despised riding DC’s Metro a lifetime ago when I commuted into the District for work. The idea that it, filled with plague victims with no other options, would be my only reasonable means of transportation, sounds definitively awful. If nothing else, the Great Plague has reinforced my already deep belief in the value of elbow room between me and the next closest neighbor.

Cecil County is just far enough away that it won’t likely be a bedroom community for Baltimore or Philadelphia any time soon… but the growth of housing developments and apartment complexes along the county’s main routes undeniably means that people are finding their own reason to live here. I’ve been here long enough to notice the daily increase in traffic to and from the major outlying areas of employment. It’s already feeling just a little bit too crowded for my tastes.

I’m happy enough where I am for the time being. State land and large lots will do their part to prevent too much crowding. Once I don’t need to make residency decisions based on proximity to an employer, though, the gloves are coming off. If I’ve learned nothing else from watching the news unfold these last few weeks, it’s that I well and truly have no business living or working inside of one of America’s great Petri dishes. I’m sure it’s fine for some people, but it’ll be a hard pass for me.

Morality and ethics aside…

I’d be lying if I said I don’t have deep misgivings about what appears to be the exercise of increasingly unchecked power by both the federal and state governments. That’s especially true when the discussion turns to the he power of the state to “lock down” people within entire geographic areas or perhaps the entire country. Where it makes perfect sense from a medical or harm reduction standpoint, it creates ponderous questions about due process rights, false imprisonment, and the Constitutional protections Americans enjoy against arbitrary government action. Where government reasonably can require a contagious person into quarantine, does that power also extend to people who aren’t sick? Should it?

I guess you can go ahead and add constitutional scholar and medical ethicist to the long list of things that I’m not.

The morality and ethics aside, I’m wondering at what point people begin to reject medical advice in favor of “living their best life” and rolling the dice. Having spent a lifetime watching people, and Americans in particular, I hope you’ll forgive me if I doubt the average person will be perfectly willing to live under a regime of social distancing, isolation, closures, and economic armageddon for as long as the 18 months or more that Imperial College is speculating it may take for COVID-19 to run its course

They’re all good dogs…

I got a note from an old friend that he had to put down his dog a week or so ago. That’s normal cause for sadness, but I felt it particularly because his dog, Smokey, was one of Maggie’s littermates. I’m about as jaded and cynical as they come, but if you think things didn’t get a little “watery” on the homestead for a little while, you’ve completely misread me.

I don’t think I’d seen Smokey in more than a decade. That was just a fact of space and time and not in any way relevant. Smokey was a good dog. They’re all good dogs.

Knowing that he’s gone is an unwelcome reminder of the all too brief time we have with these furry critters who share our homes… and that my sweet, unflappable Mags and I have run out a lot more of our time together than we have left to go.

Give your good doggo a scratch on the head for Smokey tonight. You’ll be glad you did.

What I learned this week…

I’ll keep this simple because my 16 day weekend has now dwindled down to just a regular length weekend.

What I learned this week is that when the time comes to hang up all this nonsense with going into the office and pecking away at PowerPoint, I’m really going to be fine. I can spend days on end searching out $1 used book gems, fiddling around with conserving the ones that need a bit of attention, and reading until my eyes go blurred. It feels like something I could keep up indefinitely… and mercifully doesn’t need to be particularly expensive to be satisfying.

A few weeks is a long difference from “forever,” but I feel more confident now than ever that filling the days and keeping to the budget won’t actually be the problems that some insist on making them out to be.

I’ll wait…

Occasionally people who don’t know me well ask “Jeff, why haven’t you ever gotten married?” I can think of several reasons, but the biggest one is simply this: On Saturday I did the grocery shopping for the week, did a big chunk of the fall yard work, made dinner, and tucked in for the night with a good book and a well made cocktail. On Sunday morning I had soup simmering away for Sunday dinner, ran four loads of laundry, made ham salad to enjoy for lunch, spent some quality time with all the animals, and had the house cleaned by noon.

I pay my bills and handle my business. I’m self sustaining and self sufficient and have been for a very long time now – although I’ve lived enough life to never rule anything all the way in or all the way out. If I were to break with a lifetime of habit it would take a pretty remarkable set of circumstances – and an even more remarkable person.

I’ve found through occasional, unscientific sampling that the only thing a fair proportion of the population brings to the table is a vagina and a metric shit ton of drama. Sure, both of those can be entertaining for a while, but what possible incentive would there possibly be to welcome that into my life on a full time basis

Show me someone who makes my life better and less complicated and I’ll eat my words. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Heavy nostalgia…

I just signed the paperwork starting the process of selling the condo I bought in 2001… Back when I was a fresh faced, 23-year old college graduate just a year or so into my first adult job in extreme southern Maryland. Back then St. Mary’s County was just starting to grow up – it’s first great strides towards becoming another bedroom community for the District.

Coming out of a two room granny flat that was about the size of my current laundry room, the condo felt palatial at the time. It was 725 square feet of all mine. The first step along the path of my own version of the American dream. If my time in Frostburg molded me, St. Mary’s, and my little condo was where I was tempered and really learned how to be me outside the orbit of the known and familiar.

With the paperwork signed, I’m about a week and a half from seeing the place back on the market for the first time since I snatched it up. I’m feeling an awfully heavy dose of nostalgia tonight – for nights on Solomons, at the Brass Rail, or the Green Door, for friends made and contact lost over the long intervening years, and more than a little for the 23-year old version of me who was so very determined to bend the world to his will, got kicked around a little by life, and kept on coming.

I’ve had chances to sell the place in the past, but could never quite bring myself to let it go. Now, though, it feels right. My long time property manager is closing up his business and being a long distance landlord has lost a lot of its luster. It’s probably a few years past time, really. The place deserves a shot at an owner who’s going to call it home again. I’d like to see that… but of course if another investor shows up with a big bag of cash, I’m not going to send them away.

As much as I’m feeling and appreciate the moment of nostalgia, it does have it’s limits when it comes to making decisions with the dollars and cents.

Time well spent…

With a few minor exceptions, yesterday’s activities were very close to how I’d describe spending a perfect day.

I started out in the pre-dawn darkness, the dogs happily sniffing and snorting, and running off a bit of overnight energy while I loaded the first cup of coffee onboard. Transition inside to making a simple breakfast – eggs, toast and jelly, more coffee, and scarfing it away while watching some obscure documentary and occasionally correcting the presenter on the finer points of early 1900s political life in America.

Then there was reading… and making lunch… and more reading… and then making dinner… and more reading to cap off the day.

My perch changed, depending on what room was getting “the good light” at any given time. It was too humid a day to risk the books being outdoors, so that’s maybe the one real downside of the day.

The whole effort was interspaced with ear scratches, and belly rubs, being turned into an occasional climbing post for the resident cat, or getting momentarily distracted by some of the background noise on the television and the occasional trip outside to supervise the dogs.

There were coffee drinks and whiskey drinks when I was thirsty and home cooked meals when I was hungry. There was, other than the ones I placed on myself, absolutely no demands on my time at all. For one full day, I did exactly what I wanted to do without outside interference – or thinking about what I needed to do on the next day.

It was, in a word, idyllic. It was time well spent. It was exactly how I’d spend my days if the world didn’t conspire to fill it with other, far more monotonous and far less interesting, activities.