Growing up down the crick in the 80s, Sunday dinner with the extended family wasn’t just something you saw in a Rockwell print. Sitting around the table, weighted down with metric tons of food, presided over by my grandfather, with aunts, uncles, and cousins jammed in elbow to elbow wasn’t a television trope. Living it then, I didn’t recognize it as anything other than the normal way of things. It’s only in hindsight I can see just how remarkable those Sunday dinners were.
Sunday dinner was always the big meal of the week, but Sunday lunch is just as fixed in my memory. It was almost invariably hamburgers – fried up in a skillet, or more rarely from the electric grill on the patio, and served with chips and maybe baked beans. I’m sure there were other sandwiches, but it’s the hamburgers that seem to be stuck in my mind’s eye as I look back across the decades.
I’ve long maintained the spirit of Sunday dinner being a household “event.” It’s consistently the biggest and most wide-ranging meal I make every week… though unlike my grandmother, I’m mercifully not making it to feed a dozen or more hungry mouths.
Now, these many years later, I find myself recreating those lunches, too. Sunday lunch is hamburgers or ham salad or BLTs. Perhaps it’s not an exact recreation, of the lunches that I remember so clearly, but it’s absolutely done with intent.
I know the poet says “The good old days weren’t always good.” He’s probably on to something there. Even so, they weren’t all bad either. One of the great mercies of time is it tends to smooth off some of the rougher edges of memory. I appreciate that immensely.
If there was any remnant of the Before Time I thought the Great Plague would manage to kill off, it was the whole concept of the office retirement / going away party. For eight months now, medical advice has been to severely curtail unnecessary social interaction (ex. graduation parties, weddings) and for the last few weeks the wisdom of traveling to join family members for Thanksgiving and Christmas has even been called into question.
It’s bad enough for people who need to show up for jobs that can’t be done remotely (and even worse for those whose job can be remote, but prevailing management culture prevents or discourages it). The goal there, in the absence of proper vaccination, should be in minimizing the number of people occupying the same workspace to the maximum extent possible. Pulling more people into that space for something as blatantly needless as a farewell luncheon feels like approaching the very height of an unnecessary activity.
People want normalcy. They want to do things that way they use to be done. I get it. Wanting to put more people that necessary for continued operational requirements in a room for the sake of a pot luck lunch, is, in my estimation, an absolute jackass move and you’ll never convince me otherwise… but by all means, I welcome an explanation of how it in any way “supports the mission” without unnecessarily increasing the overall risk to every person in the room and any person who might be in the room after the fact.
I’m sure it’s well intentioned, but a farewell luncheon in a confined space is just a bad judgement call from people who should know better. So yeah, I’ll be skipping the COVID luncheon, thanks.
On it’s best day, the conglomeration of office buildings where I work looks like a blend of minimum security prison and post-modern community college arranged around a central courtyard. The bosses would probably want me to call it a “campus,” but the best I can usually manage is naming it a “complex.” Campus has too many connotations of good times spent smoking and joking on the lower quad for me to sully that particular happy memory through such an inapt comparison.
Regardless of the naming convention, I was schlepping through the courtyard today in search of lunch (read: Going to Subway and hoping my key card still worked in that building). People have been mostly gone from the complex now since mid-March. I couldn’t help but notice that the lack of people is starting to show – mostly in the form of the number of weeds that are now growing in sidewalk joints, trash cans with their doors hanging open, and the general disarray of the outdoor furniture that’s supposed to make the place a hub of outside-the-office activity.
The space looks, in a word, abandoned. It’s a feeling reinforced by the disembodied Spotify playlist that’s still being piped through to the wide open space now utterly devoid of people.
The whole scene put me in mind of a series that ran on the History Channel back before they decided there was more profitability in Ancient Aliens. Life After People showed short vignettes of what various landmarks might look like in a world where people simply vanished – ending each episode by showing what that particular place could be once nature reclaimed it in total. We don’t appear to be in any immediate threat of reverting to wetland or deciduous forest… but it looks for all the world like the opening few minutes of an episode when humans have been gone for a few weeks or months.
It had a decidedly post-apocalypse feel, as if it really were the end of the world as we know it… and I’m really kind of fine with that.
1. Office pot luck lunches. In my opinion there is no more sad and depressing sendoff into retirement than an office pot luck lunch. Somehow showing appreciation for years of dedicated service by taking over the conference room, piling the credenzas high with veggie trays, deli sandwiches, packaged deserts, and lukewarm entrees just doesn’t fill me with a sense of purposeful recognition… it’s more like getting away with a bare minimum level of acknowledgment. I’ve never liked office pot lucks. The “special occasion” pot lucks, though, smack of insult to injury. Al least when my time comes I know what I won’t be doing. Some day, when people come looking for me, there’s just going to be an empty cubicle where Tharp use to sit. No pot luck, no certificate of appreciation, just a vague memory – a shadow receding into the distance just as quickly as his little legs will carry him.
2. Being a sonofabitch. I know it doesn’t seem it, but I’m generally a reasonable individual. My expectations of people are usually limited, based on experience. I’m almost never looking for a fight. I’m almost the definition of live and let live because I so rarely feel the need to engage. There are some times, though, when I have to be the sonofabitch. I can do it. I’m good at it. But all things considered I’d rather be left alone.
3. $10 a pill. I’ve picked up Maggie’s next round of antibiotics… ten days to the tune of $10.34 a pill. I love these dogs and I appreciate the marvel of modern pharmaceuticals, but hells bells, I’m taking whole fists full of human grade medications that don’t carry that kind of price tag all in.
I was invited to tea with the queen. Well, not exactly tea and not with the queen, but there’s a rough equivalency. It certainly felt a lot like being a bit player serving at a 16th century royal court.
What I was really invited to to was to spend the better part of 90 minutes sitting quietly against the wall watching the gods on Olympus eat their lunch while discussing the important matters of the day. Let me repeat that for those in the back… I was summoned into the elite presence to watch people eat their lunch.
Yes, I was also there to provide deep background information on the flying circus and traveling medicine show that I’m nominally charged with running, but in reality I was there, missing my own lunch, in order to watch a large group of other people eat theirs.
It’s hard to imagine that was the best possible use of 90 minutes with less than two weeks to go until zero hour, but I suppose the pay’s the same whether I’m getting anything done or not. So, if anyone out there is in need of someone to stop by and watch you eat, feel free to get in touch. I’m quite sure I’ve had these experiences enough now to qualify expert.
1. Staff requirements. I’ve always been slightly put off by the idea of needing “personal staff” to run a household. After a few more weeks like this one, I’m going to need to seriously reconsider the need to hire out both the cooking specialty and the cleaning specialty to qualified subject matter experts. We’re very quickly reaching the point where I not only want to stay home during every available moment of down time, but where I don’t want to spend that down time doing anything that requires actual thought. The next 40 or so days promise to be an epic battle between my internal demand for order and expending every drop of mental energy focused on other things.
2. Lunch. I miss regularly eating lunch. I did manage to stuff food into my face during the middle part of two out of four work days this week… so if lunch were a professional sport I’d be averaging .500 and headed for the Hall of Fame. Still, it seems I’m going to have to come up with better options for physically breaking away for 30 minutes because even the wild hope of managing to snag a meal at my desk has proven to me a pipe dream.
3. The elephant in the room. I suspect I’ll never not be perplexed when a room full of adults sits around asking questions to which everyone knows the answer, but in which not one of them wants to be the one to say it out loud. I mean are we all pretending that we don’t know the answer? The reason some things are the way they are is because someone made the decision. It might not sound like a good enough reason when you say it out loud, but that doesn’t make it any less the reason something is the way it is. It would be convenient if we collectively had the internal fortitude to say it out loud, but that’s the kind of brave decision that needs to take place at pay grades well above mine so I’ll just sit quietly and wait for someone to call for the next slide.
“Sooooo… not many people have signed up for the pot luck next week.” Because I somehow managed to be anointed Keeper of the Pot Luck Sign Up Sheet, this fact wasn’t a surprise to me. The fact that a week before this kind of officially designated team building mandatory fun event, almost no one had signed up to participate shouldn’t have surprised anyone, really… but it does, time after time.
You understand going in to this line of work that it’s not Silicon Valley. We’re never going to have a water slide in the lobby and a full bar in the break room. Our bosses aren’t going to rent out a beach house or ski lodge. What we end up with, then, are events planned to “make do” with whatever minor leeway we do have in terms of building team spirit and morale. Of those, the pot luck lunch is the staple.
Maybe there was a time when this kind of thing was popular – make a dish, bring it in, pass it around. Smoke, joke, and relax for an hour or two. Now that we can’t smoke, no one can take a joke, and a long lunch is looked on as the ultimate form of slacking, I just can’t imagine why it’s not drawing a bigger crowd. Face it, I cook for myself in the evenings out of necessity – making another dish to carry along on the commute is just another layer of hassle I’m ok with avoiding.
The only thing I can tell you is that my morale has never been significantly improved because of a plate full of lukewarm and/or over crock-potted food offered up in some drab, windowless conference room. I’m willing to stipulate that the intentions here are probably good, but the execution is something between bland and ineffective. Sure, if it makes anyone feel better, I’ll send out another reminder, but you can go ahead and mark me down as a hard no.
One of the undeniable perks of working from home once a week is getting outside with the dogs at lunch time. Usually it’s about as close to a mid-day moment of zen as you’re ever likely to find around my place. Today, though, the only way I can describe it is that the whole outside felt unsettled.
It’s not that there was anything wrong with me, or the dogs, or the house but it felt very much like this little patch of woods was holding its breath – and waiting for something. There were no birds chirping and no small fuzzy creatures – or even large fuzzy ones for that matter. Aside from the steady wind in the upper reaches of the oaks, it was unnaturally quiet. I can’t say it made me nervous, but it definitely had the feeling of being something other than normal.
I’m not a fancy big city scientist, but if I had lay down a guess, it would have something to do with rapid changes in barometric pressure and “big weather” moving in. If it can make the old timer’s arthritis act up, I don’t see any reason not to believe the other creatures of the forest can sense the same thing since they’re the ones really living out in that mess. At least that’s my meager effort to explain today’s brush with the strange and unusual.
In any case, I’ll be happier when it all feels normal again. Like that’s a surprise.
1. Working lunch. Fuck that noise. I’m either working or I’m at lunch. There is no middle ground where that issue is concerned. Lunch implies a pause from labor in order to nourish and sustain the body. Flipping slides as part of a conclave of the great and the good while popping Tic Tacs and swilling warm Coke and cold coffee just to keep myself awake does not in any way constitute “having lunch.” Don’t worry, though, I’ll go ahead and adjust my departure time accordingly.
2. Undeserved ego. I don’t have any complaint about people whose ego is deserved. There are plenty who walk among us who are perfectly justified in displaying their swollen head at every opportunity. It’s something else entirely if you’re thinking so highly of yourself for no discernible reason. Because people are generally polite by nature, most of them won’t tell you that your new clothes aren’t clothes at all – Their desire for self-preservation will see to that. But rest assured, every single one of us will be thinking it every time your pie hole swings open.
3. Meetings (again, because frankly they’re probably the single most annoying element of my life). As a rule of thumb I’ve always thought a meeting should be a quick affair. It’s a chance to pull a lot of people into a room and convey information that can’t be shared any other way. That’s fine in principle. The problem arises when people want to use a meeting as a forum to “do the work.” In my experience that’s the very last thing that happens in a meeting. There may be loads of discussion but you should never confuse that with having accomplished a great deal of work. It’s the kind of thing I think about during the first in a series of three and a half hour long meetings – wherein I have seemingly limitless time to ponder bad career choices and the 210 minutes of my life I will never ever been able to get back.
1. Refinancing. At the moment I’m trying like hell to refinance the condo since interest rates can’t conceivably go much further down. This week, I’m playing an interminable game of “send this, then send that, then send some other thing, send something else, resend the first thing.” While I can understand that not everyone share’s my obsession with order and neatness, it seems to me that just sending one list of the documents I need to provide might go a long way towards streamlining this process.
2. Don’t ask. If you ask if I’m busy and the answer is anything close to “yes, I’m going to lunch,” that should not be a signal to you to then drag me into a 30 minute conversation about something I couldn’t possibly care less about. Instead, you should consider it a signal to STFU so I can go get lunch. #TheMoreYouKnow
3. Nothing original. If you really are going to hold me to a third thing this week, let’s just go with the fact that, occasionally there isn’t a third thing. it’s not that the week has been any less stupid than the others, just that most of the grievances I noticed this week are a little too familiar. They’re the same ones that came up last week and a few weeks before that and maybe even months ago. Being a dedicated creature of habit it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that the same things come up over time. I’d be more concerned if they didn’t. There’s just so many times I can create a new and interesting spin on “meetings are stupid,” “people are a pain in the ass,” and why leader is a verb rather than a title.