A low-grade crud…

I went from March 2020 to December 2021 without so much as a cough. I can trace my Christmas crud last year directly to the one time I strayed out from normal habits of avoiding people. Believe me when I tell you I was good at avoiding people before COVID. After COVID, I’ve become exceptional… of course that assumes a situation where I exert some level of control over most of the variables. 

I’m in no way surprised that six weeks after “return to the office” I already find myself dealing with a low-grade crud. You wouldn’t be surprised either if you heard the general amount of background hacking, sniffling, and general complaints that “it’s probably just a cold,” floating around the cube farm on any given day.

The good news is that as long as the handy little at home tests can be trusted, it’s probably a run of the mill cold and not the Great Plague. The bad news, of course, is the only reason I’ve got a head full of anything just now is because my corner of the great green machine continues to obstinately cling to the idea that work is a place rather than an activity despite two years of evidence to the contrary.

If you’re wondering when I’ll stop being salty about this world where asses in seats continues to be a more important metric than production, well, I won’t… and I don’t even need this periodic upper respiratory reminder to keep it in the forefront of my mind.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Blue Falcons. From time immemorial there have been Blue Falcons. They’re the kind of people who would step over their own sainted grandmother or cheat their best friend if they thought it was a chance to get ahead. The ranks of the great green machine are thick with them to some greater or lesser degree. The worst of them, the ones who create a lot of smoke and heat but not much light, are the staff schmucks who think they’ll gain the barest marginal advantage by selling out someone down the hall over an issue that could have been remedied with an email. Being a buddy fucker isn’t a good look, friends. Even if you gain a nominal advantage temporarily, the taint will be on you till the end of your days.

2. Weekends. The problem with the weekend is whole vast swaths of the population are off at the same time. I found myself unavoidably out on Saturday afternoon to do some business with places that don’t obligingly open their doors before 7 AM. To my never-ending horror, there were people everywhere. Traffic backed up at every light. It’s goddamned nightmare fuel. Maybe I need to find a gig where I can take two sequential weekdays off instead of Saturday and Sunday… because weekends are absolutely not relaxing when I have to subject myself to the crowd.

3. There’s been a wave of “climate protests” across Europe. The most recent spate of “protestors” feature assholes damaging and destroying art across the continent who rank right alongside the Taliban scum who blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas or the ISIS fucks who destroyed the Roman theater at Palmyra. At best they’re petulant little shits throwing a temper tantrum because their ideas can’t draw support on their own merits… but in my estimation they’re domestic terrorists who should be delt with as such.

Can do attitude…

So hey, what we’re going to go ahead and do is pile all of you guys back in this room with no windows or moving air so you can spread disease and shout over one another to have conversations, participate in online meetings, and make phone calls. Oh, and by the way, those nice noise cancelling headphones that you’ve been using for years and make working elbow to asshole with everyone else sitting in cubicle hell tolerable are also now contraband… but don’t worry, we’re going to replace them with piece of shit one ear call center headsets that are a-ok.

We’re also going to rip the microphones and cameras out of your laptops so you’ll need to go ahead and use external devices when you’re teleworking to get those functions. No, I’m sure that won’t be in any way a pain in the ass. They’re one step away from explaining why it’s a feature and not a bug.

One of the real perks of working here at this center of excellent excellency is that even when you can’t imagine being able to drive morale even lower, someone finds a way. If there’s a way to make working conditions even slightly more unpleasant, we’ll get after it with gusto. We’re organizationally resourceful like that. It’s the kind of “can do” attitude we like to see.

The part of this whole sorry state of affairs that I’m going to enjoy most is that six months from now someone is going to wander through the area and comment that everyone seems angsty and hostile. If they’ve got a day or two to talk it over, I’ll be happy to give them the full list of how and why… with examples and annotation. 

A sad bloody hash…

A million years ago when I was a teacher for about 30 minutes, I was a dues paying member of the local union. I don’t remember how much the dues were, but it must have been pretty nominal if I was willing to part with it when I was making something like $2,400 a month. Part of the deal there was that the union was responsible for negotiating our salary and benefits package. Outside of that, my engagement with them was pretty minimal.

For most if not all of my career as a cog in Uncle’s great green machine, I’ve also been nominally superintended by one union or another. The difference here, of course, is that none of these unions are able to negotiate pay or benefits or much of anything that really makes a strong case for sending them money every other week. In 20 years, the total number of times I’ve needed anything from a union is precisely zero point zero. Other than the few run-ins I’ve had with them complaining about me for taking up whole swaths of the parking lot with giant tents every April there for a few years, I simply haven’t had any reason or desire to deal with them.

After three weeks of wondering why no one has heard anything about when or if the new and improved telework program will be rolling out, I finally decided to reach out directly to the leadership of our local union. I sent over a perfectly professional inquiry about why we hadn’t heard a word about it, what the holdup is, and when it’s expected to be resolved. It’s certainly not as if it isn’t a point of conversation around the water cooler every single day at this point.

I’ll be honest here, I got the sense that the union official who responded either didn’t appreciate the specific questions, didn’t appreciate being questioned in general, or maybe he’d just gotten tired of being asked the same thing 100 times a week. His response did throw in one of my favorite old saws that anyone who’s been around more than a few days has heard – that “we train to standard, not to time.” You can roughly translate that to mean it’s going to take as long as it takes, so quit asking.

As a professional planner I consider it one of the worst possible approaches to doing anything. In my universe, time is part of the standard. A 100% solution delivered months after it’s needed is every bit as bad and often much worse than a 50% solution delivered on time. Neither one has the desired effects when and where they’re needed. Any good planner should tell you they’re working to both time and standard, not one or the other as if they’re mutually exclusive, unrelated factors.

Basically it was a very polite invitation to go fuck myself, which I’m not especially offended by… other than wishing people would just say that up front rather than couching it in euphemism. He made his point. I made mine. I doubt either one of us feels better for the experience. As a non-dues paying employee, my opinion doesn’t carry much weight to the union’s internal deliberations, but that doesn’t mean for one moment that I’m not going to voice them whenever I feel it’s appropriate… and I haven’t seen or heard anything yet that would convince me our “representation” hasn’t made a sad bloody hash of the whole thing. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Mail in ballots. I printed out my general election ballot over the weekend. So far all it’s done is sit here on the corner of my desk like a lump. It hasn’t jumped up and subverted an election. It hasn’t even tried to multiply itself or throw itself into the trash so it couldn’t be counted. I’m highly disappointed that this mail in ballot doesn’t seem to have any of the magical qualities that Republicans have been warning me about for the last two years. In fact, it’s almost like they’re making up stories about evil mail in ballots on the spot and talking out their collective asses for their own devious purposes. 

2. The union. We’ve been paying attention to the Great Plague since about March 2020. That’s two and a half years the union that nominally represents most non-supervisory employees at my place of work has had to get their act together in negotiating what right looks like in terms of an updated policy for telework. Their failure to get it done has left us falling back on the policy that was in force in 2019 and bears little resemblance to the post-plague reality of information work. I don’t know what pie in the sky fuckery the executive board was demanding, but I know management’s proposal of two days per week in the office is miles ahead of where they wanted to be when the issue was discussed 18 months ago. From where I’m sitting, it looks like the union is all that’s standing between us and picking up an additional day of telework each week. I didn’t have much use for federal employee unions before this, but dragging out the process on this just adds insult to injury. I strongly encourage AFGE Local 1904 to unfuck themselves as soon as humanly possible because right now all they seem to be is an obstacle.

3. Vehicle repair. I’m driving a 12-year-old truck with nearly 140,000 miles on it. I’m all too aware that we’ve reached a point in our relationship when some repair work is just going to be unavoidable. More than the repairs themselves, it’s just the inconvenience of it that really gets to me. Getting it diagnosed, dropping it off for an unknown about of time to have the service done, arranging for alternate transportation from the shop to home and back again for pick up. It’s just filled with bits and bobs that conspire against my well worn in day-to-day habits.  So, you could say it’s more the inconvenience of it that the actual work that needs doing… and it’s all before whatever the absurd cost ends up being. Alas, that last bit is an inevitable consequence of my being a mechanical incompetent, so there’s no one to blame there but myself. 

Value added synergy…

In recognition of my first day back at the office under 2019 working conditions, I’m excited to provide an exhaustive list of things I did at the office that I couldn’t have done if I were home.

– Cleaned off a shelf in my cubicle to restock with coffee, tea, and corresponding additives and accessories. If I’m going to have to be here, mass quantities of caffeine are absolutely going to be necessary.

– Cleaned out a drawer in my cubicle that was filled with crackers, ketchup packets, and sundry foodstuffs that mostly expired early in 2020. Mostly this was just gross. For the record, I should note that mustard packets absolutely do not age well even when stored in a cool, dark place.

– Found two banker’s boxes with lids that someone was sending to recycling. Banker’s boxes are great for book storage. They’re now stashed in my cubicle awaiting a dry day when I can liberate them.

– I spent an hour in a meeting this morning. It was probably one of only 3 or 4 meetings I’ve attended in person in the last 30 months. I have no idea why I was invited as none of the topics were anywhere close to my lane. But there I was, because that’s where Outlook told me to be at 10:00. I could have dialed in for this meeting, but since I was there in person, I’m claiming it as an accomplishment for the day.

– Pushed the button to unlock our room door thrice. As far as I can tell, this is in fact one of my mission essential tasks. In light of that I’ve begun tracking how many times a day I push the button. If it’s going to be the thing that keeps us here in person, I want to make sure I get credit for it on my next performance appraisal.

– Got to listen to at least one person hack up a lung in each and every room I entered today. No idea if it was flu, cold, allergies, plague, or some new and exotic illness, but there they were, spraying the room and everyone in it with their aerosolized gunk throughout the course of the day. I’m just going with assumption now that the office is 100% where the Great Plague will finally catch up with me.

– It was Taco Tuesday featuring a selection of hard- and soft-shell tacos, homemade empanadas, all the appropriate toppings, and a selection of deserts. It was one of the rare occasions when I willingly violated my personal rules against participating in lunch events in badly lit conference rooms. 

There you have it. That’s what extra value you get for your money when I’ve schlepped over to cubicle hell instead doing business from the ease and comfort of my office at home. I’m sure it was all very “value added” or “synergistic” or “team-focused” or something.

Monday and other inconveniences…

It’s Monday. Again. It feels like Mondays are happening more and more often these days. I know that’s not how time works, of course, but it still feels like they keep showing up all out of proportion to how often we get a Saturday thrown into the mix. Perception is a hell of a thing, and what brings me to my real point today.

If I really dredge the far recesses of my mind, I can still vaguely recall the version of me that was a young, highly motivated professional who wanted to do all the things, go all the places, and generally be in the middle of everything. That version of me is unquestionably dead and gone, replaced by one that isn’t interested in wave making or in any way drawing unnecessary attention to himself or whatever he may be doing.

I can’t really say if one approach is particularly better or worse than the other. Both feel equally valid. Both are based on conditions, circumstances, and past experience. Present me has learned, from hard experience, that there’s no real benefit from getting too far out over my skies. Sure, maybe I could stick the landing, but the more probable result is face planting into the nearest tree.

Right now, experience is screaming in my ear that seeming too eager or too competent will lead to nothing but angst, frustration, and an increased workload. It’s better, then, to keep on quietly, not fouling anything off, but equally determined not to give in to any conspicuous display of more than average competence.

I like to think it’s a reasonable precaution in uncertain times.

It’s a long list…

It’s new supervisor day at the office. I’d like to pretend raging indifference, but the fact remains that whoever signs your leave requests and timesheets has a tremendous influence on whether the eight hours you rent yourself out for on a daily basis go well or badly.

After almost twenty years in harness, I’ve accumulated a long list of former bosses.  If I feel like being polite, I’ll say that some were better than others. If I’m not, I’d say that some were princes among men and others were oxygen thieving asshats I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if they were on fire. Most were somewhere in between the extremes.

I don’t know the new guy, so I’m withholding judgement until there’s a reasonable basis for deciding where he falls on the spectrum. A lot of that is going to depend on just how “energetic” they decide to be in their new position. All new bosses will inevitably make changes, but the real determinative factor is whether they wants to change the things that need changing or whether they end up chasing wholesale changes just because they want to “leave a mark” or because he knows better than anyone ever before.

The dude has got big shoes to fill… and I’m not just saying that because the old boss is now my senior rater. It’s a hard, thankless job made all the more difficult because echelons higher than reality can never quite agree on what the job is actually supposed to entail. I’ve had two chances now to apply for what would be a respectable promotion and opted against doing so both times. I wouldn’t want the job at twice the pay. I’m happy enough letting others sit in the councils of the great and the good while I tend my widgets and get home at a reasonable hour.

Meat, hunting, and home decoration…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

It’s hard to go out for groceries without seeing another brand that’s introduced a new variety of plant-based ham or some other all natural, vegan certified, socially responsible food product. That’s fine. Some of these products aren’t half bad tasting and I’m happy to allow the substitution where it makes sense. 

Even so, you’d be hard pressed to fully break me of a lifetime of omnivorous eating. If I haven’t been shown satisfactory evidence that bacon can be made from turkey, there’s really very little chance I’m going to suddenly be convinced it can be made from pressed plants. In some cases, taste really is king.

I go through all that to demonstrate that I’m an unashamed meat eater.

I grew up in a place where hunting and fishing were a regular method of supplementing what ended up on the dinner table. Even though my days of wanting to sit in the cold waiting for a deer are long gone, I respect the hell out of people who are out there doing it for the right reasons. Despite what PETA tells you, taking game for sustenance or to control nuisance species are perfectly valid things to do and is considered a wildlife management best practice.

Trophy hunting, by contrast, pretty much makes you a douche. Yeah, I’m looking directly at whoever out there cuts off the antlers and leaves the carcass laying on the side of the road. Look, I love duck and goose hunting – but I don’t enjoy the taste of duck or goose, so I settle for taking clays and staying out of the blind. Going out just for the thrill of the kill or because you need a stuffed and mounted giraffe is about as asinine reason to hunt as I can imagine. 

That’s not the kind of statement that will endear me to some of my gun toting brethren, who would be perfectly happy to keep blasting a hundred ducks at a time with a skiff-mounted punt gun until they empty the river.

To enjoy any kind of legitimacy, hunting has to be about conserving the resource today and for the future. The most dedicated hunters I’ve ever known have approached the whole process with a reverence for the animal and full understanding that an animal was losing its life so that the hunter could eat. If your hunt is all about home décor choices, then honestly, I don’t even want to know you.

Now is the spring of my discontent…

And so it begins. The two weeks a year when I’m forced to put on a brave face and transform into a cheerleader, a producer, a confessor, a circus roustabout, a tyrant, and a Chatty Cathy all in the name of passing along some information that could just as easily be set loose into the world by putting it on a website.

“But that misses the personal touch,” they cry. Knowing how much money you’re going to spend and how isn’t enough. We can’t do without the networking, the back slapping, the crab puffs, and little finger sandwiches. Though they’ll howl just as loudly when we go back to charging $700 a head instead of giving the information away for free online.

COVID and the Plague Era has given me a great respite in that at least the last few iterations of this great dog and pony show have been online. No vast sea of party tents, no outdoor equipment displays, no tickets, no 700 extra people jammed elbow to asshole in an auditorium to listen to presentations they could have heard just as easily from home. Next year might be back to “normal”… and that’s a threat that hangs over me like a goddamned death sentence.