There have been a couple of events competing for my attention this last week and as you’ve seen, my posts have slowed to a bare trickle. In an effort to condense three or four posts into one, here’s the update:

1. Fence posts were set this morning… Woohoo!

2. Memphis is getting its ass kicked all over the place by tornados tonight… It’s the middle of winter. Weird.

3. It’s Super Tuesday… Being something of a political nut, I’m totally engrossed.

4. And finally, I have two weeks left as a grad student and am in the middle of drafting my final paper… Most of my time dedicated to writing for the last week or two and from now through the middle of the month will go towards churning out a monster paper covering topics I don’t care so much about.

So that’s it in a nutshell, my friends. I know I’ve been promising for a while, but once things settle out, I’ll get back to the serious business of blogging on more of a full time basis.

Getting good…

After giving a quick read to this Sunday’s Archive posts, I have to admit that I think they’re starting to get rather good. We’re up to September 2006, which is my first introduction to Memphis and the beginning of running myself ragged along the I-40 and I-81 corridors beating a path between work in West Tennessee and the apartment I was still hanging onto in central Maryland. Honestly, I expected this part of the story to be more angsty, but on reflection this was still part of the good times, well before the situation there became untenable for so many of us. Most people look back on things in their past through the filter of their own memory and rely on it to pull together the salient details. Conveniently, I have my own written record of most of my adult life, jotted down more or less as the events happened, to keep my memory in check. It’s been nice remembering that there was a time down there before circumstances and a few individuals conspired to suck all the joy out of life.

Enjoy this week’s blast from the past, late September 2006.

The Money Pit…

I bought a house two days after Christmas in 2007. The plan was to live there three to five years, build a little equity and then cash out and use it as a down payment on a house with a little property around it. Well, what I didn’t expect was the magical imploding workplace, a passionate desire to be almost anywhere other than Memphis, and the worst housing market since someone decided they should start keeping records on such things. That’s the short version of how I became an absentee landlord for the second time in ten years.

If you’ve been keeping up, you know all about the $500 driveway repair that bloomed into a $5000 project to repair a ruptured sewer line, and re-pouring 400 square feet of concrete. The latest turn of fate as raised the stakes on that little project. Let;s just say that the latest estimates have found their way into the low five figures… and that’s before anyone has so much as started digging. As it turns out, all 1600 square feet of concrete driveway now needs to be broken up, the sewer line trenched to a depth of 6 feet from the curb to the house (and pass a new city/county inspection), and then the giant gaping pit in the front yard has filled in so the concrete people come to lay a brand-spank-me new driveway from the garage door to the street.

If you hear an enormous sucking sound coming from the south-western tip of Tennessee, don’t worry, that’s just my house; the Money Pit, the Bane of my Existence, the Evil Soul Crushing Destroyer of Joy, also doing business as a delightful 3 bedroom, 2 bath contemporary on a well kept 1/5 of an acre that I’d burn to the ground with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart if it wouldn’t mean going to jail.


May 4th isn’t a day particularly noted in the annals of world history. To me, though, May 4, 2011 resounds with just as much meaning as July 4, 1776 or October 14, 1066. May 4th, you might remember, is the anniversary of my deliverance. It’s the day I got the long sought after call to end my long, unhappy exile in Memphis and return forthwith to my right and proper home in the great State of Maryland. I may have spent happier days, but I’m sure I can’t remember when.

It’s been a turbulent, chaotic, and altogether expensive year setting things right after they went so badly wrong, but I don’t begrudge it an instant of the aggravation or expense. It would have been a deal at ten times the cost as far as I’m concerned.

A year’s distance has softened the worst of the hard edges that surrounded my departure. In fact, some parts of my time in Memphis I can even look back on fondly now. Knowing that 90% of my problems there were attributable by a single individual is still a bitter pill to swallow. Then again, if it hadn’t been for that narcissistic prima donna I might be in Memphis still, rather than having fought my way back to the shores of the Chesapeake.

Every time I’ve gone away I’ve always managed to find my way home again. This time I’ve landed where I belong and it’s going to take a pry bar, a court order, and high explosive ordinance to get me to budge.

Doing God’s work…

Sometimes I leave the office at the end of the day feel like I’m doing God’s own work. Other times I feel like I’ve spent the day beating myself bloody against a great stone wall. Nothing uncommon about that, I guess. The problem isn’t that there’s too much or too little to do, as much as it is there’s no moderating influence. Monday might be silent as a tomb and the next day you run with your hair on fire from the time you set foot in the building. That’s not a complaint (seriously), just a statement of fact. Still, it would be awfully nice if there was some way to smooth out the peaks and valleys on the demand side of the equation. When I figure that out, I’ll get busy writing my best selling leadership and management book and retire with a nice royalty check. Until then, I’ll just keep my head down until the winds shift.

Since I’m always the optimist, it’s worth noting that I still smile when I drive across the Susquehanna at 4:25 every afternoon. It’s worth remembering that no matter how strange the day has been, my days were always stranger in West Tennessee than this place could ever hope to be. The benefit of having been on the bottom looking up is that by comparison, everything else looks like ice cream and lollipops.

The joys of home ownership…

Like pretty much everyone who purchased a house before 2007, I’m still trying to make my peace with the fact that my one time castle is worth about what it would have been had I bought it in 2002. It doesn’t quite make me want to jump off a bridge, but it does cry out for me to bash my head repeatedly against a blunt surface. I never expected my house to make me rich, but I had hoped it would, at least, have the decency not to make me poor. Since I had the foresight to buy just at the peak of the market, I’m doing my best to make peace with probably always having a house in Memphis… Unless it burns to the ground or otherwise gets smited by the finger of an angry God, the chances of being able to sell the place and just break even anytime in the next two decades would appear to be running somewhere between slim and none. That’s an obnoxious reality that I’m doing my best to ignore for the time being.

We’re a nation of 300 million souls and growing. They all have to live somewhere right? Surely at some point someone will be interested enough in a nice three bedroom, two bath house in Memphis to not make me feel like the prettiest guy in the prison shower when we get to the closing table.

Not cool…

One of the last things I did before leaving Memphis was add an earthquake rider to my insurance policy. Memphis is prone to periodic rumbles after all and only being on the hook for 10% of replacement cost seemed like a good idea at the time. In Memphis, the next “big one” on the New Madrid fault system is one of those things you pretty much just accept as a possibility but don’t spend much time thinking about. Moving back east, the idea of an earthquake was even further from my mind. I know they happen here too, but only small ones that stay well below the threshold that most of us are able to feel.

Look, I know that everyone is playing this down, but the earth friggin’ moved and not in that nice calming way that it does all the time. The firmament became something less than firm. I’m not ok with that. It’s like rocky road ice cream suddenly tasting like liver and onions and everyone just deciding that it was no big deal. Not cool at all.

I remember feeling the chair move under me and then standing up at my desk watching the lights sway above me. I remember the overwhelming feeling that my equilibrium was just a touch off as the world lurched. I’m not embarrassed to admit that was the point where I bolted for the door. I think you’d all be surprised at the speed with which this fat man can move when he has the proper motivation. It’s for the best that there were no women or children between me and the outside, because I learned this afternoon that when faced with imminent peril, I have no intention of slowing down until there was blue sky and not five floors of concrete above my head. Realistically was anyone expecting me to be the selfless hero directing others to safety? In this case, I think the infantry motto, “follow me,” is the more appropriate course of action… even if I did pause long enough at my desk to pick up my iPad, phone, and building ID card. Just because I’m running for my life doesn’t mean I’m willing to drop off the grid or be stuck in an endless line of people with no ID cards in the morning.