If you live long enough you’re sure to noice there are moments where you repeat habits and patterns of past generations. Resist as much as you want and there are some elements of your parent’s personality that are sure to come through lound and clear despite all protestations to the contrary. As much as the big story today should be that Fortress Jeff is now manufacturing hot air six percent more efficiently than I was when the day started that is, in fact, not the big story… even if the projected savings on electrical and propane changes alone would have rated a mention here.
I’m writing here tonight not to sing the glory of high efficiency HVAC systems, but because I caught myself squarely in the midst of following my father’s footsteps. You see, when I walked through to the kitchen to brew up another coffee, I noticed the demolished remains of the old furnace laying on the driveway. Next to the shredded metal carcass of the furnace was a stack of 3-inch PVC pipe, the former intake and exhaust, that had been cut into neat eight foot lengths ready for disposal. Being my father’s son, of course, I couldn’t let perfectly good PVC pipe get thrown away.
Despite the fact that I have never in almost 40 years had a situation where I though, damn I wish I had a 16 foot length of 3-inch PVC pipe handy, I went out to the driveway and toted the two lengths that were clean cut and without joints back into the garage and leaned them in the corner. I laid them up “just in case,” against a day that when I need just exactly 8 or 16 feet of pipe to take on some project here at the house.
These lengths of pipe join sections of trex and 1×2 that came off the access ramp that use to be in the garage, several coffee cans of mismatched screws, nails, bolts, and nuts, a few smallish squares of drywall, and some leftover tile that matches my kitchen floor. All of it is material in waiting – most likely for a project or requirement that will never come – but ready just in case.
One by one the stars of my youth are disappearing, their work now just a memory stored in iTunes or on a plastic disk. It’s like watching a constellation you’ve known your entire life slowly shifting and changing its place in the night sky.
This is apparently staring into the teeth of your 40th year.
No one tells you that after half a lifetime of gathering together the thing you love, the universe will conspire to start slowly stripping those things away from you… and I’m not at all sure if its tragedy or farce.
1. Creeping middle age. I’ve always been ok with going to bed sore. That was just the sign of a good productive day. Now that I’m waking up with sore shoulders, a sore back, sore hips, and even more tired than I was when I went to bed. I vaguely remember a time when sleep was restful. I wonder if it ever will be again.
2. When it’s too good to be true. At two acres of sweeping, manicured lawn, the back third naturally wooded, and a house that looked like every piece of it was designed by a master craftsman, I wondered a bit at the price point. I assumed it was a murder house or something. Under the circumstances I don’t think that would have been a deal breaker. What was a deal breaker, however, was pulling the zoning map and discovering that the property backed up to a large open field… that was designated as a dumping ground for the material that was dredged dredged out of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. According to nice folks at the EPA, this practice has led to a bit of contamination of the local groundwater sources. Sure, the state is going to pipe in municipal water, but there’s just something disagreeable about living next door to a site that probably a few regulatory changes away from being eligible for Superfund. Remember kids, when it sounds too good to be true, it’s just a matter of figuring out why. In this case, I’ll just blame the Corps of Engineers… at least it’s a feeling I’m use to.
3. Being the middle man. I find myself caught at least once a week between the demands and desires of my local management and the corporate guidance I receive from “oh high.” Occasionally it would be nice if those two groups ever wanted the same thing. As it is, I mainly find myself in the service of two masters. From long experience I know the reality of things is that it’s generally best to follow the lead of the boss closest to you. They’re the one who can cause the most pain or dispense favor with the most largesse… but the reality is when you find yourself serving two masters you’re not serving either particularly well.
1. The inconveniences of middle age. Knee problems. Back problems. Shoulder problems. Wrist problems. Mercifully they all come and go, but I know deep down they’re all there lurking under the surface and waiting for the perfect excuse to put in appearance. I’m really beginning to hate the mornings when I wake up with a sore “something” for no apparent reason. I can see an injury if I were out toting, lifting, or hauling, but an injury from just laying there for six hours? Yeah. That happens more often than I want to admit. It’s definitely a problem I didn’t have 20 years ago… and it makes me a little nervous about what it’s going to feel like 20 years from now.
2. Tharp’s Law. For me, a full work week consists of 40 hours on the job. Now generally, I’m at my most productive – that is, actually generating usable products and service – when I’m actually at my desk doing a little bit of what we like to call analysis. Reading, writing, distilling information from multiple sources into a consistent and coherent thread of an idea. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. When I’m not so productive is when the scale tips and I’m spending more than half my time preparing for, attending, or writing summaries of meetings. This week, it’s been well over half the available time. Therefore, the fundamental truth of Tharp’s Law is as follows: For every hour spent prepping for, attending, or summarizing a meeting, you’ve lost an hour of productive time that you’re never going to get back and in which actual work will never occur. It’s a simple 1:1 ratio and it’s constant as the speed of light (in a vacuum).
3. Third things. Sometimes there are no third things because the first two are exhausting and one of the two makes your wrist hurt.
Yesterday afternoon I passed a Buick going the opposite direction. Nothing unusual about that. It happens every day. What was unusual is that while it was approaching, I was struck by what a good looking vehicle it was. It wasn’t until it was well in the rear view that realized what just happened. I was looking at a Buick. And I thought it looked sharp. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when I knew for sure middle age had her claws in me and she has no intention of letting go.
I’ve been ignoring the small aches and pains – like the sore back that’s been nagging me for two weeks now. Looking at a Buick as a viable automotive alternative, though, that hit home. So next weekend I think I’ll take a drive past the Chevy dealer to take a look at Corvettes. We all have to go, but no one ever said we had to go quietly.
I pride myself on a whole host of things, but one of the most important has been being able to keep a precision focus on whatever task happened to be at hand despite multitasking to keep up with emails, text messages, and the six dozen other things that crop up to distract us in the course of the day. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but being able to hold multiple irons in the fire is a point of personal pride. Or it has been until the last couple of days.
I don’t know where that part of my brain that usually handles multiple relatively complex tasks at once, but it’s well and truly out of service at the moment. Focusing in on just one thing at a time has been more of a challenge than I really want to admit. Thank God it’s winter. If the weather was better every bird or squirrel passing the window would be cause to send me off on a wild tangent. Just keeping my focus with the myriad of conversations going on around me has proved to be something close to a full time effort. Quite frankly, work is traumatic enough without also dealing with the attention span of the average fruit fly.
It’s one of those inconveniences that I’m sure will sort itself out in a few days or a week, but in the meantime, I’m driving myself bloody crazy over here. The number of Post It notes now decorating my desk at work and the kitchen table is bordering on ridiculous. Getting back to an even keel where I can remember to pick up dog food or make a phone call without a reminder would be most appreciated. Until then, if I’ve told you I’m going to do something, feel free to remind me often, because there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to forget about it completely before it actually gets done. I really hadn’t planned on hitting the “always forgetting stuff” part of my life until much later, so hopefully this is just a temporary sneak preview of the impending joys of much later middle age.
After a ridiculous amount of time in and out of the vet’s office, tests, retests, and the some more tests, the results are somewhat less conclusive than I would have hoped. The bottom line is this: Despite higher than normal protein levels in her urine, there doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with Maggie. She’s behaving normally and has no ill effects in terms of kidney, liver, or heart function. The phrase the vet used this morning was that it seemed likely that Maggie just has “an unusually high baseline on these tests.” I’m pretty sure that’s veterinary medicine’s way of saying the numbers aren’t right, but we have no idea why, but I let the nice vet off the hook without asking too many questions. As long as my pup is in good health and not from something causing long term damage, I’m content to leave well enough alone.
For now, I’m going to do some tinkering what her food and retry all these tests in six months to see if anything has changed. It’s not exactly the clean bill of health I usually look for from the vet, but at this point, but it seems like as good a negotiated settlement as I’m likely to get this time around. I’m mostly just pleased that we were able to rule out most of the worst case scenarios. Even so, this last week has been a bothersome reminder that I’m the single parent to two middle-aged children now. Neither one of them are pups anymore, regardless of how I still think of them in my own head. I’m not sure I like that at all.