What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Handholding. If you’re a “professional” well into middle age and need constant hand holding and reassurance, perhaps you’ve got into the wrong career field. I don’t have the time or inclination to sooth your forehead with a cool rag and assure you that everything really will be alright. You might be the most important player in your own drama, but I can promise you’re not carrying enough rank or influence to convince me to give much of a shit before I write you off as a whiny sonofabitch and consign your future efforts to the ever growing file of received, but unread email.

2. $15 an hour. Want $15 an hour, you can start by doing a good job to begin with. The last three times I’ve been through a particular fast food joint they’ve gotten the order wrong – wrong size, wrong item, and then the last time, the whole order, fries included, dumped loose into the bag. I went in to complain about that last one. The manager looked like she couldn’t be bothered, her blank stare clearly not comprehending why I wasn’t satisfied. Pay rates should, in part, reflect the level of difficulty of the job and the quality with which it is performed. Why anyone expects a 100% raise for what seems to be an increasingly abysmal level of service is well and truly beyond me. Maybe think about earning that raise, you’d be amazed how good it feels to have a little self respect instead of getting something for nothing.

3. Interest rates. Mortgage interest rates are bumping along towards or at historic lows. They currently make the first mortgage I got 20+ years ago look almost usurious by comparison. The problem is mostly that the rates are low enough now that it’s starting to tempt me towards refinancing the mortgage on the ol’ homestead. Without fully running the numbers, I’ve got to think there are a few dollars to be saved if I can drop my rate a couple quarters of a percent. And that’s when I start to remember the absolute rage-inducing process that accompanies mortgage refinancing… and I’m left wondering if any kind of savings is really worth going through it unnecessarily. I’ll be off to the next place well before I pay off the note on the current house. The less crazy making course of action may well be keeping what’s already a respectably low interest rate and just ignoring the promise of a few less dollars flowing out every month, tempting though it is.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Reading badly written books. One of the small manifestations of my particular flavor of alleged OCD is found in the fact that even when I find something I’m supposed to be reading for pleasure and the sheer joy of the English language tedious, I can’t seem to stop. It’s the feeling of having a personal obligation to keep on with a book I’ve started no matter how badly it sucks. It’s infuriating. I hate to imagine how many books I’ve plowed through over the years long after I’d lost interest just because finishing what you start is the right thing to do. I’m getting better at ignoring that little voice in my head the older I get (and the correspondingly less I care about the “right thing to do”). Life is too short to read badly written drivel. Except when it’s something posted here, of course. Then you should definitely read it.

2. The Fight for Fifteen people. I wonder if these people realize that the minimum wage is exactly that. It’s the minimum wage set by the government. It’s not as if the government is telling business that they can only pay someone $7.25 an hour. It’s the absolutely minimum threshold for pay (as long as you’re not working a tipped position). Businesses are free to pay employees as far above that minimum basic wage as they are willing and able to pay – or more reasonably at any amount higher than the minimum than the prevailing market rates call for. It’s why you make more flipping a McBurger in Times Square than you do in Pig Knuckle, Arkansas. Wanting to make more money is fine – noble even – but you do that by making yourself a more valuable commodity and developing skills that are more marketable in the workplace. Expecting anyone to willingly hand over more money just because you show up with a sign still just doesn’t make any bleeding sense to me at all. It seems to me that if you have time to stand around on the sidewalk holding a sign, you might just be better served by doing something income generating with that time. I know I keep coming back to this well, but every time I forget about it and then see it pop up again, the annoyance mounts afresh. It can’t be helped.

3. People who put tartar sauce on a fresh made, Maryland lump crab cake. I can probably allow it if you’re feasting on fish sticks or if you lower yourself to buy flash frozen imitation crab cakes, but when you slather it on to the culinary gem of the Chesapeake, well, you’re just a monster.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I have an exercise bike I’ve used pretty consistently since I lived in Tennessee. It was my one concession to coming home from siting at a desk all day and then sitting down at home and sitting in front of another monitor for three or four hours. Since I moved to the new place here, it’s been a dust collector. With the yard demanding less attention and slowly gearing up for the part of the year when I don’t want to be outside, I though it was high time to get it our of semi-retirement and get back into the routine… which would have been good except for the electrical system that fried somewhere between here and there. As per usual, due to planned obsolescence the repair parts commonly available don’t quite fit, so the whole things is sitting in pieces in the back bedroom waiting to see whether it gets repaired, replaced, or if I just say the hell with my head nod towards exercise.

2. Every afternoon I pass a deli that offers steamed crabs in the summer. They’re good crabs. A few times I summer I’ll stop on a Friday night and pick up a dozen with a six pack. It’s hard not to like that kind of dinner. The thing that annoys me is the enormous sign that says “CRABS!!! EBT Welcome!!!” People end up getting food assistance for all manner or reason, but there’s just something about a taxpayer subsidized steamed crab dinner that makes me twitchy. With a bushel of #1 jimmy’s running upwards of $200 in mid-summer, it feels like an extravagant thing to even advertise. Paying for the essentials is one thing, but using public assistance for what by any assessment is a pure luxury feels wrong. If that makes me sound like a judgmental prick, well, ok. Maybe I’d be less annoyed if someone else was paying for my blue crabs.

3. I’ve seen several articles this week where robots are taking the place of flesh and blood workers. I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised by this. With the push for a $15 an hour minimum wage I suspect we’ll see a lot more people replaced with technology. Those jobs that can be automated, will be automated. Gaining operational efficiencies like that will be the corporate solution for paying $15 an hour to people doing work that can’t be effectively automated. No business that wants to stay in business is going to stand quietly and take it in the bottom line. They’ll find their cost savings somewhere – and with the biggest expense of many service oriented businesses being personnel costs, none of us should be surprised where they go to find those savings. It’s what happens when we pass laws without consideration for second or third level effects. Whoops.

Gutter (or Why $15 an hour is a bad idea)…

“Hi, my name is Jeff. I’d like to scheduled someone to come out and clean my gutters.” That’s how it started. Simple enough. Like thousands of other calls for service across the country every day of the year. The rest of the conversation, though, went something like this…

Gutters-R-Us: Sure, we’d be happy to come out and give you a free estimate.

Jeff: Uh, no, that’s ok, I really just want to schedule the service.

Gutters-R-Us: We need to do a free estimate.

Jeff: So I can’t just tell you the linear feet, number of downspouts, and pitch of the roof?

Gutters-R-Us: We need to do a free estimate. It’s free.

Jeff: Yeeeeaaaaahhhhh. OK. When can you do that?

Gutters-R-Us: Next Wednesday.

Jeff: *Sighs deeply* What time next Wednesday?

Gutters-R-Us: Is one o’clock ok?

Jeff: Yes. That’s fine.

Gutters-R-Us: *90 second pause*

Jeff: *Clears throat*

Gutters-R-Us: Sir, are you still there? Is one o’clock ok?

Jeff. Yep. One is still ok with me.

Gutters-R-Us: Oh. I thought you were checking your calendar.

Jeff *Bangs head repeatedly on desk*

Gutters-R-Us: OK…We’ll see you on Wednesday. I’ll send an email to confirm.

Jeff: Thanks. *weeps softly for the future of the republic*

So I know “how much is it going to cost” is the first question most people ask. The fact is, I really don’t care. I know the ballpark they’re going to be in. Their service came recommended by two independent sources. I just want someone to show up and clean the damned gutters so I don’t have to schlep around for an entire afternoon doing it myself.

This should have been a simple thing. It’s not moving an armored division across a continent. It’s not flying around the world in a solar powered plane. It’s coming to my house with some ladders, a hose, and a couple of brushes and getting the gunk out of the gutter. I really would just like someone to show up and do that and then send me the bill. Easy peasy.

Instead, now I’m going to have to take at least part of two days off… one of which will be dedicated to someone coming to my house to tell me things I already know (that I would have been happy to tell them over the phone or document with photographic evidence in order to save them the trip and save me the time).

If anyone wants to know why I oppose a $15 an hour minimum wage, I’ll enter this as Exhibit A.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Surprise meetings. Some things happen without any warning – earthquakes, tornados, someone punching you in the throat for being stupid – all things that could theoretically happen out of nowhere. What shouldn’t happen out of nowhere is calling someone out of the blue after sitting on the material they gave you a month ago to tell them they have four hours to make a shit ton of changes and present that information to the Grand High Host of the Everlasting Knowitall. If you’ve had something for a month and just getting around to telling someone you’re going to need it completely changed later that day, it’s not a “no notice event,” you’re just a douchebag.

2. Fast food strikes. I flipped burgers for $4.15 an hour. When I see on the news that the “me” of today think they deserve $15 an hour for doing that job, I mostly just roll my eyes. When I hear they’re going to take the day to picket their employer demanding $15 and hour and a union, well, I nearly fall down laughing. In the 5 years I was associated with the burger flipping segment of the economy, I never once contemplated the value of my efforts being worth anything close to $15 an hour. The idea of signing up for Burger Flippers and Fry Cooks Local #209 never even crossed my mind. Unless you’re looking at a management track or life in corporate, I’d not recommend considering McDonald’s or its ilk as a long term career opportunity. We should be incentivizing people to move up and out of minimum wage jobs as quickly as possible, not raising the wage so it’s considered just another “lifestyle choice.”

3. Peanut Butter Jelly Time. I’m almost 36 years old and just had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of sugar free kool-aid for dinner. There are rare occasions when I really think I suck at being an adult. This would be one of those occasions.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The long slog to summer. Now that we’ve tipped the hat to the father of our country, we start the long, hard march to Memorial Day. For those of you not keeping track, that’s 13 straight weeks without a federally approved long holiday weekend in the mix. It feels like a very, very long time between breaks. Of course I’ll probably throw a few days of my own leave at this problem to keep from having a complete break from reality. That’ll stave off the worst effects, but it clearly no substitute for legitimate long weekends. Others will disagree, but for me, this slog from mid-February to late May is the worst part of the year.

2. CBO Reports. The Congressional Budget Office is the non-partisan doer of research on behalf of the feckless officials we elect to Congress. Their reports are spun by both sides equally, but on balance the reports themselves are as close to fair and balanced as we’re likely to see from any large bureaucratic organization. I forced a laugh when I saw their latest report on the impact of the proposed minimum wage hike. It’s the classic Washington good news, bad news story. The good news is raising minimum wage could lift as many as a million people above the poverty line. The bad news is it could also simultaneously throw as many as half a million people out of work. A report like that gives both sides plenty of ammunition and seems to increase the likelihood that we’ll stay true to form and opt to do nothing at all. Based on the CBO’s report, it seems that a radical increase in the minimum wage is a devil’s bargain at best… great if you keep your job and get your raise, but a spectacularly craptastic deal if you’re one of the 500,000 extraneous employees who are thanked for playing and invited to go on back to the house.

3. Dreaming while you sleep. It’s very rare for me to remember dreams I have once I wake up. Sometimes they’ll stick as a vague recollection, but usually they’re gone by the time my eyes are fully open. Except the one I had last night that featured a former boss of mine. Somehow he showed up in my current office with glowing red eyes, tore up a couple of cubicles and then hurled a potted plant at my head. The odd thing might not be that I remembered this little episode once I woke up, but that it didn’t actually feel very surprising. Make of that what you will.

Bare minimum…

The year was 1994, or approximately the end of the last ice age. I was 16 years old, worked 20 hours a week and McDonald’s, and minimum wage was $4.25 an hour. Flash forward to 1998. I was 20, worked about 16 hours a week as a student dispatcher, and made $5.15 an hour. Jump two years into the future. I was 22, worked 40 hours a week as a first year teacher and made $15.38 an hour. Climb into the Way Back Machine for one more ride to 2008. I was 30 years old, with an undergraduate degree and an MBA, working for Uncle Sam, and making a multiple of $15 an hour.

So what’s my point? Nothing much other than giving you a little background and assuring you that when I say working in fast food and making minimum wage sucks, that it’s a situation I know a little something about. It sucks a lot. As someone who cleaned grease traps, unloaded truckloads of frozen foods, and filtered the fryers, I’m uniquely postured to say that with a degree of authority. Although the job sucks, I can’t bring myself to see that it sucks badly enough to justify paying basically the same wage I made as a first year teacher. After all, that job sucks for a whole different list of reasons… and not just that, it requires a 4-year degree, testing, certification, and a relatively clean criminal background check. Yes, dare I say it, teaching is more important work than flipping burgers and the compensation should be commensurate with that.

There is nothing in my experience of working minimum wage jobs that tells me anyone should make $15 an hour based on the work’s level of difficulty. Of course level of difficulty really isn’t the argument. In all the cases I’ve heard, the reason is simply that they should make $15 an hour because they need more money. I hear ya, brothers and sisters. I need more money too. But you see, I never “just” worked my part time minimum wage job and expected it to be enough to get by. I cut grass in the summers and shoveled snow in the winters. I collected aluminum cans and cashed them in for pennies. That was all side work on top being a pretty successful full time student and on top of my part time job. Even now that I’m outside that $15 an hour range, I’m not above picking up cans from the side of the road, or taking on an occasional side job, or writing a damned book about my experiences and selling it online.

Let’s be brutally honest, there aren’t many of us who are working as hard as our grandparents did. I’ve never come out of deep mine after eight hours underground coated in coal dust. My young life wasn’t put on hold to take four years off to go liberate Europe. I’m not up at 4AM to milk the cows. I’ll bet most of the fast food workers who think they need $15 an hour aren’t any of these things either. And for the record, I’m not saying they should be doing those things. All I’m saying is that what I really want to see is what they’re doing to improve their employment options beyond holding up a sign and demanding more money. Not everyone needs to go to college and get a job wearing a tie, but if you’re strolling around waiting for your CEO to pay you more just because you think it’s what you deserve, well, I hope you’re dressed warm because you’re in for a long wait.

Maybe you can’t put a value on a human life, but the market can damned sure put a value on the work we do with the life we’re given. It’s up to each of us to maximize what our labor is worth… and if you personally find it worth $15 an hour, I’d recommend you set your sights a little higher than grill jockey at the local greasy spoon.