If there’s been one constant during my tenure in the bureaucracy it’s that Friday is almost universally “take out the trash day.” It’s the day everyone throws the projects or tasks (i.e. absolute trash) that’s been stinking up their workspace over to the next poor dumb bastard who’s supposed to do something with it.
The trash could be anything – vague policy, badly written memos, research or answers that are needed first thing Monday morning that no one got around to asking for until 4 PM on Friday afternoon. It’s all just junk that someone didn’t get around to working on before the weekend started to bear down on them.
On alternate Fridays, this endless flow of trash bears down on my desk. In the finest traditions of the bureaucracy, I do my part to shove it onwards through the pipe to make sure it doesn’t spend the weekend making a stink of my own work area. Where it ends up and what happens to it when it gets there is entirely secondary to its not becoming stuck on me.
Yeah, I’ve definitely lived long enough to become the villain of the piece.
As of a few minutes ago I’ve probably taken my last official action as a property owner in St. Mary’s County in scenic southern Maryland. I’ve added my John Hancock to a few pieces of paper and in about 48 hours they’ll be countersigned and magically turn into a big bag of cash… or, well, whatever the electronic equivilent to a big bag of cash is, anyway.
I really expected signing it all over would leave me feeling some kind of way, but what I seem to be feeling most is a sense of relief… that I’ll never have to worry about finding another tenant, or that someone is going to tear the place up, or that I’ll get a random phone call in the middle of the afternoon that the furnace or air conditioning compressor needs to be replaced. I made some damned good memories in that little condo during the short time I lived there, but its life as an income stream (or suck depending on the year) lasted far longer than did my time really living with it. I’m mostly left feeling that it was an investment that served its purpose and it’s time to cash out.
Maybe the sick dog has just used up all the feels I’ve had allocated for the week before we got to the real estate transaction portion of shit to do. Anyway, I’ve done my bit. All that’s left now is for the seller to do his. And then we can all feel well satisfied and get on with whatever is next.
I’m old enough to remember when documents of any importance came on paper – often in multiple color coded carbon copies. For someone who has converted nearly wholesale to digital record keeping, I have an alarmingly large archive of old paper copies – old bills of sale, mortgage originations, and thousands of other 8×10 inch bits of paper that were required to build a life before everything came to us via electrons.
I recently had to take a deep dive into the furthest recesses of the paper archives – searching for something I know I’d need a copy of when the happy day comes and I go to closing on my southern Maryland condo. Yes, I know, cart before the horse and all, but I like having my ducks well-ordered.
Knowing how much has changed over the last almost twenty years, I assumed I was in for a bit of leg work – and possibly a pleading phone call to the condo association asking for a copy of the neighborhood covenants and restrictions. I mean what are the chances 22 year old Jeff held on to the copy he was given in the early spring of 2001?
Turns out I’m every bit as anal retentive as people think I am. After five moves and two decades, the old 1980’s vintage neon orange binder was tucked in between the original mortgage and the property management agreement, right where I left it back when the millennium was still shiny and new.
I was tempted to see what other oddities lurked in the depths of my filing system, but it wasn’t the moment to find myself sitting ankle deep in twenty year old paperwork. For the time being I’ll just be glad I found what I was looking for on the first attempt… but I think I’m going to add “digitize and shred” the deepest layer of the archive onto my list of things to do.
1. Automatic shutoffs. For as long as I can remember, gasoline pumps have come equipped with an automatic switch that shuts off the flow of fuel from the pump when the vehicle’s tank is full. I’ve been pumping my own gas since 1994 and have never personally seen what happens when one of those switches fails to do its thing. As it turns out, the result is gallons of gasoline gushing back out of the filler tube until you can reach into the frothing mess and manually shut off the flow. If you manage not to catch on fire, the convenient side effect is a) the side of your vehicle being drenched in gasoline; b) the parking pad being drenched in gasoline; c) Your boots and pants being drenched in gasoline; and d) your arm being drenched in gasoline up to the elbow. In conclusion, whoever designed the “automatic” switch for gas pumps can see me in hell.
2. Bureaucracy. I sent off some paperwork that needed approval – literally one page of not very complex text, mind you. I sent it off way back in the first week of December, winging its way through the bureaucracy. This one page piece of paper, after 6 major revisions, and review by all manner of doctors, lawyers, and indian chiefs, was finally approved this week…. only 57 short days after the process got started. It’s hard to believe there are people around who wonder why it’s so hard to get anything done in something approaching a reasonable amount of time.
3. Natural consequences. The doctor insisted, during my last check up, that I start drinking more water. It’s a tall order given the volume of coffee that’s required to keep this machine running, but I’ve gotten fairly good at complying with easy instructions. So, drink more water I do. The only problem with this plan is that every morning at 1:30 on the nose I have to wake up to take what I affectionately refer to as an emergency piss – as in get yourself out of bed right now this is an emergency. Look, I know that water is supposed to be good for me, but I’m fairly sure that the doc is also the guy who told me I needed to get more sleep. Just now, I’m trying to sort out the priority of effort between these two obviously conflicting bits of guidance.
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.
I’ll admit that pushing paper doesn’t have the same gritty-sounding edge as breaking bad, but that doesn’t make it any less of an exercise in futility. On this particular Monday, I had the good fortune to review and/or revise an After Action Report, a “fragmentary order”, an “operations order”, two separate requests for information, and several requests for echelons higher than me to pass information upwards through the chain of command. The only thing that really unifies all those efforts is that it’s helpful to be good with words and to know just where in the bowels of the organization something might need to go in order to have a prayer of being answered.
It’s an unfortunate skill that I seem to possess, at least in some limited quantity. If that’s the superpower I got, well, let’s just say I got the short end of whatever stick they were handing out that day. Oh, it pays the bills and keeps a roof over your head, sure enough. Still, it’s not exactly what anyone might call a passion project unless they’re into a deeply warped kind of S&M.
So we trudge on at this petty pace from day to day, fueled almost exclusively by over strong coffee and too little sleep. Until we grind down all the world’s forests to cover the globe with reams of paper carefully checked at the margins and printed in 12 point Arial. Even then, on that long coming day when the last report has been printed, the last order cut, and the last briefing printed… somehow there will still be paper left to push. Worse than a nightmare, this is real life.
The last week or so I’ve been working pretty closely with my mortgage underwriter. The volume of paperwork involved in this transaction is impressive… and that’s saying someone who’s spent most of his adult life as a professional bureaucrat. Late Friday afternoon I got a very apologetic email asking for updated bank statements. It seems my state and federal tax refunds dropped into my account and set off all kind of mortgage lender bells and sirens warning about unexpectedly large deposits. Within minutes I sorted out what they needed and punted everything back to them so they’d have it on Monday morning.
A few minutes later I got a very kind message calling me a “dream borrower to work with,” presumably because I actually keep reasonably good records and can access them on demand. That sort of surprised me. I had always assumed that most people would be able to dive into their files and find whatever bit of paperwork they needed. Getting a mortgage lined up can be an exercise in frustration – and can feel like you’ve sent every bit of required documentation a few dozen times. Having the paperwork you need on hand shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.
All that being said, I have to think if you’re asking someone to lend you a few hundred thousand dollars or more, actually having your shit together and not causing them a bunch of headache is probably a good idea, no? Or maybe I’m just not approaching this endeavor with the requisite amount of douchebaggery entitled attitude. All things being equal, until we reach the closing table I’m going to err on the side of being as helpful to these people as humanly possible. It’s one of those happy convergences of self interest and the right thing to do.
Since I’m in between moving estimate appointments it feels like a good time to jam a blog post into the day. It’s been a big one here at the Rental Casa de Jeff. After the requisite dose of coffee I spent the better part of three hours extracting boxes from their long term storage spot in the crawl space. At least half of them were still full – and taped shut – from the move back to Maryland from Memphis. I’ll be curious to see what it was I paid to haul a 3rd of the way across the country yet haven’t touched for almost five years. Personally I’m rooting for pirate treasure, but I have a terrible feeling it’s going to be a dozen boxes of plain junk. At least the crawl space is empty and the basement is 2/3 the way along towards being packed out.
In the last two weeks I’ve been making an effort to cut down in all the extraneous spaces – the office, basement, guest bedroom. If I pushed I could have all three finished in an afternoon. That leaves the living spaces we occupy as the next items on the hit list. My bedroom is a spartan affair. No more than an hour or two of work there. The living room is the same story. Two or three medium boxes and all the rest is furniture. That leaves the kitchen as the last redoubt. It’ll go into boxes as late in the process as possible. By the end of the week, I should even have several estimated costs of having someone show up and haul it all a few miles down the road. On the packing front at least I feel like I’m running ahead of the curve.
The documentation is even coming together. My mortgage approval came through this afternoon. The appraisal came in better than expected and more importantly with no lender-required repairs. I’m throwing electronic reams of paper back and forth with the closing attorney. I’m just trying to stay on top of Mount Paperwork in hopes that we can get to settlement at the end of the month as smoothly as possible. It’s one of those rare times that being a natural born worrier seems to be paying off. No one has asked for anything I can’t dredge out of Ye Olde Electronic Files. Being an electronic pack rat does have an occasional upside.
There are still 1,276,384 details to be worked out between now and the closing table, but on the whole it’s feeling less intimidating today. It’s entered the realm of the possible.
It’s an open secret that for the last six months I’ve been casting around looking for a new gig. Although I was focused on staying under Uncle’s umbrella, it felt like time to branch out into other opportunities. The environment had gotten a little too toxic for my liking and all-in-all, my career path was looking like something of a dead end if I stayed put.
I launched out a fair number of resumes. Had a few interviews. Got a few call backs. But there really wasn’t anything that clicked – either for me or the people responsible for hiring, it seems.
A few weeks ago I threw my hat in the ring for a temporary promotion (back to my old grade without the enormous hassle of supervising anyone) with my current office. Last week I interviewed for the position. A few days ago the HR office called to extended a tentative offer. This past Thursday I accepted. At some point in the next couple of pay cycles I’ll pick up a few extra bucks for a little extra work. Feels like a fair trade and it sets me up for possible options in the future that don’t involve another round of packing and unpacking household goods.
I didn’t start this process looking to stay where I was, but if I’m fair and balanced I’ll admit the bosses are taking legitimate steps to improve on a number of the sore points of the past. I’m willing to stick around for a while and give them the chance to prove it’s a real change for the better and not just a change until the heat’s off. The proof is in the pudding, but I’m happy enough taking their money while the proof sorts itself out.
Now it’s just a matter of the final paperwork coming through. Somehow I feel like I’ve done all this before.
After a few days away, I usually like to ease back into the office routine by spending some time checking email, responding to voice messages, and catching up on whatever paperwork happened to pile up while I was otherwise engaged. Today was not one of those smooth transitional days. Instead it was the kind of day where Stupid showed up not long after I turned on the lights and decided to stick around for the full day. Now I don’t mind putting in a day’s work, but it’s nice when the day doesn’t demand rowing against the tide from start to finish, because honestly, after a week of less than optimal sleep and carrying around what I’m sure is four or five liters of snot in my head I don’t think a nice easy day to get back into the groove would have been too much of a request. I was, apparently, wrong about that. Let’s just hope this isn’t the start of a trend for the week.