This morning I was called in as a subject matter expert and asked to provide some thoughtful insights to an audience primarily made up of personnel from another service based on my years of experience and unique viewpoints.
That’s fine. A normal person might even have been honored by the opportunity or enjoy receiving recognition of his peers. The problem here is that I wasn’t having my brain picked about operations, or strategic planning, or emergency management – all things that at one time or another, I have been able to speak about with some level of authoritative knowledge. Instead, I was being asked to talk to this inter-service audience based on my vast, exhaustive experience in part and event planning.
For the better part of an hour, I offered advice on real world challenges, some of our hard won lessons learned, and general commentary about your big day and how to plan it.
It’s hard to imagine why the first thing I do every morning us update my “Days to Retirement Eligibility” countdown whiteboard. Thank the gods that I don’t have any morale left to speak of, because it’s just the kind of thing that would have sent it spiraling to new, unplumbed depths. It’s just one of the mostly untold joys of being a subject matter expert in a subject you loath with the fiery hatred of a thousand suns.
1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 33 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. Now, I’m told, the alleged negotiation has gone so far sideways that it’s been sent to binding arbitration. Resolution to that could literally take years. So, we’re going to be grinding along for the foreseeable future with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. I’m sure someone could make the case that there’s enough blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 33 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing to deliver for their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) and for continuing to stand in the way like some bloody great, utterly misguided roadblock. No one’s interest is served by their continued intransigence. The elected “leaders” of AFGE Local 1904 should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.
2. House Republicans. Instead of lining up to throw George Santos, the absolute embarrassment of a representative who has already admitted to being a liar and fraudster and has been indicted on 13 counts of various crimes, out of the House of Representatives, Republican members of the House opted to refer the matter over to the black hole that does business as the House Ethics Committee. When they can’t put the republic ahead of politics on this very simple question of whether or not George is fit to continue in office, I have very little doubt that their position on any issue of substance will be equally as poisoned. Politicians have always been a self-serving bunch, but I miss the good old days when they at least had the common decency to pretend to be embarrassed when one of their own was caught out in the midst of being a common criminal.
3. My brain. Not including the few scattered hours here and there to attend to medical appointments, I‘ve taken exactly one vacation day since January 1st. My brain, usually reasonably agile, is about as responsive as a five gallon bucket of sludge. I won’t testify to anyone else noticing, but I certainly have. This week, when I should be focusing in on the latest adventure in party planning that’s made its way to my desk, I’m struggling to put proper sentences together. Words and how they work is sort of my stock in trade. If the paragraphs read like gibberish to me, how they’ll read to someone seeing the information cold for the first time is deeply suspect. Despite my best efforts, my head seems determined to focus on counting down the minutes and hours to the nine day break I’ll start next Friday. It’s a happy thought, but not especially helpful in getting me through the week between here and there.
If you’re like me, you grew up being told, repeatedly and often, that it’s best not to say anything at all if you can’t say something nice.
Sure, it’s probably good advice to help prevent the activation of your career dissipation light, but mostly it just prevents you from saying true things that others might find unpleasant… such as “That’s got to be one of the dumbest ideas I’ve heard in the last 12 years,” or “If it’s not a priority for the bosses, why are we spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about it?”
Sadly, I don’t have a single nice thing to say, so I’ll just sit here quietly and try to keep my eyes from rolling all the way to the back of my skull.
Some people, probably those with a more optimistic world view, would say we’ve reached the point in the week where momentum has kicked in. My less generous take is that really it’s just bureaucratic inertia taking hold of the event. Once a program or project starts, they’ll mostly just continue along indefinitely until something forces them to stop. There’s no stopping function here until close of business two days hence.
There’s a schedule we’re vaguely close to following. People are showing up more or less at their designated times. We’ve trudged through the first and longest day without any overly serious problems. Don’t get me started on people’s seeming inability to brief and then immediately go away so we can proceed on schedule to the next segment. This introvert will never understand the tendency to stand around, blocking the camera, glad handing for ten minutes once you’ve finished what you’re there to do. Personally, once my piece is finished, I want to be the first out the door. I’ve never felt the need or desire to mill around talking about what I just talked about when there was literally anything else I could be doing.
On a positive note, I haven’t had to worry about a giant tent blowing away during a freak thunderstorm, the caterer not making enough food for lunch, or issuing refunds for people wo decided to spend shit tons of money and then not show up. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. Still, from my wheelhouse down at the edge of the stage, the only good event is the one that’s already over.
It’s Friday. That used to mean something. Usually I’d welcome it unreservedly. This week, though, it just means the countdown to the inevitable raft of stupid that will consume all of next week is about to set sail.
There’s one final waypoint on Monday. It’s the last formal opportunity for the gods on Olympus to inject changes into a timeline that’s been tinkered with for months now. Certainly it’s been sloshed around long enough that a reasonable person could have already spotted anything they wanted to change. Life in the bureaucracy, of course, mustn’t rely on the expectation of the gods being reasonable… or even that they’ve looked at anything until the last possible moment.
It may be Friday, but there remains an entire weekend and a Monday before things start to happen and inertia exerts itself on the course of events. On Friday evening it’s still entirely possible for someone to breathe the wrong way sometime in the next 72 hours and send the whole thing spiraling off into a chaotic hell dimension.
But sure, other than that lurking in the background, I’m ready to enjoy the weekend.
Government work isn’t generally known as a hotbed of excitement. Still, there are people in Florida heaving heavy objects into deep space, bean counters at Treasury striving mightily to keep the economy on track, agricultural inspectors keeping an eye on our meat and produce, or Coasties rescuing sailors in distress. There’s a lot of good work going on out there.
I should put heavy emphasis on the “out there,” because none of those things is reflective of what I’m currently fiddling with on behalf of my rich uncle. I spent at least some part of today reviewing the website of a local porta potty company and talking with their very special customer service team about getting a quote to provide services to an upcoming event. Lest you think that we’re talking about hauling in a bunch of standard plastic single seater units that we’ve all seen or used at outdoor venues, you can get that image out of your head completely. We’re talking about trailerable units that are fully powered and ventilated, plumbed with hot and cold running water, and feature the latest in mobile bathroom design elements.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like living as a planner in one of those little corners of my universe that does the cool stuff… or what might have been if I’d have landed back in the strategic planning world I thought I was headed towards when I made the leap back to Maryland. I, and the world, will never know. It’s the path not taken.
If anyone needs me I’ll be over here thinking about executive porta johns and wondering which particular career decision put me inexorably on the path to this exact moment.
Well, you can tell by the vacant look on my face, raging headache, and random moments of blood pouring from my nose that we’re in the shit now. The curtain goes up in a little over twelve hours. It’s officially the time that no matter the eagles, stars, horseshoes, or clovers on your collar, there is virtually nothing you can do to adjust the trajectory or outcome of that which you have set in motion lo these many months ago. It’s simply too late. You have run out of time.
It’s going to roll forward as if it has assumed a life of its own. Some of it will be good, some of it will be bad, and (not) soon enough it will be over. In a week, the whole thing will barely be a whisper of a memory.
It’s probably a good time for all involved to take a breath and be reminded, however gently that, “Remember Caesar thou art mortal.”
When scheduling either an actual or a self-anointed VIP to come to your party and speak as a special guest, the thing you have to remember is they’re usually doing you a favor. In most cases there’s nothing that requires them to show up – and even less that forces them to have a speaking roll. Usually they do it because they think they might have something of interest to say to the other guests at your party.
When you start making their life difficult – like by changing the time they’re scheduled to speak approximately 347 times in three weeks, they become less inclined to do you this favor. In fact they might become downright belligerent and decide showing up for your party is just more of a pain in the ass than it’s worth.
So here’s the thing, if you have your heart set on having a very special guest make an appearance at your very special party, try to pretend, even if it’s just for this one moment, that you’re not the second coming of the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight. It would make your life and theirs ever so much easier.
Despite all outward appearances, I’m not a magician. Admittedly, the things I do look easy from the outside, but that’s mostly because a) I try very hard to follow the path of least resistance; b) I’ve done more than a few of these things; and c) Even when things are truly falling apart I refuse to give in to the temptation of running in circles while flailing my arms wildly in the air. There’s also a healthy dose of faking it until you make it at work in most of the things I do.
Frankly I’m often not sure right up until the last minute that things are going to come together like their supposed to. Although experience tells me that they will, you must proceed there with caution because past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
Knowing that and knowing me, when I tell you that something is going to be problematic or that it requires lead time, you should know that I’m not in any way exaggerating. I will not be rending my garments or gnashing my teeth. That may give you a false sense of security. It shouldn’t. It also shouldn’t be a surprise when the thing I’ve been saying for weeks needs the longest lead time and will be the biggest problem if not managed closely is suddenly in danger of not being delivered on time or to standard.
Maybe next time I should just go ahead and flail my arms.