Dull and duller…

There are any number of things I’m reasonably interested in. Some of those things I may even have a limited amount of talent for pursuing. I’m a passible amateur historian. I’m a tolerable planner… even though no one ever seems to make a differentiation between the strategic kind of planning and the weddings and events kind. I’ve managed to make a decent enough living from doing “operations stuff” in all its sundry forms.

What I am not, and have no interest in ever being, is a “contracts person.” Having wrapped up my second straight day of listening to people talk about contracts in all their glory, it’s hard to imagine something in which I could ever be less interested. I’m sorry, it makes paint drying or grass growing look downright engaging.

I know, at least intellectually, that getting the contract stuff right is important. This Big Green Machine of ours needs stuff and there are whole industries built around making sure we get it while they pocket a comfortable profit for their troubles. I’m never going to be the guy who makes it sound in any way engaging, though. It’s simply a fact of life… something to be endured… like dentistry. 

You could be forgiven for wondering why a whole week of contracting stuff isn’t actually run by the contracting people rather than by some random guy from a different office whose dog isn’t even in the same county as the fight. I actually know the wildly bureaucratic reason why it’s the way it is, but don’t for one single minute think knowing the reason means I’m ever going to like it.

My own personal hell…

The only sure things in life, it’s said, are death and taxes. Those do seem to come with alarming regularity while most other aspects of getting by are a bit more sporadic.

There are, though, other truisms of life in the bureaucracy that feel as if they are just as certain. Unsurprisingly, the one I’m most focused on today relates directly to events… because no bureaucracy worth its salt can seem to resist the temptation to throw itself big, showy parties for no discernable reason whatsoever.

In terms of bang for the buck, I’d be hard pressed to give you any real return on investment for these adventures. I’m sure it makes someone, somewhere, probably those managerial gods on high Olympus, feel good. For the rest of us, it’s nothing so much as a good old-fashioned pain in the ass. One more thing to do on a list that never, ever gets any shorter regardless of how many items a day you manage to strike down.

The only thing consistent across the universe of these parties and events is that they start more or less on time, some bits in the middle go well, some others slide off the rails, and then they end slightly earlier than scheduled. Everything else is details and by the time the next week starts, no one remembers any of those as they race off to do the next Very Important Thing and try to scratch out a modicum of credit from whatever bosses they serve.

My career is well into its back half now. Mercifully the days of feeling the need to get every attaboy or head pat are long gone. Now, my only love language comes in the form of a time off. I’ve already got a box full of certificates and general officer notes that will never see the light of day again. Cash awards end up being taxed away before you even know you’ve gotten one. There’s no appetite for time off awards at echelons higher than reality, though. They mean for some fixed amount of time there’s some other Very Important Thing you’re not working on… and the bosses hate that.

I’ve reached a stage of bureaucratic enlightenment beyond the trivialities of cash, certificates, or time off awards. All I really want is for this thing to start so that it can eventually end and we can all forget the part in the middle. With this agonizing exercise in organizational self-gratification wrapped up, so I can think about something – anything – else for the next six months before the planning cycle starts for the 2023 version of my own personal hell.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Failure to plan. I’ve rented you the hall. I’ve provided the stage. I’ve laid on the cameras and the furniture. I’ve blocked off all the time in the world for people to rehearse, dry run, and generally get to feel comfortable with their part. What I can’t make people do, of course, is actually show up and do any of those things. Mostly I put in the effort because I want people to be successful – or at least I want to set the conditions for their success. What I’ll be intensely intolerant of, however, is when those same people who have displayed conspicuous indifference in planning find themselves in a panic five minutes before things go live next week… Because that’s almost inevitable while also being nearly 100% avoidable.

2. Work clothes. Having spent the majority of the last two years working from home, it hasn’t been necessary to keep much in the way of a “work” wardrobe. I mean mine almost exclusively consists of khakis and polos, anyway, but that’s all stuff I’d wear day-to-day in my real life. After two years of little exposure to the general public some, perhaps most of it, is starting to look a little tatty around the edges. That’s an issue I hadn’t noticed until I realized I needed something more or less presentable for five days this week instead of my normal one or two. If you think the idea of needing to buy clothes specifically so I can drive 40 minutes to sit in a cubicle isn’t grinding my gears, you must be new here.

3. The end of April. The back half of April is my hardest two weeks of the year. The only thing holding my temper just barely in check is not wanting to be unemployed. Stress is up because I’m supposed to be delivering a product that no one else gives a shit about until the day it goes live. My blood pressure is through the roof. I can track it year over year and it consistently spikes during these two weeks. I’m eating like shit, tossing and turning through the night, and generally just not taking the time to do the normal things that more or less keep me on an even keel the rest of the year. All in all, it’s not a great time when your general outlook is often described in such glowing terms as “bleak” and “kind of dark” on the good days.

Party in a plague year…

Glancing through my Outlook calendar this morning, I noticed an appointment labeled “Holiday Gathering.” Based on past precedent that could mean anything from a non-denominational holiday afternoon of food and drink at a local watering hole, or more often a soulless pot luck served around a conference room table.  

In the (plague) year of our lord 2021 both options have at least one thing in common: The distinguished representative from Cecil County votes no.

In the last 21 months I’ve sat down in a restaurant exactly one time. It was in the middle of the afternoon with one other person at the table and maybe 10 people in the entire building. The idea of gaggling up elbow to asshole with 20 or 30 people to spread both holiday cheer and pathogen, feels like something I can avoid with absolutely no regrets. 

Plus, it looks like it happens to fall on a day I’m already scheduled to work from home, so there’s one more reason it doesn’t have any significant appeal. I’m sure if there’s something pressing, someone can dial me in on Teams.

I’ve never been on Team Office Holiday Party, but a party in a plague year feels even less enticing and like it’s missing a bit of the big picture. 

A surprisingly fond memory…

I have no idea what would have made me think of it this morning while driving to the office today, I had the most vivid memory of the night following my high school graduation. Maybe I’ll write it off to the mind going to odd places to avoid thinking unpleasant thoughts… like spending an otherwise perfectly fine day as a cube dweller in fluorescent-lit hell.

The notion of a raging party following graduation is so common it’s become a go-to trope in teen movies… or at least it still was the last time I saw a teen movie. There was certainly a selection of those available to choose from that night.

The one I picked was a more low-key affair. Someone, I don’t remember who, snagged a room at the Holiday Inn in Grantsville. Did hotels rent rooms to 18 year olds back then? There were maybe a dozen of us there, strictly a coed affair, all thinking we were young princelings of the universe.

There was plenty to drink, pizza to be ordered, and the possibility of other debauchery to be had, I’m sure. I wasn’t much of a partier in high school – I saved most of my boozing and smoking and other questionable life choices for college. I’m not claiming that I was an angel back then, but in some ways, the parties I did go to (and some that I hosted) were remarkably tame… as long as you didn’t look too hard at what was happening in dark corners. In any case, those long ago band parties are probably a topic for a different post.

Graduation night, though, is supposed to be the big night. Most fresh minted grads, I suppose, would have made a real time of it. Me? Well, I left the party long before midnight. I don’t remember what excuses I made, but I was sleepy and everything was loud. I stopped at Sheetz for a sub, went home, and put myself to bed not long after the clock struck twelve.

In retrospect, it feels like that night may have set the tone for how I’ve felt about parties and staying up late for almost my entire adult life. I still have no idea why I would have thought of any of that this morning.

Why I’m not leaving the Republican Party…

Arizona censured three fairly middle of the road Republicans for not supporting Trump’s attempted sedition. The Oregon Republican Party declared the siege of the Capitol a “false flag” operation. Hawaii’s state GOP sent out tweets in praise of QAnon.

It’s hard to imagine Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, or even Dick Nixon signing off on that level of absolute fuckery… and if you’re too tied up in conspiracies and chasing down enemies for Nixon, you really need to ask yourself how far from the flock you really have strayed.

The easiest thing in the world to do would be pack my bags and decamp from the Republican Party. What happens after that is a bit problematic. I certainly can’t register as a member of the Democratic Party. The number of issues I fundamentally disagree with them on is just too long. The Libertarians are OK, I guess, though they don’t seem likely to ever get enough of their members to agree on any one thing to be effective players. Going independent has a charm of its own, though it basically locks you out of the primary process in Maryland.

It’s that last one that, for the moment, is keeping me in the Republican Party. To have any voice at all in how the party shapes itself in the future, you’ve got to be there for the primaries – for the elections no one really cares much about – for the county commission races and the state delegates. Being a vote cast in opposition to batshit crazy and for elemental conservative values is the only way to exert any influence at all in who ends up being tapped for the main events in 2022 and 2024.

For the time being, it feels like a better use of whatever limited talents I have to be inside the party shouting dissent rather than on the outside throwing rocks.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. EZ Pass. Every month I check my Maryland EZ Pass statement. Every month I find at least one mistake – usually a toll charged at full rate when I’ve already paid the flat fee for the year option and had it coded on the transponder. Every month I go through the process of logging in, filling out the dispute form, and then watching the account periodically to make sure the right multiple of $8 per incident is refunded back to my account. Individually, it’s not the kind of thing that’s a big deal, but since it’s happening month, after month, after month, like interest, the annoyance compounds.

2. Pants. A million years ago at the beginning of my career I wore a suit or a minimum of coat at tie to the office just about every day. It was DC and that was the standard. Slowly though, I abandoned the suit or coat, but grudgingly stuck with the tie and long sleeves. In a pinch I kept a sports coat in my cube that I could press into service in extremis. Eventually, I abandoned the tie and long sleeves, too… introducing my personal “five star” rule – that no meeting that included any less than five “stars” in the room justified wearing a tie. The ghost of Eisenhower or Marshall rated a tie, two three stars rated a tie, three two stars rated a tie, and so on. Those were the rules of the before time. Now, of course, I’m annoyed as hell on days I have to bother putting on long pants. That’s just to be expected as part of life in a plague year, I guess.

3. Students. The news is currently filled with still photos and videos of college students in their hundreds attending parties now that at least some schools have opened again. You can’t see it, but I’m obviously sitting here with a completely shocked look on my face. I have a vague recollection of being young and invincible once. I wasn’t really a party animal, so my poison was mostly seeing how fast a Chevy Cavalier could go or how high I could get it to jump over railroad tracks or bridge approach ramps. Negative consequences were something to worry about when or if they happened. The point is, I have no idea why college administrators and parents are suddenly surprised that their 18-22 year-old darlings are throwing caution to the wind. It’s exactly the kind of behavior that administrators and parents have complained about since the first universities sprung up in Europe almost a millennium ago. 

Jeffrey Tharp and the Zombie Conference from Hell…

For the last six years I’ve found myself saddled with one project that I haven’t been able to shake. Reorganizations and realignments have come and gone and yet this project hangs on grimly, like Marley’s suffering in spectral chains for a life misspent. It’s the classic example of creating a massive boondoggle where having a simple website would be sufficient. Circus tents, cigar bars, catered lunches, live bands, and evening socials… for some reason, the Gods on Olympus have pegged me as they guy you want running your social extravaganzas. Yeah, the guy whose idea of a good time is getting home early and tucking in with a good book and avoiding people as much as possible. That’s exactly who you want to plan your biggest party of the year. 

You’ll never convince me that the universe doesn’t have a particularly fucked up sense of humor. 

It’s really only on my mind today because, in the era before the Great Plague, today would have been opening day for this particular event… and I’d have been two wake ups away from getting the shitshow over for another year.

Other, more reasonable organizations, have decided this isn’t the time to do big productions. They’re being cancelled left and right, being pushed into the fall or into 2021. We’ve gone with a different option of kicking the can down the road a scant five weeks and “reimagining” the whole thing as an online event. That’s fine. I’m sure there won’t be any problems at all with scrapping nine months of planning and collapsing three days of material into a single day using a webcast platform that none of us has ever used while coordinating with 30-40 key players via email and phone because we’re mostly home hiding out from the Great Plague. Seriously, I mean what could possibly go wrong with this plan that’s been too-quickly conceived, barely coordinated, and will be almost completely unrehearsed?

Even in the face of mayhem, chaos, plague, supply disruption, fear, anguish, loathing, and common goddamned sense, we will drive this project forward. For reasons that defy any mere human logic, it’s the unkillable zombie conference from hell and the absolute bane of my existence.

I’m sure it will be the best doggone conference ever. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Politics in 2019. Someone told me this week that I should be “open minded” and read up on the ten or so leading Democratic primary candidates, suggesting that I might even like what I found there. Hey, I’m all for open mindedness and considering a wide variety of information in my decision making process, but the simple fact remains that as long as whoever is ultimately the Democratic candidate for president is once the primaries shake out is standing on a platform that supports massive tax increases to support “free” stuff for everyone, unchecked creeping socialism, abrogation of the Second Amendment, unchecked illegal immigration, and hollowing out the national defense establishment, there’s just not much in a candidate left for me to get behind. I’m not about to give up one four decades of slightly right of center positions because “orange man bad” is the best argument you’ve presented.

2. Failure to sleep deeply. Over the last few months I’ve gotten attuned to waking up at the first sound of a dog peeing in a crate a few steps away from my bed. It hasn’t been a regular occurrence, but has happened often enough that my brain has apparently gotten attuned to it. Under normal circumstances, I can sleep through a small war taking place in the next room. I have a feeling that this new skill of mine, along with what I can only presume is a much lighter sleep, is directly responsible for my increasing level of what can probably best be described as “hostile lethargy.”

Other than linear thought. I admit it, I’m a linear thinker. I think and express myself best in neatly ordered, structured parts and pieces. It’s the systematic way of doing things. The problems arise when I bang directly up against systems that were not designed – or at least don’t behave in – a linear manner… let us just say for instance, a web-based tracking tool that arbitrarily changed the numbers it assigns to each task it’s tracking, which makes using the basic search function of the site nothing more than a roll of the dice. I’m sure it was a good idea to someone somewhere, but it’s the kind of tinkering that takes an already pretty inelegent system and makes it downright unpleasant.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

One of the issues I have with Large Important Events is that they tend to take months to pull together properly. By the time they arrive, you’re running flat out just to keep from falling behind. They chew up months and it feels like you should be entitled to a big ending.

Independence Day ends with fireworks. A public execution ends with a hanging on the courthouse lawn. There’s a final moment of something that marks the definitive end point.

With us, though, it’s just a whole lot of build up with no pay off. There’s no money shot. The end just kind of dribbles out… and those who endured it limp home with whatever you call the event planning version blue balls.