What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Running out of time. Even as I grudgingly accept the fact that it’s necessary to work in exchange for money which I can then exchange for goods and services, I cannot quite shake off the feeling that I’d rather be safely tucked into Fortress Jeff with an endless supply of hot coffee and a mountain of books to read. Mentally preparing myself to go out and rejoin the world is, in a word, traumatic. It’s times like this I can see how one might just get suckered into the fool’s gold appeal of something like a “universal basic income” scheme.

2. January finances. As a professional adult head of household, January has always been a budget buster of a month for me. It’s the month when my biggest bills come due for the year – car insurance, home owner’s association dues, paying off Christmas gifts and travel expenses, the start of the winter heating season, and a few others. No matter how well the year is budgeted, January always comes around like a swift kick in the teeth and throw in one more large dollar item than I was projecting. It’s like the new year giving you a rabbit punch just to remind you that just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean it’s anything more than business as usual.

3. Congress and the president. If you thought having the executive and legislative branches run by the same party put the “fun” in dysfunctional, just wait until you see the magnificent shitshow that Washington devolves into this afternoon when Democrats assume power in the House of Representatives. To all those who scream “false equivalency” or who want to blame one side or the other, I’ll simply say go fuck yourself. A pox on both their houses. No one sitting in our hallowed halls of power is an innocent.

It could have been me too…

A couple of months ago, during a contentious Senate hearing over a nominee to the Supreme Court, I not particularly subtly voiced my concern about relying on imperfect memories of events that happened 30 or 40 years ago. Now that tempers have cooled slightly, I’d like to expand a little on why I came down where I did… and for the record it’s not because I think then nominee Kavanaugh was going to be the best Supreme Court Justice ever. It has everything to do with memory and how perception of distant experiences and events could wildly differ over time.

To start let me take you back to the long ago years of the middle 1990s. Every fall from 1992 through 1996 I and my nearest and dearest friends spent every Saturday crammed onto school buses often traveling for hours to the nearest marching band competition. Marching band has a sometimes well earned reputation as a shelter for geeks, nerds, and misfits. It also has a more concealed seedier side. Tell any former band geek a story prefaced with “this one time at band camp” and most of us will give you a knowing smirk.

You see the dirty little secret of marching band, at least back then, was that it could be an absolute den of depravity and what some segments of the population might be tempted to describe as “immoral conduct.” Now I’m not in any way admitting that I myself participated in any of this questionable conduct, but in close quarters, on a dark bus full of hormone-fueled teenagers crossing a hundred miles late into the night, things sometimes happen beneath the protective cover of a large blanket. There were a lot of first experiences on those long, late bus rides.

Then there were the parties. Compared to today, they feel like something incredibly tame. As far as I know there wasn’t even booze or drugs at any of  these parties – though there were a few sub sets of the group where that, too, could be had if you wanted it. Mainly our parties were a grand excuse to shove two giggling teenagers into a closet together for 7 minutes and then wrench the door open hoping to catch them “having a moment.” There was old school spin the bottle, regular semi-clothed cuddle puddles, and many, many “long walks in the woods on a moonlit evening” to pass the time.

It was the kind of rampant teenage b movie sexuality that Gilbert Gottfried use to host on USA’s Up All Night on weekend late nights. To the best of my knowledge everything that ever happened during our parties was completely consensual between all combinations of willing participants. The catch, of course, is that all this happened 20+ years ago. Maybe that’s not how everyone remembers those days. Memory is an imperfect instrument and with every year its rough edges get worn down even smoother. If someone from that long ago past rose up today and said it wasn’t, I don’t have any idea how one might defend himself from the accusation, particularly if the accusation itself is enough to establish a presumption of guilt.

So, you ask me why I was vocal in defending someone from 30+ year old accusations? It’s because it very easily could have been me or any number of people I know being pilloried in the press for activities that no one so much as looked at askance way back in the prehistoric days when they happened.

A Maryland Republican…

I’m a Maryland Republican. In most places in the middle part of the country that would make me all but a Democrat. With the reliable rift of blue stretching down from Baltimore County through the suburban counties south of DC, Maryland is effectively a one party state – but one that allows for an occasional quirk of electing Republican governors.

I’m not the biggest fan of Larry Hogan. There are issues he’s given up on that I would dearly like to see him fight for – though in a state where the Democratic controlled legislature can overwhelm any gubanatorial veto easily, those fights would be barely more than a gesture. He’s actually done better than I expected and that earned him my vote for a second chance at the big chair.

Even knowing the long odds of any Republican running for state wide office here in the Old Line State, I schlepped to my polling place after work. In reliably ruby red Cecil County, there were plenty of races where my vote will make a difference. Unlike the state offices, for local races here at the upper edge of the Eastern Shore, the Republican primary basically makes the general election a foregone conclusion.

I’ve done my bit to make sure the state has a fighting chance of not getting lost into single-party hellscape of forever higher taxes, runaway spending, and increasingly invasive government “services.” Maybe we can’t hold the line indefinitely, but I’ve got another 16 or so years before I can bail out for somewhere where the state government doesn’t seem determined to be all things to all people so I’ve got to do what I can when I can.

Divisible by ten…

Every year I’m surprised at the end of May when I find myself inexplicably even more irritable than usual. Like salmon returning up river to die, the run up to June comes on without me consciously taking notice of it. Or rather not taking note of it until I sit down and ask myself why I’m dramatically more agitated that normal.

Yes, friends, you guessed it. It’s birthday time again. You see, the fare that accompanies the traditional American birthday is just a little bit of personal hell as far as I’m concerned. A room full of people, dumb hats, forced polite chatter – it sounds perfectly awful. It’s more tolerable when I’m not at the center of it, but I’d just as soon the day slide astern with as little fuss as possible.

It does explain why I’ve largely been feeling “off” this last week or so. Once you’re past 21 – or maybe 25 if you’re really excited about being able to rent a car – the whole exercise of birthday celebrating takes on a decidedly “so what” flavor. Maybe that flavor is even worse this year because it’s one of the big ones divisible by ten.

I take more than a little comfort in knowing it will be past soon and once that happens my mood will improve dramatically if I can go out on a limb and use past performance to predict future results.

A small price to pay…

Everyone reading this is probably well aware that I’m not what anyone would describe as a “party” person. In most cases, hell really is other people – especially other people crammed in a room studiously avoiding any topic that could even possibly be considered controversial (and therefore interesting). In most cases the Nondenominational Office Winter Holiday Party is effectively a very long lunch in which everyone carries on the conversations we would otherwise be having over the cubicle walls.

These Nondenominational Office Winter Holiday Parties are said to be morale boosters. For some, maybe they are. If you should ever want to perk up my flagging spirit all that’s really necessary is cutting me loose a few hours early to hang out with the critters. It has the added benefit of not requiring anyone to reserve the back room somewhere and order in a deli tray, so it’s kind of a win-win.

Still, though, if I’m honest, the $13 price of admission is a small price to pay for getting four hours away from the cube farm without burning off any of my own vacation time so it isn’t an utterly lost cause.

Tables, or A lifetime of questionable career decisions…

Note: Yes, I know this place and time is usually reserved for the weekly edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Go ahead and read to the end and let me know if you don’t understand why I called a quick audible this week instead.

If you guys are tired of the current trend of posts I’ve been thinking of as “Chronicles of an Event Planner,” you’ll have to take my word that I’m even more tired of writing them. Sadly, though, life happens where we are and not necessarily where we want to be. That’s my way of saying sorry, but you’re going to have to live with at least a few more days of the jackassery that ensues when you try to drag 60-odd people into a room and make them talk about things they don’t really want to talk about.

Today’s illustration in the extraordinarily limited scope of my influence revolves around the size of the tables we’ll be using. Let me start off by saying the original floor plan – the one we’ve used repeatedly, over the last few years, was on target right up until some point late yesterday afternoon when it was not. Different configuration? Sure. Can do easy. Except for the part where someone at echelons higher than reality didn’t like the size of the other available tables – wanting six person tables instead of the standard eight person tables that were readily available.

This demand for smaller tables triggered the standard paper chase into which two senior analysts lost an ninety minutes each of productive time. The end result of this particular goat rope was that the eight person tables ended up being fine. All it took was sending a guy over to the venue, setting one of them up, snapping a few pictures showing it in its natural environment, and coming back to illustrate that believe it or not, we really do know what the hell we’re talking about.

Sigh. I’ve spent more time thinking about the various sizes and shapes of tables and how they can best be configured to create an intimate café feeling today than I would have ever expected to spend in my lifetime. It’s hard to imagine this was the job Uncle had in mind when he trained me to move Armies across the globe or provide relief supplies to those stricken by natural disaster.

Talk about the leading edge of a life marked with so very many questionable career decisions.

The leadership vortex…

I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a moment in the life of every event when the big day is close enough to finally attract the attention of the greatest of the high and mighty. It’s the moment when your rater, and his rater, and his rater, and his rater, and the big daddy rater of them all finally start paying attention. It’s a little bit like setting your desk up in the center of a hurricane. For lack of a better phrase I like to think of these last few days before an event starts as finding myself at the heart of the Leadership Vortex, where you’ll be assailed on all fronts by people who outrank you who have all, finally, been visited by the Good Idea Fairy. These moments represent a direct opposite condition to business as usual, which I so often charitably describe as finding yourself victim of the Black Hole of Leadership – in which everything you throw towards them for a decision disappears over the event horizon never to be seen again.

Friends, today I can report with equal parts joy and trepidation that we have reached the Leadership Vortex point in the current event’s planning cycle today. I’m joyful because it means the end is in sight while the trepidation stems from a dozen experiences of knowing how truly awful the center of the Vortex can get before you’re pushed clear on the other side. Yeah, currently I’m being provided leadership from every quarter to within an inch of my professional life.

There are a few things you need remember when you find yourself squarely in the middle of the leadership vortex:

1. The guidance you got yesterday or even an hour ago may or may not apply.

2. For the duration of the Vortex, every single person in your rating chain is now your immediate supervisor.

3. When you receive conflicting guidance, always defer to the ranking manager. You can’t shift the blame up, but it’s your best bet to find some modicum of top cover.

4. It can’t be escaped, simply endured.

5. This too will pass. Probably.

Sigh. The things we do for King and Country.