Duty done (for today)…

There are times when doing your duty is also an absolute pleasure. I’ve always, for instance, enjoyed physically going to cast my vote on Election Day.

Today, though, was not one of those moments when duty and pleasure merge. There’s nothing that fills me with less confidence in our justice system than looking around at my fellow citizens in the jury pool holding area. Just in my little room of 20 COVID-distanced potential jurors we had granny in her housecoat and fuzzy slippers, the 20-something reeking of patchouli oil, the open mouth snorer who sat directly in front of me, and two people who spent hours inexplicably staring at a blank wall.

These, should I ever find myself in the dock, are the pool of those eligible citizens who would constitute a duly sworn jury of my peers. That idea makes me tremble down to my very core.

I don’t suppose we can institute an IQ test as I’m sure that’s bound to offend someone… but maybe a general knowledge quiz… or demonstrating the ability to dress yourself or even just to stay awake. Those feel like reasonable expectations for an alleged peer group.

No matter how low I set my expectations when faced with the general public, coming face to face with that them never fails to give them the opportunity to find the bar and drag it lower than I would have normally thought possible.

Four more days of on call status. Sigh.

Back in the world…

I know plenty of people have been far more risk tolerant than I’ve been over the last year. Some have been far less risk tolerant than me. I hope, as usual, I managed to fall somewhere in the middle of the curve – not too indifferent, but not too paranoid. 

Even when the Great Plague started, I didn’t fully sequester myself. I managed to complete regular trips out for groceries, carryout, and whatever I couldn’t live without from Lowe’s. I largely made sure to do those things at times other people would consider “inconvenient.” As often as not, I had entire stores almost completely to myself. 

In making my first trip back into the broader world this weekend, I’m not sure what I was expecting beyond it feeling somehow “different.”

As it turns out, the world is still as full of people as it was in the Before Time… and that makes everything just awful. 

I managed to lose the crowd, or most of it, while I was wandering the stacks peering at books, but as soon as I popped out the end of a row, there they were, slack jawed and milling around aimlessly in the aisles, in the parking lots, and on the roads.

I’ve heard it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I can tell you now in complete sincerity, the absence of large groups of people in my daily, weekly, and monthly routine has not made me any more fond of them in any way. If anything, the absence of people has had the exact opposite effect on me. 

As the world schlepps on towards returning to “normal,” I’ll be over here coming up with new and creative ways to keep on avoiding the other returnees.  

Fake snow…

There’s a segment of the population that has decided the storm a few weeks ago that drove Texas to its knees was all part of a vast and continuing conspiracy that somehow features “fake snow” delivered on target by the government or Bill Gates. I remain a bit unclear on that last bit.

Every time I think my countrymen couldn’t possibly be more ridiculous, we go ahead and set the bar just a little bit lower. I’d love to say I’m surprised that some significant portion of the people living in the United States are complete morons, but pretty much every time I’m forced to go out and interact with the general public confirms it. Is it possible that the dumbing of America is picking up speed?

I’m constantly reminded that the average person probably does ok. They handle their business and get through life without being completely derailed by obviously fictitious shit. Then I remember that at least half the population is, by definition, below average. These are the people you interact with who leave you wondering who laces up their shoes in the morning or how they can possibly survive on their own “in the wild” without competent supervision.

As much as I wish I could be surprised that so many people are convinced Texas was coated in fake snow, or the lizard people are controlling the media, or there was an unimaginably complex plot to steal the 2020 election, I’m really not. I don’t understand what seems to be a compulsion to believe the most patently absurd, farcical ideas versus the far more mundane and plausible reality. Are people really so bored in their daily life that they have some need to create wild fictional scenarios? 

I’m all in favor of a little escapism now and then. I’ve got the movies and books to prove it. What I’ll never understand is how so damned many people decided that constructing and living in their own alternate reality is in any way a beneficial way to spend their time. 

If anyone would like to present actual evidence that one of these wild ass conspiracies is true, the comments section is always wide open… but bear in mind, “evidence” does not consist of random stuff you’ve pulled from your favorite conspiracy theorist website or “video proof” you discovered on YouTube. If you send me that shit, I’ll absolutely laugh and mock you without mercy.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. A plastic bag. There’s a white plastic bag in the top branch of one of the trees in my front yard. It makes me unreasonably angry. Mostly because even with a ladder I don’t have any implements long enough to haul it down. So, I’ll have this damned plastic bag stuck in front of the house forever or until I cut the tree down, I guess. Just another reason why I hate people. This bag belonged to someone but because they are an irresponsible asshat, now I get to look at it indefinitely out the front window.

2. The days of the week. The only real trouble I’ve had in this long stretch of working from home, is that the days have a real tendency to bleed together. Monday is a lot like Thursday which is a lot like Saturday and on, and on, and on. Hey, I’m a creature of habit, I’m not really complaining… but it does lead to a lot of minor moments of crises that start off with “Oh shit, that was supposed to do that today.”

3. r/wallstreetbets. The Redditors of r/wallstreetbets were mad geniuses last week, executing a classic short squeeze and costing at least one hedge fund a couple of billion dollars. Everyone likes it when the scrappy upstart scores one against the big guys. I get it. The fun part was once things started happening the broader world thought, inexplicably, that everyone could ride GameStop shares to the moon. Now there are posts awash with disbelief that people have the audacity to sell shares and take some profit. Maybe the folks over on Reddit play by different rules, but expecting anyone to ride a stock as wildly overvalued as GameStop had become and then hold it there at its highs indefinitely as the knife started falling back to earth, feels like exactly the kind of wackiness I’ve come to expect from message board people. 

Don’t go breakin’ my heart…

My home state of Maryland is moving swiftly towards ending the last of the COVID-19 related business closures. Now we’ll be able to go to the movies and concerts in addition to bars, restaurants, and retail establishments. It’s surely good news if you’re dependent on any of those businesses to make your living. Personally, it’ll still be a good, long time before I take advantage of most of these reborn opportunities.

I’ve never been what one might call “social,” but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less during a plague year than sit in a movie theater for a few hours, belly up to the local bar, or go out for a long, lingering meal at a neighborhood restaurant. I wasn’t terribly keen on it in the before time and I’m even less so now that as many as one in twenty could be walking around blowing the plague out of their face holes.

Other people, I’m sure, will be happy to do those things. They’re welcome to it… as long as they keep the hell away from me afterwards. Though I don’t suppose that’s much of a break from my usual approach on interacting with people.

Fortunately, the bookstores and junk shops that I tend to haunt aren’t generally hotbeds of activity. Their few, but loyal clientele are well versed in avoiding other consumers. We were doing it well before anyone was worried about the Great Plague. Who knows, maybe while everyone else is busy going to movies and loading in to bars and restaurants during this long holiday weekend, I may even try to sneak in a visit to pick out a few new (old) books or find a hidden gem buried among shelves of junk… or I could just make a pre-dawn supply run and head on back to the house for four days on interrupted peace and quiet. Neither course of action would break my heart.

They’re all dog days…

Wednesday was allegedly “International Dog Day.” I have no idea what duly constituted international body anoints these days, but that’s not the point.

I was happy to see Facebook filled with dogs of all shapes and sizes. For a few minutes it shouted down the rest of the abject asshattery that fills social media, which was nice.

My only real objection to this state of affairs is that I’ve never needed a special day to recognize dogs. Here at Fortress Jeff, every day is a celebration of these stalwart creatures whose ancestors long ago chose to throw their lot in with humanity. Given how many people seem to treat dogs so shabbily, I’m quite sure we got the better part of that bargain.

There’s no day that hasn’t been made better just by having the presence of these fuzzy hoodlum in my home. They’ve paid back every minute spent scrubbing it steam cleaning a hundred times over. I can’t even begrudge them the accumulated veterinary bills.

In a contest between dogs and people for my love and adoration, the dogs are going to win every time. I’m not even sorry about that. In fact, I tend to question the judgement of anyone who has spent time with both people and dogs and doesn’t agree. 

Lowest common denominator…

I’ll admit it. I’m vaguely fascinated by news reports of some of the fringe actors in the modern “protest” movement – particularly the ones that define themselves as being “resolutely anti-capitalist.”

The Cold War kid in me has definite feelings about that. 

The middle aged adult me, the one with a vested retirement and decades of proven growth a tax advantaged savings account, has big feelings about it.

Far from seeing capitalism as the disease, I’ve always viewed it as the cure, though it’s far from a magic pill. I took my lumps back in 2008 just like everyone else – maybe a little more because I was determined to make good on my debts rather than just walking away from them or expecting someone else to foot the bill. Even after taking those lumps, though, I’m miles ahead of where I would have been had I opted out of capitalism to chase a Marxist pipe dream. Color me an enemy of the state for that, I guess. 

I’ve long mistrusted people as individuals – and have had virtually no trust at all of large groups of them who are convinced beyond reason that they have uncovered the One True Way. I don’t have the time or energy to do anything with fanatics other than mock them mercilessly. Life experience tells me that expecting everyone around the globe to link arms, sing happy songs, and do everything out of the goodness of their collective hearts is going to do not much more than shatter the hopes and dreams of a bunch of idealistic youngsters when the realize the world truly doesn’t give two shits about them or whatever cloud castle they’re trying to build. 

The history of our species is a long list of violence and blood-letting. If we pull back the curtain far enough on this wave of “anti-capitalists,” I’d speculate what we’ll find is just another group of elites who are inching along what they’ve identified as a newly feasible path towards gathering up the reins of power into their own hands. 

Me? I prefer the market-based approach. It doesn’t pretend to be kinder and gentler – but a system that rewards personal initiative and risk seems infinitely preferable to one that wants to smash everyone into the mold of lowest common denominator “equality.” 

Do not resuscitate…

One of the convenient features of the Great Plague is that more places will just email you things that usually have to be filled out in their office so you can take care of them at home. Anything that removes that human to human interface is a net good overall in my book. Look, I know some of you out there thrive on this human contact foolishness, but in a lot of ways I feel like I’m over here living my best life in a world finally designed for avoiding people.

The joy of being able to dispense with a bit of one-on-one human interaction this morning was tempered somewhat because I was filling out Maggie’s pre-surgery paperwork. The 4-page packet included basics like my contact information, what medication she’s currently on, and a summary of the procedure and expected costs for my initials.

This particular pre-surgical packet also included, what I can only think of as “advance directive for dogs.” The vet wants to know just how heroic the measures should get if something goes horrendously wrong during the procedure. The forms I’ve seen in the past include everything from the standard do not resuscitate, to providing CPR, to using electrical defibrillators and even more invasive options. Since this surgery is being taken care of at the local vet’s office rather than one of the big emergency clinics we frequent, we were limited to DNR or performing basic CPR.

I’ve probably filled out a dozen or two of these forms over the years – mostly for myself, but more than a few for the animals. My own advanced directive is relatively straight forward and I’ve passed it out to a slew of doctors over the years – CPR is fine. Machines are fine. But the moment we hit the point where my big beautiful brain is damaged or I’m alive only by virtue of the machines, go ahead and pull the plug. I’d like to hold out for the point where the techies can download my consciousness into a computer, but if that’s not an option feel free to let me go. 

With the animals, though, the temptation for me is to keep them with me at all costs using whatever tools veterinary medicine can bring to bear. I always resist the strong temptation to tell the vet to be heroic, though. It’s not the easy choice, but it’s the right one. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I’m about as freedom loving a libertarian leaning Republican as you’re likely to find. Smart people are telling me that covering my face holes with as simple piece of cloth is helpful in reducing the spread of a disease that’s currently wrecking the economy and killing some people. They’re not telling me that a mask is the cure. They’re not saying it will magically stop the spread of all airborne particles. They’re saying that in their best scientific estimate, a mask will reduce transmission if I wear one when I’m away from home and in proximity to other people.

Yep, it’s hot and uncomfortable. My glasses fog up and the four-month lack of barbering means my beard sticks out at the edges in a way resembling nothing so much as a 70s porn star wearing a bikini. I don’t like wearing a mask, but doing it because smart people say I should isn’t in any way infringing on my constitutional liberties. There’s no part of the Constitution that guarantees your right to make others look at your stupid face.

If you’re one of the people tempted to respond to this post arguing that “it’s just the flu” or “it’s the media” or “it’s a vast left-wing conspiracy,” just go ahead and shut the fuck up. This isn’t about politics. It’s a very simple matter of smart versus stupid… although it has gone a long way towards showing which mouth breathing yokels we should collectively avoid even when masks are no longer needed.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

There’s a fair chance I could write a book on what annoys me this week. I won’t bother doing that, of course. Even knocking together my usual “top three” this week feels like screaming into the void. What, after all, deserves the most focus when nearly everything beyond the peaceful and bucolic grounds of Fortress Jeff seems determined to grate on your last nerve?

What really annoys me this week? Mostly that this feels like it’s the new normal – or at least it will be what we treat as normal until we find a way to get back to everyone focused on sportsball, movies, and television. I have a sneaking feeling that once celebrities start making spectacles of themselves again, some significant portion of the population will happily shut the fuck up and enjoy the bread and circuses.

Until then, I’ll probably have to accept my life will continue to drift towards an increasingly permanent state of eye rolling and general disbelief about how feckless people as a group are determined to lead by feel and not by thought.