What Annoys Jeff this Week?

IMG_7893.JPG1. Canned goods. The media is currently filled with pictures from Texas of shoppers with carts piled high with canned goods, cases of water, and the usual list of hurricane supplies. I’m always struck when I see these pictures that so many people who live in an area historically frequented by natural disasters don’t have a week’s supply of food and water already laid on. Keeping a few extra cans of beans around for just such an occasion feels like something you should just do automatically even if you’re not in an area prone to high winds and water. Keeping yourself and your household alive in the immediate aftermath of whatever very bad thing hits your community feels a lot like something that you should take on as a personal responsibility instead of waiting for the Weather Channel to tell you you’re going to need water… and then bitching about the government not getting to you fast enough after the storm passes.

2. Powerball. Some woman in Massachusetts won my $758.7 million jackpot.

3. Suffering fools. We live in a polite society where it’s considered inappropriate to look someone in the eyes and ask them directly if they’ve always been stupid or if they have just been struck in the head by a blunt object. The result is no matter how stupid someone is, we’re not supposed to call them out on it. Look, I’m not expecting everyone to be a rising Einstein, I’m more than aware of the moments when my brain has locked up when trying to do or comprehend things that should be simple… but honest to God when the sum total of human knowledge is available to everyone on the device they spend most of their day staring at, there’s just no excuse for so many people to be so incredibly dumb.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I don’t think I’m giving away any state secrets when I say that if you build a giant office complex at the end of a peninsula and then fill it with people, there are only going to be a limited number of ways people can get and their cars and drive away from that facility at the end of the day. When you close some of those already unlimited number of exits things get worse. When you additionally closed one of the few that is usually open just in time for peak traffic, well, you get thousands of people clogging every feeder road fighting to measure progress towards the gate in feet rather than inches. I get that shit happens, but when it does I feel like someone would have a plan to address it – like maybe opening up one of the long shuttered gates just for the day and just for outbound traffic. Being the considerer of worst case scenarios that I am, I’m abjectly horrified at the prospect of what a real honest to God emergency evacuation of this place would look like when just closing one single gate can leave traffic gridlocked for over an hour.

2. The death of a dream. With my 1.6 billion dollar dream now laying in ashes, divided to those with better luck in California, Tennessee, and Florida, I suppose it’s back to building wealth the old fashioned way – piling money regularly into a well-balanced, low-fee retirement vehicle. It’s not nearly as sexy or exciting as winning the Powerball, but it’s something… and statistically way more likely to pay out, though I think my newest ambition to retire early to a 17th century Scottish grousing estate may have to be shelved for the time being.

3. Extemporaneous speaking. Back when dinosaurs rules the earth and I was a student we were required to deliver “off the cuff” presentations. Being able to give a talk without the benefit of notes was something they assured us would be of the utmost importance in whatever fictitious versions of the “real world” they’d concocted in their heads. In the actual world I inhabit, extemporaneous remarks have almost never come into play. Instead of mastering the content there’s a constant stream of requests for notes, bullet points, or an entire script no matter how mundane the topic at hand. Maybe having that seamless, well-reasoned, and articulate messages is reassuring to other people around the table, but for the guy putting the words in your mouth it never rises above “vaguely unsettling.”

Fact check…

I’ve seen a couple of posts banging around the interwebs today that claim if we just gave every American a slice of the upcoming Powerball jackpot, everyone would get about $4.33 million and we could dispense with poverty forever. It’s a fun idea, except for the part where the math is utterly wrong.

With a estimated cash payout of about $868 million and about 300 million Americans that works out to $2.89 per person… or enough for everyone to get themselves a extra large coffee from Dunkin Donuts. While I’m not theoretically opposed to the everyone-gets-coffee scheme, I think it’s pretty clear that it’s a long way from “curing” poverty.

It’s a stone fact that for a handful of people in the next few days life is most likely going to take a radical departure from its current trajectory. It’s not going to lead to a chicken in every pot, although that makes for a nice little story on the internet.

Unfortunately it also illustrates nicely why fact checking shouldn’t just be for history majors.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Delmarva Power. There’s an issue with my power bill. I called their “customer service” number Monday night and was met with a 50-minute estimated wait time. That’s not going to happen, so I called back Tuesday morning. The wait time for that call was a sleek 27-32 minutes. They split the difference and I waited half an hour to be immediately told by the CSR that the system is down and they can’t answer any questions. They did offer to call back when their system is up, which is fine I guess, but what I really want is to determine when I talk to my vendors myself rather than sitting around looking forlorn like a 14 year old girl waiting for her true love to call. After blasting them on social media, someone did reach our to me and promised I’d get a call back “sometime” in the “next few business days”. Fifty hours later. Still waiting.

2. Staffing. In order to send any information outside the organization you need approximately 4,587 separate lines of approval. It’s not necessarily hard work, but it is what some might call tedious. Reaching the point where something is approved for release always feels like something of any accomplishment… but the best part is when you get something fully staffed, vetted, socialized, and approved only to be notified two hours after you hit send for the final time that someone at Echelons Higher than Reality has decided to “go a different direction.

3. The sky is falling. Look gang, I’m not a fancy big city investment banker, but despite the thrashing Wall Street has taken this week the sky really isn’t falling (yet). The Dow made its high in May of last year. We’re down in the neighborhood of 10% off that high – that’s the operative definition of a correction – but still a ways off from a bear market. If you haven’t jumped out well before now, the only thing cashing out in this market does is lock in whatever loss you’ve suffered. If I were in danger of retiring next year I’d be a little more worried. As it is, I’d say it’s time to stack some cash and do a bit of hedging. If that doesn’t work for you, just win yourself a Powerball Jackpot and you’re all set.

Paying for it…

I’ve always read that people who don’t have a plan for what they’re going to do in retirement are the ones that end up bored or worse – longing to return to the orderly days of life at work. While a two week vacation hardly qualifies as a dry-run for retirement I can say with at least some degree of certainty that a really detailed plan to fill my days may not be strictly necessary when the big day comes.

For the last week or so I’ve mostly done as the spirit moved me. I ate when I was hungry, slept when I was tired, and filled in the other hours cooking, tinkering around on minor repair projects that time never seems to be found for, devising less-than-lethal anti-squirrel devices, and reading. To put it simply, I excel at simply puttering around the house and doing whatever strikes my fancy. I think I could be ok doing that for a long, long time.

Of course I’m not retired – and not even on the same continent as that far off day. Now is the time (or more precisely tomorrow is the time) when I’ve got to go back to busting my hump to pay for the possibility of unlimited free time at some point in the future. As this particular winter Sunday draws to a close, I find my motivation lacking… anyone out there want to pool our funds and buy a crapload of Powerball tickets?

Sucking chest wound…

Getting back to the weekly grind is tough after a regular, uneventful weekend. Going back after a four-day weekend is a little more like trying to recover from massive ballistic trauma – without the blood and swelling, of course. Sitting at the computer, staring at Outlook, and making an effort at being productive was just downright painful… and I think just reinforces why I need to win Wednesday’s PowerBall drawing.

I envy that select group of people who jump out of bed in the morning, fully energized and looking forward to the day. Generally the best I can hope to achieve is fully caffeinated and looking forward to going home at the end of the day. That last bit shouldn’t be taken as a slam against my job. As far as work goes, it’s really not a bad one; with a little attention to detail and a willingness to not let common sense get in the way, there’s really not that much to complain about.

Still, a job is a job and like 99.9% of the other working slobs in this country, there are of 687 bazillion other things I’d rather be doing on any average day. Tops on my list is not waking up at 4:50AM to three screaming alarm clocks. It may seem like a small thing, but I think it would go a long way towards reducing my regular feeling of post-weekend trauma. Since my experience has been that one job is more or less like the next, it seems to be that the only real alternatives at this point are to start robbing banks, come up with a Wall Street ponzi scheme, or win the PowerBall jackpot.

With only one of those three not leading more or less directly to prison, I’d say that the only acceptable plan is to win the lottery. Well, either that or somehow learn not to think of Monday as the sucking chest wound on the torso of life. Wish me luck.

Here’s to not feeling like warm death on a muffin…

After enjoying Thanksgiving with the family, doing more in person shopping in one day than I do the rest of the year, and fighting off what was either a very brief cold or a singularly bad attack of allergies, I’m slowly working myself back into the old routine. Being Sunday, of course, much of that routine involves being annoyed that the weekend is already over. Weekends, even when they’re twice as long as usual, never really feel long enough. At least no one else won the Powerball jackpot last night, so that means I’ve still got a shot at it on Wednesday. That’s pretty much my happy thought for the first half of the week. After that, I’ll make no promises about keeping up a cheery disposition – especially since we’re now in the long stretch of no scheduled days off leading up to Christmas. The last few weeks have spoiled me with the random clumps of annual leave liberally sprinkled across October and November. Somehow I’ll manage to get by with just the normal two-day weekends for a few weeks, I’m sure.

So, now that I’m not feeling like warm death on a muffin, I’d better get on with doing the odds and ends that keep this place from falling down around my ears. With the holiday over, I’ll try to get back to something like a normal posting schedule here. In the meantime, if you really have an itch for more reading, take a look at the five “new” old posts from October 2006 that I put up earlier this morning.

Jackpot dreams…

A disturbing number of things I say every week start with the phrase “When I hit the PowerBall…” Usually that’s leading to some discussion of buying an island somewhere in the South Pacific and doing my best to ignore the rest of the world. It occurs to me that my needs are really much more mundane. Sitting here tonight, I suspect I could be bought off with much less than a full-blown lottery jackpot. Sure, the island or a well fortified Montana compound would be a nice touch, but I suspect I’d be perfectly happy just sitting here on the porch with the dogs at my feet and my nose stuck in a good book. I think I could potentially entertain myself like that for years, as long as I didn’t have a tiny little voice in the back of my head reminding me that I have to get up at first light tomorrow to go sit in a cube for eight hours. It seems the better the weekend, the heavier the weight of Sunday night bears down. Bugger all.

Staying put…

If you’d have asked me back around June 19th what I’d be doing this Spring, I’d have give you one of two possible answers: 1) Finding a house to rent that didn’t break every third day or 2) Having successfully picked the all six numbers for the PowerBall jackpot, I am withdrawing from public life to a small, sparsely populated island somewhere in the Caribbean Sea. As it turns out, neither one of those two things is going to be on my agenda for Spring 2012.

It’s not so much that I’ve made a conscious decision to stay put as much as I’ve slowly come to terms with house. After nine months it’s getting that lived in look that comes from finally having boxes unpacked. Cutting out the property manager from hell and dealing directly with the owner has gone a long way towards resolving the upkeep and maintenance issues that plagued the first month or two. The truth is, it’s taken the better part of a year, but I’m starting to feel settled. Just the idea of throwing everything back into boxes at this point and doing it all again so soon makes me a bit twitchy. Besides, I’d always hoped that the next move would be back into a house that Bank of America and I owned together and since that’s not going to happen in the next three months, sticking with the enemy I know seems like the next best option.

So yeah, if the first year was about settling in and getting my footing. This year is going to be all about fixing some of the things that have bugged me, but I didn’t want to tackle because I figured I’d be moving on before being there long enough for them to matter much. Now that I’ve made up my mind to stick around, it’s time to start hacking at those annoyances. In a few weeks when the weather finally turns for good that means a concerted effort to bring the yard into a better state than “eh, good enough for a rental.” If I’m going to be here for a while, it’s time to start putting my own stamp on the place – or at least as much of a stamp as one can place without spending much money. Once the outside is up to standard, maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally get around to turning the basement into something other than a place to store canned goods and cast off furniture.

Or I could just go ahead and get that PowerBall win. That would be fine too.

Love what you do…

I usually let these archive posts stand alone without any additional comment or correction. After reading through this one, well, I knew I had to lead it off with a little commentary. This post was written back in October 2011, when I was still fresh in the new gig… Almost six years later I’ve been through four changes of first line supervisor, four changes of senior supervisor, four changes of command, and watched a metric shitload of water pass under the bridge. You can tell it was written when I was fresh and excited because I mention putting on a tie. I wouldn’t write this post the same way today. And I definitely wouldn’t call it “a little slice of heaven” even in comparison to what came before. The more things change, maybe they really do stay the same.

The original post from October 24th, 2011 follows:

They say that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. It occurs to me that people who say this are probably either a) moron, b) easily amused, or more likely c) easily amused morons. Setting that aside for a moment, it seems the career I’m most interested in would be professional PowerBall winner. Suddenly finding myself heir to a hotel fortune would be ok too, I guess. Having the freedom to work at what you’re really interested in rather than what pays the bills has to be an interesting experience, but even then I’m pretty sure I’d think of it as “work.”

That’s not to take anything away from what I’m doing now. Really. I mean it. I’ve got a perfectly good job and bring home a perfectly good living. Compared to what I was doing a year ago, this places is practically a little slice of heaven. Even so, I’m never going to mistake it for doing something I love. At best, I’m doing something at which I have some degree of comparative advantage and that I don’t find mind-numbingly dull. I don’t have a boss who makes me crazy and I don’t, with a couple of noted exceptions, mind my colleagues. Given the current state of the economy, I’m doing every bit as well as anyone could reasonably expect. In my own warped way, I’m grateful for that.

Still, I don’t love it. Throwing on a tie and coming to the office isn’t something I do in the morning with unbridled glee. I suppose it’s possible that some people do, but I haven’t bumped into them in the parking lot. Maybe they all come in before I do. Regardless, I think the whole idea of loving your job is overblown. Sure, I like it well enough, but if I suddenly hit a $100 million jackpot, I don’t like it well enough to keep showing up when I don’t need it to pay the bills. Frankly I can’t think of anything I love doing enough that I wouldn’t think of it as work if I had to do it for eight hours every day. Even sitting on the beach drinking umbrella drinks would get old after a while… and besides, there’s not much of a market for that kind of employee.

My advice to the next generation isn’t to waste time looking for a job you love. Instead, find a good paying job you can tolerate for a while, make what you can, and then move on to the next thing. If you’re looking for deep personal fulfillment in the eight hours a day you spend whoring your mind and body out to the highest bidder, you’re going to be disappointed. Like every street walker knows, when you’re in the business of selling yourself by the hour you’re way more likely to get screwed than you are to find love.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.