The open bay petri dish…

Since March 2020, I’ve taken the reasonably prescribed precautions against the Great Plague. The regular advice to avoid crowded spaces didn’t feel particularly onerous to me. After all, avoiding crowded places has been my stock in trade for most of my adult life. It’s the kind of crisis situation I was built for.

When the bosses prioritize asses in seats, though, there’s no way to avoid the office, which is how you get a poor schlub coming in when he’s not feeling 100% and only hours later popping hot on a rapid test. That, of course, leads to the rest of us sitting around wondering if that brief conversation we had in the early hours of the morning was enough to swing us from exposed to infected. There’s no way to tell until something does or doesn’t happen, so we all just keep on keeping on.

I miss the front half of the plague experience. A positive test like this would have triggered an immediate quarantine and deep cleaning of the physical space. Anyone in the room would have been declared “exposed” and sent home to quarantine for as long as 14 days. Now guidance from the top is “Well, we just have to tell you that you may have been exposed” and an accompanying shrug.

Having been vaccinated and boosted, it’s reasonable to assume the plague isn’t going to be my cause of death. That shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s an experience I particularly want to have. Given the couple of underlying conditions I enjoy that don’t necessarily play nicely with the plague, it’s in my best interest to avoid it. If I catch this bug after two and a half years only because someone at echelons higher than reality is mired in the misguided notion that there’s anything at all I can do sitting at my desk in cubicle hell that I can’t do from my desk in the sunroom at home, there’s a fair chance I’ll absolutely lose my shit the very next time someone mentions some absolute tripe like “synergy, collaboration, and innovation” and the importance of having all the warm bodies back in an open bay petri dish.

Running out the clock…

With three days left in this grand 16 day weekend, I guess you could say the only thing I have left to do is run out the clock.

With a bit of a sore throat and a touch of post nasal drip, but no other signs or symptoms of crud, COVID, or anything else catching, I’ve laid in groceries and have no further plans besides three days of proper hermiting before work raises its ugly head and demands my time again. It’s celebrating this long stretch of days off by doing that which I most enjoy.

These last two weeks seem to be ending with more a whimper than a bang, but I’m not exactly complaining. Being holed up with the animals, rooms full of good books, food to cook, and vast quantities of tea and gin hardly sounds like a disaster. Who knows, I might even get crazy and watch something on Netflix or Hulu instead of just using the television as background noise.

All while in the back of my head rumbles the warning that Monday is coming. I don’t think any amount of time off will ever change how I feel about that.

Feeling pretty good…

It’s not polite to talk about money. That’s the kind of thing people drilled into your head back in the olden days. Maybe it’s still true. I don’t know. Maybe it isn’t polite to talk about money, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Like most people, I’ve had a complicated relationship with money for as long as I can remember. Some times were fat, others thin. Even in those thin times, though, debt was easy. I never had any trouble finding someone willing to let me borrow on their account. I’ve had some kind of unsecured debt following me around since Citibank gave me my first credit card as a college sophomore.

A decade ago, fleeing from an untenable career situation, I racked up a mountain of debt. It went to the costs of leasing out the house at less than I needed to cover the note (before finally selling it off at a loss), paying my own way a third of the way across the country, setting up housekeeping here along the northern reaches of the Chesapeake, and a bulldog with eye watering medical bills, among less dramatic things. It was all wildly expensive – and what I couldn’t cover out of pocket, I financed.

It’s taken every bit of those ten years, but as of this morning, with one last payment, I clawed out from under the last $279 of non-mortgage debt I was carrying on my books. With a rock bottom interest rate and no intention of staying in this house forever, it’s debt on an appreciating asset (and a deduction) I’m just fine with keeping. I’m perfectly willing to make that my modified definition of “debt free.”

Some people have said it’s a liberating feeling. Maybe it is, but mostly what I feel is relief – knowing that I can fully allocate resources to better goals than continually servicing debt. I could have cut costs to the bone, but you know, you’ve got to live a life too. I’m not saying I’ll never buy another thing with someone else’s dollars, but I’ll be a hell of a lot more judicious than I used to be when it happens.

This day would have arrived a hell of a lot sooner if I qualified for mortgage forgiveness back in 2008 or any of the COVID cash giveaways in 2021. There’s a good chance that’ll be a sore spot that festers for the rest of my life. Missing out on two big freebies aside, I’m feeling pretty good about things just now… and not only because I’m just a few hours into a 16-day weekend.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Systems of systems. Outlook was down most of the day on Wednesday. That was after three days of fighting another “file sharing” system. It’s possible that this week will enter my personal record books as the one in which I spent the most effort to accomplish the least. I’m sure there are good and fine reasons why all out tech seems to be tits up more often than it’s not, but it continues to be one of the top two or three most reliably annoying elements of the job. It’s just one of the many reasons I’m dedicated to being able to walk out the door in thirteen years, five months, and a hand full of days.

2. The week before Christmas. It’s the week before Christmas, or close enough for all practical proposes. It’s certainly less than eight working hours before my long Christmas holiday commences. It’s also been just about the busiest week of work I can remember since the beginning of the Great Plague. Easily 50% of the week’s dumpster fires are entirely self-inflicted because someone just got around to looking at something that should have been handled last week, or because our electronic communication system suck, or for untold other reasons. I shouldn’t say this with so many bosses, former bosses, and other trusted professionals following along, but with seven hours left in my work year, every single one of my fucks has already been allocated. Anyone coming at me between now and 4:00 Friday afternoon expecting much more than a blank stare is going to be sorely disappointed.

3. Prednisone. Thanks to the as-yet unidentified reason my arm had been broken out in a rash for about three weeks, I had a 4-day course of prednisone this week. The (mostly) good news is that the arm has sort of cleared up – it at least looks a lot better than it did a week ago and I’m not longer tempted to satisfy the itch by scratching it with a circular saw. What the four days of prednisone also gave me was an insatiable craving for salt, rampaging blood glucose levels, an even shorter temper than usual, and I’m pretty sure at least one panic attack. I have no idea how people stay on that stuff for weeks or months on end. Next time I’ll just scratch myself bloody and it will still be a less awful experience. 

Time, distance, and the laws of men…

It’s that special time of year again when the gods on Olympus like to pretend that they are not in any way constrained by time, distance, or the laws of men. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving and those high and mighty gods have, right on schedule, realized that the minions on whom they depend to work their will will increasingly be unavailable thanks to end of the year leave taking.

Now what someone with a modicum of common sense might do, is prioritize whatever effort or efforts are legitimately “most important” and concentrate on getting those through the gate first. What we’ll actually be doing, of course, is piling on increasing levels of stuff to do and then watching as “leaders” gnash their teeth and rend their garments because it’s not getting done.

The pool of available people to keep up with whatever wild-ass new ideas the bosses dream up will get a little smaller every day between now and the end of the year. It would be comical if it weren’t absolutely predictable. I’ve watched this spectacle first hand since 2003 and can only assume this great green machine has been up to the same kind of pre-holiday fuckery since Washington was a Lieutenant.

Look, I really am sorry… but if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to jump through his own ass, moan, and wail, because your failure to plan has become an “emergency,” I’m just not your huckleberry. Never have been. Never will be. You have my word on it.

Gordon Gekko versus the do-gooder Senators…

The Thrift Savings Plan (hereafter TSP) is billed as the world’s largest defined contribution retirement plan. Having in excess of $700 billion of assets under management, I’m sure it makes a very tempting target for politicians looking for some new and interesting way to make their mark or get their name in the papers.

Most recently, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), have sent a letter of interest to TSP’s managing board encouraging them to increase the presence of “racially, ethnically, and gender diverse asset managers” overseeing this giant pot of money.

That’s fine, I suppose, if what you’re into is some kind of feel good, hold hands, and sing along kind of moment. When it comes to TSP, though, the only thing I care about is that the fund managers are the very best money makers that can be found for the job. I want the people in charge of growing my principal retirement account to be relentless and absolutely ruthless in finding better returns. It’s simply never occurred to me to care whether they also happen to be black, white, brown, yellow, straight, bi, gay, men, women, or other.

However admirable the above listed senators believe their goals may be, when it comes to managing a vast portfolio for millions of current and future retirees, the old adage is true – if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense. As such, I’d encourage these distinguished members of the US Senate to take their genuine imitation do-gooder tendencies and pandering elsewhere.

Maybe I should just run for Congress. From the sounds of it, getting your jollies by telling other people how to live their lives or what they’re supposed to care about is a far better way to feather your nest anyway.

The best ten weeks…

Here we are in mid-October, I’m comfortable saying I’ve mostly adjusted to the diminishing daylight and have started into one of my favorite times of year. Sure, it’s about to be the “holiday season” or whatever, but that’s not really it. Not directly, anyway.

I’ve long made a habit of mostly hoarding vacation time through the first 2/3 of the year. With the arrival of October, though, it’s time to start letting those days spool out. For me, that means the next two and a half months look something like this:

Three-day weekend… Work for two weeks… Five day weekend… Work for a week… Four day weekend… Work for three weeks… and finally the last, glorious Fifteen day weekend capping off the year.

The annual burning off of vacation time is a real thing of beauty. This annual rite of autumn is made easier in my case by not having to burn time during the rest of the year to tend to sick offspring or in accommodating spousal wishes. I sprinkle days through the rest of the year to get a quick breather when necessary, but it’s here in the fall where I really get my head right.

In a few months the new year starts and with it a new round of hoarding time off begins… with the promise of another fall filled with days not spent dwelling under fluorescent lighting. For now, though, I’ll happily celebrate the best ten weeks of the year,

Really good parking…

Perhaps the very best part of the COVID experience has been the wildly improved parking situation on the days I can’t avoid going to the office. We’re the stereotypical office complex surrounded by acre upon acre of asphalt… and if you didn’t time your arrival just right, or gods forbid, needed to leave to do something and then come back in the middle of the day, you might as well be parked in the next county. I won’t be showing you pictures, but take my word for it, the historic parking situation here is a case of really atrocious environmental, industrial, and human design.

COVID (and wide-scale telework) has mostly freed us from the tyranny of the parking lot. In a few of the far distant sections, there are even respectable sized weeds growing through cracks in the pavement. No one has needed to park way they hell out there in almost two years now.

This morning, I tucked the Jeep into a spot not much worse than the ones reserved for our own lords of creation… and I was far from the earliest arrival for the day. I had to leave for an appointment to get one of my ID cards fiddled with at 9:00. In the olden days, that would have been the kiss of death. Upon my return, I’d have been banished to the furthest reaches of the lot. Today, though, after 45 minutes away, I pulled in to exactly the spot I vacated… and in fact could have gotten a few spaces closer.

Sure, COVID has killed friends and family. It has poisoned the well of social discourse and revealed so many closeted crackpots in our lives. If that’s the price we have to pay for really good parking, though, maybe the struggle and carnage was all worth it. I mean if people can’t be bothered with basic preventative measures, why not start looking at this thing from the bright side, right?

Same as it ever was…

There are about 16 different online or in person “training modules,” I’m required to take annually. Most take an hour or two of endurance. A few take a bit longer, particularly if you get a live host who likes the sound of their own voice.

This is the time of year when I’m working against the clock to get all of them finished… not because I think I’m going to gain any benefit from them, but because it’s just easier than fighting city hall on why this sort of thing is mandatory in the first place. 

I registered for one of the last two modules I need to knock off for fiscal year 2021 this morning. The registration guide for this particular class noted in bold red text that “the content for FY21 is the same as the content for FY19 and FY20.”

If the content is exactly the same this year as it has been for the last two years, it begs the question of why anyone is expected to cover that ground again – since they presumably passed the training on both previous occasions. I’m not saying it’s all perfectly wasted time, but you’re free to draw your own conclusions. 

It’s the kind of thing that will drive you to madness if you dwell on it too long.

If I’ve learned nothing else from almost trips through most of these training opportunities, it’s that sometimes it’s just better to turn your brain off and check the box.  

In our own hands…

I would never have the audacity to claim that I’m in any way attuned to the modern world. I’m generally more comfortable spending time somewhere between the Georgian era and the Eisenhower Administration. What passes for important news of the day mostly leaks in around the margins thanks to social media – and even then it tends to be the salacious bits that make it through to be rank as something to pay attention to.

I say all that only because it seems that over the weekend someone called Little Nasonex (?) set the world on fire. For me, the guy spending most of his current free time wading through the Napoleonic Wars, the whole spectacle more or less defied understanding. 

It’s bewildering, really. I’ve never quite understood people whose world flies off the rails because someone they’ve never met and who has no actual impact on their day-to-day life does something they don’t like. I have, however, gotten very good at ignoring those whose activities annoy me or otherwise make my life less pleasant. 

Giving any attention at all to someone flailing around screaming “Look at me! Look at me!” feels like it would be an exceptionally poor use of whatever limited time I manage to carve out of a day. Like people who don’t enjoy this or that television program or radio personality, the option to change the channel or not watch at all is literally in our own hands. It’s a pity more people don’t avail themselves of that option and let other people enjoy whatever it is they enjoy.