What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Look, it’s increasingly easy to find three things a week in this tired old world that annoy me to no end. Turn on the news, pick the first three stories they cover, and I’m probably annoyed about each and every one of them.

This week, though, is an oddity. Being in the midst of burning off a tranche of vacation time, most of the noise has faded into the deep background. I’m getting up, drinking my coffee, spending quality time with the critters, reading a bit, cooking, and fiddling around with a few minor projects around the house. 

At least for the last few days, I’ve created a happy little bubble here and thoroughly enjoyed staying in it while whatever is going on “out there” stays out there. For these few moments, I’m not annoyed by a single damned thing in the world… except the certain knowledge that this particular idyll will soon enough come to a tragic finish.

And that’s far worse than the combination than any other three things I can imagine.

The news cycle has its priorities, and I have mine…

So… What do you want to talk about today?

The screaming banner headlines on every new site in the western world say the topic is tax returns. Maybe it’s tomorrow’s presidential debate if you read the more subtle, non-72 point font headlines a bit further down the page. Maybe it’s another day to rage about COVID-19, or Russia, or protests turned riot.

Any one of them could, theoretically, be a good enough topic to meet my word quota for today’s post. They’d fill the gap… and my eyes would likely roll completely out of my skull even before I added the final period.

I’m increasingly aware of the limits of my span of control, or at least on those things where I can exert some level of actual influence. If it doesn’t take place wholly within the confines of the woods and lawn of Fortress Jeff, that kind of control is just about non-existent and any pretense of influence is shaky at the very best.

I was first attracted to this phrase years ago when I heard it on the series finale of The Tudors – when an ailing Duke of Suffolk declines to intervene among those jockeying to take advantage of Henry’s quickly approaching death. The duke, in one of his most pragmatic moments says, “I’m not sure if this is any answer, my Lord Hertford, but I’ve always been drawn to a phrase used by the French peasants: ‘Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world.’

I’m not a particularly religious man. My praise and prayers, to the best of my knowledge, have always gone unheeded, so I can’t speak to that bit, but the rest seems to make perfect sense in its simplicity. The older I get, the more I see of people and politics and the world, the more convinced I am of the wisdom of taking care of my own, spending money for the good gin, and letting the rest of the world bugger directly off.

I’m sure that’s not at all what the talking heads want me paying attention to at the moment, but the desires of pols, activists, and news readers plays a more and more insignificant role in setting my agenda these days. It may be a decade or more off yet, but spending my time keeping an eye on large acreage plots coming available and working on my perfect floor plan feel like a far better use of time than anything CNN or Fox could possibly spew in my direction.

What I learned this week…

Ok, do you want to know the truth? I didn’t learn a damned thing worth mentioning this week. I did the work, I read some books, made some meals, played with the critters, and mostly avoided anything related to thinking deep thoughts.

Some weeks are like that. Maybe I could have made more of an effort – maybe I even should have, just for the sake of putting on a good show, but as they say the juice didn’t feel worth the squeeze. And that leads us directly to where we are now, with me sitting here pecking at the keyboard without much of anything at all to talk about.

I’ve been reading some solid books though – terrorists and silver mining and roman legions taking on American Indians. That’s some happy-making shit right there. Maybe this week that was far more valuable than learning something. Even if it’s not, I’m well satisfied.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I have a confession to make.

While the world burns, the Great Plague continues to cut a swath through the populace, and business remains buttoned up, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been less annoyed over a seven-day period. That probably makes me some kind of sociopath – or at the very least marks me as out of step with the age.

Realistically, though, what do I have to bitch about this week? I’m still drawing a check, mostly working from home, picked up two extra free hours a day that use to be commuting, have a wall of books to read, and a bunch of critters to tend. Unless I catch the bug making sure the tortoise is flush with spring mix, the scope and scale of things available to annoy me has decreased dramatically as each week passes.

If you insist on knowing, though, I’ll tell you what’s managed to get under my skin this week. I have an increasingly pressing craving for a giant chicken burrito from Chipotle. The last five weeks are probably the longest I’ve gone without bringing one home. Doing that now means either breaking quarantine and heading across state lines into a county with 10x the number of confirmed cases that we have here or making a 22-mile drive down 95 to the closest spot in Maryland. Neither of those is a particularly enchanting option. 

But I really want a giant burrito, damnit. Assuming that the plague keeps on running for another week or two it’s entirely possible that the craving will overpower common sense and any marginal concern I may have about getting sick and dropping dead. 

Fifty days…

There are a grand total of 50 working days between me and kicking off a what I affectionately think of as The Greatest Shitshow on Earth. Fifty days sounds like a fair amount of time. Maybe it should. The reality, in the belly of the one of the world’s great bureaucratic organizations, though, is that 50 days is almost nothing. It’s closer to the time it takes to order and receive supplies than it is to what it takes to deliver a major project.

It’s fifty days to start, two more to do the thing, and a grand total of fifty two more days before this particular piece of work slips astern. It means I’m going to wake up every morning for the next fifty two days a little bit more annoyed than I was on the previous morning. It’s possible that at some point during this endless march of days, my eyes will physically roll right out of my skull.

I’d love to tell you it’s all for a good cause or that the return on investment makes the sheer weight of aggravation somehow worth it. I can’t and it isn’t. The whole thing is a fucking vanity exercise devised and propagated by echelons higher than reality. Look, I’ll go whatever way someone points me, and deliver whatever they ask for as best I can, but don’t ever expect me to pretend it’s an exciting opportunity to do great things. It’s just one more dumbass thing I’m doing to stay off the breadline.

There be plague here…

There’s some kind of plague in the office that seems to be slowly afflicting everyone in the place. One of the people I interact with most on a current project has the good sense to stay home today. The other crawled from bed like a corpse hacking and wheezing its way through a day of meetings.

I’m feeling fine. But given the current prevailing circumstances I’m feeling confident this bug will take me down sooner or later. You won’t find mock heroics here. Hard life lessons have taught me that no one cares if you drag you’re near-dead carcass from your sickbed to make sure that one meeting gets covered.

Even if someone did care, the meeting and giant bureaucratic organization for which it stands, will roll along forever with or without you… So if it truly couldn’t matter less, you might as well stay in bed and make an effort to recover – or at least make the effort not to spread the plague to everyone who has to work with you.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here dipping my whole self in lysol.

Against the tyranny of the cubicle…

I spent most of the morning having another close encounter with modern dentistry. It was a little “warranty work” on a filling that failed way earlier than it was supposed to, so at least I wasn’t out of pocket for the extra pain and aggravation. That said, my general hatred for visiting the dentist’s office isn’t really the point.

Since I was a slobbery mess and the day was more or less half over, I plugged in my laptop and spent the late morning and afternoon working from home. If I’m going to spend a few hours dribbling coffee down my chin, I’d rather do it in the comfort of my own office than in the open bay cubicle hell where I practice my trade most other days.

Let me start by saying that I’ve missed working from home. Circumstances the last couple of weeks have conspired to make it something like too hard to do. eventually I hope to get back on a semi-regular schedule. Instinct tells me that’s going to be a long time coming, so I’ll need to steal a day wherever I can.

What struck me most today, though, was how easy a time I had getting through something that I’d spent the last two days in the office trying to knock out. It wasn’t a particularly hard task, but it required integrating information from a couple of different sources into a reasonably coherent whole. It’s the kind of thing that requires attention to detail… and frankly I can’t think of any place worse than a standard office cubicle to try to make sense of something that requires focused attention. Between the random meetings, people dropping by just to chat, the gods on Olympus deciding you need to work on other “priorities” for a few hours, and the general hum and buzz of 30-odd people all working in the same 25’x75′ space, it’s a bloody marvel that anything ever gets finished. Of course that’s assuming that anything actual does ever get finished, which could easily not be a valid assumption.

In conclusion, whoever decided that cubicles represent the best way for information workers to get their job done was a fucking idiot and I hope his soul is condemned to eternal torment… like by never getting more than 37 uninterrupted seconds to try completing a fairly simple and routine task.

What did I learn this week?

For the last five years I’ve had the odious distinction of being the lead planner for an event that brings upwards of 1000 people from across the country into buildings, tents, bars, restaurants, and pool halls of our little part of the world. I’ve been fortunate in each of those five years to assemble a team the least of whom could be described as acceptable. Most were easily best in class. We got along with a few nudges from leadership and delivered each year’s product on time, to standard, and on budget.

This year, for reasons surpassing any kind of human logic, “help” as poured in from each and every one of four management layers above me. “Help” poured in from the lawyers. “Help” poured in from the people who manage the contracts. “Help” poured in from quarters that have been otherwise silent for years. Which is nice since we really have no idea what the time, standard, or current budget are supposed to be anyway.

All of this magnanimous help has made properly certain that every god damned thing that gets touched comes flying violently off the rails at every available opportunity… and especially on Friday afternoon. Which is tremendously helpful for both my mood and blood pressure.

What did I learn today? Ha. Well, if there’s any possible way that we can fuck this up, but still blindly stumble on without even considering whether it’s a thing we should do, that’a exactly the direction we’ll follow.

Yeah, because circumstances…

I always know I’m ending a good couple of days when I get to Monday and have nothing significant to report. If nothing else it helps confirm that I’m, in fact, not a miserable fuck by nature, but rather made so one day at a time by… uh… circumstances.

Covering why those circumstances are unavoidable is well trod ground for me so I won’t repeat myself so soon after the last post on the topic… other than to say how incredibly fortunate I am to have been able to spend the last two days mostly in interrupted communion with the cat, dogs, books, and home cooking.

It’s probably good to remind myself why I put up with a monumental kind of asshattery… and to remind myself that, like a prison sentence, there’s a fixed end in sight.

Now I just have to make sure my blood pressure doesn’t drive me into an early stroke before I can run out the clock and focus on spending the days on something that matters.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Getting in through the back door. Every time I hear one of the Democratic primary candidates wax philosophical about one of their wealth redistribution schemes by confiding to the camera that “it’s a tax on Wall Street,” I look around and wonder how many people really believe that. My reading on their collective plans is that this chimera of making the “big banks and hedge fund managers” pay is ultimately a tax on every working person who has a retirement account. Your 401k, 403b, IRA, or TSP can’t help but be taxed under these plans, because at heart these accounts are nothing more than fractional shares that get traded on a regular basis to keep the fund balanced… and these funds are the definition of big players in the financial market. The Democratic candidates know they’re going to have to tap into huge sources of capital for their plans. I just wish they had the stones to admit that getting it done is going to require levying this backdoor tax on every man and woman in America who’s bothered to make an effort to save for retirement and not just the guy in charge of running the fund.

2. When you can’t even half ass the work. I worked on three things today. Simultaneously. All were a priority of effort… at least to someone. What that really means, of course, is each of them got exactly the level of effort and attention you’d think they got. Instead of half assed efforts, the very best they could hope for was being third assed. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad. You’d think after 17 years I’d have started to get use to the idea that most days good enough just has to be good enough. Then again some days don’t even rise to that paltry standard.

3. Facebook memories. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to disable Facebook Memories, because every morning I open the damned app I’m met with the picture of a bulldog doing something alternately ridiculous or endearing. Jorah has done quite a lot in the last six months to patch up the sucking chest wound Winston left behind, but those pictures every morning still catch me directly in the feels. Despite the myriad of issues, vet bills, and costs, I don’t think I’ll ever really get to a place where I don’t miss such a good dog.