1. The White House Press Office. I’ve never been a public affairs officer. I haven’t even pretended to be on at the behest of our wealthy uncle. Still, in my bones I know that setting up my principle with over a dozen phone interviews with a journalist who hates his living guts is probably not going to end well even if my guy is the most articulate bastard to ever give on the record remarks. You can make what you will of the president’s recorded statements, but whatever staff puke from the press office decided an interview series with Bob Woodward was a good idea gives staff officers a bad name… and that’s saying something.
2. Questions. Look, if there’s a point of contact listed and it’s not me, there’s really absolutely nothing I’m going to be able to tell you about whatever topic is on your mind. Maybe you should just go ahead and read to the end of the message and send your question to the person who’s actually running that program. You still might not get a good answer but it will be miles better than anything I’ll send you… and even if it wasn’t, going direct to that person would have kept you from making me take the time to drop you back in the proper lane. We all win, when you read the goddamned memo.
3. Risk. People, as a group, do a really shitty job of assessing risk. The way we respond to natural disasters like fires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes seem to bear that out. For as long as I can remember, summer in the west has been “fire season.” It’s also “hurricane season” along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In the long history of humanity, fire has scorched the western sections of the North American continent. Water has always run downhill, occasionally turning normally babbling brooks in the valley bottom into torrential rivers sweeping all before them. Every time a fire or a flood or a hurricane hit, we collectively look around shocked that such a thing could happen. Except none of us should be shocked at all. We built our communities in dry areas historically prone to fire, or we built them along the coasts or in bucolic valleys that are prone to flooding. We built there because the scenery was nice or because there were local jobs – but almost never because the area represented a relatively low risk to life, health, and safety. As soon as the smoke clears or the water recedes, we’ll go right back to building up the same areas and then being “surprised” the next time the worst happens… because we do an amazingly shity job of assessing risk.
Asked in a certain way, by a certain kind of person, the question, “So, what’s do you like to do?” can be something of a loaded gun. It’s marginally less awful than the introductory questions in DC that always seemed to be either “What do you do?” or “Who do your work for?,” but it’s only a very slight degree of less awful.
It’s almost the perfect encapsulation of a no-win question. You see, the things I like to do are not the things that most people want to base a conversation around, let alone a lifestyle. I like taking trash to the dump. I like cutting the grass. I like fiddling with projects around the house. I like hanging out with dogs, cats, and sundry other animals. I like sitting on the back porch in the summer time with a cold beer and a thick, meaty book about English history.
I forgive you if those aren’t the activities that set your heart aflutter… but I’m never going to be someone who longs to spend holiday weekends at a bed and breakfast, or driving into the city for a show, or really wading into all but a rare few circumstances that involves me and a large group of people. I enjoy the beach, though I’ve never felt the compulsive need to take long sunset walks on it. I’m far more likely to fall down the basement steps than I ever am to consider climbing K2.
At 40 I’m acutely aware that time is increasingly limited. I spent a large amount of that time already finding out what I like and what I don’t and given the option, I’d like to continue doing the bits that I enjoy as often as possible. I think you’ll find that if your follow up question is “Yeah, but what do you do for fun,” our conversation is very rapidly drawing to a close because it’s likely we’re never going to actually understand each other.
I’m not saying that all new things are out of bounds, but whatever it is you’re reaching for had better be spec-goddamned-tacular to convince me it’s better than the joy that only comes from comfortable familiarity.
1. Rain. Not all rain is bad or evil. We need it and in some quantity recently. If it could hold off a bit on pouring it down during the mid-morning through late afternoon parts of the day, though, I would really appreciate it. As much as I still enjoy driving my big red Tundra, I’d really like to continue Jeeping topless during the only time of year when it’s really comfortable to do so. Yes, I know the drain plugs will take care of whatever standing water may be on the floorboards, but that’s an extreme measure I’d just rather not need to resort to unless it can’t be avoided.
2. Q&A. Live, unscripted question and answer periods with “the general public” should never be encouraged. For every reasonably well thought out question that’s asked, three more that are either completely off topic, so specific as to bore the other 300 people in the room to absolute tears, or utterly nonsensical and not formulated in any kind of structure known to the actual English language. In an open forum it’s just not worth the risk. The potential damage due to the extreme rolling of audience members’ eyes is a real and present threat.
3. Trusted professionals. Today, I’m left with a thought from John Wayne in his last role. He said, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” Now I may have missed the circus this morning, but let the word ring forth from this time and this place, that if any of you trusted professionals decides to to put your hands on me, you’d best have made up your mind that I’m the last thing you want to touch for a good long time because by all the gods, I will break every bone in your worthless hand.
1. Stop complaining about the heat. It’s summer in the Mid-Atlantic. It’s hot. If you don’t like hot weather, consider moving to Maine or volunteering for an expedition to the South Pole. Here in this part of the country, the weather can be pretty much relied on to be somewhere between warm and scorching in June, July, and August. Those months come around at more or less the same time every year which means temperatures in the 90s shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.
2. Unrealistic expectations. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t bend the knee at every opportunity. By nature, I’m an inquisitive person and when someone says something stupid I’m as apt to ask for their logic as I am to just accept it and move on. Occasionally you run into the kind of person who’s not use to being questioned or needing to explain himself. They tend to be the the most fun to play with because they turn a delightful shade of red when they realize you’re not going to hop to and dance to the tune they’ve called. It never fails to amaze me how much trouble everyone could avoid by having reasonable expectations to begin with rather than relying on bluster and the beliefe that everyone will do what they say “just because”.
3. Pretty much everything else. There’s a good chance I need to go to bed and get a good nights sleep, because it would be easier this week to write about what hasn’t annoyed me on some level. That, of course is much less interesting for all of us. Some might say I’ve even “in a mood,” though if we’re honest I’m mostly in a mood because people make me want to bludgeon myself around the head and neck with a blunt object. If tomorrow weren’t Friday and the weekend didn’t promise sweet, sweet quiet time, I’d probably be on the lookout for a nice bell tower or possibly a school book depository. Not really. That would require way more interaction that I’m really feeling up to.
Not every day can be stellar. I’m fine with that. At the moment, though, I’m frustrating the hell out of myself with the things I don’t know the answers to yet… Like who needs to review which documents, what office is responsible for some random project, the name of the go-to guy for some obscure and arcane piece of minutia. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to lose my institutional memory. I knew who those people were just by virtue of having been around for a long time. Today’s just one of those days that feels like falling off the learning cliff instead of running up the learning curve. I’ll feel a damned sight better when I’ve figured out the magic questions to ask in order to get the answers I need. In the meantime, I’ll keep my head down and powder dry. Frustrating as it is, I’ll take it any day over random chaos.