I’m going to sleep on it…

Six weeks ago, I was on a wild tear to get the master bathroom, at long last, updated to the point where it was a functional space for something beyond walking through to get to my closet and an out of the way corner to keep Hershel’s litter box. Getting proposals back that saw my own preliminary cost estimate bested by about 50% has given me a moment of pause… not because I want a real functioning master bathroom any less, but because it is only one item on my list of things to do.

The others, in no particular order of importance are: 1) Patch and reseal the asphalt driveway; 2) Repair or replace leaking gutters; 3) Replace 21 year old air conditioning condenser unit; 4) Replace kitchen counter tops; 5) Be prepared to replace all major kitchen and laundry appliances since every one of them is now well past the point of economical repair; 6) More bookcases (because we always need more bookcases here). There are, of course, other more minor items that need continuous repair and replacement as needed.

Before the cost run ups associated with the Great Plague, the price of a new bathroom would have been an all cash operation. Funding was saved and earmarked. Now, it would mean pulling a loan to cover the unanticipated increase in cost. Doing the bathroom now means sucking all the oxygen out of the room – and being unable to address any of the other projects without further borrowing or kicking them years into the future in order to reestablish a sufficient cash reserve.

I’m going to take the weekend to sleep on it. The most likely solution feels like taking on some of the smaller projects while stashing away more cash to get the bathroom done right. That’s all hoping, of course, that rampaging inflation doesn’t completely throttle the value of the dollar and that at some point the COVID premium on construction supplies and labor moderates back towards historical levels. Those are two significant “maybes’ that there is no way to control for other than sucking it up and paying the bill now.

So yeah, tell me more about this joy of home ownership, won’t you?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The office. There’s nothing like being back in the office to really drive home the absolute absurdity of basing employment in the information age solely on the ability of / requirement for someone to sit in a specific geographic space for eight hours five times a week. I’m sure there are some jobs where “being there” makes an actual difference in how well or swiftly the information flows, but in my little corner of the bureaucracy, this week has stood as stark evidence that where work is location agnostic, corralling people into an office just because it’s how we did things in the before time isn’t so much strategic decision making as it is acquiescence to organizational inertia.

2. The end of an error. The fact that a serving Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other unformed officials were put in a position to actively ponder how to counter the possibility of a coup d’état in the United States isn’t so much annoying as it is horrifying… but I’ve been thinking a lot about it the last 36 hours or so. I suspect that as history sorts the wheat and chaff from January 2020 the details will be far more horrific than anything we know in the present. That so many among us still think the end of the Trump Administration was “business as usual” or it was somehow the victim of a vast and unprecedented left-wing conspiracy is both heartbreaking and infuriating.

3. Renovation. With multiple proposals now in hand, I’m edging dangerously close to becoming a broken record that says only “That’s almost what I paid for my first condo” or “I could buy a new damned pickup truck with that.” Evaluating the proposals shouldn’t be hard since they’re all within 8% of each other. I suppose technically that’s good news insofar as it means that’s probably a reasonably accurate estimate of what it’s going to take to put a new bathroom in this place. The hurdle I’m trying to get over, is that across the range of proposals, we’re about 50% over my original planning factor and into a point where cash on hand isn’t going to get the job done. Logically I know home equity loans can be had near lifetime low rates, but it all begs the question if I’m willing to pull a loan because I’m tired of schlepping down the hall to get a shower in the morning. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The algorithm. Every third ad Facebook has served me in the last couple of weeks is some variation of “Are you saving enough for retirement?” It’s a fine question and I’m almost laser focused on what I need to do to be able to walk out the door in 14 years and 18 days and never work again, but I promise you I’m not taking financial advice from the place I go to find dirty memes and posts about who got arrested in the area.

2. Timing. I’ve been plugging away for six years, putting a bit of money back here and there to correct the deficiencies in my master bathroom. Every time I got close to hitting my estimated budget number, some other critical project would come along and shave a few thousand dollars off that particular pile of cash. During the Great Plague, I managed to finally hit my number… and of course now the cost of building material has gone through the roof. I’ve gone ahead and put out the call for quotes to a couple of local builders, though. It seems my timing for this project is never going to be good… so the only thing left is to proceed. Doing otherwise feels like an open invitation to wake up one morning after another six years and realizing I’m still schlepping down the hall to take a shower.

3. Extortion. This week, one of the main oil pipelines servicing the east coast of the United States was held hostage. It’s owners reportedly paid $5 million to a vaguely described group of Russian or Eastern European cyber terrorists to regain control of their network. Here’s the thing… the Colonial Pipeline is, by definition, key infrastructure. We’ve seen the news reports of the chaos caused by this brief interruption. Setting aside that much of the panic was entirely self-inflicted by people rushing to fill every container they could find, our enemies have also seen the chaos a service disruption in one of our major pipelines can cause. Paying out millions of dollars was a business decision… but what I want to know is why we’re not now seeing reports of cruise missiles leveling the known and suspected safe harbors from which these and other cyber terrorists operate. If a country or non-state actor blew up a building or bridge, we’d come crashing down on their head like a mailed fist. I don’t make a relevant distinction between those who’d launch a kinetic attack and those who do their damage with keystrokes. 

Pity the poor designer…

At long last, after excavating the back yard, taking down a bunch of trees, replacing the furnace, and taking on innumerable other small tasks here at Fortress Jeff, I’m finally ready to start the wheels in motion to renovate the master bathroom.

It feels strange saying that. Six years ago, I almost took a pass on this place because the bathroom was so underwhelming. If I remember correctly, I had the place written into my house-hunting notes as “revenge of the tub” because it was the second house I looked at that was otherwise very nice, but had only a giant damned bathtub in the master bathroom.

I don’t have anything against enormous bathtubs in theory. In practice, though, they’re not my thing. I had a massive jetted tub in my house in Memphis and I filled it a grand total of one time in the three years I lived there. The only thing I’ve used the one in this bathroom for is for bathing dogs – and it wasn’t particularly useful for that. As far as the way I live is concerned, a giant tub is the quintessential waste of space – and represents money better spent on heated floors and, perhaps, a monstrous shower.

“But,” some will say, “A freakishly large bathtub will improve your resale value.” Maybe that’s true, but I’m the poor dumb bastard that will be living here for the next 15 years. Putting the room together to suit my reality makes far more sense than trying to project what some notional person a decade and a half from now might want to see. 

For now, I’m gathering up the list of contractors I’ll ask for proposals and putting together a list of what I’d like to get out of this project. I feel like I have a solid grip on the big bits, but as I troll around online it seems inevitable that the fit and finish will give me no end to trouble. I almost feel bad for whatever poor designer I ends up working with me to sort out the details.

That trouble notwithstanding, I’ll be extraordinarily pleased to finally be able to take a shower every morning without schlepping down the hall. 

Revenge of the deferred maintenance…

I’ve spent most of the last year deferring things that would bring people through the door. Part of that is just my natural disinclination to have people wandering around the house, but mostly it was part of my personal plague protection scheme. You can’t catch the bug if no one gets closer to you than the end of the driveway. 

It means now that I’ve had all my shots, it’s time to start working through the backlog. Sigh.

A few weeks ago, I anted up for the whole house power wash. The siding has never looked better and the moss colony that had taken root on the roof seems to (temporarily at least) be a thing of the past. It would have taken me a three-day weekend and probably resulted in me falling off the damned roof. It took them about three hours.

Today, Stanley Steemer crawled through the house finding every HVAC distribution and return vent to price out what the damage is going to be to get the whole system cleaned next week. After six years, it’s probably well past time for that regardless of what it ends up costing.

After that it’s a call to my go-to landscape company to schedule us in for spring mulching. That’s another project that takes me two days followed by weeks of nursing a sore back, but the professionals get finished in a handful of hours. 

There was a time I wanted to do all the work myself. I think it’s safe to say we’re well past that now and moving swiftly into an age where I’m perfectly happy hiring the work done and clawing back as much of my time as reasonably possible. 

We’ll see how I feel about that in a few weeks when I put out the call for bids on the long-delayed master bathroom renovation. Sure, there’s no way in hell I could do that work myself, but paying for it is going to be an agony.

What I learned this week…

What I learned this week is that my mind is apparently easily changeable and subject to being driven miles off course. For the last five years I’ve been squirreling money away for the day when I can finally get after renovating the master bathroom disappointment that almost kept me from buying this house. I was expecting to pull the trigger on that project this spring. Then, of course, the Great Plague happened and the idea of having a bunch of strangers schlepping around inside the house fills me with more disgust that it would even under normal circumstances… and honestly even under the best possible circumstance it’s an idea I wouldn’t easily warm to.

Instead of continuing to tinker with ideas of fit and finish for the future master bath, what I’ve found myself doing is periodically this week is glancing out the window and thinking how nice it would be to have a small pool over in that sunny corner of the yard where the birdbath resides.

It’s an absurd idea. I’m just now getting the back yard mostly recovered from all of the drainage and grading that needed done when I moved in. There are 80 foot tall oaks that overhang that entire part of the yard and I’m certainly not willing to sacrifice those. I live in a part of the world where, at best, pool season lasts four months. That’s before even considering that the whole idea would conservatively run 2-3x what I was budgeting for that bathroom. Again, it’s an absurd idea.

But when the humidity is up and the afternoon sun is hitting just right, it doesn’t sound like the craziest thing that’s ever crossed my mind. 

Interrupting your regularly scheduled post for breaking news…

On Thursdays this space is almost exclusively reserved for What Annoys Jeff this Week. It’s been that way for years. This Thursday, though, I’m making an exception to policy. It’s not that the number of things that annoys me has been any less than usual this week. They’ve simply been overwhelmed by the deep and profound sense of relief I’m feeling at getting confirmation from my realtor this afternoon that I’m no longer a condo owner.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d feel when it was all finished. For all my snark and sarcasm, I’m a surprisingly sentimental guy when it comes down to it. I thought maybe there’d be some wistful regret at firmly closing off that last tangible connection to the version of me who existed back when the millennium was new. There’s none of that, though. The feeling really is just one of unbridled relief. It’s not what I expected, but it’s welcome.

I wish I could tell you there were exciting plans for the shekels that found their way into my pocket this afternoon. Paying off the Jeep and a few other bills, putting something back for a rainy day, and investing a bit for my long term financial health don’t make for particularly interesting reading. Maybe I should tell you I’m heading to Vegas for a four-day binge on craps, booze, hookers, and blow. If nothing else it would be suitably fine grist for the rumor mill.

Alas, whatever’s left over is all earmarked as the first tranche of funding for a long delayed bathroom renovation. It will be nice to start actually planning that one instead of continuing to just add items to the list of things I hate about the current master bath.

I promise by this time next week we’ll be back with all the annoyance that’s fit to print… and probably some that should have never been set out on paper. For now I’m just going to bask in the glow of having one giant item knocked completely off my list of things to do.

Too loud to think…

Tonight I have absolutely nothing to offer the internet. Off and on through the course of the day I was treated to the shrill metallic whir of a power drill disassembling and reassembling cubicles. As it turns out that sound apparently trips some long-dormant switch in my brain that renders me incapable of any kind of rational thought. Seriously. That’s just barely an exaggeration. I don’t have a clue what I worked on today, who I talked to, or even much more beyond the fact that I was there for some period of time.

The whole experience is vaguely unsettling, but maybe even more so because the renovation project we’re “just going to work through” appears to be slated to last several months. By the time it wraps up, I’ll probably count myself fortunate if my brain isn’t quite literally dripping out my ear.

And please, for the love of all things good and holy don’t get me started on the sheer jackassery of “renovating” office space that’s just barely five years old. My inner taxpayer would dearly love for someone to explain why it’s a fiducially responsible idea.

Under Construction…

We are quite literally “under” construction. The office suite the floor above us is, as far as I can tell, undergoing some type of renovation that requires the repeated dropping of bowling balls onto the bare concrete slab. This activity has the unpleasant side effect of making it sound like the entire second floor could become the first floor at any moment. It’s not bad, as long as you don’t find loud, hollow thumping and continual rending of metal distracting or annoying in any way. Other than that, it’s practically unnoticeable.

I’m probably an idealist, but I’ve always thought this kind of work would be best done outside of “core business hours.” You know, when the vast majority of employees are not making their limited effort at being productive for the day. It’s sort of the same way I look at day-time janitorial service. Sure, having my cube vacuumed is nice and all, but it’s awfully distracting when I’m sitting in it making a phone call or actually trying to get something done. In television shows, the cleaning crews always come at night. Maybe that happens in the executive suite, but for the drones, everyone seems bent on showing up at the most inopportune time.

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.