What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The hunt. Sure, there are a few other minor annoyances, but the part of the before world that I probably miss most often while living in a plague year is regularly hunting for books. I’ve filled that particular gap by rounding out a couple sets and picking up some harder to find titles through online orders, but waiting for something to arrive in the mailbox lacks the more visceral element of finding just what you were looking for “in the wild.” There’s something special in finding that clean first edition or autographed copy laying at the bottom of the bargain bin or in someone’s yard sale clearance. I’m still gad that there’s a first edition/first printing of The Last Kingdom finally headed my way, but paying full retail and shipping definitely rankles.

2. Bloody wankers. My personal politics have always tended towards the conservative and/or libertarian. There are currently, though, whole swaths of people in that general demographic that I no longer know how to talk to. We may agree on issues of taxation, personal liberty, defense policy, and a host of other issues – but if you start any conversation or social media post proceeding from the proposition that science is in some way “out to get us,” I don’t know that we have anything further to say to one another. Science isn’t a fixed body of knowledge inherited from the ancients, unchanged and eternal. It’s an ongoing process of testing, probing, and adjusting to new facts as they develop. If, as we sit now in July, your argument against science is “that’s not what they said in March,” please just stop talking now before everyone near and dear to you realizes you’re a bloody wanker.

3. Waiting. There’s a skill to being able to wait patiently. It’s not a gift I’ve ever had, but I recognize that it is one. One of the hardest aspects of largely being able to set my own agenda over these last four months is clearly that I respond even more poorly than usual what all that’s left to do is sit around waiting for something to happen, particularly when the results are completely dependent on the actions of others.

What I learned this week…

I spent the day Thursday scouring the dark recesses of used book shops. I didn’t find any treasures, but made off with a fair few reading copies of things that looked interesting. I spent the night Thursday reading books and dispensing ear scratches between three critters.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that my natural calling in life was to be a used book shop owner. Then, of course, I remember that particular line of effort would mean daily interaction with customers, who I would in no way be able to treat as “always right.” Putting me anywhere near the general public could only result in disaster for everyone involved.

So this week I learned the thing I’m probably most suited to do by inclination is something I’m utterly unsuited to do by temperament.

Not all learning is helpful.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Suppression of civil liberties. See a lot of news articles that include a one liner that “There is concern that the response to COVID-19 impinges on civil liberties,” but I rarely see the next sentence. I almost never see the sentence after that. Where’s the follow-on discussion to that statement? Government absolutely must respond to this as a public health crisis, but responding doesn’t mean that citizens forgo all other rights and freedoms under the Constitution. If it does, I have no idea why we’re bothering to keep anyone alive anyway.

2. Platitudes. I’ve seen a veritable cornucopia of blog posts and status updates positing in a variety of ways “in these troubled times we should just all be kind.” Bugger that. It’s in troubled times that we collectively and individually need to knuckle down, handle our business (whether it’s personal or professional), and do the hard work of living. In the face of troubles is the very last time we should find ourselves curled into the fetal position having a never-ending cry. If ever in our life there was a time to embrace the stiff upper lip of our forbearers, this would be it.

3. Unresponsive retailers. I’m doing my level best to keep small bookshops afloat during the Great Plague. I’m channeling a fair amount of money through online shops around the country and across the water because I value these businesses and want as many of them as possible to come out on the other side of this thing. Now having said that, my great love of small booksellers doesn’t mean I’m going to overlook all the old forms. I still need them to respond to email when an order doesn’t seem to have budged in almost three weeks. Even a simple “Hey, we’re closed up momentarily while the plague passes” would be sufficient. Failing that, I have to start getting the people who run the sales platform involved in a customer dispute cause us all a bunch of grief that could have easily been avoided.

Long Range or: The Return to Normalcy…

In tense and uncertain times there’s a tendency for all of us to look towards our own personal bubble of responsibility. That’s not a bad thing. Taking care of kith and kin first feels like it could be our oldest instinct.

There’s no point in denying that some people are going to die as a direct result of this virus. Not acknowledging that would be foolish and wrong. For most of us – the vast majority – coronavirus could well end up being not much more than a monumental inconvenience – a way point in life we’ll use to measure other moments against. Twenty years from now we’ll ask whether something happened before or after COVID-19 the same way we do now with September 11th.

That’s all a prelude to saying sooner or later we’ll all get back to living “normal” lives, with the rhythm of nights out, family gatherings, and well stocked supermarket shelves restored. If you accept that there will be a return to normalcy, you owe it to your future self to spend some time thinking about what you want that future world to look like.

In that spirit, I went online last night and placed a few orders for books that have been lingering on my “to read” list. It was nothing crazy – Just four orders each costing less than $15. Each one of those sales went to small, independent book shops. It’s a niche market to be sure, but one I have a vested interest in preserving through the current economic uncertainty. For these small businesses, every dollar coming in will matter as they fight to make good on their rent or finding a way to keep paying their staff. Keeping these businesses alive is important.

Those who have the ability to do so have an obligation to make sure the smalls, locals, and independents are still alive and kicking when we return to normalcy. You’ll regret it if we don’t.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sheetz. The quintessential gas station of my youth which has grown to be a regional juggernaut. For the last couple of years I was able to order ground coffee and k cups through their online sales arm. I went to plug in a reorder this week and find that their site has gone defunct. Twitter confirms that there are currently no options for ordering online. I’ll either have to start buying the stuff 20 pounds at a time when I’m west of Baltimore or just go ahead and give up on the idea of being able to brew the good stuff at home. Both options are… disappointing.

2. Bureaucracy and decision making. Very rarely some things benefit from the application of a little bit of bureaucracy. Most things don’t. Mostly all ratcheting up the bureaucracy does is make sure that decisions happen more slowly and result in shit tons of extra work for everyone involved. I’ve encountered a rare few leaders who can manage to slice through the bureaucracy and get things done… though it’s hard to remember the last time I saw one of those in person.

3. Jealousy. The state of Maryland is kicking off a great big batch of telework for eligible employees in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. Uncle Sam is opting for the more traditional, approach of telling employees to wash their hands and disinfect hard surfaces (supplies not included), and wanting as many people as possible sitting asshole to elbow breathing on each other in his vast cubicle farm. In this case it’s more jealousy than annoyance. Once the Feds collapse, I guess it’ll free up some job opportunities for our friends in state government, so it’s not all down side.

You’ll be glad you did…

You can’t miss the funny, funny toilet paper memes. I got it. Large numbers of people pummeling each other in the grocery store isles is good humor, I don’t deny it.

I’ll be the first to agree with you that panic buying is stupid. With that said, I think it’s stupid for reasons different than “coronavirus doesn’t cause you to die of shitting yourself.” For me, the rolling of eyes is triggered more by looking at people who don’t already have a “safety stock” of items essential to keeping a household running for a few days, a few weeks, months, a year or more depending on what your risk tolerance and budget will support.

I know some real, honest to God end of the world prepper types. I’m not even close to being in their league. I’ve got no interest in taking it to that level. They’re legitimately trying to be prepared for the collapse of civilization. It’s not out of the realm of the possible, but I’m not entirely convinced I want to hang around for that party. My personal cognitive bias tends towards the belief that over time, things will trend towards that status quo… that tomorrow will be more or less the same as yesterday. I could also be 100% wrong about that assumption.

I’m extremely comforted in knowing that if, for some reason, I needed to button up Fortress Jeff for a period of a few weeks or a month or two, I could get along without any significant impact on my standard of living. We could probably hold out a bit longer than that if I did a little rationing. It’s the level of insurance and peace of mind that I’m comfortable with maintaining over the long term.

Because I’ve done a little advance planning and bought extras a few items at a time, there’s no need for panic buying. My regular shopping trips involve simply replacing what I’ve used from week to week to maintain the baseline – usually a few canned goods, some fresh mean and vegetables, dog or cat food, and so on. Keeping a bit of extra on hand just makes good sense. When everyone else is panicking and buying up 54-packs of Charmin, you can smile, make another cup of coffee, and get on with your day.

Next time you make your weekly grocery list, add a few extra items that are good for long term storage. Buy stuff you know you’ll use anyway. Try having a little bit of a plan that extends beyond the next three to five days. At some point, because of flood, fire, snow, or pandemic, you’ll be glad you did.

Slowing down…

November and December are officially noted as the “festive” season here in much of the western world. Now, I like the holidays well enough, but I don’t spend weeks or months preparing for them. I don’t try to drag them out to the point where Christmas becomes a holiday that consumes three weeks before the 25th of December and another week after it. Maybe I’m not in the minority there, but it seems that way based on the increasing number of people who are out, about, and meandering slowly through neighborhood shopping venues.

My response of choice in this scenario is to avoid those places as much as possible. It’s got the unintended side effect of having dramatically slowed down my pillaging of thrift shops and used book stores, In fact I’ve brought nothing into the inventory for the last three weeks and will probably go another five weeks before resuming the chase. Since most of the places I frequent share strip mall space with other stores, the volume of people is mostly enough to leave me uninterested… unless I know someone is hiding something uniquely interesting, in which case I’d likely make an exception.

The last months of the year are when I can make a little progress on churning through some of what I’ve already put into the holding pen. That feels good. Having lived with myself for so long, though, I also know the arrival of the holidays is also a bit of a warning sign… because it means ’round about New Years, I’ll be chomping at the bit to get back after it and have a budget line I haven’t touched in two months with which to indulge my favorite minor obsession.

There are worse things to do with your time and money, I suppose. Someday a bookcase may collapse and kill me, but hey, at least it’s not heroin.

Of groceries and new routines…

Cecil County has most of the problems every other semi-rural county in Maryland is facing – drugs, pockets of poverty, a questionable education system, and a government that occasionally verges on dysfunctional. It also has some remarkable natural beauty, low cost of living (for Maryland), and a convenient location between Baltimore and Philly that’s close to both, but far enough away to allow those who prefer the quiet life to avoid big city fuckery.

What the county lacks, however, are the kind of supermarkets I got use to while living in the DC exurbs or during my west Tennessee exile. The local Food Lion is convenient, but comes with limited options. Walmart has decided they’re no longer interested in my money. There’s an Acme, a company that I assumed had gone out of business 20 years ago, but its location in the heart of Elkton attracts a certain element that I’d just rather not step over, walk around, or studiously pretend to ignore just to get my weekly shopping done.

I happened to be off my usual Saturday path last week, which put another option in reach. Even looking a little dated and feeling like the aisles were too cramped by half, Safeway has it all over any of the more local options. It’s not a Kroger or a Giant, but by comparison to what I’ve gotten use to out of convenience there’s no contest.

As much as I am a creature of habit, I’m also adaptive enough to adjust when there is a better alternative available. I hate the idea of adding an extra 20 minutes to the standard Saturday errands run (and probably spending a bit more than I would otherwise on groceries), but the trade off with more and better options is too enticing… and makes me wish I’d have reconciled myself with driving to Delaware for groceries much sooner.

I’m reasonably sure the hardest part of all this will be remembering that the new routine takes me across the county from west to east instead of east to west. Pity me my first world problems.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Free gifts. As the amount of actual mail I need to send has plummeted, the number of organizations sending me “personalized address labels” as a “gift” has skyrocketed. It makes me wonder who’s running their marketing and fundraising department… and why they think this is a winning idea. I mean if you’re going to inundate me with junk mail, at least make it something that doesn’t stick to the blades of my shredder and give me an even worse impression of your organization.

2. Aggressive marketing of things I’ve already purchased. I bought a very nice marble urn for Winston. Since then I’ve been getting at least one email a week from the nice people at perfectmemorials.com offering me a wide range of other funerary items. This feels like another marketing fail to me. I mean urns aren’t exactly the kind of thing anyone need to purchase every week, right? I was very pleased with their service and the quality of the product I received and in time I would probably use them again as the need arose… but if they keep beating me about the head and neck with weekly messages in all likelihood I’ll go someone where else when the time comes.

3. Look at me-ism. There are few things I find more professionally unpleasant than people who demand attention for their ideas or presence in a room simply by virtue of position. Look, if I need a chief in the meeting, I’ll be the first one to invite them. More often, though, who I need is the person who actually does the work. If you need to be in a meeting just to feel important, maybe it’s time to check yourself.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s bullshit advice when it comes to buying books (and probably when it comes to judging people too). The cover is literally attached to the book there to help you judge it. The front flap gives you a synopsis and the back flap tells you about the author. Why the hell is that information there if not to assist someone in judging the book? If I only decided to read a book once I’d already read it, then gods, I can’t imagine how much time I’d have wasted reading truly awful collections of ink and paper.

2. Booksellers who don’t marking used books as “ex libris” when they’ve clearly been de-acquisitioned by some institution. I’ll be the first to admit that my tastes in reading tend a bit towards the eclectic – volumes on the rise and fall of the British Empire share shelf space with a growing allotment of Buffy the Vampire Slayer young adult novels. My collection has definitely built up some less common volumes because of my interests. They’re not necessarily expensive, but they can be hard to find especially in any kind of condition to make them worth having on the shelf. It seems like the very least a retailer could do is give me a fair assessment of the book’s condition up front and let me make an informed decision. Sometimes, for some volumes, I’ll tolerate a copy smothered in library stickers and stamps that’s hard to find or too expensive otherwise… but it would be nice to know that’s what I was getting before is shows up in my mailbox looking all dogeared and sickly.

3. Jorah the Dog. My not-so-new-anymore puppy has been more of a handful than I was expecting. Going a decade without a puppy in the house gives you time to forget the mayhem and chaos that comes with them. The furry little bastard can be quite the charmer when he wants to be, though. We seem to be getting out of the phase of life where he wants to pee on the kitchen floor every 26 minutes… but his new interest in overnight bathroom breaks at 12:30 AM and again at 3:30 AM are going to need to come to a stop with haste. He’s proven consistently that he can hold it all night… getting him to want to hold it, however, could be a whole separate fight.