I’m a reasonably smart guy. I’ve never hidden that fact or been embarrassed by it the way some people seem to think you should be. There are, however, times when native brain power just isn’t enough.
This morning I went through my usual Saturday – did things like take a load of trash to the landfill, stop by the bank, and roll past Tractor Supply for the biggest bag of bird food available. Then I made my fatal mistake.
You see, today is Saturday. I didn’t think of it as anything other than Saturday. One of 52 that we get every year. It’s the day of the week even I get groceries. What every other person in the county apparently thought of today as, however, is “the last Saturday before Thanksgiving when they should take the whole family to the supermarket and pick up three carts full of food.”
It didn’t even occur to me. If it had, I’d have changed the plan and done my shopping at 5am to avoid the masses. I should have known better, should have been more aware. I was awash in a vast see of dumb as hell and have no one to blame but myself.
Mercifully I’m home now. If you want me to leave, setting the place on fire is probably the only way to shake me loose… and even that isn’t guaranteed to get the job done.
1. Losing my mind. Any time I leave the house I carry my wallet, a wristwatch, and a pocket knife. Stopping to pick them up on my way out the door happens just by force of habit. When I come home, I set them down in exactly the same place every single time. It’s a usually foolproof system that works for me. Except for the one day when it don’t. Walking out of the house “unarmed” isn’t life altering. I could have gone to the local bank branch for cash in a real pinch. It’s mostly the inconvenience of it. Plus, knowing that for some reason i deviated from what should be a perfectly repetitive routine makes me wonder what else I missed…. and that bugs the hell out of me.
2. George R. R. Martin. I swore to myself I wasn’t going to give George R. R. Martin another nickel until he gave us the next proper installment of the Song of Ice and Fire series by delivering The Winds of Winter. Of course my resistance caved immediately when Amazon put the option to pre-order Blood and Fire directly in front of my face while I was looking for something totally unrelated.
3. Cecil County Public Works Department. The CCPWD took the last three months turning what was once a tree-canopied country road into my neighborhood into what looks like a 1/2 scale model of Route 40. Sure, the old road lacked a shoulder, two full sized pickup trucks could barely pass in opposite directions without rubbing mirrors, and getting distracted meant running into the ditch or driving headlong into a tree. It was the thoroughly un-modern counterpart to what I’m sure is a well-designed and engineered modern road. It also lacks 100% of the soul and beauty of the road it replaced, which is part of the reason I moved way the hell down here to the end of the peninsula to begin with.
1. Overestimation. As much as I appreciate your belief that a good word from me is a powerful totem for overcoming organizational obstacles, I regretfully must inform you that you have profoundly overestimated my ability to command change in a chaotic world. I appreciate your vote of confidence, but if my serving as the voice of reason is your last best hope, I think it’s best for all of us if you plan now on crushing disappointment. Rest assured that my pleas fall on the same deaf ears as yours.
2. New (old) routine. It took me exactly three days to fall into a new routine of doing whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. Landing back in the office after almost a week of that kind of decadent behavior has proven to be a hard pill to swallow. Sure, it’s just the old routine back again, but after a brief hint of freedom I can’t help but resent the confining structure just a little bit more than usual. Fortunately it will only take a few weeks of grinding monotony to reset my expectations based on this new (old) routine.
3. Pollen. The weather these last two days has been ideal for top down driving. The airborne pollen that hits you like a physical wall, however, makes it prohibitively agonizing to avail myself of the opportunity. Sure, some people who are more strongly constituted or may just be willing to endure scratchy, bloodshot eyes and the inability to breath through their nose, are out there soaking up the sun. Me? Not so much. Real summer will be here soon-ish. Then I can really enjoy the ride. Sadly, though, I want to be topless now.
This morning, as usual, I picked up my building ID, two sets of keys, my pocket knife, watch, and a few other odds and ends I carry with me every day. The morning progressed as usual right up until the point I stopped to fill up the Jeep’s fuel tank. That’s when I discovered my wallet wasn’t among the items of kit that I had stuffed into my pockets on the way out the door.
As they saying goes, you really don’t miss something (or realize how often you need it) until it’s gone. Instead of the day progressing normally, there was no fuel, no breakfast bagel, no stop for a mid-day doughnut, no pausing on the way home to pick up fresh greens for the tortoise, and no stop at the last chance liquor store for my Wednesday powerball ticket. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of infuriating, but the simple act of leaving behind a small piece of leather with a few pieces of plastic and a bit of green paper inside certainly has the the effect of being an outsized pain in the ass.
I’ve never really given much thought to the virtue of ApplePay, but it’s safe to say I have a new healthy interest in adopting a payment method that involves something I don’t leave the room, let along the house, without having on my person.
I’d guess that on average three weekdays out of every five could be fairly described as being “less than full.” Now I don’t mean to imply in any way that I don’t strive to give our Uncle his money’s worth every time, but there are simple laws of the bureaucracy that say it’s impossible to be busy every moment of the day. This isn’t McDonald’s and there isn’t always stainless that needs wiped down. Usually our days have an ebb and flow that ranges somewhere between comfortable and mind-numbing. It’s that one day in five that’s the wildcard. When it comes along it’s like being stuck with a whole room full of one armed paper hangers. No matter how fast you work, it’s just not going to be fast enough to account for everything coming over the side. In my experience, that’s the nature of the beast.
The real trouble with those rogue days is that they’re absolutely unpredictable. Days that for all outward appearances should be busy won’t be. Days that by rights should be dead slow will open their gaping maw and eat you alive. It would be nice, I think, if those wide-mouthed days would at least give you a fair warning. It feels like the very least the universe could do if it’s bound and determined to spend the rest of the day kicking your ass all over the room.
1. Of your peers. The laws of the United States are designed to make it at least marginally difficult to arbitrarily throw people in prison. We’re entitled to have our case tried not just before a judge, but also a jury of our peers. This week I kept my part of the civic compact by serving as a member of the county’s jury pool. I got a chance this week to see a cross section of the group whop could be called upon to serve as “peers” should I ever find myself accused. That’s the moment my faith in the judicial system was rattled. A few of our number seemed to have at least a partial clue about what was going on, but many more looked vaguely confused and distressed by the whole process. A few more were sleeping and I’m fairly sure at least one was a tweaker who showed up just to get his $20. I’ve never had copious amounts of faith in “the people” as a group… but after seeing them in person, I think I’ll be taking my chances with a judge.
2. Shock and alarm. Most of my day-to-day work is routine. Read this. Assess that. File a report on some other thing. Given the right knowledge base and a bit of critical thinking it’s not all that hard to do – and even when I get something badly wrong the collateral damage is fairly limited. There are, from time to time, some projects that I work on that could end in profound leadership embarrassment in the face of the community, our business partners, and our own workforce if they aren’t run exactly right. I can promise you that when I’ve been beating the drum that things are trending off track for months now I won’t be a bit embarrassed when they come sliding fully off the rails. I have an ass-covering paper trail that will mostly protect me when someone in the wheelhouse finally has their moment of shock and alarm.
3. Writing. I haven’t stopped writing, but at last count I have six works in progress sitting on my desktop and I’m not in love with any of them. They feel like an exercise in writing something just to keep writing. Wherever the muse resides it’s currently not near my desk and that’s something of a shame because I really want to be good at this craft. If I can’t be good, I’d at least like to be good enough… but every time I double click on one of those files and try to find the next few hundred words the struggle is very, very real. I never thought I’d miss a case of run of the mill writer’s block, but I’d talk that all day every day over ideas that are just plain bad.
I have a morning routine. I don’t know that anyone reading this will be surprised by that factoid. Once the morning necessities are taken care of (and while my heathen animals stay comfortable in bed) the dogs go out. Then we come in and the dogs get fed and watered. Then I turn on the sunlamps and feed and water the tortoise. Then I circle back to the bathroom and put out fresh water for the cat (He gets fed at night because he seems to sleep more readily on a full stomach). Usually the cat follows me around through this entire routine. Today he didn’t. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed he wasn’t in his usual spot underfoot while I was fixing my coffee. Then I backtracked. He wasn’t scrounging for dropped dog food. He wasn’t curled up on a favored chair in the living room or sprawled across my bed.
Where he was, however, was stretched out happily in the middle of my indoor tortoise habitat, enjoying the sun lamps, and thoroughly annoying the resident tortoise. Of course that’s where my daily routine came off the rails… because now I have to close off the office, which means moving the 8-foot long, dirt-filled container holding the tortoise, because when I built it in place needing to close off the room wasn’t a consideration. After some effort, a dolly and managing not to spill the entire set up onto the floor, I was able to move it far enough to swing the door closed. The doors don’t so much lock as they “catch” closed using a tab, but I judged them secure enough that a small cat poking at the bottom of them wouldn’t be an issue.
Finally, desperately behind schedule, I was able to depart Fortress Jeff for my day job. Twenty minutes later, the alarm company calls to report “interior motion sensors are active”. I rolled the dice that finding a way to set off the motion sensors was the cat’s version of retribution for shutting him out of the office and I was not, in fact, being robbed blind only a few minutes after leaving for the day… and was proven right. Mercifully. But not before spending the entire day wondering if I shouldn’t have set a course for home at best possible speed and fearing what I’d find when I arrived.
Living with small creatures can be exhausting… and yeah, cats are jerks.