Thanks to being back in the office for the last couple of days I’ve discovered that a day’s worth of talking at regular human volumes is enough to turn my throat to ground beef. Apparently my random muttering to the cat and dogs isn’t doing enough to keep my vocal chords in readiness for actual human interaction.
I’d like to think the solution would be to minimize future conversations. Surely there’s some medical reason I can find a doctor to sign off on contact by text or email only for the next fifteen years. A stretch? Maybe. But it’s not the most ridiculous thing I heard today so anything is possible.
It’s week two of the crisis, but I’m still learning things. I’m leaning so many things that honestly it’s just easier to list them.
1. Bread, the book says, is the staff of life. In a crisis the breads I like most – sourdough and seeded rye – stays on the shelf longest. Even when most else is picked over, I can usually find one or the other in stock. So I’ve got that going for me in the apocalypse, which is nice.
2. Two monitors isn’t a luxury. I’ve spent the last two weeks working exclusively on a laptop. It’s find for basic word processing, but if you get into any heavy lifting in Excel or find yourself needing to edit the fine print in PowerPoint, there’s just no substitute for dual monitors. If I thought they’d get here before the Great Plague is scheduled to end, I’d order up a pair of cheap screens to retrofit the home office, even if it did temporarily crowd the much prettier Apple rig sitting on my desk.
3. Last and finally, I need to talk to myself more often while I’m working from home. After almost two weeks of having just a few phone conversations and occasionally talking to the animals, my throat feels like ground chuck now that I’ve spent the day chittering with people in the office and fielding the random phone calls. It’s probably also because of today’s distinct lack of afternoon tea and honey.
1. New and improved. Last week the powers that be implemented a new procedure that was aimed at speeding up the time it takes to get people through the front gate. As far as I can tell all it’s succeeded at doing is creating a cluster fuck of the traffic pattern and made the wait time even longer. Forty years of experience tells me that “new and improved” rarely is… and mostly exists because someone needed a big box checked off on their annual performance appraisal.
2. I’m not particularly chatty at the best of times. When I have Post It notes stacked up like cordwood and a ten page handwritten list of shit to do, I’m even less inclined to want to chat about, well, anything, really. Sorry if the blank look on my face while you’re talking to be about a radom sportsball team I have no interest in at the best of times seems rude, but I have a limited amount of bandwidth. I’d really like to use it to make sure as many of the bits of paper on my desk are on someone else’s desk before the close of business. Unless what you’re telling me is something that’s going to make my life easier, it’s best for both of us if you bugger directly off until I’ve dug out from under the clusterfuck of the day, week, or month.
3. Maryland E-Z Pass. Let’s forget for a moment that until recently tolls at roads and bridges in Maryland were sold to the public as something that would be dropped “as soon as the cost of construction was paid off.” E-Z Pass is one of the ways that many states, including Maryland, have offered up to make their ongoing extortion backed by the full authority and power of the government less obvious to the average citizen… and I only say less obvious because the other option is handing over a fistful of physical cash money every time you drive through a toll plaza. If the state is going to continue to extort money from its citizens for things that have been long paid for and depreciated, it feels like the least they could do is make sure the back office is keeping the books right and not generating a daily email threatening to cut off your account for having a low balance when a quick look at the customer facing website shows there is very clearly both money in the account and a valid credit card from which to siphon more money as needed.
1. Filling up the quiet time. Some people assume that because I’m not talking they need to find a way to fill in all the quiet time. Rest assured, if something needs said I’ll say it in front of princes, profits, potentates, or presidents without regard to their rank, race, or religion. I’m quiet, not shy. There is a difference. On the other hand, when I don’t have anything of substance to add, I’m happy sitting quietly. I don’t need an endless nattering buzz of small talk in my ear to make me feel connected. Most days I desperately wish some people didn’t have a pathological need to fill in the quiet times with pointless chatter.
2. iPhone. I love my iPhone 5. It’s been a workhorse since the day UPS handed it to me. Since then, we’ve gone everywhere together. We’ve been inseparable. Sure, the UI could use an update and I wouldn’t mind a bigger screen sometimes, but those aren’t the issues that make up the hate end of my love-hate relationship with this phone. It’s the battery life. It wasn’t great right out of the box, but over the last few months it’s gotten progressively worse. Through resets, wipes, switching off functions known to draw lots of power, and aggressively managing what apps are open, I can sort of slow the battery drain a bit, but that’s not exactly a substitute for a battery that doesn’t suck. I’m trying to think of a good reason why after three hours of pretty limited use, my battery is drawing down towards 50% and none really come to me. I’ll limp along with a handful of cables and a external battery pack until the 5S comes along… but if that battery doesn’t show some significant performance enhancements, it might be time to reevaluate iPhone’s place as my daily carry.
3. Turning left. When you’re the first vehicle in the left turn lane, you should go ahead and pull all the way forward to the stop line. That way the invisible traffic gnome knows that you’re trying to turn left at the intersection and can wave his green light wand to change the signal. When there’s a line of traffic 40 cars deep sitting behind you in the left turn lane, it’s sort of a bad time to be confused by basic effing driving skills, you useless excuse for a meat sack. I have no idea why it’s socially unacceptable to drag people from their cars and beat them with a Stick of Shame for such mindless asshattery.
There’s a scene early in the movie Crimson Tide where the skipper and his new executive officer are standing atop the sail of the USS Alabama taking a long last look at the sky and setting sun. At the end of the scene, captain turns to the XO and says something like, “Your stock went up a few points, you didn’t ruin it by talking.” I think the world would be a better place if more people had the sense of that fictitious XO and didn’t ruin an otherwise nice moment by opening their yap and letting words fly out unrestrained.
Sure, talking is an important way that we humans communicate with one another, but it strikes me that people are so damned busy listening themselves talk that they never pause long enough to consider if what they’re saying actually adds anything to the moment. More often than not, it really, really doesn’t. Sadly, social convention frowns on us from looking someone directly in the eye and telling them to STFU, so we’re left to use more subtle cues like body language to try letting them know that we are less than interested in hearing that really funny story about what happened on their family vacation 40 years ago for the fourth or fifth time. I suspect the real reason homicide is illegal is because at times like that, wrapping your hands around someone’s throat and choking the life out of them seems like a perfectly reasonable course of action.
If I don’t leave the house, I can pass an entire day without saying 100 words from the time I wake up to the time I go back to bed. Not everyone is so laconic, I know. If I find there’s something that needs said, I’m more than happy to speak up loud and long, but I like to think I know the difference between having a point and just nattering at everyone who wanders by because I’m bored. If you’re really that desperate to tell every passing stranger your life story, I have a modest recommendation: get a dog. They’re always terribly interested in whatever you have to say. If you crave a wider audience, start a blog or work part time writing for your local newspaper. Hell, sign up for your own public access television show for all I care, but please, for the love of Good, His saints, and all things good and holy, leave me out of it. If you must include me in your delusions of being interesting, at least have the decency not to ruin it by talking.
I’ve had my fill of waging war against overbearing bosses and know-it-all colleagues. I do my best these days to keep my head down and avoid notice whenever possible. I don’t want to stand out or fall behind. I want to hide right in the middle of the curve. I’ve said it before, but I really just wan to do the job and get home as quickly as possible at the end of the day.
I’ve always had a temper, but was blessed with an incredibly long fuse. Because of that, most people have never seen me detonate. At most, they find me at a simmer or more rarely moving on towards a rolling boil. For the sake of professional decorum and not wanting to give away that someone’s actually gotten under my skin, I try very hard to keep it from boiling over. Once I’ve reached the point of no return, one of two things are going to happen. I’m going to slam something down on the desk and storm out of the room or more likely I’m going to get very quiet, set my jaw, and hiss something at you through clenched teeth.
It seems that I’ve finally reached that snapping point with someone, who yesterday cornered me at my desk to tell me their family stories of long, lingering deaths. I have no earthly idea why anyone would consider this appropriate office conversation, or really appropriate for anyone other than family and the closest of friends. After 30 minutes of aural abuse, I finally snapped; not so much because today was particularly troubling, but because it’s been the same thing for months now.
Hey, we all have our own personal cross to bear. Yours don’t make you any more special, troubled, or saintly than anyone else around here. Apparently telling someone that to their face is considered impolite. The up side is they haven’t said anything to me in two days. On balance, being thought impolite is a small price to pay for that kind of peace and quiet.
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