What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. EZ Pass. Every month I check my Maryland EZ Pass statement. Every month I find at least one mistake – usually a toll charged at full rate when I’ve already paid the flat fee for the year option and had it coded on the transponder. Every month I go through the process of logging in, filling out the dispute form, and then watching the account periodically to make sure the right multiple of $8 per incident is refunded back to my account. Individually, it’s not the kind of thing that’s a big deal, but since it’s happening month, after month, after month, like interest, the annoyance compounds.

2. Pants. A million years ago at the beginning of my career I wore a suit or a minimum of coat at tie to the office just about every day. It was DC and that was the standard. Slowly though, I abandoned the suit or coat, but grudgingly stuck with the tie and long sleeves. In a pinch I kept a sports coat in my cube that I could press into service in extremis. Eventually, I abandoned the tie and long sleeves, too… introducing my personal “five star” rule – that no meeting that included any less than five “stars” in the room justified wearing a tie. The ghost of Eisenhower or Marshall rated a tie, two three stars rated a tie, three two stars rated a tie, and so on. Those were the rules of the before time. Now, of course, I’m annoyed as hell on days I have to bother putting on long pants. That’s just to be expected as part of life in a plague year, I guess.

3. Students. The news is currently filled with still photos and videos of college students in their hundreds attending parties now that at least some schools have opened again. You can’t see it, but I’m obviously sitting here with a completely shocked look on my face. I have a vague recollection of being young and invincible once. I wasn’t really a party animal, so my poison was mostly seeing how fast a Chevy Cavalier could go or how high I could get it to jump over railroad tracks or bridge approach ramps. Negative consequences were something to worry about when or if they happened. The point is, I have no idea why college administrators and parents are suddenly surprised that their 18-22 year-old darlings are throwing caution to the wind. It’s exactly the kind of behavior that administrators and parents have complained about since the first universities sprung up in Europe almost a millennium ago. 

Untied…

It occurred to me this morning that there’s probably a deep psychological reason I’m so adamantly opposed to wearing a tie. Sure, I could give you the usual song and dance about them being constrictive and uncomfortable or about them serving absolutely no purpose in the modern world, but deep down I don’t think that’s the reason at all… even though those are all perfectly valid issues with the standard necktie.

1288298661684133102The real problem with these damned decorative bits of fabric is that I never wear them on good days. I pull one off the rack for funerals, court appearance, work, and weddings – for good or ill, those aren’t what I consider the red letter days of my life. Those days are largely depressing and/or expensive hassles in which I’d probably rather not participate. In my near 40-year life, ties always come out for the pain-in-the-ass times.

The good times are marked with jeans, tee shirts, shorts, and muddy boots. They’re ratty clothes covered in dog hair and smelling of wood smoke or of diesel fumes and salt spray after a long day on the water. Never once on one of these good days did I sit back quietly and think to myself, “Wow, this day would have been so much better if I had on a tie!” On the other hand, nearly every time I’ve ever put on a tie, I know the day would have been better if I was somewhere else, wearing something different.

So there it is in a nutshell, my basic belief that ties aren’t just a pointless throwback noose we’re supposed to willingly put our necks into every morning. In fact, they’re basically nothing more than a visual cue that you’re about to experience a wasted day.

Thanks for stopping by tonight. This has been one of those occasional posts I make to give you a little insight into what’s churning around in my head while I’m standing quietly off to the side of the room observing the world around me.

Interview with a misanthrope…

I had an interview this morning, a something a few of you might have guessed by the fact that I had bothered to put on a tie. Generally speaking a tie is only something I wear when it can’t otherwise be avoided. As a rule of thumb, that means when the number of stars in the room is equal to or greater than five – Five one star generals = wear a tie; A three star and a two star = wear a tie; Reanimated corpse of Douglas MacArthur = wear a tie. It’s a simple rule that I adopted years ago to prevent any confusion about what to wear and when to wear it.

fBreaking with that longstanding custom today made me feel a little awkward. After all, two of the three people on the interview panel were people I’ve worked with for the last four years. Surely by now they’ve caught on to my basic reluctance to willingly put my neck in a noose each morning. With that, wearing one today felt like something of a cop out, a unilateral caving in to the throat constricting requirements of social convention. It made me feel a little dirty and a lot like a sellout.

Interviews are always a roll of the dice – especially since this is the first one of done live and in person since July of 2000 when I was hired as a first year teacher. All my other jobs over these last 14 years have been gotten as a result of phone interviews or directed moves into new positions. That being said I think I answered all their questions effectively and efficiently, while interjecting my own brand of folksy humor and sarcasm at appropriate points. How well that translates into the live interview process remains to be seen.

I work with at least half the people in the running for this gig. They’re good people with solid resumes and every bit as reasonable a claim on the job as I feel I have going for me. I’d like the chance to do something different without traipsing halfway across the country to find it. I’d definitely like the grade and corresponding income bump. Still, knowing who else is in the running I won’t shed bitter tears if I didn’t make the cut on this one… though that’s no promise I won’t be more sulky and irritable than usual for a while if the vote breaks against me.

Suiting up…

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I wore a suit to work today for what was possibly the first time in nearly four years. Given my regular “uniform” of solid colored polo shirts, khaki pants, and Doc Martens, apparently the appearance of a suit was a sufficiently big deal as to require the taking of photographs as documentary evidence. Had I known it was going to be a thing, I would have found something in a nice plaid or maybe a classic of the leisure variety. Alas, I’ve missed that opportunity.

As a dweller in cubicles, the idea that I should wear something that seems designed to be as uncomfortable as possible while spending eight hours in my little 6×6 slice of the world just strikes me as patently ridiculous. I’m not sure where anyone would have ever gotten the idea that wearing a tie will result in generating more fantastic PowerPoint slides. If I do say so myself, my slides are already pretty freaking fantastic. I’ve got this funny way of being more concerned with the end results than I am with how someone looks while getting there. Usually that leaves me a bit out of step with generally accepted practice. Trust me, I’ve gotten use to being out of step. It’s a role that feels like it suits me – no pun intended.

I don’t want anyone to think this represents the beginning of a great change in my personal dress code. I’d show up every day wearing ratty jeans and beat up boots if I didn’t think it would cause the worst crisis to face the government since the beginning of the Great Recession. As long as we can keep the suit wearing to once every thousand days or so, I think it’s a compromise we can all live with.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lip syncing. If I were to make an eight hour recording of me sitting at the keyboard banging away at what I’m sure is some very important memo or PowerPoint briefing, and then push the play button on that recording every morning when I sat down at my desk and claim that I’m working, it’s fair to say that my boss would call me an idiot and tell me to get back to work. My argument that the performance was recorded “live to tape” probably wouldn’t be sufficient to convince him that a recording was a good enough substitute to actually doing the work live and in person. Not being a professional audio engineer, I don’t know whether Beyonce performed live, live to tape, or whatever. I’m not sure I really care all that much, but it strikes me that if your occupation is “singer,” it’s probably a good idea to show up and, you know, actually sing.

2. Dress codes. On days when the temperature falls below, say, 20 degrees, I think office dress code requirements should automatically be relaxed to allow for jeans, boots of sufficient size to account for wool socks, flannel shirts, and possibly hats with ear flaps. I don’t exactly know who came up with the idea that a shirt and tie equate to professional conduct, but I think it’s safe to say that can get just as many memos written while wearing Levis and Doc Martens as I can while wearing slacks and wingtips. I’ve managed to slowly ease out of wearing a tie, but sadly, my struggle for greater clothing equality against oppressive government rules continues unabated.

3. Medical science. I’ve got my next regular check up with my favorite should-have-been-a-Prussian-Field-Marshal general practitioner tomorrow. This will be the first of two visits this year where he tells me to exercise more, eat less, stop having fun, and that way maybe I’ll live a long and boring life. That’s fine. It’s his job and he seems to be good at it. Hopkins tends not to hire people that aren’t good at it, which is one of the reasons I’m willing to drive so far out of my way for a basic checkup. Still, what I really need him, and the broader medical community to do is come up with a pill or procedure that fixes whatever damage I manage to inflict on my body without needing to change my lifestyle and habits in any meaningful way. God knows I don’t have a death wish, but I’m not sure a world without perfectly grilled steak, penne pasta with vodka sauce, and the humble potato in its many pleasing forms is worth living in… and let’s not even get started on how many more productive and entertaining things I could do if it weren’t for spending time on a bike to nowhere every evening. Science just needs to get off its hump and come up with a way to keep us from getting dead with a minimal amount of effort from the patient.