Sitting around the emergency vet on a Friday night with not much to distract you leaves a lot of time to think… and to observe the comings and goings of those moving around you in the world. The thing I observed most on Friday night… and then again on Sunday morning was the genuine imitation outrage that so many people felt when they were expected to pay for their pet’s emergency treatment.
The ones in the treatment room right next to mine would have been hard to miss, even if I wasn’t casting around for something to occupy my mind while we waited. They’d have been hard to miss because just after 11PM, one of then started screeching that the estimate to treat their dog was “too damned much” for what they seemed to think was a simple treatment – blood work, xrays, and emergency surgery to set or amputate a broken leg.
The value people put on things is always curious. You’re at a vets office in the closing minutes of a Friday night. They have a huge staff who are all being paid for overnight weekend work. They have diagnostic imagery tools that a decade or two ago would have been rare at a lot of rural hospitals treating people. You’re paying to have access to doctors, techs, and technology at a time when almost nothing else is open. As much as the staff at one of these places may love animals, money is what keeps the doors open at times when you might otherwise have to wait 48-72 hours to have your dog seen.
Look, I don’t love spending emergency vet kind of money, but I get why it comes with a premium price tag. Even if I didn’t get it, I’d know better than to scream at the twenty-something young tech who’s trying to walk me through the options because I’m not an awful human being. I’m sure someone will say lashing out angrily is a perfectly natural response in a stressful circumstance… but I’d really prefer it if they didn’t lash out and agitate the people who I’m going to need focused in on taking care of my own pup after they’ve finished up with the screecher next door.
After getting my notice of another Amazon Prime subscription price increase, I’m realizing that I either need to start using it for more than watching 10 episodes of The Grand Tour a year or get rid of it. I signed up way back when Prime’s major benefit was two day shipping on books. Although it offers many more features now, I find I’m barely using it for any of them. With many of items I’ve bought from Amazon recently not making the 2-day shipping window and/or being damaged to some degree in packing or transit, it’s starting to feel like less of a bargain overall – especially when Amazon has opted to push it over the $100 price point.
I’m well aware that arguing over the value of $21 per year increase is patently ridiculous on its face, but there’s just something about that three-digit bill that really sets me wondering just what the hell I’m paying for and if it’s actually worth it. In all likelihood I’ll just go along letting apathy and inertia carry it along, but don’t let that in any way be confused with my willingness to bitch and complain every year when that $120 bill shows up in my list of financial transactions… because I still want my dented and damaged crap showing up in two (or three or four) days.
I supposed that’s what Amazon has been counting on all along.
Well, it’s been nice pretending that I have all the time in the world to dink around the yard, troll every junk shop in three counties, and put my feet up to read whatever happened to strike my fancy. However, due to the completely unreasonable need to generate income in order to continue to provide food, shelter, and medical care for myself and my four-legged dependents, time is about to return to its usual status as my most precious commodity. Maybe that means I appreciate it more, but it’s a theory I’d be perfectly happy to put to the test as early as practicable.
I’ll be back at it tomorrow, making the devil’s bargain of time for money. I know I needed the down time, but I’m equally sure that whatever restive effects I’ve earned will be reduced to near zero sometime before the clock strikes noon tomorrow. It’s about as unavoidable as the rising sun. At least that first roll of the eyes won’t arrive as a shock. I know it’s coming.
Until then, I’ll make the most of the peace and quiet and enjoy one last afternoon unfilled with total asshattery. If there’s anything that long stretches of free time teaches me it’s that I can’t value those highly enough.
For purposes of this post I’m operating under the assumption that we’ve all gone through that awkward phase when we’re dating and actually trying to impress people. While things aren’t quite as awkward as that here in Cubicle Hell, there are certain moments when it feels like it is actually far worse. By way of example, I was stood up today. Twice. I haven’t found myself sitting quietly and quite alone at a table like that since sometime in the late 1990s.
The up side is that being stood up at the office doesn’t generally feature deep, painful rejection of you as a human being or potential sexual partner. It does, however, send the unmistakable signal that your time isn’t worth a tinker’s damn and that the one doing the standing up had something more important to do. Believe it or not, I can almost understand that. I’m a cog way down deep in the belly of the beast. There are absolutely people whose time is more valuable than mine. I understand that with perfect clarity and I’m fine with it.
What I’m not fine with is that no one even bothers with an explanation. Lord knows I’m not sitting around waiting for an apology, but a simple explanation or some acknowledgment that there was some intentional or unintentional pooch-screwing and that as a result your time was wasted would be nice. I have it on good authority that from time to time people may appreciate that kind of gesture. Some people, anyway. Others have clearly already been pushed well past the ability to give any additional fucks.
1. Selling online. There are a few pieces of lawn equipment and other odds and ends I don’t have use of anymore. For ease of listing and in hopes of not dealing with too many crackpots, I opted to post them on the local neighborhood website instead of Craigslist. In retrospect I would have been far better off just loading everything in the truck and hauling it over to the dump. I know I’ve spent at least $150 worth of time answering questions about a $25 item. Lesson learned. From here on out I’ll just throw stuff away. It’s not worth the aggravation for so little return on investment.
2. Walking and talking. If you’re on your phone and wander into the street without paying the least bit of attention I should be within my rights to hit you with the truck. I’m not talking about flattening anyone, but it feels like giving these dipshits a glancing blow with the side mirror should be accepted if not encouraged.
3. Connectivity. Having access to email and the Internet are pretty much my only real job enablers. I’m sure I could do at least some of the work without those tools, but everything would take days longer than it should. Some of it I can get done by phone but the “must have a signature” stuff not so much. If you’re a knowledge worker access to a function network isn’t a convenience or a perk, it’s a necessity. If you the employer can’t provide that then you’d best not look at me cross eyed when I start telling you there are things I can’t do. Like it or not, without connectivity there’s no path between Point A and Point B that doesn’t involve hand written letters and a book of stamps.
Every time I hire a plumber I’m struck with a moment of wondering why I’m paying good money to have someone do things I could do myself. Then I generally remember that I’ve probably tried, and failed, to do the work myself and that’s why I called the plumber in the first place. Yes, they’re expensive. Yes, they disrupt the household. Yes, there are other things I’d rather be spending my money on. Then again, I do like indoor plumbing so there’s the rub.
With time and practice, trial and error, I don’t doubt there’s any system in this house that I couldn’t eventually learn to repair in its entirety. While I have many skill sets, though, plumbing and electrical aren’t currently among them. Maybe they should be, but they’re not.
In most cases it boils down to the value of time. Some small things are easy enough, can be whipped out in an hour and life can return to normal. Others, well, that’s when it pays to know what your own time is worth and be willing to farm out the jobs that are going to eat up too much of it.
1. Wasting my goddamned time. Sometimes things happen that are unavoidable. Life can’t always be expected to run like clockwork. I get it. That said, when standard procedure ends often as not in a week’s worth of work ending up in the trash bin, I’m not sure that’s really the best possible use of resources. Look, I get paid whether I split the atom or fling spit balls, but on average I’d rather spend my days doing have some semblance of value. I mean I’m going to keep taking your money either way, but it seems like everyone would be better off if there was something more to show for the time other than half finished powerpoint.
2. Websites with ads that automatically play music or video clips. Stop it. Just stop. I will immediately close the offending screen. You will never get my business because your marketing is obnoxious and distracting. Be subtle. Build a great product. I’ll happily buy your stuff then – maybe even pay a bit of a premium for a premium product. I don’t care how good a widget you make is, though, if you insist on assaulting my senses just to get me to look at it.
3. The Office of Personnel Management. I like to think if I were as ragingly incompetent at my job as whoever is responsible for network security at OPM is, I’d be on the street looking for a job right now. Seriously, though, losing 25 million (and at this rate probably more) individual social security numbers and other identifying information about employees, their friends, families, college roommates, childhood neighbors, and former employers is really an extraordinarily impressive accomplishment. I’m sure I appreciate the free “credit monitoring” and all, but if we could make some heads roll I’d at least feel a little better that someone, somewhere was being held accountable. I’d ask for the immediate initiation of hostilities of the nation or group responsible for the theft, but it already feels like that’s just a bridge too far for the asshats running the show in the District.
Once every few months I catch a wild hare and start obsessively backing up everything on my work computer. At last count, I’m working on saving 2GB of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents for posterity. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood if 1500 individual files generated over the last eight months. By most standards it’s not a particularly obscene amount of storage or an abnormally large number of files. As I’m sitting here watching the “% complete” bar click higher, I’m struck with the fact that although I’m relentlessly backing this stuff up, keeping a copy for myself, and sending a copy into deep storage, I’m probably the only person on the planet who will ever actually see any of this stuff again. In a post-atomic or -biological apocalypse world, it seems unlikely that any of the survivors are going to be particularly interested in whatever brilliant PowerPoint slides I’ve managed to come up with.
All of that begs the question, what the hell are we really doing here? I think we all have some conception that we’re “adding value” somehow by performing whatever task has been set for us. We like to think that what we’re doing is good and important work; that someone, somewhere will be better off because we sat behind our monitors and smashed our fingers repeatedly against the keyboard. Since I don’t have a little laminated card telling me where to go and what to do when the warheads start landing, I think it’s safe to assume that whatever I’m doing isn’t all that critical to the preservation of civilization as we know it. Apparently I’m not a national treasure. That realization stings a little.
Look, I’m not saying I want to give up the pay and bennies and head off into the woods to start a commune or anything. I don’t think the situation is all that hopeless. Still, it’s a smack in the head about priorities and deciding what’s important and what doesn’t mean a damned thing. In the course of a career and a life, I’ve made some good decisions and some bad ones. If this serves as nothing more than a gentle smack in the back of the head reminding me to make better decisions in the future, well, then the day has been more productive than most.
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.
I got a call Friday afternoon from my own property manager. It seems the crack in the kitchen window had finally gotten to the point of needing to be replaced. If I hadn’t been thinking months ago about the house becoming a rental property, I would have fixed it already. The up side of being a landlord is that alot of projects that were a normal expense when you were living in the house magically become a business expense (and therefore deductible) when you have a tenant.
You didn’t really need to know that little bit of administrative minutia except it was my way of saying that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a landlord/property manager. The right way is to adress issues as they come up and do it as expeditiously as possible. It helps build the tenant-owner relationship and maybe buys you some good will when the lease is up and they have to decide between renewing and moving on. The wrong way would have been to make the tenant call half a dozen times, not show up when I said I would, or otherwise ignore the problems. Doing things that way tends to breed an attitude where the tenant doesn’t give a damn what happens to the property.
I guess there are two schools of thought when it comes to owning rental property. For some, it’s an income stream and nothing more. For others, it’s a long term investment that builds more value when it’s well maintained. Both ways of thinking are probably valid to some degree, but only one of them is right.
OK, so I am usually a dyed-in-the-wool champion of the free market… unless, of course, it’s doing something bad to me. In this case, the national slump in new home sales has driven the builder of my subdivision to take a different approach. Instead of selling their new construction outright, they are coaxing people into “lease-options”… effectively turning all the unsold houses the subdivision into very large stand-alone apartments. I don’t have any particular problems with apartments, per se as I lived in them for a long time and enjoyed it, but the approach he decided to take does all sorts of weird shit to the value of the existing stock of houses, particularly to those of us who bought into the subdivision early. The builder is in it to make a profit and I can’t fault him for that, but still, it creates a giant pain in the ass for me… and we all know what I think of things that do that.