What Annoys Jeff this Week? The

1. Water and ice. I had to pull the refrigerator out for the first time since I moved in to Fortress Jeff. It’s a nice enough refrigerator and it came with the house, but I’ve always been a little annoyed that it didn’t have an ice maker – or better yet, water and ice through the door. After almost three years of living here I’ve now officially discovered that the place is actually plumbed for a refrigerator that could make all the cold water and ice I could ever want. And now I’m even more annoyed by the people who made the conscious decision not to buy a fridge that takes advantage of it. Seriously. Who does that?

2. Republicans. I remember when one of the central planks of the Republican Party was controlling the deficit and reducing the national debt. The “budget bill” now before Congress is something that would make any decent Reagan-era Republican choke. I miss real Republicans.

3. Democrats. I remember when one of the central planks of the Democratic Party platform was building up social programs that benefited America’s most needy citizens. Based on the fight being put up in the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party now seems more concerned with securing rights for foreign nationals who are in the country illegally than they are taking care of business for actual United States citizens. I miss real Democrats.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Automatic shutoffs. For as long as I can remember, gasoline pumps have come equipped with an automatic switch that shuts off the flow of fuel from the pump when the vehicle’s tank is full. I’ve been pumping my own gas since 1994 and have never personally seen what happens when one of those switches fails to do its thing. As it turns out, the result is gallons of gasoline gushing back out of the filler tube until you can reach into the frothing mess and manually shut off the flow. If you manage not to catch on fire, the convenient side effect is a) the side of your vehicle being drenched in gasoline; b) the parking pad being drenched in gasoline; c) Your boots and pants being drenched in gasoline; and d) your arm being drenched in gasoline up to the elbow. In conclusion, whoever designed the “automatic” switch for gas pumps can see me in hell.

2. Bureaucracy. I sent off some paperwork that needed approval – literally one page of not very complex text, mind you. I sent it off way back in the first week of December, winging its way through the bureaucracy. This one page piece of paper, after 6 major revisions, and review by all manner of doctors, lawyers, and indian chiefs, was finally approved this week…. only 57 short days after the process got started. It’s hard to believe there are people around who wonder why it’s so hard to get anything done in something approaching a reasonable amount of time.

3. Natural consequences. The doctor insisted, during my last check up, that I start drinking more water. It’s a tall order given the volume of coffee that’s required to keep this machine running, but I’ve gotten fairly good at complying with easy instructions. So, drink more water I do. The only problem with this plan is that every morning at 1:30 on the nose I have to wake up to take what I affectionately refer to as an emergency piss – as in get yourself out of bed right now this is an emergency. Look, I know that water is supposed to be good for me, but I’m fairly sure that the doc is also the guy who told me I needed to get more sleep. Just now, I’m trying to sort out the priority of effort between these two obviously conflicting bits of guidance.

High water…

A few days ago I said I hope we get a little rain to make up for how dry it has been the last couple of weeks. What I didn’t anticipate was that all of that rain would arrive between 6:00-8:00 this morning. With the average person apparently incapable of driving in any more than a hint of rain and the fact that had to slosh ankle deep through the parking lot to get to the office (seriously, my feet were still soaked when I left for the day), I assumed that getting drenched before work would be the worst of it. As usual, my assumption proved to be horribly wrong.

About fifteen minutes after arriving and wringing out that which could be wrung, I got a note warning me that the building I’m responsible for was taking on water and that it was getting deep fast. It’s not the first time this has happened. A combination of building underground next to a swamp, pump issues, and a poorly sized drain it seems a sizable amount of water came cascading through the back doors and ended up backing up across an essentially brand new floor to an average depth of one or two inches. It’s not enough to break out the hip waders, but it’s damned well enough to be a monumental hassle.

I’m highly trained and competent in many things, but navigating the Byzantine labyrinth of how to get a building de-watered is not one of them. There was the predictable grinding of gears and great gnashing of teeth as that activity expanded to absorb nearly every molecule of available oxygen in my day. I can only hope that Monday set the high water mark for the week, but I’m enough of a bureaucrat to know that there’s always more stupid where the first batch came from.

Flowing just fine…

After the first couple of torrential rainstorms last spring showed some of the design and execution flaws that went into making Fortress Jeff something less than watertight I went on a bit of a spree. Almost the entire back yard got subtly regraded to direct water away from the foundation. We buried a five inch line and routed a hidden drain and two downspouts into it in an effort to manage water flowing off the roof and sidewalk. I bricked up and waterproofed a basement window to eliminate a window well that did double duty as a retaining pond. With those changes, water management in the back yard has improved significantly… or it had up until this spring.

That’s when I noticed the in ground drain was starting to back up under the heaviest of downpours. Hundreds of gallons of rainwater dumping directly against the foundation is not my idea of a good time. Until today, most of the heaviest rains took place when I was away from the house or asleep. A few hours ago, a torrential downpour caught me at home and I got to see first hand the water shooting out the side of one of the standpipes.

Being on the sick list today, some people might have opted to look into the situation later. My particular brand of “fix it right the hell now” obsession doesn’t lend itself well to that kind of deferred curiosity. It was pouring down rain. My fancy drain system wasn’t working. I wanted to fix it or at least satisfy myself why it was off the rails.

I was soaked to the bone before I’d even made it halfway across the yard. Did I mention it was absolutely pouring at this point? Armed with a couple of sections of extendable probe and a shovel, I sloshed through the yard and down through the woods to where the drain reaches daylight. I could have saved myself the time and effort of carrying tools, because as soon as I tapped the edge of the plastic drain cover, the pressure of water behind it sent the cover skidding between by feet… to be followed immediately by a 5-inch diameter tube of rancid muck that was serving to plug the drain. How exactly it expanded from that 5-inch diameter to cover me from mid-chest to toes over a span of two feet, I will never understand. Just one of the many wonders of water pressure.

My best guess is this conglomeration of mud and muck was obstructing just enough of the pipe that it let a light rain or the sump discharge drain more or less unimpeded. Once under pressure, say from a 100-foot long column of water behind it, the foul-smelling stuff expanded to block off the drain completely and sent the overflow looking for the next easiest outlet. At least that’s what I think it was doing before it blew up all over my face.

The good news is that the drains are all flowing just fine now. The bad news is that I may have contracted ebola, zika, cholera, typhoid, or ghonoherpasyphilaids from whatever foul substance came flying out of that drain. If this is my last post, at least now you’ll know how it ended.

Water rights…

Most days I watch the local morning news out of Baltimore. During the week, mostly I’m keeping an ear open for the traffic reports and weather forecast. On the weekends, I imagine it’s just force of habit more than anything else. In any case, I should probably change that habit, because as often as not, Baltimore news just agitates the hell out of me.

Take this morning, for instance – when one report was covering the continuing deterioration of the city’s water system and proposal that rates be increased 9% a year over each of the next 3 years. Municipal water systems are almost the working definition of the kind of services one might expect a city to provide, but of course much of the utility network undergirding Baltimore has been buried for more than a century. That’s long past the time even the most ambitious of engineers would have imagined their work staying in service. If you defer maintenance on such a system long enough all manner of bad things will tend to happen to it. That’s the situation Baltimore is facing.

Maintenance, of course, takes money and that’s one of those things that Baltimore never seems to have. It’s one of those pesky consequences of making policy decisions that chase your tax base out of the city and into the county. But this morning, the story focused on a “local activist” who opposed this “vicious rate increase” even while admitting that he knew the system needed upgrades almost city-wide.

I suppose my real question is, if the those who use the water – the people and businesses served by the municipal water system – aren’t responsible for paying to keep the system running, who is he proposing foot the bill? For some reason I’m catching the scent of another Baltimore City boondoggle the cost of which the city is going to try to pass along to the more than 5 million Marylanders who don’t use the city’s water. I’m also more than a little curious as to how I can tap into that alternate payment source if they day ever comes when I need to replace my well.

I mean if water is a right and should be provided for “free,” someone else should pay for it… or maybe that’s only true as long as the cash flows one way: from everywhere else in the state towards the Inner Harbor.

The kind of guy I am…

When the temperatures rise towards 100 degrees, some people want to go out and take folks to cooling centers or hand out bottled water to those working in the heat of the day. By contrast, when I got home today I gave the begonias a big drink and then jury rigged an old cracked bird bath to hold water in case any of the fuzzy or feathered critters in the area don’t feel like trekking 300 yards down to the stream.

I’m not sure if I could have explained what my priorities are and the kind of guy I am any more clearly in a 1000-word essay. Make of that what you will.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Flint River water. Look, if I open my spigot and the resulting water is brown and filled with particulates, I’m not going to drink it no matter what local officials tell me about its safety. That’s exactly what I don’t hear from news reports coming out of Michigan. There are plenty of reports though of people who continued who were drinking away, despite what some might consider an obvious problem with the water… and now suddenly they’re surprised by the spate of health issues that have resulted. I’m afraid these Michiganders have fallen victim to two fallacies: 1) The government is looking out for your best interests and 2) Anyone else has ultimate responsibility for what you put in your body. While there is very clear blame to be laid on the state and local government in this case, there’s more than enough to spread around to individuals who failed to exercise their own personal responsibility in protecting their health and wellbeing.

2. A report out of the National Transportation Safety Board calls for the total ban of cell phones while driving, claiming it’s a distraction. Well bugger off. Everything inside the passenger compartment of a vehicle that’s not the steering wheel, gear shift, accelerator, and brake pedal is a distraction. The radio is a distraction. That drive-thru grease-burger is a distraction. Crying children in the back seat are a distraction. Bees flying through an open window are a distraction. So while we’re going, let’s ban all the distractions and save so many, many lives. We’ll do away with radios and drive-thrus, crying children and roll-down windows. We’ll cover the damned cars in bubble wrap and install an engine governor ensuring they can never go faster than 15 miles per hour. Fine, safety is important. While hurtling around in a one ton metal bullet we should all be paying attention to what we’re doing. What I don’t understand is what on earth anyone thinks passing one more law making a specific subset of distracted driving illegal (which in many jurisdictions it already is) will really do. Prohibition didn’t stop drinking. The war on drugs didn’t stop drug use. I have a hard time believing a ban on cell phones is going to stop people from checking that next text message. Don’t even get me started on the jackassery of how anyone might plan to enforce such legislation once it’s law.

3. The choices. Despite my personal preference for one of the other alternatives it appears more and more likely that 364 days (plus a leap year) from today, America is going to inaugurate a socialist, an unindicted felon, a megalomaniac billionaire, or a former Canadian citizen as President of the United States. Let that sink in for a moment if you will. I could launch into a long rant about how we got here, but frankly we’re more or less stuck with this band of misfits in 2016. My real question, the one that’s going to haunt me in my sleep, is how we get well from here. What’s it going to take to find some legitimate leadership in America in 2020 or are we henceforward and forever doomed to have such pretenders enthroned as the heirs of Washington and Jefferson?