If you’re like me, you grew up being told, repeatedly and often, that it’s best not to say anything at all if you can’t say something nice.
Sure, it’s probably good advice to help prevent the activation of your career dissipation light, but mostly it just prevents you from saying true things that others might find unpleasant… such as “That’s got to be one of the dumbest ideas I’ve heard in the last 12 years,” or “If it’s not a priority for the bosses, why are we spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about it?”
Sadly, I don’t have a single nice thing to say, so I’ll just sit here quietly and try to keep my eyes from rolling all the way to the back of my skull.
Personally, I’m in a good place… and that place is the time of year when I’m about to start burning off sizable chunks of vacation time to scour the mid-Atlantic region for all manner of used and vintage books. It’s a time of long summer twilights, evenings reading on the patio, and undisturbed stretches of free time. The run of days from the first week of June through the first week of July are, for me, the year’s apogee. Barring unforeseen events, there’s generally not anything better.
Professionally, by contract, it’s determined to be a season beset by stupid – both people and things. It’ll be catching up on mandatory training, and preliminary planning for parties and events that by right ought not to belong on my plate, and for whatever as yet unknown fuckery finds its way into my inbox. I won’t say it’s the worst of times, because that title belongs to another era entirely. Those days were bleak… These, in comparison, are mostly just obnoxious.
Still, it feels like an odd dichotomy. Although if one of the two must be a clusterfuck, I greatly prefer that particular dark cloud settle over the “work stuff.” I’ve spent a lot of time and effort rigging up a pretty reliable firewall between work stuff and home stuff. Whatever asshattery is taking place at work very rarely bleeds through to home. The barrier is somewhat less robust in the other direction.
By the time that first week of June arrives, it’ll have been six months since I took any significant time off. Right about now I’m feeling all those intervening days. I’m deeply, viscerally, looking forward to not needing to present the illusion of giving a single fuck about training rates, parties and events, or reviewing people’s requests to use the dumb auditorium. A few days wandering deep in the stacks is precisely what Dr. Jeff ordered as a restorative cure for the madness that seeps in from the “professional” side of the firewall.
For reasons that defy any kind of human logic I’m familiar with, I’m nominally “represented” by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1904. Being a government employee, I’m legally prohibited from striking. Likewise, AFGE can’t negotiate my salary or benefits package. Given those facts, I have no idea what services they’re supposed to be providing that I couldn’t otherwise arrange through a decent labor lawyer if the need ever arose.
As of the most recent update last week, Local 1904 has failed to come to terms with management on the new and improved telework policy for our organization. They had 30 months of COVID and now more than six months after returning to “business as usual” to get the ship in order. Every other organization we deal with has somehow managed to get their new policies in place to the benefit of their workforce, but 1904 remains a holdout. In fact, they’re so dysfunctional in this negotiation that the whole thing has been thrown into binding arbitration to resolve. Arbitration of this type can take weeks, months, or years to reach its conclusion.
If I were in any way involved with this union, I’d be mortified at our inability to arrive at what my brother and sister organizations have found to be a dead simple easy arrangement. As it is, I’ll forever see 1904 as the toad in the road trying to stand in the way of progress and the rigorous application of common sense. Utter cockwombles, the lot of them.
I periodically see the news or social media filled with stories about needing stronger unions or organizations wanting to bring in a union to represent them. Friends, be careful what you ask for. Since 2000, I’ve been in jobs that were nominally covered by several different unions. They all like to hype the idea of being “Union Strong,” but it’s been my experience that they’re far more often Union Wrong.
I’ll walk down the hill and throw hundred dollar bills directly in the river before I ever pay them a nickel’s worth of dues. I’ll never know for sure whose interests they’re representing, but I can tell you it’s sure as hell not mine.
1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 31 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. Now, I’m told, the alleged negotiation has gone so far sideways that it’s been sent to binding arbitration. Resolution to that could literally take years. So, we’re going to be grinding along for the foreseeable future with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. I’m sure someone could make the case that there’s enough blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 31 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing to deliver for their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) and for continuing to stand in the way like some bloody great, utterly misguided roadblock. No one’s interest is served by their continued intransigence. The elected “leaders” of AFGE Local 1904 should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.
2. The willfully ignorant. There’s a subset of people on Twitter who seem to have adopted Tucker Carlson as their entire personality. I suspect, but am not interested enough to try proving, that they’re likely the same as the ones who love Rothschild / CIA / Bohemian Grove global conspiracies. They’re definitely the ones begging people to “do your own research.” I’m honestly curious if these people would be capable of finding legitimate, scholarly, peer reviewed research reports. I’m almost positive they’re not out there setting up controlled, double-blind experiments or creating well-crafted research programs of their own. In fact, I doubt their ability to outline the scientific method at the high school level. There’s stupid and then there’s willful stupid. The latter, which seems to represent the loudest people on the internet, is largely unforgivable.
3. The local IT office recently changed whatever group policy governs our computers putting themselves to sleep. That’s a fact I only noticed when out of nowhere my laptop started issuing four or five loud beeps and then going blank while I was in the middle of reading anything particularly detailed, or when I ducked out to make a cup of coffee, or whenever I was actively in the middle of doing anything that wasn’t furiously typing or scrolling wildly through documents. I’m sure there’s a very good reason for why they’ve restricted our ability to tell our own computers when to drop into sleep mode, but for the end user it’s just an added aggravation. My employer, it seems, never passes up an opportunity to add one more tiny stumbling block in the workflow or make work just a little more unpleasant.
1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 30 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. I’m sure someone could make the case that there’s enough blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 30 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing to deliver for their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) and for continuing to stand in the way like some bloody great, utterly misguided roadblock. No one’s interest is served by their continued intransigence. The elected “leaders” of AFGE Local 1904 should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.
2. The reward for “good work.” Why is it the boss never stops by and says something like “hey, I see you’ve been busier than a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest, so we’re going to take some of that workload off your plate.” No. It’s always, “Hey, I know you’ve been busy as shit so as a reward for not fucking that up, we’re going to hand you another giant turd of a project that you’re going to abso-fucking-lutely hate because planning parties and events was never supposed to be part of your portfolio. Fuck my life. I really do need to dust off the old resume and see if anyone’s in the market for a surly middle-aged battle captain.
3. Personal comfort. Comfort is, almost by definition, subjective. If, let’s say, you’re one of four or five hundred people sitting in an auditorium, chances are you won’t be perfectly comfortable. You may be too hot or too cold depending on a lot of factors including where you’re sitting, where the vents are located, what you’re wearing, and how much body heat we need to dissipate or account for over the course of the day. I know some people think they’re special by virtue of their rank, or title, or who they work for, but the thing is, I nearly universally don’t care about any of those things. But hey, feel free to complain to me. Complain to the guys running check in. Complain to the guys in the sound booth. Complain to my senior rater’s senior rater if it makes you feel at all better. But I’m still not going to crank the heat up to 78 degrees and make everyone else in the room suffer when all you needed to do was put on a damned sweater.
I’ve spent the vast majority of my working week so far surrounded by “business developers.” Their mission in life seems to be hanging about being overly cheerful and engaging while trying to drive their hand into Uncle’s pocket as deeply as possible.
That’s fine. In theory at least. Everyone has a job to do and I don’t begrudge them for it. On the other hand, it puts me squarely in the middle of a room full of committed extroverts. The roar of them chattering during every break, the rush to the front in hopes of getting 2 or 3 minutes of face time with the most recent presenter, and their rank indifference to any civilized concept of personal space makes it an appalling experience.
In fact, the whole spectacle is exactly what I imagine my own personal hell would be like – loud, full of people, and entirely undignified. It’s exactly the kind of day I’d design if the intent was to set every nerve I’ve got on edge. Surely I’d starve if it were how I was forced to earn my salt.
At no time of year do I long for the dulcet tones of a dog snoring, or of reverential quiet of the region’s great antiquarian book shops, or the pop of the tonic cap before mixing it with a quality gin, more so than I do right now. The world of endless noise, grasping, and circular small talk is one for which I am constitutionally unsuited.
I’ll admit it. I’ve been letting the stress back up on me. I mostly assumed it was bleeding over from getting this damned government boondoggle through to the finish line next week. It’s not an unreasonable assumption. I like to think I carry it well, but it’s the kind of thing that wears on a guy as things reach their illogical end.
It wasn’t until I sat down last night and put my feet up after dinner that I realized how much lighter my own living room felt. Last night, with Anya returning healthy to the fold, was probably the first real night of peace I’ve enjoyed since Hershel died.
It was the first night in two months not overwhelmingly weighed down in missing my boy or worrying that the new girl was suffering catastrophic injury or that something would go wrong in surgery or during recovery. Then wondering if I’d ever manage to convince Cordy that under the bed is no place to live your life.
The last two months have been a chaotic mess – or at least what passes for a chaotic mess in my world. I hadn’t realized how much of that I was internalizing just to keep the whole thing plugging along. Now I’m just feeling an overwhelming sense of relief that maybe we’ve turned the flank of our current crisis and bought just a little bit of breathing room.
Last night, despite the racket of two cats periodically bouncing off the walls, was the best night’s sleep I’ve had since I couldn’t tell you when. There will be some other bridge that needs burning probably sooner rather than later, but for now I’m just going to go ahead and enjoy this moment of peace I didn’t know I needed.
If it’s possible, rehearsal week can be more awful than the actual production. It’s the week when everyone realizes they haven’t been paying enough attention as the big muscle movements take place during the planning process. They find, to their surprise, that all the major decisions have already been taken.
Rehearsals are for refining the concept – not for building something new from whole cloth. I’ll spend a large portion of this week digging in my heels, denying what would have been simple requests a month ago, and generally being an obstinate asshole. Sure, there are some who could, by applying enough pressure among the right people, force me to shift… but very few are going to be willing to exert that kind of effort.
One of the most important lessons of how to be a successful bureaucrat is learning how to say no. Sometimes you have to say it with honey dipped words. Other times you have to say it with claws out. Still, you have to learn to say it to friend and foe alike – and you have to learn how to make it stick.
This will be my annual week of saying no to almost everyone. It won’t win me any new friends, but I’ll drag this rank, festering boondoggle across the finish line. Once that’s done, no one much cares how often you had to tell then no.
The next two weeks are going to be dicey – at least in terms of getting anything resembling quality content and commentary ready to post. I’m not saying they’ll be non-existent, just that we’ll probably skip some days and the quality may be off on some others. A lot of what the immediate future holds will depend entirely on how I feel when I schlep home at the end of each day.
Being a creature who thrives on consistency, this will be a period of anything but. Add in most likely being able to reintroduce Anya to the mix in the middle of this stretch and we’re on the hook to have two weeks of anything but ordinary.
I never doubt my ability to trek through the batshittiest of batshit crazy days, but I do recognize that if something’s got to give, this bit of daily writing and editing will most likely be what I temporarily toss over the side first. Oh, I’m sure there will still be updates – and probably a fair amount of ranting and raving – just don’t expect it to land on time or with quite the normal level of penash or polish.
I got nothing. Seriously. It was as close to a standard day at the office as one could imagine. I answered some emails. I had a meeting. I ate a lukewarm Italian sausage from the local gut truck. I sent some more emails. And then it was time to come home.
Home, as you all know, is currently slightly more chaotic, given the medications schedule, trying to equalize what animals get to spend time in which rooms, and managing all the other basic household chores. Today, that routine offered nothing substantive to discuss. There’s only so many times I can reasonably subject you fine people to daily tales of the vaguely chaotic new normal that is this extended settling in period.
Likewise, I know April is going to be filled to overflowing with gripes and complaints about the project I just love to hate and all the various ways it finds to try flopping off the rails. So just now, while things are busy enough, there’s not much more to say that I’ve already said. Not that this situation usually keeps me shut up for long.
So, tonight is a breather – a mid-week chance to regroup – before launching into Thursday and whatever inevitably batshit crazy way this week decides to end.