Sunday, July 12, 2020

Two sad stories and an ongoing saga.

Mercury retrograde is over -- it ended early this morning Eastern Daylight Time -- but the chaos lingers on.

Sad story #1: Remember last week, when I told y'all I'd be able to stay on at my day job, working remotely, through the end of this year? Yeah, well, the happy dance we all did was premature. It turns out that Human Resources had a lot of problems with the idea of paying a staff member who wasn't living in a state where we had an office. "Red flags all over the place," was what I was told. A last-ditch effort late this week to salvage the plan fizzled. So my last day at the firm will be Friday, July 24th.

It's probably for the best. I had assumed we would be working from home for most of the rest of the calendar year. But no -- the firm's US offices are opening for Stage 1 of our carefully-thought-out five-stage reopening plan tomorrow. In Stage 1, everyone is expected to work remotely, but if there's an urgent business need, we may be called into the office. There are oodles of rules -- everybody needs to wear a mask, the number of people allowed in the office at one time is cut way back, the cafeteria is closed, and so on. But the bottom line is that the firm could conceivably require me to show up, in person, on short notice, and that would be impossible to do from Santa Fe.

So #EscapeVelocity is back on. More on that in a minute, but first...

Sad story #2: I've been entertaining my Facebook friends this week with the Story of This Chair.


Cute, right? Sometime this spring, I saw it on World Market's website. I wanted it; they wanted $500 for it (and still do); I regretfully turned away. But I used my Google-fu and discovered Target also had it, and for less. Then they ran a sale and an online coupon deal, which made the chair just $250. At that price, it was totally worth buying. So I ordered one. The delivery date was far in the future -- the first week of June -- but that was fine. I wasn't going to need it 'til I moved in July.

Sometime in late May, I began to get emails from Target, pushing back the delivery date. I received the final email on June 12th, saying the chair would arrive June 17th. Well, June 17th came but the chair didn't. So I called Target on the 20th. The customer service person said, "Have you spoken with our Higher-Level Team?" I said I didn't know they had one. So I got the phone number from her and called. This new customer service person gave me a Case Number and assured me I would receive an email shortly. Of course I didn't. So on the 29th, I called again. This time I mentioned that I was moving in July, and I needed the chair to be here by the 13th or I would have to cancel. That rep assured me my chair would arrive in plenty of time and to expect an email within 48 hours. You guessed it: no email.

On July 6th, I called again. This time I said I was pretty sure I was never going to get my chair and to just cancel the order. This nice rep said she would start two inquiries: one for the whereabouts of the chair and one for the cancellation. "Look for an email!" she said.

This time, I did get an email! My chair was to be delivered Thursday, July 9th! What we've surmised is the manufacturer printed the label on the 7th so it would get paid. Target charged my card for the chair on the 8th. And on the 9th...no chair.

On Friday the 10th, I called Target back to say the chair had never shipped. And the nice rep said his screen showed it had, in fact, shipped, and that FedEx would deliver it on Sunday, July 12th. Whoo hoo!

All day yesterday, I eagerly tracked this shipment -- from suburban Chicago, to the Pennsylvania Turnpike where the driver must have stopped for dinner, to Hagerstown, MD, very early this morning. By 6:30am today, the chair was on a FedEx truck, heading for my place!

You know what's coming, right? It's now 10:30pm, and I don't have my chair. FedEx has marked the delivery as Pending. Now, our leasing office is closed on Sundays, so it's possible the driver got here and couldn't get in the building. But why hasn't the status been updated to show the next delivery attempt? Which, honestly, needs to be tomorrow.

So I called FedEx customer service a little while ago. The nice rep has sent a message to the driver. Stay tuned.

Of course, the reason the chair needs to be here tomorrow is...

The Ongoing Saga: I'm moving, as you know. The container comes on Thursday. The movers are going to load it up for me and make sure it gets sent on its way to New Mexico. The chair isn't going to fit in the back of my car, so it has to go in the container. (So really my drop-dead date for the chair is Wednesday, but I wasn't going to tell Target that.)

As I said last week, I hit the road on the 27th. And as if this whole process hasn't been crazy enough, once I get to New Mexico, I get to self-quarantine for 14 days. Thanks, COVID-19. Good thing Santa Fe has Instacart, right?

So for the next three days, it'll be a little hairy around here while I'm packing my stuff -- and also while working on Tuesday and Wednesday, which I didn't originally expect to be doing. At least I was able to sell the IKEA wardrobe I've used as a closet since we moved here. It was a bear to put together, but it has been perfect for my needs for the past two-plus years. Today, a nice man came in, took it apart, paid me for it, and took it away. Things are looking up!

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These moments of hairy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Wear a mask!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

#EscapeVelocity update.

pxfuel.com
This post is going to be good news/bad news/good news, more or less.

As alert hearth/myth readers know, I have been counting down the days until I could retire from my day job and leave the Washington, DC, area. After a period of waffling, which I deemed "location research" so it didn't sound quite so bad, I decided at last to relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And after a further, mostly concurrent period of waffling, I settled on a date for my last day at work: Monday, July 6, 2020. Which is tomorrow.

The update, in short, is this: I'm still moving to Santa Fe, but tomorrow will not be my last day at work. And it's all thanks to COVID-19.

Like a whole lot of other companies, the law firm I work for sent everybody home with laptops in mid-March, as a test of whether our IT system could support the strain -- and then told us to stay there. We've been working from home ever since. This is a radical departure from the firm's historical stance on secretarial work. Our former manager once told me flat-out that legal secretaries would never be allowed to work from home. Well, that was then and this is now: Everything we do, with the exception of running errands, is done electronically. And a lot of the hands-on stuff -- for example, making sure catering is delivered for meetings -- isn't happening right now because our buildings are closed.

So as I said, we all went home. And then I went on my two-month sabbatical, as scheduled, on April 17th. When I "came back to work" on June 17th, we were still working remotely, but a whole bunch of stuff had changed. A new law -- the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act -- allows eligible employers to take a tax credit for keeping employees on their payroll. Our firm decided to take advantage of that. So most secretaries were switched to four-day-per-week work schedules. The few who were already working four days per week were moved to a three-days-per-week schedule. All of us got to keep our full-time pay and health care. (The changes do impact accrual of paid time off, but my PTO accrual was already whacked this year due to the sabbatical.)

Anyway, two things happened when I got back to work: 1) I was put on a three-day-per-week schedule for my last three weeks; and 2) the attorney I've worked for the longest persuaded me to stay on until the end of 2020 (not coincidentally, that's when the CARES Act provisions are set to end). I said I would do it if I could keep working remotely, even from New Mexico, and he said he didn't have a problem with that. It's a sweet setup for me: I get a part-time job at full-time pay, including benefits, and I can let my 401(k) recover for several more months. (Another plus is not having to get a part-time job to pay for Obamacare, as the job market is lousy for nearly everyone right now.)

There have been some nail-biting moments this past week, with more likely to come. While our Human Resources and Finance people have been figuring out how to do tax withholding for the resident of a state where we don't have an office, the "leaving the firm" machinery was still grinding away in the background. I received an email on Thursday from Payroll with a question about my final paycheck on 7/6. I told them I wasn't leaving. Then I forwarded the email to HR. A couple of hours later, I had a new tentative retirement date of 7/31. That gives the firm enough time (I hope!) to work out the rest of the tax withholding bugs so I can stay on 'til the end of the year.

Regardless, the movers will be here for my stuff on 7/16, and on the morning of 7/27 I am hopping in Eli and hitting the road for Santa Fe.

I say all this with some trepidation and a whole lot of gratitude. Nearly three million Americans have tested positive for this virus so far; as of today, 132,000 have died from it, and far more who have "recovered" continue to be sick; and millions have lost their jobs due to the economic shutdown. I realize how lucky I am to be able to keep my job and to retire on my own terms.

So that's the update: the Big Move West is still happening but retirement is delayed. And heads up that I probably won't be posting on Sunday, August 2nd.

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These moments of nail-biting blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

If you don't like what I like, that's okay.

tumisu | CC0 | Pixabay

I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of people in this world: the kind who know what they like, and the kind that think everyone would like what they like if only they gave it a chance.

This observation came to me after a conversation with friends on Facebook this week. The discussion was prompted by a meme that said: "If you could end Coronavirus by sacrificing one genre of music, what would it be and why country music?" I laughed and nodded, because I don't like country music. And then I shared it.

Some folks ignored, or read right past, the last four words and offered up their own nominees: opera, electronic dance music, dubstep, rap and/or hip hop, head-banger music, and polka all got their moment in the sun. And then somebody stood up for country, and I said I'd shared the meme because I don't like country. And then it was open season on people's taste in music. Mostly mine.

Maybe I asked for it by posting the meme in the first place. But I honestly thought folks would get a chuckle out of it and then scroll on by. Silly me.

To be clear: I like country rock -- the crossover stuff that was popular in the '60s and '70s. I like bluegrass. I tend to like folk music. But I don't like the stuff country radio stations play. Back in the early '80s, I worked in the news department of a country music station, and I could not stand the music. I don't know what it is -- whether it's the Southern accents or the twangin' guitars or the lyrical emphasis on beer and trucks and the good ol' USA -- but it just doesn't do it for me.

Well, a couple of folks took that as a challenge. "Listen to this song! How can you not like it?" Uh, because it's country? "But if you stopped listening in the early '80s, you haven't heard alt-country. Try this!" Okay...and nope. "Now this one, if you don't like it, you must be dead inside." Huh. I guess I'm dead inside.

Why do people do that? I mean, I've been known to inflict Flook on people, but only after they've said they like Irish trad.

No, really, I get it. I do. People fall in love with something and they want to share it. And music is a natural for that, being so tightly entwined with emotion as it is. The best music evokes a strong emotional reaction. We say it speaks to us.

Some of us are primed to hear the message of certain songs -- to feel the feelings the music is trying to evoke. And some of us just aren't. And that's okay.

If you like country music, have at it. More power to you.

And if you don't like Irish trad, that's okay, too.

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In case you followed the link above and wondered whatever happened to my adventure with the Smithsonian Boomers Chorus: I enjoyed the experience for what it was, but a lot of my fellow singers had no musical experience and we didn't have anywhere near enough rehearsals for those folks to perfect the music. Next time I'll look for a group with a higher level of musicianship, even if it means having to audition for a spot.

And also the spring session was canceled due to the coronavirus lockdown, just like everything else.

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Who's Flook? I'm glad you asked. Here's a taste -- but feel free to skip if it you don't like Irish trad.


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So what's going on with that #escapevelocity thing? We're closing in on the final days, aren't we?

We are. And some things are changing. The situation is still kind of fluid so I won't say more right now, but tune in next week for a full report.

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This bloggy musical interlude has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep washing those hands and wearing that mask!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Guerrilla warfare by social media.


There's an iconic photo circulating on social media of President Trump's rally in Tulsa, OK, last night. The photo was taken by Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford. I'd use the actual photo in this post, but Getty Images is distributing it, and those people would nail me for copyright infringement in a heartbeat. So imagine this: A sea of blue stadium seats like those in the copyright-free photo above, empty except for one. In it sits a man wearing a mask and holding a Trump campaign sign that says, "Make America Great Again." (If imagination isn't doing it for you, you can go here to see the photo. It truly is iconic.)

Alert hearth/myth readers know that I am a liberal. Well, a progressive. Actually, slightly to the left of the Dalai Lama. They also know I avoid talking about politics on my blog. So I will not speculate on what the low turnout (just 6,000 people, by the Tulsa Fire Department's estimate, in an arena with 19,000 seats) may portend for the president's chances for reelection. And I am definitely not going to get into the Trump campaign's excuses for the low turnout, and their dismissal of reports that a bunch of teenagers reserved so many of the free tickets that the campaign was tricked into believing a million people would show up.

Those kids, though. That's worth a blog post.

The New York Times reports it all began on June 11th, with a more-or-less innocuous tweet from the Trump campaign encouraging folks to use their phones -- otherwise known as pocket computers -- to reserve tickets to the rally. Fans of Korean pop music (known as "K-pop stans") began sharing the info on TikTok and encouraging their friends to grab some tickets with the intention of not showing up. Fellow members of Generation Z, or Zoomers, amplified the message on both TikTok and Twitter. Some videos featuring the sign-up information were viewed millions of times. The kids weren't stupid about it, though -- many of the videos were deleted after 24 to 48 hours to keep the Trump campaign from finding out.

They punked their parents, too. A number of adults tweeted after the rally that they were just now finding out their own teen had snagged a ticket or two or ten.

This is not the first time K-pop stans have been credited with -- or vilified over -- guerrilla warfare by social media. Late last month, Dallas police encouraged people who had video of illegal activity related to protests in the city to upload it to the police department's iWatch app. K-pop stans obliged with "fancams," or videos of their favorite performers singing and dancing. That crashed the app. When the police got it back online, the kids modified their tactics -- adding some actual protest footage to the front of the fancams. Thousands of these videos were uploaded before the cops shut down the app.

But back to the Tulsa rally. The kids are claiming victory, saying their efforts ruined President Trump's rally. There's some doubt about whether they affected attendance, as an unlimited number of tickets were available. Less in doubt is whether the prank affected the mood of the Trump campaign. I would hazard a guess the campaign's claim of handing out a million tickets was exaggerated by a factor of 10, at least -- but to have just 6,000 people show up when you were expecting 100,000 would be a gut punch for anybody.

I called this a prank a minute ago. But I think I came up with a better description above: guerrilla warfare. It's in the same spirit as the tactics used by American troops during the Revolutionary War. The Americans didn't have as many men as the British did, but they had learned guerrilla tactics from fighting Native Americans. So they waited in the shadows to pick off British troops one by one, or lured away a small group of British soldiers to a spot where the odds favored the Americans. Military historian Max Boot says the British troops couldn't handle it. "Armies do not like fighting guerrilla wars," he told NPR. "They regarded it as being beneath them, because they don't regard guerrillas as being worthy enemies."

I've heard time and again that we can't count on young people because they don't vote. And it's true that younger Americans don't turn out at the polls the way we older folks do. But that doesn't mean the kids can't be a force to reckon with, and I think we dismiss them at our peril.

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These bloggy song-and-dance moments have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wear a mask! Wash your hands!