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Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:40 pm

Regular gerbil and frequent R&P contributor Darkmage was affected by the now-ended gov't shutdown. To pass the time he authored a daily chronicle over in R&P. The mods have looked it all over and the content isn't R&P. In fact, it's damned funny and a send-up of the ugly side of gov't, your fellow co-workers. After requesting and receiving permission from Darkmage, we've taken several posts and turned it into a single document and brought it here to the 'Porch.

It'd be really nice if the comments stayed away from R&P. The first hint of it and this gets locked. I was going to lock it from the start but I have this silly belief in gerbils doing the right thing. That said, here we go:

The Shutdown Diary


[Day One was just me sitting at home in shock, rocking back and forth as my life came crashing to a halt]

Day Two of the Shutdown. The lack of an undersecretary for public relations has forced me to issue my own press releases. Reception has been mixed, as most of the people who read them are also deemed non-essential".

Right now, our chief concern is if we have enough supplies of coffee to make it through the harsh Washington winters.


Day three of the gov't shutdown. While wandering the wastelands, I stumbled across a small group of refugees from the Department of Education's Office of Diversity Enrichment. They were huddled in the snack bar of a closed park, burning post-it notes for warmth. They had been through a lot, but managed to survive using six-sigma techniques and a crowbar to get through the door. They were a sorry lot. Frightened. Confused. Unsure of their agenda for their next staff meeting. Tragic figures in a world gone mad.

I ate their livers with a bag of Skittles and a Monster energy drink.


Day Four of the Shutdown. The days are becoming shorter but feel longer. There is an itch in the back of my mind, brought on by the absence of something I had taken for granted. Living in the DC area has made me soft. I haven't had a fix in days and I'm starting to feel the symptoms. I always thought I could quit whenever I wanted. In the next few days, my body will tell me if I was correct or just fooling myself.

Oh god, I haven't had a project meeting in almost a week! I think about them constantly. I am not yet experiencing the DTs, but I sense them lurking ahead like a forest fire over the next hill. I hunger for the comfort of ugly office furniture and too-stiff mass produced gray fabric chairs. Throughout the day, I smell the white board markers at random times and I catch myself planning LOE estimates on cooking rice.

I've gathered the pets together in the dinning room to discuss our plans for raking the leaves. It's not the same, but maybe it will do. The cat has some pretty good ideas.


Day Five of the Shutdown. The rains have started. Water now collects upon the roof because the gov't has not inspected the gutters to make sure they are up to code. The lawn is drinking in the unregulated runoff in flagrant violation of federal guidelines. I can't tell yet, it's probably acidic due to nobody enforcing pollution standards and will eat through a roof in a matter of hours.

I seek shelter beneath an overpass, but I and six other "NonEssentials" are kicked out by a dozen funded employees of the Department of Transportation. When the gov't starts back up, they'll open the overpass to the vagrants and homeless again. This is annoying, as we beat those bums in a rumble fair and square. Doubly annoying as I was hoping for more liver from my fellow NonEssentials. They were going to have to sleep at some point.

On the positive side, the rain on my face is pleasant and cooling this October of Global Warming. Having to stay off the federally funded highways is annoying, and I am forced to risk the packs of looters and cannibals on the surface streets. I dart from landscaped clumps of bushes to telephone poles, warily searching for danger. It's a tense day, but the light rain aids my stealth and refreshes my soul. It makes squishy noises in my shoes, makes my scalp cool and washes the blood of the hobos off my hands and clothing.

And for a minute or two, all is okay in the world.


Day Six of the shutdown. I look back upon my life two weeks ago and I find myself missing the stress of making decisions. Sure, I complained at the time and spent the workday a nervous ball of frustrated energy... my coworkers could recognize the signs and learned to "Stay away from Darkmage on his rabies days" and all that. I would have pulled my hair out except for hair and I parted ways a few years ago.

Should I eat lunch at my desk? Do I document this now or after unit testing? Should we hit this house with a drone strike or simple artillery? I miss the sense of relief when I committed to a decision. The simple joy of typing in method annotations or filling out the strike package paperwork. They were a simple pleasure at work and had the added bonus of making the voices stop their whispering for a time.

[As an aside, the whispers stop when you turn up the volume on your headphones. Somebody - and I'm not naming names - decided to move the sliders on the computer's volume interface. Did you know that BBC's World Service Podcast at really low volumes sounds like a horde of demons with British accents? Some people get voices in their heads telling them to go on rampages. I get demons obsessed with soccer. But I digress.]

Those were intense, but fun days. Now, look at me! My greatest decision all day is whether or not to slip into a federal park and hunt furloughed middle managers, or eat leftovers.


Day 7 of the shutdown. We have a tradition at the office of the "Vulture Table". If at any time you brought in too much food, or had a birthday where your team didn't consume an entire sheet cake from Costco, or you just wanted to get rid of the 2nd item from that 2-for-1 deal, you could put it on the Vulture Table. Anyone in the office could take as much as they like from the Vulture Table, up to and including the whole thing (though you would get funny looks if you took the remains of a sheet cake back to your desk).

I miss the Vulture Table. Occasionally, a team would order a deli platter or pizza and I could swipe enough to go without lunch. I picked up a pound of pumpkin spice coffee once. Good times.

The Vulture Table has given me an idea. I'm taking a fold-up table out to Rock Creek Park today. There's a pack of HR managers from the Dept. of Commerce that have taken refuge in the trees there and I've been trying to get them for days. I'm going to set up the table under a tree and it being Wednesday, I'll be using bagels and donuts as bait. When they come for the free donuts, I shall pounce!

And when I have enough of them... by god, we WILL have a staff meeting.


Day 8 of the shutdown. The long darkness of the soul now creeps about the house as I fearfully look out upon a world without a federal government. I spend the hours watching the windows in case a roving pack of compliance management officers make an assault upon the Darkmage Compound. I look at my stocks of provisions - the remains of half a cow, some canned food, a frozen dinner or two, a handful of vegetables - and I wonder if I should venture outside to forage in a world without meat inspectors. Dare I risk making the trek to the Harris Teeter if they aren't being inspected for EEOC compliance? Is is safe if OSHA isn't making sure they have the proper number of handicap ramps in the parking lot?

I have enough supplies to last for the rest of the week. Beyond that is the unknown. I'll deal with it tomorrow, for today I have purpose.

Today, I am keeping my skills sharp for when I return to work. If our long national nightmare ever ends, I need to be able to jump right back to work without any significant time to ramp back up to full speed. To that end, I have prepared a 25 page PowerPoint presentation for the household.

It seems *someone* has been using the executive litterbox without authorization. The main audience for my presentation is one of the dogs, but both the two dogs and the cat shall be in attendance as part of my efforts to maximize knowledge sharing and action item synergies. I will review the industry standards on litterbox activities with all parties so that we can develop a roadmap for effective litterbox optimization and testing. I am confident that this meeting will go well. If not... Well, don't make me break out the Excel spreadsheets.


Day 9 of the Shutdown. As the days drag on with no end in sight, I am forced to become creative in order to sustain myself. Where I could once find rich sources of NonEssential employees I now see only empty Wegmans parking lots and abandoned Pho restaurants. Clever beings, these middle managers: They've learned what stalks their feeding grounds and have changed their routines.

I am creating a hunting blind, of sorts, to enable me to get close to my prey without alerting the herd. It is crude, but I think I have a decent mock-up of a 2007 Honda minivan that I can use to approach without being seen. Today was the first test run and it worked well, but not quite well enough. They scattered when I approached within 30 yards or so. If I add a few more "Coexist" bumper stickers, I think I'll have a working disguise.

Baiting the parking lots of various federal parks with the Vulture Table has met with success. I feel uncomfortable hunting over bait, as it were, but desperate times call for desperate measures. My last haul was good: 3 Human Resource officers and 2 Public Relations staffers fell to my nets. Alas, the last one expired after hour 6 of my planning meeting. The fix from drawing up a project roadmap with benchmarks should last me until Monday.

Monday. I used to dread Mondays. Now, I look at them with... hunger.


Day 10 of the Shutdown. The dreams have returned and they're getting worse. I wander the wastelands of Washington in a daze, unsure of what is real and what is the unbidden product of the wisps of my mind. I can feel my grip on the present situation fraying as I chase sounds and ghosts through the forests of the closed National Parks, desperately calling the meetings to order. Come back, my fellow NonEssentials! Return with me to the old ways! To days of meetings and after action reports and roadmaps gilded with padded hours and bovine excrement! We can be a family of middle management again. All you have to do is take my hand and submit your slide deck...

Is that a dry erase marker before me, it's handle towards my hand? Come, let me clutch thee! I have you not, but I smell your pungent odor.

I am getting desperate as the days stretch into our uncertain future. I have taken to DIY measures to compensate for the lack of federal government services. The meat I buy has not been inspected, so I have to cook it instead of ripping into it like a wolf. The lack of the FCC has tempted me to copy a movie I own to my backup drive - I shut down my network as a precautionary measure. I nearly used a chainsaw without OSHA-approved safety gear last week and had to improvise with dryer sheets and a road flare. Oh god, I am so lost...

It's a state of madness out here. And I'm rapidly joining it.


Day 11 of the Shutdown. Adapting to life without a federal government has been a learning process. As I rapidly cross the vast wasteland of our nation's capital, darting from an abandoned specialty cupcake store to a Lexus dealership parking lot, I note the changes in my behavior. Where I once strolled down the sidewalk, I now creep from cover to cover lest I startle my prey of wild NonEssential personnel. Where I once smirked and shook my head at the wildcat garden in a park I now glide through the rows of arugula, looking for fresh signs of my prey. A torn Old Navy jacket here, a Birkenstock print there, a faint whiff of the Adminosphere... I pause in the shade offered by a NEA-funded artwork to collect what I have learned in the past weeks.

1) Middle management flocks together, seeking protection from danger in manageable groups of 8-12 personnel. They call these groups "charge codes" and is somehow related to their social hierarchy.

2) While appearing docile, the wild NonEssential is crafty and hard to catch, subdue and tie to a conference room chair. They also make a displeasing sound when the meeting starts that I can only describe as a "mewling".

3) Do not eat the FDA food you find at their loading docks, no matter how many times they put "organic" on the label. Apparently this was food submitted for testing and will make you see sounds, taste colors and believe you are a lime wedge.

4) When baiting your snares, Krispy Kreme is harder to come by but is vastly superior to Dunkin Donuts.

5) Your average NonEssential is good for about 4 hours of status meeting. You can extend this by adding more NonEssentials to the meeting to share the load and keep from prematurely draining them of their will to live.

6) With enough NonEssentials, you can extend the meetings long enough to satisfy your cravings and then start up again the next day. But then you have to support and contain them overnight and that's getting into ranching.

7) Free-range NonEssentials are definitely more tender. And organic!


Day 12 of the Shutdown - Epilogue
Like so many others, I returned to work today. DIY conference rooms and PowerPoint slides made from stolen indy band fliers are no substitute for the real thing. It's good to be back amongst my friends at work and back to obliterating small villages with drone strikes. Ah, the comfort of simple routine. Plus dry erase markers!

When asked what I did during the shutdown, I mumble something about my video game collection, yard work and cooking ridiculous amounts of food on the grill. I smile slightly and try not to think of the tension and desperation of not knowing when my next deadline was due, nor the shakes I would get without a hit of the markers. It is best that they not know how close I came to going feral.

We spin in our uncomfortable office chairs and tell each other tales of the Shutdown of 2013... and then the tone of the conversation gets hushed as the teller's eyes get slightly wider and they speak of their brush with catastrophe. They speak of the rumors, told to them from a friend who's brother was a press release proofreader, or their mother who managed a website redesign over at HUD... the rumors of the Thing that stalked middle management, capturing the slow and the gullible and forced them to set meeting agendas and redesign system architectures to comply with ever-changing security requirements.

The tales become fantastic as they speak of "Diablo de Cathedra Rota" which I believe means "Devil of the Spinning Chair". He appears from nowhere, scooting along in a office chair smeared with ink, a binder clip in one hand and a laser pointer in the other. He steals your cubicle mate and wears a necklace of his victims' laminated access badges around his neck. Run! If you are caught, you shall endure meetings without end, agendas without focus and bad cafeteria food. At night, you can sometimes hear their sobs on the backs of the wind, carried aloft by teleconference equipment.

I listen to these tales and realize what I have unwittingly created. I have become the stuff of nightmares of these good people I work with! I have terrorized these poor office workers with my cravings for order and routine. I am selfish need over fellowship. I am the stuff of office nightmares and 15-point action strategies for mitigation. I am ashamed. I am sorry.

Death is a side effect of birth.
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Re: Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:04 pm

I'd take a two-week vacation with deferred pay if I had that option.
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Re: Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sat Oct 19, 2013 4:27 pm

Bravo, bravo. :D
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Re: Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sat Oct 19, 2013 5:52 pm

Awesome. Should be made into a short film, it's all there. ;)
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Re: Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sat Oct 19, 2013 8:57 pm

Glad it got shared in the Back Porch. Bravo!
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Re: Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sun Oct 20, 2013 8:31 am

JustAnEngineer wrote:
I'd take a two-week vacation with deferred pay if I had that option.

So would I. It wasn't an option in my case.
If there is one thing a remote-controlled, silent and unseeable surveillance/killing machine needs, it’s more whimsy. -- Marcus
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Re: Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sun Oct 20, 2013 10:44 am

Well written. Are you still considered "non-essential?"

Reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon. All of it.
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Re: Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sun Oct 20, 2013 1:10 pm

BIF wrote:
Well written. Are you still considered "non-essential?"
Reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon. All of it.
My actual status flickered a bit in the days leading up to the shutdown. The Thursday before, I was told that because I was maintaining/upgrading a production system, I would be considered "essential" and be one of the 22 or so still working. Most of the people in my vault are working on a new system that's not in production yet, so it was pretty obvious that they were "non essential".

The very next day, there was an all-hands meeting where we were told that the actual number was 3 and only those people would be around because they had to load data manually into the various systems and that job couldn't be automated. If things weren't resolved over the weekend, we would work Monday and be allowed 4 hours on Tuesday to gracefully shut down the nonessential systems (development servers, networks, copiers, etc.).

On Monday, we were told that it didn't make a lot of sense to fight traffic to come to work, work half a day and then fight traffic to go home, so wrap it all up by the end of the day. This includes things that you don't normally consider, such as removing every trash can from the vault, emptying the refrigerator, shutting off the k-cup machine, shutting down the local LAN, shutting down every workstation, etc. We also were told that the 22 "not essential but still working on existing systems" people were "on call" so don't leave the area and stay near your cell phones. Oh joy.

So that was Monday. By Wednesday, I was writing up performance reviews of the dogs and counseling the cat on his poor work ethic.
If there is one thing a remote-controlled, silent and unseeable surveillance/killing machine needs, it’s more whimsy. -- Marcus
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Re: Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sun Oct 20, 2013 6:38 pm

Well done, Darkmage! You win a dozen internet cookies! They are available on the Vulture Table.
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Re: Darkmage's Shutdown Diary

Sun Oct 20, 2013 6:46 pm

superjawes wrote:
Well done, Darkmage! You win a dozen internet cookies! They are available on the Vulture Table.

Just don't try to take them all back to your desk at once... but you knew that.
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