Throwing in the towel*

Lately B. and I have been arguing about this stupid thing, which is why someone who runs a mitigation bank would be reluctant to sell credits.

“Well, they don’t want to run out. It’s like a Target; if you go there once and they don’t have what you need, you might switch over to Walmart and never go back to Target,” B. says.

“No, it’s nothing like that. It’s more like a lemonade stand, and once you sell all the lemonade you can get on with your life. You don’t want repeat customers because then you’d have to sit at the end of the driveway for the rest of your life. It’s a good thing to run out,” I reply.

This goes on for a bit, over the wall, until he comes around to my side to make a point, but he’s rubbing his elbow, and I ask what’s wrong.


“Me too! I have tendonitis in my elbow too. I think it’s from using a mouse.”

He makes a crude gesture to indicate the source of his repetitive motion injury, which makes me feel like I’m in junior high school. Fortunately, the pager goes off, summoning me to the Permit Center.

“If I had to do that every day like you do, I would definitely drink in the morning,” he comments.

I go downstairs, and there’s a woman with two kids in tow, maybe 9 and 11. She’s pretty friendly, and remarks that she appreciates these two hours where you can drop in and get questions answered. I ask if the time is a good one for people like her, meaning people who I would assume might be putting kids on the bus in the morning.

“Oh, no, that’s not an issue, because we home school.”

She’s thinking of buying property, and she has a sketch of it showing the wetland and it’s buffers, and it looks pretty constrained. I go into my spiel about that, and how since she doesn’t own it yet, she might want to really think about the restrictions, blah di blah blah.

“All I really need to know from you is what this measurement is.” She indicates the distance between the wetland edge and the road.

“Well, this is a sketch, and it shows approximately that distance. You could scale it off of this sketch, or, if you need it to be more accurate, you could get it surveyed.”

“I think you must already know the measurement. I was told you would.”

“Hmm, maybe there’s a surveyed map in the file. I’ll go see if I can find something.” So I run upstairs, and I find the file, and blah di blah blah, same sketch, no survey, but there is a report that I photocopy and bring back to her.

“Well, it doesn’t look like we have a survey, but here’s a report about the wetland.”

“So, how would I found out what that measurement is?”

“Well, you might call this consultant who prepared the report, to see if it’s been surveyed.”

“You keep talking about a survey, but I just want to know the measurement.”

It takes us a few go-arounds for me to understand that she doesn’t know the meaning of the word “survey”, so I explain it to her.

“A survey is when someone takes the measurements and then puts it down on a map.”

“OH! That’s awesome! This is so great that you guys do this. So, how would I get one of those?”

I suggest that she call the consultant to see if they have one, and she asks how they’ll know what she’s talking about, and I say she should give them the project number on the front of the report, and she asks how she could find their phone number, and I circle the spot where it’s printed on the front of the report, and she asks if they’ll know what “survey” means, and I say yes.

I’m trying not to imagine the homeschooling that’s going down in this household, because it starts to make me really sad, because she’s sweet like Phoebe. but not as smart.

“So, am I all set, then?”

“Well, I really want to caution you that given this map that you show me, the whole site is wetland and buffer, so it will be difficult to develop.”

“I don’t know exactly what you mean?”

So we go down that road for a while, and I explain that our code requires that 75-foot undisturbed buffers be protected around the wetland, which leaves barely any room for a house.

“But I think I’ll just use the 25 foot buffer. That would be much better.”

I explain that she doesn’t really get to decide, but she’s pretty convinced that she can use 25 foot buffer. So I finally look it up on the computer, and voila, it turns out that the parcel has been incorporated into one of the cities since the study was done, meaning I should have looked it up half an hour ago, but I didn't.

So I explain that maybe the 25 foot buffers are what the city requires, but she should definitely go talk to the city, because the county won't be involved with it any more.

“How would I find out where the city is?”

The thought bubble above my head is saying, “have you heard of the internet?” But I keep my mouth shut and google that particular city, and print out the page that gives the address and phone number. I put a star by the address. “Here’s the address of where you’ll need to go to get your questions answered.”

“But how would I find the phone number?”

So I put two stars by the phone number, and she is super grateful, but asks again how she could get the measurement. We go around about that for a while longer, and I start thinking that maybe drinking in the morning isn’t such a bad idea.

I finally return to my cubicle, and Ms. Pasta and B. are talking about a trip that Ms. Pasta is taking. She happens to have a summer house guest who is also named Ms. Pasta, which, well, you can see how strange that is, given that I bet none of you even know anyone named Ms. Pasta, and there are now two in one house.

“So, Ms. Pasta and I are going to the ocean,” says Ms. Pasta.

“I don’t believe there really is another Ms. Pasta. I think she’s just your imaginary friend. I’ve got an imaginary friend too, named B,” says B.

I chime in. “B., speaking of imaginary friends, is that life sized plush doll of yourself that you had commissioned finished yet?”

“No. She never made it. I think I gave her $50, too. Speaking of things that are a mess, what about those squirrels in your attic?”

At this point, J. arrives, the way he does. “Well, what’s this about squirrels in the attic? Oh, I have a live trap. I’ll loan it to you.”

We discuss that for a while, and I just imagine the whole scenario, not in a good way. Moving one squirrel at a time to some far away location, separating the family of rodents from one another, possibly getting bitten, and undoubtedly listening to the whimpering of a trapped animal during the night.

So I return to my private little investigative research on a topic of interest, which I can’t describe here, but the results leave me rather discouraged about the way things are being done in our office.

The Great Sandini arrives, and we bring it up. “Hey, GS, things seem to be a giant mess. Like, look at this example.”

He looks at it, and give one of his answers that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, so I say, “hey, GS, I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty hard to care about things around here right now.“

“Why do you say that?”

B. and I both bust out laughing, but he acts like he seriously doesn't have a clue why we'd be completely discouraged. 

“Okay, Great One, you know those experiments where they take the baby chimp away and replace it with a towel, and the mother chimp, who used to love the baby, transfers all that devotion to a towel? Yeah, well that’s what it’s like around here, but I’m having trouble summoning the devotion for a towel.”

“I don’t understand what you mean, Betsy.”

“Um, I mean it’s hard to care about stuff here right now.”

“Oh, that’s so not true! There’s plenty to care about.”

“Give me three things that you care about.  Today.”

“Um….” He does that thing where he takes the palm of his left hand to his right jaw and cracks his neck, which I think means he wants a cigarette badly. “Well, I care about the new fee ordinance. And the process improvement plan.”

B. interrupts, “That’s a freakin’ towel, GS! You actually do care about the towel!”

I still have the squirrels and possibly other rodents nesting in the attic.


  1. I am imagining everyone in the office clutching their proxy towels tightly and saying, "What the hell are you talking about, Betsy?"

  2. Yes, Natchrl8r, that's the way it is. Exactly.

  3. I have elbow tendonitis too - definitely from the mouse.


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