Category Archives: Work

Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead

On June 8th, I did a post called “Why Are There Evil People?” I’ve been going through a situation at work where an employee (specifically, the assistant manager) has been trying to get me fired since the week before Memorial Day in May. She wrote an eight-page letter to my Corporate office, detailing all my alleged failures. She convinced three of my employees to sign on to the letter. She tried to get at least three others to sign on, but they refused. The rest were either too new, or in one case at least, too loyal to me, for her to even ask. I’ve never seen this letter in person, but I know what’s in it due to her having shown it to one of the employees who refused to sign on, who was perfectly willing and eager to share the contents with me.
In addition to listing my alleged shortcomings, part of the letter extolled her qualifications. She claimed that I didn’t do much of anything anyway, and what little I do, she knew how to do it too. Because of her dedication and laudable work ethic, she would be more than happy to take on additional responsibilities, which would have the added bonus of saving the company money (my salary). Showing a complete lack of understanding of my role, which isn’t that uncommon. She believes that work is made up of a series of tasks, and she has always missed the big picture…which is called “management”.
Have you ever seen the TV reality show “Big Brother”? This is one of this person’s favorite shows. Here’s how it works: A large group of complete strangers are placed in a house (the “Big Brother House”). They can’t leave the house except for going into the back yard. There are competitions, and the winner is named Head of Household (“HOH”). The HOH then nominates three people to be evicted, and a vote is taken during a house meeting, and one person gets thrown out. The objective is to be the last person standing. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the level of deception and scheming it requires to “win”.
For the purposes of this post, we will call the assistant manager person “Catherine”, and here was Catherine’s first mistake: she believes that real life is like Big Brother. That you can form an alliance with other people and “vote out” somebody you don’t like.
Cutting to the chase, on Thursday afternoon at 4:45 my boss informed me that on Friday, they were eliminating “Catherine’s” position. And that took place on Friday morning. He said that his observations and analysis of my operation (based on two visits of one day each in six months) did not require an assistant manager position.
I think this means one of three things, or a combination.
1. He really believes this, in which case he’s wrong.
2. He’s under pressure to cut expenses, making the company appear to be more profitable. Rumor has it that the company is quietly for sale.
3. This is the safest way to resolve what HR called the Fakename versus Catherine camps. Now everyone has to depend on me, whether they like it or not. And some of them won’t like it. “Catherine” was sweet, or apparently so. She has this sweet little girl voice, which grated on my nerves every time she opened her mouth in the last two months. But HR correctly described her as passive-aggressive. Her apparent sweetness hides the heart of a rattlesnake. I’m not mean, but I’m not sweet. I’m fair, and I’m straightforward.
Eliminating the position will mean I have to work more and longer hours. Is it worth it? You bet it is.
If money were the sole issue, my company could have saved more by eliminating my position instead, but they couldn’t really have done that. Every city has to have a General Manager…you can’t eliminate that position. So they would have had to fire and replace me…without cause, other than allegations made by employees that are emotionally based, speculative and unprovable. In addition, I have the double protection of being female and over 40. Not that I think I need to rely on that, but if forced, I would be in the lawyer’s office tomorrow.
The real deal is, I’m good at what I do. Yesterday, I talked to my old boss, whose position was “eliminated” back in February. He said, you’re safe for now. Your main client would have a coronary if they replaced you. Nice. But, he said, don’t feel too safe. Well, who ever does feel safe in corporate America?
But there are some secrets for surviving corporate culture. One of them is, Don’t draw attention to yourself in some negative way. Whether it seems that way to you or not, your bosses are busy. They don’t need the added interruption of dealing with a personnel issue that you created. And they do have to respond whether they like or not, and they will resent it. “Catherine” is not smart enough to understand that.
In the end, here’s what I think: I win, you lose.

Why Are There Evil People?

And what makes them that way?
I’m not familiar enough with the teachings of other religions, but at least as far as the Christian religion is concerned, this question is as old as, well, as old as Christianity. If the One God is omnipotent, why does he allow evil, when he could wipe it out singlehandedly?
It made a lot more sense to me to have a variety of gods (a la the Greeks, Romans, and Scandinavians) who had virtually equal powers. Some days the good guys won, some days they lost. It seems to me you get into a lot of philosophical trouble with the whole monotheism thing. I can’t figure out how it ever caught on.
In our lifetimes, I suggest that Adolf Hitler is what we consider the personification of Evil, although there are many other evil people in the past who were at least as bad as he was.
The explanation I most often hear is, God gave people free will so they could choose good or evil. But wait. Why is there evil at all? It seems like the choice might have been between good and less good.
The other answer, which is a little easier to swallow, is “I don’t know”. God is inscrutable and beyond our understanding, so we can’t begin to question the whole thing. Well why not? Why didn’t God make it easier for us dumb critters to understand?
Evil, I think, is a little like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described pornography: “I know it when I see it”.
I think of it as trying to hurt animals or people who are weaker than you and can’t fight back, or trying to hurt someone for personal gain.
This is the exact scenario I’m going through at work, with a person who literally began a campaign to get me fired, hoping she would replace me. I’m not imagining that; she said it outright. She has read my email, gone through my desk, taken pictures of me secretly with her cell phone, accused me of being a thief, and had numerous conversations with other employees to try to win them over to her “side”. In some cases it’s worked; in others, it hasn’t.
I am mystified as to why she still works for my company. And I am hurt, and shocked. All I ever did was try to help her succeed. And I feel like a complete idiot for trusting her. I will never understand it ever, but I do know this: she’s evil. I know it when I see it.

Excuse Me? Communication in a Cube-Free World

My workplace is “open plan”, by which I mean, we don’t even have cubicles, much less doors. We used to have cubicles, but I removed them. Granted, we have no privacy, but we didn’t have privacy with cubicles either. It was just an illusion.
All our office phones are cordless, so that if you need to have a private conversation, you can step outside.
I can’t remember who pioneered this door-free, cube-free office environment, but it was Apple, or Microsoft, or Google (who can keep them straight?) The idea was that it would foster more spontaneous communication, and therefore more creativity.
In my office, there are anywhere between two and five people ranged at desks here and there. There is enough space to work in comfortably, but if a sixth person comes in, say, a customer, you start to feel a little squeezed. It’s quite amazing how we seem to have these personal boundaries.
So last week, one of my employees received a phone call at the office, just before he was to get off at about two P.M. Remember the cordless phones? This would have been a prime time for him to take advantage of that. Here’s how his end of the conversation went:
“5:00 P.M.? Sure. That sounds great. I’ll bring the canola oil and the garlic.”
Once he hung up, I waited about a minute (timing being everything)and said to no one in particular, “Don’t you want to know what the other person is bringing?” Everyone in the office erupted in laughter.
He said it was for fishing. He and his friend were going to dip the bait worms in a mixture of canola oil and garlic to remove the human smell.
It took me about 10 more minutes for that one, but I eventually asked how it was that fish could smell. He said, okay fish can’t smell, but they have gills, and they take in oxygen that way, so there’s a possibility that they can sense humans. I looked at him blankly, and he said, Okay, I read it in a fishing magazine. It’s an experiment, okay?
I take away two things from this: I bet next time he remembers to take the phone call outside, and fishermen are the craziest and most superstitious group of people in the world.

To Work or Not To Work?

That is the question.
I have to start thinking about it, whether I like it or not. Even writing this makes me anxious. Of course, a lot of things make me anxious, so what’s new?
For the non-U.S. readers here, here’s how it works: people who work pay into a government fund called “Social Security”. The law establishing it took effect in 1935. When you work, a certain amount of each paycheck goes into the fund. When you reach a certain age (currently, 62), you become eligible to start getting that money back in monthly installments.
That’s the simplistic explanation. Age 62 is the earliest you can begin receiving retirement benefits (earlier if you are disabled, but that’s a whole other topic), but you only get a percentage at that age, currently 75%, Depending on when you were born, your “full” retirement age, at which you get 100% of your benefits, is later. In my case, age 66. And I’m almost there. And I don’t want to retire.
I know a couple of people who are recently retired, others who have been retired for a while, and many others who haven’t yet retired but are greatly looking forward to it. But I wonder, what would I do with myself? And I like the validation that work brings.
Last week I met with a bunch of contractors and a developer regarding an operation I’m about to be in charge of. It was about eight guys and me…not uncommon in my business. The contractor guys were like a bunch of chained pit bulls. Teeth bared, waiting for signs of weakness from the other guys, lots of testosterone flying around. Once the growls and the posturing died down, developer guy would turn to me and say, “Do you think this idea will work?” That was very cool. Where else would I get that?
Later, in the elevator, developer guy said he wanted to thank me because he so appreciated my advice and counsel. As long as I can continue to get that sort of reaction, and form those sorts of relationships, I’m safe.
But the reality is…I am getting older. My company can’t fire me for being old, but they can fire me for failure to perform. I’m a manager. I know how this works. And I fear that will happen at some point, but I don’t want it to.

Let’s Make Small Talk, Shall We?

Small talk is way underrated.  And what do people make small talk about?  Sports and weather.  No wonder news programs have segments of both, at least here in the U.S.  That way you have something to talk about the next day at work.

It might be intellectually gratifying not to ever open your mouth unless you have something profound and philosophical to say, but that is not a path to happy social interaction.  On that note, there is a new book called Quiet, about introverts and how they think.  And why you shouldn’t hate them.  I might read it.

I am personally schizophrenic about it.  I’m fanatic about having time alone.  Every day, I come home from work and decompress by sitting at my picnic table in the back yard for about an hour and a half reading. On the other hand, my job is very public, and I love that too.  I love meeting and talking to people I otherwise would have never have had the opportunity to meet.  I love little strange and random encounters with other people which mostly happen in the grocery store.

Case in point:  I have these sunglass thingies which attach to your regular eyeglasses and flip up and down.  So one day I’m standing at the customer service desk at the grocery store and a guy next to me says, I see you have your eyelids flipped up.  (What?  This made no sense to me.)  He says, your sunglasses.  Did you know those were invented by baseball players?  (What?)  He says baseball players flip them up when they have to look at the sky to catch a fly ball.  I have absolutely no idea whether that’s true or not.  But how could you resist that conversation?

Of course, that small talk thing can also be taken to extremes, for example, if that’s all you do and you can’t stop yourself.  I have a person like that in my office at work, and I have yet to come up with a way to stifle her.  Even though I’m in charge.  I keep hoping someone else will hurt her feelings and make her shut up.  But she’s remarkably immune to any hint that she might be boring everyone.

Mondays are the absolute worst. We have to hear about every movie she watched…for three days!  Because she and her boyfriend watch one every night. We have to hear about whether or not they saw the end or fell asleep watching it, and whether or not the boyfriend turned over in bed, and whether the bedroom window was open, and what they had for dinner and who cooked it.   Are you getting the picture here?

I have asked my assistant manager to speak to her about it nicely.  Because I can be nice, but by the time I speak to you about something, I am never perceived as nice.  It’s not that I’m bad at it, it’s a perception issue that I can’t overcome.  Comes with the territory.

One of the issues this person has is with temperature (thus, window open or closed, window air conditioner on or not, etc. )  She’s like Goldilocks.  The porridge is always too hot or too cold, it’s never just right. One day she said she was hot in the office and I said I would turn the temp down a degree, but it seemed to me she was never happy.  She said (bravely) that she thought I was wrong.  That she made an effort every day to come to work happy.

Well.  It’s like she just has to get this stuff out of her head.  I get that!  It’s why I write a blog!  I would recommend that to her, but she doesn’t have access to the Internet.  Wonder how I know that?

On the other hand, except at work, I am very good at small talk about the weather.  Unfortunately I am not equipped to hibernate.  I’d like to.  Wake me up in February.  It’s getting cooler.  The days are shorter.  I hate it.  I hate it when people say the air is “crisp”.  I hate crisp.

Green Trash…and Management School

I have previously posted about trash, when the City passed an ordinance that you had to bring your rolling trash containers from the street back to wherever you keep them. within 24 hours of trash pickup.  And you can’t take them to the street until the evening before pickup day.

Fortunately for me, that regulation only applies within the city limits, and I live a happy half-mile outside those limits, in the County.  I tend to think that we are a lot more laissez-faire in the County.  Plus, I live in the kind of neighborhood where no one gives a rat’s ass about where your trash container is.  If you want the front of your house to be advertised by trash, so be it.

So at work, I wanted something to be shredded.  My operation was recently audited by the City, so I’m very sensitized to the need for paper trails.  I wanted shredding, because they will give you an official “Certificate of Destruction”.  I don’t care whether they actually shred it or not.  I still have proof that I did my part.  (Read:  paper trail.)

I’ve used shredding companies before in a different city, and we took all the material to them.  Since that time, mobile shredding companies have appeared.  I see their trucks on the street all the time.  Not terribly surprising when you live in a city full of lawyers.

So I assigned my assistant manager the task of researching mobile shredding companies.  She LOVES this kind of detail.  It was like, Woohoo!  You actually WANT me to Google?  Is this a great job, or what?

There are levels of delegation.  For instance, we needed some landscaping work done at one point, and I said, find a company and just hire them.  Do what you think is best.  In this case I said, find a company you like, pick one, but discuss it with me first.  Primarily because I didn’t know anything about mobile shredding companies and wanted to be educated.  But secondly, there are some times when you have to keep a closer eye on relatively new managers.

She–like my last assistant manager–is so focused on saving money (not that that’s a bad thing)–that she will pinch a penny in the beginning, get shoddy work in return, and then have to spend even more money on someone new to correct it.

But she picked a company and made a recommendation to me.  This is a huge improvement!  I have finally taught her–don’t give me three choices and expect me to make every decision.  I can’t do it, don’t have time for it, etc. The “manager” part of your title means you have to make some decisions, and you have to quit being scared about it.

We went with the company she picked.  The cost was $45 if you take the stuff to them, $55 if they send the mobile truck.  A quick calculation told me that my time and her time was worth more than $10.  I said, send the truck.  And they came the same day!  I made her go with the driver to see the operation.  (Okay, I do care a little about whether they actually shred it or not.)

She was so excited that she took pictures of it on her iPhone.  They have this huge truck that is kind of like a regular trash truck, which lifts the container and dumps it into a bin.  But there is a shredder inside, so you can actually hear it working.

So this was the best of all possible worlds. The job got done.  I got my Certificate of Destruction.   She learned something, and had a lot of fun doing it.  Is this a great job or what?

NOT Reading With Fakename

Last night I decided that if aliens were studying our planet, they would peg me as a member of the Reader Class.  It must sound like all I ever do is read.

But this is not true.  I have a real name too.  (Which is, Phyllis.)  I have a job, which they not only expect me to show up to for a minimum of 40 hours a week, they expect me to perform actual work for them.  This involves abiding by rules and regulations and meeting deadlines.  Deadlines!  Can you believe it?  My reward for doing this is that they pay me actual money.  This allows me to do other things I like better, like eat.

I have the usual complaints people have about work.  My boss is a jerk sometimes.  This rule is stupid. But I like my job, which makes up for a lot of the grief.

And my job is…being a manager.  Several pithy sayings come to mind here, like “Those who can’t do, teach” and “Jack of all trades, Master of none”.  I am always reminded of a card an employee once gave me for Bosses’ Day.  It said, How many bosses does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer, only one.  It takes two employees–one to hold the ladder and another to actually change the bulb, and one boss to tell them how to do it.

That same person also once gave me a card that showed what happens when the boss cleans off her desk.  First it shows the boss with a mountain of paper in her inbox.  Next picture, boss beaming with an empty inbox, and Administrative Assistant with a mountain of paper in hers.  See how easy that was?

So, I am a boss, and by the rules required of bosses, I can sometimes be a jerk, and I make stupid rules.  Whatcha gonna do?

It’s harder than it seems to be a boss.  And a lot of people are never successful at it, because they want to do “it” personally, whatever “it” is.  Because they can do “it” better….This is absolutely one of the worst mistakes a manager can make.  Eventually you look around and you have…no employees.  And you are doing everything yourself.  Everything.  And you will fail.

So my “job” is coaching.  And my most important function is listening.  Which often is easier said than done.  People bring different things to the job.  They have different and often competing needs, and it’s my job to listen to all of them.  Within limits.  I thought I would go nuts on Friday talking to the security supervisor about this “concern” he has.  Once, my assistant manager brought an employee “concern” to me–which had to do with a conflict between her and another employee.  I said, “We are not their parents.  These people are adults and will have to work it out.  If the conflict begins to disrupt our work, then I will intervene, but other than that…Next issue?”

But other than work, I also have two dogs and a cat, a car and a house with a yard, all of which require varying levels of care and feeding.

Besides reading, I also watch TV, and for the last two weeks I’ve watched a lot of the Olympics.

I’d say I’m active in my community at a relatively low level.  I’m on the Board of Directors of two organizations, one of which is environmentally focused and the other is a business organization.  I’m a member of an ad hoc committee whose purpose is to review and make recommendations for the Animal Control ordinance for our county.  Recently I volunteered to participate in a series of stories our local newspaper will be doing in October about local survivors of breast cancer.  Now that is scary.  I wish I’d understood that there would be video involved for the online version of the paper 🙂  I don’t know yet how that will work out–I’m waiting for the reporter to call me to begin.

So you see–reading is not all that I do.  It’s just that reading is my…balance.  There is nothing I like better than sitting at the tiny picnic table in my back yard (which I ordered from British Columbia), and watching the incredible woods beyond my yard and listening to the birds.

Weasel People

I have to admit this doesn’t happen often, that my feelings are hurt.  Mostly, I’m too old for it.  But twice in a month’s time I’ve been feeling defeated and dispirited.  (I know, I know, Poor Me.)

The most recent example is probably just because of a weasel, and there isn’t anything I can do about weasels.  Weasels will be weasels. It’s their nature.  You are blithely tripping along through the underbrush, when a weasel darts out from under a bush and takes you down by one ankle.  (You gotta have both ankles to keep blithely tripping through the underbrush.)

Weasel People think they are smart and canny–for sure WAY smarter and cannier than you are.  And they always have better connections than you do.  So they think.  So in their minds, they are thinking “I’ll have your job!”  Um, not so fast, Weasel Person.

In my work, I have more contact with The Public than anyone I know.  That being the case, I get more than my share of crazies.  Most of the time though, it isn’t that difficult. As a manager you need to be able to tell the difference between one of them and a person who has a legitimate complaint, or even one who just had a bad day.  Honestly, I’m good at this.

Imagine my surprise when my client told me that his boss told him I should learn how to talk to people, because I had been rude to someone.  They still haven’t given me many details, but I was in shock about who it was.

I said, I’m perfectly capable of being rude, but not in this case.  So instead of telling me I’ve offended hin somehow, he just jumps about four steps ahead and tells someone else much more powerful than me.  Ergo:  Weasel Person. They are cowards.

Weasels themselves are pretty cool.  As I said, it’s their nature to be weasels.  Weasel People have to work at it.


For almost two months now, I’ve been the proud owner of a Bluetooth myself.  I only wear it for a couple of hours on Saturday morning, while doing the NYT crossword puzzle with Fakesister, and…Woot!  Both my hands are free!  The NYT crossword  site has a chat feature, but neither Fakesister nor I lke it.  We want voices.  You know, that’s called “talking”.  I also wanted a Bluetooth because I thought it would be useful for long trips in the car. 

I think it is the greatest advance in technology since the wheel.  Today, I learned it was invented by Ericsson in 1994.   Who?  Who ever even remembers Ericsson?  They used to make phones, I think.  For more info, check out Bluetooth,  And good luck getting past Gaussian frequency-shift keying. 

While the technology may have been invented in 1994, it took quite a while to catch on and be mass-marketed.  All I know is that sometime in the last 10 years, Bluetooths started blooming in the ears of my cashiers like so many weeds.  And I said, You can’t wear that at work. 

Their reaction was to look at me as if I and the horse I rode in on needed to get over ourselves.  Drag ourselves, kicking and screaming if need be, into the 21st century. So they did what  any normal, independent, adult American human being would do.  They ignored me.  Unless they thought I was going to catch them. 

But here is the thing about Bluetooths.  When I first put mine on, it feels awkward.  But very quickly, I can’t feel it any more.  So they make the mistake of forgetting they’re wearing one.  So they always, always get caught sooner or later. 

So after saying, “Don’t do it” I went to the route of logic.  See, I said, it doesn’t look right.  It appears to the customer as if you are just waiting for something more important to happen.  It has nothing to do with reality, it has to do with appearances and perception.    And they look at me like my dogs do:  We recognize that you are speaking, but what language is that?  Apparently you want us to do something, but we’re going to need a translator. 

I am not a fan of the “do it because I said so” school of management (or parenting).  But now, that’s just where I am.  My new tactic is Just Do What I Said.  If you don’t unhderstand it, then…I don’t know what to tell you.  Google it or something.  Figure it out on your own. 


The Vegetative State

It is a mystery of modern medical science as to how a person (me, for example) can do what amounts to almost nothing and still end up physically exhausted and mentally drained. 

Of course, I do work 8-9 hours a day, Monday through Friday.  “Work” for me, though, involves a lot of observing, communicating, and supervising.  (Q:  How many managers does it take to change a light bulb?  A:  Only one.  But it takes two employees–one to hold the ladder and the other to actually change the bulb.)  On Friday, that 8-9 hours turned into 12, which turned out to be my limit–or slightly beyond it. 

On Saturday morning, I did the NY Times crossword puzzle online with Fakesister, as usual, and that was the last hurrah for my brain for the day.  I spent the rest of the day unapologetically vegetating.  And what does it take to truly vegetate?  Television, of course. 

First, I watched a Tarzan movie.  “Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle” with Gordon Scott as Tarzan.  The movie was made in 1955 and was one of only four with Scott as Tarzan.  I’ll never forget the first time I ever saw someone other than Johnny Weissmuller playing Tarzan.  I was shocked to the depth of my being.  It was at that point that my mother had to explain to me that Tarzan was not a real person, and that these were actors.  I already knew about Santa and the Easter Bunny, but this was something different.  This was total betrayal.  Having no choice, I finally adjusted to it, but I have forever remained loyal to Johnny Weissmuller.  If it isn’t him, it isn’t Tarzan.  Gordon Scott, by the way, manages to do all sorts of jungly ape-man things, like rescuing a damsel in distress from a raging river, without one hair on his 1950’s haircut ever being rearranged.  Tarzan with hairspray. 

I watched an episode of Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero that I had actually seen before.  It focuses primarily on the the construction challenges, the design, and the architecture of the Memorial, but that’s inseparable from the emotional content of the project.  To give you one small example:  the two reflecting pools that will sit on the footprints of the two towers will have the names of the victims etched in bronze on plates around the edges of the pools.  One day, one of the construction supervisors is permitted to go to the plant where the etching work is taking place.  He is allowed to press the button which starts the etching machine, and then he watches as the machine engraves the name of his baby brother.  His brother was lost on 9/11 and his remains were never found.  Once the metal cools, he touches the letters and says “This is my brother now.”  As a result of watching this show, I am determined to one day go to NYC and see it.  (Spencercourt, when the time comes I will be calling on you for travel advice.)

Finally, I watched a couple of episodes of “The Invaders” on the National Geographic Wild channel, about invasive animal species.  One was about hippos in Columbia, which were part of Pablo Escobar’s menagerie.  What is it with these bad guys who like to keep collections of exotic animals?  Besides Escobar, Uday Hussein comes to mind.  In any case, what should another of these invasive animals be but my old friend, the nutria?  I never before realized how actually dangerous they are.  They carry diseases and parasites of all kinds, most seriously, tularemia and leptospirosis.  And not only that.  In Maryland, where they appear to have the most serious problem with them outside of Louisiana, Federal Wildlife officials are on a mission to eradicate them from the Delmarva Peninsula.  They use Labrador Retrievers to track them, but the dogs are fitted with special collars which cover their entire throats, because cornered nutria will go for the jugular with tooth and claw.  And to think I used to watch them swim in, and sometimes hang out on the banks of, Lake Ponchartrain.  Luckily my dog, who was always with me, was pretty incurious. 

This is a kind of snapshot of the kinds of things that interest me.  From Tarzan to 9/11 to nutria.  It’s no wonder I’m tired.