Category Archives: Work

What a Week!

This week, beginning Monday, June 24th, would have been a good one for a Valium prescription. 

On Monday, I got the word that the biopsy I had was benign.  Note:  that isn’t the same thing as “negative”.  It was something, that something just wasn’t cancer.  As one of my friends said, champagne all around! 

Tuesday, in the context of the rest of the week, was a snoozer. 

Wednesday, the City Commission made it official:  my company has been awarded the contract for the next five years with five one-year options to keep doing what we’re doing.  I get to keep my job for 5-10 years, well, assuming I don’t do something to screw it up in the meantime. 

The next morning, an article came out in the newspaper headlined “First company to benefit from City’s local preference program is not local”.  Or something to that effect.  Here’s the deal:  in a bid process, local companies get extra points.  So to win, other companies must obtain higher scores in other areas to compensate.  I learned only through the article that this is a “pilot” program for one year, enacted by the City Commission.  (Aren’t we lucky that our contract came up for bid during this particular year?) I understand the rationale, and their hearts are in the right place, but there’s an extent to which they didn’t think it through.  Nevertheless, I’m not complaining. 

The article went on to say that my company is a national one headquartered elsewhere, with only a “branch” office located here.  They interviewed the City’s Director of Management and Administration (translation:  a demi-god.  The Mayor, the Commissioners, and the City Manager are the Olympians.  Below them are only a few people whose word is essentially law:  the City Attorney, the Treasurer, and the Director of DMA.)  In other words, if an issue reaches them and they make a decision, you can fight City Hall all you want, but you will lose.  Actually if you want to fight City Hall, your best bet is with the Commissioners and the Mayor, because they’re elected.  You may not think this is fair, or right, but it’s the way it is.  If you choose to ignore the way it is, then you will become Sisyphus, perpetually pushing that rock up the hill.  You should go sit down somewhere and have a beer, which you can cry into. 

So the Director of DMA said, we don’t care if they’re a national company.  We asked that they have a local office which has been established for at least six months prior to the bid; that they have a business license; and that they have full-time local employees.  They qualify.  Any more questions?  (Time to have that beer.)

My assistant manager asked, “Why is this news?”  It was on the “consent” agenda.  There was no discussion of it in the Commission meeting.  No dispute.  The Commission essentially rubber-stamped it.  So why would the newspaper waste space on it?  I said, You poor, deluded, naive, baby soul.  No, I did not say that really.  What I said was, items in the newspaper are generated by complaints; it’s similar to the way Animal Control works.  They aren’t out there cruising to find violations–they rely on citizens reporting violations.  There is no doubt in my mind that the company which came closest to us generated this.  They were smart enough to know they didn’t have a leg to stand on with the City, but thought they would get a little jab in on the way out.  You can’t really blame them.  (But it’s time for THEM to go have a beer.)

When I came home that same day, there had been an enormous deadfall in the back yard (there had been a thunderstorm during the day).  Oh no.  Yard Guy will not be able to simply hook this one to the back of his truck and haul it off. 

It ends just short of the birdfeeder.  Nature made a handy stepladder for the squirrels. 

BUT…that same evening, just before dark, I looked out the kitchen window and there was an enormous owl sitting on the birdfeeder pole.  It’s only the second time in my life I’ve ever seen an owl in the wild.  It turned out to be a barred owl. 

I tried to creep out so I could see it better without the window in between, but of course as soon as it saw me it flew away.  Majestic does not begin to describe it.  It looked like an airplane flying away.  They have wing spans of three to four feet.  I was in awe. 

So that’s what I mean about the Valium prescription.  In the space of four days, I went from euphoria to profound anxiety to great relief to Oh No! to awe.  Theoretically speaking, it seems like it would have been a great idea to mute the highs and cushion the lows.  But, I believe this is what we call “life”.  You don’t get to choose when it happens to you–it’s happening all the time.

SHIT! It’s Flying!

There are three things I’m known for in my work and social circles:  One, I drink milk with every meal.  I can be out for lunch with people I barely know, and when the server comes over and asks what you’ll have, whoever I’m with automatically says, “She’ll have milk”.

Two, I always have a book with me.  I’ve taught myself to read in five-minute increments, so you will never catch me in any kind of downtime not reading. 

Three, I carry an Ariat horse-grooming bag as a handbag.  My assistant manager refers to it as my “luggage”.  This is Fakesister’s fault.  Being the horse person of the family, she was the first to catch on to the trend of carrying these as handbags.  I have now spread the trend all over Tallahassee. 

Originally they were designed to carry all the stuff you might need to groom a horse, such as various-sized brushes and tools, and water bottles (horse grooming is thirsty work).  They are sturdy–made of canvas–but most importantly, they have POCKETS.  Women love pockets.  No more do you have to to paw through the debris in the bottom of your handbag, because your cell phone is in Pocket X and your lipstick is in Pocket Y. 

I was very amused by the fact that they are no longer marketed as horse-grooming bags…now they are called “carry-alls”.

So one day this week I arrived at work, set the Ariat bag down on a chair, and reached for something inside, whereupon a very small cockroach emerged and started crawling around the top edge. 

Now, a little scene-setting.  At that time of the morning, there are four other people in my office, which is in a big open fishbowl sort of area.  When I said “EEK! There’s a roach in my purse”, Ruben hops out of his chair and says, “I’ll get it!”  (Here is an employee I’m definitely keeping.  I’m thinking it’s time for a raise, even.) By the time he arrived with toilet paper as a weapon, the roach had crawled back in the bag.  So he started poking around, apologizing…I don’t mean to pry in your bag, he says.  Please don’t apologize, I replied.  I am right before dumping the entire contents on the floor. 

About that time, the roach emerges.  Ruben makes a grab for it, and… it flies away.  Whereupon, I said, as you might guess, SHIT!  IT’S FLYING! 

Now it’s not as if I’m a stranger to flying cockroaches. I lived in New Orleans, which has five species of giant cockroaches, at least one of which flies.  Cockroaches are to New Orleans what robins are to the rest of the world:  harbingers of spring.  But I’ve never seen a tiny cockroach fly.   I was totally in shock, and my heart was pounding. 

Enter Colleen, who says, “Ruben, there it is!  It landed on the back of YOUR chair!”  Ruben sneaks up on it, and catches it!  I thought that was totally amazing!  It’s like catching a housefly in flight.  Maybe he had already wounded it in his first attempt.  In any case, once the kill mission succeeded, the entire room erupts in laughter. 

Because I’m still standing by my desk in a state of paralysis.  My assistant manager is laughing so hard he has to put his head down on his desk.  I couldn’t help but see the humor myself:  Ms. In-Control is defeated by a baby cockroach.  Pretty soon we are all laughing hysterically. 

Once we came up for air, Colleen said, That is the first time I’ve ever heard you curse.  Since she’s been working for me for over a year, I thought, Dang!  My disguise is working perfectly! 

I have no idea where that roach came from.  I’m chalking it up to living in Florida, where sometimes you have to fight your way through a spider web to get out the front door.  Your cat drags home the occasional snake and lets it loose in the house (alive).  C’est la vie.  Probably they don’t have these problems in Alaska. 

In other (flying) animal news, my assistant manager received a complaint on Friday that a mockingbird was attacking our customers as they exited the elevator, and he needed to do something about it.  He said to me, How is this MY bird?  (I had to put my head on MY desk at that point.)  Nevertheless, being young enough and customer-service oriented enough that he felt he might possibly be able to control nature, he approached the city landscaping crew to ask if they could suggest anything.  They said, put up a sign saying “Beware of Bird”.  At this rate, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get my head OFF the desk.

Ouch! I Broke A Nail!

It’s possible that you thought Fakename had run out of trivial subjects to discuss, but you would be very, very wrong. 

So today’s topic is:  long fingernails. 

I come from a long line of short-fingernailed women.  My grandmothers were both country women who had to, well, do stuff with their hands.  My mother was a nurse.  When I was quite a small child, I asked her why she didn’t have long beautiful fingernails like I saw on TV, and she said, “Because I’m a nurse”.  That made perfect sense to me.  She had working hands.  To this day, long fingernails scream to me “IDLE RICH”.  Or today, it’s more properly “emulating the idle rich”.

When I was five, I started taking piano lessons.  When I was nine, we moved to North Carolina and I got a new piano teacher who was a fanatic about nails.  But she didn’t have anything to worry about with me.  I had already internalized the importance of short nails, because I’d found that I couldn’t “feel” the keys if my nails were too long.  Your sense of touch is in your finger TIPS, not in your finger pads.  Go ahead, give it a test.  Touch your knee with a fingertip.  Now touch it with the fingerpad of the same finger.  I’ll wait. (Cue “Jeopardy!” theme.)  See what I mean? 

When I was fifteen, I started playing guitar (badly), and you most certainly cannot play a guitar with long fingernails. 

Now let us fast forward to me being in college.  I had stopped playing piano and rarely played guitar either, so I thought I would give growing long fingernails a shot.  I was delighted to learn that I had very strong nails that were not prone to the expected maladies, especially, splitting. 

Nevertheless, the first thing I discovered was that nails took an awful lot of time.  I just couldn’t get used to the concept of focusing an inordinate amount of attention on something dead that was constantly getting in your way.  Of course I continued to do it anyway, since as we all know, individualism is critical as long as you do it the same way everyone else does. 

Then when I was in my early twenties, I broke a nail while reaching into the washing machine for a load of wet laundry.  YEEOWW! I said, along with other unprintable things.  Because in spite of breaking a nail being a sort of metaphor for “idle rich”, in real life it hurts like a (fill in the blank).  Because nails don’t break at the tip.  They break all the way down to the quick.  And it looks really stupid to have three long, polished, perfectly manicured nails next to a bloody, bandaged stump. 

That was IT for me.  I cut off all my nails and have never gone there since. 

So fast forward again to the early ’90’s:  We used to have a type of cash register (which in my biz we call “fee computers”) which required an overlay.  I was never quite clear about how they worked, but I do know this:  the fee computer would not work without the overlay.  All our cashiers were in a contest to see who could grow the longest fingernails.  Since they couldn’t use their fingertips to operate the fee computer, they would use their fingernails.  Over time, or with one particularly sharp jab, the nail would sever the wires in the overlay,  and each one was $300.  I also was never quite clear about why we couldn’t regulate the length of an employee’s nails.  We told them what they had to wear, how long their hair could be, and what kind of jewelry they could wear (if any).  Human Resources–who understands it?  In the end, we solved this in a low-tech manner.  We provided them all with (unsharpened) pencils, and they would punch the keys with the eraser end. 

This year, when I went to the Tax Collector’s office to pay my property taxes, I was looking forward to seeing Talon Woman, whom I’ve seen every year for the last ten years.  These days, it’s very hard to tell if people’s nails are real or fake, but in her case, there was no doubt they were real.  Her nails were so long they started curving under, like they were lost and seeking to reconnect with her hand.  But she wasn’t there.  She probably had to retire after putting out an eye, or both, while trying to apply makeup. 

She of course was completely incapable of operating her computer with her hands.  So guess what?  She used a pencil eraser. 

All this is to say that state-of-the-art technology is not always the answer.  Sometimes an easel, a paper pad,  and a Magic Marker work better than a laptop, especially when the laptop unexpectedly balks and refuses to open PowerPoint.  My rule is:  always have short nails, and carry a pencil eraser.

I’m Wrung Out

As we say here in the South.  The present tense of which is “wring”.  Wringing is a process of twisting hand-washed laundry until as much water is squeezed out as possible before hanging it up on a clothesline to drip-dry.   Also used to describe the process of killing a chicken by twisting its neck.  I can’t decide whether I’m a chicken or a pillowcase.  Either fits. 

This week I learned that my dog may have something called Wobbler’s disease (or Syndrome).  The vet, who is eminently qualified, suggested it very tentatively, but I’ve learned to translate.  He means, “I really think this is what it is, but I don’t want to alarm you, and I don’t want to totally commit myself unless we can confirm it with a lot more expensive tests”.

I’m not suggesting he’s trying to make money.  It’s that vets are as hesitant as people doctors.  They get blamed and sued when someone dies.  Ergo, let’s do more tests before we tell you we can’t help you. 

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  My dog either has Wobbler’s, or something like it, and the symptoms and the treatments are the same.  He’s a Doberman who is 11 1/2 years old.  Something had to happen sometime soon.   It’s just that I’m not ready.   I’ll never be ready.  You could give me another 11 1/2 years with him and I would still not be ready.

But I will be.  That’s the thing about dogs.  You get the joy of them when they’re young, but in the end, you have to be the grownup and let them go. 

Meanwhile, there’s a possibility my job may be ending.  I’ve been pretty good at denial until today, but today I realized that I need to treat this possiblity as if it was a done deal, and hope to be pleasantly surprised instead. 

Meanwhile, there have been the usual petty issues that annoyed me and those that made me laugh during this week.  It’s taken me many years of self-training to get to the point where I deliberately focus on the good stuff and the funny stuff, because it really works to counteract the bad stuff.  But this week I feel defeated, like I just don’t have to resources to do it. 

Small bad things are easy.  I think these are two big bad things.  That’s part of my philosophy too.  Don’t attach major importance to small bad things.  I just wish that when big bad things happen, they would space themselves out, and not happen in the same week. 

This week I intended to blog about Horseshoe crabs.  There was a beautiful tribute to them in the newspaper last week by Ann Rudloe of the Gulf Specimen Marine Labaratory (in Panacea, FL).  Maybe another time.

The Wonderful World of Work

Work, in my mind, is the single most important arena forcing us to get along, consider different ideas, accept different people and viewpoints, confront our prejudices, find our strengths, and learn humility at the same time.  Your home may be your castle, but your workplace definitely is not.  I can’t imagine what it would be like never to have had a job. 

So today while logging on to WordPress, I found this apropos blog entitled Post-It Notes From My Idiot Boss.  The comments are priceless.  However, I’d like to do a companion piece entitled “Post-It Notes From My Idiot Employees”.  Comcast recently featured an article from called 15 Things Not To Say To Your Boss.  I actually read it to discover if I was saying any of those things to MY boss (I’m not), but discovered that a lot of it covered my assistant manager’s responses to me.

“Eric”, we’ll call him, is 25 years old, bright, ambitious, creative, hard-working, and also impatient and short-tempered.  He reminds me so much of…me.  When I was 25.  Which is his main problem…being 25.  He’s usually bright enough to head off any line-drawing in the sand by me, but last week we came perilously close.  Next week, I expect we will be there. 

The almost showdown came because he said he couldn’t work today for an event because he had a baseball game.  A couple of months ago he got a second job as the coach of freshman baseball for a local high school.  He bent over backwards to say that it would in no way interfere with his job.  He would have to leave every day by 3:45, but he would come in early.  Okay, so a couple of times he had to leave at 1:45, because they had away games that were somewhat distant.  I see.  No interference.  Got it. 

I could have worked today myself, but that would have shifted the balance of power so to speak.  He would then be in control of when he worked and didn’t, and when I did and didn’t.  That was not going to happen.  Lucky for him, he made the right decision. 

Because I am so like him (or at least used to be), I have a lot of sympathy for him, and I tend to be very lenient, but you know…don’t push me. 

Sometimes I have to laugh, because I can remember thinking, when I was on that upward spiral, that I was doing all the work and my bosses weren’t working very hard.  Like making decisions and directing the work of other people and balancing the needs of the business v. your people and having constant conversations with people about their concerns is not hard work.  There is an extent to which you really don’t grasp it until you have to do it.  I’m very grateful that I once went to a management class where that issue was addressed.  People will hate you, they said.  Well, not exactly, but that was the message.  You have to be prepared. 

In the world of work, particularly as a manager, you are always walking a tightrope. Smart and creative is good.  Respectful is good.  Obsequious is not.  You have to learn that fine line between showing competence and being a self-centered upstart. 

So “Eric” violated a few of the 15 rules, but primarily Rule #9, which is never say “I can’t do this because of my other job”.

Bad Week Part 3: A Visit from Corporate

Those of us who work in the corporate world, or for the government for that matter, understand with no further explanation why this is a headache. 

So on Wednesday and Thursday, I had a visit from the Vice President of Human Resources, whom we will call “Bob”.  Having just learned the afternoon before of the death of HP, I was seriously not in the mood for being upbeat and on my best behavior. 

“Bob” is a kindly, avuncular, white-haired gentleman in his 70’s, with the heart of a cobra.  Having worked for this company for 10 years, I’ve been privy to all the times he has cut the legs out from under people in high places.  He has a singular ability to sniff out which way the wind is blowing, and position himself on the “right” side of things.  Never mind that yesterday he was your biggest supporter.  He’s manageable, but it takes effort. 

So on Wednesday, I took him with me to a luncheon meeting of a business organization I belong to, in fact I’m on the Board (for now), and another member of the Board did a short presentation explaining why our organization is opposed to Amendment 4 to the Florida Constitution.  I was the only member of the Board who voted during the Board meeting NOT to support that position (the other person who is for the Amendment wisely did not attend that meeting).  And I argued heavily FOR Amendment 4.  But I accepted the decision of the Board and have not done anything to undermine it (democracy, you know).

So imagine my consternation when the Vice President of the organization, following the presentation, said, “Phyllis, why don’t you tell the members why you disagree?”  Well, crap.  You could have asked me this any time.  Like last month.  Why must you ask me now, with “Bob” sitting beside me?  That was one of those moments where you have to make a split-second decision.  Would it be better for me to make some quick generic statement?  Or should I say what I really thought?  Those of you who know me will think that I decided to take the plunge, and you would be right.  But I didn’t do it lightly.  In fact, I was practically sick afterwards, fearing how it played with “Bob”. 

It probably helped that on the way to the elevator, another member of the Board said, I want you to know that I’m voting for Amendment 4.  It’s just as you said.  The people who are against it have no facts, it’s all speculation and scare tactics.  Wow, I said.  I got a convert.  She said:  you converted me the first time you talked about it, in the Board meeting. 

I can barely remember what I said.  But the next day, at lunch, on the way to the airport, “Bob” said, for an impromptu argument, you did well.  You did better than the guy on the other side of the argument.  He also said, I’m impressed with the organization you’ve built.  You have a great team, and the atmosphere is a hundred times better than when I was here last year. 

Uh huh.  I allowed myself to hope for a bit that I’ve escaped harm.  But I’ve learned to always wait for the official written report of the visit.  It’s amazing how somewhere between here and the Corporate office, “good” transforms into “marginal”.   Perhaps there is something about the air quality on the plane?

So Sue Me

Oh wait, did I mention that’s already happening?  Well, not me personally, but the company I work for, because they can’t really sue me personally under the circumstances, otherwise, I feel sure they would.  I am the face of the company around here, and get to be the deliverer of all the bad news.   As well as the good news, but somehow, that doesn’t register. 

So last week, the Assistant Director of Human Resources conducted a webinar on progressive discipline.  In a phone conversation prior to the webinar, she told me that either I or my friend and counterpart Brenda could probably teach it ourselves, having had so much experience with the subject.  Sadly. 

In advance of the webinar, they sent out some written materials to review, and I was fascinated by the beginning of it, which discusses “at-will employment”.  As the attorney for a company I used to work for used to say, that means you can fire anyone for any reason, except an illegal reason.  In most cases, that means discrimination on the basis of any of the basic protected categories: age, sex, race, religion, or nationality.  Just about all of those are very hard to prove these days.  All it takes is one other example of someone your age, your sex, your race, your religion, or your nationality who is still employed to negate your claim.

States and the feds have expanded on or clarified those basic rights. You cannot, for example, fire a woman who gets pregnant or  is pregant based on that alone.   You cannot fire someone who is or becomes disabled, based on that alone.  And when I say “based on that alone”, you better have your ducks in a row if you do it anyway.  Because timing counts. 

You cannot fire someone for bringing a complaint of  sexual harassment or of being paid less for equal work.  And you can’t be fired in retaliation for making those complaints.  I’m completely in agreement with that. 

So broadly speaking, it appears to me that there has been a shift in the focus.  Because discrimination is so difficult to prove these days.    Both of the ex-employees who are suing the company are doing so not on the basis of discrimination, but on the basis of our allegedly violating the Whistleblower law.  In other words, they provided information which led to them being fired.  This is such complete nonsense that I want to scream.  This puts me between a rock and a hard place.  I completely support the right of anyone to sue anyone for anything, but on the other hand, I just want them to go away and crawl back under their home rock.  Immovable theory meets irresistable reality. 

So the latest suit involves a guy who claims to have injured his wrist on the job.  His worker’s compensation claim was denied.  His unemployment claim was denied. In other words, lots of other people thought he was full of shit too.   So now he’s suing us under, you guessed it, the Whistleblower Act.  There is no mention of his wrist.  He’s suing us because he says he complained repeatedly (to me, of course) about the air quality in his work environment, which I did nothing about, and he was fired for calling OSHA. 

He called OSHA?  First I heard of it.  So the Assistant Director of HR asked me, Did you ever hear from OSHA?  Arghh, I thought.  He will not win this.  But in the meantime, I have to answer questions from HR and talk to the lawyers. I am way too busy for this.   NO!  I said.  I never heard from OSHA!  What kind of idiot do you take me for?  If I had heard from OSHA, you don’t think I would be burning up the phone lines between here and Corporate to let you know?  You must be mistaking me for someone who plans to go it alone due to my superior intellect, as opposed to a person who plans to take you down with me if it comes to that. 

Of course, I said nothing of the kind.  I just thought it.  My outrage is always tempered by self-protection.

Here’s Why I Get Mad at Men

In general.  I’ve been cautioned about generalizing more than once.  Oddly enough, the people who tell me not to generalize are all men.  Disclaimer:  there are a lot of men I like.  You just aren’t going to appear in this post. 

I’ve had a bad week in the men department.  At the heart of the issue is that I, and therefore my boss, report to a guy whose name appears in the dictionary next to “Napoleon complex”.  He is short, but drives a honking big Ford F-150 pickup truck.  With a gun rack.  I totally rest my case. 

The difficult part is…this guy has my number.  He knows I’m chafing at the bit to kick his ass, but he knows I can’t.  So he takes great pleasure in torturing me…only verbally of course.  So this week, we had a conversation in which he told me I was incompetent for the gillionth time and I just said, “No.  You’re wrong”.  I had had it.  And just in case you think this was over a critical operational issue, it was over a door handle.  I am not kidding.  It of course was not about the door handle, really. 

Then my boss comes into town.  Also a man, who wants to know why I can’t just take it. He says I know how this guy is, so why can’t I just take his admittedly clumsy and stupid attempts to control me and make himself look powerful?  I said, “Because”. 

So my boss meets with Napoleon, who says, “I like Fakename, why doesn’t she like me?’  How pathetic is that?  In some alternate universe, you get to treat a woman like dirt, and she adores you anyway. 

Just to put the icing on the cake, I was driving to my friend Judith’s house on Friday night and happened to hear this interview on NPR with gospel star Kirk Franklin, who has the nerve to pretend to be an expert on relationships.  In the interview, he says that a woman’s role is to treat her man like a king.  The interviewer says, So how should a man treat a woman?

Er, Um, he says.  A woman should be treated…um well, otherwise, she won’t have the energy to treat you like a king.  I’m the man, he says.  I’m the head.  Be sick along with me:

I rest my case again.  If you have to make yourself look good at someone else’s expense;  if you can only be on top by pushing someone else down you are not a man by my definition.