Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Does This Cubicle Make Me Look Crazy?

I am what you might call a crazy magnet. For as long as I can remember, if there is crazy within a 5-mile radius, it will be drawn to me and unable to resist. While it gives me some great stories to spin, I have to tell you that it also made for some interesting times in the work place (which quite possibly played a part in my retiring at the ripe old age of 30).

I had part time jobs without much incident--time spent helping my dad out at the pharmacy, summers and college breaks as a bank teller in my hometown, and jobs with the University that I absolutely loved. It's when the real world started to come calling that crazy crawled right out of the woodwork and found me, and it started before I even graduated.

I managed to land a highly coveted marketing internship with a mass retailer (you know, the one with the big red bull's eye as their logo). Here was my chance to get some insight into what marketing really was, and to learn something about the business world. The problem with this is that I was, apparently, the first intern this particular location had ever had. No one knew exactly what to do with me, and so I was sent to a store in north Atlanta and introduced to one of my supervisors, whose name--right hand to God--was Sparkle.

Mainly, Sparkle gave me a binder of HR policies and a space with a folding chair in the corner of the employees only area of the store. Later, as I became more and more restless, I was given all the craft supplies I could ever want and free reign over the bulletin boards in the hallways and break room. It was not exactly a dream fulfilled. The saddest part is that when I tried to quit, dear Sparkle insisted that I tell the store manager directly. The problem with that is that Steve the manager promptly began avoiding me. I scheduled time to meet with him to talk...and he never showed up. After two weeks of trying to tell Steve it wasn't the internship, it was me, I gave up and turned in my red shirt and khakis along with a letter of resignation. Onward and upward, yes? A girl can dream.

My first job after graduating from Clemson was as a marketing assistant at a retail shopping mall in south Atlanta. Never been south of the airport in the ATL before? Don't. Seriously. I was naive and eager, and I wound up making $23,000 a year creating marketing events for a mall that was almost totally deserted. Well, except for the folks stealing cars out of the parking lot in broad daylight, or the people who stole the ATM right out of the mall food court on a Saturday during lunch time.

My boss there was not the worst, but she was also not the most normal, highly-functioning person, either. Her name (which I won't give away) was one of those quirky ones where someone took a common name and razmatazzed that thing up. So all day long, in the office next door, I had to hear her repeatedly say, "It's like Stephanie, but with an 'i.' Stiphanie." Okay, obviously her name was not Stiphanie, but for the love of all things holy, did the woman not get sick of saying that? If I had a nickel for every time I heard it, well, I would have made a lot more than $23,000 a year. Stiphanie was also prone to migraine headaches and would moan my name, then request that I fetch her Saltine crackers and ice chips as quickly and quietly as possible until the crisis had passed. Couple that with her habit of proofreading all of my copy while requiring me to stand right beside her desk and wait, and well, you can see the crazy sort of seeping out, can't you?

After I got married, we moved to Charlotte and I began my stint working in banking. Bankers are just hard working, conservative, buttoned-up types, right? I'm sorry to break the news: there are crazies everywhere you go, especially if you are me. My little 5 foot 6 boss with the Napoleon complex was quite a character; let's call him Bruno, for the Bruno Magli shoes with giant silver buckles he was so fond of wearing. One of the girls in the office brought it to my attention that dear Bruno kept a mirror in his desk drawer, so that he could open that drawer, prop up his mirror, and watch himself while he was working and on the phone. I am tiny and powerful, see me roar!

Bruno was certainly not the only eccentric at that office, though. I assisted a lender whom we'll just call Office Max. This gentleman would frequently call my desk to ask me to bring him one paper clip. And then Max would specify which size, regular or large, that he preferred for the task at hand. One day, after several clip fetching trips to his office, I tactfully got him a paper clip holder and filled it to the brim with those little helpers. His response? Thanks, but no thanks: he preferred not to clutter his desk and to just call me whenever he needed. That seems perfectly logical, doesn't it?

My next (mis)adventure in employment took me to the bowels of hell a tiny gray cubicle in the marketing department of a large securities company. Once again, the cast of characters did not disappoint. My coworker in the cubicle behind me was an outspoken atheist who insisted on challenging me on my religious beliefs at least weekly, although our relationship met its ultimate demise when she borrowed a board game of mine and then blatantly refused to return it (stealing a board game ranks high on my list of unforgivable sins). There was also the guy who posted an obituary for his beloved pet rat, Rocky, on the online employee bulletin board for the entire company to see. When I saw the movie Office Space, I was convinced someone had made a movie about my workplace, because just like the film, we got to enjoy "fun" things like Hawaiian shirt Fridays and ask ourselves, "Is this good for the company?"

I had numerous bosses during my stint there, as is the case in corporate America. My boss's boss, the man with the corner office, was a bumbler whom we less-than-affectionately nicknamed Papa Smurf. This was not because he had any type of paternal quality or  Smurfy demeanor, but because he was, like the Smurfs, about three apples tall and had a head full of snow white hair. As far as I could tell, his only skill set involved putting golf balls in that big office of his. This was the year 2005 and Papa Smurf still refused to learn how to email. One of his most charming habits was when, on the work day preceding a holiday weekend, he would cheerfully tell everyone in our department to leave early...and then add, "Well, we will of course need one person to stay all day--thank you, Susie, for handling things for us." This would also be followed up with a phone call around 4:59 p.m. to make sure I was, in fact, still dutifully chained to my desk as I had been ordered. He once reprimanded me for appearing too happy at work and said it gave the wrong impression; I assured him that it was only an act and that I was actually quite miserable and would make every effort to better communicate that.

Needless to say, I left that dream job and went to work for a small, regional bank--if big was bad, smaller should be better, right? Well, not necessarily better, just crazy of a different kind. I found myself working during the consumer lending boom, giving equity lines to pretty much anyone, anywhere, for any reason. On the outside, the lender I worked for was a sweetly spoken, Southern lady usually wearing a strand of pearls and a kindly smile. Imagine my surprise when she called me in her office one afternoon, politely asked me to close the door, slammed both of her perfectly manicured hands down on her desk and said in a sing-song voice, "I am SO angry!" I didn't know if I should laugh or run. The answer, I learned after several months of honing my skills, was run. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, just take your toys and run! That little song of hers was her battle cry, and you did not want to cross the general on the battlefield.

As I'm sure you can guess, all this crazy will eventually wear on a girl. I started losing the ability to laugh about it all, and started to feel like I was losing my mind as well. And so, for those of you who wonder about my very early retirement, I hope I have put the pieces of the puzzle together for you and you can see that the puzzle clearly spells out "insanity." I'm not saying that I'm not still a magnet for wackjobs and weirdos--because we all know the force is great in that regard. The good news is that now, instead of asking, "Is this good for the company?" I just ask if it's good for me. Call me crazy, but that's what seems to really work.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Welcome to the Club, Caitlyn

Since the July cover of Vanity Fair magazine debuted online yesterday, featuring Bruce Jenner's new female persona and the headline, "Call me Caitlyn," it seems like Bruce, er, Caitlyn is all anyone can talk about. Every TV show is giving the story major coverage, Facebook and Twitter are all abuzz, and it seems that everyone from politicians to celebrities to people I went to high school with feel the need to weigh in with their opinion.

I don't blog about politics or religion, and I'm not going to start today. I will say that, personally, I think Bruce's decision to become Caitlyn is downright crazy...but not for the reasons you'd all expect. While everyone else is rushing to question the ethics, the social ramifications, and the morality of the issue, I'm just not sure Caitlyn really knew what she was getting into when she joined the girls' club.

For example, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around why anyone would want to trade a lifestyle that involves simply throwing on a pair of khaki pants and a polo shirt for virtually any occasion for the steady regimen of plucking, squeezing, straightening, curling, shaving, primping, and pouring hot wax on extremely sensitive body parts that is involved with being a woman. What sane person wants to live a life of stiletto heels, Spanx in July (you try getting sweaty and pulling on a pair--it takes a degree in astrophysics to make it work), or strapless dresses (take two steps, tug at top, repeat)? My husband's biggest wardrobe conundrum usually comes down to the question of flip flops or loafers, while I get to navigate the waters of invitations with dress codes like "country club chic" and "festive casual."

This club we women belong to may not charge monetary dues, but in order to fit in and find yourself somewhat accepted, there will be spackling, painting, starvation, and intimidation. Women endure mild to moderate torture on a daily basis, all for the sake of looking good. As my cousin Lana was fond of saying, "Beauty is pain." Amen to that.  It should have started to raise warning bells for Cate when so much of the conversation on this transition immediately turned superficial. Rather than contemplate the difficulty for Caitlyn and family to adjust to this profound life change, half of the commentators wanted to discuss hair, makeup, wardrobe, and the fact that the pictures were carefully posed not to show "man hands." You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but that will never stop the general public from giving a woman a once-over and feeling free to appraise her appearance.

However, the pain of trying to be found presentable is just a scratch of the surface of what life is like for the "weaker sex." Did Caitlyn realize she was enrolling in a club where the members will probably be paid less than a male counterpart, their weight constantly scrutinized, and any show of emotion has the potential to be dismissed as hormones? Do you think Caitlyn is aware that, while Bruce enjoyed the easy camaraderie and back-slapping good will that comes with male friendship, she has now entered a world where women get giddy over another female's failures? We don't back slap, we back stab. We crawl over each other in those throbbingly painful high heels and judge each other down to the minutia: she's a workaholic, but that one's lazy, she spends too much time on her appearance--what a narcissist, but is that better than being labeled a slob?

Here's how it works, Caitlyn: you're gonna need to dress up, show up, clean up, and suck it up. Work, shop, cook, clean, starch, iron, play nurse, and do it all while wearing a polite smile and trendy clothing. In other words, all that stuff about bringing home the bacon and then frying it up in the pan? Yep, we're still expected to do it. Only now we'll be shamed if it isn't organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, sustainably farmed bacon. A woman's work is never done, and it's rarely comfortable and very rarely properly appreciated. So yes, Bruce-now-Caitlyn Jenner: I think what you've done is completely, off-the-charts crazy. But welcome to the club.