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Posts in: February 2006

Meeting “The Team”

This week has been extremely haphazard for me as far as actually showing up for work. Part of this, I guess, is my subconscious feeling that I’ll get this job I’ve interviewed for; mostly, though, it has to do with having almost no work—even though I got “promoted,” I managed to clear up “months” of work in about a day and a half—so on Wednesday I didn’t go to work at all; Thursday, I left early (around 11) to have lunch with Lucy, then didn’t go back to work that day; and on Friday, I had my in-person interview with “The Team.”

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The Test

Fuckin’ Columbia. I’ve been trying to get them to send my diploma for months. The advising office called me about three weeks ago, apologizing for sitting on their asses for so long, and then said, “Oh, we have to clear your nonstandard curriculum with the film department.” What this means is, while the film department sets out certain guidelines in order to get a concentration in a certain area (e.g., cinematography, editing, screenwriting), as long as you complete the core and fulfill the number of credit hours needed to graduate, students can take whatever the hell classes they want. So I knew in advance, after this has been drilled into my head for years, that this would be fine.

“Oh,” my adviser—who, in five years, I’ve never met (and this was the first time I’d even spoken to her)—continued, “there’s one other thing: academic computing says you never took the Foundations of Computer Applications test.”

“Uh…” I said. Because here’s the thing: I paid for the test, I signed up for the test, I told everybody on the planet I took the test—but I didn’t. In the words of Marcia Brady, “something suddenly came up.” At this point, I can’t remember what. But I was scheduled to do it in April of 2003, so chances are it had something to do with the huge crush I had on my friend Gina.

I had intended to register to take it again, but really, it was about the lowest thing on my priority list, and it would alternate between slipping my mind completely and entering a mind that quickly dismissed it as something I’d do later.

And then I went off toLos Angeles and the last set of classes I’d take before graduation, and I thought, “So long, suckers!” I sent out my graduation application…and heard nothing until January of this year. They’re on the ball over there at Columbia. By this time, I had come up with a cunning new strategy: lying through my teeth.

“I took the test,” I said. “I remember—I needed to take it to get into Production II for the summer.” That last part was actually true. One method for lying successfully is to drizzle a little bit of truth on top. That way, they have no idea what hit them. But that was the weird thing about it, and one of the reasons I never bothered to take the test—when I registered for Production II, the computer allowed me to do that even though I hadn’t taken the test. The class or test was a prerequisite, so when the computer let me slide, I let myself slide.

“All right,” she said. “I’ll talk to somebody in the department and try to find out what happened.”

That was…so…easy. Too easy, in fact. My adviser called the next day and told me she had spoken with somebody. “You really remember taking the test?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Definitely.”

“But you probably didn’t save anything saying what you got on it, huh?” she said, like this was already a foregone conclusion. So I went with it—lying’s easier when you don’t have to do anything but confirm or deny.

“I figured as much,” she said, “but you definitely remember taking it?”

“Of course,” I said. “I remember it was winter—probably February, right at the beginning of the semester, because they said it took four to six weeks for it to be graded, and I wanted it to be in the system for when I registered for the summer session.” Note to self: when lying, don’t tip your hand by spewing out all sorts of unnecessary information.

“Our records say you were signed up to take it April 14th,” she said.

Oops.

“Oh, right,” I said. “Yeah, I remember it being cold, though. Unusually cold.”

“Okay,” she sighed, “I’ll tell them you took it and hopefully this will all be resolved.”

I thanked her, hung up, and didn’t hear another word for three weeks. Just when I had reached a point where I thought the issue would work itself out and one day I’d arrive home to see a diploma wedged into my mailbox, I got another call.

“Hi, this is your adviser,” her VoiceMail said (I wasn’t home when she called), “I’m calling because our records show you didn’t take the FOCA test. Please give me a call back as soon as you can.”

It seemed like she didn’t remember talking to me at all. Maybe I could try starting the lie over, correcting my previous mistakes, and everything would be fine. I called her back immediately.

“Oh, Stan, thank you for calling,” she said. “Listen, our records say you were registered to take the FOCA test on April 14th, 2003, but you were listed as a no-show. You remember taking the test, though?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Basic PC stuff, Word, Excel. It was really easy.”

“Uh-huh,” she muttered. “Well, listen, I’m gonna put you in touch with somebody from academic computing, and hopefully we can straighten all this out.”

Academic computing? Oh shit, the jig was up! I could lie to her until the cows came home, but my false testimony wouldn’t stand up under cross-examination by somebody who actually knew what they were talking about. I just knew they were going to ask me all sorts of really complicated questions, such as, “What was the answer to question three of section two?” and “Where was the test held?” Questions I couldn’t answer.

My adviser couldn’t find the number of the person in academic computing, so she said she’d find out and give me a call back. I received a call about ten minutes later, but to my surprise, it was the person from academic computing herself. Crap, I hadn’t properly Zenned myself for the upper-echelon of weaseling my way out of this. My whole balance was being tossed out of whack. She was talking, and I was responding, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything that was going on. My mind was swimming, trying to keep up and fabricate a story that has little detail but still seems plausible; then I had to wait for the right moment to launch into said story.

“Usually what I do in this case is just have you re-take the test,” I heard her say.

“Okay,” I said. “When should I come in?” I admit, I crumbled under the pressure.

“We have a test tonight at five”—this was Tuesday—“or this Saturday at 10AM.”

“Saturday,” I said without hesitation. There’s nothing I enjoy less than going into the city at rush hour.

So she signed me up, and this morning I woke up early to make the trek downtown. It’s hard to believe that I haven’t made this commute in over a year at this point. She told me the test would take about an hour and a half—I estimated it would take a third of that, but just to be safe, I decided to take the el down there, just like the good old days. I didn’t want to get caught in weekend-afternoon tourist traffic on my way out, even though on Saturday mornings it’s ridiculously easy to drive down and find street parking.

On top of all that, I missed the old commute that I did nearly every day for five years—driving 25 long, horrible minutes to the dreaded Rosemont park-‘n’-ride, passing familiar sights such as Adult World on my way; sitting on a cramped el train for 45 minutes, trying to avoid eye contact with all other humans by sticking my nose in a book; and, more often than not, getting off a few stops ahead of schedule for a long, brisk walk downtown. I dislike many aspects of city life, but for the most part I really enjoy walking around the Loop. I guess when you grow up with narrow, suburban sidewalks and a general inability to cross any street easily because suburban traffic never stops for pedestrians, walking along those wide city sidewalks is a little bit freeing. Also, I like the white noise from the traffic and trains, the obnoxious conversations I over hear, and the rampant pigeons getting in my way. It’s a weird experience.

This time around, though, things were a little different. Saturday mornings, the universe is pretty much dead. The drive didn’t take more than 15 minutes because there was no traffic, the train was virtually empty (but two bums sleeping on seats contributed to the delightful train odor I had missed so much), and when I went a-walking—well, let’s just say from the few pedestrians I saw on the street, I can see why we’re the fattest city. I can also see why I consider myself thin despite being 20 pounds overweight; on a relative scale, I’m downright scrawny.

Oh, also, I had my first cup of coffee in over a month. And shit, it wired me good. Remind me not to do that again. But goddamn, with a Dunkin’ Donuts on almost every corner—including a new one right across the street from Columbia—how could I resist? Also, with a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner, I once again see why we’re the fattest city.

So I went up to take the test, and…I was the only one there. This really nice, just-past-middle-age fellow helped me get started, and I zipped through the entire test in less than 24 minutes (and I passed with hovering colors, too). What did I tell you? An hour and a half, indeed…

I took a walk down Congress toward the LaSalle Street subway station. It was a little trick I learned late in my college career: tons of people get on and off at the nearby Jackson Street station, so you always have to fight to get a seat. If you go one stop further, to LaSalle, very few people are getting on, and even if you don’t get a seat right away, half the train gets off at the next stop.

And as I walked down the steps at the LaSalle station, I saw a middle-aged man just standing on one of the steps. He was holding something that appeared to be drai—

Holy Jesus, that’s a penis he’s holding. Fuckin’ guy’s pissing all over the stairs.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” I shouted.

He looked up at me, like a deer in headlights, holding onto his johnson for dear life. He stopped urinating immediately (I need to learn that trick—once I start, I can’t stop) and withdrew his schlong into his pants. He shuffled up the steps as I cautiously descended, hoping I wouldn’t step in anything—or, worse, he’d whip it out and finish off all over me—and it was all good. Although, as soon as I passed the man and his puddle, I heard him stop, whip it out again, and finish (on the stairs, at least—if he had touched me, I would have beaten him to death with my Dickens-filled backpack).

Seriously, though, my God. I’ve had instances where I’ve had to piss like a racehorse, and I know a lot of urban places are cracking down on letting any random schmo use the bathroom, but there are some places (like, for example, the Subway/Taco Bell RIGHT ACROSS THE FUCKING STREET) that have no problem with it. There are some things that just…I mean, on the stairwell?! This city is filled with foul-smelling alleys. What, was he afraid of getting mugged while pissing in non-bathroom environs? Goddammit! Decency, people. Decency. “When you gotta go, you gotta go” doesn’t fly with me if I have to step into or around it.

The trip home was otherwise uneventful.

And with that, I am complete, 100% finished with college.

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Forgot to Mention…

Remember that job I interviewed for last Friday? I received this e-mail on Monday:

From: Potential Employer <potential@employer.biz>
To: Stan <stan@fortawesome.org>
Date: February 6th, 2006, 10:12:25 AM CST
Subject: RE: Administrative Assistant

Dear Stan,

Thank you for coming in last week. We enjoyed meeting you and appreciated you taking the time out of your schedule. The position was filled this morning, and so we will not need to meet with you further.

Best of luck in your job search and career endeavors.

Regards,
Potential Employer

“Thanks” and “Best of luck” aside…cold as ice.

To be fair, as I wrote when I met “The Team,” “…I felt a tiny pit of fecal-related doom balling up in my nether regions as I realized, to my dismay, that I don’t think I can actually do this job.” Notice the subject line says “administrative assistant”—a very basic secretarial job was outlined on Craigslist, which was the main reason I applied for the job—I knew it’d advance toward a writing-intensive position, but in the meantime I could handle the administrative bullshit while I learn the ropes. On the phone, she expanded the tasks so that it was more of a support-writing-type job, and I was fine with that, but in the in-person interview, she upped the ante even more and started talking about all of this additional crap that I really didn’t feel I could handle. So I suppose it’s better that they didn’t hire me; if they had, I probably would have been fired after a few weeks, and that would have been much worse.

So I guess it’s time to kick up my feet at my current job, while continuing my frantic employment search.

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Tanktop Lady

There’s this middle-aged lady who annoys the crap out of me by merely existing. Both of my regular readers know that this isn’t an unusual occurrence. What is unusual, I guess, are my reasons why. I only have two:

  1. To quote Roseanne, she has a voice that bends steel. She has one of those heavy South Side accents at just the right frequency to torture my ears. On top of that, I’m convinced that (much like me) she doesn’t do any actual work; she just wanders from cubicle to cubicle, all day long, yammering as shrilly as possible. I don’t think she’s doing this specifically to drive me nuts, but…she drives me nuts anyway.
  2. She’s constantly overheated. I’ll admit, the office isn’t exactly cold, but I’m a fatass who sits around in flannel shirts all day (on the rare occasions I work all day), and I don’t break a sweat. So for somebody who’s little more than skin and bones to get hot enough that she feels the need to traipse around all day in a tanktop, it’s…just weird. But she has this weird air like she’s metaphoric hot stuff (as every man in our giant compound rolls his eyes in unison), so she wants to show off. “If you got it, flaunt it,” unfortunately, lacks a contingency plan for those who think they’ve got it but…don’t. At all.

In the grand scheme of things, these issues aren’t huge. With the exception of escaping through the stairwell right next to my cubicle, I try to avoid leaving my cubicle as much as possible, so I don’t generally bear witness to her traipsing around in less clothing than anybody else in the office. And when I do hear her voice—well, sometimes even turning up the headphones isn’t even enough, but usually it can drown her out. So really, her annoyance factor is minimal.

That doesn’t mean I’m not gleeful when she gets busted down a notch. Call me mean, call me bitter, call me the unrepentant king of schadenfreude: I love it when bad things happen to people I dislike. Especially when I dislike them for ridiculous, superficial reasons. Somehow that makes it sweeter, as if it’s confirming my superficial reasons have merit.

So last week, we had a staff meeting. These are, by and large, utterly boring and a complete waste of time. When some new people took over the department a few months ago, they threatened to have weekly staff meetings but, thank God, that plan fell by the wayside. We actually haven’t had a staff meeting since they announced (then retracted by email a few hours later) that we’d be having them weekly, and I think that was way back in November. So a few hours every four months isn’t so bad.

But seriously, one of the items on the agenda was: “Dress code reminders.” Dress code reminders? Are you kidding me? Does anybody even violate the dress code?

Answer: yes. One single person in the department violates the dress code, and she—and only she—was the reason this was put on the agenda. It was almost like an intervention, because right up there on the big screen, “No tanktops.”

Tanktop Lady, who happened to be leaning against the wall next to me because she came late (I would have offered my chair, but I have a policy against being nice to people I can’t stand), was stunned and horrified. “What about summer?” she shrieked, and as she spoke the screen flickered and a ceramic vase shattered.

The Big Boss said, “Well, there are some tanktops that are a little more formal, and those are acceptable. But those thin, just-came-from the-gym-type tanktops—”

“Wifebeaters,” another employee added helpfully, which prompted a five-minute discussion from old fogies about whether or not that was an actual accepted term for the type of tanktop; most of them had never heard of it.

“So those aren’t allowed,” the Big Boss finally said and watched Tanktop Lady’s face fall. I almost want to say the Big Boss had the tiniest bit of glee herself. I hate this job, but I like the cut of her jib.

I snickered, and Tanktop Lady looked down at me, so I pretended to cough as I stared down at my feet.

I think life is better this way, although with our recent heat wave (it got up to the 50s yesterday, and only yesterday) the office has been warmer, which has prompted a lot of bitching about the heat from Tanktopless Lady…oh man, now that just gave me the image of her topless. I have a cyanide capsule for just that purpose. Hold on while I

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The Cover Letter

With my recent failure to land a job still stinging, I’ve decided to adjust my method for job-hunting. Applying for dozens of jobs in a given day seems like a good strategy on the surface, blanketing the universe with my resume, in the hopes that a few places will get back to me, but I have to face facts: I’ve received three requests for interviews in the past two months, and because of my willingness to apply for virtually everything, the two I decided not to interview for were either part-time or a shit job that I probably wouldn’t have applied for had I read the listing more closely.

And most of this, I believe, has to do with my sketchy, working-around-college-classes employment history, and the fact that I’ve essentially created a generic cover letter template that makes it easy to add a sentence or two to tailor myself to what they’re looking for and a few blank spots to add a company name and job title, so as to create the illusion of originality. It doesn’t really explain too much about me or why I want the job, or why I think I can do the job, because when you’re applying for that many jobs, it gets extremely time-consuming. As it is, I fall behind in sending out the applications because what little I do to alter the cover letter (and occasionally alter the work history) takes awhile.

And then, at random, I got an e-mail from my cousin. She’s a few years younger than me, and she was going to film school briefly but decided to drop that to go to the community college while doing as many internships as she can. Lucky for her, she grew up just outside of New York City, so there are a lot of internships to be had.

The e-mail she said was a correspondence with some internship guy in west New Jersey. I’m not sure why she sent it to me—she’s worked half a dozen internships before, and she’s mentioned them in passing, and I didn’t see anything special about this one that would necessitate sending the entire correspondence. But I’m glad she did, because her initial e-mail contained an astonishing cover letter, whoring herself to the fullest, going into an excess of details about why her work history sucks, why she dropped out of film school, but why she’d be totally awesome for this internship. I know from experience that, when there are a lot of internships available, they’re exceptionally easy to get—the 450,000 interviews I had in Los Angeles are a testament to that—but I’m not going to tell her that, because she’s proud and pleased as punch. I congratulated her, because it is awesome. If nothing else, I’ll have some coattails to ride in a few years when she actually gets paying industry jobs.

But the main thing I focused on was that ingenious cover letter, and I realized what mine was missing: heart. I’m basically sending a generic form-letter, tailored on the surface to a job but still utterly generic. Worse than that, it does a pretty horrendous job of selling me, which is the purpose of the cover letter.

This e-mail also happened to correspond with a writing job I found for a new MMORPG, produced by a reputable company outside of Seattle. Now, personally, I think MMORPGs are about the lowest of the low as far as video games are concerned, but I do think it’d be fun to write one. More than that, it’d open a couple of doors in the nerdy world of writing video games, so perhaps I could work my way up to writing for a cool game.

But here’s the problem: I don’t know shit about writing video games. I imagine it can’t be terribly different from writing screenplays, which I know how to do, but I was sending a piece of short fiction as my writing sample. I realized for this job, which I really want, I need to exploit pretty much everything I have to offer. It ain’t much, but it works: I have the work history in Seattle, so I can hop on the idea that I’d love to move back there (I wouldn’t, but I also wouldn’t say no, which is why I’m trolling for jobs out there); I’ve got the brief but seemingly impressive work in Hollywood; I have my college career and the illusion that I’m a young go-getter; and I have my writing sample, which will hopefully provide evidence of versatility in my writing (it’s not a screenplay, though college and internships prove I know that realm; and I made up some bullshit about the idea that an MMORPG creates a universe, which essentially was what I did in the story).

In short, I rambled on about why I felt I could do the job, but I did so with an excess of what my cover letter previously lacked: a desire to do this job to the best of my ability, and totally personalized for this one job. Since then, I’ve done that with five or six other decent jobs I’ve found. I’ve only started doing this on Friday afternoon, so we’ll see if it actually works or if it’s another dead end. I have to assume that, once again, my laziness did me in, so I hope that rectifying said laziness will help. Probably not, but a man can dream.

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Asshat

On Saturday morning, I checked my e-mail and found one from a friend of mine. Just a rambling, stream-of-consciousness “check-in” type of thing, since I haven’t talked to him in a week or so.

As I neared the end of the letter, a paragraph struck me: I don’t know if you’ve been in contact with Clint or not. His script is being optioned* by Big-Shot Producer. He deserves it. That was a really good script.

It’s true: Clint did deserve it, for many reasons other than his script being really good (it is). I imagine, being an unknown writer dealing with a small company, he didn’t get a huge amount of money, but he got something more important: a sizable chunk of his leg in the door previously held open by a few toes. Perhaps he’ll get an agent or a manager, or other production companies interested in reading his other scripts (he has one in particular that I think is the best script I’ve ever read, produced or not). It’s a good thing for him, which is why I sent two of my scripts to the same producer over a month ago.

But here’s why I’m a dickhead: in equal proportion to my happiness for him, I was both pissed off and obsessing over the details. I haven’t talked to Clint since a week or so before Christmas, so I knew nothing about this option, and, in fact, he hadn’t said word one about even dealing with Big-Shot Producer. I don’t know if he was holding out on me, or just not bringing it up because what business is it of mine, or if he hadn’t sent anything to Big-Shot Producer, just like I hadn’t, but when I got him to reply to my e-mail, I told Mark (the friend who told me about Clint’s script, who had asked about Big-Shot Producer), who possibly told Clint that the door was wide open.

So was this a process of Clint spending nearly a year—since we pitched to the guy back in May—or was this a rapid-fire process, where his script was so damn good they had to option it ASAP, but mine and Mark’s scripts suck ass and aren’t worth the hard drive space they’re stored on?

I felt like a total douchenozzle, because I just can’t flatly be happy for Clint. Adding insult to injury was that, since it’s been over a month since I sent my scripts to Big-Shot Producer, I dropped him a line on Thursday to remind him (a) I exist and (b) nobody’s mentioned anything about the scripts. Thursday and Friday passed with no word, so I was getting frustrated. I felt like he was giving me the brush-off. And then I started to get a little jealous. I felt like my scripts were both better than his. And maybe they both are, but that’s just the way Hollywood works: maybe this particular producer thinks he can work better with a gut-busting comedy about terrorists than a dramedy about a failed rock-star.

And all of these things just made me feel worse, because I can’t help thinking them, but I really am happy for Ryan’s luck. But I’m an angry, bitter hermit who expresses his happiness for other people through abuse and manipulation. Some find that charming; most find it disgusting. I even sent a subtly worded e-mail to Clint, not specifically mentioning that I’d sent him any scripts; even though he probably knew from Mark, the idea is that the scripts I sent weren’t important. What was important was, his script got optioned, and I was happy for him, and I wished him well.

How in God’s name could an e-mail like that be infused with negativity? Really, honestly, it’s not. It’s a very happy-go-lucky, congratulatory e-mail that he does, indeed, deserve. Untarnished. The problem came from the thoughts boiling in my head, phrasing it to prompt a response from him in some way or another, something along the lines of, “Yeah, it took months of dealing with him to get him to option it, but I’m so glad it paid off.” Something with a little more information than Mark’s sparse e-mail supplied.

So far, I’ve received nothing in response. I’m sure it’s because he’s busy having a life and family, and he’ll respond to me in a few days, but deep down, I don’t feel like I even deserve any kind of response, because even a nice e-mail came from such a twisted place.

A few minutes ago, I got an e-mail from Big-Shot Producer:

Stan,

Thanks for the note – I’ve been in a crunch with the release of our next film and starting another one so I’m sorry to say I’m a little behind in my reading.

I’ll do my best to get to them in the next week. Feel free to bug me in a couple of weeks if you’ve not heard from me or my assistant.

Best,

Big-Shot Producer

It’s about what I expected from him in the first place; I dreaded the quick brush-off, but this dude brushes people off for a living. If he’d even read my scripts and disliked them, he wouldn’t try to hide from me or leave me hanging. I’m nothing. He’d just say, “Sorry, not interested.” It’s as easy as that. So now I’m feeling a little more positive, a little less hated, a little less paranoid, but as usual, I’m a little disgusted with myself.

*I’m sure I’ve explained this before, but for those who don’t know or don’t remember, the easiest way to explain an “option” is like this: it’s basically a “rental” of your script by a production company or studio. They pay you a flat fee to “rent” the script for a certain amount of time, with an exorbitant bonus (the equivalent of somebody renting a house you own for a year and then buying it from you) if they either produce it themselves or sell it to a studio that will produce it. If they can’t do anything, and it sits languishing in a pile of other optioned scripts, when the agreed-upon time elapses, the original owner retains his rights to the script. [Back]

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Blog Changes

So we’ve upgraded to MovableType 3.2. In point of fact, the upgrade was made months ago, probably; I just never bothered to take a look at what the new version can do. And I’d like to point out a couple of new issues that will make your lives easier:

  1. I have no idea what any of these new CSS codes mean, so until I root through them and figure out what’s what, there’s no customization on the page. It’s the default style and layout, and hopefully it can be changed to something a little less…happy, but if it can’t, lower your monitor brightness and deal with it.
  2. I’ve, and this important so I’m boldfacing it, enabled public comments once again. That’s right, you savages, the new version apparently has some improved junk comment filtering (and by “improved,” I mean it has junk comment filtering), which should allow me to easily ignore the various R. Kelly-related spam I used to get. So go ahead and leave some comments, since you’re all too lazy or paranoid to sign up for TypeKey. The floodgates are open.

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The Conspiracy

There’s a scene in All the President’s Men where, and I’m going from memory here because it’s been several months since I’ve watched the movie and a few years since I’ve read the book, Deep Throat tells Woodward that he and Carl Bernstein are being bugged and to be careful what they say. Woodward immediately goes to Bernstein’s apartment, and when Bernstein opens the door with a jovial “Hello!” Woodward silences him immediately by placing his index finger over his lips. He turns on a Vivaldi record and types the information he received from Deep Throat.

I always love it when my life turns into a movie, especially a ’70s conspiracy thriller, but reenacting that scene today was almost too much.

There’s a woman at work, Athena, who I’ve kinda been buddies with since we started. Not bestest, share-all-our-secrets buddies, but we share daily moments of friendly banter (which is more than I can say for most of these drones) and occasionally, when we can get away from the office, have lengthy bitch sessions about what a miserable fucking job we share. It’s cool. So she came up to me in my cubicle today, while I was working on closing out some invoices. I was listening to music, so I paused it and greeted her with a jovial “Hello!” She silenced me immediately by placing her index finger over her lips. Unfortunately, I had neither a record player nor a Vivaldi record, and the computer is a poor substitute for the endless rattle of a typewriter, so she just stood there, about three inches away from my ear, whispering as quietly and monotonously as possible (in fact, she didn’t even take pauses for the commas and periods that I’ve added—it was just one steady, rambling stream):

“Andrea [my direct supervisor] is having Joanne [one of the new contractors, who happens to sit near my cubicle] spy on you when you leave your desk and come back, writing down when you come in late* and leave early and take long breaks, stuff like that, and she’s been reporting it to the Big Boss. I don’t know how long it’s been going on, I think only a week or two, but I thought I should tell you because I don’t want you to get fired. The Big Boss said she didn’t want to fire you, and she wouldn’t because she didn’t have anything concrete, but if you keep it up she probably will, so you really gotta straighten up because Now They’re Watching You.”

Je…sus…Christ. I’ve always been what many people—including myself—call “paranoid,” but as I’m often quick to point out: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean They’re not after you. But this kinda rattled me. After she told me, and just walked away as if nothing had happened (I acknowledged her with a stunned, wide-eyed nod, so she understood the message was received), I was literally shaking with fear and anger. I was so pissed—not about getting caught taking a lot of “personal time,” but about the way Andrea went about it, as well as her reasons for it**—that I considered giving my notice on the spot. I’ve had enough of this fucking shit-ass job, and the money’s nice, but I’m at a pathetic point where I don’t really need it—what little money I would spend over the months and possibly years searching for another job could come directly from the ever-increasing nest egg I’ve stockpiled so that I’ll have some “wiggle room” before I move out. The only thing I’d change from the equation, if I quit, is the “move out” part.

But then I decided if I quit, the terrorists would win, and I can’t have that. “Fuck her,” I thought, and then I hatched a rather simple scheme for revenge: she is, if you read the double-asterisked footnote, trying to “make an example of me” or something to mask the fact that the work she gave me was her responsibility to begin with. I enjoy the poetic justice in approaching the Big Boss as soon as I get in tomorrow morning, an hour or more before Andrea’s start time, and laying it all on the line: my unethical extended lunches and early quitting times; my awareness of the conspiracy against me and my side of the story, which will in large part damn me but will mostly take Andrea down further than I’ve ever gone; the fact that I’ve only had a few “catch-all” things to do for the past month, in large part because she (a) hoards her work like a maniac and (b) clamored and conned her way into too many temps, thus depriving me of said work because she’s doling it out to all of them to justify the necessity of all these extra people; and that I’ve done good work in the past, and will continue to do good work, as long as I have something to do. I’m guessing there’s something personal in there—I’ve been generally pleasant to her, but I really can’t stand her, and maybe she realizes it and doesn’t want to work with me. I can’t really figure out any other reason—work-related or otherwise—why she’d launch an offensive to get rid of me when we could, much more easily, get rid of a temp or five.

So if the Big Boss has a problem with any of this, I’ll put in my notice and leave without a fuss. Hopefully she’ll accept that over firing me, which reflects badly on both of us (or maybe just me…I’m gonna go ahead and hope “both of us”). I’m thinking, though, that while this is kind of a gamble, the end result will be “a semi-severe reprimand for Andrea, followed by the dismissal of a temp and an increase in work for me.” The only foreseeable problems are my obsession with finding a better job (and if I do, I am soooo out of there, which might burn a few bridges with the Big Boss if she plans to get in my corner) and the consequences of admitting that I’ve essentially been a slacker. I’ve been hiding the information, rather than going to the Big Boss directly and immediately, because let’s face it: I’d much rather sit in my car reading a novel for three hours than sit in a cubicle slowly melting my corneas. I’d risk this shitty-ass job for the privilege of doing that, because I’m any Conspirators’s worst enemy: a Gambler. But, as it happens, I’m a Really Shitty Gambler who rarely thinks of consequences beyond my own immediate gratification. So I’m gonna go in and bluff, and I’ll either win, lose, or fold like a cheap card-table and leave in shameful silence.

Wish me luck!

*I make no bones about leaving early and taking long breaks, but I’m never more than five minutes late, and usually I’m there before Joanne. But whatever. [Back]

**Dateline: Late November 2005—Andrea hands me a stack of work for our end-of-the-month close, but as usual, she didn’t sort through it carefully and handed me a bunch of crazy shit that I have no idea how to do and don’t know who to give it back to, so I handed it back to Andrea and told her the problems, and she…did nothing. Now, in mid-February, she sees all of this work in my computer “bin” (this, to me, is the equivalent of her coming into my cubicle and rooting around in my filing cabinets to dig up dirt) and demands to know why it hasn’t been done. I explained, in a polite but mildly condescending tone, that I gave her this work to do months ago, and if she intended to blame me for not getting it done, she’d better bark up a different tree. She took her frustration out on me, by forcing me to sit in her cubicle for four hours while she attempted to process two—of eight—invoices, showing me how to do both of them. I have no problem with learning new things, but she pretty much abandoned me shortly before I had to leave anyway, so I went home. The next day, she brushed past my cubicle on her way to, I assume, conspire with Joanne, and she asked, “Did you finish that stuff in your ‘bin’?”

“Um,” I replied, but she kept on going, somewhat unwilling to hear a negative answer. So I let it go. She has the hard copies; she can finish it. But I suspect my unwillingness to, uh, do work that I can’t feasibly do has…pissed her off, and she wants to take me down to prevent her from looking bad. I have no evidence to confirm that this is her reasoning, but the time-frame lines up and it’s really the only time she’s ever gotten pissy with me. [Back]

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The Gambit

When I got into work yesterday morning, I decided that I should finish what I had started working on yesterday. Since the woman who gave me that stack of work is someone who (a) I actually like and (b) is nothing but pleasant to me, I thought I should get it done in case the talk with the Big Boss that I mentioned yesterday didn’t go well.

Also, when I woke up yesterday morning, my anger and spite had diminished, and I really was at a point where I wouldn’t want to continue working there if I had to work closely with Andrea (as I almost certainly would). On top of that, everyone I discussed this with—friends, family, coworkers—agreed that, since I don’t really need this job and it’s really just a way station until I find something that I don’t hate, I should just say “fuck it” and quit. Even my father voiced this opinion, before I even told him about my plan to save face while ruining Andrea, and he was the one most critical about me leaving Los Angeles and most frustrated about me not finding a job within three minutes of getting back to Chicago. These opinions reenforced my original gut reaction, before the spite took over and I felt the need to ruin Andrea’s life—for fun!

With that in mind, I reshaped my mental talk with the Big Boss to reflect my newfound maverick attitude: I didn’t care about saving my job, although I did care about being outright fired, so within that small limitation I could say whatever the hell I wanted. If it forced me into a position where all I could do is quit, boo-fucking-hoo. If we couldn’t possibly work out some sort of compromise to allow me to continue working without having any interaction—even just, say, running into her at the printer—with Andrea, I’d take a walk.

That perspective can lead employers to bend to your will if you’re valuable enough—remember how I accidentally became a legend at Borders?—or it can explode in your face like a trick cigar. And I’ll have you know, I was wishing it would be a trick cigar that doesn’t fire people after the explosion.

The work I had left took me a couple of hours, and when I finished I handed the stack back to the woman who gave it to me. Then, mustering up my courage—yes, despite my carefree attitude, I was nervous about getting caught in a web of Andrea-spun bullshit that would result in my getting fired and looking like a jackass—I marched to the Big Boss’s cubicle, mentally preparing myself for the gambit.

“Big Boss,” I said, “we need to have a talk.”

She gave me a semi-frustrated, knowing look, and nodded for me to sit down. I sat and explained that somebody—I wouldn’t name names—had made me aware of a conspiracy to get me fired, and that I knew the Big Boss knew the two people who had formed this conspiracy because I had already been ratted out. I said that while I admit (very vaguely) that “on occasions” I would “sometimes” leave “a little bit” early or “once in awhile” take a “slightly longer” lunch, I appreciated her giving me the benefit of the doubt and, essentially, telling the conspirators to go fuck themselves, but the conspiracy itself cropped up certain issues that we needed to address.

“Such as…?” the Big Boss asked, seeming genuinely unaware of any problems that could come from my knowledge of the conspiracy.

“If Andrea comes within 10 feet of me, I’ll have to fight an uncontrollable urge to shout obscenities at her,” I responded. “And that, to me, presents a problem because nearly all of the work I do comes directly from her, and unless you start shuffling around everybody’s responsibilities so I don’t have to work with or anywhere near her—which obviously isn’t fair to anybody else in the office—or you can think of some other compromise, I think I should give my notice.”

She sat for a minute, her head cocked to the side like a puppy that’s just noticed a long line of ants marching on a sidewalk, then looked me straight in the eyes.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay”? That was it?! No “maybe we could can the temp and have you go back to doing what you used to do,” no potential solution of any kind, no “when you calm down, we should have some sort of discussion to resolve the issues between you and Andrea,” just “okay, I accept your notice, now leave me alone”?!

“Okay,” I parroted, then added, “Thanks,” for some reason, before I went back to my desk. Thanks for not firing me on the spot, I guess.

After fucking around for a little while—remember, a significant chunk of the problem is that I don’t have anything to do, primarily because Andrea doesn’t give me anything to do, even when I ask her, and I certainly wasn’t going to ask her now—I thought I should brave going somewhat near Andrea in order to thank Athena, who both saved my job—I guarantee you if she hadn’t come to tell me, I never would have figured out the conspiracy for myself and would have ended up getting fired within a few weeks of hardcore spying on me—and gave me the courage to finally quit, even though I have very little on the horizon.

When I left my desk, I thought about going to the temp and saying, “You can let Andrea know I’m going to Athena’s desk, then I’m going to use the can; I shouldn’t be more than five minutes, but if I am, feel free to alert the Big Boss.” And yes, I am that mean, but I decided against it. Why be openly hostile to her when I could save my anger and frustration for Andrea?

I thought I should thank her subtly, because even though I didn’t give a shit if Andrea knew I knew about her little plan, I didn’t want her to hold it against Athena because she told me all about it. Maybe I should have even taken her out to lunch or something, but I didn’t want to give her ideas. Not trying to sound like the office stud (I assure you, I’m not), but I know for certain she’s attracted to me, and it’s not that I don’t feel the same for her—she’s another single mother looking for a surrogate father. And much like her kids’ actual father(s), it’s Splitsville for me when I hear the siren squeal of toddlers.

So yeah, I didn’t want to give her ideas. I thought about taking her aside, maybe inviting her to go “on break” with me, and then thanking her once we’ve reached a safe distance from Andrea, but to be honest, I thought as I walked to her cubicle that if I just said something vague like, “Thanks for your help yesterday,” she’d know exactly what I meant but Andrea would remain clueless.

So that was exactly what I ended up doing. She gave a knowing smile and told me it was no problem at all.

“Stan!” Andrea piped up, noticing my tremendous carriage blocking the entrance to Athena’s cubicle. “Did you finish that work in your ‘bin’?”

Yes, this is the same work she referred to last week, the work that started this whole conspiracy mess, the work that I didn’t do two months ago because I didn’t know how to do it then, and I still don’t know how to do it because she never taught me. At this point, two things happened in my brain:

  1. I realized that quitting and blaming her was the right move. On Tuesday, I decided not to quit because I figured that would play right into her hands—she wanted me fired, so if I quit she would win. Now, I realized what a good night’s sleep had force me to suspect: she never wanted me fired—she wanted the Big Boss to threaten to fire me, or maybe even to say she would fire me but then Andrea would come and rescue my job (at which point I would be beholden to her), because she wants a toady. She wants me ot sit there for eight hours, doing nothing if I have nothing, but certainly not sneaking out. When she says “Jump!” she wants me to be there to say “How high?!” But I’m usually sitting in my car, in a parking lot two miles away, reading a Chandler novel. So my quitting is actually the worst thing for her.
  2. The anger and spite came back. Oh boy, did it ever come back.

Everybody who knows me is fully aware that I have no skills at all, but I have one magical power that, when used for evil, can simply destroy a person. You talk about emotional scarring—this is emotional disfigurement. Okay, maybe not. Maybe it’s just scarring, but it’s usually something people remember. Maybe not on a constant, I-have-to-kill-that-Stan basis, but definitely in a periodically-flashing-in-their-mind-and-reopening-the-wound kind of way.

I can, most of the time, size up a person and, within minutes of observation (even if I’m not talking to the person—just watching them silently fidget from across a crowded auditorium) size up their character. I say “most of the time,” because on occasion I learn from others (often when bitching about a person I barely know and grossly mischaracterizing them) that I’ve been wrong, but usually I’m so right it’s spooky. And I don’t usually use this power for evil—much like Harry Block, I just exploit it for creative gain—but sometimes I’m prompted or feel compelled to rip into a person, and that’s when it all comes out.

The problem is, when I’m angry at a person, and the compulsion to start yelling at them overwhelms me, I just destroy them. Because part of the instanalysis of their character includes full awareness of their fears and insecurities, and that’s what you hone in on when you’re mad.

So obviously, as I lumbered around to her cubicle and spoke very quietly and rapidly to her, I started laying into her about her insecurity about this job—how part of the reason she wants to “control” me stems from the fact that she’s fully aware that I could do her job with my eyes closed and still sneak out for five hours a day—and ended, through a long procession of obscenity-laced browbeating, launched into a tirade about her fear that her husband is cheating on her with—gasp!—an American woman (she’s Filipino). I didn’t even know about this fear in any specific way. I could just…tell.

And the way she looked at me when I started talking about that, especially her prejudice against “white” people, made me know I was dead fucking right. At the same time I felt triumphant, I knew I was the worst person in the entire world. Incidentally, this magical power is the reason why I instinctively dislike almost everybody on the planet.

After I finished speaking, Andrea said nothing. She just sat there, jaw agape (especially at the end). I turned back to go to my desk and caught a glance at Athena, who I could tell was looking at me the same way I looked at myself: with a combination of pride and horror. Then I turned back around to say what I realized I hadn’t even gotten to—the actual response to her question—so I said, “I haven’t done the shit you gave me because, as I’ve already told you three times, I. Don’t. Know. How. To. Do. It. Okay? You have the invoices, you’re the one who never taught me—you do it!” This was the only time, during a tirade that felt like half an hour (it was more like two minutes), that I raised my voice.

I went back to my desk and, once again, fucked around for a few minutes, at which time the Big Boss came to my cubicle. She told me that I’d made Andrea cry (I figured…) and perhaps I should just go. No hard feelings, she wouldn’t give me any black marks or even give me a bad reference (this led me to believe that the Big Boss felt Andrea deserved what she got from me), but she’s not going to put up with two weeks of me making other employees cry. It was interesting to me that she said “other employees,” not just Andrea. Did she know there were a few other people I really didn’t get along with? I don’t have to work directly with any of them, at least not on a regular basis, so I’d really have no reason to say anything to them, but that’s fair enough.

I thanked the Big Boss, took my cabinet keys off their chain and set them on my desk along with my ID badge. I shut down my computer, grabbed my jacket and slipped away down the stairwell next to my cubicle, as I had done so many times while sneaking out over the past several months.

I doubt I’ll ever see any of these people again—disappointing, since a couple of them (like Athena) seemed pretty cool—but if I see Andrea, I doubt our next encounter will be any better than our last one.

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Weird Dream

So I’m down in the Loop, only it’s not really the Loop—it’s some kind of weird, ethereal place. Let me describe it this way: a few years ago I spent a great deal of time prepping a conspiracy thriller, and in one of the early drafts the protagonist discovers, not unlike The Truman Show, that his entire “new life” is a sham, up to and including a full-scale recreation of the city of Chicago—or, at least, the places he was likely to go in the city—that’s really nothing more than a backlot somewhere in Wyoming. And that is what it felt like—on the surface it seemed real, but somehow I could almost see the L-backings holding up the crappy building façades.

Point being, it’s the Loop, and it’s crowded as hell because it’s obviously rush hour. The sidewalks and streets are packed, and I’m trying to wade through the sea of people to get to the train, when out of the corner of my eye I spot a familiar face: my old friend Jive, who unbeknownst to me is in town for an undisclosed period of time. We exchange an extended, yammerful greeting and discover we’re both heading for the same train, so we walk up the stairs to the Adams & Wabash station. The platform, much like the sidewalk, is stuffed to the gills. People are overflowing to a dangerous extreme, so when the train comes it keeps bleeping its horn, but there’s nowhere for anybody to move so it just coasts in at about three miles an hour. And the train itself is packed—few people can get off, because where would they go?—and it doesn’t leave much room for anyone to get on.

“Come on,” Jive says, “I know a shortcut.”

One of those weird, dreamy smash-cuts, and suddenly we’re both in a dark, empty, wet-seeming subway tunnel. “Follow me,” Jive mutters, and he climbs up onto what appears to be an abandoned el train. It’s immobile and has no power, but apparently we have to walk through it in order to get to the real train. As we’re walking through it, I hear rats squeaking. About half a car ahead of us, I can see an older, stinking, bum-like gentleman using the same shortcut we’re using. We keep our distance.

Eventually we see the lights from the subway station (it looks like Clark & Lake to me), but we don’t actually hop up onto the platform. There’s no point, since the train is parked right there. Don’t ask me about the logic of an abandoned, immobile train on the same track as the train that’s moving.

We get on the train, and I’m rushing like hell to get a seat, but it’s pretty crowded. I leap to the only pair of seats left (and yet, for some reason, Jive is gone—he probably doesn’t mind standing since he’s not a lazy fatass), but for some reason as I sit down, an elderly woman in a bright-as-hell lime-green dress is sitting there. She pleasantly at me, and I nod awkwardly at her.

With that, I woke up. For some reason, I awoke with a sense of completion, like I had really finished the hell out of that dream, what with me getting to the train and getting a seat at rush hour.

Weird that I’m having train dreams since, aside from last week’s test, I haven’t ridden it in a long time, and I don’t plan to ride it for longer still.

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