Returning to the present, I marched down the narrow hallway toward my cubicle with a smarmy good-morning-to-all smile pasted on my face. You should always smile at people, my granny used to say. After all, you’re about to shtup them. Don’t they at least deserve a smile?
“Good morning, Gordon,” trilled a far-from-lilting voice with saccharine sweetness from that first office with a window that I have never been able to successfully sneak past. It was my boss, of course, calling out to me from behind a desk covered with piles of paper. It was as organized a mess as I’ve ever seen. I’m sure that mess impresses visitors, which is probably the point.
Kathy Becker is from the old school of management: when she says “Jump!” we ask “How high?” on the way up. Although she has never said so directly, she has implied that if we do exactly that, obey orders and follow her instructions conscientiously and to the letter, we will all prosper. However, that turns out to be “not entirely correct”, as the politicians are wont to say.
Kathy herself is a workaholic. She rarely puts in less than ten hours a day and she expects a similar “level of commitment” from the rest of us. She is always careful to avoid demanding such explicitly because that might be legally actionable. However, she uses that word “commitment” all too frequently and it tends to show up in our annual performance reviews. At least, it does in mine.
During my own review, several months ago, Kathy wrote that she was “disappointed in my demonstrated level of professional commitment”. What she meant, of course, was that I hadn’t put in enough extra, unpaid hours. Well, maybe working unpaid hours is ok for her, but it doesn’t fly with me. I’m on salary. After eight hours I am no longer being paid so why would I still be working? Because I’m a nice guy? That can’t be it. Or is it something that I should be willing to do for the good of the Team?
Right, the Team: such a wonderful concept. The idea here is that everyone will pull together equally for the common good. No individual member of the Team will be better than any other member and everyone’s ideas will always be heard. This is all well and good, as far as it goes. However, I’ve noticed that the Team Leader is the only one whose name seems to actually be known outside the Team. When the big boss drops by on his weekly inspection tour, he shakes hands with the Team Leader and asks, “How is your Team doing?” I’m fairly certain he doesn’t know or care who else is on the Team.
I have been a member of several such Teams. In each case, our Team completed its appointed task successfully, after which we were all congratulated. Shortly thereafter the Team Leader was promoted and consequently moved on to bigger and better things while the rest of us just went back to whatever we’d been doing before joining the Team. Rah, Team.
“Gordon?” I realized that I’d been standing in front of Kathy with a blank look for several seconds.
“Sorry, I was just remembering something I would have to take care of at lunch today. How are you this morning, Kathy?”
I have trouble getting fully behind the American business tradition which seems to require an employee to call his supervisor by her first name and then pretend she is his good friend. In truth, I hate this woman. Calling her a bitch would insult bitches. She is the Boss From Hell, personified. Nevertheless, each morning I smile at her and I say “Good morning” when in fact I hope she falls into a hole, breaks her leg, and then spends a terrible week crying piteously for help while slowly dying of thirst and exposure.
I complained about this situation over beers one night. I was alone, of course, except for the bartender, who reminded me, while spit shining a glass, that courtesy is an important social mechanism which has the positive consequence of reducing friction and stress. I do believe this, mostly. However, sometimes the thought worms its way into my head that what I’m really doing is lying, which is bad. But my lies are well intentioned, which is good. Sometimes these things go round and round in my head without resolution. Eventually I take comfort in the Orwellian didactic: it’s not bad if it’s good, and if it’s good it’s not bad, so don’t worry about it.
“I’m fine, thank you for asking. You know we start work here at eight o’clock, don’t you, Gordon?” Kathy asked me, smiling sweetly.
Kathy has asked me variations of this question almost every morning for the last three years, so of course I was ready with a reply. No one could be readier. However, I sensed that Kathy was in an unusual mood this particular morning. Her smile was kind of flickering on and off, and when it was off, it looked way off. An explosion seemed imminent. So I held back my prepared, witty rejoinder. My gut told me that this would not be a good time to make cute remarks. So, like a gifted broken field runner, I cut back upfield.
“I was here. I was just jawboning with Herb in the washroom about the new ECPs. I swear, if a thing works and meets all requirements, why can’t the Powers That Be just leave it alone?” I asked rhetorically, putting a distinct whine into my voice.
Despite herself, Kathy smiled wryly and nodded. I mentally pumped a fist and did my little victory dance; nothing but net on this one. In fact, it was a slam dunk, because Kathy had her own Boss From Hell. His name was Lewis. Whenever our Group threatened to reach a milestone on time and under budget, which would cover Kathy in glory, Lewis would step in and reinterpret the requirements, resulting in a flood of last minute ECPs – Engineering Change Proposals – which would significantly expand the effort, leaving the Group suddenly behind schedule and usually with insufficient time remaining to reach the milestone. When her Group failed to reach a milestone on time it made Kathy look bad.
Kathy believed her boss was doing this on purpose because he was afraid of her, which I thought was something of a no-brainer. Kathy is the ultimate Young Turk. The only way she could advance further in the company was to take over Lewis’ job and of course Lewis was very well aware of this. He was simply and very desperately fighting back with every weapon at his disposal. For now, Lewis appeared to be holding the line, but everyone knew that Kathy would pull him down eventually. The corporate sycophants were already lining up behind her with lips puckered.
“I don’t blame you and Herb for being upset,” Kathy said, and I knew that I was golden. “The new ECPs are going to make a lot of extra work for all of us. But we’ll manage, like we always do.” I smiled and nodded agreeably, ready as ever to put my shoulder to the wheel.
She then produced an updated list of project milestones which a quick glance revealed were simply NDW: no damn way. “Hmm,” I said, frowning thoughtfully. “Looks like this could be a little tight.”
Kathy gave a quick nod. “I can see that. But I think we can make it. We might have to work a couple of Saturdays.”
Right, I thought. If we worked every Saturday for the next eight months we would still come up way short.
“Mm-hmm,” I said. I bent down and peered at the schedule. “I’ll bet we can make up some time here.” I pointed vaguely at the second largest cluster of dots.
Kathy clapped her hands. “That was my thought exactly, Gordie!” she said, flashing me a bright I-knew-I-could-count-on-you smile. We were obviously on the same page, the two of us standing shoulder to shoulder against the barbarian horde.
It was all a little embarrassing. How long had this woman known me? I felt like I was lying to a date to get into her pants: “You’re the only one for me…of course I mean it, honey…you know you can trust me.” A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, but geez, sometimes it’s just embarrassing.
I spent about twenty minutes listening to her plan for making the impossible possible, smiling and nodding at the appropriate points, while she annotated the schedule in red and black felt pen with lots of exclamation points, happy faces, and double exclamation points. At one juncture she drew a small question mark, lightly, in pencil, indicating a milestone we would reach just as soon as hell froze over and the devil went into business selling ski apparel.
“We can do it, don’t you think, Gordie?” she asked, her voice a bit plaintive.
“Absolutely, Kathy. We’re all behind you, you know that,” I replied.
I was standing in front of her desk at that point. Kathy was bent over her milestone chart. As the grasping business tycoon said, I saw my opportunity and I took it. Kathy is young and not bad looking. I hate her but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, as Gran used to say.
I circled around the desk to get a better look at the chart, which coincidentally lay just below her cleavage. Her blouse was open only a single tasteful button, but I had the angle on her now and it was killer. Kathy has a nice little pair, not too large but quite well shaped. I raised up a little on my right foot and leaned my head slightly to the side, trying to score a nipple. No luck, she was wearing one of those teasing flesh colored bras. Nevertheless, I felt what some writers, particularly female writers trying to describe a certain masculine moment, will sometimes refer to as a “tightness” in the crotch area. Tightness, right. In fact, my crotch area heaved upward like an Olympic weightlifter thrusting 500 pounds toward the heavens: look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!
In my teen years I would either have ripped a hole in my pants or broke myself in half, but, alas, the best I could do approaching thirty was produce a very obtrusive bulge which the overhead lights displayed as a mountainous shadow across Kathy’s chart. She turned around to find the source of the shadow and in the process her nose did graze me most inappropriately.
Her eyes bugged and her hands did that little shiver that all the chicks do when suddenly confronted by Jason Voorhees holding a bloody machete. Her face suddenly glowed red like Rudolph’s nose on an especially foggy Christmas Eve. Jason Voorhees, my ass. No terrifying serial killer ever got such a reaction from a victim. Once again, look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair! For an all-too-brief moment I gloried in my manly wonderfulness. I felt a sudden, primal urge to tear off my clothes, jump up on the desk, and bellow pirate songs at the world. A roar of smug laughter welled up in my chest.
At the last moment, however, sanity intervened. This woman could fire me. I converted the laugh into a cough and affected the extreme embarrassment which I was sure a feminine perception of the preceding events would deem appropriate.
“Uh-ahh-argh,” I said unintelligibly. Although my eyes were directed up at the ceiling, nevertheless my peripheral vision was locked onto Kathy’s heaving chest and suddenly erect nipples. Had I done that? I was certain that I had. Yowsah!
I let a moment pass without breathing, allowing the sudden need for oxygen to flush my face, and affected an embarrassed posture. Meanwhile, although Kathy’s jaw was clenched grimly, nevertheless a tiny but wondrous squeak escaped her lips, a sound which I will treasure forever. Then she took a deep breath and composed herself. Give the woman credit, nothing of what had just occurred could possibly have been seen or heard outside her office.
“We…we…uh… we have a lot of work to do,” she managed at last. “Let’s…let’s get to it…shall we?” I stood there a moment, wondering if I should say something. “Close the door on your way out, Gordon.” Eyes glued to her project schedule, Kathy waved her hand dismissively. Well, ok then.
I closed the door carefully behind me, then ambled down the hallway, smiling to myself while running virtual hands over Kathy’s pert little titties and thanking God for a Y chromosome. Yowsah!