Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

5/10/2006

How Canadians are made

File under: Home And Native Land, Talking To Strangers, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:13 pm.

Today I met with a client, who arrived late and frazzled. I didn’t ask him for an explanation, but he offered one anyway, the same explanation he offered me the last time he arrived late and frazzled: “I have a newborn…kid isn’t sleeping through the night.”

This is the same newborn he had when I met him last Christmas.

“Lots of people in the office have new babies,” I remarked idly. “Annie’s little girl must be five months old by now, and Roger just got back from parental leave in March, and Frank’s son was born on Valentine’s Day. And it’s not a large office, either.”

“Well,” said my client, who’d obviously given the matter a fair bit of thought already, “there was no hockey last year.”

2/20/2006

Everything I ever needed to know, I failed to learn in kindergarten.

File under: Righteous Indignation, Know Thyself, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 4:32 pm.

This just in: I come across as blunt, abrasive, aloof, distant, and ostensibly averse to small talk - and damned if some people don’t much care for that.

Pardon me, allow me to clarify: this just in from my supervisor, who took five minutes to get [above] across to me. I knew exactly what was coming halfway into the “Well, I’m not quite sure how to tell you this, but sometimes in large groups…” prelude, but coaxing it out of him any faster would have required me to bypass the requisite small talk and cut straight to bluntness, and never let it be said that I can’t take a hint.

Anyway, this is apparently a problem. Not just to my supervisor, but to the anonymous chorus of indeterminate size (”some people”) that has approached him with concerns about my demeanor. Oh, they all know I mean well, but would it kill me to smile a bit more? Spend more of my lunch breaks indoors with others in the lunchroom, instead of running errands or relaxing at the park? Interrupt my work (which I’m apparently doing quite well, thankyouverymuch), whenever the circumstances demand it, with multi-word commentary about how by gosh, it is raining again, whenever will the madness end?

It’s not that I’m not aware of all of this, mind you; it’s that what others see as friendly banter, I see as distractions from my work - work that no one else in the office can do. I am a task-oriented person, dammit, not a people-oriented person! It’s that, much as I like my coworkers, I don’t come to work to better my social life. It’s that in my metric, it’s better to approach people, possibly bluntly, than it is to mediate your concerns through a third party, so that the offending individual is left suspecting all of the friendly chit-chatters of filing complaints with that party and leaving her to guess whether this modification of her behaviour is enough, because it’s not like she’s had the chance to speak directly (that word again!) with anyone who actually wanted her to modify it. So help me, this all strikes me as remarkably inefficient, not to mention, highly inconducive to creating a pleasant working environment, at least for me. I’m just saying.

In summary: damned if I know what precisely I need to change (goddamn, it’s hard to get straight answers from the directness-averse HR set), and damned if I could make whatever changes are necessary without driving myself insane even if I did know exactly what they were. The good news is, I continue to provide my employer with a sort of specialized expertise that they’ve been seeking for years; and by all accounts, I do a very good job of what I was hired to do.

Call me old-fashioned, but right now, I plan to just continue to do my job well, and I reckon that’ll be enough.

2/8/2006

Doppelgangers

File under: Know Thyself, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:21 pm.

On the buisiness trip:

  • Guy who tells me that it’s “nice seeing [me] again.” Again? I say. Not that I doubted that I’d run into him before; I remember having seen people far less often than they remember having seen me, and I often feel tremendouly guilty about this. However, the last time this guy supposedly saw me was “at the conference in Edmonton”, and I was never at the conference in Edmonton. But he swears he saw me, or at least, someone who looked just like me.

    People tell me this disturbingly often, and I can only assume that not all of them think that “I know I’ve seen you before” is a functional, if not especially clever, pick-up line. Apparently there are plenty of people who look just like me floating around, but I’ve never met any of them personally.

  • Speaker who looks exactly like a ten-to-fifteen-years-younger version of my father. Same height. Same build. Same colouring. Same gait. Same haircut. Same glasses. Same style of dress. This is slightly jarring.

    More jarring, though, is the fact that this dude could not possibly sound less like my father. No, whenever this guy opens his mouth, he speaks in a lispy, slightly breathless, gay-guy-from-crappy-sitcom tenor.

    And file under “just plain strange” (or “race is a social construct”, if you’re so inclined): though I’m a mutt and I can’t reliably enumerate all of the nationalities that feature in my bloodline, I am fairly certain that there is no genetic explanation for my parent looking like some guy named Sanchez.

The customer is always…something

File under: Know Thyself, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 6:51 pm.

The room in the somewhat swank hotel where I am staying on business was not ready when I arrived two minutes after check-in time.

Now, I didn’t mind one whit, because I mostly just think about hotels as places where someone else changes your sheets and cleans your bathroom, and I pretty much figure that once you’ve got that, it really doesn’t make much sense to gripe about the timing of the sheet-changing and bathroom-cleaning, you know? Gift horses and misdirected gazes, is all. But I am clearly not a member of the class of hotel patrons that the staff at the somewhat swank hotel has been trained to serve, because the woman at the check-in counter immediately shifted into damage control mode as soon as she had discerned the state of my room-to-be: We’re so sorry! Your room was not available at three-oh-two, so here’s a gift card for a free shoe shine! And another that will allow you two hours at our luxury spa, free of charge! And here, take an exercise kit that we usually provide only to our preferred customers, of which you were not one five minutes ago, but you are now! Because you have been wronged! By us! Oh, and while you wait, go get yourself a drink at the bar - at no cost to yourself! And if you want to enjoy one of the pay-per-view movies that we offer this week, you will not see the charge on your hotel bill!

Eyes widened in anxious anticipation. Expectant stare. Is there anything else we could do to pursuade you to forget this unpleasantness?

At this point I was so disoriented by this wholly unnecessary song and dance, that my ability to adjust my behaviour to my surroundings took leave of me completely. “Well, to be honest,” I deadpanned, “short of giving me a free upgrade to one of your luxury suites - no, I’m afraid there really isn’t.”

Without a word, the clerk nodded, pursed her lips, and briskly entered some data into her computer. A minute later, she handed me a key and dispatched me. It was only after I arrived at the door to my temporary residence that I realized that there was no reason for my room to be ready so soon, and oh my god there are two bathrooms in this place and I need a pair of binoculars to watch TV in here.

It did come to my attention, however, that even the preferred customers who spend, I swear it says this right on the door, seven hundred dollars a night to stay here, still have to pay for their own high speed internet connection on top of all that, ten goddamned dollars a day.

I considered calling the front desk and asking for that charge to be waived, but I thought that might be pushing it.

1/30/2006

Somebody is going to regret this

File under: When We Were Young, Know Thyself, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:25 pm.

“Applicant must be willing to travel”, read the job ad, and they weren’t kidding: I’ve got five trips scheduled this quarter alone, and they range in purpose from the interesting to the Dilbertesque. Next month, for example, I am to attend a conference that will teach me the ins and outs of effectively managing one’s employees, and I leave the taxonomy of that one as an exercise to the reader.

I’ll give the reader a hint: I do not, myself, have any employees. I am the managee in this relationship, not the manager.

And another: preparation for said conference involved taking a personality test, which revealed such things as - try to contain your shock - “subject is highly independent”, “subject is task-oriented” and “subject scored in the lowest decile on the ‘cooperation’ scale”; in other words, subject is the sort of person for whom it would be in everyone’s best interest if subject were just left to do her bloody job, as opposed to, say, attend a conference on managing one’s employees. Oh, and subject is a pain in the ass to manage.

And, a little anecdote that I know full well does not constitute a reliable statistic, BUT STILL: during my tenure as a college math instructor, every single one of my most difficult and manipulative students, to an individual, was a psych major. For whatever reason, these students were really interested in human behaviour.

And, just for good measure, a story from my childhood: when I was five years old, my mom had this childhood development book called Your Five Year Old. Not included in the book: anything about the five-year-old who was so precocious, and so antagonistic, that she would pry the book off of the shelf while her pregnant mother napped, and say to herself, “The child may be extremely bold one minute and shy the next? Nuh-uh, Mom, I’m afraid it’s going to be just a little more difficult to predict my behaviour.”

I tend to be brutally straightforward and impatient in any sort of team setting: I tell people explicitly what I want, and they don’t deliver, I do it myself. I perceive - uncharitably, to be sure - anything else as manipulation, which is why I’d be a crappy manager and have no overwhelming desire to be one. And I am hyperalert to any hint that I am being manipulated by, for instance, a superior who is choosing his words in such a way as to elicit a certain sort of response that he would not get if he were being more direct. And when I sense that someone is trying to manipulate me, I am quick to respond in kind. Skillfully.

And here I am, not only being led into temptation, but collecting Air Miles for the trip.

1/20/2006

Electoral Reform, or, In Which the Author Extrapolates Wildly From an Extremely Small and Biased Sample

File under: Character Writ Large, Queen of Sciences, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:24 pm.

On the agenda at work today: coordinate a meeting that as many as possible of two dozen-odd clients would be able to attend. Inane administrative duty? No: opportunity for field research into alternative voting systems!

Dear clients, I wrote, I’d like to hold a meeting with you during the first week of March. Could you please email me a list of times when you will be available during that week (eg, “Monday morning”, “Thursday afternoon”, etc)? If you have some times that are better than others, feel free to send that information as well (eg, “I am free Monday and Tuesday mornings, but the best times are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons”). I’m going to do my best to accommodate as many of you as possible, but I can’t guarantee anything.

And I got responses, some of which provided me with nice, STV-compliant rankings. But, oh, the others - for instance, the dozen that went something like this:

dear moebius stripper

i am free tuesday mornings

Thank you for your quick response, I wrote back, But you’re a retired grandmother and like hell that’s the only time slot you have free Are there any other times you have available? I am trying to accommodate as many people as possible, and while I can’t guarantee that everyone will get their first choice, I will have a better chance of arranging a meeting that most people can attend if I have more options.

dear moebius stripper

yes there are other times i could come but tuesday mornings are the best, i do not want the meeting any other time.

Fully half of my clients did not want to provide me with their second choice because they were afraid that doing so would weaken their first choice vote. I’m wondering now how widespread this attitude is - does it account for a significant proportion of votes against electoral reform? If so, it’s both selfish and irrational, because we’re probably going to end up with a meeting date that hardly accommodates anyone.

Kind of like the government we’re going to end up with on Monday.

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