cells.

I like everything in my life to be kept in cells.  It helps me compartmentalize, and it keeps everything in context.

No, I’m not one of those guys who saves his toenails in baby food jars; I’m talking more about people, and about places.

I had a dayjob, at the wireless company.  And while I was perfectly willing to do Dromedary work while I was at the dayjob, I was not willing to socialize with people from the office.  With the exception of Chrissy and Rick, who I would have considered “friends,” (I still exchange Christmas cards with Rick and his wife to this day) everyone else was most definitely a co-worker.

If I work with you, or if I have worked with you, that’s where you belong.  You do not belong in my personal life, so don’t try and inject yourself into it.  Don’t talk to me about it, don’t ask me about it, don’t try and pretend you have any business being there.  Don’t talk to me about people in my life that you’ve never met, as if you know them.  Don’t talk to me about parts of my life that you haven’t been specifically invited to, as if you belong there.  If I have a barbecue and don’t invite you, you would never think of coming.  You should treat my life the same way – if you show up uninvited into a place where you don’t belong, I will drop you like a bad habit.  And I don’t care who you are – I’ve done it with family.  

I’m searching my brain, and I’ve decided that there’s nothing I hate more than people showing up in parts of my life where they’re not invited.  It’s intrusive, it’s awkward, it makes me uncomfortable, and it never ends well.  Ever.  I hate it, and there’s never an easy way to extract someone from a place where they do not belong.  If there’s anything that will make me dislike a person, meddling in a place where they don’t belong will do it.  Quick.

My small office was an extension of a department of probably 150 people.  Most of those people were still in their twenties; many were trying to move ahead in their careers and many were just going through the motions to collect a paycheck.  Among those who were the “climbers,” the office was very cutthroat.  There were 150 reps on the floor in my department, maybe another 150 in the collections department, maybe another 30 or 40 in the “save” group (whose job it was to try and save customers who called to cancel).  There were, maybe, 30 or 40 supervisor positions, four or five manager positions, and one director.  That’s a lot of people, trying to funnel their way into a small number of higher-level spots.

So if you wanted to move up in the company, it was a pretty brutal path.  If you didn’t give a shit, it was high entertainment.

They used to have parties on Friday nights, and I refused to go.  One day, one of the supervisors personally invited me to a party at her house.  Her name was Lynn, I think.  She said “We’re going to have a keg, and finger foods, and I’m going to get a big sandwich.  Will you come?”

“No thanks,” I said.  “I try and keep business and pleasure separate.”

“Well, this sort of is business,” she explained.  “A lot of people will be there who would be good for you to know socially.”

“Why?” I was perplexed.  I’m still this naive sometimes.

“Because relationships are everything.”

I went home that night and told Sandy that we needed to go to a party with people from work.  I told her about the conversation I had with the supervisor.  

“That’s bullshit,” she said.  “Your workday should end when you’re done with work.  “You shouldn’t have to go eat a big sandwich with your supervisors.”

From that day on, “eating the big sandwich” became a euphemism for sucking up socially to someone for professional gain.  We still use it today.  We still have to do it sometimes, and we still hate it as much as ever.

Sandy and I went to that party, and had a reasonable amount of fun.  We schmoozed with the managers and supervisors who were there.  One young woman was not so lucky – she got drunk and, well, misbehaved.  Apparently after I left, she had removed a lot of clothing, and was dancing in the kitchen.  She then slipped in a puddle of spilled beer, fell backwards on her head, and had to be rushed to the hospital for stitches, half-naked.  I learned this because everyone was talking about her on Monday.

That’s the way it went at that company.  It was like some twisted game of Survivor, where people would suck up socially to the bosses, some people would get voted off the island due to unacceptable behavior, and some people would move up or down.  The company was always swapping out supervisors – and it did sort of seem that, at least in my department, your professional standing depended on who you hung out with (or worse).

I tried to stay on the periphery of it, by envisioning myself as more of a temporary employee.  I wasn’t interested in moving up in the organization; I was interested in collecting a paycheck that would fund Dromedary until such a time as it could fund itself, and I was interested in a job that would allow me to pilfer time as I needed it, so that I could make Dromedary phone calls and such during the day.  But I was most definitely not interested in being friends with these people.  I saw how they behaved.  I saw what happened when professional relationships fractured after people got to know things about each other personally.  I heard how they talked about each other when they wanted to play “office chess” and try and checkmate someone out of a possible promotion.

Eventually, though, the two parts of my life started to spill over into one another.  People from work were asking me to come see their bands, giving me demo tapes, coming to our shows.  Family members were asking me for free cellphones.  It really bothered me – and still does, to this day – when people from one part of my life show up in another part of my life.  They weren’t invited there, they just showed up.  I found it very invasive and rude.  Beyond rude, actually.  It was kind of like stalking.  

I need context in my life.  When someone from my professional life starts talking to me about my family, or my friends, or my personal life in general, I feel like they’re watching me take a shower.  

It’s even more of an issue today, because there’s an internet.  It bothers me to no end that people can dig around on the internet and find out whatever they want; that’s what’s prevented me from starting this blog for so long.  The fact that you can still dig up quotes from me, message board posts I made in the mid-90s, things I’ve written during other parts of my life, really bugs me.  The fact that people actually search this stuff out bugs me even more.

Which is why, when I saw it happening at the wireless company, I realized that even though I had a good thing going there, I was going to need to leave.  I mean, I hated the company and the job (hindsight would reveal that it was actually the best place I ever worked, but as a 20-something, it was too restrictive for me), but it was more than that – it was the tentacles it had.

I started looking for a new dayjob.

~ by Al on January 17, 2009.

One Response to “cells.”

  1. Al, if you told me you were responsible for The Rolling Stones, I would believe you.

    I do NOT, however, believe you had any kind of problem with a big sandwich. You understand that it’s a sandwich … except bigger, right? Think of a sandwich … then imagine it the size of a toilet seat. If you can tell me one bad thing about that I’m calling Immigration and having you sent back to Russia you commie pinko.

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