Monday, January 8, 2007

Teetering on the edge of madness.

Is it just me . . . or is the ability to look up people’s noses during conversations the number one cause of orthopedic problems in business woman today?

Those of us who are members of Club V.D. (vertically disadvantaged) understand that there is little we can do to improve on this situation. The ‘80’s are a distant memory along with faking a few extra inches of height by using mouse, a teasing comb, and a quart of shellac.

High heels are mandatory. It’s hard to intimidate a business rival when you’re staring into the lasagna stain on his tie. And I’m talking about a good 3 inch heel, here. No wimpy kitten heels or flats allowed, and wearing wedgies is cheating; only real women wear spikes!

Perhaps you are thinking, "So, what's the big deal?" Perhaps you are thinking, "That doesn't seem so bad." Perhaps you are a Neanderthal, loafer-wearing, nincompoor of the male persuasion! But I digress . . .

For the uninitiatied, here is a short introduction to the art of wearing high heels:

Before work:
  • One by one, you slide your feet into the shoes. You rise, hold your head high and automatically pull in your stomach. Life is good!
  • Now add 10 lbs of accessories: oversized purse (with PDA, cell phone, makeup kit, emergency rations), a coat, umbrella, and briefcase with laptop, etc.
  • Then comes the commute. Traveling by car can be pleasant unless you then have to walk several blocks to the office: Pain tolerance is automatically reduced by several hours Taking a bus is always an adventure given the vehicles penchant for abrupt stops. Standing in the aisle, you’ll give a terrific impression of a palsied stork!

At work:

  • Finally! You get to sit down at your desk. You do some quick ankle rotations and feel the tension go out of your toes. So far, so good.
  • You spend the next three hours doing wind-sprints between your co-workers desks, assorted conference rooms, and the coffee machine.
  • Lunchtime: Hunger has been deadened by extreme discomfort and you’re now reduced to playing games with your shoes. You repeatedly slip them on and off, only airing out each foot long enough to ensure that it doesn’t suddenly swell up to a size 22.

After work:

  • Pain tolerance is no longer a part of your vocabulary as you trudge home with your toes numb, your calves in agony and your lower back threatening to rebel and seize up like a rusty spring.
  • Upon entering your residence you immediately kick off the offending hunks of leather and unceremoniously plunk both feet into the toilet vowing to never wear high heels again . . .
  • Until tomorrow anyway, where you will once more slide your feet into the depths of certain misery thereby proving, without a shadow of a doubt, that height isn’t the only thing members of Club V.D. are short on.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Out with the old?

Is it just me . . . or is deleting emails a scary experience fraught with visions of unseen repercussions? I'm one of those pathetic individuals who loathe deleting a single email even if it's the original message of a week long exchange. I currently have over 7,000 messages languishing in my systems 'sent' folder (and my husband calls me an introvert!)

Some might consider this affliction a baseless paranoia. Not so! My affliction is a defensive mechanism developed as the result of working with an agency owner who considers archiving a religious pursuit. Being that this individual views all interactions with upper management as ‘Us vs. Them’, she has developed an almost pathological need to be ‘right’. It's like dealing with a obstinate adolescent who’s decided that her parents have the combined skill-set of a cumquat!

There’s nothing worse than having to communicate with an anal-retentive who is always trying to get the upper hand. I’ve known lawyers with less need to provide evidence. Even after making a brief social call simply to ask “So, how are the kids?” I’ll receive a multi-paragraph email stating “This is to confirm that on March 22nd between the times of 8:50 am and 8:53 am, I said that the kids are fine”. This email will be copied to half of the civilized world and then saved for future reference.

Ms. Anal Retentive’s superlative historian tendencies do fail at times, especially if there’s a dispute over the facts, or if it’s suspected that either she or one of her people are (gasp!) wrong. She goes from Ms. A.R. to Ms. I.R. (Incomplete Recall). History often becomes abridged as attempts are made to prove a point.

What usually happens is that I’m forwarded an email; something archaic from many years ago. Ms. A.R./I.R already has the advantage since my middle-manager memory has atrophied to the size of a cashew due to having to juggle more responsibilities than an obsessive-compulsive clown! The result is that I’m left with a research session worthy of an entire bottle of Visine in order to confirm whether or not this was the final email in the string or only the fifth of a series of a hundred and twenty two!

This responsibility falls entirely on my slumped and sagging shoulders given that my manager has the opposite problem; he simply cannot let an email linger in his inbox. Deletions are his specialty. He spends the entire workday with his index finger poised mere centimeters above the upper right hand corner of his keyboard, trembling with eager anticipation at the prospect of eradicating an errant SPAM message or an email from the company president (same difference).

I met some young people the other day that only use email for recreational purposes like talking with friends and family, or ordering stuff online. What a lovely concept. To them email interactions like mine are a psychosis worthy of its own telethon!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Is it just me . . . or is the short work week between Christmas and New Year’s a consummate waste of time? After a post holiday orgy of turkey, stuffing, shortbread, and epic quantities of Aunt Helen’s eggnog, chances are the average employee is five pounds heavier and has the mental stamina of a catatonic moose.

Of course, this isn’t the case for those brave souls of the retail world who must stay lean and alert lest they be trampled by the impatient hordes of post-holiday shoppers who descend on the Boxing Day sales with all the calm of a class five hurricane.

But for those of us whose work environment includes conference calls, emails, and superfluous strategy meetings there is zero incentive to be the least bit productive. In years past, I have looked forward to this time of year knowing full well that no one expects me to do anything more strenuous than focusing on shallow breathing because my slacks no longer fit!

This year was quite different. I share supervision responsibilities with two other regional sales managers. At some point in the year I must have disappointed the human resources gods because no one thought to tell me that my counterparts, and their managers, would be taking the week off. This left me in charge of the entire country for three whole days.

Normally this wouldn’t cause me to dissolve into a little puddle of anxiety but we had recently outsourced our customer service department. The powers-that-be, in their infinite wisdom chose a company with many testimonials as to their overall friendliness; a highly valued trait in a call centre, to be sure! Too bad none of these references mentioned that they were also an extremely laid back bunch whose response times matched those of a herd of arthritic turtles!

My organization sells financial products and we employ commissioned salespeople who happen to be a rather emotional bunch. Whenever a client’s issue isn’t dealt with in a timely manner the subsequent phone calls I receive tend to ignite my hair. Therefore I viewed my having to baby sit over five hundred of these passionate professionals as somewhat akin to facing an army of angry radicals armed only with a policy manual and a potato peeler!

It’s also hard to differentiate between what constitutes an actual crisis and what is a simple case of a sales representative bowing to a client’s every whim. Each is equally expressed as a 911 emergency situation requiring everyone’s immediate attention or 1) The client will cancel, 2) The sales representative will lose a commission, 3) The world will stop rotating, the ice caps will melt, and life as we know it will come to an end! (Tip - Getting a 'A' in drama in high school is a prerequisite for becoming a successful sales representative.)

As I look back over the past three days, and reflect on the many gratifying (?) experiences, I realize that it will take several bottles of good Merlot to quiet my nerves and dull the pain. I think I'll include the wine under 'Service Awards' on my next expense report!

Monday, December 25, 2006

I can't stress this enough!

Is it just me . . . or does Murphy’s Law always hit a person the hardest over the holidays? I had planned on this being my very first stress-free Christmas. To begin with, I chose to join that elite group of totally obnoxious people who not only have all of their gifts bought and wrapped by the last week of November but who actually had their choice of turkeys at the supermarket, therefore missing the traditional consumer slap-fest over the last Butterball on December 24th.

I thought I was ready! The artificial tree was up (and bound to stay that way after I nailed the wobbly stand to the base in a fit of unbridled exasperation). The house was decorated with the kind of attention to detail one would expect from a busy working mom (I tied a bow to the porch light). Lastly, I gave the house a most thorough cleaning in anticipation of my mother-in-law’s visit (I changed the towels in the guest bathroom).

Then it happened. My youngest son called out to me after he was in bed on Christmas Eve. I tiptoed in to see him and leaned in close in anticipation of hearing an excited whisper of “Has Santa come yet?” but instead I heard the words every mother dreads, “Mom . . . I can't sleep . . . I don’t feel so good”. The kid had a sore throat, a runny nose, and a raging fever.

Now, I could have taken several different approaches to this situation, 1) I could have ignored it and had him curl up next to the turkey to help it defrost, or 2) I could have medicated him to the point of being mistaken for a dehydrated dwarf, or 3) I could have made him as comfortable as possible and resigned myself to the fact that everyone would be sick by Boxing Day; myself included. I chose the latter. I'm a mom.

Getting sick at Christmas is a gyp. I can relate because it had happened to me when I was young. I have a vivid memory of physically proving that drinking a large glass of orange juice when you have the stomach flu is a really, really bad idea. I believe this experiment took place somewhere in the vacinity of the living room couch. I also remember being really upset. It wasn't fair! Opening your Christmas gifts, while making sure you have a clear path to the bathroom at all times, just drains the ol’ magic right out of a holiday.

Next year I still intend to get an early start on holiday shopping but as December approaches I’ll be adding a few more items to my list: disinfectant soap, hand sanitizer, and Lysol spray. If a stress free holiday somehow equates with sterile living conditions, then so be it! And if the kids are really good, next Christmas I might get them an extra special present: A flu shot!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Space retainer

Is it only me . . . or do most people who buy houses with extra bedrooms eventually live to regret it? My mom was the main reason we purchased our current home. She had suffered a stroke and needed someone to keep an eye on her. Now, my mother and I have always understood one another; we are birds of a feather who very much appreciate separate nests (each with its own bathroom!)

Unfortunately, living with two young boys doesn't do much for a senior's much needed peace and quiet. Given that both of my boy’s brains are coated with Teflon when it comes to hearing "Keep it down up there!" (The instruction sticks but only for a moment) I knew it was just a matter of time before Nana would be looking for a nice little apartment of her own – in an adult building.

I did give my mom the courtesy of waiting until her moving van had at least pulled away from the curb before descending on the recently vacated room, my fingertips twitching in anticipation, and my mouth watering over the extra closet space. I realized later that history had repeated itself but reversed our roles. When I was a young women moving out to live on her own for the first time, my mom kissed me goodbye with a tear in her eye and a sledgehammer in her hand. Quicker than you can say 'renovation', my childhood bedroom had become a dressing room.

Scientists tell us that nature abhors a vacuum and, apparently, so does a growing family. Any big empty space just calls out to be filled. It only took our little group less than a year to fill up a double garage (whose pristine floor has never been sullied by car tires). If we keep up this pace we’ll be totally displaced by our posessions by the time the kids start high school and evenings will find us drawing straws for who gets to sleep in the van .

No one can say I don't try, though. I do a thorough culling of the clutter every six months. These occasions find me crawling around on all fours, digging in closets, and sorting through drawers looking for items to ‘age’. These toys and other knick-knacks are hidden away until they are forgotten and then they’re donated to a local charity to sell. It's only rarely that the boys find the stash and I'll hear indignant cries of "Hey, I wanted to keep this!" (once reclaimed, the precious item will be found a week later discarded under a bed)

My problem is with Happy Meal toys. No matter how many times I bag those incredibly lame lumps of plastic, more seem to take their place! I’m not usually a superstitious person, but I suspect that MacDonald’s has programmed these toys to come alive after dark and infiltrate houses where their numbers have been depleted. One night, I’m going to get up for a drink of water and be cornered by a hostile herd of ‘My Little Ponies’.

Giddy up!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

And this little piggy went Wii, Wii, Wii . . .

Is it only me . . . or did consumer madness reach an all time high this year? My children wanted a 'wee-wee'; my nickname for the new Nintendo game system, Wii. Actually, wanted is too tame a word. After seeing the latest Toys-R-Eating up all of my disposable income-Us catalogue they started salivating and speaking in tongues. The chidren in question include my nine year old son, my thirteen year old son, and my oldest 'child', a forty-three year old bald guy on a mission to recapture his misspent youth.

The 'wee-wee' turned into this Christmas season's 'Tickle-Me-Elmo'. Remember that one? The adorable(?) Sesame Street character that caused seemingly rational adults to froth at the mouth and jump up and down in the aisles at K-mart like a bunch of crazed baboons fighting over the last banana. I've heard there is a new model out; a sort of an Elmo on steroids. The perfect gift for a child with parents you don't like very much!

Now it's the Wii. Everywhere you turn, people were pestering frazzled looking clerks, "When's the next shipment coming in??? What do you mean you only got four in? But I've been standing in line since last Tuesday!!" My husband called one retailer who said they were only supplied with one at time and so, with a uncharacteristic display of holiday cheer and generosity, they were asking for a $1,000. Imagine! A gaming system worth a couple of hundred dollars going for a grand! My husband might be a 40+ teenager, but I'm sure that clerk will be hearing echoes of his derisive laughter well into the new year.

Regardless, it is sad to say that we bought into the hype in the first place. What makes it particularly disturbing is that we already HAVE two gaming systems. Now, I'm as neurotic as the next person but since when does it make sense for a family to have three game controllers per person? Why is it necessary for two young children to have more Gamecube and Playstation games then they have books? And why, most importantly, can't I get Princess Peach to beat Donkey Kong when playing Mario Cart?

Yes, in the coming weeks the hysteria will fade, the Wii stock will be replenished, and our family will join the Boxing day/week/month consumers to make our late Christmas purchase. The system will be set up within minutes. The children will wrestle for the right to who goes first. The big bald kid will win. The 43 year old will then engage in a spirited session with the interactive bowling game necessitating yet another trip to the electronics store . . . for a new television.

Happy holidays!