I Am The Man

So, it’s been nearly a month since I posted here. I have found myself so busy with work at my “Day Job” that I have scarcely had time to dedicate to more “artistic” pursuits.

I often joke that I “spend my days working for The Man”. I find almost everything about Corporate America somewhat distasteful, with the exception of the paycheck that I receive for doing my time. I will not find my life’s calling in an office setting, but it keeps the lights on and my kids fed.

I don’t really feel like I’m working for “The Man” the way I used to. I recognize that I’m fortunate enough to have choices, and that I have chosen to work where I do. I also recognize that I’m blessed to even be employed, so I’m not complaining about the work. Also, it seems that my resistance to “the powers that be” is fading over time — it’s not as objectionable as it once was. Whether that has to do with my age or my position, I’m not sure.

There are individuals who report to me at my place of employment. I’m not wild about managing people – it’s not fun, it’s not easy, and it’s sometimes not pleasant — but it’s part of the job and so I do it. There’s a part of me that thinks it is silly for a grown person to be subordinate to another grown person, but that’s the nature of work: someone has to be in charge.

I recently had a situation at work where I became privy to electronic conversations that were not meant to be seen by me. The “how” and “why” of it is a long and boring story, so I’ll just say this: if one sends personal e-mail from one’s work e-mail account, one really ought to be smart and delete these messages, for one never knows who is going to read them.

I discovered these e-mails in the aftermath of some personnel drama at work, and I’ll admit that –at first– my ego was a bit stung. To find out that these people, with whom I spend so much time, have less-than-favorable opinions of me was a little hard to accept. While some of them are people who I hardly know, a couple of them I know well – they report directly to me. And the tone and tenor of the e-mails I read was incongruent with how these people interacted with me in the office — at least to my face, anyway.

Eventually the initial sting of the discovery started to fade – after all, what I read wasn’t “fact”, it was just gossip, and I simply heard things I wasn’t meant to hear. But after the shock wore off, what was left was a genuine sense of confusion.

These people that I work with viewed me as “The Man”.

This probably should have occurred to me before, but it honestly never has. I’ve managed people for over twenty years, and this is the first time that it occurred to me that any of them might see me as a symbol of oppression. Maybe it’s because I never looked at these people as “below” me, or as “under” me – I really have always looked at my direct reports as team members, with me being the guy who usually had to deliver the bad news or enforce the unpopular policies (and occasionally being the guy who gets to promote someone or give them a raise).

Really? Me? A symbol of oppression? The Man keeping you down? Are you kidding?

I still shake my head at the thought. I mean, I’ve stopped clinging to my belief that I’m a “Nice Guy” because I’m not. I used to think I was, but really that was just a lie I told myself to justify some sort of inaction or piece of denial I was holding on to. I can be a real asshole sometimes, intentionally or otherwise, and so if I can own that, why is it hard for me to own the fact that I could be seen as an asshole at work?

That’s a question that has answers, but to go down that path will just have me chasing my own tail. I am a man who tries every day to be kind and respectful and honest with people; some days I succeed, and some days I fail. There are no absolutes – I’m not “always” this way or “always” that way. The important thing is that I know who I am, I know what I am, and I keep trying to improve.

So if I’m doing my best (and I’ve come to believe that every person, every day, is doing the best they can on that particular day), then why should I care if someone comes along and thinks that I’m a jerk? It’s not as though their thoughts can harm me (unless I let them).

I’ve learned that what other people think of me is none of my business. I can try to deal in that business, but the cost is my own inner peace. I usually end up on the losing end in those transactions.

Although I’m usually kind, respectful and honest with the people I work with, those people don’t “know” me. They have no idea who I am, where I’ve come from, what I’ve been through, what I value, what I fear, what I love. They have no idea of the man that I really am.

They see the corporate representation of myself that I put forth Monday through Friday. They don’t see me as I am in “real life”. They see a man in Dockers and Clarks and a button-down shirt, not the guy in cargo shorts and flip-flops and a well-worn t-shirt that is my uniform for my off-hours. They see a man who sits in an office at a desk that holds photographs of children. They don’t see the guy who is up all night when those children are sick, who wants to weep when they are hurt, who lies awake sometimes worrying about their future. They see a man who enforces policies that sometimes make no sense. They don’t see the guy who struggles with enforcing rules with which he doesn’t personally agree.

Some people want to have someone to rail against in their work lives. Maybe it helps them feel bigger, more powerful, to build themselves up by tearing someone else down. Maybe it serves them to paint themselves as victims, as being held back by forces beyond their control. Maybe they’re just not happy unless they’re miserable.

I suppose it could be worse – they could be like me. I want everyone to like me. I want everyone to love me. I want everyone to be my friend. I want everyone to want me as their friend. I want adoration. I want fame. I want a following. I want groupies. I want awards. I want songs written about me.  I want to be a legend. I want to be everything to everyone. I want to control the universe.

See where this thinking gets me? If I think that I’d be happy if everyone liked me, I’m just fooling myself — I always want more. Because for me, more is better.

I know me. I know what kind of man I am. And it’s only my judgment of me that really counts. Other people’s judgments of me don’t matter. They are going to see what they want to see. Some see me as a good person, a kind and caring father and friend. Others see me as – well, as something less noble. They see me as “The Man”. And that’s okay.

As far as I’m concerned, they’re right: I am The Man.

I, Too, Have a Wide Stance

No, this post is not about sex in airport restrooms. (Although I promise if I ever have sex in an airport bathroom, you’ll read about it here.) It is, however, about a public restroom, and as such, this post involves a bit of unpleasantness. Fair warning – the men’s room at my office is the subject of today’s post. (On the other hand, there are no politicians mentioned here, so that should balance out the “ick” factor.)

 The building I work in is nice. It’s a nice office in a nice area, surrounded by nice landscaping and full of nice furnishings, and populated by nice people. It is a pleasant place, a harmless place. A place I am proud to walk into every weekday morning.

There is, however, one dank and dismal corner of this otherwise fine building that threatens homeland security and undermines the sanctity of corporate America, and that corner is the men’s room on the 2nd floor.

The room itself is decorated in a color that is probably known by designers by some foofy-sounding name like “Moroccan Sand” or “Desert Mirage”, but is more suitably tagged as “Business Drab”:  beige tiles and beige-toned granite with beige paint on the walls. Still, the light fixtures are recesssed, the sinks feature high-end automatic faucets, the stalls have toilets with pressurized, eardrum-splitting flushers, and the urinals are sleek and stylish porcelain-and-chrome wall-mounted receptacles.

Or at least, they are intended to be receptacles.

The floor beneath the urinals is what’s causing the disturbance in The Force. This space should be displayed in the dictionary next to the word “foul”. The beige floor tiles are coated with (I warned you about this) layers of urine that are weeks –if not months–old.

If you took a picture of a Rorschach ink blot with an old-school camera, took the pictures to the one-hour photo, went next door to get a gelato, then got the photos back an hour later and opened the envelope and took out the negative of the Rorschach ink blot photo, then blew up the negative to 3′ x 6′ size and put it on the floor so that the negative image of the black ink blots was instead shown as whitish-transparent blots – THAT would approximate the look of the floor beneath the  urinals in the men’s room of Suite 200.

I could pin the blame on the men using the facilities. Sure, there’s truth to the old saying, “No matter how much you jiggle and dance, the last few drops end up in your pants” – meaning not all of it gets where it’s meant to go. But the saying says “your pants”. It doesn’t say, “If your willy is oozing and sore, the last few drops end up on the floor” — NOBODY is looking for the floor to be soiled by your wild wiggling. So yes, I could be directing this at the careless men who –like dogs emerging from a bathtub– habitually shake themselves dry, thereby spraying everything around with droplets.

The focus of my disdain, though, is the building’s owners, and the  practitioners of the custodial arts that service Suite 200. I see the cleaning crew on nights when I’m at the office late – they come in after most everyone else has gone, and they go from room to room emptying trash, wiping down surfaces, vacuuming the floors — so I know they exist, and I know they are working. They just aren’t working on the bathroom floor.

And one would think that for all the money the owners of our building make (and trust me, this company is massive and far-reaching, with no shortage of cash and with such influence that I refuse to name them here for fear of ending up in a shallow grave in the desert) from exorbitant rents in this area of Orange County, they could at least afford to supply the cleaning crew with some high-tech janitorial equipment like a MOP AND BUCKET.

I am convinced the men’s room floor has not seen a mop since mid-2009. And while the custodial crew are very much on top of it when it comes to re-stocking the paper supplies in the restrooms, none of them seems to mind that their lack of mopping has turned the men’s room floor into a thriving shrine to filth. It is so bad that when I step up to the porcelain portal, I have to place my feet a whole yard apart to avoid standing in the remnants of pee-challenged men. So basically, when I go, I’ve got the stance of a gunslinger in an old West bordertown.

I heard a co-worker complaining to the receptionist about it the other day. He used words like “disgusting” and “gross” and “ewww”, and the receptionist nodded sympathetically and said “I’ll let them know”, but I knew nothing would come from it. The receptionist is a woman – she can’t appreciate the idea of standing in another man’s urine. (Or maybe she can, I don’t know how she spends her “off time”, and I’m not here to judge.)

I would never defend a lowlife politician who gets busted for illicit sex in an airport men’s room and flat-out denies it. But I am saying that the defense of “I have a wide stance” should not be discounted entirely. There are reasons a wide stance is necessary. I’ve seen what ends up on the floors of the men’s room, and I gotta say I’d do whatever I could* to avoid putting my shoe in it.

(*Note: “whatever I could” does not include soliciting sex from an undercover police officer. Just so we’re clear on that.)