Friday, October 17, 2014

The working life with engineers: The micromanaging life

Me: My boss wears me out. He wants a specific outcome but he also wants to tell me how to get there.

SH: He is asking you to do it a specific way instead of asking for an end result?

Me: Yes!

SH: He is an engineer!

(Photo from SH's friend Ray Daniel's new book, which I really liked. Go buy it. If there is an engineer in your life, you will relate.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The working life with engineers: What you wear to work

It doesn't matter. It does not matter at all what you wear to work if you work with male engineers. Where I used to work, it mattered. I mean, it didn't matter, but I cared because co-workers - women - noticed. Indeed, one co-worker complimented me frequently on my outfits, which pleased me to no end because I feel like I have no sense of style whatsoever and any sense of it that I do have is hampered by my desire to stay warm above all, which requires that I wear fleece-lined tights and other such monstrosities in the winter.

I had worried about wearing clothes that were rolled up and stuffed into a backpack for an hour while I rode my bike to work, but

1. I no longer buy things that wrinkle and
2. Men don't look. Men especially don't look at women my age, alas. Not that I am in the market to be looked at, but it's always nice to be looked at, isn't it? It's always a little bit nice to get that second look, that up and down look. I am not in the market for another husband or for a boyfriend, but it's nice to be appreciated.

Engineers are a special subcategory of men. Straight engineers do not look. My Costa Rican engineer friend Edwin wrote, "We engineers are like having a close gay friend, we don’t have a gay couple but we only notice gadgets and formulas and that sort of stuff. Girls are OK, but they are no competition to technical matters, so you are safe within your new engineering coworkers."
I am not sure I agree with him. My gay friends do notice what women wear and they will sit down next to me and we will have a good ol' time going all Glamor Don't on passers-by. And even SH is a good fashion critic, although I think he steered me wrong advising me to keep that Banana Republic wool-ish tweed dress that looked great on the website on the 5'10" 110-pound model but did not look so good on 5'5" 140-pound me.

Where was I?

Oh. New job. Bunch of engineers. Could be gay, could be straight. I have no idea. Don't care. But they do not look at me. I didn't realize they do not look at me until after I had my bike accident - yes, I was wearing a helmet and the helmet was just fine after I fell, it was my prescription sunglasses and my face that took the brunt of the fall. So for weeks, I had this huge bruise on my face - a bruise I used to get out of attending social events with SH - I am not a social person so was delighted to have the excuse - and that I used to keep my boss in line, warning him that if he was not nice to me, I would act scared around him when the two of us went to corporate.

So I had this huge bruise and six stitches in my eyebrow and NOBODY NOTICED. If I saw someone with that level of damage, I would maybe pretend not to see because what if she had been beat up by her husband and was ashamed and didn't want to talk about it but I would react. I would not be able to keep my eyes from flying open or keep my jaw from dropping.

These guys reacted not at all. I know because I was watching them because I wanted to talk about the injury and how ticked off I was that the urgent care center would not treat me and that I had to go to the ER where they did not ask if I wanted a CT scan - did not discuss the pros and cons - but just did it and then charged me $1,500 for it, even though I kept saying, "I have a $2,500 deductible! How much is this all going to cost?"

(For the record, I paid more for that medical treatment than I paid for my first car. I paid more for that medical treatment than I paid for one year of Top-20 ranked business school tuition. I do not begrudge any nurse or doctor or nurse practitioner her proper pay, but I am not a fan of possibly unnecessary diagnostic procedures.)

So yeah. The engineers at work didn't notice my bruises. They will not notice what I wear to work.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The working life with engineers: The potluck

A potluck, working with mostly women

1. The potluck list goes up at least a month before the event. The desserts are oversubscribed and people ask Barb to please, please, please bring that fab peanut butter pie that she made last year.

2. You ask people if they are going to the potuck and they say of course they are and look at you a little bit funny because why wouldn't they be going?

3. The morning of the potluck, the cafeteria is already full of crockpots and covered dishes and food. It smells good.

4. At lunch, there is space to go down both sides of the table, but almost nobody figures it out and there is only one serving spoon per dish anyhow.

5. All the silverware and napkins are placed at the beginning of the serving line, which means you have to use one hand for your plate and the other hand for your silverware, which means serving yourself is difficult

A potluck, working with mostly men, almost all of whom are engineers

1. The list is up for two weeks and includes easy things like "paper plates" and also includes recipes for some of the dishes suggested on the list, for this is an Oktoberfest and maybe ve should keeping be vit ze zeme, yah? yet by the day before the event, the only items claimed on the list are the Nutella (from yours truly, who admires beyond grandness the brilliance of the person who thought to put Nutella on a potluck list), the cucumber salad, and the rolls.

2. You ask people if they are going to the potluck - for which there are signs hanging by every restroom and every door to the outside and for which HR has sent out three emails - and they look at you blankly and ask, "What potluck?"

3. The morning of the potluck, the cafeteria looks like it always looks.

4. At lunch, there is space to go down both sides of the table and the engineers file down both sides of the table because that is the logical, efficient way to serve the most people in the shortest amount of time.

5. But even engineers don't get the silverware right. Only the people who worked at the faculty club in college know that the silverware and napkins go at the end of the line in a buffet.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 65: The prince and the pea

SH: Some people wash their clothes too much. I read an article on how to keep your jeans blue and they said not to wash them very often.

Me: Well, that might work for some people. 

SH: I don't overwash stuff. 

Me: Me neither. 

SH: There are clean clothes and there are dirty clothes and there are clothes that are not clean but can be worn again. 

Me: Yeah, I know. 

SH: That's why I keep them on top of the dresser. 

Me: Why can't you just put them in the drawer? 

SH: Because! They're not clean! 

Me: But they're not really dirty. I mean, you're going to wear them again. 

SH: I can't mix the clean clean clothes with the a little bit dirty but can be worn again clothes. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

The working life: I joined a *different* army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms

You guys, I have a new job (I think you know that). I am no longer working downtown, where it was easy to get to work on the bus. I am now working out in the nether suburbs, in a converted manufacturing facility with almost no windows and almost no natural light in a neighborhood where there are no sidewalks and no place to get coffee, except for the 7-11 across the street and up a block, the getting to which requires hiking through two parking lots and over some grass and then risking your life to cross a busy street unless you want to go all the up to the light which of course you do not because you are just trying to get coffee and the getting of coffee requires that you take the straightest line possible.

So I am working way out in the middle of nowhere where there is nowhere to go at lunch and nothing to do at lunch so people take a short lunch and then leave at 4:30 rather than working until 5.

For a few months, I rode my bike to work. I was thrilled - well, not thrilled because I hate exercising - to discover I could get almost the whole way there on bike trails and side roads. This was good news because SH's solution for my new job away from downtown and away from the bus routes was for us to buy another car.

I am not working so that we have to spend more money.

I am working so we can sock money away in the bank so that once we retire and neither of us has a defined-benefit pension, which nobody has any more except public employees, we can afford to eat.

I am also working so I can buy shoes. But even then, I have enough shoes. I do not need any more. I am on a shoe moratorium and also a clothes moratorium. (See: Working with engineers means you don't have to worry about what you wear.)

So yeah - the whole point of my getting a new job, other than to get away from the insanity that was my previous workplace (just as I never really understood how truly horrible in-laws could be until I got some of my own, I never understood how bad upper management could be until I ran into the most jerky CEO I have ever met in my life. In two weeks, I will spend two hours on the bus just so I can see my boss from when I was in the Peace Corps - she will be in Chicago for a meeting. I know I am capable of having good, long-lasting relationships with a boss, so I know it is not me. I would not cross the street if this CEO were on fire and I think you know how the rest of that goes.)

Oh. I need to finish my sentence. The point of getting the new job was so that we would have more money, not less.

It is now getting too cold and too dark to ride my bike.

Fortunately, the city has just started a new route to the suburbs.

I rode that route today, hoping to find the new Goth Girl and Goth Boy.

That was not what I found.

I had to connect to the new route a few miles west of our house. I got on the bus on what must have been its 10th or 15th stop. It was jam packed full. So much for my visions of sitting on a seat by myself and reading my book in comfort.

I got on the crowded bus and noticed I was the only white person on the bus. This is not racist. It is a fact and it is somewhat relevant to the plot, I think, because the woman in front of me turned around, looked me up and down, and asked, "Are you sure you're on the right bus?" I don't think she would have asked me that question if I were not the only white person on the bus.

I wish I could have said that I was clearly on the wrong bus, that I really should have been on the bus with the with the condos and the private rooms. But indeed, I was on the right bus, and I rode the whole way standing up, trying to read with a book in one hand and holding the upper strap with the other.

There were no teenagers on the bus as far as I could tell. Just working people. Although I did eventually have a nice conversation with three people about their jobs as order pickers at a warehouse. They like their jobs, which I am glad to hear. But distribution center picking is not as interesting as teen romance.

Goth Girl and Goth Boy, 18

Goth Boy report du jour. Goth Girl not on the bus. AGAIN. Where is she?
Goth Boy got on. I couldn't tell if he was wearing his usual t-shirt because he had a sweatshirt on over the t-shirt, with the hood of the sweatshirt pulled over his baseball cap because you sure don't want your baseball cap to get wet.
NB Am I the only person in the bus system who understands the function of an umbrella? Because I am often the only person I see using one in the rain.
GB got on, but then walked right past my seat. I caught his eye and nodded and he nodded back. I wanted him to sit next to me so I could interrogate him, but he did not. He is a shy fawn from the forest, a scared wee mouse hiding under the chair. He will bolt if approached too quickly. I must gain his trust.
Perhaps I should bring treats on the bus: a handful of cookies, a slice of pizza. What entices a teenage boy? Other than teenage girls, of course.
I wanted to ask him where GG was. I wanted to suss out his living situation. Casually - So? Do you usually take the bus? Or do your parents drive you to things? What sports do you do? Oh - baseball? Did your dad teach you to throw?
I would gain his confidence by opening up to him first, though. "I had to do this stupid team building thing at work," I would say. "The woman was sooooo nice but she talked about how water picks up the emotion written on the test tube. I wanted to tell her that our CEO has degrees in chemistry and physics and even though we should pray for him a lot, he is not stupid. I myself got an A in college physics - albeit self-paced physics - and am pretty sure that water does not change its crystalline structure depending on the emotional state of the people around it."
He would laugh at the Wooo-wooo!-ness of it all and then I would admit that despite the emotional water and then the three minutes of silent deep breathing that this woman turned out to be a fabulous facilitator who totally called the CEO on his bullshit and that I have already connected with her on LinkedIn. "KnowwhatImean?" I would ask him.
Again, he would laugh and say, "Man I HEAR you!" as he shook his head at the weirdness of it all.
Then I would tell him how boring it is to sit in meetings from 8:30 to 5:00 and the stress of not knowing if the meeting will actually end at 5:00 so you can make the 5:11 bus and saying something about it to the CEO, who snaps, "It will take how long it takes," which makes you want to say back, "Dude. I am not emotionally invested in this company the way you are. I am here for a paycheck and even that is not enough to keep me around right now."
He would say, "Tell me about it! Remember high school and sitting in class all day when all you wanted to do was wxyz?"
I would grin and say, "Well, wxyz was not on my agenda when I was in high school, but I read a lot of fiction, so can well understand."
Then he would sigh and say, "What's THE DEAL with teenage girls?"
I would say, "Dude" (not really, because I don't say "Dude" unless I am mocking someone with a limited vocabulary), "Dude, all I can tell you is that it gets better once you are out of high school. Do you really want the best years of your life to be right now? No you do not. You want to know that things get better, not that they go downhill from here."
He would say, "But I just want to take her out to dinner."
Then I would say, "OK. Here's a plan. Don't laugh! Here's what you need to do. You need to take a shower and shave and put on a clean shirt. It can be a concert t-shirt, but it needs to be clean. You need to put your iphone away. You are going to give her your full attention. Then you are going to - DO NOT LAUGH! - buy some flowers. Four dollars at Sendik's. You are going to go to her house, ring the bell, introduce yourself to her parents, then ask for her. Then you are going to say, 'I would like to take you on a date.'"
By now, all the blood would have drained from his face.
"Women love it when men put their ego at risk," I would say. "She might say no. She might say yes. If she says no, I promise you that 20 years from now, she will be telling her friends about the amazing guy who slew the high school version of a dragon to ask her out. Twenty years from now, she will be saying, 'What ever happened to Goth Boy? I sure hope I see him at the reunion.' And then when you do, when your skin is better and you stand up straight and dress sharp and have your own business, she will rue the day she turned you down. You will be gracious to her, of course, but the 20 years from now version of Dakota Fanning will be tugging on your arm, saying, 'Sweetie, the Rolls is double parked.'"
I see that happening. Do you?

Friday, October 03, 2014

Wisconsin 101: The perfect catsitter

SH and I went out of town for a Saturday night. We weren't planning on leaving until about 4 p.m. on Saturday, so I emailed our catsitter - the adorable 14 year old boy who lives down the street from us - that we would need him to feed the cats Saturday evening and Sunday morning. He knows they eat at about 5 p.m. 

SH was at some thing Saturday after lunch, so the car was gone. I had taken a shower but hadn't bothered to get dressed. I was still in my robe because it was Saturday and I could. I was on the phone with SH - he was stopping at Aldi on his way home from his thing - when I heard a key in the lock of the back door.

I knew it wasn't SH because I was on the phone with him.

I walked to the kitchen and looked at the back door. It opened.

The catsitter stepped in. Looked up. His eyes flew open. 

"We're not leaving until about 4," I said.

"I'm sorry!" he said. "I'll come back later." He blushed and closed the door and locked it again.

I didn't even think to ask him why he was there. It was just so odd.

I wrote him a quick email. 

"Sorry for the confusion!" I said. I explained that we don't feed the cats until 5.

I told SH. "I think he knows when the cats eat," he said. "What if he was coming over just to see the cats?"

I thought about that idea. Last summer, while we were gone, the catsitter turned on the air conditioning for a while every day because he was worried it was too hot for the cats. SH got a little cranky about that - air conditioning a house just for cats - a house with open windows - but I reminded him that a catsitter who is worried about the comfort of our cats is a catsitter we want.

Then the catsitter's mom told me that the catsitter had vacuumed before we returned home. I couldn't tell because the cats shed so much that the only time our house is cat-hair free is December and that is about the only good thing about December,  but I still thought it was a really nice thing for him to do.

SH and I went out of town. Came back. The cats were happy and had been fed. 

The next day, I got an email from the catsitter:
You're not the one that needs to apologize! I know that I should feed the cats around dinner time, and I do. But that afternoon I was watching a re-run on the Animal planet that featured kittens and after I just wanted to have one in my lap. It's embarrassing. Anyway, sorry for jumping the gun by coming before you even left! I hope it wasn't that big of a deal. 
 Could he be any cuter? SH was right - he just wanted to hang out with the cats.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 23: A clothing taxonomy

Me: Gary, look at this old Rice t-shirt SH found.

Gary: Wow. That is old.

Me: Yeah. SH has an entire area of the basement dedicated to storing old Rice t-shirts.

SH: That's not true!

Me: You have them all in an old suitcase in the corner and when you were looking for a Rice t-shirt for that alumni thing, you went right to it. You knew exactly where they were.

SH: It's not a dedicated Rice t-shirt area. There are concert t-shirts in there as well.

Me: OK. A Rice and concert t-shirt dedicated area.

SH: But only concerts from the 80s.

Me: Oh Lord. So it's an 80's t-shirt area.

SH: Yes.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Goth Girl and Goth Boy, 17

Were you guys wondering if I saw Goth Girl and Goth Boy today?

I did. 

Well, I saw Goth Boy. Goth Girl was not on the bus. Is she skipping class this near the end of the year? Bad move, GG. Or maybe not. I never once skipped class in high school but I know people who did and they turned out just fine.

However, I did skip class plenty in college and that didn't end so well for me. Thanks to my friend Alan for picking up my differential equations homework to turn in, but if I had just gone to class with him, I, too, might have a PhD from CalTech instead of just an MBA. Alan went to class. I did not. You do the math. (Because apparently, I was incapable of getting up early enough to do so.) After that semester ended, I changed my major to English.

So skipping class can have an impact on your future. I would be far more employable today with an engineering or science degree than I am with an English degree. Let that be a lesson to you, anyone who wants to major in the liberal arts. It's super fun to major in English - you get a degree for reading great books and then writing what you think about them and sometimes, you become a New York Times bestselling writer, like Jeff Abbott, but most of us English majors languish in obscurity, hoping for a 401K and dental.

Goth Girl, get your butt to class.

Goth Boy, on the other hand, was not skipping class. He got on the bus and sat across from me. I caught his eye as he sat and we did the, "Hey fellow bus passenger" silent nod of greeting, but then I couldn't catch his eye again.

I tried, believe me. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to engage him and ask what he was going to do on summer break. I wanted to ask him what he was listening to. But he just stared off into space, perhaps worried about the weird middle-aged lady staring at him.

I also wanted to gently suggest that he should wash his clothes and take a bath, but I don't think there is a way to deliver that information kindly to a stranger. Either he doesn't know that he is smelly, which is bad enough, or he does know and he is in a home situation where resolving the problem is not easy.

I want to know why his mom and dad don't say, "Son! Go take a shower! Throw those clothes in the wash!"

But then, I come from a family where my parents made sure I had clean clothes and that I myself was clean. Maybe he has bad parents. Maybe nobody washes clothes at his house. Maybe they don't have a washer and nobody will take clothes to the laundromat. I don't know.

I almost wanted to call Child Protective Services to report child neglect, just because of the smelly clothes and body. Then I noticed a tattoo on his lower right arm. 

According to wikipedia, which we all know to be an accurate source of legal information, it is illegal to tattoo anyone under the age of 18 in Wisconsin, even with parental consent. This was not a new tattoo. I don't think he is over 18. 

If my kid came home with a tattoo, I would hit the roof. I would especially hit the roof it is was in a state where tattooing minors is illegal. 

I get the feeling that nobody is looking out for this poor kid. It makes me sad.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 126: Who's the decider?

SH: You didn't get my text!

Me: No, I was on my way home from work.

SH: But I wanted to know if I should pick up season 4 of Leverage on the hold shelf at the library.

Me: But I gave you a list of what to pick up and what not to pick up.

SH: I know.

Me: And on the list, I specifically said not to get Leverage.

SH: I know.

Me: And you read the list out loud to me and said, "So I am not supposed to get Leverage?" and I said "Yes. Do not get Leverage."

SH: But when I got there, I saw that the hold was going to expire today and if I didn't get it, they would pull it from the shelf.*

Me: So?

SH: So I got it anyhow.

Me: But I told you not to.

SH: But it was about to be pulled.

Me: But I told you not to.

SH: But why?

Me: Because I decided, after watching the first episode of season 3, which you returned for me today, that I didn't care any more about what happened to these people, so I wasn't going to bother to pick up season 4.

SH: You should have told me.

Me: Why? I told you not to get it.

SH: Yes, but I assumed you hadn't investigated and didn't know what you were doing.

Me: You need to stop assuming that I don't know how to run my own life.

SH: You need to give me more details for things like this.

Me: No. You need to learn to follow instructions.

SH: I am not your employee.

Me: Nope, but the fact that I specifically wrote - and you confirmed verbally - not to get season 4 of Leverage, even though it would be on the shelf with everything else, should have been enough. Honestly. Are you just used to dealing with complete idiots?

SH: In almost every aspect of our life, I go more into the details than you do.

Me: Yes, but when I say not to pick up the DVD and I have actually written it down on a list of what to get and what not to get, then you should just do as I ask.

* Our library has a great system for holds. You don't have to stand in line to ask the librarian to retrieve your holds. The library sends you an email that says that your hold items will be on the hold shelf from Start Date to End Date and you go in and go straight to the shelf to get your books and DVDs and then you go to the self check and check stuff out and you NEVER HAVE TO INTERACT WITH ANOTHER HUMAN BEING.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 12: The sound of silence

Me: Oh! This is it! Listen!

It doesn’t help that Romain is so talkative first thing in the morning that I often check his back, to see if I can take the batteries out. I need at least thirty minutes, minimum, to adjust to the new day – preferably without any commentary.

SH: What! You've already been up for an hour and a half! You had 90 minutes without me!

Me: Yes, but I still want you to be quiet.

SH: Why?

Me: You talk too much.

SH: You didn't used to tell me to be quiet!

Me:  You didn't used to talk so much.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Goth Girl and Goth Boy, 16

Got on the bus this morning. No Goth Girl. So no material for the day.


A few stops later, Goth Boy got on the bus. No Goth Girl. I have never seen him when she is not on the bus.

And then HE SAT NEXT TO ME!!!

Unfortunately, he was a little bit stinky. He needs better deodorant and could probably wash his t-shirt. And - this sounds really mean but it was true - his breath was a little bit bad. I suspect he rolled out of bed, threw on his clothes from yesterday, and walked out of the house without bothering - or having time for - with the things that the rest of us feel compelled to do as grown-ups: we take a shower and brush our teeth not because we like to do so but because we fear ridicule and the impact to our careers. Some people, of course, are so good at what they do that they can be horribly ungroomed, but the rest of us are pretty fungible and must conform to the non-optional (mostly non-optional) social conventions.

I sat reading my book, wondering what to do. Should I put myself in the story? A good reporter doesn't do that.

But I am not a good reporter. I am not bound by those rules.

I put myself in the story.

Me: Do you not have school every day?

GB: What?

Me: Sorry. I'm nosy. I notice who is on the bus and who is not. Sometimes you are on and sometimes you aren't. I just wondered if you have school every day.

GB: On Tuesdays, we have classes online.

Me: Oh! And I have never seen you on the bus before without that girl.

GB [shrugs]

Me: She is very cute.

GB: We're just friends.

I could swear he said this sadly. He was not smiling when he spoke. I am not that great at reading body language, but I guess I am better than some people. My boss started having weekly meetings with everyone in the office. He told me how much everyone loves the meetings.

I answered, "Are you kidding me? They HATE them!"

"How can you tell?" he asked.

I answered, "Because half of them sit there with their arms crossed and won't give you answers other than 'fine' when you ask how their work is going. Two of the people don't even sit at the table, even though there is room. They sit at the chairs against the wall. You cannot have everyone at the table unless they are literally at the table!"

He seemed perplexed, but this is the same guy blesshisheart who on my first day of work, when I moved to the conference room because my desk was right next to the radio, turned the radio off and then told my new co-workers that I didn't like the music. This was after he had asked why I didn't just turn it off. 

"Because I do not want to be the new person who comes in on Day 1 and tries to change the culture," I said.

Yet he still turned the radio off. And blamed me.

"Do you realize what you did to me when you turned the radio off and told people it was because I didn't like it? It took me months to recover," I said.

He seemed surprised.

So maybe I am not so bad at reading body language after all. I could be a lot worse.

GB: We're just friends.

Said sadly. Without a smile. He likes her. She does not like him back. I want to tell him that it wouldn't hurt to bathe and wear clean clothes, but that probably wouldn't help him with her. It will just help him with other girls. If the chemistry is there, it's there, even for a slightly stinky boy. Stinky is ephemeral. She just doesn't feel the same way about him that he feels about her.

Me: Hang in there. Nice guys do win in the end. They do.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 76: The hill he will die on

SH: Hey! I do things around the house! I vacuumed and I walked to get fish fry so we could use the coupon and I picked up pears!

Me: I know.

SH: So you can't say I don't do things.

Me: I don't. You brought it up.

SH: So if I would quit my job, I would help.

Me: Oh you would do more than help.

SH: What?

Me: The person who does not have the job for money takes care of everything around the house. That's the rule.

SH: Well, everything except stuff the person is opposed to on principle.

Me: What? What do you mean, opposed to on principle?

SH: Windows. I don't do windows.

Me: You cannot have a principled opposition to washing windows.

SH: Yes I can. I don't care if the windows are clean.

Me: Uh huh. That's because you have never seen them really dirty.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Marriage 601, Lecture 873: What eyes do not see, heart does not condemn

SH: What are you doing?

Me: Getting some milk.

SH: But why?

Me: Because this brownie is so rich and a swig of milk will be a nice chaser.

SH: Oh.

He watches me set the carton on the counter, open the cupboard, removed a glass, and pour a small amount of milk into the glass.

SH: If I weren't here, you would probably think about not using a glass and just drinking from the carton.

Me: Ha. I wouldn't even think of it. I would just do it.