Elevator Sociology 101

Society’s ills
born out in a few moments;
True modern warfare.
————————————————–
There are certain “social” situations where I think you can tell a lot about a person or a society. Driving rules – written and unwritten – are a good example. I think if properly examined, you can draw many parallels between how a country/city manages its traffic and how its citizenry behave. Along these same lines, I am beginning to believe that how a person interacts with elevators is another indication of their approach to the world.

About 6 months ago, I moved from my company’s suburban location to the downtown corporate headquarters. The suburban building was 2 stories and for the most part, we all used the stairs unless we were sure no one would notice us using the elevator. (I had so many good excuses in my vault for why I couldn’t walk up or down a flight of stairs, I never actually got to use them all.) In the corporate building, there are many more floors, so the main mode of travel is the elevator.

Here is how I would categorize people when it comes to elevators, based on 6 months’ observations:

The darter: This person sees you ahead of them, approaching an opening elevator. They speed up and as soon as they are within 4 feet of it, they dart forward with some part of their body or extension thereof to ensure the door doesn’t close and strand them for an incremental 20 seconds. They are assertive, demanding and mostly get what they want from this world.

The meander-er: This person may notice someone ahead of them approaching an opening elevator, but they have zero intention of hurrying to get there. Their laid back approach is such that they either believe it will still be open when they get there, or it will close and they’ll catch the next one. They don’t really care one way or the other.  In their world, hurrying usually doesn’t make a lot of difference, so they might as well enjoy themselves when they can.

The delayer: You’ve seen this person… they deliberately slow down when they see others ahead of them entering the elevator. Unlike the meander-er  they decidedly don’t want to ride with the people ahead of them. If you happen into an elevator they have already occupied, they shrink back near the buttons, coveting that front-line spot, eyes down. They are uncomfortable with you so close and bend their body awkwardly around the still-opening doors when it comes time to exit. They cherish invisibility and the opportunity to pass gas alone in a quiet space.

These three individuals are joined by three others:

The clueless: This person gets on the elevator so totally engrossed by their phone, companion or the floating spec of dust they just noticed, that they fail to see you juggling coffee, a gym bag and a rolling laptop case that most people mistake for an overnight bag. They don’t see you standing in front of the then closing doors – free-appendage-less – unable to stick a body part in the door’s path – whimpering and puppy-dog-eyeing them in hopes they will hold it open.  The darter sees them as a personal challenge and purposefully waits to the last moment to slide in the elevator in an effort to get them to take note. It rarely works.

The over-considerate: This person notices everything.  When they realize someone is coming, they push the “open door” button, waiting. When you don’t arrive in the timeline they’ve allotted  they lean out the door, peering expectantly at you and ask “are you coming?”  Not only do they hold the door for you, they ask what floor you want, and even try to small talk you for the 7.8 seconds it takes the elevator to lift from one floor to the next.  The Delayer hates this person with a passion and is known to rush in the opposite direction when confronted with this level of attention and grace.

The spaz: I personally like the spaz, because whether I get a ride or not, that moment of approach, when the doors are closing with them on the inside and you on the outside, is pure delight. First, they see you at the last second. Then they shout out loud, lunge across the space, feverishly attempting to find the right button to push to reverse the door’s inevitability. They always pick the wrong button… every time. But they helpfully meet your eyes in that moment before final separation and provide a pathetic, breathless apology – eyebrows furrowed, concern in their voices.  Their call of “Sorry!” lingers for a moment, echoing in the corridor.  And for that moment, I feel loved.

The asshole: There is no way around it; there is one in every society. This person is observant. They notice you coming toward the elevator. They have been known to make eye contact prior to stepping into the elevator itself. However, they in no way, shape or form make any, and I mean any, effort to help you attain your goal of an elevator ride.  I personally encountered this person just yesterday – lunch order in one hand, water bottle in the other.  He made eye contact – saw me coming I’m sure. But as I stepped to the doors, they began to close and he made no frantic gesture of help. I stood there astounded. “Who does this?” Before the doors closed, I loudly stated “Seriously?” in the hopes he would get a clue next time. I feel quite sure it will make zero difference.

So there you are: modern society through 6 elevator archetypes. I welcome your observations from your corner of the world, and importantly, confessions as to which one you inhabit most often.  Perhaps I can convert a few assholes and console a few delayers.

Pubic Hair and Business Trips

Isn’t there a list
Of unbreakable rules? No??
I’m starting it now.

———————————————

So… what went through your mind when you read the title? Perhaps you thought this would be yet another rambling account of a bathroom escapade that I felt, once again, compelled to share with you?  It occurred to me to just stop with the title and haiku and let you fill in the blanks… see whether your image of what it means would come close to the reality.

Instead I’m going to tell you all about it. For I feel like I need to confess… to cleanse my soul… to get reassured via the comments that I’m not crazy (or at least less crazy than most).  I thought the passage of time would help scour this from the crevices of my being, but it didn’t.  Now I come here, in hopes that the speaking will lessen its hold on me. So, deep breath, here goes.

While on a business trip a while back with two other women*, the subject of pubic hair came up. When I say “came up” I don’t mean that it was an obvious next step in the discussion or just a phrase that slipped out by accident (“so I was in a workshop about pubic hair – oops! I meant public fairs…”).  Granted I understand how she made the connection, but the person who brought it up had to make a conscious decision to make a hard swing around in the conversation to get to this particular avenue.  And then she had a choice whether to proceed with the topic down a side street or not. And yep, she did.

I have, in all my business travels around the world, never been so uncomfortable. I have been in China before Westerners were common and been stared at, open-mouthed.   I have had colleagues I work with break wind loudly next to me and not skip a beat of the dialog. I have been in a McDonalds bathroom when work mates came in and started talking about me (it wasn’t positive) and watched their faces freeze in horror as I emerged (that was fun, actually)… but never have I been so completely uncomfortable as I was that day.

I was stuck, so to speak (think middle seat of airplane), so I had to retain some composure. Here is just a sampling of the conversation in my head as the external conversation unfolded: “did she just bring up pubic hair? My god, she did. Jeez, I didn’t need to know that… what? How many people were naked? Oh please, stop there, I don’t need to know about… thanks for sharing about junk maintenance… ahhh… that was a nice transition to your husband’s grooming habits.  Wait, now both of you are talking about it? Am I alone in thinking we’ve gone beyond girl talk?  Oh great… now I can figure out how many sexual partners each of you has had… get out get out get out of my brain I don’t want this in active or long-term memory… holy crap! Now I’m participating? Why in god’s name did I just say that …   aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

This is what I actually said: “oh really….. (very long awkward pause)… uh huh…..   ha  ha (said as a Vulcan might say it)…… oh, junk maintenance…..   yeah, ok……. Really… Manscaping …… I guess so – perhaps it makes it look bigger……. Uh, I’m going to go to the bathroom? Anyone need anything?”

Have you seen the movie Crazy Stupid Love? There is a scene in a moving car when Steve Carell just opens the door and rolls himself out. I wanted to do something like that – just exit dramatically and definitively from the conversation (faint, grab my chest and slump over, vomit).  If I didn’t want to make the whole thing even more uncomfortable, I might have done this.

In any event, the conversation ultimately steered itself back into workplace-safe topics.  My pulse returned to normal and I began to think, about 30 minutes later, that perhaps I would be once again able to look either of these women in the eye again.

*The exact scenario has been changed in the off-chance that either of these people read this blog (who am I kidding, they’ll know who they are instantly) or someone I work with might recognize what I’m talking about. I don’t believe my travel companions know I write here. And I’m trusting those of you I work with to have some decency and not try to guess who or when this happened. I will not share.  My therapist says this is the last step required to bring this episode to a close and I intend to leave it that way.

Mortified (more bathroom escapades)

My life’s up and downs,
I manage with ease; but one –
leaves me stunned, staggered.
—————————————————
I recently posted about my musings while in the bathroom. It isn’t as gruesome as you might imagine, rather a series of observations and questions that have come to me while attending to nature. Suffice it to say that I pay attention while in the bathroom.

So, let me relay a recent occurrence that I am still a little shaky about. There I was, in the last stall, when I felt the seat drop, significantly, even though I remained still. Shortly after that, I heard a flushing sound, not from the toilet next to me, but the one behind me… through the wall… in the men’s room that abuts the ladies. (!)

Oh my god… The shift downward of my toilet… no… it couldn’t be… it happened – please say it isn’t so –  when my through-the-wall comrade stood up, having completed his business.

Eww…. Our toilets were somehow linked through the wall. We were back to back — way too close for me. And our toilets made… a toilet teeter-totter.

Double ewww.  How shoddy is the construction at my work that I could feel him depart? How do they hang the toilets on the wall such that this is possible? Will I ever, ever be able to use that bathroom again? (See the other post; I’m running out of places I feel comfortable going…).

Later that night, I was telling Frank about this (when you’ve been married as long as us, you’ve pretty much run out of things to talk about, so you have to dig kinda deep). And then it hit me. The unthinkable. If I felt my seat drop when he got up, then… (I can’t even think it let alone type it)… then he must have pitched up a few inches when I plopped down, none too delicately, I’m sure.

One hundred times ewwwww. What must that other person have thought when moments from finishing up, he felt that upward movement of the seat? Did he realize what happened or was he in the home stretch such that he wasn’t paying attention?  Me, at the realization?  I doubled over in agony, in despair, in complete and total embarrassment. It didn’t matter that he was a stranger. I am forever changed, forever mortified.

Seriously, now I really can’t ever use that bathroom again. It’s going to be a long summer.

Oh, Great… New Guilt (flavored with Gratitude)

(the following haiku must be spoken in your best wrestling announcer voice…)

It’s a G word fight!!
Guilt v. gratitude… cage match!
The victor? Stay tuned…
………………………………………………….

I work full-time and my husband stays at home with the kids (one in school full days, one in half days). He manages the household – laundry, cooking, grocery, a little cleaning, home and car repair. I bring home the bacon, manage the finances, do some yard work and also clean house when I’m sufficiently motivated (e.g. when company is coming).

This set up has been working for us for about 7 years. In those seven years, I’ve become thoroughly experienced in a variety of guilt:

– how much I like my job
– 7am conference calls that mean I don’t see the kids in the morning
– 8pm conference calls that mean I tuck the kids in at bedtime
– That between 7am and 8pm conference calls, I don’t give Frank as much attention as he deserves and I want
– How I don’t contribute very much to the non-financial aspects of this family
– That I can’t recall the last time I made it to a dentist appointment for the kids
– That the kids more or less like him as much as me now
– That he doesn’t get much time with people over 4 feet tall
– That when I get home from work sometimes all I want to do is hide under the bed and not talk to anyone or do anything, which means he never gets a break.
– Working out since I’m already not seeing the kids much

Well, friends, I have something new to feel guilty about, and it is an interesting role reversal guilt: Frank has gotten a job.

We’ve always known this would happen. Long ago we decided that once our youngest started full-time school, Frank would return to work. We need the income to support some choices we’ve made (namely private school). And it would be nice to take a vacation to someplace other than my parents’ house. And our savings account is quite dusty… You get the idea.

But now the time has come. He job hunted, found his engineering skills still very marketable, and has a great new job starting in a month. The kids know that he is going back to work. Here is just a sampling of what I’ve heard them say over the last few weeks:

–         But who is going to take care of us (because clearly we are now going to just leave them home alone…)
–         But I’ll miss daddy
–         But daddy has always been the mom
–         But I don’t want him to go back to work

So now on top of all the other guilt that I’m experienced in, I now get to add the “I don’t make enough money to fully support us and now the kids are sad because dad has to work” guilt. Wow, that’s a fun one. Now, no one is making me feel this way. Frank hasn’t overtly said: hey, would you please make more money?  But would he rather not have to get a job that makes $XYZ and instead do something that makes some ill-defined amount of money and is super flexible? Sure he would.  And the funny thing is, I would too. These last few weeks, as we’ve managed kid and adult sickness, job interviews, extra yard work, new spring activities for the kids, doctor appointments, etc etc., it has become very clear to me how much I’ve come to rely on his flexibility and the work he does around the house.

I’m also feeling a wee bit guilty about the nugget of resentment I’m realizing I have because him going back to work is going to mean more “work” for me, too. (that has to be the most bizarre sentence structure ever) I’ve truly benefited from him handling the daily stuff and now I’ll have to handle some of it too.  Laundry, picking up around the house, grocery shopping, post office visits, and on and on.  (Again, I’ve always “known” how much he handles at an intellectual level, but the last two weeks I’ve felt it “real time”.)  The concept of taking what little discretionary time I have in the evenings and dividing it up across more chores is not a thought I enjoy lingering on.

Part of me keeps snarking at myself: you have a great job that you love, your kids are healthy, your husband is a saint; boo hoo hoo, you have to work around the house some more so you can have your private school/vacation cake and eat it too; cry me a river.  I get that. I respect that. All good points.

That’s why I’m pleased the majority of me has been realizing how much gratitude I feel for Frank.  He graciously, and with almost no debate, pulled himself from the workforce to do right by the kids and our life during the last 7 years.  He doesn’t complain unreasonably. When I’m beat and want to hide under the bed when I get home, he diverts the kids’ attention so I can do just that. He reminds me that we are a team… I have my role and he has his, and together is how it all gets done. And now that he is the one having to change it up (again!) he’s been totally cool.

So I think it is time to end the G word versus G word battle raging in my head these last few weeks, and remind myself what my friend Lynette told me many years ago – guilt is a useless emotion. (I’ve also really enjoyed reading Becky and Susan’s posts over at Working Moms Against Guilt about their recent transitions – very inspiring; so nice to know I’m not alone.) Instead, I will keep gratitude high in my awareness and enjoy watching this family explore new routines and responsibilities (the kids have no idea that they are going to get tapped to do more around here… announcing that should be fun…). We’ll figure it out.

More People Who Drive Me Nuts (IM Edition)

I miss mail bearing
my name, problems solved slowly,
hard copy rhythms.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In a previous post, I highlighted the types of people I encounter in meetings who drive me crazy. I’m now turning my pen toward those colleagues who use instant messaging. Once again, if I work with you and you are reading this, you are of course above such behavior and none of these profiles are anything remotely like you. However, the following are the types of people I encounter multiple times each day. They drive me nuts.

1. Ms. Unhelpfully Brief.  Her IMs show up when I’m at my desk or away, but they always say the same thing. “Hi!”. That’s it. No further words of explanation. No indication at to the criticality of her need. Just a “hi” that requires a response for me to know more. She is such a tease. But I have a tactic for dealing with her. I ignore her. About an hour later, she adds “you there?”. Nothing more, just dipping the line the water but not willing to put any meat on the hook.  I continue to ignore her. I refuse to respond until it is clear to me whether this is a 2 min IM or a 20 minutes suck-the-life-out-of-you typing session that leaves me wishing for stone tablet communication tools. I tell anyone I’m working with: if you want me to respond, give me some more to go one.

2. Mr. Gives Me Too Much. Obviously the evil twin of the first person. He not only says hi, but then he begins to type. And type. And type. And when I try to wedge in some response, to stem the flow, he ignores me and keeps going. It’s like he has typing diarrhea and can’t stop until he is empty.  By this time (usually double-digit time has elapsed) I’ve left for my next meeting. When I come back, there are two final notes: “You still there?” and “Nevermind, I’ll send an email.”  Argh! That was where you should have started buddy! The good news is I can recognize these now so I don’t invest much, since he’ll usually run himself out and revert to email… without me having to do anything at all. Not too bad.

3. Ms. Multi Topic. She is cunning. Like the fox in some fable, she sidles in acting all friendly. Asks me a question right up front so I know what I’m in for and I willingly engage. And then she asks something else. This conversation is a little more complicated, and just as I’m about to finish that up she ping pongs onto another semi-related topic (when I say semi-related, I mean as related as semi colon and semi truck…), which again, now that I’m up to my knickers in her stuff, I can’t pull myself away from. Twenty minutes later, usually the only twenty minutes I had free in my whole effing day, I extract myself from her grip with a “sorry, I have to go” after which I shut down my computer before she can reply, turn off my office light and hide under the desk. What makes her so awful is that after all that, I’m the one who feels bad because I had to cut her off. She should feel bad, not me, but noooooo. That’s not how it works. I don’t like her. Aesop probably wrote something about her; I need to find it and leave a copy on her desk to see if she takes a hint.

4. Mr. Self Important.  “I need to talk to you about something” is what he sends me; no intro, no explanation. Yeah, I think, so what? (Bear in mind I work with a few VPs, and when they write this, I respond briskly and respectfully. This guy is basically the janitor’s sister’s cousin-in-law.) My response: “Send me invite to book time. My calendar is open. Bye.” I’m not doing your work for you.  Unless you follow your IM with a “so and so harassed me” or “I have a test tube and I’m not afraid to use it” then tonality gets you nowhere but the back of the line.

5. Ms. Slow Type. Oh my god, she makes me want to take my own life with a paperclip. She starts strong… clear question, right up front, easy to answer. But then she starts to write something else… I see the “…is typing a reply” indicator and so I wait. It goes away. Then it comes back. It goes away again. I start to click over to email or something else, but she starts to type again and this times manages to find the enter key. Her message pops up and here are only 6 words in the next message. Six freaking words. Took you 90 seconds to put that together sunshine? I sat here on pins and needles, indecisive about what to do next, for THAT!??! So I reply (I’m an idiot, this is clear) and she does it again. Now, I’m ready for it, and I instantly move to another task. But now that little icon is just sitting there flashing its little yellowness at me. I start to obsess about it. I’m not concentrating on my other work, so I go back to see what she wrote. Usually something universe altering like “oh well…”. That’s it. Well… what? Well… thanks? gotta go? see you later? GET ON WITH IT!  Later, at the awkward encounter at the salad bar, she usually says something like ” you just disappeared earlier, what happened?” I am forced into a little white stretch-of-the-truth like “sorry, someone came into my office.” She doesn’t need to know it was just the package delivery guy getting me to sign for the guy in the next cube who is on vacation, but any port in a storm.

6. The Stalker. This varmint can be either man or woman. They have no life except to sit at their computer watching my little button go from “offline” to something else. Within a pico-second (look it up, it’s smaller than a nano by a lot) of logging on, they are on me like Glen Close on Michael Douglas in an elevator. As I work in HR, there are situations where I need to respond immediately. However, when it really isn’t that important and you stalk me, well, then, expect nothing for at least 20 minutes.  I kind of enjoy watching you squirm. You might send me another little ping, or just start and stop typing a few times but I just let you sit there.  I admit this isn’t my best side, but I’m ok with it.

7. Ms. Wrap it up already. This is usually a friend I haven’t seen in a long time, or a colleague from another country where it is currently night-time. She pings me to check in, we trade some gossip and work chit-chat, and then the conversation slows waaaaay down. It is clearly time to wrap it up. And one of two things happen: a) she uses 10 messages just to say goodbye (well, it was great to talk to you; say hi to everyone for me; and enjoy your date night; you and Frank are so cute together; wish me luck on that presentation; take care; hugs; good night!; wait! it is still day there; enjoy the rest of your day; :-), :-P…).  Alternatively, b) happens:                                                                                 . Huh, I think to myself. Nothing. No typing. No good-bye. Just silence. This can be cool if numbers 1-6 are on-line. But this is usually someone I actually like. So I start to worry a little. Perhaps I send a pathetic little “you okay? I’m signing off now… take care” all the while wondering whether she’s been electrocuted, kidnapped or just had one of her moments and has no clue we were talking. Usually about 30 minutes later, if I am still on-line, she’ll jump on with a “had to finish dinner” or “the doorbell rang” but mostly it just ends and I’m left to wonder her fate until next time.

So IM’ers of the world… if you IM at work, please take notice of these tips. You will be far more successful in your information pursuits if you self identify here and work that 12 step program to recovery. I wish you all the best.

Bye!

Enjoy your day!

See ya!

XOXO

PS: I would be an arrogant ass if I didn’t admit to being each and every one of the people profiled above at some point in my IM’ing escapades. I just want to admit that before anyone from work points it out.

Stop Driving Me Crazy – A Request to my Work Colleagues

My job would be great…
if I didn’t have to work
with any people

*************************************

I work in a large company and have the pleasure of spending most of my days in meetings with other people. Sometimes those people (excluding those of you who happen to be reading this) drive me a little crazy. I’d like you to meet them:

  1. Mr. Fancy Words. He shows up at the meeting, sits back in his chair, and throws out words that none of us have ever heard. At the last meeting, he used the word “obviate”. Huh? Isn’t that what I do every 28 days? I cannot ever recall that word being used at work before (frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it, ever), and I consider myself reasonably intelligent (don’t we all?). Put your “word-a-day” calendar away and talk normal, ok? Either that, or go hang out with the guy from Finance who keeps using the word ‘accretive’. You’ll get along famously.
  2.  Mr. Interrupter. He seems to only call into meetings, never manages to make it into the office. He therefore uses the handicap of being on the phone to talk over everyone else.  It’s not that he doesn’t know you are talking, he just decides what he has to say is more important AT THAT VERY MOMENT than anything anyone else can say. I have two words for him: shut up.
  3. Ms. Stand in front of the Projector. Do you realize what you look like? The velociraptor from Jurassic Park. You know the part when it raises its head and all the genetic codes are

    Image from the movie Jurassic Park

    projected onto its face.  This is what you look like. Do you not know how it makes your skin look? Dead. Do you not know your eyes get a demonic glint in them from the light? I beg you, take a step back – just 18 inches and you’ll be fine. Because otherwise I can’t stop imagining you eating the guy from Finance, or at least biting him every time he says accretive.

  4. Ms. Too Good to Stay for the Whole Meeting.  You know what? My next meeting started 10 minutes ago too. We are 2 freakin’ minutes from closing this topic for good. Please don’t go. You know you are a decision maker. If you leave, we have to start this all over again, and I’ll have to take my own life.
  5. Mr. Never Blinks. You, sir, are just creeping me out. I have watched you now for several minutes and I never, ever, see you blink. Now I can no longer concentrate on the topic being discussed because I can’t stop watching you. I live in fear you will catch me staring at you… but I also live in fear I’ll miss you blink. Blink, dammit, blink!
  6. Ms. Types on her BB and Talks in the Meeting Concurrently. Ok, so you are more talented than I am. I don’t care. Right now, you are giving neither me nor the poor schmuck you are emailing your full attention. No one is so special that she must multitask that way. I don’t mind you typing under the table – we all do it (she in glass houses…) – just pick one.
  7. Mr. Conversation Tick.  You know him, right? For some reason he needs confirmation that you agree with what he’s saying, right? And he tends to request this confirmation at the end of each sentence, know what I mean? This wouldn’t be so bad if his cadence and tone varied sentence to sentence, but it doesn’t, understand? Oh. My. God. Stop it. Go stand in front of the projector or something.
  8. I would be remiss in pointing out the pains of the workforce if I did not link you to this delightful video about global conference calls. Every time I watch it I laugh my ass off. It is a perfect representation of what 80% of my calls are like. I cannot add anything to it. Enjoy.

In closing, if you see yourself in these profiles, know that I do like you, but sometimes I just want to strangle you, understand?  Reading this and appropriately reacting would obviate your risk of committing these sins in the future.  I’m not expecting perfection – just try on some self awareness, please. If you lack that (which I’m fairly comfortable saying is probably true), I work in HR – ask me how you show up in meetings and I’m happy to give you a clue.

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