I've Always Been This Awkward - Twelve


“I always thought that people who spent endless amounts of time drilling into their personal histories are fundamentally unhappy in their lives.”

- David Carr
OK, here goes and as promised: stuff about my corporate work history. No stories, just essence. Why now? Dunno, why anything at anytime? It’s just how the earth spins. Don’t question me, dammit. I'm working!
Just so you know, and here is some free advice, working in a real office or business environment is probably one of the most obscenely artificial things you could ever do. In all your life. Seriously. And it’s all by design too, which is precisely what makes it so extraordinarily fucked up. It’s all purposefully shitty. It’s all purposefully phony. Everything from the bad “hotel art” on the walls that they lease, to the bad furniture you're forced to uncomfortably endure, to those giant conference tables that you have to shout across is all planned business phoniness. They hire people to make every aspect of your corporate life into a big lie (in the name of promoting employee "engagement"); people with long ass titles like, “Assistant Director of Corporate Human Resources and Power Affiliation Management.” It’s all very much a big theatrical play taking place on a huge movie set and nothing is real. Except some people here aren’t actors, they are really living in the garbage bins of this Hollywood back lot. And this is their real existence. Awkward.

In general all corporate human-to-human interactions are contrived and derived. All relationships are insincere. The receptionist greeting is where it begins; the “manager of first impressions” is what the progressive corporations call her, and it’s down hill from there. You have to learn how to shake hands "like a man," make eye contact, and say really, really stupid things like, “stakeholder” and “low hanging fruit” and “let's take the thirty-thousand foot view.” Every interaction is orchestrated and pretentiously formal. People use big words for big word sake. You leverage, you champion. You set action items and table things. You have agendas and objectives. You set goals and you compete to see who can be the most company-line person. You share a kitchen with slobs. People leave half-turds floating in the toilets (and that’s just the ladies room). People have breakdowns in the most dramatic fashion. And you bill your clients by the quarter-hour (or six-minute interval). Oh, and you never swear. Or mention anything about race. Or flirt. That all violates the real and perceived rule structure in a company corporate office business.

If you’ve never experienced it, go out and get yourself a good old-fashioned, hierarchical office job with a company with revenues exceeding at least $100 million annually. Preferably you would work for a greedy for-profit with a large, stodgy, out of touch board of directors. You want to ensure that the organization has numerous levels of middle management. And you need to make certain that this company has a number of very important “teams” that perform numerous “actions” on behalf of “our most important resource, our staff.” Remember, however, that the real "most important resource is you, our client." Staff is expendable. Make sure that staff is about 99% white and that they have a “commitment to diversity.” The remaining one percent of the employees will be composed of mailroom workers and the people who perform mission critical “corporate services” functions like update your ID photograph. It’s just like on the TeeVee.

You need to find yourself an office job that—and to redirect a quotation from Lynda Barry—consists of a bunch of “good-looking, intelligent, and articulate people find(ing) one another interesting.” Except that these people only attempt to be good-looking (by pretty much dressing identical to each other); they believe themselves to be superiorly intelligent because they all went to the same brand-name universities and liberal arts colleges in the northeast; they are overly pretentiously and annoyingly articulate; and, they only pretend to find one another interesting. To many office people, the only people whom they individually find interesting are themselves. And their titles. And their promotions. And their “careers.” Oh, and their office size and location. They generally hate their colleagues. It’s all envy and sabotage. And being scared shitless of the next round of lay-offs. The printers run hot with the résumés of the desperate.

And believe me, I tried to play along for a while. I really tried to fit in. I actually believed for a minute that I was taking this shit seriously and should make what they call a “career” out of it. I actually wore Dockers dress slacks and pressed shirts all tucked-in, shoes polished, wearing a belt and matching socks. Sometimes I wore a classy watch. I also had that stupid ass little ID badge clipped to my belt (because I had a belt on) like the rest of them. I swear I tried. But I learned within the first couple of weeks that most of these people are mopes. Simple, insecure, insincere, disorganized, but sometimes fiercely cutthroat mopes. Big fish eat the little ones.

But then it got hot so I would wear shorts and I stopped getting shirts pressed, which truly scandalized some people. And the days were long so I took naps in my office, on the floor. I drank beer and sake at lunch. I started rap battles and joined tea clubs. I didn’t shave very often. I set my own hours often arriving in time for lunch or watching the day break from the sixth floor. Then I started taking portraits of people and performing acts in the lunchroom for my personal amusement. I even got involved in corporate improvement and management initiatives.

I decorated tastefully. Most people do not decorate their offices other than to display a collection of coffee mugs or meaningless certificates awarded at conferences. I mean some folks try but many just work between the four bare, white walls that were "like that" when they arrived. They live among piles of paper, dust, trash, and all the detritus that give off the heuristic that somehow a busy office person is working in here. My “office” was more of a studio or a study than some dumb company work pit. I never used the florescent lights because lamps were a much easier lighting source on the soul (and for the spirit). I had a component stereo system for a while complete with turntable. Clearly my office, my “room,” my world had little to do with the work at hand and more to do with my own sense of personal style and my ambition to not be doing this for the rest my life. People resented this at first but grew to expect the spotless desk, art on the walls (that periodically
changed), and exhibits on the bookshelves. I had toys, gadgets, props, food, teas and a pillow (for naps) in my filing cabinet. What books I did have were largely about design, photography, and art. I never saved work papers because that shit was always backed-up on the servers, 'cuz I’m green like that. People were annoyed or baffled because I didn’t have a wastebasket. But, shit, I had no waste. I only kept like five or six email messages in my inbox (that may have freaked people out the most). I would have actually painted my office a better color than drab, depression-era white but I knew that would lead to (another) discussion with management.

Perhaps my biggest office sin was making this type of work look way too easy (and constantly declaring my intellectual superiority—because that was generally true). I mean I worked hard but I just didn’t let it show and that made people really uncomfortable. Well…I honestly worked hard on occasion, when the task at hand necessitated hard work. But mostly I just skated by on my natural ability to make things work when they needed to work. Kind of like college, I let my natural abilities and charisma do all the heavy lifting. I had other things in mind. Mostly reading articles of interest in the Internet. You know, I have stuff to learn about Descartes, fly fishing, and satellite technology. I answered my phone with a simple, “hello?”

Acceptance was complete when it got to a point where people would just visit my workplace studio to simply sit for a minute and soak in the vibe. People would relax and unwind. I'd offer tea or just let them talk. Random people, people whom other people referred would walk right in after a while and sit down. I became the company therapist because as my coworkers soaked the vibe of my zone, they’d also tell me about what was on their minds. First they’d blab about work-related problems until I glossed-over then they’d spill all the issues outside of work that caused them to be who they were or whom they didn't want to be. I knew much about a lot of people. People confided in me. Secrets were safe with me.

My colleagues, junior and senior, would sometimes ask, “Can you do this to my office?” Meaning could I decorate their space just so. And I was always honest with them and I’d tell them, “Yes! Of course! Well, if you were me I could. Decorate your own shabby work hole.” I know it was heart breaking for them but if your therapist isn’t honest, what good is your therapist, right? Some people attempted to imitate or feel emboldened to try their own style thing but their efforts were generally lacking conceptual continuity, without focus, or guiltily insincere (but mostly void of any sense of style). Most people were content to work in these filthy little boxes of self-hate all day, every day. I still can’t understand that.

I tried never to be one of those “I have sooo much to do” mopes either. You know the type, always exhausted because they had sooo much responsibility and, gee, because of it, they were always sooo behind on everything, especially the stuff you needed from them. You know who I’m talking about. It’s not like we don’t all walk this earth feeling we are frauds but at least fess up to your fraudulent existence. That way you can shut the hell up about your billability concerns. I just don't care. I mean we all had work to do, that was baseline. That was what a business does. That’s why they pay us. But to always complain about it is just the weakest. It’s a desperate act that is intended only to demonstrate how busily important they were or, worse, to hide the fact that they were complete slackers who had no other excuse for not getting shit done. I only saw it for what it was because, believe me, I've played that stupid card on occasion; the masking procrastination card, that is. What that other shit is, though, is the outward manifestations of personal insecurities. Shut the hell up about that noise. You’re making yourself look feeble. And expendable. I never saw the utility of complaining about my work. I guess a lot of employees/office people generally work in this self-imposed, perpetual, and permanent state of stress and fatigue on purpose. It’s almost a contest to see who can bitch the most about their stress; who can look the most overwhelmed. It was almost like this—this work they did in this office—was all that these mopes lived for; what was important. Like, this was it. Like after work they’d go home and kind of sit around eating a frozen dinner so they would have just enough energy to come back to work again and do the same shit again and complain about it some more. At first I didn’t believe it but I learned that that is actually and exactly a lot of people’s lives. Have some panache people; make it look easy. Think: Tiger Woods not Jerry Lewis (although that goofiness was Jerry's act, I’m sure he was quite smooth).
I’d fire the complainers in my office company corporation after sufficient belittlement and humiliation (because that scares the others to grow up).

The worst or maybe the best thing was when people would look upward, put their hands into this prayer position and solemnly fawn about how they’re “working with the smartest people they’d even known.” Because this would somehow make them smart too, right? Automatic in-grouping; my peers are smart therefore I am. I’d always respond with a laugh and something about how it was ironic but “I was just thinking that these were the most retarded people I’d even known.” I wasn't the most popular person but I was the funniest.

But in every organization there is an underbelly of coolness and life and intelligence. Even in the corporate business office world. And it doesn’t take long for you to stumble upon it. Actually, they come and rescue you before you lose your mind. You sometimes have to really look hard because they’re disguised to resemble the rest of the cast but they are always there. Like fairies. They like the good music. They understand the reality scene. They feel and think and believe like you do. And, please, I do not include the wannabe cool mopes like the guy down the hall who likes Coldplay and who fancies himself to be somehow relevant because he once worked in a music sore and who likes "futbol." No, he can’t tell the difference between Panda Bear and Parliament. He couldn’t explain what a blunt is if you held a gun to his head. Be warned: He is a fake. He is actually a rat. And little does he know, he is a pawn of the Corporate Establishment. He's a tool! There are a quite a few of these pretenders. They are loud, trite, and when it comes down to it, quite conventional. They stick together like fraternity brothers. Sometimes they bully; sometimes they preen. They have no idea.

Then there are a few people who you learn a great deal about, especially on site visits to other cities and states when you can take off the facade. And, invariably, you slap your forehead and declare, “I fucking knew it, dude!” There are people who will drink with you on a plane. There are people who will gamble in the casinos. There a few people who can keep it secret that you nodded off in a hot tub together. There are a few people who “know a guy from graduate school who’s a professor at the New School now” who has killer weed. There's the preppy-looking guy who knows that the words “wrong, long, gong, and song” rhyme with bong. There’s a dude who can get you into great shows. There are a couple of woman who use the word “twat” at lunch. And mean it. There’s that one young lady in Accounting who has a cousin who works for Amtrak. There is a kinship here that soars above all that is The Corporation yet thrives just a little bit below the surface. There is cynicism here; there is irony. There is real intelligence beyond Excel and SAS and econometrics. There are people who read, a lot, and nothing that appears on any bestseller list. There are designers and hackers and phone phreaks. There are pervs and anarchists and atheists. There are degenerates and saints. There are people you start bands with. There are people you sell art to and whom you buy art from. There are people you share group homes with. There are people who accurately finish your sentences.

But the hipsters, artists, and gang-bangers of the underground form a very, very small subculture in your office corporation business. They are secretive, fairly quiet, and quite selective. If you question if you belong to their tribe, then you absolutely don’t. Feel lucky if you can even identify any of its membership.

Otherwise, hang in there baby, it’s almost TGIF!

I've Always Been This Awkward

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