“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”
Tag Archives: work
Those of us who served time in the corporate working world are all too familiar with the often-loathsome office party – the annual end-of-the-year gathering where coworkers pretend they’ve loved spending so much of their time throughout the year with one another. One good thing about working freelance is that I’ve been able to avoid such mundane bacchanalias. But 2020 has allowed many in the workforce to evade the antics of business life.
At the end of 1999, executives at the bank in Dallas where I worked conjured up the bright idea of staging quarterly workplace assemblages to encourage team building. This was also when the idiotic concept of multi-tasking had become forcibly fashionable. In January of 2000, we were to gather at a restaurant / gaming house to have dinner and then engage in some kind of laser tag amusement. Since it took place after work, I informed my manager and constituents I could not make it; that it would cut into my free time, which would only serve to aggravate me and not make me love them any more than I already didn’t. I wasn’t the only one with the same sentiment. In April we took off in the middle of the day to patronize…a bowling alley. I absolutely HATE bowling. Like golf, I don’t consider anything near a sport. Any activity where people dress up in ugly slacks or short pants and consume alcohol at the same time isn’t a sport! But, as Gloria Gaynor once bellowed, I survived.
In July, we gathered after work for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. Afterwards, we were to stroll to a local movie theatre and watch “The Perfect Storm”, which had just been released. I had already read the book of the same name written by Sebastian Junger. I would have liked to see the movie, but not right then, seated alongside my coworkers. Besides, dinner and a movie doesn’t sound like a team-building exercise; it sounds more like a date. Again I expressed myself and didn’t go to the movie, even though the bank was paying for it.
The following month all hell seemed to break loose, when the bank underwent a major management rearrangement and several mid-level managers (including mine) had their jobs eliminated. So much for team-building!
Photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager obviously comprehends the uncomfortable nature of the dreaded office party and has captured its mendacity in a new exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Farewell, Work Holiday Parties” pays homage to the drudgery of the working world and the demands it often imposes upon its minions who often spend more time at work than at home. The exhibit features about a dozen sculptures that look eerily like real people when photographed. They’re bizarre moments of debauchery and stupidity perpetrated under the guise of workplace camaraderie. It’s a little bit of “The Poseidon Adventure” (a New Year’s party wrecked by a rogue wave) mixed with “Die Hard” (an office Christmas party ravaged by well-dressed terrorists).
Regardless, the images are certain to bring tears and/or smiles to many and a general sense of, “Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that shit anymore!”
“Nothing ever comes to one that is worth having except as a result of hard work.”
– Booker T. Washington
“Dare to be honest and fear no labour.”
– Robert Burns
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
– Maya Angelou
“No human masterpiece has been created without great labour.”
– Andre Gide
“If all the cars in the United States were placed end-to-end, it would probably be Labor Day weekend.”
– Doug Larson
“Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them.”
– Joseph Joubert
“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.”
– Samuel Gompers
“I believe that summer is our time, a time for the people, and no politician should be allowed to speak to us during the summer. They can start again after Labor Day.”
– Lewis Black
“Before the reward, there must be labor. You plant before harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.”
– Ralph Ransom
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“A hundred times every day, I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”
– Albert Einstein
“Work is no disgrace; the disgrace is idleness.”
– Greek Proverb
“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A man is not paid for having a head and hands, but for using them.”
– Elbert Hubbard
“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the lines between work and play.”
– Arnold J. Toynbee
“It is labor indeed that puts the difference on everything.”
– John Locke
“As we celebrate Labor Day, we honor the men and women who fought tirelessly for workers’ rights, which are so critical to our strong and successful labor force.”
– Elizabeth Esty
“I’ve heard of nothing coming from nothing, but I’ve never heard of absolutely nothing coming from hard work.”
– Uzo Aduba
“Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right?”
– Michelle Obama
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”
– Vince Lombardi
“Though you can love what you do not master, you cannot master what you do not love.”
– Mokokoma Mokhonoana
“Work isn’t to make money; you work to justify life.”
– Marc Chagall
“Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and – above all – don’t let anyone limit your dreams.”
– Donovan Bailey
Yesterday, April 30, marked a unique anniversary for me. It’s been 30 years since I started working for a major banking corporation in Dallas. I remained there – laboring over hot computer keyboards and angrier customers – for 11 years before I got laid off in April 2001. But, I just realized: 30 years since that first day! Wow! The year 1990 still sounds relatively recent; attributed mainly to the 1990s being the best decade of my life. A lifetime ago.
And, it’s amazing how much has changed since then. Both society and me. I’m more confident and self-assured now than I was in 1990. I came of age in that final decade of the 20th century and I’ve improved myself in the many years since. I’m not holding onto the past – not anymore. I’m just reflecting. I’m at the age where I find myself comparing life between then and now more often. I’ve packed enough years into my life to do that.
It makes me recall how my parents often did the same. ‘It’s been how long?!’ I heard that so many times; from when I was in grade school to the weeks before my father died in 2016. Now, I find myself doing the same.
I’m certainly not upset about it. I’ve experienced all of the good and bad life has to offer in various shapes, sizes and colors. That happens, of course, as one navigates the rivers of our individual worlds. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Making it to the half-century point of my life was a major milestone. The alternative is not as attractive.
After the funeral of my Aunt Margo in 1989, we gathered at her house in suburban Dallas where she’d lived for over 20 years. Sipping on beverages and eating food Margo’s neighbors had prepared, my mother and her two surviving siblings began regaling the group with tales of long ago. My mother recounted one quaint moment at a church with her niece, Yvonne, one of Margo’s daughters. After the priest had led the congregation in recitation of the ‘Hail Mary’, Yvonne – about 2 years of age – loudly asked my mother, “Aunt Lupe, what’s a womb?”
Startled, my mother mumbled, “Uh…I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on Aunt Lupe, yes you do!”
Behind them, she said, much of the fellow worshippers chuckled. Even the priest laughed, she told us.
My father, sitting on a couch beside me, smiled broadly and uttered, “See, she remembers those little things.”
For me, those “little things” have added up.
A few years ago, at a gym I patronized, I got into a discussion with some young men about work. They weren’t just friends; they were colleagues at a major financial institution. I mentioned I’d labored at the bank for over a decade and found myself regaling them with tales of answering phones and mailing out scores of paper documents to clients and colleagues. One of them told me that they all used their cell phones to stay in touch with people – clients and colleagues – and were connected all the time. Little paper, he noted, almost 100% digital or electronic. I laughed. It didn’t make me feel old. I realized immediately it was just progress. But they enjoyed my description of such oddities at the time as telecommuting and video conference calls – along with reels of digital tape for recording phone calls and people trying to figure out how to refill the copier with toner. I recall vividly a number of people with hands coated in the small-grain black powder and seeing toner EVERYWHERE. I finally figured out how to insert the powder – using latex gloves I brought from home, with a bundle of dampened paper towels from the men’s room. Curious gazes sprouted onto the faces of those young men at the gym; perhaps uncertain whether to laugh or express wonder. I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “That’s how life was like in corporate America many moons ago.” And, in turn, they collectively burst out laughing.
In my 20s, my father advised me to work as hard as possible during that period of my life; making small sacrifices along the way to ensure a solid future for myself.
“Work as much as you can while you’re young and save as much as you can,” he pointedly said, almost as if warning me. “You’ll be damn glad you did when you get to be our age,” referring to him and my mother.
Last autumn one of my cousins, Laura, held a Thanksgiving gathering at her house, with her two daughters and the young son of one of them. Her mother (my mother’s younger sister) lives with her. Both women sat at the dining room table talking after the meal, while Laura and I stood in the den conversing. Also present was one of her nephews, Andy (on her ex-husband’s side of the family). My parents had first met Andy around the turn of the century, before he even entered kindergarten. He grew to like them, especially my father. I didn’t meet him until the summer of 2005, after a lengthy stint working in Oklahoma for the engineering company. On that particular Saturday, my cousin had come to visit my parents with her daughters and Andy who was visiting for the weekend.
I had my dog, Wolfgang, corralled in a back bedroom and finally brought him into the den to meet everyone – whereupon the little monster I identified as a miniature wolf vocally unleashed his suspicion of the newcomers.
“Why’s he barking so loud?” Andy asked with a laugh.
“He’s just not used to seeing this many people,” I told him.
While the rest of us continued talking, Andy and Wolfgang were more focused on each other. Andy eventually dropped to his knees, as Wolfgang sat and cocked his head back and forth; the way dogs do when they’re still trying to figure out something or decide if they like you or not. I told Andy to let Wolfgang sniff the back of his hand, before petting him, which he did. Within no more than a moment, the two were playing. Yes, a little boy and a little dog make good playmates! They got along very well.
At that Thanksgiving gathering last year, Andy was 23 and had grown into a strikingly handsome young man with a deep voice and a full beard. He said he worked for a trucking company north of Dallas and had earned a sizeable income in 2018. I immediately congratulated him and then told him to save as much of that money as he could.
“Don’t go out buying cars and motorcycles and drinks for everyone in your crew when you go out partying,” I advised. As a very young man, I knew Andy was almost naturally prone to getting the best products life has to offer. I truly did not want to see him work so hard, only to end up destitute at 50-something. “Work hard and play hard, yes. You’re young. There’s no harm in going out with your buddies and partying and meeting women. Just don’t do that too much and waste all that money eating and drinking. You don’t want to turn into an angry old fucker like me or Laura.”
Both Andy and Laura burst out laughing. But I feel Andy understood how serious I was. I then asked him if he remembered Wolfgang and I recounted that day I first met him and how he had played with the dog. He had to think for a moment, before he finally did. “Little gray dog with big brown eyes, right?”
He asked me what had become of him. I had to explain how the dog’s health had begun to fail at the start of 2016 and the stroke-like episodes he’d started to experience were a heart murmur gradually worsening. I then detailed how Wolfgang acted on the day my father died and how he himself passed away less than five months later.
Andy stared at me blankly for a few seconds – and I thought briefly he was going to cry. His eyes seemed to quiver, before he muttered, “Oh, man. Sorry to hear that. I guess that was kind of unexpected, huh?”
“No,” I answered. “Dogs get old and sick – just like people.” No, Wolfgang’s death wasn’t unexpected. When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to brace ourselves for his eventually demise. It seemed they didn’t want to talk about it. I could understand. We never discussed how and when our German shepherd, Joshua, would die – until the day we had to carry him into the vet’s office.
Another thing my parents had advised me to do many years ago was to complete my higher education. I promised them I would and even after I started working for the bank, I maintained at some point I would return. I didn’t fulfill that promise until 2007.
About 10 years ago I attended a dinner party with some close friends and met a young woman who had dropped out of college because she was having so much trouble at that time. She was now gainfully employed, but still longed for completion of that collegiate endeavor. I strongly suggested she make the effort because it would be worth the trouble. “You’ll find life gets busier as you get older,” I said. “It just does. You realize you want to do more things.” I emphasized I wasn’t chastising her or telling her what to do with her life.
Someone else asked, if I felt at that point in my life, it was proper to give advice to younger people.
“I don’t like to say I give advice,” I replied, “because that’s almost condescending.” But I was entering the phase of my life where, if I know or meet someone who’s making the same mistakes I made when I was young, I feel the obligation to relay my own experience with that issue and how I dealt with it. As the adage goes, hindsight is 20-20. Education had grown to become more important to me as I reached my 40s – and, as with my creative writing, it’s not so much that life kept getting in the way. I let life keep getting in the way.
It’s a curious sensation, though. Life is now coming full circle. And it actually feels pretty good.
“No one should have to choose between staying home and really now being at higher risk with the situation with the coronavirus or having to decide to go to work sick.”
Texas alone has more than 10 million people age 18 and above involved in the workforce. About 40% of them lack paid sick leave; the majority of them female and/or non-White. Texas is notably more pro-business than pro-worker, and state officials have fought various municipalities that want to implement mandatory paid sick leave by filing lawsuits and proposing legislation to undermine those efforts.
Now, with the COVID-19 scourge in full crisis mode, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a state of emergency.
“The hearings ripped open the subject of sexual harassment like some long-festering sore.”
The U.S. Senate hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court have gone from the mundane (replete with the standard and predictable inquiries into the candidate’s judiciary paper trail) to the hyper-dramatic. Not since Clarence Thomas’ 1991 confirmation has an otherwise routine and constitutionally required procedure descended into the chaos normally reserved for daytime melodramas.
The Thomas fiasco was a ready-made soap opera. Gossip columnists and entertainment industry executives all felt they’d died and gone to ‘Trash TV Heaven.’ In general, only the nerdiest of academic scholars viewed SCOTUS hearings with rapt attention. But the Thomas proceedings quickly devolved into a media event when the Senate discovered – among the slew of Thomas documents – a complaint by one of his former colleagues, Anita Hill, accusing the judge of sexual harassment on the job. Hill had worked for Thomas in the early 1980s, when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. The hearings had technically concluded, and a vote was about to take place. Then Nina Totenberg, a correspondent with National Public Radio (NPR), received a copy of an affidavit Hill had completed several weeks earlier in response to a Senate request for any and all information regarding her dealings with Thomas. Such requests are standard for Supreme Court nominations, as well as other high-level government positions. The vote on Thomas most likely would have taken place without further discussion had the Hill affidavit not appeared. (The source of the leak to Totenberg has never been revealed.)
The vote was delayed, and the soap opera commenced. Hill described in graphic detail how Thomas asked her out repeatedly during their time working together. She made it clear, however, that he never touched her and never threatened her. But his behavior made her uncomfortable, and she was concerned for her job. Apparently, he got the message and stopped. Hill wasn’t the only woman to file a formal complaint against Thomas, but she had been the first. And she was the only one called to testify before the Senate during Thomas’ hearing. Despite her testimony, Thomas was confirmed 52-48, in one of the narrowest Supreme Court votes in history.
The controversy – especially the sight of an all-male Senate committee questioning Hill – prompted a feminist backlash. Months later, 1992 was dubbed the “Year of the Woman”. It also happened to be an election year, which subsequently saw large numbers of women elected to public office across the nation. It also put Bill Clinton into the White House. As anyone of a certain age might recall, Clinton became the focus of his own sexual indiscretions. Ironically, many of the same people who demonized Clarence Thomas championed Bill Clinton and proclaimed accusations of his flirtatious peccadillos were simply good old-fashioned sludge politics. Or what Hilary Clinton deemed a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
Apparently, the New Feminist Order didn’t include the likes of Gennifer Flowers or Paula Jones. I recall plenty of women scoffing at the news that – in 1990 – Jones visited then-Governor Bill Clinton in his hotel room late at night on the promise of a job offer.
“What a dumb broad!” my mother told me one day. She, as well as some of my female friends and colleagues, laughed at the idea that Jones believed Clinton would invite her to his hotel room at 11:00 p.m. wanting to conduct a job interview. Right-wing sycophants portrayed Jones as a naïve 20-something who didn’t know any better. James Carville, Clinton’s campaign manager, remarked, “Drag a $100 bill through a trailer camp and there’s no telling what you will find.”
When Clinton’s sexual tryst with Monica Lewinsky came to light, self-righteous conservatives actually tried to impeach him for lying about it under oath. But again, no word came from the feminist camp. In fact, they were suspiciously silent throughout the entire ordeal. Clinton supported abortion, so I guess that’s all some women’s rights activists cared about.
Personally, I always liked Bill Clinton (Hilary not so much) and didn’t appreciate the news media focused so much attention on his hormonally-driven conquests. Yes, he likes women. He’s also one of the smartest and most verbally eloquent men ever to serve as Chief Executive. What a stark contrast to his immediate successor or the buffoon currently in the White House! But, if character counts – as so many social and religious conservatives proclaim – why are sexual indiscretions more important than, say, financial irregularities? Conservatives were quick to defend Thomas and just as quick to defend Trump. But they championed the ousting of Clinton because he got a blow-job from some unknown overweight intern. Conversely, liberals were quick to defend Clinton, but had no problems dragging Thomas through the mud. Character may be important for public officials, but politics keeps interfering.
All of that came back – like another “Rocky” sequel – recently with the Kavanaugh ordeal. This situation is different, however, but much more disturbing. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward about her traumatizing encounter with Kavanaugh in the summer of 1982, when both were high school students. Whereas Clarence Thomas allegedly asked Anita Hill out on dates repeatedly and made one too many off-color jokes, Blasey Ford claims Kavanaugh and another teenage boy ambushed her at a house, dragged her into a bedroom and tried to rape her. If true, Blasey Ford is recounting an incident that goes far beyond mere uncouth behavior. It’s a harrowing tale of a felonious assault; one where she literally felt she could die at the age of 15.
I know first-hand what both sexual harassment and general bullying-type harassment on the job can do to a person’s sense of self-worth. I know it happens. I’ve experienced it from men AND women. In the fall of 1985, I was a naïve 21-year-old working at a country club when my openly gay male supervisor admitted to me one night that he’d “really like to suck your dick off.” It startled me more than it offended, but I didn’t know what to do. Working at a retail store just a few years later, I got into a verbal altercation with my immediate supervisor who threatened to “bounce me right out of here.” We eventually made amends, realizing it was just a bad misunderstanding.
While working at a large bank in downtown Dallas a few years after that, a woman came up behind me as I stood at a copier and literally jabbed a well-manicured fingernail into my back. We’d had an ongoing dispute about some otherwise small business matter.
“Oh please tell me you didn’t just poke me in the back like that!” I said to her.
She promptly jabbed me in the chest with that same finger and said something like, “I’ll stick it up your ass…”
Whereupon I literally shoved her back and told her never to touch me again. She marched out of the room and had someone call security on me. When I relayed what all had happened, attention turned back to her; she had merely said I’d “physically accosted” her in the copier room for “no good reason.” I informed management that, if I lost my job because of that, she’d “better come out with me” or the bank will buy me a new vehicle and give me an early retirement.
In 2006, while laboring as a contractor at a government agency elsewhere in downtown Dallas, a woman with the security division deliberately ran into me, as I and a male colleague started to enter through a secure doorway. I didn’t see her approach; she’d moved in on me that quick. She then grabbed my upper left arm and demanded to see my badge. When I told her (shouted at her) never to touch me again, she threatened to walk me out of the building. My immediate supervisor was more upset with me for talking back to her than the fact she’d literally attacked me. Again, I threatened legal action.
“I can be a real asshole about this,” I told him, “and tell everyone she hit me and tried punch and scratch me.”
My constituent vouched for the veracity of what happened. I suppose if he hadn’t been with me, I might have lost that job. But I had no fear of that. I would have ensured the same happened to her. But the matter quietly (amazingly) went away. Still, my supervisor and a few others seemed to be more upset that I’d actually had the nerve to talk back to a woman and not that she grabbed my arm.
I’m aware that, in this politically correct society, gender politics has taken an ugly turn. And it seems, whenever men are accused of sexual abuse and harassment of females, they are presumed guilty until proven innocent and the burden of proof lies with them. In other words, the standard protocol of due process is undermined. But only in those cases where a female – especially an adult White female – is victimized. Or claims to be have been victimized.
It was with all of that in mind that I viewed the life story scuffles between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. I compelled myself to view it all with an open mind and hear both sides of each tale. I noted that Anita Hill had been subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, but that Dr. Blasey Ford had written to her local congresswoman about a one-time incident with Kavanaugh five presidents ago. And, when the Senate asked Blasey Ford to testify under oath, she agreed (via her attorneys), but only after a long list of conditions were met.
Who is she, I asked myself. Why is JUST NOW coming forward with this? And how pertinent is it to Kavanugh’s confirmation? His judicial record opposing abortion and gay rights, while recklessly supporting large corporations is more critical.
Even after listening to Blasey Ford’s statement and all the vitriolic after-effects, I wondered where this would lead. Then I witnessed with some degree of amusement Kavanaugh literally lose it, as he tried to defend himself and rebut Blasey Ford’s claims. The once-stoic, almost bland, jurist melted into near hysteria. His loudly defensive behavior was telling. I’ve been around long enough to know that people who grow hostile in such a manner are most likely guilty of the accusations laid before them.
But then, I realized something even more important; something about Blasey Ford. She had stated repeatedly that, while her involuntary interaction with a teenage Kavanaugh was a “sexual assault,” it didn’t culminate (apparently) in an actual rape. Neither Kavanaugh nor his friend managed to penetrate any part of her body with some part of theirs. She credits much of that to the fact she fought so hard – terrified for her life – and that she had on a one-piece bathing suit, which would be more difficult to tear off.
Yet, if she had fabricated this entire story, or at least had embellished it, there would be no such ending. If the story was born from the mind of a bitter middle-age female, both boys would have penetrated her somehow or another. In fact, there probably would have been more assailants. She would have ended up bruised and bloodied; stumbling out of the house naked and screaming. But that’s not what she says happened. That’s what made me realize she can’t be lying about this.
It’s not that I doubted her altogether. I didn’t have an opinion either way about the alleged incident. I’ve become accustomed to seeing male public figures – politicians and sports stars alike – be targeted by supposedly scorned women. Almost every man who has entered public life (at least here in the U.S.) has fallen victim to a plethora of accusations from a gallery of victims. And, once again, understand that men accused of sexual violence in this country aren’t always accorded due process.
But now, I realize Blasey Ford can’t be lying. It’s still odd that she wrote to her local congresswoman about Kavanaugh just this past summer. Yet, I’m certainly glad she did. Now other stories about Kavanaugh are coming to light; stories of his alleged drunken binges in high school and college; of verbal slurs and physical attacks. The accusers are both women and men. It’s not that the men are more believable – at least not to me.
Kavanaugh had portrayed himself as a studious, virginal, choir boy-type puppy dog in his youth; a kid who volunteered to help old women cross the street and attended church as he was headed for the priesthood. He proclaimed as much before the Judiciary Committee. Under oath. In public. With his wife and daughters seated behind him. Now all of that’s in question.
If character really does count – and we know it does sometimes – then people like Kavanaugh don’t stand a chance. And it’s fair game to dredge up their past indiscretions the way archaeologists dredge up ancient coins.
Sadly, this fiasco is not quite over. It will continue into this coming week. Sometimes, true-life soap operas are just too overbearing. Stay tuned.
Image: Rob Rogers
At some point in the late 1960s, a Mexican-American guy got arrested in Dallas for a series of robberies. The incident garnered some media attention, but was pretty much a non-event. Until someone at my father’s workplace mentioned it.
An older White man approached my father and said something to the effect that the police had arrested “your brother Rodriguez.” He knew what the old man was talking about. My father promptly reminded the man “my name isn’t Rodriguez, and that guy isn’t my brother. Now shut your ass and leave me alone!”
The old man apparently was offended at my father’s brusque language and complained to the company owner, another old White (albeit Jewish) man who said something to the effect of, ‘What did you expect?’
My father often found himself in such uncomfortable situations; where some Hispanic individual would do something stupid and / or criminal enough to get media attention, and some non-Hispanics would assume my father was guilty by association. It actually still happens. A lot. Just ask Black men when other Black men get arrested. Or Hispanic men. Or Native American men. Even in this second decade of the 21st century, in a post-civil rights America, crime still often bears a Black, Brown or Red face.
That mess stormed into the public conscious last week when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump dismissed a 2005 conversation with an entertainment journalist as “locker room banter.” With a monster hurricane having just ripped through the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast and the Zika virus still a threat to public health, this is what the American media and much of the American public has focused on: eleven-year-old verbiage from two old men trash-talking on a bus.
The dialogue hasn’t discouraged Trump who is roaring ahead with his campaign – undoubtedly one of the most bizarre in recent memory – even as one woman after another jumps forward to proclaim they’ve fallen victim to the type of actions the business tycoon describes in that brief snippet.
There’s no getting around it: what Trump said in that piece is deplorable, and his attempt at an apology is as sincere as a 13-dollar bill. Even before then, I didn’t like him. But, aside from the rancor bubbling over this mess, it’s amazing the number of men who are also publicly proclaiming their ardent respect for women and disdain for Trump. Athletic coaches at the high school and college levels are gathering their young male acolytes to warn them that such talk about females will not be tolerated.
Personally, I don’t feel the need to refute Trump’s so-called “locker room banter.” I don’t have a guilt complex over it and I’m not hopping up and down trying to convince any female within ten feet of me that I’d never talk that way about them. And neither should any other man.
Since high school, I’ve spent time in men’s locker rooms and can say without wincing that I’ve never heard men talk like that about women. Men say all sorts of stupid shit in locker rooms, but I cannot recall anything of that sort. As a writer, I’m prone to listen in on other people’s conversations. I’ve always wanted my characters to speak and behave as normal as possible, so they’ll be more realistic. Yes, men do talk about sex in locker rooms. (And, in other Earth-shattering news, the sun rises in the east.) I’m certain women engage in similar talk, even though most won’t admit it. Men also talk about body parts. Mainly their own body parts. Usually, though, we talk about work, home, family, cars, sports, our individual exercise routines – but never something so vile as sexually assaulting or molesting women. I know some men have talked openly like that. I’ve just never heard it.
But it’s not enough to point out that most men don’t talk in such a debasing manner about women. It’s more important to realize that most men don’t act that way either. The vast majority of men don’t harass and / or sexually assault women. I know that contradicts feminist ideology, but it’s painfully true. Men are much more likely to assault other men or even themselves than they are women.
Yet, while plenty of people like Trump think their wealth and power make them better than the rest of us, there are others who latch onto the Trumps of the world in the hopes of improving their own station in life. Trump surely has no genuine respect for women overall, but a number of women swoon over men like him daily. This is one thing that upsets most average men. Women often claim they want a man who is honest and fair-minded. But, as some men view it, women really just want a man with lots of money. Even some of the most successful and well-educated women often still expect the men in their lives to earn more than them. Why? Just in case said woman decides she’s tired of working? I don’t know.
Women, on the other hand, often say their lack of opportunities in life put them in a position where they’ve had to find men who have money, or at least a job that pays above minimum wage. On average, women still earn less than men, but women are superseding men on the educational front. If you break that down from a racial viewpoint, the gaps grow even larger. Gender politics, like racial politics, is ugly, and no one wins the argument.
I’ve heard more than a few women engage in “locker room banter” – in public – in front of me and other men. I’ve endured my share of harassment from both women and men. It was never caught on video or audio. And I rarely complained out loud about it. I knew few would believe me, especially because I’m a man. Therefore, I understand how some women feel about life in the work place during years gone by – long before the term “sexual harassment” was ever created.
Former Texas Governor Ann Richards once advised young women to complete their education and not depend on a man to take care of them; “when the Prince is middle aged with a pot belly and a wandering eye, you’ll be glad you have a degree and can support yourself if you have to.” As expected, social and religious conservative across the state and the nation dumped their snarky bile on Richards; denouncing her as anti-family and anti-marriage. Richards shrugged it off, even after losing her 1994 reelection bid.
Trump is in a class all his own – and I don’t mean that in a good way. He’s harking back to those golden years gone by; when people didn’t have to be politically correct, especially White male people. But, as part of that elite and much-reviled 1%, he obviously believes his wealth and power give him license to say and do whatever he wants. Plenty of people in his social class possess such self-righteous haughtiness. Despite all his money, Trump is still little more than a loud-mouthed bum. He’s a disgrace to all men – White or not.
My paternal grandfather once said you can dress a donkey up in silk and satin, like a thoroughbred horse, but eventually it’ll start bucking and kicking like the animal it truly is. Now, I don’t mean to disrespect donkeys by comparing them to Trump. Talk about being disrespectful! But I think you get the idea.
During the first semester of my senior year in high school, I took an Advanced Placement (AP) English course. I’d always been good in English; having learned to read and write even before I entered kindergarten. Reading and writing were two means to deal with the intense shyness that plagued my youth. I’d always earned A’s in English classes, even going back to grade school. Until that AP class. I ended up with a B+, which – to me – was depressing. Towards the end of the course, the teacher urged me to take a regular English class for my final semester; saying something about the next AP English course dealing with poetry, which “takes it to a whole new level.” Translation: you’re too big of a dumb ass to handle it. Her and I hadn’t really connected anyway, which had made me feel ostracized. In retrospect, she reminds me Hillary Clinton; you could tell she’d lead a really hard life, but still have off fake smiles to get through the day.
For that final half of my senior year, I took a “regular” English class (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) and ended up with an A+. I’d had that particular teacher (another Hillary Clinton predecessor) before and didn’t have any problems with her. But another student in that class did. As the spring semester wound down, and all of us seniors became more eager to leave, that one student was in peril. The teacher had openly informed him (and everyone else) that he might not pass, which meant he wouldn’t be able to graduate on time. One day she loudly proclaimed that she was going through all of his previous coursework to see if she’d made any mistakes in grading. I could see the mortified look on his normally gregarious face. It was a good thing he was seated at the very back of the room. The rest of us remained silent. When the class ended that day, the teacher told him to stay.
I encountered him in a boys’ restroom later and asked him “if everything was okay.” He said yes; that he’d just barely passed the course and would be able to graduate as scheduled. I told him it was “chicken shit” that the teacher had publicly humiliated him and virtually announced to everybody that he was a potential failure. A couple of other guys in that class happened to show up and overheard our conversation. They agreed with me. That one guy (I can’t remember his name) then mentioned something I thought was odd at the time. He said he’d always had trouble with reading and writing; that letters and words sometimes looked “mixed up” to him. Thinking about that now makes me realize he was probably dyslexic; a neurological condition that impacts people (usually males) at a young age.
I’ve known other boys and young men who had trouble reading and writing and remember the open ridicule they’d face at the hands of teachers and other students. Calling out someone in public like that and telling them they’re about to fail is cruel and unethical. But people do it anyway. It happens all the time in schools – and in the workforce. It’s a form of bullying.
In the summer of 2009, the supervisors at my job decided upon a new tactic to educate associates en masse should we encounter a work-related problem. They would email everyone at once and try to get a resolution as quickly as possible. The genesis was time constraints. They didn’t want to deal with telling people one by one how to handle a troublesome issue. The plan bombed as soon as it was implemented; thanks to yours truly.
I had a question about something, so the supervisor, Monica*, emailed everyone (copying our project manager, Dave*, and her own assistant, Diana*) about it. She initially didn’t mention that it was me who had started the inquiry. Monica gave us all an hour to figure it out. When I thought I’d gotten it, I asked Diana who merely responded with a shrug. “Oh, so you’re gonna play this chicken shit little game, too, huh?” I said.
“It’s not a game,” she muttered.
“It’s also not a game when you ridicule someone publicly. Go back to sleep.” I left her office, which she shared with Monica and another supervisor.
Moments later Monica sent out another group email telling everyone that I need help with this problem – to which I replied (only to Monica, Dave, Diana and the other supervisor): “I don’t know who came up with this idea, but it’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen.”
Dave wasn’t on site that day, and Monica reacted with her usual dismissive demeanor when I finally confronted her. “Well, we didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” she said, still staring at her monitor. The comment had prompted a barely-audible chuckled from Diana.
“Oh, no!” I replied. “I don’t have feelings for you or anyone else in this dump. None of you are worth that much trouble, so don’t impress yourselves too goddamned much.”
She still wouldn’t look at me and started talking to Diana.
I reached behind and slammed the office door with enough force to cause the wall to vibrate. It startled the other supervisor. “Do I have your attention now?” I said to Monica.
Her and I had engaged in verbal battles before. That wasn’t the first time she’d called me out publicly. I’d confronted her afterwards, and she said she’d say whatever she wanted whenever she wanted. I informed my then-supervisor, Robert*, telling him Monica and I “had words.”
Monica had the habit of ridiculing people in public. I recall another nasty situation about two years earlier than the group email stunt where she’d loudly gone off on a woman about the standard operating procedures (SOP) manual. People on the other side of the office – with stacks of metal shelves and a slew of paper-laden boxes between us – could hear her. Robert called Dave who was in another location. I don’t know what exactly happened next, but a security official showed up several minutes later. By the end of that year, Robert left the company. Speaking with another colleague, James*, months later, I learned Robert had had it with Monica. He had apparently been unable to reason with her on any level and – unwilling to tolerate it – found another job.
James (who remains a good friend to this day), a female colleague, Andrea*, and I then all fell under the group supervised by Monica. For Andrea, it was a veritable death sentence. Israelis and Palestinians get along better than those two did. I chalked it up initially to the usual drama that erupts between people in the workplace. But the two women literally despised one another. The following year Andrea took a leave of absence – and never came back.
A few months after the group email mess Monica got her comeuppance. Late one Friday afternoon she’d marched up to the office of our company’s liaison to the government agency with which we contracted (our client in other words) and unleashed a verbal tirade. The incident started the liaison, an older woman who was bound to a motorized scooter. That other company supervisor happened to accompany Monica; unaware, as she later told me, that Monica would “go off like that.”
A security official happened to overhear the exchange and promptly ordered Monica and the other supervisor to leave the office. Someone then called Dave who was at a client site a few miles away. He hurried to downtown Dallas in evening rush-hour traffic – which often moves slower than fat people walking through a cactus field – and ultimately walked Monica out of the building. She was gone. The rest of us didn’t find out until the following Monday morning, when Dave called us into a meeting. “If you have any questions, get with me privately,” he added.
The only question James and I had was whether or not they had to escort Monica out in handcuffs or a straight-jacket. It was somewhat of a relief. The big, evil, loud-ass witch had evaporated from our lives.
I hate to see anyone to lose their job. Most anyone. Some people just beg for it in a way, either through their own incompetence or because of brutish behavior.
If I try to count the times someone ridiculed me during my school years, I’d have to break out a calculator. If I try to do the same with work-related fiascos, the stories would include more than a few arguments. Not long after landing in the corporate world, I discovered that schoolyard bullies and cranky teachers reappear in corner offices with designated titles and self-righteous dispositions.
I’m a firm believer, though, in that what goes around comes around. The proverbial karma is a bitch theory.
In early 1990, I had a temporary job at a financial company’s lock box division. One of the assistant supervisors was an older woman who seemed to relish pointing out the mistakes of everyone in the unit. At weekly meetings she’d call out people’s names like a headmistress admonishing disobedient school children. The tactic was supposed to enlighten and help educate the group, thus guarding against future costly errors. It had the opposite effect. Aside from generating extreme animosity against the woman, it impacted morale. Then, salvation arrived in the most unlikely of circumstances. That woman made an error, a really egregious error that cost the company some money. It was a serious offense. The unit manager, an older man with a seesaw personality, gathered everyone around to announce publicly the nature of the mistake. In a perverse form of emotional rioting, the entire crowd – including me – reacted with unabashed joy. The old hag got a healthy dose of her own self-righteousness. Hurts, doesn’t it, I thought, to be shamed and humiliated in front of everybody. A few weeks later I found a job at a bank, just as the assignment was scheduled to end.
Humiliating someone publicly just doesn’t turn out well in either school or work. Cooperation and private consultations may sound like bleeding-heart liberal ideology, but it’s much more of a productive approach in both business and education. Think about it. How many times have you been part of a group where members constantly bickered, and everything still came out wonderfully? Wonderfully, that is, without any break in the hostilities. I never have. Competition and debates are inevitable – and good. Good most of the time. People will disagree and argue. But, unless they eventually come to some sort of understanding, nothing positive will come of it. We only have to look at the centuries-old battle between Israelis and Palestinians to see what a lack of solid communication and mutual agreement can do to a society.
It may have taken me decades before I finally completed my college education, but I’m no idiot and I’m no fool. If anything, I’ve been naïve in believing that people can work together all of the time.
Another thing I’ve learned – perhaps, the most critical lesson of all – is that hard work isn’t equal to luck or good fortune. It really is difficult and generally pays off – whether in an actual workplace or in your own personal endeavors. I haven’t achieved success yet with my fictional writing career. But I’ll never give up on it because that’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted to do with myself and I know I’m good at it. And I’m good because I really enjoy the craft of reading.
Regardless, I don’t need the approval of haggard English teachers or cantankerous managers to succeed in anything.
Image courtesy of Marc Phares / Epic Studios.
Within the same week a few months ago my parents had nightmares about their former jobs. It’s unsettling because they’ve both been retired for a while. My mother worked in the insurance business for nearly 51 years before retiring in 2003 at age 70. My father worked for two different printing shops; starting when he was 17. He got laid off in 1994 from the last one. They’re old school; in their day, you went to work for a company and stayed there for decades. Thus, I’ve had some trouble explaining my career as a freelance technical writer to them. They each worked roughly the same number of years I’ve now been alive.
But why, after all these years, they have occasional bad dreams about work is beyond my comprehension. I suppose they gave so much of their time and energy to those places that it’s dug an emotional trench in their respective souls like a gunshot wound.
I’ve only had three dreams about work. The first occurred in the late 1980s, when I worked for a retail store. I was being harassed by a manager who already had a nasty reputation. Strangely, though, (and what dream isn’t strange?) my parents were at the store with me. They knew I’d been having a tough time with that asshole of a manager and had come to help me out. When he shouted at them, I lost my temper and screamed at him. My own yelling woke me up. Not long afterwards, that manager was transferred to another store. I guess someone in the company’s echelons of power heard me yelling.
The other two dreams came within months of losing my job at an engineering firm in the fall of 2010. I had been so stressed out there in the last few months it was almost a relief to get laid off. It even cost me a back tooth. Just a few weeks earlier I had begun experiencing pain on the left side of my mouth. I didn’t know what to think when I realized that tooth was loose. Neither did my dentist. But, by the time I visited him, I knew my job was the crux of the agony.
“You have two choices,” he told me. “I can pull it or try to do a root canal.”
“Pull the bitch,” I calmly told him, thinking of my then-supervisor and then-manager. As he wrangled it from my jaw, I tried to think of ways to make it look like that supervisor and that manager had freak accidents. At work. On the same day. With no one else around.
Stress does that to a person – especially work-related stress. It makes them physically ill and emotionally drained. At various times during my eleven years working for a large bank, I felt the impact of job-induced stress. Back aches and short bursts of rage were the most common for me. Back then, though, I was able to fight it off because of my strict exercise regimen: pushups and crunch sit-ups in the morning; weight-lifting; jogging; and taekwondo. In one martial arts session, I almost beat the crap out of a close friend. We were fully padded up, so neither of us felt much. But he told me afterwards that I literally scared him. I apologized, but he just laughed. I explained to him what was happening to me at the bank, and he understood. Still, at that moment, I felt angry enough to send Chuck Norris screaming from the room. Despite my tenure at the bank and all the crap I endured, I never once dreamed of the place.
So, it’s still a mystery why I let my eight-year stint at the engineering company affect me in the nocturnal hours.
In the first dream, I was at corporate headquarters in Southern California with my former project manager, Dagwood*, who had hired me in 2002. He was a quirky character who’d joined the company right out of college. But I liked him and stood up for him, whenever I felt another associate was disrespecting him. In the dream, the building sat right along the coastline, separated from the water only by a strip of sand and a road. Dagwood had been there many times, but this was my first visit. And everyone was on edge. A major quake had pummeled the seabed a few miles offshore, and local officials anticipated an equally massive tsunami. The coastal areas had already been evacuated, and building management had informed us they were monitoring the situation closely. When the first wave approached, they’d sound the alarms, and everyone on the lower levels would flee upwards, which in real tsunami reactions, is known as vertical evacuation.
I’ve always been fascinated by the more extreme elements of the natural world and recall being fascinated with the prospect of witnessing a tsunami up close. But I was also frightened, since I’d never been through something like that. Dagwood had, though; a similar incident had occurred a few years earlier, he told me, before I started with the company. A massive seaquake had struck, and a tsunami was expected. But it was almost a false alarm; the tsunami waves turned out to be merely inches. This time, however, officials anticipated a real disaster.
“Don’t worry,” Dagwood reassured me. “Just stay with me, and you’ll be alright. When those alarms go off, we’ll just head upstairs.”
Cool, I thought. I felt better.
Then, as I labored over my laptop, seated right beside a window overlooking the beachfront, the alarms went off. I heard a loud thundering sound and looked out the window to see the first monstrous wall of water rushing towards us. I panicked, as I leapt to my feet and began looking for Dagwood. He was nowhere. Some people started screaming in fear, as others headed towards the stairwell. Where was Dagwood? I kept asking. He’s supposed to be here. Good God! Did he just abandon me?
I ran from one office to another, searching for him, thinking surely he wouldn’t be so cruel towards me. Several other people were also scrambling around; consumed more with hysteria. But I still couldn’t find Dagwood. Finally, I just stopped and, as the sound of the encroaching tsunami drowned out every other noise, I turned to the ceiling and said, “Fuck him.”
I proceeded towards a stairwell, and – amazingly – everyone else stopped screaming and followed me up the stairs. We all made it safely and could only watch as the water rumbled over the sand and the road, before tearing into the building’s ground floor.
But I kept asking myself that question over and over: where was Dagwood? He was nowhere to be found. What had been trepidation just moments earlier turned to anger. He really did abandon me.
I woke up.
In the second dream, I was back in downtown Dallas, at the government agency where I’d worked most of the time I was with the company. We had an important meeting; one where we’d learn our fate under the new contract. I simply couldn’t be late. As the meeting time approached, I was trying desperately to finish a critical task. I finally tore myself from my computer and headed towards a nearby meeting room. No one was there. I darted to another conference room. It, too, was empty. Where is everyone? Where is this damn meeting being held? I can’t be late!
I began scampering about the building; running into every conference room I could find. They were either empty or occupied by someone else. But, by then, I’d realized something even more disconcerting: I was stark naked. At some point, my clothes had come off. That usually happens only to porn stars and politicians, not to technical writers. And not in a government building! No one seemed to care, though, and I was only slightly bothered by it. I was more concerned with finding out where that damn meeting was being held. I finally gave up and sauntered into the break room. I dropped into a chair, still butt-naked, and resigned myself to an uncertain fate.
I woke up.
Both dreams are rife with symbolism. I know what they mean to me, but you can make your own inferences. Yet, once I recovered from that second dream, I vowed never to dream about work again. It wasn’t worth the aggravation. No job is. After years of dealing with bully bosses, hostile coworkers, office gossip, impossible deadlines and paltry raises, I want to occupy my mind with something far more significant and meaningful than a fucking job.
And it’s worked. I haven’t dreamed about the engineering company again. I told my parents they need to let go of their old jobs. “That was years ago,” I said. Those places shouldn’t hold such a strong grip on their minds.
We spend so much of our lives at work, or doing something work-related, and we don’t always get something positive after expending all that time and energy. People, especially men, have often defined themselves by what type of career they had. Blue collar, white collar, no collar. Whatever they did to make a living is who they were. One of the first questions people ask when they meet someone for the first time is, “What do you do?” And, of course, they don’t really mean, ‘What do you do in your spare time?’ Or, ‘What do you do every third Saturday of the month?’ They mean, ‘How do you make yourself a valuable part of your community?’
But I know people are generally worth more than the way they earn money. I define myself as a writer; always have and always will. So I proudly tell people I’m a technical writer. That’s how I currently earn my living. Eventually, I hope to make a living from my creative writing. Regardless, I know for damn sure that slaving over a hot keyboard is not all that I am. And whatever type of job or career you have, dear readers, should not be all who you are. We’re worth a hell of a lot more than that.
And, next time I’m on the west coast, I may see a real live tsunami, but I won’t be thinking of Dagwood.