May 5, 2003
Regime Change

ytd: 208.72

"So tell me a little about yourself," says the new Office Manager grimly. "What do I need to know about you that I might not see here in your employee profile?"  He leans toward me, with practiced authority, and laces his fingers together on top of my profile folder. 

I'm sitting across the vast expanse of executive desktop from him, in one of those ridiculous, too-low-to-the-ground armchairs from the conference room. Basically this puts me at eye-level with the middle button on his Joseph & Feiss suit jacket: a distinct psychological disadvantage. I feel like an errant eleven-year-old sitting in the Vice Principal's office, waiting for my detention assignment.

I wonder if he planned it this way?

"Well," I reply, in my very best *oozing-self-confidence-I-don't-actually-feel* tone of voice, "I'm originally from TicTac, Washington." 

I've been rehearsing this speech in my head for weeks ... ever since the new Office Manager was unexpectedly brought on board, last month, and immediately announced that he would be conducting a series of one-on-one meetings with everybody in the office. I already know exactly what I want to say,  and (more imporantly, probably) what I DON'T want to say. 

"My family still lives in TicTac," I continue, "including my three grown children" -- here I pause for dramatic effect, just in case he wants to tell me that I look too young and fabulous to have adult children: he doesn't, so I continue my monologue  -- "but I moved to California five years ago, in late 1998."

I met a man in an AOL chat room, fell madly in love, packed up everything I owned and moved seven hundred miles to be with him.

"I've been living and working here in the Bay Area ever since," I add.

At this point I pause, again, and look at him directly. I believe that today is the first time that the new Office Manager and I have made actual eye contact, in all the time he's been here. This is not for lack of effort on *my* part: I've gone out of my way to smile, to say hello, to offer assistance setting up his new office, to try and make him feel comfortable in his new surroundings. How do you drink your coffee? Black, or with a foot massage? Most of the time, however, he ignores me completely, scurrying back and forth past the front desk, frowning, eyes averted, like the Lord of the Manor passing a particularly unpleasant-smelling scullery maid in the hallway. Now that we're forced to look at each other, I'm shocked to discover that he has the tiniest eyes I've ever seen on a grown human being. They're like two tiny uncooked lentils.

Dark. Hard. Inscrutable. Impossible to read.

"For the first three years after I moved to California," I say, "I worked for The Totem Pole Company in Oakland" -- here, a glimmer of recognition in the little pebble eyes: perhaps he's heard of The Totem Pole Company -- "where I worked as the Executive Assistant to Mr. President of the Company." A man who referred to me as a 'nincompoop,' obsessed over a potted plant and routinely left his used Kleenex in my *In* Basket. Again, a glimmer ... but of what, exactly? Surprise to hear that I haven't spent my entire administrative career sitting at the front desk, gluing labels onto file folders? I explain that I came to The Dirt Company in October 2001 to work as JoAnne's office assistant -- I gloss right over the reasons why I left one company for the other, or why I was willing to make such a clearly downward move, careerwise -- and that I have accumulated twenty-five years of experience in administrative support. 

Of course, thirteen years of that was spent *administering* Desenex to small poop-ravaged buttocks ... but in the broader sense, it's all relevant life experience, isn't it? 

My professional strengths, I tell him, include strong verbal and written communication skills and excellent organizational/multitasking abilities.

My turn-offs include cigarette smoke, black licorice, Barry Manilow records and oversized tires on teeny-tiny pick-up trucks.

"I enjoy working at The Dirt Company very much," I finish. "And I'm looking forward to working with you."

God, I hate this fudking crap.

The Office Manager scribbles something in the margin of my employee profile -- upside down, it looks like either 25 yrs admin exp or Pick up Maalox on way home -- and he thanks me for sharing all of this fabulously interesting background information with him. "I think it's important to get to know my staff," he says stiffly ... even though I've revealed absolutely nothing that he couldn't have gleaned for himself by skimming my employee profile. "Now, if you don't mind," he continues, "I'm going to take a few minutes to share with you my vision for this office." And he leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. From this point on, the conversation pretty much belongs to him: the usual canned New Boss blather about New Ideas, New Procedures, New Goals, New Weekly Meetings That Absolutely Nobody Will Still Be Attending Eight Weeks From Now. From the sound of things, he plans to run a pretty tight ship: no frivolity, no fun, absolutely no folderol permitted. I wonder how all of this is going to go over with the guys on the hallway Sock Hockey Team? Occasionally he asks me a stock question, straight out of the manager's manual. What do I consider my primary duties, here at The Dirt Company? Where do I see myself in one year? Where do I see myself in five years?

Retired. No bosses. No ringing phones. No weekly staff planning meetings. Just me and David, riding a tandem bicycle around the hills of Port Townsend by day, indulging in sweaty athletic sex by night.

"At this point," I tell him, "my five-year 'plan' is to continue to grow, professionally and personally. I'll let the details take care of themselves." And I offer him a tiny, insincere smile ... the one and only smile of the entire one-on-one.

He looks at me, little pebble eyes blinking furiously. There is clearly not a single solitary *humor molecule* anywhere in this man's entire body. I am suddenly aware of who he reminds me of: my grandmother's second husband, the infamous Grandpa Ted. A snarlier, stingier, more thoroughly unpleasant SOB than Grandpa Ted never walked the face of the earth. The new Office Manager -- with his snowy white hair, his tiny pebble eyes, his humorless Algebra Professor demeanor -- is a doppleganger for Grandpa Ted. Of course that doesn't automatically mean that he's got Grandpa Ted's dark and poisonous heart. It's much too soon to tell that for sure. And even if he does turn out to be as unpleasant as Grandpa Ted, that doesn't mean that I'm going to treat him with anything less than courtesy and respect and total butt-kissage, at every available opportunity. This is the guy who is going to be approving my timesheets for the next little while, after all. (Read this: no leaving flaming sacks of dog poop on his doorstep.) But it does explain my weird, visceral reaction to him, the past two weeks. 

And it does mean that I'm going to have to work eleven times as hard at pretending to like the guy.

"Before we conclude," he says, clearing his throat -- I suspect that this whole process is as distasteful to him as it is to me -- "are there any problems or concerns you'd like to address today?"

"Nothing I can think of at the moment," I lie to him sweetly. "But I will absolutely come straight to you if anything comes up." And I stand, with my steno pad in hand, and reach across the executive desk to shake his hand. It is a more formal conclusion to our meeting than is strictly necessary, probably. I doubt that The Main Nerdy Geotech Guy shook his hand at the end of their meeting. (He probably told the new Office Manager a fart joke.) But it's clear to me that the key to getting along with The New Office Manager won't be my sparkling personality or adorable dimples or vast reserves of administrative grooviness. I'm probably going to have to actually impress him by being really, really good at my job ... and by displaying more professionalism than is absolutely necessary, at any given moment.

And by avoiding eye contact, as much as possible.


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