Thursday, November 18, 2010

Calling In


I was attacked late last week. Armies of germs descended upon my sinuses in waves. My body didn't stand a chance. Headaches, rivers of mucus, and a sinus infection were the unfortunate result of this assault. I couldn't function properly. I woke up Friday morning with a fever and a need for sleep. I wrote a brief email to my supervisor telling her that I wouldn't be able make it into the office and rolled back over in bed.

This is the picture that I painted. After years of improv and acting classes, I was finally able to deliver a convincing performance.

Here's what actually happened. My girlfriend was in town last week. We wanted to go for a hike during her visit, but wanted to avoid the weekend traffic on the San Diego trails. Upon her arrival I made the decision to take Friday off.

Normally, I would have simply informed my supervisor that I was going to take a personal day. At previous jobs, sick days and personal days were mixed together in a pool known as PTO. At Traveltime, however, operations are conducted a little differently. Richard doesn't enjoy paying people for their accrued time off. Sick days are forfeited at the end of the year. So, in order to save some of my vacation time, I made the decision to create a big, fat, uncomfortable lie.

I'm not good at lying. I never have been. If someone asks me if I think their baby is cute, my mouth might say yes, but my facial expression says, "Oh my God, no! What happened to him/her? This child is straight out of my nightmares."

I'm uncomfortable with the process. My girlfriend kept insisting that I just call in. There are rules in place to prevent me from saying anything more than that. HIPAA is awesome.

But I couldn't do it. I needed to convince myself and my coworkers that I was indeed sick. It began with a headache that I couldn't shake on Wednesday afternoon. What's that? You have a Midol? That would be fantastic!

The Midol didn't work. The pretend headache got worse. By Thursday, it seemed to be paralyzing. To add to it, my neck started stiffening up and my throat was getting tight. On a normal day, when I'm not pretending to be sick, I regularly need to blow my nose. Unfortunately my snot was not complying with my lying ways. My nasal passages were barren. I got nervous and decided to take drastic measures.

My supervisor regularly raves about Dayquil. She says that whenever she feels sick, a shot of The Orange brings her back to life. It was perfect! On Thursday afternoon, I asked her if she had a secret stash of the stuff. She opened up her drawer, pulled out a bottle, and poured me a shot. I stood there looking at the syrup and back up at her. I never had any intention of actually consuming it. I only wanted to create the illusion that I needed it, but I was in an uncomfortable spot.

I stood there, transfixed by the Dayquil for a moment too long. My supervisor sensed my hesitation and said, "It doesn't taste too bad." Upon hearing her voice I snapped into action, taking the shot and heading back to my desk. I sat down and tried to get some work done, but had a fuzzy feeling stomach and a slight aura of drunkeness hanging over my head. On one hand, it was great because I could really get into my role. On the other, it was awful because I was lost in the Orange Haze.

I left a couple of minutes early on Thursday afternoon, because I generally didn't feel well from the Dayquil and wanted to really sell the lie. I arrived home feeling more normal, and was ready to enjoy my extended weekend.

Thursday night my girlfriend and I got lost in China town, went bowling, and got a little drunk. On Friday, we slept in late, went hiking, and classed it up at Olive Garden. And all because of lying. It's an amazing tool.

I arrived back at work on Monday, trying to maintain an aura of recovery. Everyone in the office wanted to know what happened and if I was feeling better. Without thinking much about it, I claimed that I was seized by the effects of a sinus infection. I've never had a sinus infection, but that didn't stop me from throwing out tales of visiting doctor's offices and taking antibiotics. The lying continued. I was getting too comfortable. It was all coming too easy...

And then someone asked me what I was taking. I stumbled for a moment. I shook my head and said that I wasn't sure what the prescription was called. She said that she got sinus infections all the time, and that her doctor always prescribed something called Z-Pac. I felt my face flush. I mumbled something about an orange vial of pills. I gave her the ugly baby face. I was guilty of lying and I was about to be punished.

But, nothing happened. She knew that my ailments were fabricated. I could see it on her face. I calmly tried to return to working, but felt terrible about what I had done. So I enjoyed a day off, and a beautiful hike to a waterfall, and delicious breadsticks and salad at Olive Garden, and some great quality time with the girlfriend. Was it worth the deceit, guilt, and lying?

Yes. Yes it was. I'm already planning my next sickness.

-More to come...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Impactful Words


Words are weapons. When used in a certain way, they can be very painful, and that pain can last for many, many years. In 7th grade, while on a family trip to Florida, I took my shirt off at the beach. I was excited to be in the warm Floridian sun and couldn't wait to jump in the rolling waves of the Atlantic. Before I could make it there, my mother asked me a simple question. Jokingly, she said, "Micah, did they just let you out of the concentration camp?"

It took me a moment to process what this meant. I looked down at my body. It was the first time my skin had seen sun in several months, and I was being ravaged by the effects of puberty. My bones simply grew too fast for my muscles to catch up. Maybe I had a few ribs poking through. Maybe I looked like a starved, half zombie. But so what? Should my own mother have ridiculed me in that way? No!

I immediately started doing push ups and consuming massive quantities of ice cream. My eating habits worsened. I needed to get out of the concentration camp!

Finally, my stomach caught up with the rest of my frame, but by that point I couldn't stop eating french fries and Snickers. Now I have a kangaroo pouch sitting on my hips, with an ever expanding roo inside. And all because of a couple of words. (I hope you're loving this mom).

This phrase was so impactful to me because it was the first time my mom had ever ridiculed me. Before that it was always, "Micah you're so smart," (true) or "Micah you are such a handsome young man," (very true) or "Micah you are my favorite child" (the most accurate thing she's ever said).

With less frequency, the sting of certain words becomes much more effective. Say, for instance, the word "idiot". When I first heard my boss use the word, I cringed a little bit. He was talking to someone on the phone and called them an idiot. I couldn't imagine the reaction from the other side. It had to have been infuriating.

That incident was on my first day of work. On my second, I heard him use it again. Only this time it was in reference to his wife. His 'idiot' wife had done something with a bill that he wasn't happy about. I winced a little, but not quite as much as the first time.

And then I heard it again on my third day, and on my fourth, and pretty much every day since then. If anyone does something that he isn't pleased about, they earn the nickname 'idiot'. His dogs are idiots, along with his handyman, and the barista at Starbucks, and the people at Sears, and the phone in his office. It's gotten to the point that I don't hear the word any longer. The only way that I know he's really upset is if he uses "F-ing" in front of "idiot". But even that is losing its impact.

Words are Richard's weapon of choice, but his weapons are getting old and dull from overuse. With just a little restraint, his verbal barbs could be much more effective. Not that I want those selected words or phrases used on me. God knows I don't need any more body issues.

-More to come...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's a Virtue


Patience is a tricky thing. We all have desires. We all get annoyed by things. Personally, there are times that I have difficulties in dealing with people. I don't enjoy waiting for things. I like results to be instantaneous. My version of hell is me, waiting at a bus stop, listening to someone tell me about their crazy dream from last night, while I'm holding my wrapped Christmas present.

Ugh. Thinking about that just gave me a knot in my shoulder blade. It's human nature to react strongly to seeing something that we desire greatly. We turn into excitable dogs waiting for a treat. Ooooo Heath Bar Ice Cream? Yes! I want that! Why won't you give that to me? Want to see me roll over? No, that didn't do it for you? Crap, I just peed myself a little. Do you see what happens when I don't get want I want? Gimmee, gimmee, gimmee!!!

We are born to be impatient. How we react to those tempting situations is how our patience is displayed. If we are able to quell the desire to punch someone in the ear, or the temptation to honk in a traffic jam, or the longing to steal the pair of hot pants that you can't afford, we can then be described as being a patient person.

My boss cannot be described as one of these people. I'm used to it at this point, as demonstration of his impatience has become a daily occurrence. However, at first it can be a little offputting. Let me give you an example:

We have a postage machine in my office. It's handy. There's a scale, and a push button menu, and a little tray that will stamp letters for you. I use it every day. I will admit that the machine is not the most user friendly. It possesses a wide variety of error messages that can lead to frustration. PC Load Letter? WTF?

However, if you take time to read the message and process the information it gives you, the troubleshooting becomes easier to navigate. My office-mate (we'll call her Mike) has become something of an expert at the postage machine. With her and a little patience, there's nothing we can't properly stamp.

Last week, Richard came into the office with three large envelopes to stamp. He approached the machine and started pushing buttons. After several minutes the frequency of the button pushing increased. A couple more minutes went by and the swearing began. I started feeling bad for the machine. He didn't ask for my help or Mike's. He exited in a huff and I didn't think twice about it.

Until fifteen minutes later. Richard came back into the office and we spoke to the postage machine's help line. The customer service rep started walking Richard through the process. Buttons were pushed. Everything seemed to be working...

...and then the error message appeared...

Richard grabbed the phone. He began swearing at the help line, and pushing more buttons. More error messages appeared. The buttons must have been screaming in pain at that point. Richard told the help line guy that his machine was completely f-ed, and demanded that they send someone to fix it. He hung up the phone and continued to jab at the machine. $40 worth of postage and several offensive phrases later, Richard had three stamped envelopes. I thought the matter was resolved.

I was out of the office the next day. Apparently Richard called the help line again, cussed out the help representative, and set up an appointment to have the machine fixed. A rep came into the office and walked him through the process of stamping his packages. Office-mate Mike had all of the necessary information, but Richard wanted professional help.

This still wasn't enough for him. According to Mike, Richard yelled at the rep again and exited the room in an angry, belligerent state. The rep left, the postage machine cried, and we still don't know if Richard can properly stamp a package.

To top it off, I received an invoice from the postage people yesterday. The office visit is going to end up costing the company $405. That's three hours of travel and consulting at $135 per hour. All because Richard couldn't take the time to read the error messages or ask my office mate, Mike, how to properly stamp his envelopes.

We are all impatient. It's understandable. A little restrain, however, goes a long way. It also helps prevent $400 invoices.

-More to come...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Close Encounters


I like to go out. I don't do it as much as I used to, but I do enjoy a night of drunkeness each weekend. During the rest of the week I try to remain productive and healthy, waiting for Saturday night to arrive.

The problem with this strategy is that I try to cram my entire week of partying into a 5 to 6 hour time span. Drinking games? Absolutely. Beer bongs? Yes! Shots of tequila, jagermeister, and Fernet? Ummm, sure...

Madison taught me a lot of things. In particular, the great University taught me how to drink. I don't mean that I can consume alcohol in large quantities. Not at all. I'm like a 16 year old girl. Give me three bottles of Zima and I'm good for the night. Give me four and I'm most likely going to end up puking and passing out in my parent's front lawn.

My drinking education was more this: Social drinking doesn't exist, you drink to get DRUNK. I've followed this philosophy for 10 years. It's lead to questionable decision making, white suburban dance offs, and countless memories that I can't really remember.

Last weekend, my roommate and I decided to get after it. We played our customary games of beer pong, baseball, and flip cup, leading to the usual evening of debauchery. We went out, danced, ate burritos, and woke up with a hang over. Pretty typical.

On Monday morning I was sitting at my desk, regretting my lack of sleep over the weekend. My boss came in, said hello, and asked how our weekend had been. Midway through our conversation, a hazy memory struck me. I saw my boss on Saturday night!

Or that's what I thought at first. I continued to look at him, trying to figure out why I was having this feeling. I think that Richard looks a little like a Badger, especially when he's mad.

However, I love Badgers. I cannot equate my boss, who I do not love, with my favorite creature in the world. As such, I will say that he looks more like a weasel.

As I looked at his weasel face, the realization struck me. I hadn't seen Richard at the bars in the midst of my haziness on Saturday night. I saw his daughter.

His daughter shares many of the same characteristics as Richard. She doesn't look like a 50 year old guy, but if you saw them next to one another, you would definitely know that they were father-daughter.

I don't remember much of the encounter, except that I said repeatedly, "I can't be around you right now." I didn't want to reveal my level of drunkeness. The last thing that I need is for bossman to think that I'm a lush.

So, throughout last week, I didn't say anything to Richard about the encounter. I kept expecting for him to say something, but his daughter maintained silence...

Until Friday. I walked into his office to discuss some bills and he said, "My daughter tells me that she saw you last weekend." Guilt immediately flashed across my face. He continued, "Did you not think to tell me about it?"

I didn't know where to go with that. Rather than responding at all, I just made some sort of noise like, "Uhheeeaa..." There was a pause in the conversation before I said, "I thought that I would let her tell you."

He seemed fine with that, making it clear that he didn't care about his daughter's drinking habits. He continued by telling me a story about how he was driving home drunk one night and pulled his car through the back wall of his garage.

We laughed about it and shared some additional drinking stories. We kept talking and I thought that we had moved passed his daughter. As I was about to leave the room he asked, "So where did you guys see each other?"

I responded, "A bar in PB."

He asked, "What bar?"

Hesitantly I responded, "It's a bar called Thrusters."

There was another awkward pause before he said, "Thrusters?"

I responded with another word-like sound, "Eeeaaaaa."

All he said was, "Sounds interesting."

I left the room. If a future employee ever tells me that they saw my drunk future daughter at a bar called "Thrusters", future me may be prone to getting punchy. Thankfully my boss doesn't share the same feelings. Although he may look like an angry badger, check that, weasel, his bark is far worse than his bite.

-More to come...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Double Agents


Accountants are weird. They sit around all day getting excited about excel spreadsheets and depreciation schedules. Some are more gung-ho than others when it comes to professional manners. Their level of joy in reading accounting pronouncements or hearing of tax structures is excessive. I am not one of these accountants.

People are also weird. They can appear completely normal in public. They get their coffee or the morning paper and move along with their day. You wouldn't think twice about them. But then, when they get home, their freak comes out. They obsess over feet, or aliens, or sucking the jelly out of donuts and leaving behind the empty casing. I am not one of these people.

What happens when these two personality types are combined into one person? Super weirdness, right? It's scary to think about. You wouldn't really want to be around this person, let alone work with him or her on a daily basis. You certainly wouldn't want to be married to them, right? What happens to the person that takes the weirdo's job?

Well, nothing as of yet...

Dan Bland was the former accountant for Traveltime. On the surface nothing seemed out of place. He was a middle aged guy, a little old school with his accounting tactics, preferring manual general ledger entries to adopting computerized accounting systems, but he was regarded as somewhat normal. He was important to the company and handled everything from bank deposits to financial statements. He was married with a couple of kids. Normal life, right?

Well, mostly. I guess the only thing that might appear a little strange was his obsession with young men... Who would have sex with him... In a hotel down the street from our offices.

Dan gayness wasn't what was strange. There are plenty of gay men that work in my office, and they are great. It's not that he was having sex with people younger than himself. That happens all the time. It was that he was married with children, and leading a completely seperate life on the side. It caused him to do some strange things...

...such as surfing the internet all day for porn. While looking through his old accounting documents, I came across a folder filled with his favorite internet links. Here are the names of a few of them:

-Young Boys First Time
-Western European Nudists Resorts
-Gay Tours
-Boys and Daddies

At one point Traveltime had a male receptionist. He was just out of high school and it was too much for Dan to handle. He would IM the receptionist throughout the day, sometimes with normal messages: "Has the mail come in," or "I'm expecting this call." Other times it would be less appropriate. To the point that the receptionist had to quit because he was feeling uncomfortable. Our boss offered to lay him off so that he could collect unemployment and not sue the company for sexual harrassment.

What ultimately lead to Dan leaving Traveltime wasn't this behavior. His trysts were known about, but they weren't openly discussed, and never directly dealt with. It was what his obsessions lead to which caused his dismissal.

Dan's double life wasn't cheap. The gay superspy took vacations, purchased presents, and spent a small fortune on personal grooming, while his married cover had to pay for mortgage payments and children's clothes. I can tell you from experience that this position doesn't pay enough to cover those expenses. Dan knew it too. He was a weird accountant after all. His solution? Stealing money.

And a lot of it. Over $100,000 in the last fiscal year. His credit cards were linked up with Traveltime bank accounts. He forged checks. He even withdrew from the petty cash fund. He was the only accountant in the company, and nobody knew what he was doing. It wasn't until he was on one of his many gaycations that he was caught. Another employee was on his computer, printing a check to Sears, and noticed a number of checks made out to Dan. Otherwise the embezzlement could have gone on for much longer.

I fell into Dan's job and have been dealing with the results of his actions for 4 months. The company can't really take any action against him because it would require an investigation of the accounting records. And, because Richard has mixed so many of his personal expenses with the company's, he is hesistant to reveal the information.

Dan is now the proud owner of a Quizno's franchise in the neighborhood. No one knows how his life is going, but I have some ideas. My best guess? His staff is chock full of teenage boys.

More to come...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bubble Theory


In an episode of 30 Rock last season, Liz Lemon explained the concept of a beautiful person bubble. Basically, beautiful people are sheltered from criticism because everyone wants to be near them. They want to stare at them like a work of art. Due to this, beautiful people never develop a true sense of how they fit in society and live in a sheltered bubble.

I wholeheartedly agree with this concept. I think that it should be taught in school, like the Pythagorean Theorem or verb conjugation. Only I don’t think that Liz went far enough. I think bubbles extend to other social groups as well, particularly to athletes. An athlete could resemble a chemically burned rat, but praise and attention will be thrown upon them as long as they continue to score goals/touchdowns/buckets.

My theory was strengthened when I began working at Traveltime. I shared an office with our Vice President of Sales for the first several months. We’ll call him Bob Ramsey. I would use his real name, but I think he’s the type of guy that regularly googles himself. Especially when he’s at work.

Within the first couple of days I sensed that there was something going on with Bob. I would ask him a question regarding the business, usually a simple question like, “How are sales going?” 45 minutes later, as he was discussing the connection between leprechauns and Starz premium cable, I realized that I made a grave error. The man loves to talk. That’s fine. I’ve surrounded myself with talkers. The problem is that he doesn’t have anything interesting to say. I don’t care about him hitting on 20 year olds, or his thoughts on luxury automobiles. I learned to never ask him anything. It got to the point that I wouldn’t even make direct eye contact. I just stared at my computer screen until he lost interest.

It was his laugh though, more than anything, that really got to me. Ugh, even thinking about it makes me cringe. He was on the phone throughout the day. Some of his calls were business related, but the vast majority were about football, or about his kids, or with old high school friends that had nicknames like The Duke or Weasel. Bob Ramsey style jokes would fly all over the place, which would inevitably be followed by the phrase, “That’s funny,” and then him chuckling in a “Huh huh huh,” manner. It ruined the phrase “that’s funny” for me. I can’t hear it without hearing the laugh. I’m thinking about it right now and making a “I just smelled a fart” face.

After a week of being in the office with Bob, I was asked by one of my coworkers about my opinion of our VP. I was new to the company at that point and I gave a very canned response. She informed me that she thought he had been hit in the head too many times during his football career. I laughed it off and didn’t think much about it at the time.

It wasn’t until later that I realized the truth to her statement. I did a quick search on Bob Ramsey. He had, in fact, played football. A lot of football. Our VP of Sales played in the NFL for a number of years. He wasn’t a star by any means, but he made a decent career of it. And that’s when it all made sense.

The poor conversational habits, the jokes, the constant need for attention. All of it because he was living in the athlete bubble. I felt bad for him. He was once a star, but was now reduced to selling Traveltime to corporate clients.

I can excuse most of the annoying behavior. He never knew any better. The bubble is to be blamed. But the laugh…Oh, the laugh. That will continue to haunt my nightmares.

-More to Come…

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fraud with Friends


In my experience within the business world, I've often heard about a company's "culture". People talking in business speak would say, "company X has a really great culture," or "I love how company Y fosters an innovative culture." Usually these phrases would be followed by discussions of their portfolios and blue tooth settings, and my attention would quickly drift away to thoughts of talking monkeys and wizards. It wasn’t until I entered my current position that the concept of a culture really hit home. In previous jobs I always thought of myself as one little circuit in a giant, Voltron sized machine. I was often told about the culture, but I never experienced first hand until now.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never worked for such a small company before. With only 16 employees, Traveltime (code word for my company’s name) is smaller than most accounting departments that I’ve worked in. Most of the employees have worked here for the majority of the Traveltime’s 27 year history. Over that time, a very unique “culture” has been created. It’s like a group of people that were stranded on a deserted island. They’ve never known anything else. It’s only a matter of time before they turn on one another and start worshiping a pig’s head on a stick. Or turn to cannibalism.

But this familiarity isn’t the driving force of the culture here. Far from it. I think in any organization, the attitudes and personality of its leadership slowly seeps into the nooks and crannies of its members. Traveltime’s fearless leader, someone I will refer to as Richard (actual name), is one of the most hyper-sensitive, reactionary, and ill equipped micromanagers that I have ever worked for. How he has managed to create a business that has survived for 27 years is beyond me. Over the last several months I’ve heard him tear apart his agents for lack of business, watched him give the silent treatment to someone who was leaving, and smelled the wasteland that he leaves behind in the bathroom (I’m not sure it’s human).

The last paragraph seems harsh. I’ve read it over several times, and I would like to water it down, but I’m having a tough time cutting anything out. As I was writing it, Richard was spraying venom because he had to answer a phone call. You would have thought that someone kicked his dog the way that he was reacting to the situation.

Most of the time he is friendly and cordial to me. I’m not sure why, but he seems to withhold his anger. I’ve never had to deal with the spittle and vitriol. Instead, my frustrations with Richard usually come in financial form. I’m the only accountant for the company. I pay bills, process journal entries, and produce financial statements. Traveltime’s financial statements are not pretty. There are losses each month. It’s not because the business isn’t doing well. Sales are up, costs are down, and new clients are on the horizon. The company is losing money because of Richard.

The line between personal and business expenses doesn’t exist for him. Richard wants a new deck for his house, Traveltime pays for it. A new Mercedes? Here’s a Traveltime check. Every member of his family owns a corporate credit card. I had to classify his daughter’s bar bills as a company expense last month. A $600 bill at an LA plastic surgeon doesn’t exactly scream "company expense" to me. Over the last four months, I have been complicit in more tax evasion tactics than the mob (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but still, it’s been bad).

If you’ve made it this far, you might be asking yourself why I’m still here. Why participate in fraudulent activities in a hostile work environment? Well, for one thing, I nearly ended up on the streets before I got the job, and for another, it’s fun to watch everything unfold. Each day is a comedy of errors. It’s like I’m living in The Office, only less funny, and with many, many more curse words.

More to come…