“Please call me.”

Something is up at home. There's a message from Mom, saying, “Please call me.” No details, which is ominous. She’s usually quite chatty on my machine, same as in real life. Mom could go on for five minutes about how funny Ziggy was in this morning's paper.

Like the good boy I’m not, I called — several times, but there was no answer. Her machine is switched off, and that’s a bad sign, too. Mom is a people person, she loves hearing from people, so her answering machine is always on. 

Most likely someone’s dead, and she doesn’t want to break bad news without being able to hear me gasp long-distance.

So that was the backdrop to my day. Call Mom, worry, wait, call her again, worry, wait, again, again. Whatever else I was doing, Mom’s message was on my mind.

Yesterday, not hearing from the family, was such a pleasant day. Today, a brief message from Mom made my spirits dive like a DC-10. 

If I was a better man I wouldn't mention this, but — I don't have a phone, only an automated messaging system. And I can't call long-distance from work. Every time I call again, it's five minutes away from my desk, to ride an elevator down to the basement of the store, and put coins into one of the four phone booths between the closeout sales and the post office. Obviously, the hassle of making a phone call is not as important as someone probably being dead, but it's a pain in the butt.

Mom, if you have bad news, please leave it on my machine, or leave it on your machine, or be there to answer the phone when I call, or don’t call at all and just mail me a post card. Whoever’s dead, I’ve worried enough, and the dead will still be dead whether I find out sooner or find out later.

♦ ♦ ♦

Workplace stupidity continues. This story is long and complicated, and I’m not sure I can make it interesting, so feel free to skip ahead. It’s your three dollars, after all.

There are four people involved, plus me, of course:

• Marcia, the smart co-worker who’s quitting
• Jennifer, the dumb co-worker who’s our team ‘lead’
• Darla, my boss, who’s new at being my boss and still learning what we do
• Babs, Darla’s boss, a strange and snooty executive who speaks with a slight (but fake) British accent, and whose real name is something like ‘Barbara Smyth-Worthington’

So. Babs sent an e-mail to the computer department, CC’ing me, asking that my access to higher-level programs be increased to match Marcia’s, and misspelling my last name. This was a surprise. Nobody has talked to me about this added access or why I’d need it, and I’m also surprised that Babs knows who I am.

So I e-replied, CC’ing everyone, “If I’m supposed to know what Marcia knows and do what Marcia does, the training had better start soon.” Her last day is Friday.

Babs didn’t answer, but Darla did. “We have the highest confidence in your abilities.” Uh, no you don’t, and also, that’s not the point.

So I went to Darla to ask what’s what about all this, and she says, yeah, they’re planning to dump some extra responsibility on me. Do I get a promotion? Nope. Do I get a raise? Nope. Why not give this extra work to Jennifer, who is, after all, paid extra to be our ‘group lead’? “No, we think Jennifer has her hands full already.”

I don’t care about a raise or promotion; I’m lucky they haven't laid me off, and adding some extra responsibility would make my job more secure, so, OK. And I don’t care that Jennifer outranks me and gets paid more but does less and can't reliably answer any questions; all of us are accustomed to basically ignoring Jenn anyway.

No, here’s the part that’s stupid: These new Marcia-things that I’m supposed to do after she’s gone? Darla and Babs have told Marcia not to show me how to do these things, unless they’re both there to learn it too.

Uh, it's Wednesday. Marcia is gone on Friday. I don’t know any of these fancy things she knows. And I’m not allowed to learn, unless all four of us are in the same room? 

I can respect Babs and Darla for at least knowing how much they don’t know, and wanting to sit in on my sessions with Marcia. But Babs is an “assistant vice president” and Darla has meetings all day, every day. It's unlikely they're going to clear their busy-with-bullshit schedules, and if they only come up with an hour or two that might not be enough — whatever Marcia does, I've seen it from a distance and it's complicated crap, and I am not a quick learner.

My e-mail to Babs and Darla: “If you both both want to be there, super, but please reserve a large chunk of time. I’ll need at least several hours with Marcia, or I simply won’t be able to learn this stuff.”

I sent that message a little before 10:00 this morning. No response, all day, so now there's only Thursday and Friday for me to learn to be Marcia.

♦ ♦ ♦

And here’s another piece of work stupidity, but this one’s shorter and not as complicated. One of the many, many junior executives who float around the building asked Kallie to input some new data on a Lotus spreadsheet.

We’ve all seen this spreadsheet, and worked off it, but this was the first time any of us have been asked to make changes to it. It is ugly, with columns much wider than they need to be, and tiny text that sprawls wider than the screen.

While Kallie was inputting the data, she also de-uglified the spreadsheet — narrowed the columns, made the text bigger, so you could read the data and grasp it with a glance. She showed it to me, and I thought it was great. She showed it to the junior executive, and she was scolded, and told to restore the spreadsheet’s old, ugly formatting.

See, improving anything is against company policy.

♦ ♦ ♦

After work, I went home and ate dinner, then came back to the office and finished printing the September issue of the zine. Mom’s message is still on my mind, but having called six times already I’m stubbornly refusing to call again … until tomorrow, at least. “Please call me” has been screwing with my head all day, though, and making me seriously blue.

Even now, re-reading pieces of September while prepping envelopes, I wonder if this zine is worthless piffle. It’s not as good as the August issue, which wasn’t that good anyway.

It’s an odd psychosis, the way my mother messes with my mind.

From Pathetic Life #5
Wednesday, October 12, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


Pathetic Life 

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  1. Replies
    1. Mom is OK. She's still OK. She's almost indestructible.

  2. "improving anything is against company policy"

    Where I work it ought to be posted on the wall.


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