Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What's your e-mail address?

I have, almost since the time I began attracting the attention of adult men, an uncanny ability for getting all manner of freaks. The last time I dated someone normal was my junior year in high school, and so maybe there might be normal guys who find me attractive, but they never make their intentions known.

My ability to attract strangeoids became painfully obvious to me during my semester abroad. I, like many of my female classmates, was accosted by men all day long. On trains, buses, while walking through parks, buying groceries or waiting in line at the post office. Everywhere. And it is the kind of flirting that American men only get away with when they are extremely drunk. My response to awkward situations is often to giggle or smile nervously, which to many men is also a sign of flirting (but my kind of flirting usually involves verbal abuse, intense sarcasm, avoidance of eye contact, etc. You know...the opposite of actual flirting) so this almost always ended badly for me. I was once followed through a subway station by a man who insisted I go home with him. But along with potential stalkers, I attracted a lot of bored married men who called me "exotic," "exciting," and complained that their wives no longer found them attractive.

I returned to college with a newfound appreciation for the descendants of Puritans that I call my countrymen, and was happy to be able to safely walk down the street without fear of having someone grab my hand and tell me how beautiful I am. But only half my problem was solved; I still found myself attracting men in committed relationships and actual married men who were drawn to me for the same reasons that British, French, Italian and Irish men had explained to me on the other side of the pond.

After realizing that men are the same all around the world, I decided to just ignore the flirting that happens daily, and only when it gets really, really awkward have I taken notice and complained. And that brings us to last night. Last night was every awkward encounter I'd ever had with the added bonus of my being unable to escape. Because I was in a moving car. Every evening I take a shuttle from my building to a park-n-ride. Most of the shuttle drivers are semi-retired older men who flirt with me in a cute, harmless sort of way. Some of the shuttle drivers don't talk to me at all, but there's one shuttle driver in particular who I appear to have struck a chord with. On previous shuttle trips, I'd learned that he'd moved to America 8 months ago and worked as a shuttle driver in the evenings and as a help desk tech during the day. He also took it upon himself to chide me for being single, and cooking, eating and living alone, and insisted to me that this was a sad, meaningless existence. Which is of course what every single woman likes to hear.

Last night, when the shuttle pulled up, I immediately recognized him and gave my best cheerleader grin to help me get through what was sure to be a slightly awkward ride. I got into the car, and he began telling me how excited he was that he got to see me. "So excited! I have wanted to see you since last Friday!" he exclaimed. There were two other passengers and so whatever else he needed to say couldn't be uttered until they weren't in the car. When the couple had gotten out at their stop, he locked the doors and turned to me saying "You are single, yes?" I replied that I was, laughing softly to myself and recalling with a certain fondness the time that I sat in a park, hunched over an insanely overpriced blueberry muffin, racked with homesickness, when a man approached me and asked me out on a date.

The shuttle driver, undeterred by my giggling and the look on my face, shook his head thoughtfully and said "You are so beautiful. So appealing. Why are you single? It makes no sense." I cringed a little inside, mostly because I could tell where this conversation was going. I surveyed my surroundings and tried to see where I could get him to drop me off so I could walk the rest of the way. Several unreasonably long stop lights later, the driver turned to me and said "I have philosophical question for you." Knowing that this was going to be a doozy, I said "Go for it."

"In America, what is difference between 'lover' and 'boyfriend,'" he implored. I struggled to hold back laughter, and explained as delicately as I could what I understood the difference to be. He nodded. "I am looking to be one of those for you."

And I began laughing.

"Why do you laugh?" he said to me, looking deeply shocked.
"Oh...I don't know," and then, having caught a glimpse of his left hand, offered up "Don't you have someone waiting for you at home in Romania?"
Without a second of hesitation, he replied, "Yes, yes I do."
"Excellent!" I said. I mean really, my luck is amazing...there I was trapped in a moving car with a married man (who later told me he had a 9 year old child) who wanted to be my lover AFTER I'd defined what the word "lover" meant to me.

"You don't like?"
"No," I responded, "I don't. Married men are off-limits."
"You are sure?" He looked at me with wide eyes.


The car pulled up to it's appointed destination. He switched on his hazard lights, put the parking brake on and looked at me. I reached for the door and realized that it was still locked. I turned to look at him, and in one incredibly deft motion, he grabbed my hand and looked at me and said "What's your e-mail address?"

The sheer ridiculousness of the past half an hour had now been increased ten fold with this inclusion of technology in his pursuit of...a lover.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gluttons for Punishment

I think it is fair to say that I have always been odd and somewhat of a glutton for punishment. As a little girl, I refused to play video games and instead spent my weekly allotted television time watching Nova. When other kids grumbled about school projects, I set weekly project deadlines for myself as the editor of the Unicorn Gazette and later, Pointe Magazine (both had a top circulation of around 10 paid subscribers-$2 got you a lifetime membership/subscription. What's surprising is not the fact that I charged, but that I got 10 of my friends to willingly pay...but I digress). I'd spend hours fiddling around with my new favorite toy, Microsoft Publisher, fixing margins, finding appropriate clip art and condensing the stories my small but dedicated staff of writers would submit. When my mom attempted to finish her degree while I was in elementary school, I'd secretly pray for nights when my grandma wouldn't be available to babysit so I could go to class with my mom. I'd bring a few sheets of unlined printer paper with me and pretend to scribble notes like everyone else around me. I remember being absolutely fascinated by the people who occupied the desks nearest to me and I couldn't wait for the day when I too could sit silently in class and absorb the wisdom of someone as ancient as the man standing before us.

In high school and college, I filled my freetime with student organizations that took great pains to schedule as many meetings as possible, often purposeless and almost always incredibly awkward. At one point during my senior year in High School, I was secretary of 3 different organizations, which meant that I not only had to attend several meetings a week, I also had to take notes. And I loved it. The posturing and petty politics surrounding the activities I was involved in were things I found incredibly engrossing.

And you'd think now that those activities (meetings, deadlines, politics and gossiping) rule my world, I'd find any excuse to escape. And you'd be wrong. I find the world of corporate America to be ridiculously and endlessly amusing and interesting to examine. I sometimes think that I chose the wrong (semi) useless Liberal Arts major and that I should've gone the psych/soc route so that when I eventually ended up right where I am now, I'd be able to accurately assess the motives behind people's actions.

I don't really attend very many meetings at work, but I do occasionally get invited to morale events, goodbye, congrats, and happy birthday parties that occur in various ill-chosen areas throughout my building. Everyone shuffles into the chosen spot, typically in groups of 2 or 3. People stand in a lopsided circle until the organizer of the event coughs up a few words regarding why we're all standing awkwardly around a table in a conference room. Whatever food that's being served (I think this might be the main reason people attend these events) is passed around the room. People chuckle awkwardly, examine their watches and make rueful glances towards the nearest exit. Small talk follows, and then people begin peeling away, offering apologies and saying they need to go to another meeting, or just disappearing sans explanation. A couple of women in my office (who I've mentioned in an earlier entry), regularly show up to events, take food and jet. It's remarkable to watch because they either a) are blissfully ignorant of the way you behave at these things or b) don't care that you're supposed to give the appearance of caring about whatever occasion the awkward little shindig they're stealing food from is meant to mark.

The thing that I don't understand is how these events have become such a part of corporate culture. No one seems to enjoy them, yet they really are de rigeur, and seemingly inescapable. The fact that a dozen or more people usually attend events that bear a striking resemblance to the clip below is a testament to the fact that I'm clearly not the only glutton for punishment in the room. It also suggests that though every company has it's own unique culture, we all clearly share some characteristics. And a love of free food.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Behavior Modification

As a student, I exhibited the sort of behavior teachers found to be extraordinary. I was quiet, hardworking, attentive and obedient. I was never late, my desk was always orderly and tidy and I worked well with others. My mother had always stressed the importance of appearances, and so though at home, I was moody and prone to sulkiness, my room a sea of half-written short stories, artfully crumpled balls of paper and stacks of library books and I often disappeared into my closet with a boombox and a flashlight so that I could listen to jazz each Sunday, in public, I was perfect.

Beginning in 2nd grade, my teachers found my model behavior to be the sort of thing they wished to foist on others. This meant that I was seated next to children with behavioral problems ranging from minor to intense. Right before parent-teacher conference, my mother would sit down and ask me if there was anything bothering me, and I would complain about the children I was forced to sit next to. Each time, my mother would return with the same explanation; the teacher wants you to rub off on them! My mother was unfailingly impressed with this, no doubt happy that her years as a single parent had yielded a wonderful result and that she was not plagued with the same issues her friends dealt with. But for my part, I was never quite satisfied. I felt that I endured enough of Margo’s teasing, poking and prodding, enough stolen pens, pencils and carefully stowed markers, and enough times of Anna’s attempts at cheating off of my spelling. Though it never seemed apparent to me, this method of pairing worked at some level, and it continued until I finished elementary school.

Swearing that I would never again find myself forced to sit next to someone as some sort of means of behavior modification, I became choosy about who I would sit near. In junior high, high school and college, I selected seating arrangements that found me surrounded by people who were similar to me and who I could depend upon to remain silent during lecture and exchange whispered but barbed words with one another.

And now, in the corporate world, I find myself transported back to elementary school; unable to control who I am seated next to and the unwilling participant of some sort of strange experiment on corporate life. For 2 months, I shared space with just one person; a quiet man who came to work at 6:30 and left at 3:30. We shared pleasantries, but by and large, we didn’t have many conversations and just went about our day. At the end of my 2nd month, a 3rd person arrived. A mixture of Dwight/Gareth and Andy from The Office with a dash of Aaron Spelling TV drama villainess thrown in, my new spacemate had chased out my first spacemate by her 3rd week in the office. Her computer seemed to not work, her internet never functioned the way it should, the sky was grey, it was too humid, there was no Diet Coke, her dogs were ill, she had a bad date…all of these were things she felt the need to share with us on a daily basis. Loudly. Without shame. She commonly held private conversations regarding personal issues ranging from divorce to her credit scores, and when my other spacemate was not in, she would routinely unplug his Ethernet cable and use it for her own machine. One morning after he was chastised because his machine, which contained necessary components for use on his team’s project, was inaccessible, our other spacemate yelled one good time at the Hellion, requested a change and never returned. Unfazed and unapologetic, Spelling villainess focused all her attention upon me. Sometimes she needed to use my phone, other times the computer itself. Not just for 10 minutes…sometimes for close to an hour. Unable to say no in the face of someone who is clearly my superior, I would concede, over and over again.

I could feel the 8 year old version of myself seizing up inside, forming verbal tirades that would remain unsaid and harboring visions of inflicting the sort of revenge on her that would make Tim/Jim (from The Office) proud. Instead, I found solace in complaining to my co-workers and family members. By the 6th time I went to them with a story that seemed to happen daily, I could see the looks in their eyes had changed from sympathetic to “You’re an adult, do something yourself.”

And that’s the tricky thing about being where I am in adulthood. On one hand, I have all the trappings of adulthood; a job, an apartment and a matching stack of bills. But because this woman is so much older than me, so much more senior in her position with the company, I feel about 9 years old inside…hoping that if I complain enough to my mom, she’ll take my worries to someone who can do something or offer an explanation.

Until I figure out the appropriate course of action, I’ll comfort myself with YouTube clips of pranks featured on The Office.

Office Space

My first job out of college was located in the newly regentrified area of my city, where wherehouses are commonly renovated and made into trendy million dollar lofts and office space for small start up companies.

The building I worked in was drafty, drab & grey, and the people I worked with matched the interior quite nicely. I worked there for close to 6 months, but it took me 3 to learn the names of the people on my team. I would shuffle up the ramp that led to the clusters of grey cubicles to my own little corner of awesome. I decorated the walls with print-outs of my alma mater's football schedule, jokes from the television show The Office, and to complete the picture of corporate awfulness, I hung a generic calendar featuring squirrels in different seasons above my desk. My computer was situated so that I faced a wall and my back was to the pathway that ran between cubicles. I was conscious of the time I spent on YouTube because I was acutely aware of the fact that anyone could see what I was doing long before I'd be able to quickly click to another screen. The four cubicles in either direction of me sat empty, and so I passed my days with my iPod headphones shoved into my ears, clicking away at the mice and keyboard from 9 until 6. Deprived of my ability to observe my co-workers and my new, corporate surroundings, I was absolutely miserable and at the end of each day, I watched this clip, reminding myself that this wasn't my career.

I changed jobs in early Spring, and with the new position came a completely new set of problems relating to my desk. I am now positioned just around the corner from the restrooms and the Kitchen, and as such, the hallway near me gets quite a bit of foot traffic. When I'm not killing my eardrums with overly loud pop music courtesy of those geniuses at Pandora, I am easily distracted by the characters that speed up and down the hallway each minute. This is problematic because I'm pretty sure I appear to never be doing any work as I am constantly peering above my computer screen at anyone who falls into my line of sight.

But occasionally, my eyes are drawn away from the computer screen and I watch (with feigned disinterest but really, an intense desire to understand the participants' motivations) the elaborate corporate dances that people perform under the harsh flourescent lighting. My nearest deskmate (bane of my existence and subject for my next blog entry), is madly in love with one of my co-workers. She struts up and down the hallways as though she is some sort of model and when she catches the eye of the object of her desire flashes him a look not unlike a woman searching for someone to take home as the lights turn on during last call at a bar. My co-worker, oblivious to her advances, smiles brightly in his naturally flirty manner, unknowingly giving her encouragement to continue her ultimately fruitless endeavors.

At the other end of the spectrum is a woman maybe 2 or so years older than me who has captured the imagination of every man she comes in contact with. She walks down the hallways usually with 2 or 3 men in tow, and they chuckle and fawn all over her as she talks. In a company with a startling lack of estrogen, the presence of a pretty girl can yield all sorts of results. I have never once seen her alone.

There is a man who wears the same paint of paint splattered pants to work everyday, and who never fails to wink at me each time he catches my eye.

There are three women of the same ethnic background who walk everywhere together and who warmly smile and laugh together, sharing conversations in their native tongue in the bathroom or while getting coffee in the breakroom. Theirs is the sort of camraderie that makes me feel lonely for my friends in college, and stands out amongst the friendships people carve out in corporate America because it seems to go a little deeper than the ones I see most of the time that are based upon "walking around a bit of carpet everyday."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Someone to Eat Cheese With

I was never a serial dater in college. I dated a few guys, but nothing was ever very serious and I can’t say that I think I missed out on too much. But at my college commencement ceremony last year (and apparently every year because I think college presidents have a stock commencement address socked away), our President informed us that we’d most likely met our future husband/wife at college. That was entirely distressing, but like most of the advice/comments/helpful (read: not very helpful and more depressing than anything else) I received in the run-up to my quarter life crisis inducing graduation from college, I didn’t was “an inconvenient truth” if you will.

Somewhere along the line, my generation decided to skip the memo about debaucherous twenties fueled by drugs, sex and alcohol. Instead, my closest friends have shacked up and gotten married, or are on the verge of doing so. College, apparently, was where the debauchery began and ended, and I often find myself having conversations with friends about cookware and weekend trips to quaint towns frequented by retirees. This wouldn’t be so troublesome to me if I was a) a retiree or b) in a relationship. I am the one of my friends who is single, and as I tread the waters of corporate America, I find that I’m probably going to be that way for a while. And though my friends are married (or close to it), I think the only reason why I'm truly concerned is because I fear my college President was correct, and that the only time I ever had access to a huge pool of prospective husbands has slipped passed me while I pursued what I thought was the point of college; a degree.

I spend 8-10 hours a day at work, and by the time I get home, I don’t really have the energy to go to a bar and attempt to find guys. Nothing is less appealing to me than the club scene, so where do I go to find Mr. Right? The answer would appear to be work…but that leads to potentially treacherous waters. The people I share cubicle space with are by and large at least a decade older than I am. An added bonus is that they’re also almost all married, and so as a force of habit, when I see a cute guy, I first check his lefthand before making eye contact.

Written out, these concerns sound truly pathetic. And I realize that I'm quite young and shouldn't be so concerned, but...I can't help it.

The one thing that this whole experience has afforded me is the opportunity to cultivate a crush. I haven't had a real, true crush since sophomore year of high school. And the difference now is that in high school, I allowed myself to harbor fantasies that my crush and I would one day go to a dance together or maybe even on a real date. My friends and I passed notes that had his name written in the margins and I tried desperately to sound intelligent in the Honors English class we had together. Now, my days are spent trying to catch a glimpse of my office crush as he saunters down the cubicle aisles, but do so without him knowing. I avoid talking to him at all costs and have doubled back to my cube when I see him making his way to one of my neighbors. I won't lie; it's a bit of a thrill to get that stomach flip or a flush of red to the cheeks when he comes near. But eventually, this will all get old, and I'll circle back to the President's words, wondering which of my former flames, college classmates or group members will be the man I spend my evenings watching obscure foreign films and drinking tea with.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Group Dynamics

As a student, you often wonder why your teachers/professors force you into the torture of group presentations and projects. Students invariably assume what seem to be roles assigned in kindergarten: the worker bee, the slacker, the bossy one, the busy one and the one who goes beyond being a slacker and merely exists. You take your position, and until you graduate from college, that is who you are. You work in groups with people that you may not like on subjects you don't like or know anything about. But still you work.

Come college, the added wrench into the group presentation problem is that people suddenly have lives. Joey and Anna have chapter on Monday nights and philanthropy meetings on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so they can't meet then. Isabelle has student government meetings on Tuesdays, so she can't meet. Saturdays are reserved for whatever sport is in season, and Brad from the football/baseball/basketball team watches tapes/conditions on Sunday and Monday nights. So you attempt to work around these schedules, hoping that at some point, you can work on your project and really make it gel. Occasionally, this works and you produce a stellar result that even you are astounded at. But sometimes, you give a presentation that reeks of "We were never able to have a real meeting and we made this presentation via AIM late last night."

What no one tells you, or at least not in a manner that you are able to receive and process, is that these battles are merely an appetizer for the entree that is "The Real World." Those same personalities that have followed you since kindergarten? Yeah, they're still there in adulthood. And those meeting conflicts? Yep. Isabelle has a morale event, Joey and Anna have a conference call with the D.C. office and Brad is running late on one of his side projects, so he just can't make it at all. You look over your Outlook calendar and find an astounding array of multicolored tabs and little red flags indicating important appointments. You learn to balance the work habits of your co-workers; there's one guy who thrives on finishing his work right before the deadline and no sooner, another who's meticulous nature is somewhat perplexing and leaves you wondering about the state of your desk and filing cabinet. One guy who you just plain don't understand and who has a remarkable ability to relate everything you say to a story he once heard or something that once happened to him.

The challenge you face is to somehow navigate all of that, and turn out stellar presentations, regardless of your group members or the fact that any meeting you schedule conflicts. Because in "The Real World," there's probably not going to be a boss willing to accept sub-par work simply because none of you could sync up your Outlook calendars.

So a year into my "adult life," I'm finally able to look at those lessons I learned way back when, and trying to apply them to my everyday life. And as I do so, I seem to remember a common thread in the looks on the faces of all the professors who ever assigned group projects. I thought it was the glint of a sadistic authority figure, foisting pain and suffering onto poor, overworked and sleep deprived young people (though in some cases, I'm sure that's still true). But instead, I think that was the knowing look of a professor giving you the tools to succeed at a task you're not even aware you'll be attempting to complete.

Dress for Success

Growing up, my mother always stressed the importance of dressing well for school. There are no childhood pictures of me dressed in mismatched clothing with mussed hair. Instead, I'm usually perfectly put together in the latest fashions (which in some cases means truly unfortunate 80's and 90's ensembles that include side ponytails and acid washed jean skirts) that have been miniaturized into children's clothing.

In 6th grade, after forming a friendship with the classroom tomboy, I briefly engaged in schleppy dressing and much to my mother's chagrin, regularly wore Adidas shower shoes, grungy flannel shirts and baggy jeans to school. But upon entering Junior High, I began seeking out my mother's expert fashion advice, and returned to the land of pulled together looks. Even in college, I was never one of those girls who wore oversized sweatshirts and sweatpants to class. I just could not do it.

In college, professors always emphasized how important it was to dress well at work and that the wardrobe so embraced by college students across the country was something that would never be accepted in the workforce. This, apparently, was going to be the biggest shock to our post-collegiate systems.

To them I say "Ha!"

Everyday seems to bring a more egregious fashion horror to my attention. And mind you, now that I'm not getting free clothes from my parents, I'm no longer a huge fashion plate and I can more often than not be spotted wearing something as uninspired as a basic Gap outfit, but the things I see my co-workers wearing are awful.

Today, for example, was a nice summer day. And because there's no real dress code to speak of, many people were wearing shorts and flip flops. Middle aged men were decked out in their favorite Hawaiian print shirt and women layered tank tops in an attempt to balance workplace modesty with the fact that the temperature had finally hit the mid 80's. But then there were...the others. I haven't quite worked out what these people do for a living, but I'm almost certain it must be something that doesn't require contact with people. I also know that they're probably worth 2-3x time as much as I am, but the clothes they wear would never give anyone that impression.

Often, these men are rocking shoulder to mid-back length locks, and from behind, you'd simply think they were an ill-dressed woman. The color these men wear is almost always black, including a black t-shirt with some sort of self-effacing joke, or better yet, an in-joke that relates to their job. The t-shirts are the faded black-grey color that comes from washing them improperly, and are usually worn with khaki cargo pants that give the appearance of never having been washed. Their shoes are black New Balance, the sort that are commonly sported by Burger King workers and other members of the service industry, and are paired with crew socks that (are accidently) the same color as their shirt. The look is capped off with 3 day old facial hair and a greasy sheen over pale, pale skin, the sort that is produced after months spent indoors with the shades drawn playing WoW or some other RPG while cramming their gob with whatever was available in the vending machine (And you know what? I'm almost as nerdy as they are because I just used acronyms. Go me.).

As I said before, I cannot really judge these people because they're undoubtedly smarter and more wealthy than I am. And I know I wear unflattering clothing; everyone makes mistakes. But day after day, these men trudge through the hallways and between cubicles, go into conference rooms (presumably to attend meetings, hopefully not full of similarly ill-dressed men), and it defies logic that these people are actually gainfully employed. My most recent observation is that probably 70% of the men I've observed are married.

Which leads me to this point: As a woman, I know I could never a) be employed while dressing like that or b) secure a man wearing similar clothing. It's a sad, sad double standard that finds men able to dress that way when the women I work with, while again are not necessarily fashion plates, all appear to have put some effort into their clothing selections. Or at the very minimum, have you know, showered sometime recently.

And so it begins...

I graduated from college over a year ago. And like most college graduates, I was convinced of the infalliblity of my plans and sure that the ideas and wishes I'd set out for myself in the final, anxiety ridden moments of my academic career would be as brilliant in execution as they had been in my head.

But my plans just didn't work out the way I wanted them to, and instead I found myself working in corporate America, which I initially felt was a defeat I could never recover from. I'd spent the 4 months prior to graduation arguing my father to death about how soul crushing it would be to submit to the demands of a climate controlled, cubicle filled world of petty office politics, and so when I finally complied, I felt my life was over.

Instead, I've found that working has yielded many rewards I never thought possible. Aside from the thrill of receiving a weekly direct deposit and having my parents believe I am a somewhat responsible individual, I have been able to fully indulge in my love of people watching.

People watching was a skill I learned during my semester abroad. The country I lived in practiced people watching like it was a professional sport, but here in the land of Amerigo Vespucci, we do not openly stare at people without fear of receiving a death stare in return. The company I work for, however, employs thousands of highly intelligent shoe-gazers who are oblivious to my sport of choice, and so I now engage in my favorite activity on a daily basis.

This blog will detail my findings...they'll be of little (read: none) scientific merit, but will provide a little insight into the goings on my particular corner of corporate America.