Friday, January 04, 2008

more bubbles from the water cooler

So I used to commiserate with my good friend when she was working in a small, exclusive photo studio. She was the manager and along with her was one employee and the owner, that was it. I was working various crazy cubes at the time, trying to figure out what it's all about (and I find myself now here...) and she would call to tell me about the owner bringing her child and/or dog into the studio with her. I never really understood this, although some parents do occasionally need to bring the little ones into the office. This was a photo studio and a small child or a huge golden retriever never made a lot of sense to me in the workplace. Would the dog attend the photo-shoots? Would it participate? Would it in fact bark through the entire day giving my friend good reason to sell it to the nearest petting zoo when the boss wasn't looking?

I complained of the unprofessionalism in various places I worked at. My favourite saying was, "if the tattooed girl who swears all the time is giving someone else a lesson in professional conduct, there's a problem." I had been used to being in shops of various kinds before I made the jump to office life and I was struck by how ambivalent, uncommunicative, unhelpful, inhospitable and downright dumb some of these people could be. It occurred to me that that must be why they worked in offices because dealing with the public (if you do it well) takes some diplomacy and courtesy whereas in an office you tend to get off by just treating everyone however you wish at any given moment. Don't get me wrong, I try to socialize, but when I tell people I have a 4' long green iguana free-roaming at home because I'm not a cat or dog person (also, iguanas kick behind!), they always ask me, "Why would you do that?"

Or I'll try to talk about sports. Inevitably if you're a habs fan, you're not enough of a habs fan and if you are enough of a habs fan, they like the Canuks. If you like Wes Anderson movies, they've never heard of him. But they can't wait to tell you how surprised they were at who the killer is in Saw3. If you're into politics at all, either their eyes glaze over trying to remember the name of the prime minister or they go on a tirade about how high our taxes are and why can't we give up on some of these more archaic social services like drug coverage?

I don't fit in generally. My habit is to ride out the first two months getting to know people while generating a reputation for getting everything done and knowing as much on any subject as possible. "hey ya, go ask that weird girl in construction, she knows everything." Fine by me! So it was no surprise whatsoever for me when I started at the new company two months ago and I didn't immediately get along with everyone. I had just come from five years in huge corporate offices with whole HR departments and IT departments, and their own form of officey bullshit that everyone has to deal with. Also, some great people. Also, some complete assholes. In this new place there is no HR, there is only my boss and IT consists of one guy, one student to assist him and the owner of the company who is a "self-taught" programmer. IE: he never uses the program per se and therefore has no idea what various employees might need in terms of programming it for their work.

It should not at all have surprised me, under these circumstances, to have been introduced to the owner's dog immediately after the owner. I started my first day with my new boss who had originally interviewed me, the owner himself and then the dog curled up on his floor. I thought it might be an every-so-often kind of thing and went about my business, but the dog was back the next day. And the day after that. They had introduced an hors d'oeuvre-sized bichon frisse to me as though it was an employee. A manager. I met the vice-president of the company (owner's wife) in the ladies room the next day. It is the type of washroom with stalls, (yes, more cubicles though these at least are honest in their function) and the dog was sitting on the threshold of the door which I wanted to close. I looked down at the dog and make shooing sounds and motioned with the door to close it and to get out of the way. The owner's wife, excuse me, vice-president of the company, told me not to move the dog. I told her in politest terms that closing the bathroom door is one of those things all dogs need to deal with in their lives. It's not always pleasant I agree, but they get used to it. Why? They're dogs. She said, "but it's Milou." Yes, the f*#!ing dog's name is Milou. I have nothing comical I can add to a white fuzzy tragedy on that scale. "Yes" I agreed, "It's Milou. I'm Julia, the human and therefore dominant species. When using a public washroom, I close the door because the doors on the cubicles do not afford me enough psychological protection to deal emotionally with my co-workers listening to me peeing. The dog is fine, I'm not, the dog moves. Dog. Me. Doooog....Me.

I find it difficult to understand how many employers of both small and large companies will make special effort to diminish the comfort of those employees with whom the company invests salary, benefits, insurance and equipment, but who will then fall over backwards inconveniencing themselves for small filthy rat-like animals who bark their way through client meetings and insist on having their own waste picked up for them in minus forty centigrade weather at lunch hour. The dog was taken out after a conversation in which I was told that I am not allowed to be allergic to the dog and I now see it daily as it walks in and around my office. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that the dog is in fact fairly well behaved and doesn't bark too much, although when it does, certain close friends of mine get emails containing only: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuggggggggggghrrrrr goddam filthy little sh*t is barking why in GODS name would anyone bring such a thing to the workplace aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ....and so on like that until the dog stops. The other managers though, you'd think they'd never seen a dog before when it whines and paws and jumps up on people. There is much oooing and ahhing on the scale of David Blaine audiences. They act as though it makes perfect sense not only to have a dog present, but to stop all work and coo at it if it happens to walk by for some reason. Am I the killjoy in my office? Very likely. I sit in my space in front of the database, a PowerPoint presentation or an email and I blast my Tom Waits like my life depended on it. I socialize with most people and I'm cynical enough in humour that everyone likes me except upper management. What else is new? There is an argument towards integrating the work and home in a more balanced fashion and respecting the personal life of the employee more. Indeed, my last office had such a thing as flex-time for those with children to pick up, a kids day every holiday season where all employees children come in for a show, a free buffet and presents. Mat leave is a year and many men take advantage of the parental leave available to them. A dog walking through the office though, that's crossing the line.

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