Sunday, February 15, 2009

New Office Noises and Valentine's Gestures Gone Wrong


Nearly six years have passed since I last worked in a crowded office environment,  so I've had to take a little time to get used to the presence of co-workers over the course of the last few weeks.  Don't get me wrong, everyone is REALLY nice and very pleasant to work with.  There is hardly an ego in the place and company politics has yet to rear its ugly head.  

The issue at hand is, for lack of a better term, bodily noises.  You'd think after so many years in isolation, I would be the person who forgets herself and lets fly with unapologetic flatulence or practices indiscrete nose picking.  But it's not me who can be heard unblocking my sinuses with a cacophonous intake of air that sounds like it is rattling my eye sockets.  No do I talk to myself nearly constantly, or vigorously and loudly clear my throat once every 15 minutes.  It is not me, but a mystery co-worker (I have yet to catch this person in the act), who appears to have been born and raised in a barn.  I'm all for letting fly with a good belch when one is among close family or friends, especially when excessive beer is involved, but loud burps in the work place take a little getting used to.

Is every workplace filled with people who fail to temper their unfortunate noises throughout the course of the day? Perhaps after working in an office setting for years, these noises will become like the hum of the refrigerator turning on or the whoosh of a passing car, noises I heard but never acknowledged when I was working from home.  


My husband is very sweet and romantic.  It is commonplace for him to leave me little love notes, buy me random flowers, or bring home some small gift just because.  I really appreciate these gestures.  I always feel loved and appreciated, and who doesn't like a little gift or treat every now and then.  But, sometimes the best laid plans go awry.  A couple of days ago, before anyone else was up, I was hurrying to get out the door.  I had let the dogs back in from their morning pee and was looking in the cupboard for bones for them to gnaw on when I saw Bo drop a small foil-wrapped chocolate heart on the floor.  Annoyed, I went to retrieve it, wondering who the heck had been careless enough to leave chocolate where the dogs could get to it.  Planning to have a strict chat with children when I got home, I headed for the back door to grab my laptop case from the floor where it was propped.  Sitting on top of it was another foil-wrapped chocolate heart with a single letter U carefully colored on it with a black Sharpie.  Then it all made sense.  Steve must have left me a couple of pieces of chocolate on my laptop case spelling out the message "heart U".  Returning to the great room to get my shoes on I found a third foil heart with the letter I.  Ah ha, I must have gotten the whole message then.  Three hearts that together said "I heart U".    I hopped in my car, having tossed all the pieces of chocolate into my purse.  Then it hit me.  Oh no, what if Steve had left the message that he loved me very, very, very, very much?  There could be a major mess of dog sick to clean up by the time he got out of bed to ready the kids for school.  Fortunately Steve doesn't love me that much.  

Friday, February 06, 2009

Diarrhrea of the Mouth, Constipation of of the Brain

I consider myself a pretty easy-going person. I get along fine with the majority of people, and if I find myself annoyed by somebody I make it a policy to keep things to a polite and respectful level and simply interact with them as little as possible. Typically that works out great, and I can count on one hand with fingers to spare, the number of confrontations I have had with co-workers or other people I have to associate with.

This week proved to be a horrible exception to this general trend. Fortunately it never came to blows or even an unpleasant exchange of words, but if this person could have heard the internal monologue going on inside my brain cage he would have slunk off with his tail tucked firmly between his legs. He wasn't a bad, or even a mean person, and in a general sense I could be around him without continuously suppressing the urge to slug him. The problem was that he just wouldn't shut up! The sound of his own voice droning on about a vast array of horrifically boring topics seemed to be a balm to his psyche without which he could not function. Once he had latched onto a conversational topic, he hung onto it with the tenacity of a pack of wild dogs that have treed a three-legged cat. No facet of a particular subject was left unexplored, including every excruciating reference and sub-reference. His favorite topic was, of course, himself.

This individual was not more experienced or at a higher level on the corporate food chain than I. He was simply on the job site to fill in for some hours at the end of the day that I could not cover. Among his many charms was the annoying habit of telling me how to do things I had already done, already knew how to do, or had no need to ever accomplish. Add to that his tendency to call my bosses and suggest new ways for me to do my job, additional tasks that I should be engaged in, as well as a laundry list of problems I had not attended to on the job site, and by the end of this week this particular individual was fortunate not to be using his anal sphincter as a speaking device.

Violence is not an option, so instead of pinching his head off between my thumb and forefinger or yelling at him, I took to avoiding him whenever possible. This was not an easy task as all construction sites require personnel to wear Safety Orange or Dayglo Yellow as a safety measure. Fortunately some of the equipment on the site is similarly colored so on occasion I could avoid detection by fading into the contours of a front loader, or sidling up to a crane.

I am grateful to report that today was the last day I had to work with this conversational Olympian. As I left my office this evening, backing slowly away and continuously trying to terminate his stream of consciousness, he excitedly filled me in on the recent exorcism of his new home. Apparently the spirits left because they had been informed that he was "a good guy". I didn't have the heart to tell him they probably vacated to get a little peace and quiet.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Portapotty Hell

My first three weeks on the job site at my new position were in a very simple setting. Personnel on the site consisted of myself, two engineers, a security guy, and the biologist that I was replacing. There were no buildings associated with the project, save a single turquoise blue portable toilet. A toilet that I shared with all of these burly men, along with several burly fence-builders, a host of burly truckers, and the occasional burly backhoe operator.

Each day before I left for work I attempted to empty myself of all bodily excretions so as not to have to use that portable toilet any more than necessary. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but there are certain acts that are not easily achieved with earth moving equipment rumbling less than twenty feet from your personal refuge. Inevitably, the water with which I had washed down my lunch would come back to haunt me, and I would be forced to use the johnny-on-the-spot.

My greatest fear, was that my cellphone or keys would tumble out of my pocket and down the dark hole into the mess below. This fear, however unreasonable, became so overwhelming that I began leaving my phone and keys in my car while relieving myself. Entering little blue building, I'd take a deep breath in attempt to avoid breathing the foul air therein. Inside, I would flip up the lid, trying in vain to avert my eyes from the contents already lurking underneath. Not looking inside a pit toilet is much like trying to tear your eyes from a train wreck. Try as you might, you just can't avoid a quick peek.

My second greatest fear was that somehow the portable toilet would become upended by some large piece of equipment working nearby while I was using it. Perhaps it was just this fear at work, but the structure seemed to begin to vibrate and rumble ominously as soon as my efforts had reached critical mass. There I would sit, totally vulnerable, waiting for the shack to tumble. With Murphy's law at work, it would land on it's door, and I would be trapped under a foetid wave of human excrement. My coworkers must have scratched their heads in confusion upon seeing me burst from the Portapotty, wild-eyed in fear, hastily buckling up my jeans.

Now that trailers are in place, lots of new people have arrived on the job site and things are not as simple as they once were. A complicated chain of command is in place and it's much more difficult to get things done. You'll here no complaints from me though. I'm just thrilled to have an indoor toilet that flushes, and hot water and soap with which to wash my hands. I for one will not miss a daily update on what recently exited the entails of my co-workers.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Family: The people you can be your real self around. If they put up with you, you know a) you have good family and/or, b) you probably aren't that big of an asshole.

Doer or Slacker?

In the last couple of weeks I've been developing a theory about how people work. When deadlines get tight and project hours get long there seem to be two kinds of workers. There are those that buckle down, and no matter how crappy the conditions, how tough the job, how many other items are on their to do list, or how inconvenient the hours may be they just "get 'er done". The other kind shows up late, is missing many of the tools they need to get the job done, has multiple excuses for why they can't complete the task ahead of them, and needs constant supervision and nagging to get the job finished. I am developing a deep admiration for the former (the doer) and an equal disdain for the latter (the slacker).

The doer seems to be an expert in task prioritization. If they have a list of 15 things that need to get done over the course of the day, they pick the most important one to get done first or properly order tasks so that work flows smoothly. In the face of an interruption that requires them to step away from one task and deal with some sort of emergency, they do so without grumbling, quickly and efficiently deal with the situation, and then get right back to the original high priority task. You'll never hear them complain about having too much to do. Conversely the slacker jumps from task to task, often inappropriately reacting to an interruption or emergency by permanently switching their focus so that no task ever gets finished properly. Their work flow is not managed well so that badly-needed materials will show up at the job site but are rendered useless because the equipment or personnel needed to use those materials has not been scheduled. The work they do perform is done to a minimum quality standard and will not be improved upon until they are specifically instructed on how to fix their mistakes.

The doer seems to always be getting something done. They may be ill, tired, sore and terribly overworked but rather than spending time complaining they lead by quiet example, simply getting the job done. The slacker will start his day enumerating all of the ways he has been ill-used by his boss, his subordinates, the virus that has attacked him, or his car that has broken down. Throughout the day he will stop often to talk with others about how tired he is, how he has been asked to work that falls outside of his job description, or how much more grandiose his former job was.

I will admit there have been many times that I have been guilty of being a slacker, and no doubt some of the hardest working doers on the job go home on the weekends and refuse to do little around the house but hold down a recliner and watch football. My goal with this new job is to be viewed whenever possible as a doer. With that said, I think there might be something good on TV right now.....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Striking a Balance

We just returned from a four-day weekend in San Diego. Prior to that, northern California had experienced an extended heat wave that drove afternoon temperatures into the upper 70s and low 80s. For a person who is newly employed at a job that keeps her out of doors for about 10 hours a day, the timing couldn't have been better. Week two on the job was great. I've established a pretty good rapport with most of the people who are regularly on site, familiarized myself with the project, and gotten a pretty good handle on how the next few months will go. Adding some spring-time weather to the mix, sans allergies was just the icing on the cake.

The only downside to last week, and I imagine this will continue to haunt the coming week(s), was the uncertainty about the hours I am to work. After putting in about four hours of overtime in throughout the course of the week, I was once again asked if I was available to work a weekend. I'm very gung-ho about the success of the project, facilitating the process for the people involved, and being part of the solution. With that said, I'm even more committed to being available to do my grocery shopping, take my dogs for toenail trims, and send my children to school on Monday with clean clothes. But these are chores and duties that I am responsible for. All that aside, I WANT to be home so I can spend a little quality time with my husband, help the kids with homework, and pass a leisurely hour reading a good book. I guess I forgot, over the course of the last five years, what a tough balancing act family and career can be. What's a girl to do?

And in other news (because there is no way to segue gracefully into this) DING DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD!!! George W. Bush has officially left office. I followed the proceedings on TV and on Twitter simultaneously and heard lots of talk of tears and goosebumps. For me however, the most sublime moment was when the new president and first lady escorted George and Laura Bush to their waiting helicopter. The strains of Na Na Hey Hey (Goodbye) by Banana Republic sung by the crowd as the presidential helicopter lifted off and circled the Washington Mall was my sublime moment. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week One on the Job

So I survived my first week working full-time. By survived I mean I got to the job on time each day, didn't do anything to shame myself or appear ignorant, left on time to pick Garrett up before YMCA closing time almost every day, and managed to get a hot meal on the table at the end of it all. Looking back to Monday, it seems like three weeks ago rather than just one. I met so many new people, had to assimilate so much new information, and spent so many long hours commuting either in my car or on BART that one week worth of activities seem like much more. Here are some of the highlights and low points.

* Good - Finding that I really genuinely like all of the people I'll be on the job with over the next couple of years. At the moment I am the lone female in a group of about 15 people that are regularly on the job site. One big crusty Vietnam vet has taken me under his wing and assured me that he will "deal with" anyone who gives me any trouble. I believe him.

* Bad - Being told that they expect me to be on the job from 7 to 5. I think this detail will get resolved, but for the time being, with my commute I am gone for about 12 hours a day. My poor dogs miss me.

* Good - Sucessfully commuting to San Francisco and back on BART without any major SNAFUs. I have found that riding up the peninsula side of the BART line requires more driving, but makes for a less aromatic ride with fewer colorful characters and less traffic on the way home.

* Bad - Finding that getting into and out of San Francisco on BART takes a minimum of an hour and a half. I can't wait for BART to get extended to San Jose.

* Good - Getting back out into the fresh air and renewing my acquaintance with field biology.

* Bad - Having no office. I will spend the next three years working in a quadruple wide trailer, but those trailers are still being set up, which requires my supervision to avoid environmental impacts. Working in the cold weather for 9 to 10 hours with no place to sit gets COLD and tiring.

*Also good - Having a corner office with a WINDOW! Does a corner office count as a corner office if it's in a trailer?

Now it's off to squeeze as much productivity out of my weekend as possible.  The toilets will not scrub themselves and all of the dog fur on the carpet and poop on the lawn will not go away without my attention.  At least I'll never be bored.......

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Back to Work I Go!

Happy new year all. 2008 was a wild ride, but I have guarded optimism for 2009. Why? A new president will be taking office a little less than three weeks from now, and I got a job. After over a year of searching, a job offer was finalized on Tuesday of this week and I start work this this coming Monday. The job is full-time which means more income, but less time for blogging. I have every intention of keeping this blog up and running but updates will have to be less frequent so I can continue to spend time with my family and get my household chores done.

I'm delighted to be getting back to working as a biologist. This is what I spent four years in school for, and ultimately the work I am best qualified to do. Having the extra income will be a huge relief for us as a family, particularly after a year of more or less living on just one salary. After laying out a large amount of our life savings doing a badly-needed upgrade to our kitchen and then watching another large chunk of it disappear in the stock market melt-down, it will be nice to build the coffers up a bit.

Another part of me is a little sad though. I haven't worked full-time since late 2002 when I quit work to take some pressure off of Steve during a stressful period at his old job, and to make myself more available to the kids. I'll no longer be able to see Weston out the door in the morning, drop Garrett off at his classroom, or pick the kids up after school. I will deeply miss these little rituals. I'll also miss having the pooches and the cat as my only office mates. I'm hoping my new human companions will be as easy to get along with (but less prone to flatulence).

On the other hand I know our family is very fortunate not only to have escaped any job loss, but to have added a second income during these tough times. I will keep all of you up-to-date on my process of transition from work-at-home mother to full-time bread winner. Thanks for your faithful readership over this last few months, and may 2009 bring good things to your household to0.