December 6, 2001
voice on the other end of the line is chillingly familiar.
I say who's calling?" I ask politely. This is SOP. I always ask who is
calling, and if there
is a company name, and (sometimes, if the occasion warrants) "what
this is in regard to?" -- especially when I'm screening incoming calls
for any of The Dirt
Company bigwigs. (Read this: anybody who signs my paycheck/approves my
expense reports/will be conducting my salary review next spring.)
him it's George Gunther from The Totem Pole Company," the voice snarls.
Every hair on the back of my neck stands at complete attention.
*FootNotes* readers may remember
George as the subject of the infamous "How
Can I Respect You When You Behave Like An Insufferably Pompous,
Intolerant Jackass (You Insufferably Pompous, Intolerant Jackass, You?)"
memo, written a couple of days before I strapped on the parachute
and jumped from The Totem Pole. (Although as I recall, I phrased
the memo somewhat more delicately: I didn't refer to him as "pompous.")
What I didn't tell you, at the time, is that George was the reason I
quit my job. They were trying to maneuver me into an admin support
position working directly for George, and I was having none of it. His
relentlessly dour view of the world -- plus his habit of trashing
co-workers whenever they were out of earshot (and sometimes when they
weren't) -- convinced me that it was time for me to leave.
isn't it? I survived two and a half years' worth of Franz, but it
only took two weeks' worth of GEORGE for
me to pull
the ripcord finally.)
now here he is again, like that sore throat I keep trying to give away.
shouldn't be surprised. I hear from Totem Pole Company
people all the time: at least once or twice a day I pick up the phone
and there's somebody I used to work with on the other end of the line.
Bob The Engineer Guy. Bob The Other Engineer Guy. Donald in the San
Ramon Office. My new company and The TPC regularly team up together on
projects -- most of them thrilling projects involving both dirt AND
Offset Barrier Type-Y Crossings With Signalized Crosswalk Indicators:
it's like a dream come true for me, really -- so there is a lot of
cross-pollination going on between the two companies.
-- in the case of an unexpected phone call from George Gunther -- it's
more like cross-contamination.)
of my former TPC co-workers who call in are already aware of the fact
that I work at The Dirt Company now, and we chitchat in a friendly way
whenever they call. That's how I hear all the really juicy Totem Pole
Company news ... like the fact that Franz is going to be a grandpa, or
that Lori The Main Female Engineering Person had her baby last month,
or that my ex-boss Jim finally quit last week. But others are
surprised when I recognize their voice on the phone and say "Hiya!
It's me, Secra!" It's
a merry moment, usually.
time, however, I elect not to identify myself. George isn't going to
recognize my voice, anyway. And even if he did, he wouldn't care.
Basically there are two kinds of people who
call into an office on any given day:
1.) Those who understand that the person answering the phone is a human
being, and is therefore deserving of courtesy, acknowledgement and
respect, even when they accidentally transfer you to the Soil Response
Department when you were merely looking for Human Resources, and 2.)
understand that the person answering the phone is a human being ... but
couldn't fudking care less.
George falls squarely into the
transfer him quickly, quietly -- and unrecognized, thank god
-- to Scott the General Manager. And then I wonder if there is a way to
antibacterialize one's eardrums.
brief and chilling encounter, however, does starts me thinking. (Yes I
know. Lately everything
'starts me thinking' ...
especially on a slow personal news day, when nothing has yet gone
hideously awry, and I still have an Internet journal entry to
Among the thoughts I process:
glad I am that I don't work at The Totem Pole Company anymore.
glad I am that I don't have to look at George Gunther's sour, sunken,
cadaverous face every day anymore.
glad I am that I don't have to tolerate George Gunther's tiresomely
sexist, racist, elitist posturing every day anymore.
glad I am that I'm not still harboring resentment about George
glad I am to work for a company where I actually LIKE
99.999% of my co-workers.
glad I am to have a job that doesn't make me cry.
glad I am that I wore a SLIP under this stoopid skirt today. (Another
in the morning, I overhear a hallway conversation between Scott the
General Manager and a handful of The Dirt Company's top techs. "I
just got a call from George Gunther," I hear Scott say.
Suddenly a weird,
reverential hush seems to fall over the group. From the awestruck tone
of Scott's voice, you would think he'd just received a call from Matt
and Armand are going to be meeting next week on The Willson Avenue
Project," Scott tells them. Armand -- the owner/president/Grand
of The Dirt Company, headquartered in Southern California -- is one of
those shadowy CEO types who everybody seems to simultaneously avoid and
suck up to, a la Franz. I haven't met him yet, although I've already
hung up on him accidentally a couple of times.
what's the deal with George Gunther?" I ask JoAnne, a few minutes
later. "Is he Armand's best friend or something?"
matter of fact: he is.
George and Armand are lifelong fishin'/golfin'/drinkin' buddies.
(Although I'm having a tough time picturing George squeezing his
skeletal frame into a pair of golfin' jodphurs. Where would he fit his
"All I can tell you is this,"
says JoAnne. "Armand said
once that when he dies, George Gunther is going to be one of his
Am I ever glad I'm finding this out now, before
I say something nasty about George to somebody here in The Dirt Company
and it travels, as *gossip molecules* are wont to travel -- especially
the *gossip molecules* you least want traveling anywhere -- back to
Corporate Headquarters in Los Angeles.
(And BEFORE I meet Armand for
the first time,
face-to-face, at the Christmas party on Saturday night.)
this gives me a chance to start mapping out my strategy. Next time
George calls, I plan to give him the four-star, full-out SecraTerri
Treatment. I'll identify myself, right off the bat -- "Hello,
George!" I'll say, making sure I sound absurdly happy to hear
his voice -- "It's me, Secra!" We'll exchange
courteous professional pleasantries. I'll ask an informed, whip-smart
question or two about The Willson Avenue Project. I'll politely inquire
his wife, and about his son who had the ski accident last summer. I'll
ask about things at the Totem Pole Company. I'll wax briefly and
insincerely nostalgic about my days on the fourth floor. In short, I'll
dazzle him with charm and
bullshidt. By the time I'm finished with him, he'll be wondering how on
earth he ever managed to let me slip through his talons.
then I'll *accidentally* transfer him to the Soil Response Department.