January 26, 2000
Fish Tanks


I love the new commercial for Petsmart.com.

Not the ads with the smart-alecky hand puppet who runs around town, heckling UPS guys and bribing doormen: hat's pets.com.  (Although I like THOSE commercials, too. They're so "Ed Kaz-like.") I'm talking about the Petsmart.com commercial. That's the one where the guy is sitting on the edge of his bed in a tiny, one-room apartment -- TV tuned to the local news, as a dour newscaster drones on and on about airline disasters and stock market crashes -- while the guy sits there and stares, transfixed, at the tropical fish swimming in his aquarium.

"Everything's OK in here, Bob!" says one fish.

"Hi Bob!" twinkles another.

What I like best about that commercial, I think, is the expression of goony, oblivious rapture on Bob's face. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, all around him, but all *he* can see is the serene and simple world inside his fish tank.

There is something to be said for living outside the loop that way.

I should know. Recently *I* have been cast in the role of "Bob" at the Totem Pole Company. And while my other 103.5 co-workers have apparently been heading off to hell in a collective handbasket ... I've been sitting here in the rarified atmosphere of my Isolation Booth, watching my fishtank.*

The Oakland Tribune Tower

*The role of the fishtank is being played by the Oakland Tribune Tower. See below.

I actually believed them when they told me that coming to work for The Totem Pole Company would be like joining a family.

"We all work TOGETHER like a BIG FAMILY!" they said. 

"This is a warm, FAMILY environment!" they said. 

"The important thing here is YOU, and YOUR place in the Totem Pole Company FAMILY!" they said.

And I listened, and I believed, and I happily signed the Offer of Employment and joined the *family.*

What they didn't tell me was that in THIS particular family, everybody drinks too much at dinner and calls each other "A**hole!" and beats the living crap out of each other outside in the garage after dessert.

I'm not talking about Chick Wars. That happens everywhere. Put any group of underpaid professional women of disparate ages/skill levels/social backgrounds/shoe sizes in one office together ... season with a sprinkling of limited advancement possibilities/even MORE limited closet space ... shake well ... and poof!

Instant Chick Wars.

It's happened every place I've ever worked. (Even at the phone company, where *I* was the only person in the office. Female or otherwise. But that's another story for another day.)

When I was bumped from the front desk to the Executive Ass position last year, I made a conscious choice to distance myself completely from The Chick Wars. I knew, going in, that I was going to need every available molecule of energy and focus and sanity, just to keep up with Franz. And even though it means that I am occasionally perceived as aloof, or dim, or downright snooty ... *Princess Secra* ... I know that I'm doing the right thing, in terms of my job. I also know that the handful of women within this company whose opinions genuinely matter to me understand why I don't hang out at the receptionist's desk, eating Tootsie Rolls and gossipping.. I think they respect me for it.

No ... I knew all about The Chick Wars. I could handle The Chick Wars. And I still believed this was probably a pretty friendly company to work for, in spite of The Chick Wars.

I even knew about The Dick Wars. (The male equivalent of The Chick Wars. Just as vitriolic, but not nearly as interesting. Mostly they squabble over GEOTECHNICAL SURVEYS.)

What I didn't know about, though -- what I wasn't expecting at all, maybe because I was too busy sitting here, blissing out over the fish tank ...

... were the PEOPLE wars.

The long and short of it? There are people in this company, apparently, who don't merely dislike each other ... they HATE each other. Blindly, stupidly, wildly, murderously. Based on nothing more than country of origin, or the spelling of a last name, or the leftovers in somebody's Tupperware container ...

... or the color of their skin.

I'm stunned by this. To put it mildly. (And yes, OK. Look up "naive" in the dictionary, and there's a big picture of ME. Middle class white girl from the suburbs, plunked right in the middle of big bad downtown Oakland, learning about life the hard way ... in a corporate office.)

I found out about all of this by accident, via a memo left on Franz' desk the other day. The memo detailed an astonishing chronology of events, dating back to last spring: one guy told an ethnic joke that was offensive to another guy in his department ... the offended person went to a supervisor and complained ... the joke-teller was reprimanded, and then promptly turned around and told ANOTHER ethnic joke to the same offended co-worker (oh yeah: huge amounts of brain-power THERE) ...

... more complaints, more meetings with supervisors, more official reprimands ...

... people starting to choose up sides ... whole areas of the office refusing to ride in the same car or sit at the same lunch table with whole other areas of the office ...

... an official company-wide memo issued, reminding everyone of "the need to maintain a working environment that is friendly and supportive for all employees" (I typed that memo!! I thought it was just standard HR stuff!) ...

... two people quitting in disgust, two MORE people quitting in protest over the people who quit in disgust  ...

... days and weeks and months of ugliness and insults and bad feelings and people quitting, all documented, all of it culminating in this final, distasteful memo.

Jesus. No wonder nobody was dancing at the Christmas Party.

It's not the end of the world, of course. It's probably not any different at a lot of other companies, anywhere on the planet. I should probably get over it already. But I just feel so stoopid. Where the heck was *I* when all of this was happening?  And sad. I thought these were really NICE people.  And emotionally sideswiped by all of this. In spite of my ongoing problems with Franz -- and our situation is removed, really, from anything else going on in the company: that's the nature of the CEO/Executive Ass relationship .. . in spite of The Chick Wars and The Dick Wars ... I still believed that we were a family here.

Yeah. Look up the word "idiot," while you're at it.

This won't change anything for me personally, of course. I plan to stay at my job a little while longer. (How long is "a little while?" I don't know. This sort of puts a different spin on things ... since one of the reasons I was staying was because I felt such loyalty to my co-workers. Now I've really got to think about what I want to do.)  I plan to continue treating my co-workers as courteously as ever. (Read this: I'm still gonna scream at anybody who uses my rooster coffee mug. Regardless of their nationality.) And I plan to continue my policy of distancing myself, as much as possible, from any office ickiness ... but for the same professional reasons as before this happened.

I'm just not going to invite the whole company over for dinner at my house. At least, not all on the same night.

And I'm going to be a little more skeptical -- and a lot more cautious -- the next time the recruiter is exhorting me to sign the Employment Agreement and "join our happy corporate family!"

I might even ask to take a peek at the FAMILY TREE first.

In the meantime, I think I'll quietly stick to my own benign little prejudices ... computer illiterates, bad receptionists, talky morning news "personalities," Celine Dion fans.

Why not? My prejudices are therapeutic, at least. And they're basically harmless. And they're probably not going to get me fired (or shot) any time soon.

I'm not even much interested in involving myself in the latest ruckus within the Internet Journalers *community.*  (It was just one guy's opinion, people. Can't we all just get along?)

Mainly I'm just interested in living my life, and loving The Other 50% of the Population, and providing for my kids, and tinkering with my website, and doing my job, and staying sober ... preferably with as little brouhahahahahaha as possible.

And when all else fails ... when everything starts to blow up all around me, in spite of my determined efforts to see no evil/hear no evil/tolerate no evil ...

... I can always close the door and slip into my *Bob* persona.

The Oakland Tribune Tower, after all, is only ten blocks away.

"Everything's OK in HERE, Secra" ...

self-important blurb #1 will go HERE: my *fish tank* -- the visual touchstone i use to calm and energize myself, in stressful moments during my workday -- is the oakland tribune tower. i can see it from where i sit at my desk. i've always found it the most architecturally interesting building in downtown oakland ... and now it has even more significance, because this week it became david's official "base of operations" [when the oakland tribune moved its advertising department from hayward back to the old oakland tower]. so now david is working a mere ten blocks away from me. i can literally sit at my desk, look out the window ... and there he is.

self-important blurb #2 -- probably having something to do with the WEATHER: daughters #1 and #2 will be flying in from tictac tomorrow night for a four-day visit ... details details details to follow follow follow.

special *howdy* to: my mom ... again. welcome home! how was the hawaii trip? did you have a good time? did you get a tan?

[more importantly ... did you take any groovy photos i can scan for the website?]

a year ago

here's where i'll ask a *relevant* question:
what do you see when you look out *your* office window?
if it's the oakland tribune tower ... let's do lunch!

amazingly profound thought of the day: AMAZINGLY PROFOUND THOUGHT OF THE DAY