October 23, 2000
Substituting Franz


The little voicemail light wasn't blinking when I let myself into my office this morning.

I can't even remember the last time that happened.

Nobody accosted me in the hallway as I was coming into the office. Nobody snuck up behind me, as I stood there in the hallway fumbling with my keys, and whinily asked me Hi-how-was-your-weekend-are-you-busy? Nobody paged me to "Pick up Franz on Line 4" as I hung up my jacket. Nobody burst through the door as I was switching my phone over from "Do Not Disturb" to "Disturb At Your Own Risk," insisting that I drop everything in order to go change the fax toner!/make emergency flight reservations to Singapore!/locate the August 1998 issue of "Interlocking Concrete Pavement Magazine!" RIGHT NOW.

Not only was I able to settle in and start my workday in peace, but I had a full eight ounces of caffeine in me before my phone even rang for the first time today.

I can't remember the last time that happened, either.

I am coming off the kind of weekend I like best: relaxed, unhurried, pillow-intensive, mostly crisis-free (except for the windstorm blowing my fudking underpants into the swimming pool yesterday, as I hauled my basket of clean clothes from the laundry room). I woke up feeling reasonably well-rested this morning. David was in his usual sunny mood: as we drove to work we talked about the his & her movies we watched this weekend ("Dr. Zhivago" for her, "The Filth and The Fury" for him), and about the windstorms that hit the Bay Area over the weekend, and about our dinner plans tonight. I am wearing a sharp new jacket -- charcoal gray plaid. My shoes don't hurt, the single run in my pantyhose is in a spot that doesn't *show,* and I am having a Fabulous Eyebrow Day.

The sun is shining. From where I'm sitting I can see David's building, ten blocks away. The little flag at the top of the Tribune Tower is waving briskly in the wind.

I'm not sure ... but I think I'm having a good day at work.

And I definitely can't remember the last time THAT happened.

I remember sitting at my kitchen table in TicTac a few years ago, one sunny morning while my husband was at work, and carefully snipping his face out of a family photo.

It was one of the few photos ever taken of the Ex and me and all three of our children, all together: the five of us standing in a church lobby in front of a Christmas tree, at a family wedding. It wasn't an especially good picture -- Jamie was grimacing like she'd just bitten into an unripe persimmon, Kacie's eyes were closed, I was looking tired and fat -- but like I said, it was one of the few true "family photos" in existence, and as such I felt a little guilty, cutting into it. But I needed to make the sacrifice for my art. It was going to be a joke: a funny hand-made birthday card for the hub, with Arnold Schwarzenegger's face carefully pasted over the blank spot where my husband's face had been removed.

The hub was going to love it. Or else he was going to look at it once, smile politely and toss it into his underwear drawer, underneath his socks and his hearing aid batteries and his Groo comic books, never ever to look at it again.

I hoped for the former, but I was trained to expect the latter.

Once I'd cut out his face, though, I just sat there for a few minutes and looked at the picture. Now I was looking at a photograph of a thirty-something woman, her three children ... and the anonymous torso of a man.

Any man.

Wow, I thought. I could put anybody in this picture! Don Johnson! Don Henley! Don Knotts! One of my new online acquaintances from the Baby Boomer Chat Room! The nice boyfriend I dumped in high school! (The one who grew up to be richer than God! ) And for a moment or two I seriously considered running upstairs to the attic, digging through thirty-something years' worth of boxed photos and finding a picture of The One Who Got Away ... just so I could glue it onto the family photo and see what might have been. Same beautiful kids, same house I adored, same basic life, same me: just a different husband/daddy standing next to us.

All of the things I loved about my life, minus the one thing I didn't love so much about it.

But the more I looked at the mutilated picture, with its big gaping hole where my husband's face used to be, the creepier it seemed. And the sadder it seemed. And the more fixed and immutable seemed my destiny.

It was a dumb and depressing moment.

I still have moments like that, five years later ... only now, of course, it's not a husband's face I want to replace in the portrait of my life. (Quite the opposite, actually.)

Now it's my EMPLOYERS face that doesn't belong in the picture of my life.

Stan is Acting CEO while Franz is in Australia this month.

For someone as new to the Totem Pole Company as Stan is, this is one heck of a responsibility. Most people around the office think he is either very brave ... or very stoopid. (Or else he lost the coin toss, maybe.)

I happen to think otherwise.

I think that of all the people they could have picked to man the fort in Franz' absence, Stan is probably THE best person for the job. He's very tall, for one thing. He's a good foot-and-a-half taller than Franz. That gives him some physical advantage, right there: when he stands in your doorway and looks at you, Stan can seem very imposing and authoritative. His height is offset, though, by a surprisingly boyish face. It's like somebody took the head of an eleven-year-old boy, complete with freckles and cowlick, and plunked it on top of 6'3" worth of grown man. This makes him seem friendly and approachable.

Also: he has an incredibly loud, unembarrassedly nerdy laugh. This causes people to warm up to him immediately, and to like him, and to trust him, and to confide in him that they still have a contraband copy of AOL loaded on their cubicle computer, and that sometimes they diddle around in the "Bald Men Turn Me On" Chat Room when things are slow in the engineering department.  Which is VERY dangerous, because what nobody else sees is that beyond that weirdly boyish grin and that dorky donkey laugh ... 

...  Stan has an Inner Franz, just dying to bust free. 

I've overheard him on the phone, chewing out sloppy vendors and late-paying customers. I've seen his eyes dance with barely-controlled fury when a meeting is postponed or a fax doesn't go through. I've heard his door slam, a time or ten, downstairs in the Accounting Department.

This guy could be a real dick, if he wanted to be. Which of course makes him the perfect substitute for Franz.

Be that as it may, it has still been a total vacationworking for Stan, the past ten days or so. A vacation from fussy micromanagement, for one thing. A vacation from Post-It Notes on my chair. A vacation from cancelled meetings, and from sputtering cell phones, and from eleven-minute voicemail messages ... and a GREAT BIG VACATION from feeling incompetent and unappreciated and pissed-off all the time. Because even though Stan may have all this untapped Asshole Potential ... even though his Inner Franz is itching to break loose and dump his briefcase onto the middle of my desk ... he still remembers to say "Thank you" and "Good job" once in a while.

And he's pretty much left me to my own devices, the past week or so.

It reminds me of all the stuff I actually love about my job. (And believe it or not, there ARE things I love about my job. I love having my own little office. I love being able to delegate shidt-jobs to the receptionist once in a while. I love my view of the Tribune Tower.) And it sets off that chain-reaction of longing in me, once again: that longing to snip the one thing I don't like about my job out of the picture ... and to glue somebody else's picture over the hole in the photo where my boss' face used to be.

I just don't know whose picture it will be yet.

throw a rock