Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Losing It at Work Cringe

I cringe when I recall the time I completely lost it at work. My wonderful boss and mentor, Jill, took a sabbatical. Weeks later, another member of the human resources department, my dear friend Tammy, hugged me goodbye on the eve of her maternity leave. My role as the placid, behind-the-scenes-gal responsible for payroll and pension matters hastily expanded. My absent co-workers had dealt with disgruntled managers, workers and discipline. It wasn't my thing.

The managers now charged up to my office, barking about problems beyond the shop doors. Men in steel-toed boots lined my corridor. A red voicemail light never stopped blinking. The intercom system blasted, “Tracy Ryan! Please call extension 100!” In my eight years with the company as benefits administrator, pages for me were rare. Now they echoed through 200,000 square feet of machinery. Smiles grew infrequent on my thirty-three-year-old face. Blotches of frustration and a deepening frown line between my brows replaced them.

I appealed to upper management. I’m drowning, I told them. I need a buoy.

A temporary manager arrived in a smart suit. Jargon flowed from her lips, supported by gestures made with manicured hands. Amelia offered a wealth of meaningless organizational theory. Familiar with sterile corporate offices, she was green to the gritty demands of a fast-paced industrial facility. The P.A. system continued to drone for me, as Amelia artfully positioned a plant on her windowsill and gawked at the disordered stacks on my desk.

She heaped more on my suffocated inbox. Loopy writing covered post-it notes. Please handle this. Please provide me with a copy of... My buoy was a well-dressed lady who didn’t know how to swim-- her hands clasped around my neck.

“I’ll need you to write a memo ...,” Amelia directed me one afternoon, her mouth revived with lipstick.

I held my hand out like a crossing guard—STOP.

“Do you see my workload? Are you kidding me?” Blood swooshed around my ears.

Swearing ensued. A stream of f-bombs rose from my chest. I morphed into an expletive-hurling lioness. I hollered at this woman, calling her useless, ridiculous, and railing against the company with more vigor than the saltiest operator on the factory floor.

“Why are you cursing at me?” she blanched.

“Because I’m sick of this goddamn place and I don’t need you- a (bleeping) robot- giving me more $#@! to do.”

“How dare you speak to me like this.”

We stared. My adrenaline plummeted. I tried to apologize but my jaw opened and closed as if taffy stuck to my fillings. Amelia smoothed her neat hair.

The vice president summoned me, confused. He wasn’t certain he could believe Amelia’s report of my vulgar tirade.

“Did you really call her a useless piece of $&%#*^! @*($?”

“Yeah, I lost it.”

His expression indicated a curious mix of disapproval and excitement. He didn’t know I had it in me. I didn’t know either. I resigned a few months later, giving myself up to a try at stay-at-home momhood. It was time.
Please feel free to share your story of losing it at work in the comments section. Not proud moments...but they sure are funny sometimes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stalked By The Mary Kay Lady Cringe

I was behind a pink Cadillac at a stoplight yesterday and felt the charge of cringe. The memory of my first year in New Jersey (1997), which included an unlikely relationship with a Mary Kay Lady, washed in. The powder pink vehicle reminded me of the vulnerability that often accompanies transition.

I moved to New Jersey after becoming engaged. It was an exciting happy time, but also a big change from singlehood—being surrounded by friends and roommates in my familiar post-college territory of Alexandria, Virginia. My first NJ job as a recruiter for a staffing agency was as stimulating as a bad blister on the back of a heel. Each day was a chafing rub. I would battle traffic every morning wishing for a fender-bender that would keep me from arriving. The position involved matching underemployed mental health professionals with temporary stints at hospitals. It sounds altruistic, but really it was a high-pressure cold-calling sales job which I couldn’t have been less suited for.

Joan was a middle-aged former psychiatric nurse who was the number one go-to for any Psych R.N. position that needed filling. She was sweet and reliable. She liked to work per diem because her main source of income was peddling Mary Kay cosmetics. She spoke at length about the joy and financial reward the Mary Kay Corporation provided her.

I made the mistake of mentioning to Joan that I could use some new make-up. I didn’t realize that I had entered the dizzying frenzy of the Mary Kay machine. Joan immediately invited me to her house for a private consultation. She dipped my hands in some treatment, “Now you have satin hands!”, and applied a painter’s tray worth of eye shadow on my lids. I looked like I had been prepped to be a stage dancer in The Chorus Line. As she blushed my cheeks bright pink, she gushed about her love of her Mary Kay career.

“Sounds great,” I mumbled politely.

At the end of my consultation, I held a bag full of pink and white products, and a cassette tape.

“Please listen to this in the car on your ride home,” she whispered excitedly. “You are just the kind of beautiful young woman I would love on my team.”

On her team? I was glammed up and disoriented. When I arrived back at our apartment, Marty looked confused too. “You look…..,” he searched for the right descriptor, “…different.”

Ill-suited to be a fast-talking recruiter, I was even less fit to sell make-up. I never wore any. Still don’t. I am part of a small population of girls whose mothers actively encouraged them to wear more make-up in their teens. My mother urged me daily to put on a little blush and still pesters me today. In my early twenties, when I complained to her about not having a boyfriend for a while, her suggestion was to put on a little mascara.

The cassette tape was a flowery cult-initiation device. It described a woman’s ascent from broken down trailer-home to being seated at the boys choir concert in Vienna after achieving a top Mary Kay sales award. I passed the tape along to my friend’s husband, Rich, and he found it so entertaining that he listened to the tape regularly on his commutes.

The tape was only the beginning. Joan called me regularly. She really wanted me on her squad. She saw that I had what it takes in our one meeting. You see, Mary Kay is a multi-level marketing operation, and Joan is more likely to drive the pink Cadillac and listen to the Austrian choir when she gets a cut of every tube of concealer that her underlings sell.

I still needed Joan to hand out thorazine at psychiatric facilities, so I wasn’t very forceful about my lack of interest. I was vague. Joan sent me little notes at home. She told me I was beautiful and smart. She drew hearts on the edges of the paper.

It was getting creepy. I was being stalked by a Mary Kay henchwoman.

I finally broke the news to Joan that I would never pursue the Mary Kay dream. She told me how sorry she was and that she would always be there for me if I changed my mind.

I wonder if it was her in that pink Cadillac yesterday.