Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?


Maybe my outlook is too literal, but when I hear the phrase team player, I think of people who enjoy playing baseball and basketball, games I loathed in high school P.E. class. Because I prefer more solitary activities like golf and archery, I’ve always thought I’m just not a team player.

Having such little baseball awareness, it took watching the movie 42 last night to realize that being on a team does not always mean being a team player. When Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, some of his new teammates placed their own selfish prejudices before teamwork, and they petitioned to have him removed. It turns out that people who choose volleyball or soccer are not inherently better team players than those who choose fishing or the rodeo.  Or the fishing rodeo.

Like a baseball to the head, it hit me why I’ve had the recurring compliment at work of being such a great team player. I used to wonder if my managers had me confused with someone else, or if they were showing signs of dementia. The more likely explanation is that although it’s in my nature to want to do things alone, I am capable of pushing myself outside my comfort zone and working very well with others. When the occasion calls for teamwork, I am flexible enough to tell the hermit in me to put on her big girl pants and play with the other kids.

How often do we pass up projects, jobs, or even entire career paths because we think, That doesn’t sound like me? The job market is not run by Burger King, and you can’t always have it your way. Sometimes, you have to dig deep inside and consider what you might be capable of achieving if you stop labeling yourself and start discovering you.


Despicable Desk


A cluttered desk is despicable.

Mother Nature and Heredity conspired long ago, to give me the lifelong ability to entertain headaches. I can always attribute my headaches to sinus trouble, migraine, or a medley of the two. Yet, this past Tuesday, I was convinced my discomfort was a symptom of vacation withdrawal. I had linked two vacation days to the July 4th holiday, for a grand total of five days away from the office. Obviously, the distressing pressure in my forehead was a manifestation of brain trauma, caused by an abrupt re-entry into the work atmosphere.

In my weary, muddled state of mind, I decided the best treatment was a trip to the Golden Arches. I tend to self-medicate with saturated fats. As I walked into the fast food joint, I started to question my choice in grub. I nearly turned around. But then, I saw a plastic case, displaying Minions from the movie DESPICABLE ME2. I was tired, hungry, and mourning my dearly departed vacation when I rushed to the counter and breathlessly ordered a Happy Meal. I could barely wait to return to the office and exhibit my new objet d’art.

Normally, I keep my workspace uncluttered and free of personal souvenirs. Life – and work – can be messy enough without extra junk all over the place. Geniuses, of course, are allowed to cultivate all manner of rubbish to aid the creative process, but I am an average employee working in an average office.

Unless you are a genius, I have some suggestions for a productive workplace:

  • Leave the birthday cards at home. Your mother sends them to your home address, not to your work, for a reason other than the fact that you refuse to tell her where you work. There’s no reason to pretend that every day until retirement is your 30th birthday.
  • The same goes for obituaries and those saintly-looking cards you collect at funerals. We’ve all suffered losses, so please leave the morbidity at home. I trust you are capable of acting appropriately somber at work, without the constant reminder that your favorite neighbor croaked five years ago.
  • When a coworker returns from maternity leave and distributes wallet-sized photographs of her new bundle of joy to even the newest temp, it’s ok to display your copy, temporarily. When she leaves the company to be a real housewife of Chattanooga, you can retire the memento. You needn’t find a new place in your cubicle every time your department moves.
  • On the topic of photographs, let’s keep it to a bare minimum. A touching reminder of your spouse or children, who you miss dearly while at the office is fine, but that picture of you and Father Whats-His-Name at your First Communion is just weird.
  • Even if you live in your car or a gas station bathroom, there must be a better place than your desk to keep spare shoes and clothing.
  • Most places of employment allow people to leave at the end of the day, so there really is no need to have a month’s worth of groceries in your desk drawer. Dispose of the stale crackers immediately.

I practice what I preach, and I do solemnly swear that my cute, plastic minion will only reside on my desk for a short while. He’s not there to stay, and I am not rummaging around my house for Noids or California Raisins to keep him company.

Smells Like Work Spirit

Gentlemen Smoking and Playing Backgammon in an...

Gentlemen, you’ll need to refrain from smoking in the office. You’re free to stay inside and bite your fingernails, though.  Painting by Dirck Hals, 1627. 

If you’re trying to choose a nasty habit, might I make a suggestion? Biting my fingernails has served me well over the years, and it might be just what you’re looking for. I realize that smoking cigarettes is popularly touted as a more glamorous activity, but hear me out.

I can bite my fingernails at work. The office is ripe with germs from all those dirty employees and customers, making it the perfect place for me to strengthen my immune system by voluntarily placing my hands in my mouth. Disgusted? Quit reading, and take up trichotillomania. It’s an even nastier vice; look it up.

Being able to nurture my filthy addiction in the workplace gives me a certain advantage over all those smokers who routinely step outside to maintain theirs. How much time are smokers wasting each workweek? By how many dollars are they increasing company health insurance costs? Really, I deserve a raise for my productivity and ingenuity, if not for my willpower.

While smoking cigarettes can cost an arm and a lung, fingernail biting is free. If I lose my job, I can go on biting while I fill out job applications. Not to mention the money I’m saving by not indulging in a weekly manicure like all the other women at work. On Mondays, when they compare polish colors and swap stories about the quality of work at different salons, I can keep plugging numbers into Excel with one hand, while gnawing on a cuticle of the other.

With so many companies extending their tobacco-free policies beyond the building and to the entire property, there soon will be no more stepping outside for a quick smoke. To indulge in that particular depravity, working guys and gals will have to wait until lunch and leave the premises.

Reader, if you’re still with me, I’m impressed. I can only imagine how nauseated you must be feeling, with all this talk of smoking, biting fingernails, and compulsively pulling one’s hair. If you didn’t bother to look it up, that’s what trichotillomania is.  For a little relief, why not head over to Midwest Beauty Review for a little therapy?


Friending Superman

Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent

Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Did you hear they’re making another Superman movie?” a woman at work recently asked me.

Yes, I plan to see “Man of Steel.” As a former newspaperwoman, I can relate to Clark Kent. I, too, have hoodwinked everyone around the office into thinking I’m docile and meek. But unlike Clark, I don’t ditch my glasses and business clothes in a phone booth and emerge as a caped crusader. I wear contact lenses most days.

I’m not a comic book fan, and when it comes to Superman, my only real frame of reference is the movie from 1978, a time when phone booths still existed. Now that social media has replaced phone booths, I am curious to see how Clark Kent fares in modern Metropolis. Does he join Facebook?

It would be tempting to Facebook-friend those high school bullies, who’ve hopefully lost their hair and developed beer bellies. Does Clark put on his spandex uniform and stand in front of the mirror to take a self-portrait for his profile?

He might tag himself in articles about the hero’s amazing deeds, commenting, “I had a pretty super day!”

What if he bumped into Lois Lane, iPhone in hand at the water cooler, and she shared the wisecrack her friend just posted, and added, as an afterthought, “Hey Clark, are you on Facebook?”

How would he react? Bragging about his superhero status to former classmates he never sees in person is one thing, but letting his coworkers into that world is another. What self-respecting employee really wants everyone at the office to know what he’s doing after 5 o’clock?

He’d have to take down all his cool photos and change his occupation back from “Superman” to “reporter” and carefully consider everything he shares online. And yet, even an upstanding man of such moral conviction as Clark might stay home one day, even if the aspirin worked and he feels fine by 9:30 a.m. Getting lost in the freedom and monotony of a day spent in his bathrobe, he might turn to that online drug and forget, momentarily, that his audience now includes his boss.

“So Clark was too sick to come in today, but not too sick to lift weights for 45 minutes and “fly” – whatever he means by that – to Sonic for Happy Hour. I told you that man has an incomparable immune system. It’s almost like he’s not of this planet. Is he even human?”

I liked the days of phone booths better.

Spring Fever All Through the Week

Sick Dog

The bug that disrupted my stomach last week was merciful (or clueless) enough to do so on a Thursday, which is one of three acceptable weekdays to call in sick. As excruciating as retching over the toilet can be, there’s something even more uncomfortable, and it’s the task of telling your boss about it and redeeming one of your precious sick days. Even more unthinkable is to do so on a Monday or a Friday.

But the ultimate transgression is to call in sick on the first warm, sunny, gloriously spring-like day of the year. No matter how vividly you describe your gruesome symptoms, nobody believes you’re having anything but a Ferris Bueller kind of day.

So, I am thankful the bug attacked in the wee hours of a Thursday morning. By Friday, when the birds were really belting out their praise of spring and the sun was shining in full force, I was well enough to make a brave appearance at the office, weak and subdued but displaying a valiant effort to catch up on the paperwork that had done its own vomiting on my desk. It’s common practice, after all, to toss any confusing or unwanted paperwork on the desk of the one person greedy enough to stay home while everyone else is holding down the fort. Serves her right.

Not that I’m complaining. My employer is kind enough to grant five paid sick days a year, and I repay that kindness by never using more than two.  In fact, I always arrive early the morning after a sick day, and I take an abbreviated lunch to compensate for having been paid to spend a day in bed.  Guilt aside, the extra effort is necessary just so I can catch up. Sick or not, I must complete my work, which is patiently waiting for my return. Tapping its foot in passive-aggressive irritation, but patient nonetheless.

Some of the other people in my department have more time-sensitive tasks. Lucky dogs. When they take their sick days, my employer can rest assured that the rest of us will step up and make sure everything gets done. Again, my own obligations are detained until the party in question recovers from her own variety of spring fever. Recuperating from others’ illnesses takes its toll on me. No wonder my immune system is vulnerable to such nasty viruses as the one that so recently visited me.

It makes me wonder, who’s really paying for these sick days?

If I Were a Yahoo

Gee, I'm glad I don't have to do this job from my comfy home. Getting dressed is so much more fun!

Gee, I’m glad I don’t have to do this job from home. Getting dressed and fighting traffic is so much more fun!

Just when I think I have myself figured out, I go and make a decision so directly in opposition to who thought I knew myself to be. Like that time I turned down the opportunity to telecommute.

For years, I wished I could work from home. The types of jobs I held were perfectly suited for it, requiring only a computer and a phone. I hated driving 45 minutes to work in good weather and more than an hour in the snow. There had to be better ways to spend a small fortune than on gas. Chocolate and coffee came to mind.

Eventually, something nearly as good as telecommuting came along: a job so close to home that I never even had to get on the highway. I had time to listen to two songs on the radio as I took the little side road to my office each morning and back again for my lunch hour. I went weeks between trips to the gas pump. Then, they made the offer. Management asked for volunteers to work from home. In return, participants would suffer some newly-created, less-than-ideal shifts. It was time for a little SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

I was confident I already knew telecommuting’s strengths and opportunities. After all, I had been dreaming of such a break for a long time. Rolling out of bed and logging into the computer while my coffee brewed, wearing my pajamas all day, saving on gas, throwing in a load of laundry between customer calls, avoiding annoying bosses and coworkers. But suddenly, the offer seemed even more burdened with weaknesses and threats. Like all the toilet paper I’d have to buy once I was going at home more than at work. The worthless schedule . Sure, I would be at home, but I’d be working when I was used to being out. And my cats. While I love them, I did not relish the idea of their walking on my computer and sticking their butts in my face while I tried to assist customers in a professional manner.  And come to think of it, I would miss the camaraderie of my coworkers and the sage advice of my manager. At home, I wouldn’t be able to poke my head around the cubicle and get a second opinion on anything. It would be only a matter of time before I drew a face on a volleyball, named it and started consulting it on important business matters.

I conjured a frightening image of myself on the verge of insanity: unkempt, wearing pajamas at noon, holed up in a closet and whispering to my customers so the feline predators wouldn’t find me, isolated and depressed without any coworkers with whom to commiserate. My boss would forget all about me, and my prospects within the company would be extinguished. So, I turned down the chance to do something I had for so long thought I desperately wanted. Did I make the right decision? I don’t know. Let me ask Lucille Volleyball.

Goin to the Office, and I’m Happily Married

workwifeAs a romantic, I am not required to take my marriage vows to the extreme. I do, though. Call it going the extra mile. Sadly, I am only obligated to meet the bare minimum, like any other married person.

In sickness and in health, for most balanced people, means that I am not to annul my marriage if my husband’s appendix bursts or he catches the plague. I take it to mean that when I get an ingrown toenail, he has to listen to me whine about it for as many days as it takes that nastiness to heal, without placing an ad on craigslist for “Wife: Free to a good home. No references required.”

Until death do us part, for all practical purposes, means that if he dies, I can simply replace him. In fact, he prefers to believe that I would find someone to keep me company, as opposed to what I have in mind. Moving on is so boring. Devoting the rest of my days to mourning is much more my style. I find the idea of wearing a black veil and a bit of his hair in a locket to have a more dramatic flair.

To love and cherish, too vague. Too many people love their real spouses while simultaneously cherishing work spouses. Perfectly acceptable for the general population, but not for one obsessive, hopeless romantic such as myself. Even though I spend twice as many waking hours with coworkers as I do with my husband, and some might call it cute to have a special connection with some lucky fellow at work, I find the thought quite depressing.

Naturally, I would make quite a spectacular work wife, since I wear makeup to the office at least three days of the week and always leave bed head at home. But I don’t want the thrice-divorced guy from the warehouse complaining about his newest wife, all the while telling me how amazing I am because I am not her. Nor do I want the overtly happily married man, who reminds me that his trophy homemaker of a bride is the one who designated me his work wife. And under no circumstance do I want that young, single guy who winks at all the ladies, even the ones who don’t wear makeup three days a week. Despite their performances, any one of them would only be filling some emptiness that had nothing to do with me, and the only way for me to find any value in the relationship would be to do the same.

Problem is, my home life is not the source of unhappiness. And frankly, if I can’t put the effort into wearing makeup all five days of the week or trimming my toenails properly so they don’t become ingrown, I don’t have what it takes to be a successful bigamist. Sorry, fellas.