“It occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility.” – Joseph Conrad
I was given a project today. One that I’m still trying to make sense of. It can best be summarized by my puzzled response to Lt. Figaro when he gave it to me. At the time of assignment, Susie’s and my eyebrows were having a contest to see whose could climb higher.
“So you want me to run reports.”
“From a database I don’t have access to, using a program that hasn’t worked form months, to organize information that no one can find, with query requests that don’t exist.”
“…where there are bosses there are crazy bosses. It’s nothing new.”
I’ve already mentioned Lt. Figaro’s ability to talk the brains out of new employees. I failed to explain a couple of his other quirks that makes him beyond compare the most odd person we work with.
First of all, he is never around. Seriously. We go whole days without seeing him. Weeks sometimes.
Second, he has the amazing ability to bend the space-time continuum. If, on the off chance he is located in his office, you must never take your eyes off of him. Because the moment he wanders out, he’s lost. If he but turns a corner, goes into someone’s office, or shuts a door behind him…he is GONE. You can run after him, you can search everyone’s cubicle, you can call after him, but it will all be in vain. He has stepped into another dimension and will not reappear for several hours.
Third, he will (either on accident or on purpose, we aren’t sure which) invariably forget his schedule. Even if he’s the one who arranged it. It doesn’t matter if he called a meeting himself, there is a very good chance he will manage to forget it or fail to show up to it for at least a half hour.
All of this occasionally congeals into a wonderfully absurd/frightening cocktail, as it did this morning.
At nine o’clock on the dot, a smart young man showed up at my front desk and said politely that he needed to speak with Lt. Figaro and had an appointment with him. I trotted off to his office only to discover that he was, predictably, absent. So I tried Susie who said she’d seen him heading towards the back office mere second earlier, but a brisk walk around the whole department proved he wasn’t to be found.
At this point I head back to the front desk to apologize and ask if there is anything I can help this dapper young man with. He explained that he’s been hired by one of the Sergeants but was instructed to pick up something from Figaro (which makes no sense, as this new hire will be working in a facility a couple miles off campus and will never come into our office again, but Figaro insists on giving out their identity cards). I try but can’t locate this card. Hennessy and Wise asked what I was doing and when I explained they rolled their eyes.
“I told him about this twice yesterday and sent him an email,” she sighed. “Better just wait and see if he shows up.”
At 9:15, I go back to Hennessy’s desk and ask her to just get Figaro on the phone and she obliges while Wise hovers to catch the denouement. After a couple of rings he picks up and though we can’t hear the other half of the conversation, we watch Hennessy’s face go through a series of convulsions.
“Your nine o’clock has been waiting for you.”
“Alright, we’ll let him know.”
[Hurriedly hangs up phone and snatches hand away from the receiver]
“Oh my gosh…he’s in the bathroom!”
What he was doing in there for nearly 20 minutes is a mystery we’d rather not ponder, but that he answered his phone there…gah! We all had to dance around making faces and saying “Yuck!” for a while to clear the image.
“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop the story.”
– Orson Welles
Two weeks of nail biting, confusion, misdirection, and finally to be sat down, asked my side of the story (which apparently filled some gaping holes left by other people’s), and told, “Well, we’d never stand in the way of your trying to better yourself. Sorry it didn’t happen, but we’re glad to still have you.”
And then, back to my desk to hire two new students, sort mail, and ponder.
Apparently, from what I can deduce, the Dean is Not Happy with Dr. F about this whole thing. And, frankly neither am I. Looking back, I think that putting me in the position of informing people or asking for permission seems ***backwards. He should have had HR make the request and process the whole event, not the girl he was trying to get to transfer out of her department. With 20/20 hindsight I can see that he put me in a professionally sticky spot which I don’t appreciate and wonder why he did it.
All I can think is that this transfer was a way to get around the Dean, who had previously refused to fill his gap. The Dean confirmed Kiki’s theory that if he could get a new secretary he’d have about three or four other offices he’d put her first before IS. I’m sorry if Dr. F is going to be inconvenienced or disgraced…but I don’t think he worked to hard to keep me from being inconvenienced or disgraced, indeed I rather wonder if he was willing to throw me under the bus rather than have any backlash come to him.
Which is too bad. I really enjoyed working for him as a student, I love the office and the people who work there, I adore Dr. S and Kiki and would have loved to be their co-workers. But on the other hand, I am absolutely positive that Susie would stand up for me and back me up, and I’m equally positive that the Dean would not if it meant he’d look bad in any way. So I think I must conclude that I’m in the office that’s best for me in the long run.
So. Something has happened: Not a lot. But I think it’s given me a greater appreciation for where I work now, and more importantly the people I work with. All’s well that ends well.
Responsibility without power, the fate of the secretary through the ages.
– Ariel Dorfman
Tomorrow I’ll finally (hopefully) have that long-awaited talk with Chief about this big to-do that went nowhere. The whole experience has been more than a little ridiculous, a lot of drama and politicking for next to nothing to show for it, and I feel that I may be on the chopping block for it. Now, Common Sense is arguing pretty solidly that Chief isn’t going to fire me for trying to accept an offer that would have bettered my long-term work circumstances…but Paranoia is hinting darkly that he may for no other reason than he feels I tried to betray him and the department. Which isn’t true in the slightest, but I know by now that if someone wants to think the worst nothing will dissuade them.
The truth is, Dr. F’s offer meant the one thing that the Police Department cannot give me: a promotion. By moving to the IS office I would have become the office manager and supervisor (what Susie is to me now). Promotions in the PD are hard to come by. Something truly biblical would have to happen, at least three other people would have to die suddenly in order for me to receive a new position, and as those people are my close friends the whole situation would probably prove traumatic. Even Wise, when she left my position for her current one, didn’t move UP the proverbial ladder at all, her new responsibilities didn’t come with a higher grade or more money or more recognition, if anything it was a big step sideways. Now although Dr. F implied more money for me (certainly with the upcoming University annual raise), the reason I wanted to accept this position is not so mercenary as that.
J. and I have no idea where we will be next year for his graduate program. California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Utah, or Gibraltar, for all I know. And we won’t know for several months yet. But there is a good chance that we will be moving and now is the time to start brushing up my resume. I’ve been encouraged to take IT training classes to fill my free hours during the Spring/Summer, but I’m also taking them to add to my list of hireable skills. I’ve been reviewing past projects I’ve worked on to see what else I could do to make me appealing to potential future employers. And when Dr. F offered me the chance to move up to a manager’s position, I wanted to accept it because the additional experience and responsibilities would have made me more desireable in the workplace (because, if you haven’t noticed, it’s a cold, cold, dark hiring situation out there and a girl needs all the help she can get).
I hope I’m not going to be punished for trying to improve my situation, but I’m forced to entertain the possibility that I might. My dark humor cannot help but picture me at job interviews, “So, why did you leave your job at the PD?” “Well, I wasn’t trying to…” but I don’t totally expect it. Que sera sera. However, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this whole event from a new perspective and I’ve come to some conclusions.
First, there is no way that being a secretary is going to make me perfectly happy, fulfilled, or satisfy the immortal longings of my soul. It is, in many ways, an utterly thankless job and acts of recognition are few and far between. This irks me because I am a pretty ambitious woman, I like to move forward (and hopefully up) and dislike doing good work and receiving no credit for trying to be a good employee. However, that is the nature of the beast. I’m extremely well-educated but not at all qualified to do anything. Margot and Venice are trained teachers, Janssen is a trained librarian, Brando is a trained stockbroker, Dad is a trained lawyer, Mum is a trained scholar…most of the people I know are a trained something. What I’ve got (besides an encyclopedic knowledge of useless facts) is a good brain, common sense, and organizational skills, and these are apparently in pretty high demand because not everyone in my office has those.
Second, I get frustrated, annoyed, and downright furious sometimes at how ridiculous my office can be and what I really need to learn is to let that go. I can’t fix it, I can’t make the powers that be see sense, and things are not going to change. I often feel that I’m smarter than my job, and I don’t think I’m entirely wrong. In fact I think I’m positively right, but dwelling on that fact doesn’t change my circumstances and usually only serves to make me angry at my situation. And hey! I’ve got a job! That’s a lot to be thankful for.
Third, my job does not challenge me. And I need to be challenged, as anyone who knows me at all will attest. But it doesn’t and won’t and I need to stop fighting that fact. What I need to do is adopt an Edwardian attitude towards it and make my life, as a secretary, my art. Being an office monkey isn’t difficult, but being a class act and making it appear easy…now that’s a challenge!
In fact, while working out with Margot, it came to me in a flash of brilliance. What I need to be, is Joan Halloway. Er, minus the having salacious affairs with the men of my office (shudder). Joan doesn’t necessarily want to be a secretary, but she enjoys being good at what she does and likes working. She’s impeccably put together. You don’t mess with her because she will take you apart (classily, but viciously). And if you’re making an office coup, or some guy’s foot gets chopped off by a lawn mower, or someone is out because they’re having a baby and didn’t know they’re pregnant to begin with – Joan will locate your files, make a tourniquet out of a scarf, and step in to take over your correspondence.
I don’t have to adore being a secretary…but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a damn good one anyway.
“Is this Plymouth? We’ve just come from Plymouth. We’ve gone round in circles, lads…”
– Eddie Izzard
I’ve decided to just stop panicking. First of all it’s exhausting and unsustainable, and second panicking will have absolutely no effect on my fate anyway. For all I know, Chief is just as puzzled as the rest of us seem to be and just wants to get my side of the story. Of course, he could also be preparing the Iron Maiden and Rack, but I’m choosing to be optimistic.
So, we’ll continue as if nothing is wrong until next Monday. Play along. There’s every chance that I’ll lose my cool and completely disintegrate into a useless puddle sometime over the weekend and I may need you to drag me out of whatever darkened corner I’ve thrown myself, in the fetal position, into.
In other news, my whole family seems to be finding life Stateside a bit of a chore. Mum is putting a house together, Dad is job hunting and running his small business, Gio is pacing rings in the carpet trying to work (in spite of torrential rains at our Uncle’s house where he is staying) and waiting for university to start, Buddy and Snickers are “looking forward” to (another) new school.
“A great source of calamity lies in…anticipation.”
– Oliver Goldsmith
Don’t hold your breath, ducklings.
The big news is that there is no news. Instead of meeting with the Dean, I was going to meet with Chief instead, so Susie informed me. At two. Well, that was fine enough, although I was a bit nervous. But then Chief, who’d been out all last week, had too much to catch up on so he told Susie to tell me that the meeting was going to be pushed back a bit. And when he finally called me in at about three, he told me that he was actually too busy to meet and – since he was going to be out of the office the rest of this week as well – he was postponing meeting with me until next Monday.
Anger is firmly in the collective driving seat right now. I’m sick of being shunted around while people have discussions about me but don’t actually discuss anything with me. I hate this looming, threatening feeling which is, I feel, pretty well undeserved. I was offered a a good opportunity, I chose to pursue it. Mostly, I’m sick of feeling like a target. If the department is going to exact revenge (which I worried about from the beginning), I’d rather them just sack me now instead of letting my stomach slowly corrode itself with stress ulcers for a week.
None of this whole experience has made a lot of sense. This latest event shows no signs of changing that fact.
“And I hate waiting!’ – Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil campaign
In 12 hours all will be revealed I suppose. I’m prepared: I’ve pre-panicked (a useful skill I learned for piano recitals – get the messy emotions done with and out of the way early and the performance goes much better. The needs of Panic and Practicality are both met . I wish I could just not be nervous about public performance, messy office politics, or the other unpleasantries of life, but since I can’t get rid of the fear, displacing it a little is about the most massively useful self-taught trick I’ve got).
Which isn’t to say that Panic and Paranoia aren’t trying to sneak back in and raise rebellion among the masses. Common Sense has been playing the role of bouncer rather effectively, however, and whenever they show their pinched faces, she grabs them and grimly escorts them off the premises. Guilt has shut up finally, being replaced by Insatiable Curiosity. I’m still a bit nervous to find out what’s going on, but I’m not dreading the consequences so much any more. Obviously a nest of snakes has been stirred up…but I just seem to be the stick used to provoke them, I’m curious as to see who’s holding the other end.
“Reporting for duty!”
– Hercules, Disney
I told Susie of the offer, that it was a good one and that I wanted to take it, that it would come with a raise (which Dr. F said it would) and advancement to a manager position. She was on my side, said it sounded great, and approached Chief with it, who it seemed was also on board. Things were moving forward.
Then, suddenly, something stalled in the works. Trouble is, no one can seem to pinpoint where. Dr. F said that he had gotten approval to pursue a transfer of departments, but the approval never came. He then called me up in a frenzy asking what I had told Susie originally, as I’d clearly made some mistake because HR seemed to think that I’d be completely quitting the university, and if so, they could not rehired me. I talked to Susie, she verified that I’d said that I merely wanted a transfer of departments and they’d understood so.
But more telling, he also backed away from the question of salary telling me emphatically that he had never discussed that with me. He had, by the way. He then told me that this confusion was my problem and that I had to find a way of handling it because he wasn’t going to get involved.
Anger showed up right quick. “What the hell is he saying? We did everything he told us to, after he’d confirmed that the transfer had been OKed!”
“That’s it! We’re in the soup! We’re going to lose our job, either of them!” Panic wailed.
“There might just be a misunderstanding,” Hope said with false cheeriness.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Practicality snapped. “It’s clear Dr. F has ticked off his higher ups somehow. They wouldn’t work with him to get an exception to the hiring freeze to fill his empty position, and now that he’s found a way around it they’re miffed.”
“That doesn’t explain why he’s reneging on his offers to us,” Ambition said slowly. “We took his offer and acted on it in good faith, after he assured us that if we could get the department to approve it, the transfer would go through.”
“This whole organization is riddled with issues like this,” Paranoia hissed, hugging the walls, eyes darting for potential escape. “Panic’s right, we’re collectively sunk. He turned on us rather than go to bat for us. He turned on us!”
“I told you guys! I told you! No one ever listens to me, and look where it’s got you,” Guilt crowed, practically dancing a vindictive jig.
“Shut up,” Practicality growled, pacing the floor. “You’re no help. There’s been a mis-communication somewhere. What has been said that has been misconstrued? And by whom?”
“It’s not communication, it’s politics,” Panic said, shivering. “Dr. F isn’t exactly the darling of his division, this probably isn’t about us at all.”
“Sounds to me,” put in Reason, “that he probably only got verbal approval to do what he did. So he offered us the job, told whoever had approved that move, who told whoever was above that, and they said no. Which screws up the whole process.”
“Verbal doesn’t mean anything! If it’s not in writing it’s not worth a rattle,” Paranoia said frantically.
“Well, that’s certainly obvious now. So, what happens to us?” Ambition asked.
The next day, Susie pulled me aside and gave me a heart-stopping piece of news. The final answer was “No.” It had come down from the Dean himself, and the Dean wanted to meet with me on Monday.
“AUGHHHH!” Panic and Paranoia clutched each other only long enough to scream and both ran from the room.
“We have top men working on it right now.”
– Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
In almost every movie there is that incredibly silly moment when the villain is confronted with the fruits of his or her destruction and, looking over the rivers of lava/ looming black hole/ annihilation of an entire civilization/ etc., murmurs in despair, “My god, what have I done?!”
I had one of those moments today. After getting all the archives into chronological order (which you’d think they’d already be in, right? Hah!), tagging them by date, pulling original photos and making notes on when/where they originally occurred in print, and hauling it one massive armload at a time to the library, I asked for the archivist. Student employees helped me carry the stacks of papers and binders and asked what I was doing. I couldn’t very well shout, “Saving history!” in the library, so I quietly whispered the tale of the iniquitous order to dispose of fifty years of information.
“He told you to shred it!” one girl squeaked in horror.
“I know,” I squeaked back.
We were all awash with the enthusiasm of the young until the archivist appeared. He looked like Eeyore the donkey in human form: droopy, awkward, exhausted, and less than thrilled to see me with my arms full of documents.
“Hi, I’m C. from the police department. We talked on the phone and–”
“Oh, right,” he sighed, “Follow me.”
The whole cavalcade meandered down some halls and through secured doors…to a lonely room, lined with shelves and piled with papers.
“Here’s a project for you,” he mumbled to what appeared to be a heinously overworked student employee, and ordered us to drop the whole pile on her (already covered) desk.
Which is when I had my cinema-villain-is-confronted-by-what-she’s-done moment. I’d committed the most rookie of cardinal sins: I’d just turned over fifty years of history to a bureaucracy!
I’ve gained all sorts of skills and experiences at this job, but law enforcement is not my calling, to say the least. But history! Oh, yes. And this project is the first thing in over a year and a half that’s come close to the things I’ve studied and feel passionate about. Certainly it’s the only thing that’s got me excited enough to annoy my co-workers with my near constant cries of, “Read this!” And now, I’ve an awful premonition that my precious bundles are only going to slowly decompose in the bowels of the library. There is no justice in the world.
“All the ancient histories, as one of our wits say, are just fables that have been agreed upon.”
Yesterday Lt. Citrus called me into his office and waved his hand at a pile of binders. It was the media files archives of our department, newspaper clippings mostly, and it went back to 1960.
“We don’t need these anymore,” he said. “Can you get rid of them and save the binders?”
I stretched out my hands dumbly and let him plop a stack in my hands and then tottered back to my desk where I opened them up.
The Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the first female officer to graduate from the state’s police academy…the earliest documented complaints about parking (an as yet unresolved problem!) when we had a fraction of the student number we do now…a completely unique perspective on the history of the campus was sitting on my desk and I was supposed to just shred it?! Clearly they forgot I majored in history!
I begged off my other chores and began putting things in order. I’ve spent the last day and a half scanning articles and photos that document the history of the department (beginning back when we had an ex-LA cop fish a bunch of wallets out of the campus pond and search for the owners, all the way to the 40+ full time, state-certified officers we have now along with nearly 200 student employees). And come across some real gems!
Throw this stuff away. Pfft! I’m already in contact with the university archivist.