Bloomin’ Onions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople who eat aggressively fragrant food (think fish, burnt popcorn, fried monkey) in a closed area (think office, airplane, jail cell, or anywhere with limited ventilation) are the absolute worst. Like I put them up there with war criminals, Carrot Top, and people who drive under the speed limit in the left lane. Subjecting your officemates to this kind of  brutality is inconsiderate at best, grounds for immediate dismissal at worst.

Several times this month someone has brought something infested with raw onions from the building cafeteria into our shared workspace. Its invisible and odiferous cloud instantaneously suffocates all of the breathable air in the suite. It spreads faster than a prairie fire, and before you can take cover or react, the noxious fog kicks in the door to your sinuses, bitch slaps them into submission, and threatens to take over your very soul.

And like a tree-hugging dreadlocked second cousin (or confederate-flag wearing step-brother – choose a metaphor based on your political persuasion) at a wedding reception with an open bar, not only is it offensive, but it lingers for hours. Short of a full-on biohazard suit, there is no escaping it. Today I tried to ward off the smell by liberally spraying Static-Guard (a necessary evil here in the Sahara-dry northern winter) over the wall and around my desk, hoping the onion-eater would take note. It masked the smell for about a minute, and then it was back, again relentlessly assaulting my senses.

Thankfully I had to leave early to work from home for the rest of the afternoon so I could give David a ride to his job at Papa Murphy’s, where onions are a given. I’m not sure how to go about preventing this from happening again. I could take the classic Minnesota passive-aggressive route, which would entail posting a sign in the break room or leaving an anonymous note on the reprobate’s desk (i.e. “Your onions are hurting everyone around you.”) Or start a change.org petition to ban onions from the cafeteria, which would negatively affect those who eat onions responsibly.

What I fantasized about today was walking over, taking the plate from the person’s hand, dramatically stuffing it into the trash can, and emptying an entire fire extinguisher on top of it.

Would that be wrong?

© Jennifer Alys Windholz  2016

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Wormy Power Bars And Other Office Stories

For some reason today I’ve been thinking about some of the more ridiculous things from my days as a corporate manager at a major healthcare organization. Maybe I miss the drama and intrigue and sheer monotony of the office, I don’t know. I haven’t written extensively about my experiences at work. It’s a gold mine of stories, so I’m not sure why not. Here’s just a little stroll down memory lane.

  • There was the time they did a huge kickoff for the new company wellness program with a big health fair in the cafeteria where you could have your blood pressure and other readings checked, get information on gyms, weight loss programs, disease management, healthy eating, and all that good stuff. We were given a bottle of water and a protein bar on our way out. As I got back to my desk, reports, both virtual and live, from across the office started trickling in. The bars were full of meal worms! Thankfully I hadn’t opened mine, and I immediately tossed it in the garbage. Soon an email from Human Capital went out, apologizing for the worm-infested energy bars, with a promise of a replacement bar. I don’t recall it ever being replaced.
  • After a new instant messaging system was implemented, one that had a menu of little emoticons, my co-workers and I quickly learned that these were more effective than words in expressing the idiocy of people on a conference call. I’ll never forget the day my friend, in mocking a particular person leading a call, first sent me what became commonplace in our visual vernacular. “He can (party hat-clad smiley face blowing a noisemaker in and out of its mouth) my (soccer ball) (soccer ball).” Interpret that as you wish. As I snorted at his vulgar comment, which I entirely agreed with, I couldn’t reach the mute button fast enough.
  • In one of our many space rearrangements (I think in my almost ten years there, I sat in no fewer than ten different cubes), our department was moved into an area occupied by a team of entry-level customer service type folks, who were, let’s say, unprofessional at best. Somehow I drew the lucky straw and was assigned to the desk used by this creepier-than-hell guy who had a gut the size of a woman in her 15th month of pregnancy, with a protruding hernia that showed through his not-long-enough shirts. This man ate a bag of store-brand Doritos and two 2-liter bottles of Cola every day. His manager once suspected him of surfing and sending crude messages on dating sites during work hours, and he was rumored to have been caught in the bathroom doing…things. Yet it took months and months before he could be fired. Last I heard of him he’d been arrested in Hennepin County for stabbing his mother. Anyway, my point is, I had to move into this deviate’s cubicle, which he of course didn’t clean before vacating. I came in to desk drawers full of chip crumbs, hair (yes, wtf???), and other substances and stains that make my hair stand on end just thinking about. I left the office to run to Target to buy a jumbo package of Clorox wipes and Lysol, raided the first-aid kit for latex gloves, and used an entire can of desk cleaner and one of those pressurized air things to clean out all the crevices. And I still never felt comfortable there.
  • I still giggle when I think of a financial underwriter who worked with the Texas market, and a sales rep sent him an “I ❤ AUSTIN” bumper sticker, which he proudly hung on his wall, only to have his co-workers print out large text banners to put above and below it so it read: I ❤
    BRIAN
    AUSTIN
    GREEN
  • There was the business trip to Tampa when my boss and I looked on in horror as an employee we were traveling with got completely shit-faced at a happy hour with the sales team and messily threw herself at a sales executive. While the two of us tried to talk business with our VP of sales, she licked the guy’s face. Awkward. Pictures of that survive to this day.
  • The day my favorite ridiculously annoying in an entertaining way account executive called me to ask if I would underwrite a group of “traveling circus people and gypsies” who didn’t really live in one particular state. He couldn’t understand my answer of not just no, but hell no.

Ah the memories. Some days I miss my old friends.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2013

What I Think

We want to know what you think,

Thank you for shopping with (Major Chain Drugstore) Photo! You have been selected to take part in a customer satisfaction survey. Please take a few minutes to share your opinions about your recent photo order experience with us.

Sure, ok. I sent five photos to you on-line to be printed. The prints were not the quality of my professional lab, but they were decent, not to mention considerably cheaper, and I was able to pick them up in an hour. You delivered as advertised, no more, no less, and I walked away a satisfied customer.

You were actually my second choice. I needed photos printed to be used for a school project on Sunday night. When I sent the same order to (Major Discount Department Store), and went to pick them up, they weren’t ready because of some software problem that frankly, I didn’t give two cents about, I just cared that it wouldn’t be resolved until Monday, and cancelled the order. I haven’t received their consumer satisfaction survey yet.

Yeah, I’m not really taking five minutes out of my day to fill out a customer satisfaction survey about five stupid photos. Is it just me or is everyone just a little too desperate for validation? Go on-line and complete our survey to be eligible for a $5,000 gift card! Go on-line and complete our survey for six complimentary wings! Go on-line and complete our survey for 10% off your next purchase! Go on-line and complete our survey and be entered to win a grand-prize drawing of $10,000! Go on-line and complete our survey for ten free prints! Go on-line and complete our survey and you could win free web-hosting for a year! Tell us how we did! How was my service today? Were you completely satisfied? How was your recruiting experience? What could we do better? Give us your opinion.

Here’s my feedback. Leave me the hell alone.

Trust me, if I’m dissatisfied, you’ll be the first to know. And if you fucked up to the point where I go all passive-aggressive and just never patronize your business again, I guess you’ll never know, but that’s your problem. (I’m talking to you, Eden Prairie Texaco station with the psycho cashier who literally threw a pen at me one morning like 15 years ago. I’ve never set foot in your place since.) Just do your damn job. You’d have a hell of a lot more time to DO your job as a business if you’d quit forcing your employees to force these stupid surveys, credit card applications and other bullshit on your customers.

I highly doubt the results you get from these surveys are statistically worth a damn anyway. Who takes them? Broke students who will do anything for a free meal? Housewives who have way too much time on their hands? People who are bored at work and need to kill time before 5:00? If the demographic you’re going for is people who have time to sit down and put serious thought into a survey, you’re not properly capturing your customer base. In fact, I know of someone who works for an upscale department store who gives the survey codes that customers don’t use so friends and family can go on-line and complete the survey so she can attain her quota every month.

Technology has caused corporations to focus less and less on what is important, and more and more on what is measurable, regardless of whether or not the number generated has any real meaning or not. It’s the reason that by the time I left my last “real” job as a corporate manager, I loathed surveys, statistics, metrics and spreadsheets with every fiber of my being. Employees are not machines. Neither are customers. Everything they do cannot be condensed into a number. You can’t quantify quality. You can’t quantify service. You can’t quantify creativity.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2012

What’s In A Name?

I don’t write much about my past life in the corporate world, but once in a while I talk with old friends, and we start reminiscing and trading war stories. I’ve had to lay off employees as well as fire them. It’s never a pleasant task. But my friend, who works for a large hospital conglomerate, has some of the best tales ever. I could go on for days.

One that came up recently was when she had to terminate a lab technician for, among other things, his temper, and his treatment of a co-worker. My friend, along with the employee’s direct supervisor, who are both women, asked another manager, Ted, to sit in on the meeting because they feared the employee might be volatile.

No surprise to them, he reacted angrily. Ted tried to settle him down by saying, “Tim. Tim, now just calm down. Tim…”

The guy looked up, and said, “My name is Ryan.”

Oh well. At least he calmed down.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2012

Out Of Tune And Off Pitch

I have a low tolerance for chronically negative people who refuse to lighten up. In a heartbeat they can suck the life out of a room and put a damper on anyone else trying to have a little fun or see the world in a positive light. I’ve been lecturing my kids on this topic for a few weeks now since they’ve been a whirlwind of negative energy anytime the topic of going back to school comes up.

One afternoon in the office we had a training seminar, probably about a topic that was too dull for description (I worked in the world of insurance, finance, and underwriting). It was a larger group of people from different departments, and many of us didn’t know one another. The facilitators began with an ice breaker, and asked everyone to introduce themselves, and in addition to name, rank and serial number, to name the best concert we’d ever attended. It made a standard roll call a little livelier and was good for a few laughs.

Everyone was having fun with it. No one was judging anyone for their musical tastes or whatever antics they may have engaged in (with the exception of the guy from my department who admitted to seeing a double bill with MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice). People named diverse, sometimes funny acts. The Doobie Brothers, Pink Floyd, Rick Springfield, Usher, Billy Joel, Alanis Morissette, AC/DC, Brooks & Dunn, Bruce Springsteen, Britney Spears, Chicago, Def Leppard, Garth Brooks, Jay Z, Weird Al Yankovich, some Dutch violinist, Guns N’Roses and Metallica, Bobby McFerrin, Pearl Jam, Harry Connick, Jr.

U2 360 Tour, Twin Cities - July 23, 2011. Probably my favorite concert to date.

Of course there is always one sour apple in the bunch. A prudish older woman, known for tattling on co-workers for being five minutes late back from lunch, and talking indiscreetly about her uterine fibroids, had muttered under her breath at the start of the exercise about how “stupid” it was. When it was her turn, she said with disdain, “The only concert I’ve ever been to is the Chicago Symphony.”

Ok, so you went to the Chicago Symphony. I’m guessing they are probably a decent bunch of musicians. Did you enjoy it? What did they play? I’ve been to the orchestra many times, and find it to be tremendously moving, did you feel that way too? Or were you bound, gagged, and forced to go, hating every minute of it?

I don’t think it was an age issue, because the people running the meeting said it was fun to compare our relatively younger group to the previous group who had mentioned Dean Martin and The Beach Boys. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what taste you have, if you can get excited about it. Maybe music isn’t your thing and you saw a hilarious comedian. Or you’re really into economics and saw a Nobel Laureate give a talk on the Laffer Curve. My parents aren’t at all into rock or pop music, but if asked I’m sure they’d be able to come up with a favorite concert even if it was seeing the U.S. Navy Band play at a high school gym.

I thought it was a cool idea because instead of recognizing Todd from Kentucky/Indiana financial accounting in the hall, it became, “Oh yeah, that’s Todd, the accountant who went to a Kiss concert when he was 13 and thought he wouldn’t make it out alive because people were puking and passed out in the aisles.”

So I guess the moral of the story is, don’t bring people down, and with just a little effort you can find humor or enthusiasm in anything if you open up your mind. Don’t be a dick.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011

Offices, Cheddarwurst And Traffic Cones

There aren’t many things I miss about going into an office every day, but hearing ridiculous workplace stories might be one of them. Over the years I’ve been eye-witness to all kinds of shenanigans from all types of people. At the time a behavior happens, you’re usually appalled by it, but it eventually becomes fodder for endless laughter.

Maybe there is a frumpy woman who farts every time she uses the copy machine by your desk. Or a strange girl you and your friends nickname “Sausage Nipples” because she walks around in skin-tight tanktops that leave nothing to the imagination. There’s the guy who brings a Tupperware container of leftover spaghetti to share for an office potluck lunch. And the woman who walks into a 7:30 am staff meeting with two giant cheddarwursts sticking out of a styrofoam cup, which leads to a comment from the out-and-proud pretty boy administrative assistant, “Don’t tease me!”

And no, I didn’t make any of these up. I couldn’t if I tried.

So maybe it’s because I lack any office drama in my life that the story I heard today just made me chuckle. Apparently there is a guy at my husband’s office who thinks he’s all that, even though he’s just a cube-dweller like nearly everyone else in the building. Barry is chummy with the head of building facilities and was having a cup of coffee with him one morning when he pointed to the guy and said, “That’s the guy with the cone.”

“What?” Barry asked.

Turns out the guy had his own orange traffic cone. Every night before he left, he’d take it out of his trunk, put it into his prime parking spot, and leave. The cone was there, and Minnesotans being the non-confrontational sheep they are, do not dare violate the “no parking” order implied by a cone, and no one parked in his spot. In the morning, he’d throw the cone into his trunk, park, and start his day.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.com

The facilities manager was annoyed by this, reported it to his boss off-site who said it was up to building security to do something about it. But the security team at the building was either indifferent or didn’t want to face the gentleman about it. So it continued. Barry’s friend became more and more irritated. So after he was tired of hearing him complain about it, Barry said to his friend, “We’re taking the damned cone.”

They took the cone and hid it behind a wall in the parking ramp. Now everyone parks in the spot and the guy gives Barry and his friend dirty looks when they see him around. I don’t know why, but that story just amused me to no end.

Happy Labor Day weekend to everyone!

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011