Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Back in the saddle

I hate coming back to the office after a long absence.

Yeah, it couldn't be helped. But I really cannot exaggerate how much work I have on my desk lately. And it's pretty disheartening to think that, along with the usual emergencies that crop up each day, I've got a week's worth of reports to review, department heads to meet with, turf battles to resolve, and messes to clean up.

I never thought I would say this, but thank God for Dom. He is a gifted manager, and I already know that I can trust him not to miss little details. Not much gets past him. He's been picking up a lot of the slack since I've been out.

I have been pretty tough on Dom. Every time I get an idea for a new project, I hand it off to him, much like Ross did with me. And like me, Dom never says "no". It's always, "We'll find a way to make it happen, Steve." I like that. Ever since I leaned into him the first day, Dom has been polite and respectful to me.

Yeah, I like him.

I guess I can see why he was angry at not getting Ross's job. I still think I was the right choice, but Dom has been with the company longer, and has worked very hard. In his shoes, I would feel the same way.

Whenever I have been out of the office for more than a day or two, I like to come in on the Friday before I am due back. The later in the day the better. Things tend to be pretty quiet, and it's a great time to clean out my inbox, e-mail, and voice mail, so I am not inundated on Monday morning.

It's Friday the 24th, and I finally make it in around 5:15. I've got over 200 e-mails. I really think I need Bonnie to start opening and sorting my e-mail for me, as crazy as that sounds.

It feels good to be back at my desk. I feel....better! For days now, I have been craving my routine. There is something comforting about knowing that my company is still here, my office is still here; that I can occupy my time with a long list of phone calls to return and knotty employee problems that need to be untangled fastidiously, like a kid's shoelace. This place will help me occupy my time.

I manage to clear all the faxes and memos from my desk. I get some wood polish and give the desktop a good cleaning. Now, I'll be ready to get started quickly on Monday morning.

I look out my window at a squirrel picking up a piece of bark mulch and nibbling on it. I like watching things like that.

That squirrel needs to gather food for the winter. That's pretty much it. The squirrel doesn't care whether I answer my voice mails or not. It calms me down when I remember that the world is a place bigger than my office building.

On Monday, I have to call Dan Johnson. It is time to come clean about Lila.

The more I think about it, the more I think I will be ok. It only makes sense. It would be disastrous to fire me now. The staff is just getting used to me, and then we are going to make another change? And what would the board of directors say?

There'd be weeks of damage control. Another person would have to be hired, or promoted, to fill my job, and there'd be a domino effect as five or six people would be shifted around to new positions, each one getting terribly behind while learning the ropes.

This promotion, and all the personnel moves that surrounded it, was complicated business. I don't think the company would do it again unless it had to. And something tells me that my and Lila's situation is more prevalent than I first thought.

But none of that matters. I have to assume that Ross told Dan. And, that being the case, I had better confess to Dan before he confronts me. Screwing around with an employee is bad; keeping it a secret is worse. And even if I tell Dan now, it's true that I've been keeping this quiet for months. He's probably not going to be happy.


Monday the 27th, 9:05am. It's time to get this over with. I call Dan Johnson's office.

"Hi, Claire. May I speak to Dan?"

"Steve! Hi! Sure, just a minute!"

I listen to the same 30-second loop of cheesy electronic music about 7 times in a row. It sounds like it's being plinked out on a kid's toy piano. Why do I suddenly crave instrumental, clarinet versions of Bette Midler songs?

We have the same hold music here at my office. One day, I'm going to surprise the shit out of everybody and swap out the nursing home-lobby muzak with "Pretty Hate Machine" by Nine Inch Nails.

"Steve, Steve, Steve," Dan says. "What, my friend, have you learned today?"

"I can't learn anything before 9am," I say. "Union regulations, you know."

"Don't mention that word," Dan says. Yeah, we have problems with unions from time to time. "And it's 9:15, anyway."

So I started the conversation on the wrong foot. Great. No matter, though; it's going to get worse.

"Dan, there's something I need to tell you."

"You're sleeping with your secretary," he says.

Ahhhh, you gotta love that Ross. Just as reliable as that atomic clock that loses about one 10,000th of a second every billion years.

I don't like stuttering or stammering. I think it makes me look weak. I try never to use disfluencies, like "um," "uh," "er," "well," and so on. It really does make a difference when you avoid them. Remember that!

"Yes, Dan." I say emphatically. I also don't like saying "yeah" instead of "yes".

"And you figured that Ross told me about it, so now you're telling me before I tell you. Right?"

I pause. "Yes."

He sighs, then pauses for a long time. "Haaaaaah, I remember the first time I fucked a secretary," he says wistfully. "It was 1984. Her name was Trudy. Only Trudy I've ever met, before or since. Who the hell names their daughter that, anyway?"

"Dan, I-"

"She had big, nice tits. Nice and firm," he continues. "And she had one of those beehive hairdos. Don't you love those beehive hairdo's, Steve?"

"Did you say nineteen EIGHTY-four, or nineteen SIXTY-four," I ask.


So bascially, Dan, you were fucking Kate Pierson from the B-52's.

"Dan, listen," I say. "You have to know that this wasn't something I planned..."

"Oh no, of course not," Dan says sarcastically. "None of us ever plan it. It just happens. Right?"

Uh, yes?

"I suppose," I say.

"Yeah. Well, if I had a nickel for every executive who was fucking an employee, I would.... I'd need a wheelbarrow for all the nickels."

"So you're ok with this?"

"NO! I'm NOT ok, Steve! It's a huge potential liability for this company! But I can't object to something that I don't know about."

But he DOES know about it, I think. Ahhhhhhh, wait a minute. It's the "I know nothing, I see nothing, I hear nothing" defense!


"Just be careful, Steve. Don't be stupid. Don't let it out in the open. If it gets out, I'll have to address it. Until it does, I don't know anything about it."

"Thank you, Dan."

"For what?" I can hear the smile in his voice.

"Nothing," I say.

"I do have one question, though," he says.

"What's that?"

"Does she have any sisters?"