Saturday, March 11, 2006

Now that Super Man Has Eaten Onions, My Very Elegant Mother Jane will Serve Up Nine Pizzas to ROY G. BIV


I hear it every time a new message hits my inbox, which, lately, occurs at least 100 times a day. It's a sound I have come to hate.

I could mute my speakers, but it wouldn't matter. I hear it long after I turn my computer off, when I'm driving home with the radio blaring, or in the shower with water splashing loudly around me. It overrides everything, a psychological trump card that invades my every thought during the day, and then, after I manage to drift off to sleep, it makes me snap awake, my heart racing, my lungs screaming for air.


It's not an unpleasant sound; it's rather musical, really, a friendly, melodic reminder that someone has sent me a message. But these are not emails that can be answered with a "yes", a "27", or a "Bismarck, North Dakota"; these are multi-layered, complex problems that require input from several people, lengthy brainstorming sessions, and pages of documentation.


I've come to hate Ken Lay. Never mind the fact that he is (was) good friends with George Bush, the most incompetent man ever to stroll the White House rose garden, whose moral bankruptcy somehow manages to dwarf that of the treasury he oversees. No, my real issue with Mr. Lay is that, like an immature fifth grader, he has, through his own immoral behavior, made life miserable for the rest of us.

Enron lost billions, and it seems Mr. Lay knew nothing about it. It was those meanies at Arthur Anderson Consulting, you see, who sabotaged his company, completely on their own, and he had no idea what was going on until it was too late. In other words, his dog ate his homework.

We all know that's bullshit. While this sabotage was going on behind his back, Lay was selling tens of millions of dollars worth of Enron stock, while advising his employees to hold on to it. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Similar events happened at Tyco, HealthSouth, WorldCom, and others, and it became obvious that CEO's can no longer be trusted to be straight with stockholders. So now, congress has to force them to. And thus, Sarbanes-Oxley was born.

What is Sarbanes-Oxley? It's a law which makes it a crime for corporations to lie to the public. And to prevent the "I thought I was telling the truth" defense, there are piles of new rules for safeguarding companies against tampering by outsiders.

Last week, I spent three hours on the phone with my CFO: We needed a procedure to prove that our payroll is not being tampered with between the time we submit it to the payroll company and the time we receive our checks the next day. I shit you not.

What does all this have to do with your perverted blogger friend Steve? My employer happens to be a public corporation, and therefore is subject to all provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley. And being the manager of a district office, I am personally responsible for implementing every new program required under the law. It takes me hours every day to deal with the details, and of course, my regular work doesn't go away.

I am lucky to be where I am, and I try to be thankful for my success every single day. But it's getting harder. I work 60-70 hours a week, and I struggle to stay five days behind. Sometimes I think about quitting.

I have always prided myself on my memory. I never used to write down phone numbers, and would easily recall details of conversations that happened months earlier. I used my memory like a tool, intimidating people by reeling off numbers and facts, impressing Tim by reminding her where we were the last time she wore that shirt. I would laugh on the phone with my brother, rattling off lengthy Monty Python quotes in a fake British accent.

When my mind was sharp, there was no limit to what I could do. I could relive important moments from my past, enjoying my memories like a virtual scrapbook, call out answers easily while watching Jeopardy!, and solve newspaper crossword puzzles. I could bang out emails while talking on the phone and answering a question for someone standing in my doorway, all at the same time. But work has destroyed that, consuming every available byte of brain space, overwriting "Cheese Shop" with "sustainable compliance" and "internal controls". At some point, it's going to be too much.

Bonnie will buzz me and remind me that I have a doctor's appointment, and five minutes later have to remind me again. I go for months without changing my oil and forget to have my cars inspected; I skip meals; I promise to be home at six and then, when I walk through the door at 10:30, ask Tim what her problem is, having no idea what her dirty look is for.

She has been great, though. She does my laundry and my errands, and makes me call her an hour before I'm leaving so she can have a nice dinner waiting for me when I get home, and sits across from me as I eat it. She's always eaten already, so she just sits, smiling, talking about what happened on Survivor or American Idol that night.

She cuddles up behind me in bed, locking her body against mine like one puzzle piece to another, running her hand over my chest, worrying aloud about how hard my heart is pounding and whispering in my ear that I'm home now, that there's nothing to be stressed about while I'm here. I know I sound like a pussy, but it touches me that I finally have someone who wants to take care of me, and who I trust enough to do so.

I don't dare complain to Dan Johnson. I know what he'll say: That he's working more hours than I am, that there are 20 men who would kill to have my job, men who are older than me and who have been with the company longer, that I should be thankful to be where I am.

He's lost his sense of humor, Dan. He's gotten meaner, older, less patient. He doesn't ask what I've learned today anymore; he just launches into a monologue when I pick up the phone, before I can even finish saying my name, hanging up before I have time to ask a question.

I used to be all about the money, the stuff, and the power. As I get older I care about those things less. For the first time, I don't want the most powerful job; I want the easiest one. I want to go home when the sun is out, power down my laptop on Friday afternoon and leave it off until Monday. I want to leave work on a Thursday morning and say, "See you guys next week!" I want to take a five-pound sledge to my PC when I hear that brain-eating da-dum sound.

And most of all, I want to remember again.