Getting harder and harder

To suffer the fools.

No, I am not looking in a mirror as I write this, although you would be right to say I should. But, suspending disbelief for a moment….

I am quite sure that the “social needs” we have can be represented on a sliding scale, a spectrum, and that some of us have greater social needs than others. If so, I am way down at the bottom of needing much social contact. This is not the same as absolute zero, forever and ever. But, at the same time, I don’t miss people when I’m not around them. I understand the need, both theoretically and practically; I just don’t feel the need.

So, I start from a position of not needing or necessarily wanting people in my life. No doubt this flavors the way I look at people, I mean as far as having any sort of relationship with them. Some examples:

Fantasy Football

Despite having grown up in a typical American household in which American football was an important part of life, as an adult I lived overseas for seventeen years and that pretty well cured me of having to spend every Sunday afternoon in front of the television. Shortly after having moved back here, a friend invited me over to watch football. It turned out to be him and his three sons and various hangers-on; about a dozen people all together.

It might be worthwhile to mention that, when I left these hallowed shores, the cell phone was just becoming something smaller than a brick that some people lugged around.

Honestly, it took me some time to wise up enough to be confused at what I was witnessing in that living room: everybody – and I do mean everybody except me and the dog – was spending more time looking at their cell phones than they were at the large flat screen tv. I had no idea why. If that wasn’t enough, their whoops and hollers and groans didn’t seem to sync with what I saw on the tv. I was a stranger, and this was indeed a strange land.

What was on the tv? Remember, I came from the age of one game at a time on the tube, with occasional references to some other game(s). I did not realize there is now something where the most exciting part of many games was being shown. Doesn’t say much for the game if you need, I don’t know, ten different games all patched together to hold the audience’s attention – this is not baseball, after all.

And so I sat there, sipping on my red wine in a room of strangers, wondering what they found so entertaining (everyone else was, cue the stereotype, drinking beer). And they were being entertained. Clearly, they were being entertained. I was scratching my head. I said nothing.

The invitation remaining open, a couple of Sundays later I went back. I finally felt I knew enough to ask what was going on. My friend very patiently explained the concept of “fantasy football” to me. And the “red zone.” Aha.

Now, I do enjoy football. I played in high school (I went to a small high school). I lived in a college town. My father played in both high school and college. Watching college football on Saturday (in the stadium when Purdue played at home; on tv when they didn’t), and professional football on Sunday. Later, Monday night. I just found out this week that there is a Thursday night game as well – have I finally joined the 21st Century?

But, this “red zone” thing where the broadcasting company scours the airwaves (really, they made contracts with numerous teams months ago) for the most exciting moments in, what to me are countless games. Complete with all the technical wizardry of this fascinating modern age and idiotic prattle of people who have never touched a football (RIP Frank Gifford). Well, ok, I can do this (though the Colts belong in Baltimore). Well, I think I can. Well, I thought I could.

But, but, “fantasy football”??? What, the “real” thing is not enough? And, at the same time? It’s almost enough to make me want to move back overseas.

Managers

There was a time when my goal, my only goal in life, was to join management and climb the corporate ladder. At the time, this was my goal at any cost – yes, those words exactly: at any cost. I wish I knew then that “any cost” meant my marriage. But, despite my sacrifice, I apparently didn’t bow and scrape enough; didn’t laugh at the right time; didn’t ingratiate myself to the right people. Something. I was lacking in something. An engineering degree wasn’t enough. An MBA wasn’t enough. A Marine officer wasn’t enough. I just couldn’t master the secret handshake.

But, in the 30 years with this company I have come to be grateful for not ever having ascended to the lofty ranks of “management.” Because, with just a handful of exceptions, I can’t say I’ve ever found a person that I had the least respect for as a “manager.” Perhaps I should be grateful, to borrow from Groucho Marx, that I would never join any club that would have me as a member?

I have frankly been astounded at what I have heard and seen. I have wondered how people can stay employed doing some of these things. Of course I know how the system works: people promote people who are like them, who share the same values, who laugh at the same jokes, but who are not threatening. And, once the incompetence is revealed (if it is), the person can’t be demoted or moved because that would be admitting failure. Oh, the horrors.

Yes, it’s true that I thought I had all the necessary attributes, and I wasn’t selected to join this hallowed elite, and therefore I am just full of sour grapes. That might be true, except that I am grateful that I was never a “manager.”

For starters, they are mostly well out of their depth, and that stress of trying to do something that they know they can’t must be enormous (assuming they are that smart, which is debatable in most cases). While no longer among the hoi polloi, being a lower-level manager is no wonderful thing: their direct reports constantly complain about things they have no control over. There are so many managers and levels of managers that you’d have to be pretty high up to think you were actually making a difference. And then, if you had any sense at all, you’d know that you had less influence on the day-to-day part of the business than your cat. The irony of the corner office with the large mahogany desk (LMD) and the ficus tree in the corner is the astounding lack of influence. Consider:

I work in a large office building. There are executives on the same floor I’m on. There are even higher executives, vice-presidents and such, on the floor above. Real somebodies from our customers visit. There are resident customer representatives with permanent offices in this building. There is a heliport on the roof. Half the elevators in this four storey building have been out for over a month.

It doesn’t help when the first level manager, who has not seen the football since the kickoff as far as the technical aspects of our products are concerned, wants to be everybody’s friend. He wants to slap people on the back too much. He laughs too loud. He contributes absolutely nothing in this very high pressure office. Mostly, he just gets in the way. But, according to his bio, he’s a damned sight smarter than one of the other managers. BTW, only one of the five managers can spell any better than an eighth grader. Yeah, that’s pretty snooty. Sorry.

What I need is a vacation. I miss my babies.

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