Work World: A Personal Odyssey and Observation

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In the beginning, there was—

Guitar World.

Guitar World is a faraway place inhabited by a people who come in all different hues, and congregate in little tribes with amusing names, and who do not worship the almighty dollar. What they do worship is immediate gratification. It’s a simple land made up of simple people. There is no affirmative action in Guitar World. There is no public assistance in Guitar World. There’s no Endowment for the Arts, no scholarships, no medical insurance, no dental plan, no unemployment insurance, no handicapped parking, no weekends off, and no holidays. What there is in Guitar World is macaroni and cheese. And booze.

In Guitar World you are valued solely for what you can contribute to the group and nothing else. Being nice, or being not nice, is not really an issue as far as the other group members are concerned. And no one really cares about the inner you. Which I’m okay with. Getting to know the likes and dislikes of your bandmates is not a priority on anybody’s list of things to accomplish on any given day. Even though you may belong to the same tribe, most people in Guitar World would rather not know anything about you. It’s kind of like being in Reservoir Dogs. Consequently the only personal criticism—unrelated to music—that you might be subject to would be your preference for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, which would be simply expressed with, “Geez, you drink that?” Any suggestions for better quality beer that you might appreciate would not be forthcoming since it’s a given that you’re hopeless and could never possibly change. But you play well.

On the flip side, and following on that last sentiment, any compliment you might receive, you’ll know to be sincere. And these compliments are given in the most efficient manner, most commonly with just the word, “Nice,” after you’ve done something musical that even surprised you.

And while your bandmates don’t care about the inner you, they do care about the outer you since you are an important cog in a machine that has very few parts, and consequently they will go out of their way to make sure you don’t end up damaged. For example, should you be shooting pool between sets with one of the locals who has a gardening shears at the end of his arm instead of hand, and the two of you end up in a heated discussion as to whether or not the cue ball—which you shot—made contact with one of his object balls prior to making contact with your object ball, you can count on your bandmates to leave their places at the group table and come up along side of you, in front of you, and behind you, and explain to your opponent in a very threatening tone that you’re both drunk and mentally slow, and apologize on your behalf while shunting you back to the table, calming you down with a supportive, “Are you stupid or what?”

One of the great learning experiences one will encounter in Guitar World is the art of compromise, particularly in the initial stages of one’s musical career when you’re young. Unfamiliar with all the citizenry of Guitar World, you’ll find yourself gravitating to anybody you happen know who wants to start a rock a roll band including someone who plays a bassoon. Also, in the early going it’s a rare thing for two people in the group to be equally talented and consequently you have to acknowledge the fact that somebody’s tolerating you as much as you’re tolerating their cousin who can only play maracas–and then only one at a time—but is in the band because they happen to own the P.A. system.

But things are not always harmonious as there is oftentimes discord. This is somewhat fueled by everyone’s natural born talent at being blunt. For example, a request for you to do something will never start with the traditionally polite, “Would you mind,” unless the intent is sarcasm.

While tensions and dissimilar personalities can cause the breakup of any band, more often than not this dissolution is caused by an evolutionary process based solely on talent. As time goes on, the initial “one for all and all for one” sense of compromise withers, and as musicians cross paths with other musicians, the cream of the musical crop gravitate towards each other and form bands like, well, Cream. Others who are not in that upper echelon gather together like bachelor elephants and end up playing in Pete Best’s wedding band.

I was very dutiful when it came to practicing guitar but somewhere along the way I started to drift away from it. I think it was when I realized my fingers had all the nimbleness of a steel-tined rake. And so I started writing songs. I wrote about a hundred. Unfortunately only two of them have words given my disinclination to emote, and the lyrics for those are only slightly less obscure than I Am the Walrus as I’m generally uncomfortable singing about my “feelings”. I’m fine singing about somebody else’s feelings and pretending they’re mine, but actual mine, no. I’m a Pisces. It’s our nature to suffer in silence. When faced with pain and heartache we don’t emote, we implode.

So I lived in Guitar World for part of my life. It had its ups and downs but overall I found it a wonderfully financially unstable experience. I have to say it’s exhilarating to have people crowd around you and applaud what you’re doing. Of course, people crowd around an organ grinder’s monkey and applaud what it’s doing too, so you always kind of have that in the back of your mind. In any case, I wasn’t good enough to spend the rest of my life in Guitar World which is why at the age of thirty I found myself in–

Office World.

Office World is much, much different than Guitar World. I mentioned that in Guitar World nobody really cares about the inner you. Not so in Office World. For example, in Office World you will always come across an old institution called “Tell Us About Yourself.” This usually takes place during a routine monthly meeting where a large section of the company is gathered to view Power Points of random numbers that nobody understands the relevance of, but which you are required to applaud anyway even if they’re bad because you’re a trained seal. But after that comes “Tell Us About Yourself,” along with your corporate badge picture up on the big screen for all to see. This is where you suddenly feel like you’re wearing only a loin cloth and standing on the floor of the Roman Coliseum. You hope this goes well. You assure yourself it will. Ha ha.

Should you be selected to contribute to this part of the meeting, there’s a few standard questions that you’re required to answer beforehand so that your coworkers will have insight into the real you:

The first question is “What do you like to do in your spare time when not at work?” Now, the thing you most enjoy doing in your spare time could be making papier-mâché hats for your collection of shrunken heads, and stating this will definitely provide personal insight to your coworkers while at the same time act as a beacon to those employees with similar interests. Unfortunately there’s only one answer you’re allowed to submit here and that is, “Hanging out with family and friends.” It’s important that you answer in this manner so that everyone is aware that you have family and friends and that in the event of some personal tragedy you may encounter, you have a support group somewhere, which lets your coworkers off the hook in terms of having to be concerned about you as well as concerned because of you should it turn out you’re some sort of unstable loner who already has three complaints in their Human Resource file and they’ve only been employed by the company for an hour and consequently probably won’t make it all the way to the end of the meeting. And security is on lunch.

The second question is always “What was the most important moment of your life?” You might first consider the day the pope’s car broke down outside your house and you let him sleep on the couch and in gratitude he made you breakfast the next morning and signed an official document authorizing your eventual canonization, but there’s only one answer allowed here too, and that is, “The day my child was born.” Actually, it’s not so much of what’s allowed as you having no other choice whether one is allowed or not. Somebody is going to say the child thing, and once they do, you have nowhere else to go. If people know you’re a parent and you don’t follow suit, they will assume your insertion of “My trip to Spain” is because your child has three sixes on the back of his head. This perception can be detrimental to your progression up the corporate ladder.

The last question is one that actually will allow you a lot of freedom of choice. This will be “What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?” Everybody in attendance gears up for the answer on this because they’re really bored and are hoping to hear something like “scraping barnacles off the U.S.S. Nimitz” or “joining the Forestry Department’s Teen Summer project and sewing zippers on trees.” Alas, everybody’s crappy jobs are pretty lame and it’s the same humdrum routine that all teenagers have to lend themselves to. But that’s not to say the worst job question doesn’t have a purpose. It most certainly does. The whole point in management having everyone at one time or another answer the “What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?” question is to see which employees say, “This one.” It’s all a part of culling the herd.

Another thing you’ll come across in Office World is “Team Building.” These are group activities that you’ve generally shied away from in your private life because you know there’s a good chance they’ll get you killed or hospitalized. Two things here would be walking on hot coals (which builds confidence) and falling backwards so that your coworkers can catch you (which builds trust). While nobody will tell you this is part of the rules, it’s important to note that you are allowed to say, “I’d rather not,” when it comes time for your turn. As a matter of fact, I think that’s actually the test, to see if you’ve got the intelligence and wisdom to not involve yourself in something this stupid. Keep in mind also that the long-term positive effects of these exercises are non-existent, and that even though your coworker might catch you as you fall backwards, that won’t stop them from filing a sexual harassment complaint against you next week when you have the temerity to say, “Hey, nice shirt.”

But Office World has its upside, like free health and dental insurance along with a bi-weekly paycheck. On the downside, though, if your company is not able to compete in the “dog eat dog,” “rat race,” “ferret festival” world that is American capitalism, nor is immune to national economic factors and downturns, your organization will crash and burn and you’ll be outside in a breadline. So if job security is what you crave, you’ll want to investigate Office World’s distant cousin–

Non-Profit World.

Yes! This might just be the place for you, because in Non-Profit World your whole reason for existing (raisin debt tray, as they say in France) is doing “good works.” Making money is not only unnecessary, but is actually frowned on. As a matter of fact, your organization’s hemorrhaging of money can be the sole cause for America’s international credit rating dropping from triple A to C+ and no one will give a hoot provided the political party that OK’d your budget for last year still holds a Senate majority this year.

And not only is your organization protected, but on a personal level you are too. For example, let’s say right after you got hired, you brought a Weber grill to work and set it up in your cube. You’ve since been warned on several occasions that you can’t grill barbecued chicken in your cube during office hours but you continue to do so. Administration now has to put their foot down. You will be called into the Human Resources’ office and told that the company feels they have to terminate you. Immediately after this is stated, your Human Resource person will ask, “Is that okay with you?” This then is your opportunity to reply, “No,” in which case nobody can do anything to you and you can return to your cube and put some corn on.

You need to be aware, though, that the people who run Non-Profit World have their limits in regard to your continued employment. Should you stop showing up forever just once, you’ll be history.

Diversity is very, very important in Non-Profit World, and due to the absence of evil capitalistic notions of what constitutes a successful organization, the positiveness of diversity can be installed and appreciated by all. It’s critical that there be a representation of white people, black people, Asian people, other people of color whose color is not in the Crayola Crayon starter eight pack, gay men, lesbians, gay lesbians, people married to other people of a different race, people who might be referred to as differently abled based on their inability to do things way better than others, people who are trans-gendered, trans-racial, trans-fat, trans-Atlantic, short people trapped in the body of a tall person, swans trapped in the body of a duck, and my own personal group and cross to bear–people who are Duane Allman trapped in the body of Buster Poindexter. Ideally you should have as diverse a group as possible, and if they all voted for Obama in 2012, that’s even better. It’s also very important to not just have a token representation of each one of these groups, for that would be shallow and transparently so; rather, it’s appropriate to have at least two people from each group so that each member of the respective groups will have someone to go to lunch with.

The one drawback to Non-Profit World is that you will occasionally come across a manager or administrator who seems to have been put there after having gone through what can only be termed as an “extraordinarily democratic process.” This is often the result of some capitalist business type up at the top of the food chain who’s got their squid tentacles sucked onto your little communist enterprise and is taking a self-serving, though seemingly broad-minded stand, for the purpose of winning the Man Of The Year Award from Time magazine, Newsweek, Guns and Ammo, Balloons Weekly, PETA, the Elks Club, or anybody who might be giving one away. While believing that “economic gain” is referenced somewhere in the Beatitudes and having lived his life accordingly, this person will nonetheless rationalize the installation of a squirrel as your superior based on the concept that “it couldn’t possibly do any damage since we’re not trying to make any money here anyway.” Which is actually not true–it can do a lot of damage–but you can’t really tell them that. Try it. Nonetheless, at least you’ll be able to identify this new person, after about a week as their subordinate, when you realize their decision making process involves a miniature roulette wheel that occupies the upper part of their head (you’ll hear the clicks).

Unfortunately I’ve found these folks to be the norm. But to all the other folks, who are not the norm, who are not just going through the motions of doing good works and who are actually trying to make a system work, I tip my hat. You can, indeed, win. The success of any civilization is dependent on its consideration of others, and not its gross national product nor the maintaining of stasis and buoyancy of self. A little more socialism in America, and a little more individual focus and effort by some to achieve it, would serve all of us well. And if I may, I’d like to help start this expansion by suggesting the Wallace Foundation pony up for an Endowment for Semi-Adept Musicians. Thank you.

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