Sometimes, being the office smartass isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Take today, for instance. I was in a meeting with a few people in our group. Our little pack included two women who’ve only been with us for a couple of weeks, so I was on my best behavior. Such as it is. I don’t want to scare off the new hires while they’re still in their probationary period, now, do I? That would be like a car actually being under warranty when it breaks down. Much better to reel them in slowly, before you sink the hook deep.
Anyway, they were discussing some protocol or procedure that had little to do with me, and was approximately as engaging as listening to Ben Stein recite the Magna Carta. In full. In the original Latin. Not the fun piggy kind, either. The old, dusty, ‘Et tu?‘, ‘Hail, Caesar‘, ‘Vini, vidi, snoooooooze‘ one.
“They could have been arguing about how to prepare and cut a peanut butter sandwich. And for all I knew for much of the conversation, maybe they were.”
So, I was zoning in and out of the conversation, waiting for them to circle around to a topic on which I might offer input, or have an interest, or prefer to counting the hairs on the back of my hand and humming the Mr. Plow jingle in my head to pass the time. But they were mired deep, deep in the details of whatever the hell it was they were talking about, so I dawdled and counted and hummed away.
After ten minutes or so of this, it became clear that there were factions forming on this topic of discussion, and things were beginning to get a bit heated. One guy, and a girl he works closely with, seemed to want things done ‘by the book’ — or better yet, by a new book that they were writing themselves, which included the old book, but also expounded on a number of other points, introduced new twists and cautions, and included an appendix laying out just how the first book was nice, but also entirely inadequate in just about every conceivable way.
The other faction, made of of three ‘in the trenches’ types, didn’t like the first book, either. But they weren’t having this newly proposed book. no sir. They seemed to favor no book at all, with a much more laissez faire attitude about whatever the hell it was they were starting to get upset about. They might be willing, grudgingly, to do things ‘by the pamphlet’ or ‘by the paragraph you might read on the side of a Rice Krispies box’, but ‘by the book’? Not having it.
(Let me assure you at this point that it matters not one whit what they were actually arguing about. On any matter, there are always those who want to see every ‘t’ crossed and ‘i’ dotted, with each letter firmly hugging the writing line without going over and no pen stroke astray or wasted. And then there are those who prefer to use crayons and unlined paper, figure you’ll decipher which bits are ‘t’s from the context, and you wouldn’t want them dotting letters anyway, because they’re more likely to use smileys or hearts or green freaking clovers than a simple spot of black ink. Or burnt umber, from the Crayola box of sixty-four.
These are the people on the two sides of the debate above. The details are frankly irrelevant. They could have been arguing about how to prepare and cut a peanut butter sandwich. And for all I knew for much of the conversation, maybe they were.)
As I sat, out of the fray and pushed back from the meeting room table, the proceedings reached a fiery climax when one of the guys in the ‘no book’ camp scrunched up his face at the ‘new book’ leader and sighed:
‘Look, we simply can’t go through all those steps every time. Can we be just a little less anal about this?‘
To which the ‘new book’ pusher retorted, and I quote:
‘Hey, a little anal never hurt anybody!‘
At which point, everyone in the room looked at me. Not at the guy who said it. But at me. All except the new girls, who had no reason to look at me — and certainly no reason to snap their necks around in my direction the first time ‘anal’ gets egregiously abused during a staff meeting. Still, after a couple of gawky seconds trying to figure out who everyone was staring at, they too wound up looking expectantly in my direction.
Except I was on my best behavior. Or something like it. Some reasonable facsimile that doesn’t allow me, in the presence of two ladies I’ve barely met and who have probably attended workplace sensitivity classes sometime in the past calendar month, to respond to the above statement with:
‘Ah, I bet you say that to all the girls.‘
Or: ‘Dude. How are you not on the hiring committee?‘
Or possibly even: ‘I know three girls, an ex-fraternity pledge and my buddy’s hamster who would beg to differ with you, there.‘
These are not things that you say in front of people with whom you have little history, and are expected to look directly in the face five days a week. That’s what my ‘best behavior’ book says, anyway. Though it’s really more of a ‘blurb’. Kind of a best behavior fortune cookie note. Still. On this point, it’s very clear.
So I said nothing. My eyes got wide, and I opened my mouth to say something entirely inappropriate, as usual. I thought better of that, shut my yap, and just looked back at the frozen crowd with a shrug and a sort of helpless ‘the brain is willing, but the body has been warned by HR about this sort of thing before‘ gesture. And after a long pause, everyone went back to arguing again. Which was fine by me and Mr. Plow.
Now what the hell do those new girls think? When a misplaced ‘anal’ halts conversation and all eyes swivel to me, what’s running through their minds? I’m somehow the resident expert on all things anal? Maybe I was a proctologist in a former life? I had a relevant but unfortunate experience in summer camp or Catholic church or as a fraternity pledge? I once owned a bowlegged hamster? I’m just an ass? What, dammit, what!?
I don’t know what they thought. I only know that I wasn’t a smartass, so that’s probably not high on their list of explanations. And that simply can’t be good. I can only hope now that the ‘anal’ talk stays at a minimum for a while, at least until we’ve all had a chance to get comfortable enough for wildly inappropriate zingers during work meetings.
Which might take an awfully long while. Both those girls have looked at me funny, ever since the meeting. And neither seems to want me walking behind them, for some reason. Looks like it’s going to be a long, long winter around the old office this year.Permalink | 6 Comments