Archive for the ‘complaining about coworkers’ Category

Listen, don’t tell anyone I said this, but sometimes the worst part of my job is talking to faculty members. Not all of them, of course, but some of them, the ones who’ve spent their entire lives working in academia, the ones who view the entire world as their classroom, the ones who think everyone else spends their time just waiting to hear them speak.

If you can’t read between the lines there, I’m talking about the white guys.

I spoke with one of these guys earlier today, a guy with a theory about what happened last night, a theory that explains why Trump won. I observed that a lot of people have theories today, and he responded smoothly that, as a History professor, his theory was maybe worth a little bit more.

To tell you the truth, I was both looking forward to and dreading talking to this guy today. We’ve spoken many times about the election over the past year, and he, as a History professor, does indeed have some keen insights about political doings, even if his tendency is to express them in a way that I’m could generously describe as muddled, or ungenerously describe as designed to demonstrate his own intelligence rather than actually communicate. Interesting, to a point, but more interested in a receptive audience than in what someone else – maybe not everyone else, but probably me – thinks.

We spoke yesterday about the election, agreeing that Hillary winning was the only possible outcome. When I awoke this morning to the impossible, I thought back to a conversation we’d had over the summer, in July, about barbecues. Whose barbecue would I rather attend, he asked, one organized by Hillary Clinton? Or one organized by Donald Trump? Without hesitation, I responded “Hillary Clinton.”

This, it turns out, was the wrong answer. Trump would be the better barbecue, you see, because “you don’t know what he’s going to do.”

But Hillary, I argued, would be prepared for the barbecue. Hillary would make sure there would be adequate utensils, and napkins, and a crudites platter for nibbling while things cook on the grill. Hillary would have veggie burgers available, knowing some of her guests don’t eat meat. Hillary Clinton’s barbecue would definitely include watermelon, and beer, and games for the kids.

That Hillary Clinton would plan a barbecue that actually feeds her guests – including me – wasn’t a strong enough argument to overcome the  Trump-led spectacle, before the topic changed entirely to the racial aspects of watermelon, a conversation so reasonable for two white people to be having that I engineered an reason to excuse myself post-haste and returned to the desk. But I thought about the Trump-led barbecue for a while, because there was a flaw in the ‘spectacle’ argument, and as not a History professor, it took me a while to put my finger on it.

Eventually, I realized the flaw is that, actually, we did know what Trump would do. By that point, in July, Trump was entirely predictable. He would be his own true turd self, and while we may not be able to predict exactly how that would manifest, we knew it would be rude and vulgar and cruel, it would be entirely self-serving, and it would be filled with lies.

Of the many things I thought this morning, one of them was “Well, I guess [you] got [your] barbecue.” Followed by the realization that he would be in at some point today and we would try to dissect what had gone so wrong. Well, he would offer his dissection, and I would offer mine.

So after his theory, I offered to share one of my own. One of the strange things about the results was that so many women – white women – had turned out for Trump, rather than Hillary. How could this have happened?

Well, he interrupted, that was a problem he’d always had with Bill Clinton, the accusations from women.

I did not point out that Bill Clinton was not running in this election. Also, it should be noted that at no point did I ever ask for whom he’d voted. Instead, I pointed out that many women had accused Trump.

They had?

Yes, I insisted, a touch incredulous. I couldn’t tell if his disbelief was genuine or a misplaced pedagogical device.

It was genuine. He didn’t know that.

But you heard the Access Hollywood recording?

Yes, of course he’d heard that.

Afterwards, many women came forward to detail his assaults. I believe the last count was 14.

He hadn’t heard that.

It was in the news.

Question mark?

All over the news.

That, see, was the problem. He doesn’t get the news in the way you or I do, as a passive consumer. He has to seek it out, search for it, effortfully follow up on stories. This one, he missed.

He did not seem concerned about this. It seemed unfortunate, but, obviously, unavoidable.


And this is the problem I’ve had with today. It’s not the students in the Trump tee shirts that I have grudgingly held doors for, or the people with whom I strongly disagree. It is discovering that people – because it’s not just him; he came in to the library at the end of my long day of seething at the meme from the Bernie Bros – still in a snit they didn’t get the revolution that conveniently popped up right in front of them and that they’d fought so hard for for all of 5 months and so clearly deserved; the meme stating that had Hillary not rigged the primary, Bernie could have won last night,  tone deaf to the implication that women can only win by cheating, but also, somehow believing that this woman, who’s so clearly guilty of something that she’s been investigated non-stop for nearly 2 decades, and yet so wily that the charges never stick; that this grasping, devious woman would rig a primary and then somehow leave the general election to chance? Somehow, her long streak of underhanded wizardry fails just when she needs it the most, all so they can absolve themselves from the results that we all are responsible for, that we all have to live with, except them less than everyone else. This, from people I know, people I assumed were on my side, they have sold me out, don’t care at all that I might now starve at a barbecue – while others face so much worse – while they sit back, having been right all along, and enjoy the spectacle. The hardest part of today is coming to terms with the fact that it is not just the other side that lacks compassion; it is our team, too.

I’ve always considered it poor form to brag about things that don’t make me look stupid. Probably this stems in part from the same natural humility that leads me to write about myself online in the hopes that strangers will read it and adore me. However, I also like to believe that another root of my tremendous self-deprecation lies in a firm, and completely well-grounded, belief in my own competence; because I am a capable and intelligent person, expected, in addition to poor form, seems uninteresting to me, and, more importantly, seems like it would be uninteresting to you. Which is why, then, instead of a stream of unending mundanities, I try to share only the truly exceptional, such as the occasional profoundly stupid things I’ve said or done (which, interestingly enough, are very often related to transportation).

This, I’ve learned over the years, is not a guiding principal for how everyone operates. Indeed, it seems that there are many people for whom the everyday is a constant source of amazement, and a potential source of wonder and inspiration for others. And while I would be the first to agree that the very basic fact of existence is, perhaps, the most remarkable thing that could possibly have happened, I would also be quick to point out that the basic details of that existence are not so remarkable that they must be constantly remarked upon. Which is, of course, what I am in the very process of pointing out.

Despite the at least two episodes of Frontline and multitude of articles detailing how they’re just the worst, this behavior is not limited to the young people of today. If commercials are any indication of societal mores, and they obviously are, this behavior – at least, in the workplace; did I mention that’s what we’re discussing? – can be traced back to no later than the year 2000.

(I’m going to be honest here – this next part would be a lot more effective if I’d been able to find a video of the commercial I’m about to discuss online. Alas, despite this failure, the blog must go on, particularly since the stats on this site show that very few of you actually follow the links I painstakingly cultivate for your entertainment. Regardless: please trust me that this commercial did indeed exist, and also happened to be very funny. )

Inspired by the tidal wave of Dilbert’s success, marketing executives believed, if but for a moment, that the most effective way to sell soup was through trenchant workplace commentary. This spot, lost to both internet and history, revealed the many techniques that the coworker who appears utterly overwhelmed and far too busy to have any lunch other than soup you can drink directly from the can employs to convince everyone of that state of busy-ness, when, in actuality, said coworker who is always carrying a folder and responding to your statements louder and in the form of a question has very little to do.

There were a lot of really good things about this commercial, not the least of which was that, although no one had to actually work with this particular buffoon, anyone who’s ever had any job, anywhere, has worked with that guy. However, to make the commercial at least moderately successful in its profit-driven efforts, the coworker who would be irritating in real life had to be likeable; to achieve this end, the character of the coworker had to undergo two key changes: 1. He never actually says what he’s working on; and 2. He knows that he’s completely full of it.

It’s possible those two points are actually related; after all, someone who knows how full of hot air they are would, theoretically, at least, be unlikely to provide substantial detail of the efforts that in turns out they’re not actually involved in. But I say “theoretical” because, to date, I have found no evidence of this person existing in the workplace. On the contrary, what I have encountered manifests in one of two ways: abundant details about nothing, or – as mentioned at the outset, when this whole mess got started – a self-administered pat on the back or expression of amazement that work was done in the workplace.

As is probably self-explanatory, the abundant detailer will provide unnecessarily detail about everything they do. This often presents as a running commentary, as though to themselves, of all the things they have to do in the day, “all of the things” being, literally, all of the things. Such activities as going to their office, and carrying this upstairs will be listed separately despite the redundancy that their office is upstairs, and thus anyone could have intuited that by carrying that upstairs, they would be going to their office. While most things are of equal weight, the utmost importance is, obviously, given to somehow working in the walk they’ve got to find time for, although I’m sure that if they could manage without sounding ridiculous even to themselves to mention their need to breathe while speaking, that would shoot right to the top of the list.

What never, ever get mentions, however, is anything substantially related to work.  I suppose, if one were feeling generous, one could assume that the speaker believes it is implied that they will also be doing the tasks for which they are being paid, and that the litany of the mechanics of their day is simply to demonstrate how much other stuff they have to do, on top of the mountain of work they’re obviously doing. But, as we all know, the internet is no place for generosity, and so I call bullshit on that idea, that I myself just suggested, because if a person is genuinely believes their excruciating minutia of their own life to be fascinating, they probably have neither the time nor the mental energy to devote to anything else.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the person who finds the simple fact of doing work at their job to be astounding. Rather than an endless stream of tasks, this person will not only find it remarkable that they were called upon to perform a work-related task, but will also express a great deal of amazement that they managed to accomplish it. And, in some cases, this might very well be justified. There are certainly jobs where heroics are called for on a regular basis. And while some of these heroics might very well take place in an office type setting, it’s very difficult to take someone who emerges from a 90-minute meeting wherein they sat in front of a computer and discussed the layout of 1 individual web page that has zero life-altering implications for anyone anywhere in the world proclaiming that they were just working so hard seriously.

Which, I suppose, again, if one were to be generous, perhaps these things are challenging to these people. Perhaps a competency baseline can be located at different levels, and it should take a long time to write up a summary of a 10-minute interaction. In fact, you’d think I’d be on board with that example, what with this particular entry, which granted, is a summary of multiple interactions, took several days of writing, and several days of breaks, to complete.

I am not on board with that.  Which is what makes these people unbearable in real life, as they do regularly expect accolades for their accomplishments, unlike our charming fellow in the soup commercials who just wants to get through the day without anyone noticing that he’s doing nothing. Worse though, is that, as in the soup commercial, it seems like it works. And that is the trenchant workplace commentary no one expected.

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, not every topic I think about writing about makes it into this blog. Usually, it’s because I’m just lazy and never get around to writing about something, but there are other reasons – or, as some might call them, excuses –  for why a topic will be cut. Of these “reasons”, the most common is that, although I’ve come up with a killer punchline, I can not for the life of me gracefully reverse-engineer the rest of the joke; other times, I’ll actually start writing something, only to realize that it’s not actually all that interesting; other other times I’ll start writing something only to realize that the contortions I’d have to go through to get to the ostensible point would render the whole thing unreadable (that’s the Romantic in me, what with my reach exceeding my grasp); sometimes, I briefly think that I shouldn’t get too complainy about things; and then finally, we come back to lazy and are confronted with all the posts I just never got around to writing.

As we greet the new year, I could resolve that I will, this year, definitely blog about all of these topics. And not just these topics, but any new topics that should occur to me. After all, what is a resolution for, if not to be broken? Instead, I decided to start the new year off with a favorite old stand-by – the list – and just present, all at once, and in no particular order, those topics that I really thought I had something to say about, but did not, and why it originally occurred to me.

Ready? Here goes:

True Detective : this show is so good, but the best way to watch it is the binge. Otherwise, you may use the time between episodes to come up with crazy and ridiculous theories, forgetting that True Detective takes place in the world, and then be disappointed to learn that Carcoza is not some mystical revelation but simply the name bad men gave to the place where they did bad things, when you should be utterly creeped out by exactly how bad those men were. Other points that would have been made : McConnaissance? Yes. Absolutely. But don’t overlook Woody Harrelson; his role is less showy, but I think it’s actually the more difficult of the two, since he has to get you on his side while being utterly oblivious to his own many failings. Plus, his joy at seeing his family in the final episode will completely break your heart. Also, big ups to the director for letting us know exactly how awful things were without ever showing us, and to the writers for turning the simple word “flowers” into something again unseen but unquestionably terrible, as well as for tricking everyone into thinking this show was a murder investigation when it really was just a chess game to get Rust and Marty back together.

True Detective, season two : I am excited, but I have concerns. Primarily casting-wise. Taylor Kitsch, please don’t get stuck in a Rust-lite role. Yes,  Texas forever, but not Riggins forever, even though we’ll always love Tim Riggins. We want more for you, is what I’m saying. I’m equally concerned about the chemistry among the rest of the cast. Plus, if it’s set in California, does that mean no more investigating the Tuttles? Expectations are high, but, as with Serial‘s looming second season, they may be impossible to meet.

Serial, season two : Seriously, what could be as compelling as Season 1? I worry. Also, what should I listen to, podcast-wise, before season 2, to keep myself occupied?

Mail “kimp” : the only reason this is funny is because “chimp” is such an easy word to recognize. However, in finding the “kimp” pronunciation funny, we’re all agreeing that “mail chimp” is a perfectly logical juxtaposition of words. It is not.

Rumpelstiltskin : Rumpelstiltskin should not be considered the bad guy in that story. Bartering for a baby aside, all he really is is a skilled, independent craftsman who expects to be compensated fairly for deploying his skill to benefit another, and who probably should have learned that, when you want to keep something a secret, maybe don’t write it into a song that you sing while dancing around a campfire, no matter how deserted you believe the woods to be. Also, is it really a happy ending that a woman who traded away her baby for a chance to marry the king gets to keep it? Particularly considering that the king the child’s father is so stupid that he believes a woman can spin straw into gold, and yet she comes from a family of laborers rather than nobility? And that the grandfather of the child is a greedy, grasping liar? Why is the child necessarily worse off with Rumpelstiltskin, again?

Things everyone seems to love on the internet that I do not : Oh my god, I hate The Oatmeal so much you guys! I’m not even going to link to it, it’s that terrible. People seem to think it’s funny, and I tried to, I swear, but it’s not funny; it’s mean-spirited mediocrity wrapped up in bright colors and oversized text. There is nothing even remotely paradoxical about a different species eschewing foods that we enjoy, there are zero good reasons to punch a dolphin, and if you engage the services of a sex worker, stick to the terms you agreed upon, you asshole. I can not at all understand why wonderful, intelligent people like this horrible, hateful site. It’s the Two and a Half Men of websites.

Other things I don’t like about the internet include : Patton Oswalt, Joss Whedon, Louis C.K; – Stop quoting these 3 yabbos all the time; other people say things that matter sometimes, you know? Especially about feminism – there must be a well-spoken funny lady somewhere who could provide some quotable perspective on feminism, right? And yet all I ever see are these 3 guys. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch, who, to be fair, does seem like a very charming individual, but the obsessive mania that he inspires is a little too much to take.

Star Wars, Dr. Who, and Nerd Culture : the widespread acceptability of nerd culture can probably be traced directly back to Star Wars prequels, the first of which (The Phantom Menace) was released in 1999. Because those movies are terrible, and universally recognized as such by even the most ardent of Star Wars fans, they put said fans in the position of being able to bust on the franchise even while liking it; it wasn’t uncool to like Star Wars, as long as you could still make fun of the prequels – those were the real nerds! Which doesn’t actually hurt anyone, because nobody liked the prequels. Although, I should confess that I did cry at Revenge of the Sith, which I saw in the theater; the montage where the Jedi get slaughtered was very effective.

Similarly, the relaunch of Dr. Who, which took place in 2005. I’ve never actually watched a full episode of Dr. Who, which I imagine to be just unbearably whimsical, but I did have to suffer through my brother watching the original series in the 70s and 80s. To me, this is what Dr. Who looks like, or this; intelligent, probably easily befuddled, a little old-fashioned even at the time – kind of like a British Indiana Jones, if Indiana Jones were a professor of theoretical archaeology who never left the safety of the university and always wore a sweater.

And then along comes 2005, and suddenly Dr. Who is this guys, who I can only imagine was free for the role because the new James Bond went to Daniel Craig. The new Dr. Who has clearly never worn a sweater in his life, much less a scarf covered in question marks, because that would be a liability in all of the bar fights he probably gets into. Subsequent doctors were this guy, who at least looks smart and not like a bruiser, but is also very cute and someone I would make out with, hard; this fellow here, who is not my cup of tea but I imagine appeals to the same sort who like the aforementioned Mr. Cumberbatch; and finally, this guy, who is at least appropriately old and could conceivably wear a sweater or scarf or any other garment knitted with question marks for warmth, but is again someone I would make out with, although this time more gently so as not snap his surely brittle bones. And, while I know that there have always been posters of Dr. Who for people to hang on their dorm room walls, I don’t imagine that they were ever supposed to be pin-ups; my understanding is that’s what the companion is for.

Anyway, the point of this was going to be that, while equal-opportunity ogling is always appreciated, as a people, we haven’t actually embraced nerd culture, we’ve appropriated it

Working life – I actually do still plan to go into a great detail on this topic. Primarily, though, the big lesson of this year is that having a boss who has no regard for their staff, be they a piece of garbage so devoted to cheating on his girlfriend (now wife, the lucky lady) that he thinks it charming to disregard when a woman says no, or just a garden-variety crazy person who must have been good at something to have failed upward to the level of Director yet shows no sign of understanding anything, is terrible under any circumstances. Co-workers everywhere, too, be crazy.

We had a tiny television on the table in the kitchen in my house in Pennsylvania. There was a special shelf we built into the wall, close enough to the ceiling that you had to stand on a chair to reach it, where the tv was placed when everyone was home for dinner, or if you wanted to see it more easily while you were at the sink, washing the dishes. But mostly the tv, which was actually a combination tv/am/fm radio, lived on the table; it was in front of this tv that I would sit and watch G.I. Joe and The Transformers while doing my homework, and it was on this tv, several years later (although fewer than I would want to detail), that my mother and I watched the 2nd to last episode ever of Twin Peaks, featuring the long-mentioned Miss Twin Peaks pageant (winner gets a free trip to the Black Lodge!), for which the contestants had been rehearsing for weeks, and which, once it finally arrived, moved my mother to proclaim boy, that David Lynch must really hate women.

I doubt there was any follow-up to this comment. In part because, as a senior in high school who had already been accepted to college, this fell squarely into the time frame where everything your parents say is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened. Particularly in a situation like this, where there exists the horrifying possibility that the ensuing conversation might be tangentially related to sex. But also all the time, and particularly in a situation like this, because it’s just so awful how they’re always wrong.

The error in this case was not that there might have been anything hateful about the Miss Twin Peaks pageant; obviously, a show that used the murder of the prom queen as the jumping off point to explore the secrets kept in a small town – including that said prom queen was a prostitute, and, in the immortal words of the lovely Audrey Horne, “had a sweet tooth for nose candy” – is not going to have a problem with women. The error was in thinking that, in that day and age – 1991, Saturdays, 9pm, suburban Pennsylvania – anyone might hate women.

Because that sort of thing didn’t happen; not anymore. Certainly, it had been a problem in the past, but so had polio. Feminism & Women’s Lib had been a powerful vaccine, spreading equality and understanding throughout society. My mother was a doctor, for pete’s sake; if, when she went to buy a new car accompanied by her husband, the salesman referred to the lighted mirror on the passenger-side visor as a “standard feature for the lady of the house,” well, that one salesman was an antiquated buffoon,  a decomposing carp buried in silt, occasionally giving off gas that would bubble up to momentarily disturb the still pond of sisters are doin’ it for themselves, and nothing more; certainly, it was no indication of a continuing societal norm to belittle and condescend to women. No.

And it didn’t change the fact that, over on the #1 show on television (which Twin Peaks, sadly, was not), charming as Cliff was, it was still Claire Huxtable who wore the pants in that relationship. And if I occasionally found her to be a bit strident, it wasn’t because she was overreacting to things or overly emotional, but because there was no need to yell; you’re a woman, Claire Huxtable : you have a right to be heard. It wasn’t until later that I discovered how much my right to be heard depended on who was doing the listening.

Recently, I received an email from a male coworker in which he stated that I was definitely “the superstar” of a group assigned to work on a particular project. This group – which consisted of myself and two other people, both male – had, even before that email, sparked unpleasant flashbacks to group projects in library school : meetings were difficult to schedule and constantly postponed; people didn’t have ideas, and most of the meetings that were held were spent silently marveling and how people were not using any of their time to work on this project. It was amazingly frustrating to see a fairly straightforward project, which, generously, should have taken no more than 3.5 hours, stretch over 5 months.

However, eventually, as it had to, work on the project concluded. And, even though I was not the lead, I can tell you confidently and completely without boasting that 98% of our conclusions had been entirely my idea. The proposal that we submitted was written entirely by me, even though at one point another of the other group members, stating that he felt like he wasn’t doing anything (which, I refrained from pointing out, might have been because he wasn’t), offered to take a pass at it; but, after a week it remained unchanged, so I finished it up. To be fair, he did create the images for the document, although he wasn’t able to go so far as to insert them into the document, so I took care of that. And the presentation that we did was a word-for-word recitation of the document I had written detailing my ideas.

I understand that being part of a group means that credit goes to the whole, regardless of how much might have been done by each individual person. And, I don’t even necessarily mind being the only person in the group doing any work; I do love to get my own way, after all, so if no one else is doing anything, then there’s a pretty good chance I’ll get what I want.

But the ‘superstar’ email made me angry. Because my first thought on reading it was boy, I bet he never would have said that to me if I were a man. I mean, yes, it’s unlikely that one man would call another a superstar in most professional settings. But even apart from that, had I been a man, the sender would probably not have felt the need to obscure the fact that he hadn’t done shit on the project behind a feeble compliment, or to charmingly suggest that I might not have noticed that I was the only one doing anything.

It made me angry too because, after all these years, I know there’s no way to respond to a comment meant to appease the little lady. If I point out that the bar for superstardom is exceedingly low, then I’m ungrateful and kind of a bitch. Or, worse, I’m reacting emotionally rather than rationally. If I suggest that other members of the group might contribute a little more, I get either excuses for why they’re busy, or some Eddie Haskell-grade faux-feminist nonsense about how I was doing such a good job they didn’t think I needed their help. Yet, if I accept the compliment, I reinforce the idea that, as long as you tell a woman she’s pretty, you can get away with anything.

But mostly it made me angry because it reminded me of the Miss Twin Peaks pageant. Because if I go back and watch Twin Peaks and discover that David Lynch hates women after all? I am going to be pissed.


Posted on: May 7, 2012

Last summer there was a new position created at the Illustrious Institute, and since I, had all gone as originally designed, would have no occasion whatsoever to interact with the people hired to fill this position, I got to sit in on the interviews. As my own job hunt had been not so long concluded, I felt no small amount of relief to be sitting on the other side of the table, even if, at the same, I realized with no small amount of panic that the hiring of somones new meant that I would no longer be the new hire and that the novelty of Amy was about to wear off, had it not already done so. However, despite my insecurities I was intent on hiring not someone who would only make me continue to look good; I focused, instead, on listening carefully to the candidates answers to make sure the person hired would, in the long run, prove to be the most beneficial for the Institute at large.

I kid! Obviously, I continued to think mostly about myself throughout the interviews. At first I tried to imagine how I would respond to the questions we posed; however, once I realized that had I undergone this round of interviews – which were far more, well, let’s say involved than my own – I never would have been hired, and thoughts of continued or fresh unemployment were depressing, I decided to switch my focus to what was wrong with the questions.

The first question with which I took issue was one to which we, from the first few candidates, got terrible, confusing answers that nearly derailed the interviews as the puzzled interviewee, well aware that their initial answer didn’t quite hit the mark, went on and on in an attempt to answer a question they didn’t understand. The spirit of the question is probably one that gets asked in every customer service type interview – how do you handle interactions with difficult patrons? – but because of our rather specific use of “escalate”, it made it sound like we were asking people if they ever needed to start screaming at or get physical with problem patrons, rather than if they’ve ever had to call for back up. On this realization, I took charge of asking this question in subsequent interviews, avoiding the problematic vocabulary word, and generating much better responses from the interviewees because of it, I am sure.

The second question that bothered me was one pertaining to email, and the reason that it bothered me was because the answer was very clearly “email.” How to keep up to date on the day-to-day goings on in the library when you work evenings? Honestly, in 2012 (or, I suppose, it was 2011 at the time) is there anyone who’s not going to mention carefully reading their email? It’s the way information is conveyed, regardless of when you work; I suppose someone who didn’t mention email in their response would have been weeded out right away, but they probably wouldn’t have been considered for the position in the first place, what with their application having been pressed into clay tablets using a stylus and then delivered by pony express and all. Not that we have any objection to cuneiform, mind you, but with the strict new guidelines determining what qualifies as a service animal and what doesn’t, an equine-based delivery service could cause a real problem.

I did ask, after one particularly contentious interview (fun fact: one of my coworkers passed me a note in the middle of said interview, eloquently stating “I think I may hate her;”), if the desirable answer to the question was, in fact “email,” why were we bothering to pose it; there was not a satisfactory answer to that, or any answer at all that I recall, but it was enough to convince me not to ask about the third and final question that struck me as less than fully utile : how do you deal with problem coworkers?

Admittedly, there is a greater variety of acceptable answer to this question than there is to the email question; however, the unacceptable answers to this question are all known – no one is actually going to answer that they have a terrible temper and will start screaming at their coworkers at the drop of a hat (which rarely happens inside a library); that they’ll seek out other coworkers who also dislike the difficult person and gossip maliciously – but also truthfully – behind the difficult person’s back; or that they’ll silently fume in the presence of that coworker before taking to the internet and starting a blog where they can eloquently chronicle the details of their overwhelming and completely justified dislike for this person.

However, despite the suspect quality of the answer, the question is not entirely without merit, it just needs a bit of polish; how you deal with difficult coworkers is less important, I think, than finding out who are the people you find difficult to work with. And, even though I am no longer the candidate being interviewed, I do know how I would answer that question:

1. People who think they’re the only ones who do anything – I haven’t had an especially varied job history, but I have worked with a lot of different people over the years, and through those people I have come to realize that the people who go on about how they’re the only people who do anything around here tend to have three very important things in common:

  1. They have a limited understanding of the overall functioning and goals of the organization;
  2. their position within that organization tends to be entry-level;
  3. they are, otherwise, almost completely full of shit.

Seriously : there is no way an organization of any size at all can flourish on the strength of only one person. There is a store in my neighborhood that all they do is sell pickles. That’s really it – pickles. And I guarantee you that, despite the serious hedgehog-like concentration on doing one thing and doing it well, there are a number of people involved in the success of that venture, and that if the person sitting behind the counter starting bitching about how he’s the only one doing any work, the Pickle Master (which is not a title I have verified but one I ardently hope is printed on a business card somewhere) would storm into the tiny storefront and hurl some raw asparagus in that guy’s face and yell “Oh yeah? Pickle that, asshole!” Because the Pickle Master is salty and has no time for your vanity and tomfoolery. And also because if you really think that the entire business is running on you, you’re kind of a self-involved little dink.

2. People who do nothing – despite the undeniable truth of point #1, the larger an organization is, the more likely it is to have acquired a little dead weight over the years, in the form of people who do nothing at all. My problem with these people is not entirely on principle; if you work for a large enough corporation that it doesn’t notice you’re taking them for a ride, good for you, I suppose. And the fact that you feel no pressing need to do something more worthwhile with your time than nothing means all the more for me to do, which can work to my advantage in terms retention and promotion, as well as life-long learning and other assorted goals.

What I do take issue with is that people who do nothing are generally not honest about it, and while I suppose you want to keep it under wraps from higher ups that  you’ve spent the entire day checking the weather and reading articles on Slate because it’s still 1998 and you spend all of your time indoors, I am not going to play along with the charade that you’re too busy to do something. Especially because, often, what you’re too busy to do is help patrons achieve their library-related goals, and you sitting around like a lazy lump of bog mud can give the rest of the library staff, most of whom really do want to be helpful, a bad name to the very people we’re hoping to help. So, to sum up, if you want to do nothing, that’s fine, but don’t get any of it on me.

Of course, those are not the only two types of coworkers I find difficult, but one thing I learned on the job hunt is that you don’t want to come across as too negative, so it would probably be good to follow-up with a word or two about the kind of co-workers that I do enjoy. The next time we have a round of interviews, I’ll put a little thought into that.

I’m sure speaking in generalities will be fine

One peculiar thing about the Illustrious Institute In Which I Work is that, despite the titular illustrioiusness and an undergraduate acceptance rate of less than 10%, the libraries of the institute, as well as most of its buildings, are open to the general public. Whether or not this spirit of openness is common among the Illustrious Institutes of the world, I can not say; having worked for only two of them, I can report only that, in my experience, about half of them share this spirit, while the other half do not. And while I am certain that this open-door policy originated for the betterment of all mankind, to help technology flourish and to serve progress in as democratic a fashion as possible and all of that, I am equally certain that the only tangible consequence of this policy that I’ve witnessed so far is an influx to the university library of people who would otherwise be confined to a public library.

We have a name for these outside users; as a group, they’re called Super Users (one of my very charming coworkers, a young person who just knows everything, lovingly refers to them as “bums;” delightful, that one) although, of course, each one has his or her own unique identity, which I recognize with a nickname hastily conjured up from the most obvious thing about them; thus, Larry David looks an awful lot like Larry David, while Crazy Cat Lady looks eerily like the Crazy Cat Lady from The Simpsons.

My favorite Super User, who has since moved on from both the library and the entire state of Massachusetts, was The Little Dumpling, so called because she’s small and round and soft-looking, and because I could easily picture her floating in soup. I did not take an immediate shine to The Little Dumpling; when she first appeared in the library last winter (coincident with my first appearance in the library), she had a terrible, hacking cough, which I am still mostly convinced will one day prove to have been the source of my eventual diagnosis of tuberculosis. Also she would take her shoes right off and just sit for hours, barefoot and cross-legged and staring at the computer. Although I did pity her poor haircut, which looked as though she were unsure where to stop trimming her bangs and so ended up with an accidental mullet.

After a few months, I began to notice that, while her cough was clearing up, the tragedy of her hair remained unchanged; though I want to be generous and believe that it at least began as an accident, the undeniable truth is that it has evolved and is now a purposeful mullet, a mullet of great deliberation. Yet, however bad her hair, or habitually bare her feet – which, it should be noted, were always immediately shod the moment she stood up – what really stood out about my Little Dumpling, what made me come to love her, was that she kept to herself. Because this is the thing about Super Users : they are, on the whole, a terrible pain in the ass.

The problem with the Super Users is a basic, and utterly misplaced, sense of entitlement : because they are allowed in the library, they believe, and behave, as though they  are the rightful users of the library. However, for all its openness, The Illustrious Institute In Which I Work (hereinafter referred to as the IIIWIW) is a private university, and the libraries exist to serve the research needs of the students and staff of the university. They do not exist so that otherwise unoccupied people have a comfortable place to access free porn on the internet.

Most of the Super Users do not, of course, spend their time watching porn. Most of them have projects on which they are working, projects which, to them, are of the utmost importance, and projects about which I, professionally speaking, could not give less of a shit. That may sound harsh, but remember : private university. If I worked in a public library, I would be delighted to hear any library user ramble on about the intricacies of an organizational system wherein everything is stored in clear plastic bags, but I don’t work in a public library; I work in a private library, and if you are not a student or staff, or your organizational system does not benefit student or staff, then, as I stood listening to you, tens of dollars would be wasted that could be put to use discovering organizational systems that do actually benefit student and staff, or explaining to them how to use the scanner.

Because the scanner, I have come to discover, is a perpetual source of difficulty for our Super Users, especially Larry David. What he scans is a mystery to me; other Super Users will scan sections of books or journals, since they’re not allowed to check them out. Larry, on the other hand, is scanning material he’s brought in to the library. Which, then, means that he could, in fact, take this material to a public library, and use a scanner that he is 100% entitled to use. However, as mentioned above, another quality inherent to the Super User is the belief that what they’re working on is of the utmost importance : they after all, can not be limited by what’s available in the public library (which, if you’ve ever investigated, is actually a very good selection of stuff); no, they require the Illustrious surroundings to do their work, possibly to effect their own Good Will Hunting or Lana Turner type discovery into superstardom, or possibly for other reasons that I can not fathom but will still chalk up to arrogance.

An even greater mystery than what Larry David might be scanning is why he has so much trouble scanning it. Considering the amount of time he’s spent in front of scanners, which stretches far, far back into the mists of time, you’d think he’d have it down by now, but no : always he encounters some kind of issue, and this issue he feels compelled to bring to the attention of the desk staff.

Only one time did Larry David ever come to the library while I was on the desk. No, technically, I guess it was twice; he was there late on a Friday evening, scanning away as I began the routine for closing the library. I’d never seen him before, and as far as I knew was a staff member (he does have a slightly professorial air about him; plus, he looks like a famous person, which automatically gives him authority), but still our first conversation went like this:

“What time are you closing tonight?”
“The Library closes tonight at 6.”
“[inaudible mumbling to himself]And what time are you working until?”

This last was asked in the hopeful way that indicated he thought, if I were going to be staying late anyway, I would probably just let him stay and continue scanning after hours. Oh, Larry David : you foolish optimist.

“Well, the library closes at 6; if you’re not done scanning by then, you can come back tomorrow to finish. We open at 1.”

In the spirit of customer service, and the mistaken impression that he was faculty, I did agree to let Larry David leave his flash drive in the scanner overnight so that the enormous document he’d scanned would be fully saved; after all, I was the staff member opening the following day, so I could ensure that it was only retrieved by its rightful owner.

The next day, before he came by to claim his flash drive, I learned that Larry David was not actually a faculty member; instead, he was a Super User previously known as Microfiche Guy, based on his tendency to use – and have trouble with – the microfiche; presumably he still resembled Larry David then, so why he was dubbed otherwise initially is beyond me, but it only took a little while to figure out that Larry David and Microfiche Guy were one and the same. Knowing his true identity changed very little for me; I may not have let him leave the flash drive, but that was a minor issue; if he didn’t come to pick it up, I’d drop it in the lost & found and consider the matter closed.

Of course, he did not forget to pick up his flash drive; he was there, right when the library opened, not just to retrieve the drive, but to scan more stuff. And this is when the trouble began. Because Larry David was on that scanner for the entire afternoon. He took a small break at one point to greet Colonel Mustache (about whom, fear not, much will be said in the future), but apart from that break, he did not move from his position in front of the scanner for 3 hours. Three hours in which he likely violated fair use guidelines, but more importantly, 3 hours in which a few students formed a line, waiting to use the scanner.

Even had it been only 1 student waiting, this would have been a problem. Because, as referenced above : private university. Students pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $55,000 per year to attend the Illustrious Institute, and while a portion of that is earmarked for food and board and, you know, classes and stuff, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly used to guarantee them immediate access to the scanner in the library. Or, if not immediate, then only waiting for other people who have also paid $55,000 to finish up with it. Waiting for Larry David, on the other hand, is not a line-item in the tuition, so I approached him and explained the situation to him thusly : “Students are waiting to use the scanner; you need to finish up.”

Despite my very clear statement, Larry was under the impression that an explanation of his extended use of the scanner was in order. His first scan, it turns out, hadn’t saved, despite the hour and a half he’d spent working on it, which he found extremely frustrating. Not frustrating enough to report to the desk immediately; just frustrating enough to try doing it again in exactly the same way but hoping for better results. Like Wile E. Coyote.

I, however, would not be swayed : “That is unfortunate that it didn’t work, but you have been on the scanner for 3 hours. Students are waiting; you need to get off.”

He expressed concern that I wasn’t taking his problem with the scanner seriously. Which, to be fair, I wasn’t. For one thing, he hadn’t reported the issue to me until I told him to finish up; had he really been concerned that the problem was with the scanner, rather than himself, he should have come to the desk an hour and a half ago when it first occurred; were it a legitimate issue with the scanner, I would have been very glad to hear about it.

For another, the pressing issue, to me, was that he was still on the scanner : “I will report the problem you experienced to the IT department, and if anyone else [gesturing toward assembled students] experiences the same issue, I will report that as well, but right now, what needs to happen, is that you need to get off the scanner.”

Do you think it’s self-absorbed that I only remember my side of the conversation? I worry about that sometimes. Although maybe in this case it’s because I had to say essentially the same exact thing 6 times before it finally registered with Larry David that my unsympathetic stance was not going to change, and that the only acceptable resolution to this stand-off he and I were having was for him to get the hell off the scanner already.

Which he did. He left the library quickly thereafter, and I am pleased to report that he has not reappeared in that particular library since then. He has, however, shown up in other of the IIIWIW’s libraries and, when difficulties with their scanners have lead some staff members to direct him back toward my library, his response has been “No, I prefer not to go there.” I take full credit for that.

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