Monday, December 30, 2013

Rough Cut

I have at least one serious flaw in my personality which has been my bane since I reached the age of twisted reason. I find it far too easy to lay off who I am onto what others think. It's a logic drummed into me that states my own opinion is only relevant when I am totally alone, devoid of human contact. But that when others are present, who I am to them is all that matters as their view will come into play during every interaction I attempt. If others don't think kindly of me, they will not show kindness. If they believe me a fool, they will treat my words with contempt and my appearance with a lack of respect.

As most strangers first impressions of me are based on how I look, hearing that others consider me "scary" or "intimidating" is not a good thing and over time, leads my confusion to the door of self demoralization which results in either withdrawal or rage.

Obviously I have a handle on this pot of goo, but after near 30 years of understanding the trap, I've yet to close it and pack it away with the rest of my neurotic hubris.

I was 37, a titled, high salaried manager of 22 people and near million dollar budget. With the help of my peers, I'd turned a division of selfish malcontents into a creative team worthy of the adjective. After 7 or 8 months of my tenure, we were rockin' and producing a healthy profit rather than a net loss to the massive corporation that paid our freight.

Admittedly I was an odd choice; a man who showed up late and worked into the wee hours, wore jeans and t-shirts rather than suits, who smoked and sported a pony tail while riding a chopped motorcycle to work, and who had no post high school education beyond a trade school for wanna be disk jockeys. In fact I'd dropped out of 12th grade in my last tri, and only had a GED because it was required of me by dj school.

But as we thrust ourselves into the corporate light, we knew that expansion would be our ticket to permanence. We were the company's last gasp at management change and if we didn't succeed at bringing our group to a stage of competition worthy of its fortune 100 clientele, the 40 of us could pack our bags and go home.

In that light, my boss and I concocted a meeting between ourselves and upper management, to lay out a few monetary requests for necessary equipment that would make us stronger and far more profitable.

The biggest thing we needed was a "true" audio studio as I was writing custom music for our media and had no suitable place to record it beyond within overpriced vendor’s soundproof boxes. We knew that the big dogs would never approve the quarter million it would take to build from the ground up, so I had to be creative and develop a scenario that would be fairly inexpensive and still suit my needs.

I found a company that produced modular, soundproof rooms that were primarily used on college campuses as "piano booths"; windowed boxes with air circulation systems, just large enough to hold a piano (or other instrument) and student/instructor. That they were totally modular made it easy to build a room to whatever dimensions were required and while not perfect, would easily suffice as a makeshift studio and control room, and be pretty cheap to boot.

On my off time I drove to the manufacturer, 70 some miles from my home. They'd thought of an application for their product much as I described, but had never pursued the possibility; so they were as excited as I, and offered me a light discount on the package if I were to sign off on photos and interviews for their own future advertising possibilities.

I was well prepared as I shuffled off to my meeting. I had real costs based on a fully researched plan, we'd already purchased or otherwise acquired the audio equipment needed and I was fully capable of the installation with only the assistance of a laborer or two to help lift the ceiling panels in place. I'd already built two studios from the ground up and this one would be a comparative cakewalk. And our potentially being one of the first in the nation to use this technology for this purpose, gave us instant marketing potential beyond the actual discount offered.

I knew the social games...the proper language, the moderately expensive suit, the correct pucker for appropriate ass kissing. I had the plan and all its many pages of bean counter blather three hole punched into a personalized binder, covered by an artist rendering of what the final product would look like.

So as my immediate boss Jim and I entered the office of our "superior", I had no reason to believe that I'd not be taken seriously if not actually win the little battle of bowling for dollars.

I'd never met Mr. whatzizname, (a certain Mr. Ritchie as it turned out, a perfectly ironic name if ever there was one) so after the proper introductions were made we sat and proceeded to tell our tale of big bucks and happy days ahead.

I started with an overview of the product; a personal anecdote about having seen these "booths" in action in a space that held multiple students, each placed in his/her own box, all tied with switchable headphones to the instructor who could, at random, check on the progress of his charges and move to correct them when necessary.

The chump in charge interrupted my ramble in mid-sentence by leaning over his lovely desk, grin beaming across his reddened, chubby face as he said...

"And where was it you saw these things....St. Cloud State Penitentiary?"

I have no idea how long I sat in silence, but I do know what crossed my mind in the next few minutes.

I'd played this game by the rules. I had my 400 dollar suit and custom made Egyptian cotton shirt with gold tie bar and linked cuffs. I'd donned my 2k diamond ring and had swept my locks into the grasp of a fine, leather pony tail wrap. I'd taken a shower only hours earlier and had dutifully brushed my slightly yellowed teeth. I'd not yet uttered Fuck or Shit or any of the descriptive slang that might have crossed my lips on any other day.

Perhaps it was my receding hairline and the wisps of unruly silk that, try as I might, I can never lacquer to the top of my head. Maybe it was the beard and moustache, uncommon in corporate life but certainly not unheard of. It could have been the dark circles around my Scandinavian eyes, the broad width of my shoulders or my eighteen inch neck poking out from my enormous thread count cotton shirt.

Whatever it was, before I'd even spoken a paragraph of what would have been an hour of conversation, he had judged me to likely be a former felon by my appearance alone; and had made it clear that whatever I had to say would be tempered with his obvious, self-created and instantaneous prejudice.

I could have thought to resign on the spot with a hearty "fuck you and your little dog Toto too." Money has never been my primary motivator and the large amount they were paying me was not worth an ounce of my self-respect. But the reality was, this comment only served to add to my lack of self-respect and so quitting for that reason, while noble, would be silly. Also, I had my boss in the room as well, a man that had been more than kind to me over many years and had entrusted me with a position that no other on the planet Earth would have allowed me.

So on his behalf, and his only, I deferred my presentation to Jim; handing him my materials and letting him speak my piece while I tried to act unmoved and not at all enraged by the mindless insult I'd just suffered.

It was a fucking nightmare to sit there for the next 20 minutes as my boss made a case for what obviously wouldn't happen. It was everything I could do to not just excuse myself in some hasty fashion and leave the room to smoke and stew.

But in retrospect, what I walked away with from this "day in the life" was not that some people are assholes and perhaps I'd done the right thing no matter how inconsequential the result.

The phrase that kept rummaging through my weak-kneed brain was a note I learned long ago and have repeated ad nauseum as I've grown older and no wiser... "You can put a monkey in a suit, but it won't hide the fact that it's still a monkey."

This one incident didn't ruin my life, nor even affect me in some meaningful way on its own. But stacked with hundreds of other little sideways pokes it has served to make me more than wary of strangers hidden agendas, and more wary yet of the price I dole out to myself once they've had their fun.

It has more than once brought me to the verge of total withdrawal and has sometimes spurred me to write or speak volumes in my defense well in advance of an attack.

It has a good side I suppose. I have always been virulently opposed to prejudice of all stripes because I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of boorish logic.

But I'm not sure I'll ever conquer the bad side; the tendency to be overly suspicious and wholly self-effacing at the drop of an imaginary hat.

Back when my wife had been employed by a plant nursery which took yearly advantage of exchange student labor, I’d been to Linda's workplace perhaps a dozen times in four years where I’d wandered about in my hulky, short and sleeveless t-shirt way, admiring flowers and choosing shrubs for personal adoption. I'd attended a couple of summer parties with her coworkers, and had invited more than a few into my home for self-prepared ethnic dinners and long conversations regarding their homelands, being as kind as I possibly could to absolute strangers. But still, a number of these people have expressed their unprovoked (so far as I know) "fear" of me and I have to admit feeling entirely helpless to change their, or anyone else’s minds, not that it really matters in the end.

Somehow I need to get beyond my childhood training and let all this bullshit go, or if nothing else, finally discover why it is that I'm seen as an Ogre before I say hello. Nah, even Linda thinks I'm a bad boy and says so almost daily. At least she likes me in spite of my scary appearance.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry you're judged so unfairly. I know what that's like, too.