The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Lose

It was a day like any other in the asphalt jungle. I was still reeling from the departing supervisor incident, which had left a wound that was still a little raw. So it was with caution that I greeted the new girl at the Community Center – Nakita. She was a nice enough young woman; a tall, attractive African-American with an impressive pedigree. She was joining our team of therapists in the Preventive Services Program. Nakita boasted degrees from Rutgers and Columbia University, with a promise of acceptance to Harvard’s Ph.D. program. Wow! I thought. We’ve hit the jackpot here. But something just didn’t seem right. Don’t brilliant women wear polyester pantsuits? Don’t brillaitn women match their handbags with their shoes? Aren’t smart women humble and self-effacing? Nakita was none of these things. She was almost “chic.” If her mouth ran any faster, it would end up in New Jersey. In fact, it was all about her. I smelled a cute little rat.

Sure enough, after the usual inquiries were made for her school credentials, Nakita disappeared. For three days, no one could reach her. It wasn’t until later that we learned that Nakita had lied about everything. She was caught trying to bribe a secretary at Rutgers. She had no degrees, no invitation to Harvard. No polyester pantsuits. She was a total fraud. We learned later that she’d finally caught up with her mouth in New Jersey. I felt vindicated, since all of my co-workers had accused me of jealousy when I’d mentioned my concerns. I was happy to see that my “phony-detector” was working. My happiness was short-lived, however. I ended up with Nakita’s entire caseload. Another lesson learned; life is definitely not fair. I went home and threw out everything made out of polyester.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my misadventures at the community center, I wasn’t making squat. I needed to find a job that paid more – after all, I had my son’s Tae Kwon Do and my daughter’s ballet lessons to think of. So a friend helped me get a job nearby at a Foster Care agency. It was here that I earned my Ph.D. in Office Politics. I should have know right away that I would have a hard time of it, when one of the caseworkers looked me up and down and slammed the door in my face. Hmmm. It seemed like a strange greeting.

A word about the pecking order should be mentioned here. It exists. Everywhere. Here, it was clearly set in concrete, and the sooner I learned it, he better. There was the “Head Honcho.” He happened to be the one who helped me get the job, so I was already off on the wrong foot. Then there was the “Big Cheese.” She’d been working there since 300 B.C., was older than God, and could bite your head off with one smooth motion. Fortunately, she liked Hershey’s kisses. Next was the “Top Tomato.” She was sleeping with the “Head Honcho.” I knew better than to mess with her. Let’s not forget the “Office Marm.” She was the only one who knew exactly where everything was, so if you pissed her off, you could forget about ever finding paper for the copy machine. Needless to say, I was near the bottom of this totem pole. In fact, I was kissing concrete. It was clear that I would have few outlets for my frustrations, so what was I to do? I had to take it out on someone. It was usually the cleaning lady, or my computer. Or my bulletin board. I would sometimes be found with my fingers wrapped around a biological parent’s neck. I was only human. Let’s just say that by the time I left that illustrious establishment, I had trashed my office. Take that, Office Marm! Consider my Hershey’s kisses adequate compensation.

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Sticks and Stones

Let me tell you, real life is stranger than fiction. In all of my years in the workforce, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that there were a lot of people in serious need of “help” out there. There is a saying that truly applies to people I’ve worked with – “birds of a feather flock together.” Employee “assistance” programs are designed to allow employees to get a little help for free, as it were. Considering what psychoanalysts charge these days, it’s nothing to sneeze at. I’m proud to say that I’ve undergone my fair share of therapy sessions. Without them, I would have had to turn in my “Native New Yorker” membership card. Let’s fact it; when it comes to sheer numbers, there are more analysts on the Upper West Side of New York City than anywhere else in the world. It is something that truly sets New York apart – that, and the grand opening of Fairway.

Not that leaving the city changed the picture in any way. I operated under the delusion (and I possess many) that things would “calm down” when I moved to the country. Of course, my definition of “country” consisted of the presence of at least 5 trees per square mile. At any rate, nothing could have been further from the truth. Here I was, moving to a town with a total population of 8,000, give or take (which I believe encompassed the dog population, as well). I quickly learned that, alas, there are no geographical boundaries separating those who are in need of “help” from those who don’t. In short, you’ll find nut-jobs everywhere. If this doesn’t come as a surprise, then you’re a lot smarter than I was when I arrived here.

By now, I’ve amassed a humongous amount of hard evidence to support this claim. Trust me when I say that there are more neuroses, phobias, and syndromes than you would have ever imagined. Many will never be listed in the DSM-IV (TR), the therapist’s bible. If what you suffer from doesn’t appear in the bible, then you’re merely “eccentric.” This is often used to describe the rich and famous, but people who live in cardboard boxes and who can play the cello like a concert master might fit right in, too. Remember, “nut-case” is not listed in the DSM.

I didn’t start out wanting to help others. I started out normally enough, after all. Teething at 6 months, walking by the time I was 10 months, my first birthday part, etc. I was a cute, chubby, happy baby. Of course, it didn’t last long. I later learned (to my amazement) that I was a pretty good student, which led my parents to conclude that I would be a brain surgeon. Alas, this was not to be, so they settled for a science nerd. And boy, did I work on it. I’d volunteer to work in the high school biology lab, dissecting whatever I could get my little paws on, and putting it under the microscope. But somehow, my heart wasn’t in it. What clinched it for me was the earthworm dissection. I mean, come on! It’s an earthworm, for God’s sake! What did they expect to find in there? By the time we got to dissecting Kermit, I was out of there. I went off to college to major in biochemistry (rocket science being taken), and I proceeded to piss off my professors with my inane questions. It was enough to make me break into hives.

A word about graduate school. I found it fascinating that so many girls were enrolled in Social Work school, which mainly served to help them find a suitable husband from the Business School across the street. In fact, it would have seriously boosted the school’s enrollment if they had combined graduate school with a dating service. Why not charge students for something that they already engaged in for FREE? It made no sense to me. Students would have paid serious money for a minor in Dating, with courses like “Men are from Harvard, Women are from Yale”, “The Art and Science of Coitus”, and “Eyelid Batting 101.” The University Chapel would have had more work than they could handle. I don’t know why the Dean viewed my suggestion with such disdain. When I think back on it all, it’s a wonder that I survived school at all.

Published in: on February 13, 2011 at 12:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sane people need not apply

If there’s anything that strikes fear in the stoutest heart, that can turn the strongest, most courageous soul into a babbling fool, it’s the JOB INTERVIEW. Let’s face it. Nothing in life could have prepared me for this experience. Not labor and delivery. Not divorce. Not Kafka. It’s a strange and unique experience, not unlike the Fun House at Playland – only a lot less fun. Here you are, looking into the eyes of a total stranger whose sole purpose in life is to break you, like a young stallion; to weaken your resolve; to make you question not only the job you’re applying for, but your own sanity. I truly believe that somewhere out there, there’s a special Boot Camp for Interviewers, from which only the strongest emerge to inflict pain on the unsuspecting interviewee. From that point on, you can do no less than to march to that individual’s tune. I’ve been on the receiving end of this interview process many times, and I have the battle scars to prove it. Here are my observations.

I believe that Human Resource Departments everywhere use the same basic formula when determining how to choose the best employees. It’s about as simple as quantum physics. There is, however, a method to heir madness. After all, who wants to hire an individual who is totally unsuited to the position? Who wants to deal with frivolous lawsuits, stolen pencils, and other inconveniences? No one goes in WANTING to employ prima donnas or former axe murderers. With that in mind, they begin by honing their skills in the fine art of reading BODY LANGUAGE. It’s like this; while you’re sitting there in your borrowed suit appearing to be cool, the person on the other side of the desk is watching all the stupid moves you’re making. What moves, you say? Well, there are a few that come to mind that are considered to be definite no-nos;

1) There’s the simple handshake. We’ve been told that it should be firm, and that tenet still holds. Who wants to experience a handshake that feels like you’ve just caught a dead fish? A handshake with an elbow grasp is tricky; it could be perceived as being too earnest. The handshake should also be brief. The interviewer’s arm should not be mistaken for a pump handle. Nor should it be squeezed like a cow’s teat. Need I say that a handshake should be palm-to-palm? No high-fives or other perceived gang salutes. Now that I think about it, there’s nothing simple at all about it, is there?

2) There’s the hair-flipping move. Nothing annoys an interviewer more than having to watch an otherwise attractive, well-dressed, composed female constantly flipping hair out of her eyes. What does this mean? Is she going to the wrong hairdresser? Did she forget her hairpins? Does she have a permanent neck spasm? Unlike Tom Hanks in “Sleepless in Seattle”, these are NOT questions that a prospective employer wants to deal with. They might be kind, and say something like “By the way, you might want to see your shrink or your hairdresser. I don’t care which.” But chances are good that this young lady just won’t get called back for another round. If you’re a guy, there’s the hair-twirling move. Same results. (Does “trichotillomania” ring a bell?)

3) Makine eye contact is important when you’re on an interview. However, you should avoid the piercing stare. Similarly, one should avoid staring contests. They can be perceived as intimidating. Staring down your prospective boss is not a good thing. Looking down on your interviewer is also a bad idea, so whatever you do, sit lower in your chair. By all means, avoid squinting, beady eyes, or showing them “the shites of your eyes.” Remember, they are trained professionals, so don’t take them on.

4) By the same token, sucking up is generally not well received – unless, of course, you are hoping to get a gig on “The Apprentice.” While humility is generally a nice attribute, the boss might not take kindly to hand-kissing, foot-kissing, ass-kissing, or any other kind of kissing, for that matter. He may actually be a nice guy. He may not be an ego-maniac. He may prefer someone with a backbone. Besides, it’s gross.

5) Then there’s crossing body parts. Crossed arms, crossed fingers, crossed legs (unless you’re Sharon Stone), and crossed eyes, send the wrong message. It conveys that you’re closed and uptight. That you’re wound too tightly. And while this may, in fact, be true, you sure don’t want your interviewer to know it, so loosen up.

6) Never let them see you sweat. ‘Nough said.

7) Avoid tapping moves, whether it be pencil-tapping, foot-tapping (unless you’re at a dance audition), or teeth-chattering. The same applies to incessant eye-blinking. This leaves the interviewer with the job of having to figure out whether you’re a Nervous Nellie, a person with a neurological problem, or just freezing to death. Would YOU want to figure out which one it is?

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 2:03 am  Leave a Comment