Alternately intrigued and repulsed

Hanging in the ladies room at a restaurant where The Good Man and I eat quite a bit is the below:

It is “Gli Italiani si Voltano – Milano – 1954” by Gianni de Biasi.

The title means, according to BabelFish, “The Italians turn themselves”.

Here’s the poster (click for a large version)

I am utterly fascinated by this photograph. I first started looking at it closer, because my best friend and I are talking about a girl’s trip to Italy next year.

We’ve all heard the stories, right? Is this what Italy is all about?

I have no idea the story behind this photograph, but along with being totally can’t-take-my-eyes-off it intrigued, it also scares the hell out of me.

It’s so…visceral. The look on the faces of all the men… You are pretty sure you know what they are thinking. And she, dressed in white, little Red Riding Hood plunges, fearlessly, into the pit of wolves.

The guy to her left, with his bottom lip tucked into his teeth TOTALLY thinks he’s got a chance. I mean, that dude is pretty sure he’s going to score. Which makes me hate him.

The guy to her right on the scooter looks skeptical. Perplexed. Dare I say, scholarly? For that reason, he’s the one I’m into. I’d choose him.

I have no idea who the woman is or what she looks like from the front, but my god, that kind of male attention is both craved and rejected by women.

How can she be so confident walking into that? Does she possess the certainty of a truly beautiful woman? Is she actually terrified but hides it well? Is she an Italian woman and thus used to ignoring this kind of stuff?

It conflicts me. I’m not a feminist. It doesn’t make me angry like “she deserves more respect!”

But I’m also not an old fashioned gal either of the “boys will be boys” fey sort of excuse making.

I can’t quite cipher out what it is that gets to me about this photograph. But oh, it gets to me.

Things that they don’t teach in manager training

I’ve been a manager at my job for quite some time now. I think seven years at last count. So I’ve been through a lot. And yet, sometimes, I’m still a bit thrown by the curveballs lobbed by the folks who have the grand misfortune to report to me.

On Friday, one of my employees, a very hardworking and rather quiet girl came tearing into my office. I swear, if she was a car, she would have left black marks on my industrial carpet.

The employee looked at me with wide eyes.

“Is it ok if I go home?” she said, and paused…then tacked on…”I don’t want to barf here at work.”

I happen to know she’s three months pregnant and having a rough time of it, so I said, quickly, “Go. Now.”

She turned and peeled out of the building.

This got me thinking about back when I was first made a manager, and the anemic training course they sent me to.

They discussed “things you shouldn’t say” and “things you should say” and “what to do if you have to fire someone.” But never, never did they discuss “when it’s ok to let someone go home early because they are gonna blow chunks.”

I guess that’s where you have to rely on that ol’ manager gut instinct, hey?

Other oddball things I have experienced and was never properly prepared for:

Male employee spent all of our one-on-one session telling me, in detail, that he and his wife were trying to get pregnant and, to their dismay, had ended up having to resort to IVF. TMI. But wait, there’s more. We haven’t begun to TMI yet.

About a week later, he comes running into my office…”My wife just called, she’s at the doctor, she’s fertile right now, so I have to go give a…um….sample. I’ll be back in about an hour.”


“Just go!” I said, and to his retreating back, tacked on, “If this happens again, please just tell me you have to go to the dentist!”

Or the really, really good employee, like top notch worker, who felt the need to tell me that the only way she could deal with the stress of her job was that she and her husband would smoke a bowl as they commuted home from work every day.

“I’m thinking about smoking one at lunch too, this job is crazy.”

Well. Ok. *Technically* she’s doing this on her own time and off company property. And my employer at the time was pretty lenient about such things.

But still. Things I don’t need to know. Especially as the manager!

Also important to mention that managing isn’t just about direct reports, it’s about managing your own manager too.

So, in that same vein, at that same employer, I had a boss who delighted in telling me how much cocaine she did at her wedding. “It was the only way to get through it, I never really loved my husband. Still don’t.”

Oooohkaaaay. She only lasted a year at the job. Freak.

And the best was, not long after starting this newest gig, one of the ladies on my team had been out sick for a few days. I assumed the flu, a migraine, tummy upset. Whatever. I didn’t need to know. Upon her return, I simply inquired, “hey, are you feeling better?”

What followed was a long, detailed and gory description. Let’s just say…you can have a colon polyp burst and leave it there, mmkay?

You can’t unhear something, no matter how hard you try.

But, when all is said and done, I haven’t had to have the granddaddy of all uncomfortable manager situations. My dear brother-in-law has been subjected to this more than once. Poor guy.

We call it…the Stinky Conversation.

The one where you have to ask your employee to please shower…and use soap…because their coworkers are complaining.

Double ugh!

I’m telling ya, those fancy politically correct manager’s training classes do nuthin’ to prepare you for the real world!

Today: A Fable

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess…we’ll call her…Karenita. This lovely princess was married to the most handsomest prince in the whole land.

But unfortunately for our lovely princess, every weekday, she was required to go and toil away the hours at the Imperial Tower of Doom. Gray clouds swirled overhead while poor Karenita was tormented by her oppressors.

There was one oppressor who was particularly a thorn in the side of our beautiful princess.

See, our lovely girl arrives to work in the morning tired and in need of something for breakfast. The princess keeps some food in the Imperial Tower office ‘fridge, and also likes a spot of hot tea on the cold gray swirly cloud mornings.

Unfortunately for the princess, there lived in the break room a mean and nasty troll.

No really, this lady is like five foot nothing with a bad attitude and a chip the size of Texas on her shoulder.

For some reason, the Evil Break Room Lady can always sense when Karenita the Princess needs to have breakfast, and makes sure to hustle in there first, blocking the egress for our lovely girl to reach the ‘fridge.

While Karenita is there heating up her food, Evil Break Room Lady makes nasty comments about how people don’t clean up after themselves (despite the fact that Karenita scrupulously cleans up after herself) and self-importantly restocks the paper coffee cups (it’s not her job, by the way, she’s a very high paid executive admin) while dropping hairy eyeballs on the princess the whole time.

And then Evil Break Room Lady takes paper towels and cleans the countertops, sometimes pushing Karenita’s bowl out of the way while she does. Karenita finds this to be very rude.

It’s clear that Evil Break Room Lady doesn’t like Karenita, but Karenita doesn’t know why. The princess was raised to be kind and cordial and always says hello and thank you and excuse me.

Karenita believes that Evil Break Room Lady must be very unhappy with her menopausal lot in life, and all the hot flashes must make her cranky. Karenita thinks Evil Break Room Lady envies her still productive ovaries and plentiful estrogen.

The princess tries to be understanding, but it’s kind of hard when someone gives you the equivalent of the finger with her face every morning. Karenita is just trying to make it through the day.

The princess has tried to be nice, to make conversation, to say “yeah, it’s really bad when people leave water everywhere” but none of this works. Evil Break Room Lady has just determined that the princess is a lesser form of life.

And this doesn’t make Karenita feel very nice as she starts each day.

In other news, the nicest person to Karenita in all the Imperial Tower of Doom is the janitor. The janitor thinks Karenita rocks and will make it a point to wave vigorously from across the room and say hi.

Karenita likes Mr. Janitor. He’s a good man with a sucky job and he does it with life and verve and kindness.

So there’s hope. Maybe Karenita knows she’s not such a bad person after all.

And they all lived crankily every after.

Perception is a funny thing

As one part of the work I do, I have the honor of managing a group of ten people who run a help desk. They do phone and email support for people both inside and outside the company.

If you’ve ever worked a help desk, or known someone who has, you know that it’s really not a very rewarding job.

And to do it well is a major feat.

The team I work with was so well put together by my predecessor that I could sometimes weep at how lucky I am to step into a help desk team that hums.

Sadly, most of the people who work the help desk are contractors, and sort of viewed as the “lowest form of life” around here. People treat my team like their personal admins. Like they are dumb. And often worse.

But these folks endure, provide great support, and I’m proud to heck to be affiliated with them.

When I arrived, once they sniffed me out and decided I was ok, they gave me a hoodie sweatshirt that had our team’s name and logo embroidered into it. The median age of the helpdesk is like 25 years old, so the hoodies make them happy.

The one they gave me is like three sizes too big and makes me look like the unibomber. So of course I rather enjoy wearing it over my work clothes on these cold San Francisco summer days. It’s toasty, and plus I like identifying as part of my team.

This afternoon, wearing my hoodie, I went down to the first floor for a fro-yo break. While I was waiting for the elevators, I found myself standing with a group of executives from the European company that just acquired my own.

Four men, all in *very* sharp suits, middle aged, Caucasian, rich.

They looked me over, saw my sweatshirt, and gave me that warm-eyed condescending smile you give your grandmother when she tells you to have another slice of her over-salted, undercooked apple pie.

So at first I got a little ticked. I was thinking, “I should tell those rich fat bastards that I’m a senior manager and they shouldn’t be so quick to judge! I bet those d’bags don’t do any real work! My team works their collective ass off and you sit up there on the twentieth floor deciding who gets to keep their job and who doesn’t, while you cash your bonus check and drink Cristal out of your Mercedes!”

In other words, as they were judging me, I was judging them right back. Judging them from the top of their perfectly coiffed heads, right down to the cuff of their perfectly creased dark blue pinstripe suit pants. Yup.

They may have been looking down at me, but I was looking down at them right back. And we were all wrong in our assessments.

That knife pleat cuts both ways, now doesn’t it?