I am surrounded in my work life by males exclusively. I care for each of them tremendously, and for different reasons. Each of them brings a raft of fine qualities to our world. Each of them is challenged by certain obstacles. Just like every other human being. Our work backgrounds could not be more diverse. The homes may be a little intimidated by the things I know how to do, and well. And they awe me with what they do that I know I'm not capable of doing. We just have different roles in the drama.
While David has been away, I've conducted morning huddle each day and the full-on staff meeting on Thursday. These gatherings are where we talk about the day's work ahead - what I gleaned from talking to the customer on the phone, what we ran into the last time we cleaned for this or that repeat customer, which vans or steam cleaning machines have issues, what product needs to be reordered and who did what last night. These are also the times when we air personal grievances or do a little hollering or give public kudos to one of our own who took a bullet for the team. In huddle, we rah! the Badger in his latest race and applaud the achievements of someone's child and ask about the health of someone else's mother. And before or after huddle, almost invariably, comes our version of the bedtime story - the blogs.
An entire culture has sprung up around the blogs. The homes now know the players and ask about them. "What's Tag got to say on either of his blogs?" "What's the Badger aiming his fine camera at today?" "What kind of mischief is Kass trying to draw you into, Les?" "Tell us about some of the new bloggers you've found." I read the blogs (they want to hear it aloud, not read it for themselves) and we cackle mightily, or react with sober silence or look at one another to say, "I have to go think about that for awhile. I'm not sure what I think/feel." They peer across my shoulder at the monitor. They ask me how it's done, how one adds pictures, how comments work. And now the homes want to give input to my blog! I've lightly tossed out the comment, "You know, you could have one of your very own. I'd help you." No one has taken me up on it. But they're decidedly curious and into these blogs.
I've written about Matt so many times, it led a woman friend to ask if I have a crush on him. What? No! It's just that he and I have a connection that is deep and electric. (If the reader wishes to learn more about Matt than I am going to write in this post, look for the label "Matt"). We are fascinated by one another. Matt has more IQ points than the law should allow. And yet he is innocent. Naive. Simple. Young. Things startle him. He's been around the block and has seen some of what the world contains. But it's as if someone took him around the world, showed him the sights, and failed to explain what he was looking at. He still possesses a huge sense of wonder. He is large and loud and blunt and hilarious and relentless.
Matt acts as my personal shopper at yard sales throughout the valley. He once located a solid oak dresser for me, sent a picture by the BlackBerry, fostered my negotiation with the seller through the BlackBerry and drove around all day with that dresser in the van like a passenger. The thing was so huge he could not see around it, not even to use the mirrors to drive. When he arrived back at the office that evening, he had to ask another technician to guide him into the driveway so he wouldn't be hit by another vehicle. He is full of surprises! This week he chirped me and asked, "Hey, Les, do you want a brand-new microwave, never out of the box?" Apropos of nothing. I wondered what was up, but I could hear his mother in the background, so I knew it wasn't a prank. "Ummm, sure. I've got the huge built-in one in good shape, but one can't have too many new, still-in-the-box microwaves, Matt." Where did he get the several microwaves he was handing out? Oh, it's very Las Vegas-y quirky. No, they're not stolen.
All right, so Matt has an up-and-down history with us. He was good and truly fired at Thanksgiving and we didn't hear from him for awhile. He stopped in one afternoon and spent hours with me. I commented to David that I sensed a difference. When he came to ask for his job back, David gave it to him with some conditions. He's succeeding this time, due in part (we believe) to a new addition to his life - a young lady with her head screwed on properly. She works and goes to school. She expects certain behaviors of Matt and gives him love in return. It's a beautiful thing. Alas, Miss Erin's parents retired and she was expected to move in order to remain living in the family home. Matt took a week off to help move the family to northern California. While staying in Shasta County, Matt encountered many signs for a political candidate for County Assessor-Recorder who has the same name as mine. This so fascinated the young man, it seems he nearly crashed the car every time he saw a sign. He has not been able to stop talking about it since he returned. I've finally said, "Matt, look in the phone directory of any sizable city. You'll find lots of people with my last name. And Leslie is a pretty common name among people of a certain age. In school, I always had to be Leslie M because there were other Leslies in the class." No. It's not computing for him. He knows the person who possesses my name and it's me and nobody else. Never mind that I've Googled that impostor in Shasta County and shown him her picture on the County government website. "Leslie, I think you're going to win, too, because you've got more signs out than anyone." OK, homey. It'll be a hellish commute, but once I'm elected, I shall do my best to serve the citizens of Shasta County. Yesterday, Matt chirped me from the van. He's loud when he whispers, and now he was shouting. I could hear Cesar in the background, trying to shush him. Miss Erin has had enough after 10 days away from her Matt. She's coming back to start a life with him!
We've drawn closer this week, the homes and me. We've laughed while delivering a week of stunning performance. But there's more. The homes got playful. They began to express some things that were funny to them and became a little creative and I like that because I've never seen it in them. One came up with an idea for a tagging blog that I may soon post. He thought it up on his own, too. Another asked if I had my camera at work. I did. He asked if he could take a picture of something he thought was hilarious and if I'd post it. I had to be diplomatic. "I'll post it as long as it doesn't completely mortify me." And so, I present the photograph that reveals my feet don't touch the floor when I sit in my chair. The good red leather Coach loafers just dangle in the air. This amuses them! Homey stretched out on his belly on the floor to take that picture, too. Everyone agreed that Matt and I had finally, officially, become twins this week, fostered by the many discussions about my upcoming election. "Hey, Les," came the request, "could we put up a picture that shows how much twins can look alike?" "Sure, guys!"
But it wasn't all fun and games. Something profound happened this week. Profound is a relative term and ours is a tiny little world, but profundity occurred. I am an efficient office monkey. I have perfected the art of the nearly paperless office. I sputter when David offers to buy us more file cabinets, because we're not going to collect any more paper here, thank you very much. I stand by the old administrative assistants' adage, "Touch every project as few times as possible." There has existed a cruel plot to mess with my sense of smooth operation. The homes, on every job they undertake, have to mess with a lot of numbers. Charges for various services, discounts, fuel surcharges, waste disposal fees. They are often hit with a counteroffer: "OK, you're quoting me $579.14 for that. Will you take $500 out the door?" Of course they will! No one walks away from a $500 job. The rub comes when homes start crunching the numbers, for the fuel and waste charges cannot be adjusted. Those belong to the company. The only movable part of the feast is the cost of their services. My men are not mathematicians. Not one of them. They radio in an amount they hope is pretty close to right on. Later in the job they sell a little teflon stainguard or pick up some tile and grout to clean and the numbers change again. Each time they call in numbers, I update several different tracking documents. When the numbers change, I update again. And again. And again. When the work orders come in at the end of the day, more times than not I discover that the numbers weren't correct in any one of the conversations. Last week I did the slow burn for the millionth time. We're busy now. I can't pat them on their heads any more and be their codependent. I took one particularly hideous job and counted how many reports and documents I had to adjust because the math was wrong. Again. 17 documents and reports. Literally.
It occurred to me while I was walking. A 10-mile walk in the dark before dawn allows one to solve many of the world's problems. I remembered something a wise person told me when Amber was a toddler. "Tell her what you want her to do. Don't tell her what not to do. She'll just land on something else that still may or may not be what you want her to do." Hmmm . . I do not suggest that my men are naughty children who need to be controlled. But maybe they simply don't know what I want or how to do it. In huddle I made an announcement I wasn't sure would fly. "I need everyone to get a calculator and a pen or pencil and some paper. Don't sit anywhere near each other and do not talk to each other. Although our golden rule is always to help each other out, this is a solo exercise. I need to find out your own personal stumbling blocks." I passed out a real, particularly harrowing math exercise. The one that I'd had to adjust 17 times. They got to see all the scritch-scratching on the work order and while they could easily visualize what the technician had gone through during that transaction, they didn't know how to sort it all out. "Your assignment is to provide me with three things: the correct amount for services, fuel and waste. If you don't even know where to begin, then man up and say so. I will give you a jump start." To my amazement, they were quiet and immediately started to work. No objections. No exchanged looks of pain. Justin spoke up after 5 minutes. "Les, I don't know the first thing to do. Looking at this paper with all these numbers just confuses me." Oh! OK. I needed to underwhelm Justin. We went into David's private office and after just a few reminders, he was able to get started.
That first day, a couple of them were successful at landing on the correct number. But that wasn't good enough for me, because those two were already pretty adept at it before I presented the challenge. The second day, another couple rose above the surface of the water. By Wednesday, they appeared in huddle with calculators and pencils without being reminded. By Wednesday, those who were feeling sturdy began to tutor those who struggled. "Are we going to keep doing this, Les?" "Yes, homes, because I believe the way we learn things is to do them. And then do them again." On Friday I looked around the room and I was touched by how much they looked like gigantic children, silently working. I'm not being humorous here. I expected to get grief for this, and they each took it seriously, just going down the path where I pointed. Today is Saturday. "No math exercise this morning, homes!", I announced. Oh. I detected a little disappointment. "But I have the mother of all evil for you on Monday morning." They perked up a little. And then I heard it. For you see, I always preface the exercise with some lecture and I debrief the exercise with brainstorming and free input from everyone. I've used new phrases and descriptors they've never heard before. Some of them are sturdy enough to say, "Please explain that. I don't understand."
So this morning we had an in-depth discussion about the day's work. I was asked about my 2-hour massage last night and reported it "the best one ever". The fact that I called a woman a bitch on the telephone yesterday was poked and prodded by one and all. This was big copy for two reasons. I do not risk losing business except in the rarest of circumstances. And I do not believe bitch is a word that should be applied to anyone. I had a lapse in my usual balanced affect. Troy chimed in, "She was really level and reasonable until she wasn't any more. The woman doesn't know her and couldn't see her, so she didn't know Les was about to go off. But I knew. I couldn't look at her or I'd have started laughing. And she called her a bitch in a really calm voice, too." They began to drift away and mill about. Two of the men were talking about one of the week's math exercises. And then I heard it. "Naw, dude, the value of the job . . . . " A wide grin slowly took over my face. For you see, Justin - the crustiest of them all - had just naturally spoken a phrase I had coined and explained. "The value of the job." I said I felt that something really important had happened to us this week, and they all said they agreed. A homey consensus. And that's when Mr. Crusty said, "Hey, we should have a potluck like other places do. Let's bring what we know how to make and enjoy a meal together!" We're going to do that, too!
In my ears right now: I consider it to be her best. I'm disappointed that she is terribly under-represented on YouTube.
Something that charmed me: I'm soon to go visiting. I'm very excited, and it seems Mother Badger is also looking forward to it. She's about to have cataract surgery, but before she does that, she's lining up the stores where we'll shop, and what would I like to eat? How about that chili relleno casserole (meatless)? Cesar is vetting my car for me as I will not have cell phone signal for much of my journey. It has been too long since I got in my car and went away for the simple purpose of seeing someone I care for and just enjoying one another's company. It will be warm near Phoenix and there's that marvelous cushy walking track made from recycled milk cartons . . .