Wednesday, July 30, 2003

This Barney is Going Down

The hierarchy of control where I work is a little nebulous, but to cut to the chase, the guy I'm talking about today is basically the boss. This guy is a bull in a china shop, and over the years I've worked here, I've watched his sense of entitlement balloon from Donald Trump size to, oh, Attila the Hun size, both in personal sense of self-worth and hoped-for size of conquered territory. He spends more time here in the building than he used to, and his new thing is to micro-manage and bully the workers into a constant state of loathing and near-mutiny. Which is really saying something, because I really used to like the guy.

He's tall, heavy set, has a lumbering stride which is belied by his disproportionately short arms, and which makes his stride seem more like Barney with a cigar than that of a powerful leader. (I have a theory that men who need to have a large brown phallus hanging out of their mouths for most of the day are compensating for something, but I digress.) As a matter of fact, some of my co-workers have taken to calling him T-Rex, due to the short arms and large body thing. I suppose that sounds pretty mean, but trust me, this man has done nothing to inspire the sort of trust and respect that true leaders hope to cultivate amongst their workers. I further suppose that it goes without saying that no one from inside this building considers this guy to be a reasonable boss, much less a decent human being , even though he talks a good enough game that most people who don't have the misfortune of working under him think he's the guy who invented the bread slicer.

Probably the only person who works under him who thinks that he's special in any way, also works VERY CLOSELY UNDER him, if you get my drift, and has done so for years now. We used to think that it was just a nasty rumor, but now they have become so blatant about it that even outsiders casually comment on the fact that they are screwing around. I wouldn't give a flying fuck about it, especially since if their respective spouses don't seem to care enough to do anything about it, but their relationship has drastically altered the work environment here for the worse. Not only do they back each other up on every fake tiny little detail, but no one dares complain about how little work his chippy actually does around here anymore, because Barney there is the only one to complain to. Fat lot of good that would do, complaining to him, right? She spends most of the day going out with him on mysterious errands, taking 2 hour plus lunches and taking lots of time off in the middle of the day, coincidentally grabbing her purse and needing to "go out for a while" right after getting a phone call from him. Hmmmm. It's obnoxious, because she is the first one to jump down everyone's throats about requesting time off or if you make a small mistake like a typo, but she's gone so much of the day that she doesn't get any of her own work done, and it backs up the whole place. How she dumps on her assistant is another post entirely.

Rather than get into a long, involved story of all the petty politics and personal nastiness that has built up to this nadir of affection for the man, I'll just share yesterday's weird moment of rudeness. But first, a little office culture background.

My co-workers are not generally in the habit of eating lunch together. We do take turns going out for the morning coffee, but we don't get a coffee break, so we just basically drink the coffee while we work at our desks. Chippy and Barney usually buy each other coffee, and will sit in the large meeting room chatting for the better part of the morning. Only if Barney isn't coming by until much later will Chippy get coffee with the rest of us, but she has NEVER taken a turn actually going to the store for it, nor have the two of them ever offered to get anyone anything from the store when they get their own coffees, so it's tradition that if he's around, neither of them join in our coffee or lunch gatherings.

Come lunch time, a couple of us usually go home for lunch, a couple eat lunch brought from home at our desks, and the others buy lunch from some nearby stores. Only on birthdays and on the rare times that we are guaranteed the majority of the day without the Chippy, will we get together in the small meeting room and eat take-out food together. Well, yesterday turned into one of those days, and four of us decided to order Chinese food.

Since Chippy was going to come in late in the day, Barney actually had a moment of decency and let her assistant go home for lunch, and he answered her phone until Chippy showed up. When Chippy rolled in, the rest of us were all still eating our Chinese food, and Barney happened to lumber by the open meeting room door, towards his traditional spot in the larger meeting room. He stopped to complain about the fact that we had ordered Chinese food and that he was starving, and how cruel it was that he had to walk by and smell that food. I guess he was trying to joke around, whining that he would have to go out and get some lunch for himself now, but we pretty much ignored him. Why should we go fetch his damn food? He would never offer to do the same for any of us.

Well, my friend Cathy left the room for a moment, to deal with a problem in our office, and Barney walked past the room again. Only this time, he came in, sat down in Cathy's chair, said hello to the young woman to his left, and within seconds, grabbed the waxed paper bag on the table that had Cathy's egg roll in it. Before I could even think of something to say, he yanked the egg roll out of the wrapper, broke off almost half, shoved half back in the bag, and then rose out of the chair, starting to eat "his" half. We just sat there in disbelief as he left the room. And you should have seen the look on Cathy's face when we told her what happened.

The unbelievable nerve of this guy. He was so pissed off that we didn't go ask him if he wanted something and then fetch his food, that he decided to show us all who's "boss", and come take what he wanted. I know that it's just an egg roll, and in the scheme of things, this is such a tiny thing. But the symbolism of the action absolutely outraged me. It's just the egg roll on the camel's back, if you will. Treating people like they are simply vehicles to get what he wants will come back to him some day, mark my words. If he keeps talking down to people, bullying them, belittling them and shoving his weight around, some day he'll do it with the wrong people. And I really won't feel sorry for him when his comeuppance becomes clear. Because this cigar-chomping dinosaur is heading for disaster. He is just one nanny-cam tape away from having his whole world collapse on his head, and when it does, I'll join in the conga line over the rubble.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Well, It's A Bouncing Baby Tumor

"Cancer." It was the first word that popped into my head when I woke up. It wasn't the first thought, exactly, because first I had the fuzzy realization of where I was and that the cat was next to me and that sound was the alarm. But miliseconds after becoming conscious, that word was in my head, as clearly as if I'd said it aloud.

Seconds before I open my back door, I can spy through the curtains on the door and see the person on the top step. When J comes over, there are three things he might be doing. Sometimes, he is adjusting his hair, especially if he's just had a hood or hat on. Sometimes, he has a rather neutral expression on his face, and he stares blankly at the top step, until he hears me fiddle with the lock, and his face brightens into a smile. Other times, he's looking around the back door area at the usual jumble of things piled out there, like gardening pots and watering cans, or junk that's on it's way out to the curb, and he's thinking of how to use these things as props and make jokes when I open the door. Only yesterday, I saw a different look on his face as I approached the door, and even though he smiled when I opened it, I felt something was wrong.

It was faster than I'd expected, since they'd said not to expect to hear results for 7-10 days. But it was exactly the news that I knew was coming.

The day of his biopsy, he was very brave about the whole thing. We went back to that stupid office with the sailboats everywhere, and the navy blue furniture (that I've now discovered with tip over with the slightest provocation, providing much needed comic relief while waiting for some nasty procedure to be done to your loved one). When we first sat down, a nurse led some unfortunate soul by the elbow out into the waiting room, and he seemed like he was completely incapacitated, stumbling and mumbling his way awkwardly through the doorway. At first, J and I shared a glance, and I knew that we both assumed that the guy was under the influence of the same anesthesia that J would be getting. I thought, "Holy shit!", no wonder they want someone to drive you home!

It only took seconds of watching this scene to realize, though, that it wasn't any sort of drugging that was his problem, but that he had some form of retardation. And God forgive me, I had to stifle an urge to laugh, not because the poor man was retarded, but because I was so relieved that his obvious problem had nothing to do with the procedure J was about to have. And you know how when you have the urge to laugh at a moment that is really inappropriate, that it makes it all the more difficult to stop yourself from laughing? Well, I was in that special hell right then. I glanced at J, who immediately picked up on my problem, and then he was in the same position, stifling the urge to laugh at MY urge to laugh. As a distraction, I picked up a pamphlet on female incontinence and asked J what he thought that was doing in an office devoted to male problems, and he looked at me like I was asking him his thoughts about the national debt, as if he cared at that moment. But when he realized that I was just trying to distract us both so we didn't laugh, he found that even more amusing. We looked away from each other and composed ourselves.

He was actually in pretty good condition after the procedure, but he was so uncomfortable, feeling as if he had a pin-cushion up his ass, as he put it. I knew that he was getting nauseated from the car ride, but we made it to his house okay, and after getting his bearings, all he really wanted was a nap. I'd brought a book to read in case he wanted me to stay around for a while, but he asked if I wanted to nap with him. Since I'd taken the whole day off, I had nowhere else I needed to be, and nowhere else I'd rather be. Still, I was surprised that he wanted me around, since he's always been the type to want to curl up in his cave and be alone when he's sick, and I'm just the opposite - I want someone to let me sleep next to them while they watch tv, and they'll get me water and Advil or whatever when I need it. And when someone is sick, I want to make them comfortable without smothering them, so I look to the sick person for guidance what they need from me. I'd always had the feeling before that he didn't want to ask me for anything, didn't want to be smothered. Sometimes it's maddening, when I feel like I'm smothering so I pull back, and then he pulls me toward him. I want to sit him down and say, "Which way do you want it already?" But now is not the time to get into that with him.

I layed awake next to him for a long time and finally fell asleep with him. When we got up, we ate, hung around for a while, and listened to tapes of his old band which he was copying onto CDs for his old bandmembers. He kept apologizing for boring me, but he actually wasn't. I was relieved to just sit and listen, having something to think about and not having to make conversation. I was actually feeling very conflicted about how our relationship is going, since I know damn well how much I feel for him, but I feel I'm getting mixed signals from J about how he feels about me. I've been simmering about that for a while now, and now I'm scared for him and what the future will bring, and how hard this episode will be on us both. And it's just NOT the time to delve into relationship issues, even though I can't help but wonder if I'm making a big shmuck of myself in the long run, hanging onto someone who doesn't seem clear about how he feels about me. Oh well, I'm not about to even consider rocking the boat NOW, when he needs me the most, but not talking about it is weighing heavily on me.

By the time I left that night, I was pretty full up of conflicting emotions, and all it took was one big lightening strike above my car and I was bawling like a baby all the way home. I'm afraid of lightening, and I don't care how often people parrot back to me the fact that I'm probably safest in the car during a lightening storm, I'm still going to jump and scream when a huge bolt rips across the sky while I'm behind the wheel. It was the last straw, and the brave facade was wiped off my face in an instant. I cried myself to sleep, and cried some more in the shower the next morning. It actually felt good to get it out of my system.

Now that the prostate cancer is confirmed, J is being so level-headed and calm, I just wonder if the reality has sunk in. I don't think it has. And I was proud of myself for not crying or freaking out when he told me, especially since he's already thanked me for NOT freaking out, and I know that keeping the distress to myself is better for him. But really, I think I got all my mourning out that night in the car. I already knew then that he had cancer, and that the cure and the aftermath are going to be tough. And I know that the reality of the side effects of prostate cancer treatments are going to be really rough on a male ego, and I'm anxious about that. And to be honest, I'm wondering what this is going to mean for our sex life for the next few years. Years. Jesus.

Don't get me wrong - I'm glad as hell this is treatable, and really really thankful that he has health insurance and a good support system. But that doesn't mean that this doesn't really suck.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

The Stormy Sea

There were images of boats everywhere. Two photos of sailboats were on the wall across from us, and there was a horrifically ugly bronze wall hanging sculpture to the right, messily painted over in spots with what almost looked like white-out and nail polish. Between the light grey walls, plain navy blue-colored vinyl seating arrangement in the waiting area, and the boating motif, I figured that this was someone's idea of properly manly decor for a urologist's office. I have to say that I agreed with him, because I found it singularly unfeminine, even the area the female receptionist/nurse sat in.

J sat in the waiting room, next to the scary display of pamphlets with men smiling out from under titles about bladder control and erectile dysfunction, and calmly filled out the paperwork they gave him. Nothing in his face betrayed nervousness about the series of indignities he was about to endure at the hands (literally) of the urologist and his nurse in a few minutes. Although, that is not an accurate way to determine his internal climate anyway, since he often hides his more frantic emotions. I pretended to be interested in the issue of "Biography" I'd found there, but I was really worrying about what the doctor would do to him/say to him.

I'd gone on the internet and printed out a series of good articles about enlarged prostate, what it could mean, and the potential treatments, just so he would know what to expect. Also, so that I could learn more about it, since I had to admit that I was pretty ignorant about the role the prostate plays, and when and why it would enlarge. It seems that most men experience this in later life, so if he were, say, 65 or so, I would just think of this as fairly routine. But as a man of 47, already with a history of colon cancer, I am very concerned. These things should not be happening so early in life. I looked up at the sailing photos and wished that they would provide me with some sort of comfort, some hope that this wasn't happening.

I can't remember what the waiting area looked like when I went with my friend Lydia to the doctor that fateful day when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn't really expecting anything significant to come of her exam, and it didn't seem like a potentially momentous day. Just another insignificant cyst, is what I expected the doctor to say. It wasn't until other doctors were called into the examining room to take a look-see, and the biopsy was done on the spot, that we knew that things were going very badly. I clearly remember sitting with her in the doctor's office, where they left us alone for a moment, crying over the news with her. That news was the very worst in a series of bad breaks for her.

Perversely, surviving cancer was one of the few things that Lydia and J had bonded over during their very tense first meeting. J's bout had occured just previous to my having met him, and Lydia was already on the way to having had several years cancer-free at that point. Having been by Lydia's side during her cancer ordeal was quite an overwhelming experience. It made me realize, among other things, that I have the capacity to be strong when someone I love is in trouble. I just hope that this remains true, because it looks like I will be watching another loved one suffer through the pain and lack of privacy that cancer brings.

The urologist came out of the office first, and J followed behind, stopping to wink at me, but his face told me that something wasn't right. I heard the doctor tell the nurse to set up an appointment for a biopsy the next week. J was still acting brave, even making a joke with the nurse that had just helped examine him that she had just seen his best side. She hooted at the joke, which I'm sure was most unexpected comic relief after such an exam. I was proud of the way he was handling himself, figuring that he really must be so upset inside.

When I finally got a chance to talk to J in the car, we agreed that between the blood test results, the physical exam results, and the distinct lack of encouraging words from the doctor, we kind of know what the doctor is expecting to find with the biopsy. I hope and pray that this is just my "the glass is half-empty" perspective coming through, but in my heart, I know J is in for some stormy seas.

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