the bloody chain

“You, umm, how do I say this? It’s always a rather awkward topic.”

I was sitting in the grayish office of The Woman Formerly Known as My Boss. When I had called to say I would be back in Frankfurt and available to work, Former Boss had called brimming with artificial niceties and the suggestion that we meet up for a “little chat” before I started working again.

I had wondered how bad it would be. “Little chat,” after all, is business speak for stern conversation about what you’ve done wrong. I was pretty sure I knew what was coming, so I just sat back with the relaxed smile of someone who’s just spent six months doing just exactly what she wants and watched her try to squirm her criticism out in a polite way. Too bad politeness so often gets in the way of honesty.

“Well, it’s about dress code,” she finally said, choosing her words slowly and running a finger across the edge of the plastic-gray table. “I’ve been cracking down on people about dress code lately.”

Uh-huh. Cracking down on “people.” Ladies and gentleman, I would like to introduce our new prototype. So polite! So kind! So diplomatic! An expert at talking around blame and unpleasantness! Some may call her an artificial coward but we call it state-of-the-art anti-unpleasantness. We’ve dubbed her the Modern Boss. Don’t wait! Place your orders today!

I personally would prefer conversations like this to be loud and honest. Maybe some yelling followed by a gladiator-style battle where we could bash our frustration and aggression out on each other with foam bats and go home friends. At least then we’d all know where we stood. Directness, after all, might lead to negative feelings and decreased productivity. It’s not personal. It’s never personal. It’s just business.

“You sometimes wore,” she went on, drawing out the “o” to buy time to search the database for more neutrally negative adjectives, “combinations that I was a little uncomfortable with.” Translation: You dress like a slob. There are sometimes holes in your pants. You don’t iron. I almost laughed. This had been coming for a long time. The only real surprise was that it had taken her so long to get around to it.

“You don’t have to wear a suit or anything,” she rushed on. “Just business casual. What you have on today is fine. You really don’t have to wear a suit, just because I do. I mean, I personally love suits.”

“Really?” I was incredulous. There can’t really be people who love suits, can there? Oh what people will do for fashion. Including looking like idiots, hookers, and penguins.

“Yeah. I really love them. And besides, I never know when I’ll have to meet a client.” I have never been good at determining when English people are being sincere and when they’re being ironic. Apparently I didn’t watch enough Monty Python as a kid. But doubt aside, I’m fairly sure I’ve never witnessed an authentic moment with this woman. Usually we exchange the banal forced small talk of office inmates and go our separate ways. Could this really be an authentic endorsement of the business suit? I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. She did, after all, meet her husband in church, and I have trouble taking people seriously who believe that a thousands-of-years-old slavery-endorsing pseudo-hippy is going to come back in a ball of fire and brimstone and lead us all to the promised land. I apologize to any Christians reading this. It’s just that we’re from different planets.

The worst of the criticism over, she went on in an attempt to lighten the mood. “Oh god,” she laughed. Her blue pants suit couldn’t manage a laugh and just hung sternly at her side. “I still remember that day you came in with the bruise on your neck from that chain you used wear. Oh my.” She shook her head in bewilderment at the memory.

The previous year I had almost always had the chain on. It was a heavy thick-linked number, fastened at the back with a safety pin. One day I had come into work and Former Boss had passed by with her usual pre-recorded pleasantries. But this time as her eyes wandered to my neck, a look of horror had spread across her face. “Nikki! Oh my god! You have a terrible bruise on your neck! What is that from? Oh my god, it’s from that chain! You shouldn’t sleep in that thing! You could suffocate!” Uh-huh. Suffocation. Neck bruise. Right.

Ever since she’s brought up the subject once every few months, as if she still can’t shake her horror at the thought. I nod and chuckle, wondering if she secretly thinks that bruise is part of some kinky asphixiation fetish.

I’ve never had the heart to tell her it was just dirt.

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Sunday April 06th 2008, 12:45 pm 9 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,teaching english

9 Comments so far. Please leave a comment.

hahahahaha… maybe you should have washed the dirt off right away and impressed her with your healing powers!

Comment by tqe / Adam 04.06.08 @ 10:22 pm

This reminds me of the time my boss asked me if I liked, or was even content, with my job.

Comment by ezra 04.07.08 @ 6:53 am

I accidentaly stumbled upon YG and read your article “Das ist sau komisch”. I really liked it because I often wonder the same things, and so I decided to follow the link at the bottom. I am so glad I did, I really love reading your entries.

Comment by Pilar 04.09.08 @ 3:50 am

Adam: Shit! Why didn’t I think of that! Heh.

Pilar: Awesome! Hurray! New reader! Ego-boosting comments! Woot!

-Nicolette

Comment by doodle 04.09.08 @ 7:38 am

The former boss sound like a complete stuck up bitch! and your views on christianity sound spot on to me :)

Comment by Haddock 04.09.08 @ 11:27 pm

you left not one but two thoughtful comments on my blog, and here I am, a week later, though a reader of your own, commentless myself. The necktie, you know, is a hu-male symbol of subservience. I myself wear collars on occasion, but not to work. But then again, I work from home. My wife says “Click Clack Gorilla should be befriended.”

one of us, one of us, gabba gabba, one of us…

Comment by Joshua Samuel Brown 04.10.08 @ 5:54 pm

Um. I think I am one of those secret people who enjoy suits, but then again we already knew I was a freak. There’s something powerfully seductive about them… like people pay more attention to you, especially if you put your hair up and are wearing a not so work appropriate semi corset top under your jacket. Mwahaha.

Comment by TS 05.02.08 @ 8:15 pm

Whether it’s collared shirts, ties and skirts or scuffed-up Keds, jeans and dreads, it’s ALL a uniform, one just as tired as the other. Or do you really believe a conspicuous tattoo doesn’t serve the same purpose as a meticulous make-up job?

Comment by ohdre71 06.11.08 @ 10:43 pm

ohdre: i absolutely agree that every clothing choice whether, like you said, a suit or Keds, jeans, and dreds, or the hardcore scene’s black narrow pants with white on black screen printed t-shirt, is a costume of sorts. what with fashion and advertising with slogans like “who do you want to be today,” we’ve been more or less conditioned to make clothing choices based on which character we intend to play in life’s theater on that particular day.

there are, however, variations on this theme i think, and i think what is interesting to note is the intent behind the clothing choice. business attire—whether it be suits and ties, dresses or food service uniforms—is meant to blend out the wearer’s own personality in order to allow interactions to focus on the business at hand and avoiding the distraction of personality-specific clothing choices. attire that people choose for their free time is much more fascinating, as it is a clear indication of who a person is/wants to be.

but whether meant to express or disguise personality, they are all costumes as far as i am concerned. there are, however a few exceptions, i think: the more clothing choice has to do with practicality, the less “costumey” it is. for example, the sweatpants and tshirt (or pajamas or whatever) we all put on “backstage” when we just want to relax and be comfortable.

thanks for the comment. cheers. >nicolette.

Comment by doodle 06.12.08 @ 11:07 am




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