by Liam Scheff
13 of 15×15
The company moves me around. They liked how I got team activities going in Philadelphia and Kentucky. They wanted to try it in Durbanville. It wasn’t complicated. It’s the kind of stuff they make fun of on “The Office.” Team-building exercises: one-day camping, zip lines, trust falls. But I added the stuff people actually want to do: disco afternoons, after-hours bar, and gambling night – all at the office.
Office hookups went up, but so did a feeling of “I gotta get to work to hear what the fuck is going on!” It was a hard pitch to management. They had to throw out 10 years of legal on inter-office romance. Everybody had to sign a waiver that said, “Fucking is our business, not the company’s, and if we run into a problem, remember: Kiss and make up, or shake and be colleagues.”
“You’re all grown-ups,” is how I start the lecture. “But you come to this place and suddenly you’re back in school, making cupcakes for each other’s birthdays, picking out clothes so you don’t get made fun of. Stopping yourself from swearing because you think it’ll offend somebody.”
Suddenly I’ve got their interest. I give them some reason: “And that’s all well and good when you’re hosting a client….but how many of you host clients?” Maybe two out of 15 hands go up. “Riight,” I say. And it pays to be on generally good behavior at those times. (Or does it?)” I give them a wink and a nod. “Because we all know that the thing the males clients like to do is?”
Some general laughter from the audience. Somebody throws it out there: “Drink.”
“Go to titty bars,” a brave man offers, and everybody squeals with laughter.
“Drink – and go to titty bars.” I pause and look around, making eye-contact. “Precisely. And we know we sell a good product. We know it’s well-shaped, proportioned, with integrated design that maximizes performance and energy use. Easy. That part’s easy.” Now I wind them up with my pitch: “What we need is what the soulless vampire lawyers” (give ’em someone to hate) “stole from us. Stole from the workplace. They took the FUN out of it!”
Now somebody in the crowd spurts out a “Yeah!”
It’s not true. The lawyers didn’t do it. It was the unequal male-female dynamic of the ’70s that drew blood in the ’80s and ’90s. Men and women just didn’t know how to work together. But, it’s easier to get them to hate the lawyers.
“They took the SPICE out of it!”
“They treat us like we’re CHILDREN!”
“Now a mix of “Yeahs” (we want fun!) and “Nos” (damn those lawyers!) beat the bushes. They can hardly believe what they’re hearing, but it’s true. I’m inviting them to go back to college, to be crass and sexual. To joke and banter and be obnoxious. Now I’ve got to slap a restraining bolt on them:
“But…ah yes, there’s always a ‘but.’ And that’s not a sex joke.” They’re primed now and hit the laugh. “The ‘but’ is, we’ve got to be responsible for ourselves. If we’re not comfortable with a joke or a dialogue, it is our responsibilty to excuse ourselves. We’ve been told for 20 years that it’s everyone else’s responsibility to never curse, never offend. But that’s horseshit. People offend all the time — without meaning to. So, what are we gonna do, wrap a belt around our mouths?”
Their eyes are open wide. They’re inscribing this text on their brain. ‘This is how we can have fun again,’ they tell themselves.
I feed them more: “No, Instead of making everyone else responsible for us….we’re going to learn to excuse ourselves when we’ve reached our limit. And those of you on the receiving end of this information, that your colleague needs a break from your idea of funny? What’s your response?”
Now, I’ve stumped them. They’re way out of programmed territory. They don’t know what to expect. I tell them.
“Your line is to graciously, gratefully, with love in your heart for your friend, thank them for letting you know, and either excusing them from your conversation, or getting out of their space and taking it to another room.”
It’s a let-down. Too technical. I’ve got to bring them back up.
“Now, what did I just say? You’ll notice what I didn’t do.” Pause. Look around. Meet the eyes of the middle-aged fat guy with a weakness for Little Debbie and Hometown Girls, and ask him: “What didn’t I do?”
A very cute, diminutive blond in the middle raises her hand. I expect her to be an idiot, and her voice does squeak a little, but she pulls the right answer out of her attractive blouse: “You didn’t make anybody wrong.”
“Did you hear what she said? Amber?” (I read her name tag.) “I didn’t make anybody wrong.”
Now Little Debbie guy is slowly nodding his head up and down. “No, I didn’t make you wrong for being…you. Instead, I chose to thank you for bringing fun to the office, and I applaud you for knowing what offends you, or what’s over your limit. I don’t chastise you, and you don’t chastise me. We ‘make room’ for each other. That’s our motto, isn’t it? ‘Make room.'”
They’re all looking around enthusiastically. It’s like I gave all of of the guys 10 inch dicks and all the girls 36 C’s. It’s Christmas and they can’t believe it. “Make room,” they say to each other. “We can make room for each other.”
Everybody enjoys themselves at the after-talk soiree, and two people get so drunk they can’t drive home. I give them a private talk about celebrating with “an eye toward tomorrow” – another little patented line. They appreciate it because I follow it with a, “you made room for fun tonight, and you should be proud.”
They go home and probably puke up the fun, and regret it tomorrow. You can’t teach morality, but you can tell people not to be a bunch of annoying pricks to each other for just being human.
Workplace performance is up 38% in six months. There have been a couple paternity suits, and a number of stalking charges, but with the waivers we’ve put in place — we’re scot-free. I guess that’s why they love me at the company.
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This is Story 13 in 15×15. A story written and edited in one to two hours with no major revisions.