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Authors: Joanne Fox Phillips

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BOOK: Revenge of the Cube Dweller
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My second day on the job, Frank asked me to review some reports for him and give input. Trained in the old-fashioned way of Big Eight public accounting firms, I went through the report footing the columns and making sure everything was tip-top. As Frank walked by my cube, I asked him, “Do you want me to make a list of the errors I find and discuss them all at once, or go over each report separately?” I was pretty sure Frank was testing me to see if I could help with reports, and I was sure he would be impressed by my experience.

“What mistakes?” Frank asked sounding irritated.

“Well, the gross margin table in this report doesn’t calculate, for one thing,” I said. “I think there’s a typo in one of the numbers.”

Frank pursed his lips and tilted his head sideways as he looked down at where I was pointing on the report. I was a little surprised at his reaction and even more so when he grabbed the papers abruptly and stared at the numbers I had circled in red.

“Please step into my office, Tanzie,” he said.

I followed him in and he shut the door behind me.

I sat down, but Frank did not. His office was as utterly dull as its occupant. No framed jerseys on the wall or encased balls on this credenza. Just neat stacks of papers anchored with paperweights that I thought had been rendered obsolete with the onset of the technology age. There was a bookshelf, but so far Frank had not accumulated many materials worthy of display. Other than a framed photo of his bride on their wedding day, there were absolutely no personal items that might give insight
into Frank’s interests or hobbies. From what I now know about Frank, it is entirely possible that he has none.

“First of all,” Frank said, “when you find something like that, you should never assume you’re right. You should have said, ‘Excuse me, Frank, but I am very confused about something in the report. I am not sure I understand how the gross margin table works.’ Rather than accusing me of making an error. I didn’t appreciate your tone.”

This really caught me off guard. There is nothing remotely confusing about a typo. This was male dominating bullshit as far as I was concerned, and all the more galling being delivered by a thirty-something kid.

“I’m so sorry, Frank,” I said. “I don’t think making a typo is any big deal. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Oh brother
. Right then I knew it was going to be torture tiptoeing around Frank and his inability to be wrong. It turned out all the reports had already been issued, and Frank had just been giving me busy work. He was horrified, too, that I corrected his grammar. Midwesterners in particular have a problem when it comes to the past participle of the verb “to go.” They say, “I should have went there” or in Frank’s case in this report, “The auditor had went to the job site to observe the inventory.” I changed the “went” to “gone.”

“You know, Tanzie,” Frank pointed to my grammatical editing, “it’s perfectly acceptable to use ‘went’ in that sentence. People say it all the time here. They know what I mean. Don’t be acting like you’re a smarty-pants or something.”

At the time, I felt as though I had time traveled back to a middle school hallway. “Frank,” I said, getting up to leave, “I am very confused about the spelling of Mr. Bishop’s first name. I always
thought there were two n’s in Bennet, but of course he might have made a change. I can’t be sure. I will be happy to follow up on that for you.” I smiled pleasantly as I waited for a response from Frank, who was frantically looking at the reports to find that particular misspelling. “That will be all,” he said finally, and I went back to my cube.

Moe is not much better than Frank. He’s an entirely different kind of mediocrity. While Frank is the suit-and-tie type found throughout the world of finance, Moe is the blue-collar sort who brags about climbing up a twenty-five-foot tank or shooting the shit with the plant guys. He’ll bend your ear during hunting season and keeps a shotgun in the back window of his mammoth, orange Ford 250 on oversized wheels with “MoPWR” license plates. Moe graduated from Oklahoma State and takes every opportunity to schmooze with Hal about the rivalry between the Pokes and the Sooners.

Moe is older and thicker than Frank, sporting one of those potbellies that hangs over his belt so he doesn’t need to adjust his pants size as his girth expands over the years. My interview with Moe was memorable because he never asked me any questions.

“I’ve read your resume. Impressive. Now let me tell you about me,” he began.

I smiled, relieved that I was off the hook about explaining why I was reentering the workforce but surprised nonetheless.

“I’ve been in this business for thirty years, and if you ask me, it’s full of crooks. Top to bottom.” He swiveled his chair toward his credenza and picked up one of the framed photos. “See this?” Moe handed me the picture. “That’s me at my old job shaking hands with the CEO. The CEO of Midwestern Oilfield! I busted
up a kickback ring in South Texas back in ’07. Three hundred grand! Assholes are still in jail, thanks to yours truly.”

I’d never heard the word “asshole” in a job interview before, but I stayed composed and gave a nod of interest.

“Wow!” I said, studying the photo long enough to feign admiration.

Moe took a used Kleenex out of his pants pocket and let out a productive blow, giving a final wipe on his sleeve before tossing the tissue in his wastebasket. He extended his hand to take back the picture and I bit my lower lip. I had encountered vagrants with better manners.

Moe then pointed to the wall behind me on which hung a framed cross-stitching that proclaimed, “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

“See that?”

“It’s lovely,” I lied.

“My wife made that for me for Christmas one year. Words to live by.”

“I’m not sure I understand.” I really didn’t. Clearly Moe was a pig. Still, I thought it interesting that his wife commemorated this shortcoming—and for Christmas, no less.

“Mark Twain said that. It means that you can’t expect people to be something other than what they are. Don’t expect everyone to be able to do everything. We need to coach the pig to be the very best pig and not waste our time on other things.”

Sort of like making a mechanical engineer an expert on gas contracts, I guess. Moe spent the rest of the allotted interview time giving me the rundown on his days in the navy, his audit philosophy to find at least three “findings” before finishing any
audit, and his preference for formalized communications. “I like everything in writing. CYA. Written proof.”

“I’ll remember that,” I said, forcing a smile as he shook my hand when the Human Resources escort appeared at his office door.

Now, I look around the table as Moe gives his update and Hal nods while taking notes in a leather-bound diary.

“One more thing,” Hal begins, and looks up from his notes. “We’ve been asked to look into gas contract settlements. It’s pretty complicated stuff; I can tell you that from personal experience. I know you two are tied up.” Hal looks at Moe and Frank, and I perk up. “I’m thinking of bringing in Boyd and Associates, your old firm, Frank.” I look down at my notepad, trying not to telegraph my disappointment.

A few months back I approached Hal about wanting to take on some additional responsibility. I didn’t mind doing the grunt work that I’d been doing, but my financial energy background made me a good fit to audit Bishop’s energy trading organization or some higher risk areas than I was currently tackling. Hal politely asked me to sit, and in a loving, paternal way he told me a story.

“Tanzie,” he said. “When my son Danny was sixteen and he got his driver’s license, he begged me to let him drive my Corvette. I keep it just for weekends, you know. He begged me, Tanzie. He promised to be careful, not to speed, to take no other
passengers along. I told him: ‘Son, you do not have the
experience
to be trusted with something like that yet. You will someday; but not just yet.’ You see, Tanzie, if I had given in, he would probably have done all those things. Not because he is a bad boy. No sir. Because he doesn’t have enough
experience
. Being a good father means not giving everything all at once. That, girlie, is how to raise successful children and that is how you train people at work.”

Did this man actually think of himself as my father? I was fifty-two years old, for heaven’s sake. We were roughly the same age. I was at a loss for words. Actually, I had plenty of
experience
, certainly more than Frank or Moe. There was no point in arguing this, though. It would only have annoyed old Hal.

“Hal, thank you for your time. I hope someday you will see that I have developed enough experience to be trusted with a high performance audit and not wrap it around a tree.” I smiled as I let myself out of his office.

Our meeting is winding down and I shift in my chair in anticipation of my big moment. I feel sure that the results of my security audit will indicate to Hal that I have the
experience
and have “proven myself.” Enough, anyway, to move up in the department or be given more complicated assignments—like gas contract settlements, perhaps.

“All right. Anything else?” Hal asks, signaling the end of the meeting.

“I want to give a brief update on the building security review I conducted over the weekend,” I say.

“Please proceed,” Hal says, looking at his watch.

“As you know, Moe asked me to perform an on-site review of building security.” I look around the table: Frank is typing e-mails on his iPhone, and Moe has removed a Kleenex-wrapped pen from his ear and is examining the wax from multiple angles. I carry on with the report as rehearsed, trying not to become distracted by Moe’s grooming ritual.

“I was able to penetrate the first level of security by informing the person on the security intercom that I was an employee and had forgotten my key card. I was clicked into the building without identifying myself. Once I was inside the building, a security guard was sent to escort me past security level two, the retractable flap barrier gate separating the lobby from the elevator bank. Once again, I was not asked for identification or credentials.” I notice Hal looking at his watch again.

BOOK: Revenge of the Cube Dweller
10.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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