Hermann Hates #12
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 96 14:07:10 -0700
Subject: Hermann Hates #12
Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <email@example.com>
HERMANN HATES The Corporate Lifestyle
--Could you make twelve bound copies of this column and fax two of
them to my attornies? And take a memo. Thanks, kid--
Copyright 1996 by Andrew Hermann
A typical day at my job starts like this: my boss, whom I'll call
Spaz, asks me to update the activity list, a weekly report of
everything that has to get done and when it has to get done by--
what we in the business world call "deliverables." Unfortunately,
both for me and our business, the when-it-has-to-get-done-by part
of the activity list is in a state of constant flux--what we in the
business world call "fungible." This fungibility tends to push
things down the calendar rather than the other way around, which
makes the activity list at my company an unholy mess of missed
deadlines--what we in the business world call "target dates"--and
overlooked details--what we in the business world call "minor
Updating the activity list is, consequently, a major cut-and-paste
operation, but, as with most things I do, Spaz seems to have little
concept of the effort involved. At the start of a busy week it may
take me half-an-hour to sort through all the "Fax John So-and-So"'s
and "Fed Ex a business plan to Joe Such-and-Such"'s. But Spaz's
usual postscript to "Update the activity list, please" is "And then
let's get together in ten minutes."
Over the next half-hour, as I attempt to update the tangled
behemoth of fungible deliverables, target dates, and minor fuckups,
Spaz will come in every two minutes with some new task for me, half
of which go on the activity list and half of which HAVE TO BE DONE
RIGHT NOW. So in between typing things like "12:00n--Spaz lunch @
Four Seasons w/pot. investor (AH call to confirm)," I'm also
sending faxes, making phone calls, typing memos (the beauty of
Windows--now the boss can have you working on six different
documents at once!), looking for files, and probably taking notes
on Spaz's latest harebrained scheme to boost sales--what we in the
business world call "strategic planning."
Finally, after the printer is done wheezing out the last page of
the activity list, I head into the conference room where Spaz and
I have our morning tete-a-tete. This is when Spaz springs on me
about fifty other things we have to do over the next two days and
goes item-by-item over everything I thought we were doing for the
next two days, saying "Move that to tomorrow," "Move that to next
week," "Move that to November," "Cross that off," et cetera.
Finally, by about ten-thirty, we're ready to begin the day, with
only a hand-written scrawl at the bottom of my pristinely formatted
activity list to guide us.
The most frustrating thing about this and the thousand other time-
wasting little power trips Spaz pulls on an almost daily basis is
that Spaz is basically a nice guy. He lets me take off holidays.
He treats me to lunch several times a week (well, actually the
company does, but it's his company so it amounts to the same
thing). He laughs at my jokes. He meditates. He is genuinely
appreciative of the work that I do for him. Occasionally, he even
expresses interest in my opinion, even when it has to do with
things beyond my ken like "strategic planning."
In short, Spaz is not, by nature, the jerk he so often appears to
be when it's five minutes before a meeting with some millionaire
and he hands me a list of twenty-seven revisions he wants made in
the company's investment profile. It's just that Spaz has spent
too much time around millionaires, investment profiles, business
plans and all the rest of it. Spaz went to Harvard Business
School. Spaz has been known to scream, "Do you know who I am?"
over the phone. Spaz has more sports jackets than underpants.
Spaz is appalled when people don't have voice mail.
Spaz is a victim of what I call the Corporate Lifestyle.
What is the Corporate Lifestyle? It's a way of dressing, thinking,
and interacting that most of us have had to participate in at one
time or another. It's a hierarchy more rigid and elaborate than
that of any baboon troop. For people like Spaz, it's a way of
life. For people like me, it's something to be suffered through
until I can get home, put on shorts, and be my messy, foul-mouthed,
overbearing, undisciplined self.
The most familiar feature of the Corporate Lifestyle is, of course,
the Corporate Uniform--dress shirt and tie for the men (jacket
required in theory but only to be slung over the back of one's
chair), dress, dress-suit or those blousy women's pants that look
like you're wearing a dress for the women. The Powers That Be seem
to think that such uniforms make people behave more professionally,
create an image, create a sense of unity, et cetera. But make no
mistake--nobody, from the biggest Executive to the lowliest mail
room clerk, really likes the Corporate Uniform. The last company
I worked for once sponsored a fundraiser called "Blue Jeans for
Babies." For five bucks you got a button with the fundraiser logo
on it, and most importantly, if you wore the button to work you
could also wear BLUE JEANS. On a WEDNESDAY. And my God, you never
saw so much denim outside a Levi's store in your life. I don't
think any of us had the faintest idea what we were raising money
but who cared? No ties! No panty-hose! No uncomfortable shoes!
"Blue Jeans for Branch Davidians" or "Sneakers for Skinheads" would
have gone over just as well.
Another important aspect of the Corporate Lifestyle is the
Corporate Hierarchy. This is that strange system of policies,
procedures, benefits, and dues-paying whereby the people who earn
the lowest salaries and are considered the least skilled and the
most dispensible end up running the company while all the bigwigs
take two hour lunches and three-day weekends. It is also the
system that dictates that no one person in any corporation can know
how to read the company's financial spreadsheets and how to operate
the fax machine. I often wonder whether menial labor skills
genuinely atrophy as one advances through the ranks, or if this
"working your way up" business is just a lot of capitalist
propaganda and nobody in upper management ever had to make a
double-sided copy in their life.
So far we've only discussed those elements of the Corporate
Lifestyle that affect everyone, but for people like my boss Spaz,
the Lifestyle runs much deeper than hierarchies and uniforms. Spaz
is also possessed of the Corporate Attitude. The Corporate
Attitude says that making money is a virtue, and people who make
more money are inherently better than people who make less.
Consider the following conversation, which I swear actually took
place between my boss and the CEO of another company at an Au Bon
Pain in downtown Boston, while I--and my boss knows exactly how
little he's paying me--sat listening:
"I think the flat tax is an idea whose time has come."
"I mean, everyone says the sliding scale system is fair, but I'm
paying two or three times the average person, and why? Because I
make more money. How is that fair?"
"It makes no sense."
"What do taxes pay for? I have the same police force, the same
schools, the same services as everybody else. Why should I pay
"And we're the ones incurring all the risk. My business pays the
salaries of twelve people."
"Our money is what keeps this economy going."
"Exactly. If anything, we should be paying less tax."
After sitting there for several minutes listening to this
conversation and swallowing exclamations like, "You do pay less
tax! Corporate welfare! Capital gains cuts!" I finally asked Spaz
if I had time for a cup of coffee. Spaz said sure. I went up to
the counter, got my twelve ounces of Au Bon Motor Oil, and returned
just as Spaz and his cohort were getting ready to leave.
Spaz suddenly seemed to remember something, and turned to me.
"Here," he said. "I got Jim's coffee, so let me get yours."
A whole dollar, Spaz. Are you sure you can take the risk?
I'm in the midst of bucking for a promotion at my job, and Spaz
insists that he's going to give it to me. And I believe him. As
I said, he seems to like me, even though my sports jackets aren't
as cool as his.
Soon I will have my own computer, my own stationery, my own
corporate credit card, and my own set of "deliverables" and "target
dates" that someone else will be updating daily on an activities
list for me. I'll be moving up the Corporate Hierarchy. I'll be
making more money. Spaz and his ilk will think I'm a better
I just hope I can live with myself.
<<Question? Comments? Care to subscribe? Contact HermHates@aol.com.
And fax a copy to my attornies, willya? You're a doll.>>
© 1996 Peter Langston