Monday, August 8, 2011

Don't bite the hand that feeds you...

I have previously shared tidbits from the first summer I stayed with my parents in their house in Alaska; one story involving Jimmy Buffett and one involving, well, nothing remotely as cool.

In addition to good comic fodder, I also learned some valuable lessons on subsequent visits. One: Don't wear low cut necklines in a city with a population of 97% men (believe me, you merely had to have a feminine voice and little else going for you to get attention there. Seriously. Ten hairs on your chin? Humpback? A proclivity towards chewing tobacco? These traits would make you a TEN. I am not talking about the men which comprised the business community. I am talking about all the other men, the other 90% of the total 97%. Also, your Dad does NOT like anything but turtlenecks on his daughter. Now go the way of Laura Ingalls and button up.) But I also learned some valuable lessons that would later become part of my business acumen.

My Mom took an idea and with that idea and countless hours are hard work, created a thriving successful business. It seemed a genius idea to be employed by her one summer. It was a revelation to see my Mom in a business setting. Oh, I had paid visits to many an office before but this particular summer, I was submerged in seeing my Mom in action every day in a fast-paced and hectic environment. She is the woman everyone liked because she consistently treated people well, she could make all kinds of things happen that other people could not and she refrained from joining the locker room mentality ever-present in this wild place. She also had a fabulous girl working for her at the time who was just a few years older than me.

One afternoon when I was asked to deliver a check, I thought it would be a great time to drive my parents Trooper with the radio blasting Robert Palmer and light myself a clove cigarette (we have already talked about the clove cigarettes.) I was about to learn an indirect lesson: Do NOT drive your parents car and commit a single infraction in a city smaller than Mayberry. I had not even returned before I discovered my deed had already been telecommunicated. WOW, word travels faster than Mrs. Roper in this place. Good to know. Guess what blabbermouths? Don't let the potpourri candy cigarette mislead you. I am just about the most innocent girl in this place.

But one afternoon, me all bundled up in my JCrew boots (long before JCrew was cool) and my giant college sweatshirt tucked into my jeans) was chatting on the phone with one of my sorority sisters back in Seattle. I was enjoying this leisurely chat (on company time) when my Mom came into the office to ask me a question. I think I gave the "Shhhh" sign and then a wink and then a point to the telephone. I went back to my call. Well, I went back to the call for about 2.4 seconds before my Mom came and disconnected the line. Whoa there, Lou Grant. No need for hammer time at the office. But my Mom wanted to make a point: Get OFF the phone. Second and more important point: Every dollar in your pocket is put there by one of your parents. Be respectful of how it got there. Alright. Point taken.

Point quickly lost in the weeks after. A group of vessel owners and companies called an emergency meeting and asked to use the large meeting space adjacent to my Mom's office. The fishing industry in Alaska is very big business and at this time in the 90's, very high dollar and lucrative. There was a major problem brewing and people who are making this level of income want no hiccups, hence the emergency meeting.

Day and hour of the meeting, she sent me in to take some documents and while I was putting them down, I hear "snap, snap." I sort the documents out and hear another "snap, snap" followed by "snap, snap, snap, snap, snap." I glance toward the large group of men, and one of them, from his chair, is snapping his fingers. Since there is no band of any kind, he is clearly not snapping his fingers in anticipation of a hoe down. He is snapping his fingers at me.

I am quite certain I made a slight face before asking, "Yes?" He then said, "Excuse me, WHERE is the COFFEE?" I gave a slight shrug because I had NO idea WHERE the COFEE was. He is grumpy. I turn back to my task. I now hear the double clap, CLAP CLAP followed by "Miss, I am GOING to NEED some COFFEE."

"Well, sir," I smile, "There is a coffee shop down the street."
"You do NOT have COFFEE here?"

Maybe it was the snapping. Maybe it was the tone. Maybe it was the added extra claps he provided. Maybe it was the Hostile Brand Jeans he was wearing.  Why the enunciation of the word coffee? Saying it louder is not going to make it magically appear David Copperfield. (Incidentally, if you are going to make something magically appear by simply saying it with flourish I am pretty confident you also have to use jazz hands when you do it.) Maybe it was the lack of courtesy. Lack of manners. Or the lack of appreciation for my giant hair and JCrew boots but I was simply not down with the exchange.

So I answered: "We don't have coffee here sir because this company is called _______ ________ ________ and not Mel's Diner."

I spun on my boot heel in a bit of a fume wrapped in sass and indignation. I relayed the story to my Mom and her employee, Jodi. I really only like Jodi's reaction because she laughed her ____ off. I then told my Mom that Mr. Snappy Clappy Hands was awful. Jodi loved the new nickname and would say it and then laugh uncontrollably. Guess who was not laughing? Well, there are only three of us present and you know which fools were laughing.

My Mom politely explained that yes, this was not the way to ask for something however, the meeting was a very tense. I state, "Then I am certain the drug of caffeine isn't wise for that particular person, now is it?"

My Mom laughed. How could she resist right? And when she was done laughing, she said, "Now go over there and MAKE THE COFFEE."

Whaaaaaaaat? I had not made a pot of coffee in my life. Why? Because I don't drink it. I never have. So why learn, right? RIGHT. Except that day. I explained my lack of skills and expertise. Her response, "You have a 4.0 GPA. Go and figure it out." More indignation. I stalled. She gave me a slight head tilt and a smile, "I am not asking you again."  I reply, "That will solve the whole problem then."
She replied, "Jennifer...."

I know that voice. Uh oh. Get to hopping.

So I went back. Tossing my early 90s hair all the way. I made the coffee. I am sure it was the worst known to man. Did I care? SURE I did.  But later, when my Mom actually had a good laugh over it, she did remind me that this is her company and I am to be a good ambassador of this companpy at all times. Agreed. And then she imparted one of the best pieces of wisdom I have carried with me for life: Treat every company you work at like one your parents own and you will never, ever fail to be successful.

So in a way, I suppose I have Mr. Snappy Clappy Hands to thank. So thanks, jack arse. Because of you, I got reprimanded but did have a great mother-daughter moment in which I learned a lesson that has helped me my entire career. But I am a tiny bit hopeful  that your cup of coffee tasted like dirt.


Secret Mom Thoughts said...

I once got elbowed in the head by a senator as he jestered to the bread basket while on his cell phone. I was so shocked I actually handed him the bread.

Urban Earthworm said...

Back in the 90's, I probably would have responded very much the way you did. Heck, I might even have been very polite about it. Today, however, there's a good chance I may have offered to wring the coffee out of particular parts of his body for him or something similarly colourful. And I would have snapped my fingers doing it.

Great story, and a good lesson. One I should really take to heart as I am having a very serious case of "I hate my effing job" today.

vanilla said...

Your mother is a wise woman. She clearly understands how the world works, and she shared her wisdom with you. How fortunate you are!

Kristina P. said...

I don't like sexist pigs either, but lesson learned when it's your mom!

Vodka Logic said...

Very good point and one I will impart on my kids. I don't have a company but the point can still be made.

Written with humor as usual. xx

Unknown said...

I think your mom must be a brilliant lady!

Unknown said...

I think your mom must be a brilliant lady!

brokenteepee said...

Serious bratitude there.
I guess I was working much earlier than you. The customer gets what the customer wants and you curse at him later in private.

webb said...

Working as a temp some years ago - and not a sweet young thing temp at all! - my boss for the week sat in his office and bellowed "coffee". I think he did it three times, but since I certainly did NOT hear him....

At the end of the day, he seemed surprised that I handed my timeslip for signature. "But, it's a week's assignment," he said. "Yes," say I, "but they are sending someone else tomorrow. Someone who is willing carry coffee, too."

Didn't get me ahead in life, but damn it felt good. I didn't learn any lessons, but maybe he did.

Chain Stitch Crochet said...

LOL. Yeah, I would have acted like you did with Mr. Snappy Clappy. He obviously doesn't know the old saying 'You give respect, you get respect'. Snapping and clapping is not respectful....I don't care who you are! said...

He must've been king of rudeness. He was just lucky he didn't end up wearing the coffee.

the walking man said...

So if he asked for corn liquor would you have gone out and made the mash added the yeast and sugar and stoked the fire until it appeared?

Because if so...*snap snap snap*

Kara said...

I love your mom's smarts! She sounds like a great lady.

Maria said...

Very wise words to live by...If you can hear it over the smap, snap, snap!