Saturday, July 14, 2012

Confessions of a Corporate Flirt

During almost all of my corporate life, before I became a full time pencil portrait artist, I worked for, or with, my father.  When I work hard, I feel my dad's influence.  When I play hard, it's there too.    If there is a repetitive ticking noise somewhere, both of us react like we've been poked with a fork.  My son Max has it too... it's cool and a little scary how it works that way. 

Every job I ever had was due to my father's connections or his computer consulting business.  I worked for him summers and weekends from the time I was thirteen and full time for five years after college.  We developed a closeness that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.  At work, you use all your abilities... social, emotional, logical.  While in the trenches, you get to know your coworkers better than you know some of your dearest friends.  I surprised my dad sometimes with the things that I accomplished at work.  I surprised myself.  I'm glad we had that chance to get to know each other so well, even if I still have Vietnam flashbacks about some of it.

Working makes me tired.
Working for family can be challenging.  My dad used to say that somebody was always in the room who shouldn't be... a father when there should have just been a boss.  A crabby teenager or hungover college student when there should have been a diligent employee who wasn't secretly napping on her office floor.  Eventually, the financial and emotional strain was just too much, and I left my dad's business for Hewitt Associates, where my husband Joe was working.  The decision to leave my dad was so difficult, I used a spreadsheet to weigh the emotional toll, money, daycare issues.  How in the hell do you measure hurting your dad?  It was the hardest choice I've ever made.

Karma rewarded my anguish with the best time I would ever have at work for the rest of my life.  That includes my current job which entails goofing around writing stories before I draw pictures in front of the TV.

I started off at Hewitt as an ITS person.  I forget what that stood for, I-something Technology Service? Anyway, I was a computer helper like the Saturday Night Live skit with Jimmy Fallon ("MOVE!") The funniest part of this job was sending official sounding emails to associates about their naughty files cluelessly stored on the network.  People would FREAK. OUT.  "Um, oh, crap, I don't know where that came from, I swear, somebody must have saved it there by mistake, not me, oh God."

My excellent porn sniffing abilities led to a promotion in less than six months to a software specialist. There the real fun began.  I was the resident building expert for Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint), which I liked, although I was faking the expert part.  I worked in a big open room with seven guys, all in their early twenties.  I was in my early thirties, but felt fifty sometimes, because young guys are full throttle and I'm no delicate flower.  I had to keep up, no matter how disgusting it got.  Our DTS (desktop services) room was far away from the rest of the work world and it was a nasty slice of heaven.

And in that testosterone soaked room, I fell in friend-love with Jason.

I liked all the guys, but Jason was particularly hilarious (check!), adorable (check!), a former Marine (yum!) and a great talker.  If you know me personally, you might have noticed that I'm a bit chatty.  Jason and I talked our heads off about everything... home, work, rumors, love.  Jason was dating a Hewitt girl named Jennelle and he was a goner.  I gave him advice and drew a pencil portrait of them as his gift to her. 

I am a shameless flirt.  I can't help it.  If I think a guy is funny or smart, I try to rein it in.  But I never had a date in high school, I had ONE DATE in college.  When I wasn't busy slumming it with assholes, I was wondering if I would ever, ever find someone.  Once Joe rescued me, many of my insecurities disappeared.  I bartended for a few years after I discovered that Joe liked sitting at home way, way, way more than I did.  I found my flirt and she's been inappropriately showing up whenever cocktails are involved ever since.

Considering the atmosphere, I'm surprised there wasn't ever alcohol in the DTS room.  But even sober, I was a little more flirty than I probably should have been with Jason.  Work friendships between men and women can be a slippery slope; emotional intimacy can be just as dangerous as physical.  But Jason loved Jennelle and I loved Joe.  So we play-flirted in the sweet safety of our respective, rock-solid relationships. 

Meanwhile, I got a taste of being a 20-something guy.  For a full hour, every day after lunch, we played a video game called Unreal.  I had never been a big video game player, but Unreal revealed to me why it becomes obsessive for some.  Unreal was a shooty, wandering around game that involved finding bigger and bigger guns to blast each other in the face with.

Look at me, I'm a gamer.

The end of your gun was you, and the people running around in the game were the actual guys in our office.  This is an everyday boring concept in the world of gaming, but for me in 1998, it was hysterically new and intoxicating.  

The Zumpinator was awesome.
You picked a character from a few different juiced up robot looking choices. I picked the busty, slutty looking female ones and called myself the Zumpinator. Jason was always hollering "ZUMP!!! I SEE YOU!!!" at the top of his lungs from his cube across the room when I tried to hide and snipe him. Being the only girl and a novice player, I held my own. Our quiet, nice manager tried to ignore that we were totally screwing around, but it must have been hard with the constant yelling and laughing and not even pretending to work even a little.  Sometimes he came out of his office and said, "Guys.  Really?"  There was no stopping us.  Plus, we weren't even supposed to have games loaded on the network in the first place, but everyone in the room was a kick ass tech. So they manipulated the system and nice boss looked the other way as long as we actually got some work done.  Which we usually did.

Every day, I looked forward to going to work.  It was fun and funny and I was proud of my ability to not flinch too much at the absolutely vile atrocities that Jason and his friends would casually show me on the internet.  "Hey, Zump!  Come here a sec," meant trouble.  I pretended that I didn't have nightmares about the delightful video clip they shared entitled Beer Poop.  I'll never look at Braveheart the same way again.  Jason and I were like detectives, keeping a careful log of a married chick's constant visits to one of our married cohorts.  Now they're married to each other.  See?  A slippery slope.

Not long after I left my father's business, my dad admitted defeat after a long, bloody fight against bigger competitors and rising costs.  The timing of me leaving just before his business folded provided great material for my future therapy.  He joined the Chicago consulting firm where I would eventually get fired in six quick years. "They could really use a Wendy," my dad told me, and that was the end of my best job in the world.  The new firm offered me more money and the chance to work from home.  I was about to get knocked up with Max and my little family just couldn't pass that up. 

The day I left Unreal, Jason and all my hilarious boys, my voice choked with tears when I tried to yell, "The Zumpinator has left the building!"  I'd been with them less than a year. 

"Ahhh, Zump," Jason teased as he hugged me good-bye.

Jason and Jennelle had a destination wedding on the beach.  They reminded Joe and me of us... a real team, happy and laughing and made for each other.  They got a house and geared up for the next step.  Jason was a family guy and he was great with our kids when we visited them and they wrote GO BEARS all over his Wisconsin driveway. 

"Your kids suck," Jason cheerfully observed.

When I started my full time portrait thing, Jason asked me to draw his parents for an anniversary gift.  We didn't talk as much as we used to, but all I had to hear over the phone was "Zuuuuuump!" and we were back in Unreal mode.

I don't remember Jason telling me he had cancer.  Maybe I blocked it, because it was way too close to home.  He didn't talk about it much in the beginning, when he and Jennelle were frozen with fear. I sat with him during a chemo session and we laughed and chatted while my stomach was in knots.  Some of the people in the room with him were like living cadavers.  Jason is one of the most full of life people I've ever met.  What if...

Not to worry.  My Semper Fi friend banked some artillery, kicked cancer's stupid ass and their son Callan miraculously came into the world.  Jason and Jennelle were swept into the nonstop grind of working full time and new parenthood.  Joe loved Jason too and saw more of him than I did at poker tournaments and work.   Jason ordered a portrait of little Cal with their big bulldog, Spike.  He nagged me to make sure that he was represented somewhere on my pencil portrait website (right here).  Some friendships don't require a lot of interaction. Our bond has been built and it's there whenever we need it. 

One day, Joe was working in his home office (his lazyboy with his laptop on his lap in front of the big TV) and he stopped rocking with a sudden gasp. 

"Holy shit,"  he looked up at me in shock, "Jason just texted that Jennelle wants a divorce." 

Conversations with Jason were with somebody brand new.  Gone was the happy go lucky, smart ass goofball.  Here was a boy crushed to his core.  The pain in his voice killed me.  And that constant question, "Why?  Why?"  She wouldn't listen, she didn't care.  It was all business now about splitting time with Cal, the house, money.  He beat cancer.  How could he have lost her?

The honeymoon phase doesn't last forever and maybe there had been some signs, some warnings.  When you think you're in it forever, there is all the time in the world to stop playing games, lose weight, quit smoking.  And then forever is gone and there was nothing Jason could do to bring it back.  He begged and opened up to Jennelle in complete vulnerability, admitted his failings, promised the world.  But she was done and forever was ice cold.  She told him that his pleas made him seem weak.   Bitch.

I told Jason that he was funny and true and smart and a great dad.  When we jokingly talked about who we would choose for each other if one of us were hit by a bus, Joe chose Jason for me.  I told Jason that eventually hooking up with someone new was probably going to be fun. I told him, with complete sincerity, that he was a catch. 

"Really?" Jason asked, in pain.  "Do you really think so?"

Yes, I do.

Conversations with Jason are different again, now.  They are with yet another Jason.  This Jason works out constantly and looks more and more like the Marine he once was.  He tells me about girls and asks for my advice sometimes, but doesn't really need it.  Last year he asked if I'd draw another portrait for his parents.  This one was celebrating their new family.  Jason, Cal and his wonderful, supportive parents at Cal's first Packer's game.

Eff off, Jennelle.

Jason was thrilled with it and hung it in his new bachelor pad, a beautifully decorated house just right for a boy named Cal and his dad.  Jason happily pointed the portrait out to his friends at his housewarming party and introduced Joe and me like we were family.  I put together Christmas cards for him blending a photo from the game and my drawing of Lambeau on the front, and the Jason and Cal parts of his parents' drawing inside.

Jason recently had a 4th of July party and told me we needed to come.  "You'll get to meet the girl I've been telling you about!" he confided. 

We didn't make the party and I haven't met the girl yet.

She better be worthy of my friend, because he is one in a million. 

Zumpinator, out.


  1. Thank you Wendy for that touching write-up, you seriously humble me. Love you and Joe always! - Jason.

    P.S. (We actually did have alcohol a couple times on move weren't there?) LOL

    1. I don't remember move nights. Was I there? Perhaps I had a drunken black out? That wouldn't be a stretch. XXOO

  2. awesome, awesome, awesome....Best time in my career also...

  3. My husband and I met Jason through my cousin. My cousin and Jason were school mates. Simply put, we're very blessed to have Jason in our ciricle of friends (family!), we certainly hope he feels the same way! You captured the essence of Jason perfectly!


    1. Any friends of Jason's are friends of mine.

  4. GREAT post Wendy!!! Loved it!! You rock, J!!

  5. Oh, Wendy! Each post is more scrumptious and real and touching than the last! You ARE a wonderful writer. Maybe you should send out an e-mail to all your contacts and clients, ask them to read your blog and ask if they think it could be a book and know anyone to help make it happen. I think it would need some fill-in and editing, but your writing is so juicy and addictive and cheeky, I think lots of people could love it! (from your unpredjudiced Mom.)

    1. Cheeky!!! HA! My tightening pants agree. No, Mommy, you are not biased in the slightest. I need to get on some sort of proper emailing situation before I can send a big email. I've been thinking about that too. Thank you so much for every last thing. XXOOO

  6. Oh Wend, the places your stories take me. Felt like I was on a roller coaster. Loved it.

    1. And now our boys will be on a roller coaster together next week. Hooray! Love you.

  7. Loved this one! Your posts make me cry and laugh! It's like watching The Blind Side!
    And I am so happy you have been able to use our Lambeau field portrait in other ways (well really...Lance's picture. Da Bears!!!)

    1. Love it when my wonderful clients order a portrait that can make other people happy too... especially when they are good friends, too!! Miss you, Alicia!

  8. This was a good one Wendy!

  9. I think this is my favorite so far! So great!


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