Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Most Fired Man in America

Editor’s Note:

For years, workers have suffered through the advice of pundits, over-achievers and corporate lackeys, some of whom have had only three or four jobs in their entire lives.

Wouldn’t it be better to get career advice from someone with experience at literally thousands of jobs?

Baz Truman thinks so. Since the early 1980s, Baz Truman has been working at and getting fired from more jobs in a week than most people get fired from in a lifetime. Baz’ single-minded determination to excel at his career - no matter the cost – has gotten him fired from some of the world’s biggest and brightest companies.

Look here for Baz Truman’s weekly career advice on matters ranging from sexual discrimination to Christmas parties. We hope you enjoy it.

The Most Fired Man in America
By Baz Truman

Q. We have a customer service rep that insists on going bra-less when she comes to work. This wouldn’t be a problem except that she’s extremely well endowed and our staff finds it distracting. Is there a tactful way to suggest that this woman reconsider wearing a bra?

Distracted in Denver

Dear Distracted in Denver,

We have exactly the same situation here at my current job and I think I’ve learned a few valuable lessons.

To begin with, I suggest that you refrain from yelling, “Man, what a rack” whenever the woman walks into the room. I just tested that approach on a co-worker – and though it seemed like a good idea at first, I can see the Human Resources director and a security guard walking toward me. I’ll need to be quick with my advice.

Before you make any move, it’s important to ask yourself a few honest questions, the most important being, “What are my chances of sleeping with this woman?” If the answer is “not likely” or “I’m not interested” then ask yourself another difficult question, “What am I? Some kind of gay guy?”

Just for the sake of conversation, let’s assume you’re not gay and you’ve just got some kind of twisted idea of what constitutes a good working environment. A good example may be all that this chesty woman needs, so try this:

Start wearing a bra on the outside of your clothes at work. Make a point of approaching the woman and saying things like, “Boy, my breasts feel much lighter when I’m wearing a bra” and “This coconut hammock is the only thing that’s gonna keep me from looking like my grandma in five years.” Keep this up until she gets the idea.

I have two cautions, however. First, if you put the bra on and your chest actually fits into the cups, lay off the donuts at the morning meeting. Second, if you start to feel really sexy with the bra on and start to wear it at home – I've got news for you: You are some kind of gay guy.

Q. One person on my staff is consistently leaving work early or coming in late. When I question him about this, he invariably has some excuse about a medical appointment or visit by the cable repair guy. I don’t want to be difficult, but should I ask him to start bringing a doctor’s note in when he misses work?

Tired of Excuses

Dear Tired of Excuses,

Doctor’s note? Do you care if this guy actually has scurvy or something like it? Hell, no. You just want him to stop biting into your two-hour lunches and golf meetings.

You can nip this behavior in the bud by following these simple guidelines:

Whenever an employee asks to leave early for a medical appointment, insist that you go along for moral support. If he’s lying, he’ll fold like a card table. If he’s telling the truth, a couple of medical visits with his boss will likely encourage him to take care of his scurvy on his own time. Bam! You’re back on the golf course and lunch trysting with that Navy wife in accounting.

A few words of caution, though. This approach usually results in you spending a lot of time in gynecology offices with the female members of your staff. Never ask to go into the examination room with them. My experience shows that even though you’re just trying to be helpful, chicks are weird about that kind of thing.

Also, though doctors insist they have the patient’s welfare in mind, they have absolutely no interest in discussing home remedies you found on the Internet.

Finally, though this is a great time to catch up on your “Cosmopolitan” reading in the lobby, they really get spooked if you take the magazines into the bathroom.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Bears, Hot Tubs, Bubble Bath

My brother, Roger, teaches computer security for a company in the Poconos Mountains. The Poconos area – long famous for honeymoons and mirrors on the ceiling – is mightily working to change its image from something like a bad Rod Stewart song to something more tourist-friendly and corporate. Me, I’d stick with the sexy image.

For instance, I have always assumed that my brother teaches all of his courses from a heart-shaped hot tub. Though the hot tub is filled to the brim with tasteful, flesh-covering bubble bath, Roger is always wearing his suit.

This is because nothing ruins a fantasy quicker than picturing your brother naked in it.

Roger’s class, however, is made up entirely of hot women wearing pajamas. Every now and again they stop to settle Windows vs. Linux debates with impromptu pillow fights – the way God intended Windows vs. Linux debates to be settled.

One night last week, my brother and two other instructors walked to their apartments after a night class. It’s cold in the Poconos this time of year, so they walked briskly and hunkered down in their coats.

Then they saw a man in a bear suit under a nearby street light.

This surprised Roger and he turned to ask one of the other instructors the most obvious question that comes to mind:

What is a guy in a bear suit doing on a Poconos street at ten in the evening?

Then, the guy in the bear suit stood up. His head came to about two feet below the ten foot street light.

Man, my brother thought, that guy is huge.

Then the thing snorted and a humungous cloud of vapor blew from its nose. This was not an eight foot tall guy in a bear suit. This was an actual bear.

So, the instructors ran. My brother describes it as something more akin to steady tactical retreat, but it involved moving away from the bear at a high rate of speed. Make your own judgment.

I love this story because I think it’s a telling one. I’m no ecology freak, but how separated are we from nature when three intelligent college graduates see a bear – in a mountainous, wooded area – and their first logical thought is…

What’s a guy in a bear suit doing on a Poconos street at ten in the evening?


Once safely away from the bear, the three men did the exact thing I would do in the same situation – they called animal control and alerted them to the bear’s presence.


Because nothing ruins your fantasy of civilization quicker than seeing an actual bear in the mountains.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Underneath People's Houses

I interviewed for a supervisor position at the cable company where I work. I applied for the position because I wanted more money and greater responsibility. Also, as a cable technician, I think I’m becoming way too obsessed with crawling under people’s houses. Sometimes, I find myself daydreaming about building the perfect crawlspace.

Clearly, it’s time to get out of the “field”.

First, though, I needed to ace the interview. In preparation, I rehearsed my “inscrutable” look. I use this look whenever an interviewer asks me a question I don’t immediately know the answer to. When used correctly, the “inscrutable” look makes me look mysterious, pensive and wise. In other words, it buys me time to do something career experts call “pulling something out of my butt”.

The interview began as most corporate interviews do; I took a seat on one side of a table and my three interviewers took their seats across from me. In the past, less sophisticated Human Resources departments might have used just one interviewer to vet a candidate. Modern HR departments know that you ideally need at least two interviewers if you want to really intimidate a candidate – and at least three questioners if you want to completely surround a candidate and cut off all routes of escape.

Things went well enough until one of the interviewers asked this question:

“Give us one specific incident where you had to discipline someone in your department. How did you do it and what were the results?”

I froze up. It’s been so long since I’ve actually been in charge of someone that absolutely no anecdotes sprang to mind. While I searched my memories, I put my patented “inscrutable” look on my face. I assumed the look was working like a champ until one of the interviewers said:

“Are you okay?”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“You looked like you had a little…indigestion.”

My face went red. “I was actually trying to project an air of inscrutability.”

Another of the interviewers gave a tired sigh.

“Oh,” he said. “For a second, we thought you were trying to pull an answer out of your butt.”

So, I’ve gone back to planning the perfect crawlspace. It’s eight feet high, so a cable technician doesn’t have to crawl. It’s well lit and open. Most of all, there’s no spiders. Why? Because sometimes a customer can chart my progress under their house just by listening for my girlish screams every time I hit a spider web….

Saturday, November 06, 2004

On Being Replaceable

It’s obvious to those of us in the lower half of the food chain that the economy sucks. We judge this by a number of factors; are there fewer job ads in the paper? Is it harder to advance in whatever company we work for?

But mostly we can tell how the economy is going by the way that our employers treat us. Case in point: three people close to me have had their bosses pull employees together and tell them this:

You can be replaced.

In a previous life, I was a manager of people. I know the pressures that managers face. I know your bosses want everything in the world – and they want it now. I know that the people you manage will sometimes take advantage of your good will. I know that your job is only as good as your last spreadsheet. I even know that, really, everyone can be replaced. Hell, I’ve actually been replaced.

But only in a bad economy do managers get bold enough, desperate enough or desperately bold enough to actually say these heart-killing words:

You can be replaced.

Many managers immediately regret saying these words, but slough off the guilt because they are only “telling it like it is.”

Well, there are two types of people in the world, those who “tell it like is” and those who tell the truth.

Here’s some truth, managers. Because you use spreadsheets to gauge our progress, you will be tempted to reduce us to something like a “Dungeons & Dragons” character. This person has an Intelligence of 13 (out of a possible 18), that person has a Budgeting skill of 8. We have a certain amount of “Hit Points” and when we run out of those, we’re not “dead”, we’re “fired”. And then we’re replaced.

We’re more than that. Me? I’m a cable technician who is terrified of heights, but climbs telephone poles every day. I do this in the wind and rain, not out of loyalty to a manager or company, but because at the top of that pole, I see something more real.

I see health insurance for my family; I see diapers and formula for my infant daughter. If you’re a manager and think you have your employees by the “short ones”, you’re right. In my case, the “short ones” are named Gabriel, Julian and Riley.

I’m not writing this because a manager has told me I’m replaceable. I’m writing this because managers are saying this to my friends. I can hear the anxiety in my friends’ voices and I can identify with that angst.

I know that the managers who say this are anxious, too. But you get paid the bigger bucks to look at the whole of the problem. You get paid the bigger bucks to realize that though spreadsheets are useful tools, they only describe your employees. Your employees are bigger than spreadsheets.

You should be, too.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Sunglasses Inside, Part Deux

In my previous post I related the story of how my family began to break its addiction to what Harlan Ellison famously called “The Glass Teat”. The plan was simple. We wouldn’t watch TV during the week. Adding a hint of hypocrisy to this recipe for disaster is the fact that I install cable television for a living.

The first night was the roughest. As we made dinner, my two year-old son Julian repeatedly walked to the television set and turned it on. He did this every time we turned the television off and with great patience. Julian apparently assumed that his parents were in the grip of some kind of seizure; the kind of seizure that can only be brought on by repeated viewings of the Scooby Doo gang on Zombie Island.

He was not completely wrong.

After dinner, I combated Julian’s efforts by completely unhooking the cables from the back of every television in the house.

Everyone began to cry. Julian cried because he couldn’t make the television come on. Four year-old Gabriel cried because he realized that he couldn’t watch “Ed, Edd, and Eddy”. Our infant daughter Riley cried because everyone else was crying. My wife and I cried because, dammit, “CSI: Miami” was coming on that night.

Still, my wife and I fought on. We put the boys in their room to let them cry themselves out. We put Riley in her swing because, frankly, dizzy babies find it hard to cry. Then, my wife and I began to do stuff that we usually avoided by watching television; stupid stuff like paying bills, cleaning the house and (oh, the humanity) talking to each other.

It sucked. I felt like Pa on “Little House on the Prairie”, only this was an alternate world Pa who desperately wanted to be plugged back into the Matrix.

As suddenly as it started, the crying from the boys’ room stopped. Because every parent knows that silence = bad, my wife and I trooped upstairs and found that Julian had figured out how to hook the cable back into the television. It wasn’t screwed in and the picture was fuzzy, but my two year-old had MacGyvered his way back into the Nielsen demographic.

I was overcome with pride. My son was a chip off the old block. He had picked up some of his dad’s skills. Then I remembered that his dad was a cable guy and got depressed.

Still, this was a great opportunity to exercise my parenting skills. This was a chance to turn a bad moment around and teach my sons crucial skills that they could use when they had kids. I turned to my wife.

“Well,” I said. “I think we’ve found out how all that pornography got on my computer.”

My wife looked at me for a moment.

“You’re sick,” she said. “You need help.”

I Wear My Sunglasses Inside

How do I know that there are too many political commercials on television? Because my four year-old son has been finishing every conversation by saying, “My name is Gabriel and I approved this message.”

I’m not making this up.

This is just one of the many reasons why my wife and I decided to permanently shut off our television during the week. I was completely prepared to let hours of unsupervised Cartoon Network soak into my children and turn them into unsociable, obese and mindless zombies.

But a politician? I’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

The taut irony, of course, is that I work as a cable technician for a really big cable company. So, enforcing a weeknight television ban is like a crack dealer instituting a strict sobriety rule in the crack house – you’re not really working from the moral high ground.

Still, in this particular crack house, the head dealer reluctantly admits that he, too, was spending too much time sampling the “product”. It suddenly occurred to me one Thursday night that I was watching three “CSI” shows. And that was just the “first run” stuff. Some nights, I actually caught CSI reruns on another channel.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There were some advantages. For instance, instead of mulling over the Iraq problem, I instead found myself wondering why Rory Cochrane decided to leave “CSI: Miami”. Was he pushed out? Did he leave on his own accord? Does he get to keep his wardrobe?

I can also do a perfect impression of David Caruso’s Horatio Cane character. Here’s how you do it. First, always wear sunglasses – especially if you’re inside. When speaking to people, put your hands on your hips and look to the left and down. Never look directly at the person. Finally, be apathetic toward males but go into complete “buddy mode” when dealing with a woman. Never, ever, get physically intimate with a woman. Let’s be realistic. Guys named Horatio rarely get laid.

I can only thank God that I got the “Law and Order” monkey off of my back before “CSI” debuted.

I knew quitting television during the week was going to be hard, but I never realized just how hard…

Next: The Family That Detoxes Together….


While writing this installment in Word, Microsoft’s spellchecker politely informed me that “crackhouse” was not a compound word and was instead spelled “crack house”. Make note of it the next time you’re writing a police report or e-mailing your dealer. It’s the little things that keep us civilized.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Amazing But True Stories, Part 2

Today, I’m stealing an Amazing But True Story from my brother, whose social gaffes are infamous.

At one point in his life, my brother ran with a local runner’s club. I assume this is because painful exercise is much easier if an entire group of people shares the same delusion. This goes a long way toward explaining the appeal of step classes, but barely scratches the sick surface of ThighMasters.

In any case, my brother typically ran with the same group of people. One of these people was a somewhat effeminate guy. Since my brother is not homophobic, he made note of the guy’s effete manner but thought nothing much about it.

One day when my brother was stretching near a set of bleachers, the guy walked over to him, sat down and made the following pronouncement:

“Jenny (another runner) says that she thinks I’m a fag. What do you think?”

My brother was taken aback by Jenny’s use of “F” word, but he’s a sometimes brutally honest guy who has never flinched from a conversation.

“Well,” my brother said. “I don’t like Jenny’s use of the word “Fag”, but if you want my honest opinion, I’ll give it to you. I’ve always suspected you were gay. If you are, it’s no big deal.”

The guy looked at my brother strangely for a few moments, and then said this:

“I said Jenny thought I was fat.”

My brother has not talked to the guy since.

Amazing but True.

Amazing But True Stories, Part 1

My brother believes that just after a woman delivers a baby, her body secretes a hormone called “Forgetsin”, which wipes all memories concerning pregnancy, pain and child birth from her mind and immediately starts her thinking about the next one.

My brother’s not big on political correctness.

One thing is for sure, though, women are secreting dangerous hormones during pregnancy. As an illustration, I’ll relate an incident that happened while my wife carried our first child.

One night in the first trimester, my wife decided to do a load of laundry. I, of course, sat dumbly on the couch soaking up television. My wife picked up a pair of my casually thrown jeans and began to clean the pockets out.

This pocket-cleaning practice of hers is usually a good thing. I’m famous for leaving receipts, pens, etc. in my pockets while I wash my clothes. This is why most of my underwear is blue and filled with odd bits of paper.

I don’t know why I keep doing this, but I am convinced that if I can get the right celebrity to start wearing blue, paper-filled underwear, a nation-wide fad would result. I haven’t heard back from Madonna about this (if you don’t count the court order, anyway), but I did notice in a People Magazine article that Britney Spears’ new husband Kevin had white robes made for his groomsmen with the word “Pimp” emblazoned on the back. That sounds like a guy who is both ready to jump on a fad and is seriously missing the style receptor genes found throughout the normal human genome. I may have found my guy.

Back to my story. On this particular night, my wife’s good pocket-cleaning practices went awry. I heard a yell of anger from the bedroom. Naturally, I ignored it. This is usually the safest thing to do, but my pregnant wife came storming out of the bedroom and into the living room.

“Who the #&%$ is Mimi?” she yelled.

Only she didn’t say #&%$. If you’ve never had a pregnant wife, you should know that the foulest words will spill out of her mouth at merest provocation. Much like her hips, which move and stretch in preparation for delivering a baby, her mouth will start learning to form the swear words that she will use on you during the painful delivery. Get used to this.

“Who the #&%$ is Mimi?” she repeated and held up a slip of paper with a phone number on it.

“It says ‘Mimi’s Cell Phone’. Are you cheating on your pregnant wife?”

“I don’t know any Mimi,” I said truthfully. Then it occurred to me that maybe I should deny the overall crime, too. “I’m not cheating on you. I would never cheat on you.”

I reached for the piece of paper. My wife ripped it up and threw the pieces to the floor.

“Like I’m gonna let you keep that &%$#@’s phone number?”.

I should point out that my wife is normally not like this. I can only surmise that her raging hormones and added weight had made her, well, vulnerable. And her righteous fury was so, well, righteous, that for a second I actually asked myself this question:

“Did I get a woman’s phone number?”

Nope. I started to pick up the pieces of paper so that I could see the phone number and this just enraged my wife.

“That’s right,” she said. “Why don’t we give that $*#%$ a call? I’d like to tell her what I think of a $*#@# who would cheat with the husband of a pregnant woman. Let’s give her a call.”

I pieced the number together and it took a few seconds for it to hit me. It was a woman’s cell phone number. And it was a woman I had a long history with. I looked at my wife and told her the truth.

“It doesn’t say ‘Mimi’s cell phone’,” I said. “I wrote it quickly, so it kinda looks like that.”

“Oh yeah?” said my wife. “Whose number is it?”

“It says ‘Mom’s cell phone’,” I said. “My mom just got a new cell phone number. She gave me the number the other day.”

Nothing but the sound of crickets as my wife digested this.

“Oh,” she said. “Sorry.”

I started laughing. “Don’t be sorry. You’re right. Let’s call that %^$#@ and let her know what you think.”

Friday, October 22, 2004

Mom, Get Thee to a Nunnery

This has been my goal: to write one example of everything that can be written. To this end, I’ve written books, poems, obituaries, speeches, short stories, scripts, love letters, web columns (and blogs, of course), newspaper articles and advertising of various kinds. I’ve even written letters explaining why friends of mine should receive mortgage loans (Did they get the loans? You bet). I’ve never been afraid to write anything.

Until now. My recently-separated mother has requested that I write her E-Harmony personal ad.

I can’t tell you how much this creeps me out. Oh, wait. Yes, I can. My mother would like me to fashion an advertisement that will attract men to her, men who presumably want to date her and have whatever kind of sex old people have. In effect, my mother wants me to pimp her out.

Yeah, that about explains it.

The creepiness doesn’t stop there. Apparently, one of my mother’s friends has already taken a stab at writing a personal ad for her. My mother wants me to use this ad as a kind of template. This ad contained adjectives like “exciting” and “sexual”.


I’m making a promise to my own children right now. Kids, I will never, ever force you to utter the words “sexual” and “Dad” in the same conversation. Your mother and I will do the proper parenting thing and hide our sexuality like monks. Hell, we’ll hide it like homosexual football player monks. Rest easy, but knock before you come into our bedroom.

That said, I’m gonna write the ad for my mother. Ultimately, she’s a good person in search of another good person. And I’m a writer in search of a challenge.

Here’s my plan. I’m gonna dredge up all of my advertising copy skills and match it against the unsuspecting studs on E-Harmony. I’m going to “brand” my mother and craft a message that will enhance my mother’s “brand image”. I’m going to use every skill in my web advertising arsenal. I’m gonna ask the E-Harmony people about “click-throughs”, “sell-throughs” and “calls-to-action”.

Rest easy, Mom. These guys are consumers and we’re gonna hit them like a Budweiser Super Bowl ad.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


My wife and I have had three kids in four years. I believe this is chiefly my wife’s fault. She’s way too fertile. I have come to the conclusion that she has super powers, much like Jayna from the Wonder Twins, only instead of taking “Form of an Eagle” or “Form of a Snake”, she can only take one form, “Form of an Irritable, Hungry and Tired Pregnant Woman.”

Naturally, I’m contemplating a vasectomy. Since a vasectomy is an irreversible and important decision, my wife and I decided to make our decision the old-fashioned way - we took all three kids to the International House of Pancakes.

My four year-old, Gabriel, asked me what the International House of Pancakes was. I explained it on the way to the restaurant.

“It’s like the United Nations, except they hand out breakfast food sanctions. Also, the United States actually listens to the International House of Pancakes.”

In my estimation, all birth control decisions should be at the IHOP. There’s nothing that concentrates your mind on birth control like flying whipped cream, dropped pancakes and spilled cups of juice. Heck, set three kids loose in an IHOP and if you look around you’ll see that just about everyone in the place is thinking about birth control.

It took maybe five minutes to decide to have me “fixed.” Even the young couple at the next table decided on having a vasectomy – and they hadn’t even had children yet. Go figure.

My decision remained firm right up until my first consultation with the doctor.

Biology is King

For those that don’t know, this is what happens when you visit the doctor to talk about a vasectomy. Just after shaking your hand, the doctor asks you to drop your pants and then he palpates your testicles.

Now, you might think this part might be embarrassing, but it’s nowhere near as embarrassing as when the doctor calls in the entire medical office staff to admire your equipment.

Okay, so I made that last part up.

In reality, once the doctor starts “palpating”, a million years of biology kicks in and your testicles literally try to run away from you and the doctor. And you’re cheering them on. At one point, under your breath, you will actually say, “Run like hell, boys, he’s got a knife.
Though admirable, the attempt is ultimately fruitless – “ultimately fruitless” being as good an adjective as you can have for anything connected to a vasectomy.

Then, the doctor sits you down (a competent doctor will have let go of your testicles at this point) and tells you the hard facts about vasectomies. It goes like this:

Doctor: You should consider a vasectomy irreversible. Are you sure that you’ve had all of the kids you want to have?

You: Yes. I'm positive.

But once you hear the word “irreversible”, no matter how happily married you are, you start thinking about your next wife.

“What if this marriage doesn’t work out?” you think. “What if I end up marrying a younger woman who wants kids? Am I being fair to her?”

The lizard part of your brain will race to think of other somewhat less plausible excuses. “What if scientists find out that my sperm is capable of creating a race of super geniuses…super geniuses that could cure the world’s diseases and invent stuff like cold fusion or a better tasting fruitcake. Am I being fair to the world?”

The scariest part of the vasectomy consultation will be the doctor’s list of possible complications, which includes infection, spontaneous regeneration of the deferens and, wait for it, chronic testicular pain. Which may require pain management. For years.

In any case, I left the doctor’s office with both an appointment for the surgery in November and a firm resolve to never step in that doctor’s office again.