Your dirty dishes are my problem

woman in office rolling her eyes

My response to most company policies….

Dear Senior Leadership Team,

Good morning. I’m writing to you today to express a grave concern.

I’ve spent many sleepless nights debating whether to escalate this concern to senior management. As a result, my work performance has suffered, and I’ve ordered way too many useless gadgets from the Home Shopping Network.

I feel I have no choice now but to voice my thoughts. Stoic silence is no longer an option. And though I often hesitate to make waves, sometimes you have to be the fat guy who does a cannonball into the pool.

My concern this morning is in regards to the company breakroom policy.

That’s right: the company breakroom policy. I don’t like it.

There. I’ve said it. I feel much better already.

As senior management is aware, all departments are required to take turns cleaning the breakroom. During a department’s designated month, employees must rinse dirty dishes, load and unload the dishwasher, wipe tables, restock the cleaning supplies, sweep the floor, and chisel Lean Cuisine explosions from the roof of the microwave. (At least I hope it was Lean Cuisine. But based on the mess, it could have been a cat. I’m not sure.)

The policy is applicable to all employees — even those who never use the break room and prefer to eat lunch in the privacy of their own car.

I myself am such an employee. It’s not that I’m not social (which I’m not). It’s that I like to spend my lunch where overbearing, imbecile co-workers can’t engage me in mundane, pointless chatter. The way I see it, if I’m going to be subjected to a spewing stream of never-ending twaddle, then I might as well be on the clock, so that my misery earns money.

I never eat lunch in the breakroom. Instead, I sit at my desk listening to soothing motivational CDs on my headset. My goal one day is to rise above this hamster wheel of demeaning mediocrity and make a name for myself, instead of trudging through life as a mindless corporate drone with no deeper meaning to his meager, futile existence. (No offense intended if being a mindless corporate drone is your thing. Obviously, if you’re in senior management, it’s worked out well for you.)

Because of the ludicrous policy implemented by clueless management (again, no offense intended), employees have no incentive to clean up after themselves. Unless it’s their department’s designated month, employees simply leave their dirty dishes in the sink (and their exploded Lean Cuisine meals in the microwave), because they know somebody else will be tasked with cleaning it up.

In other words, your dirty dishes become my problem.

I understand that the company seeks to instill in its workforce an all-for-one-and-one-for-all spirit of camaraderie. It’s pleasant to work in an environment where people care about the welfare of their co-workers (or at least do a decent job of pretending).

Unfortunately, the concept of teamwork seems to vanish when dirty dishes enter the picture. Especially when one of those dishes has charred Hot Pocket innards stuck to it.

My problem with the policy isn’t that it relegates me to the role of a menial servant who scrubs disgusting gunk off of chipped plates. Indeed, given the aimless nature of my job (and, in fact, my life — as we just discussed), wiping grease splatter off the oven might be the most productive — and useful — part of my day.

I also don’t mind the general nature of the policy, in that it affects all employees — not just those who use the breakroom. Employees tend to share a closer bond when they’re all subjected to the same degrading toil. We’re nothing if not united in our misery — so on that front, the across-the-board implementation is appropriate.

No, my problem with the policy is that it doesn’t go far enough. If we’re going to require employees to clean up after each other, then why stop at the company breakroom?

The way I see it, why not extend the policy to the restrooms, as well?

It’s not a leap in logic. In fact, from a management perspective, it makes perfect sense. (That’s assuming, of course, that anything from a management perspective makes sense.)

Therefore, I propose that all departments should take turns scrubbing the toilets. The shared responsibility will instill a deeper sense of community, which will result in happier, more productive employees.

After all, just as everyone enjoys a clean breakroom, I’m sure everyone will appreciate sparking toilets. I know I will — especially on days when the Lean Cuisine doesn’t agree with me.

And unless it’s my department’s designated month to clean the bathroom, I can take refuge in knowing that I don’t have to clean up after myself, because another diligent employee will be along to do it for me. That’s just the kind of thoughtful organization we run here.

Whether I dribble a little urine or drop a deuce and forget to flush, my dirty bathroom will become your problem.

It’s not a lot to ask, and if employees are willing to clean each other’s dishes, then they should be more than happy to scrub the toilets. All for one and one for all, right? In fact, I imagine that senior management will also be eager to participate.

(Unless, of course, someone eats a Lean Cuisine for lunch. Or a cat.)

Attack of the time parasite

time parasite

The dreaded time parasite attaches himself to a hardworking employee and sucks away not only his industry knowledge, but also his will to live.

The time parasite is a wretched and despicable creature. They’re among the lowest form of scum imaginable (a true invertebrate with no noticeable backbone or useful purpose), and they often come with an overinflated sense of self worth and a graduate degree in business administration.

The time parasite is a true bottom-feeding life form oozing with sludge and dripping with charisma. They often have a sallow, oily appearance, and they thrive in dank, slimy places covered in dead rot (otherwise known as the upper echelon of senior management).

To survive, the time parasite will attach itself to an amiable, industrious employee. The employee won’t mind at first, because the time parasite will present itself as an eager and dedicated manager committed to assisting the team.

As the employee discusses the easy-to-follow steps of a rudimentary procedure, the time parasite will sink in its fangs and begin to feed. It will ask pointless questions to prolong the conversation, and the employee will be forced to restate in a different way what he or she already explained in intricate detail.

As the moments stretch into minutes, the employee will begin to feel anxious and short-tempered. E-mails will keep piling up — many requiring immediate response — but the time parasite will refuse to release its sinister hold. The employee will motion to his or her screen, or they’ll pretend to pick up their phone and make an imaginary call, but neither tactic will work. The time parasite has a hunger for the souls of employees, and its ravenous appetite is insatiable.

As the time parasite continues to devour mercilessly, the employee will feel his or her existence slipping away, as if they’re attached to the Count’s life-sucking machine on The Princess Bride. Indeed, even the most self-driven, highly motived employee will lose his or her momentum when ensnared in a time parasite’s inescapable grasp. The employee will cease to perform at a high standard, and instead of looking forward to five o’clock, they’ll start wishing for their own death.

In that way, time parasites are much like the Dementors that guard Azkaban Prison — except much more career-focused and self-serving.

Indeed, the time parasite’s enervating effects drain the employee of their motivation. When the time parasite finally releases its bone-breaking grip (usually because it becomes bored by a conversation that it cared little about in the first place), the employee will feel chewed up and violated. They’ll shake themselves off and go back to work, but their once-productive workflow will be disrupted. The time parasite took from them something that they can never get back. Not only time, but a sense of wholeness — as if the very fabric of their being was unraveled by a tug of the thread.

It will dawn upon the employee then that none of their skills, knowledge, or ideas matter anymore — at least in terms of the employee’s long-sought-after upward trajectory — because the time parasite will be there to gobble them up and to take credit for all of the employee’s accomplishments.

And so the time parasite will slink back to its dank, slimy environment, leaving in its wake a department of demoralized souls who now have to work past five to make up for lost time.

An under-appreciated office-dweller

getting a big promotion“Thanks.”

That was the extent of your e-mailed response: “Thanks.”

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m glad that you at least acknowledged my effort.

But “Thanks”? That’s it?

Not to sound entitled, but I think I deserve a little bit more.

Did you see how quickly I acted upon your request? And did you bother to grasp the thoroughness of my reply?

I mean, I don’t expect you to write a haiku as a testament to my glory and magnificence, but give me something more than “Thanks.” Maybe something like “Thank you very much” or “Your assistance is greatly appreciated.”

Nope. “Thanks.” That’s the length to which you ventured to recognize my contributions.

I don’t want to complain, but I feel like my work here isn’t appreciated. No matter how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my personal life, I put forth my best each day. My commitment to timeliness and quality is unparalleled, and I’m highly regarded as a dedicated team-player. The meticulous approach I bring to my work has earned me stellar reviews from upper management.

So I don’t think I’m out of line to expect a little bit more than “Thanks.”

I suppose it’s not in your nature to recognize others (being so singularly focused on your own career and upward momentum). But the next time I go out of my way to accommodate one of your “urgent” requests, a little more gratitude would be appreciated.

And I’m not talking about an overdone dissertation dripping with sarcasm. You don’t need to say “I so dearly value your heartfelt dedication and perseverance. You are a radiant beacon in a shadowy sea of cubicles; a pillar of strength standing among a battalion of slump-shouldered staff. You consistently outshine your peers, like a brilliant star streaking across a twilight sky. Your mind brims with industry knowledge; your heart and soul exude the passion you bring to your job. I truly cherish having you on my team, and I wish to thank you profusely for your wholehearted dedication.”

No, you don’t need to say all that. I’m not looking for unconditional admiration, or a stepping stool to senior management. I’m clearly not on the fast-track, because instead of brown-nosing my way to success, I’m too busy doing all the work.

I just want something more than “Thanks.” And at the end of a trying workday, is that really so much to ask? I’m but a mere human with a humble heart. I seek not riches or fame, but just a smidgen of recognition, to validate my otherwise futile existence.

This mysterious journey of life holds little clues to the grander intricacies of the universe. Life moves forward in a constant current of progression, and unless we flow forward with friends, the world can make us feel isolated and lonely.

We must respect each other, cherish each other — love each other. If there’s a deeper meaning to the universe, it’s that all we have is each other. All people (and indeed, all office-dwellers) are interconnected — like a connect-the-dots game in which all the points are linked.

By the mere act of existing, each of us is obligated to bring warmth to this world, and we can do that by respecting each other. Don’t let your condescending, managerial detachment make this world a cold, unforgiving place. Be warm. Be loving.

Be human.

I so appreciate your contributions to this organization. All I ask is that you appreciate mine.

Thanks.

The catnip candy cane and the unimpressed cat

a cat rolling on floorSo I’m on the phone with my friend, Brenda. And she says, “You have a cat, don’t you? I thought I remembered you saying you have a cat.”

“Yep,” I say, laughing. “I sure do. I am indeed the proud owner of a cat.”

“Hey!”

I look up to see my cat staring at me from across the room. He motions to me with his claw. “Get over here.”

I can’t, I mouth, cupping my hand over the receiver. I’m on the phone.

“Hang up the damn phone and get your ass over here,” my cat says. “Now! I want to talk to you.”

And meanwhile, Brenda’s babbling about some dog she owned in 1986. I think she said its name was Salt, or something.

“Brenda, I’m so sorry,” I say, interrupting her, “but I’ve got to go.”

“Right now?” Brenda asks. “We’re right in the middle of a conversation. I was just telling you about the time that Pepper lifted his leg on Mama’s toupee. She kept smelling doggy pee, and she couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. She thought it might be her armpits, and she kept burying her nose under both her arms to sniff them, but all she could smell was regular old-lady B.O., and not pee. It was driving her crazy!”

“I thought your dog’s name was Salt?” I ask.

“My dog’s name is Salt,” Brenda says.

“But you just said your dog’s name is Pepper?”

“Pepper is the dog I had in 1986,” Brenda says. “You know that. My goodness, it’s like you’re not listening to a word I’m saying.”

“Huh? What’s that?” I ask, looking at my cat and swallowing. His eyes are narrowed, and I can tell my delay is making him livid.

“I said it’s like you’re not listening to a word I’m saying!” Now it’s Brenda who sounds livid.

“Hang up the phone,” my cat says, his voice eerily calm. “Now.”

“Bye, Brenda,” I say, as I hang up the phone. I can her her screaming violent, rage-fueled obscenities as I set down the receiver. That woman does not like to be cut off when she’s talking about her pets.

“Get over here,” my cat says, motioning me over to the couch.

I take a deep, uncertain breath. Then, I stand up and saunter over to the couch.

“Have a seat.”

I sit down on one end of the couch while my cats sits on the other, his tail twitching manically.

“Now,” my cat says, “remind me what you said a moment ago. You know, the part about you being a proud pet owner?”

I swallow again. Suddenly, my throat feels dry.

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” I say, my voice cracking. “I swear. All I said was that I was the proud owner of a cat.”

“And therein lies the problem.” My cat closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. My chest tightens as I await his next syllable. Already, I can feel a line of cold sweat beading across my brow.

“Let’s get something straight,” my cat says. “Right here and right now. And I’m only going to tell you once, so you listen good. You don’t own me. You understand? I own you. You got that, you miserable bag of puke? I own you!”

“I’m sorry,” I try to say, stammering. “I didn’t mean–”

“Shut up!” my cat says, raising his paw. “I’m not through with you. You’re nothing. You’re the rancid scum that pools at the bottom of my milk dish when it’s left sitting out for too long. You’re the flimsy guts of a disemboweled mouse that I left sitting on the back porch. You’re more useless than that cheap-ass catnip candy cane you bought me for Christmas from the $1 store. And what a joke that was, by the way. What kind of a tightwad, scumbag bastard buys Christmas gifts from the $1 store?”

“Cat, please,” I say, my voice taking on a higher pitch. My body’s trembling, and my throat constricts as I talk, which cuts off my words. Either I’m really getting worked up, or my cat allergies are kicking in.

I’m not sure why I have a cat when I’m allergic to him, but he’s never appreciated any of the sacrifices I’ve made. I made a special trip to buy him that catnip candy cane, and it pains me to learn that he hated it.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” my cat says. “Don’t you ever go around telling people you own me. You got it? You will never own me. I would never condescend to call you my owner, or even my friend. You’re nothing to me. You’re just the sniveling coward who fills my food dish and cleans out the litter box. You’re nothing to me but a manservant. All you’re good for is fluffing my pillows and maybe running a comb through my fur when I’m starting to shed. But beyond that, you’re a withered, pathetic excuse for a man.”

“Cat, I’m sorry!” I say, tears springing to my eyes. It hurts to hear him speak so callously. I thought our relationship was stronger than this.

“Silence!” my cat says. “I ought to drag you outside right now and break your stupid kneecaps with a tire iron, you miserable pipsqueak. Or maybe I’ll just slice you up with my claws so that you look like shredded cheese. You’ll look like you’ve been dropped through a helicopter rotor by the time I’m finished with you, you classless bum.”

“I’m so sorry, Cat,” I say, wiping snot on the back on my sleeve. Whether it’s emotions or allergies, my nose is gushing. “I didn’t mean to insinuate that I owned you, or that you’re somehow beneath me. Sometimes I just blurt things without thinking.”

“Damn right you weren’t thinking, you gutless turd! And you’ll never make the same mistake again, will you?”

“I promise,” I say, sniffing. “You’re the most important feline in my life, Cat. I don’t want us to fight.”

“Quit sniveling,” my cat says, glaring. “You’re making me sick. It’s despicable.”

“Cat,” I say, “can I ask you a question?”

“Must you?”

“You’re always so mad at me lately. You hiss at me for even the slightest perceived offense.”

My cat’s eyes widen. “That’s because you deserve it, you wretched fool!”

I swallow. “I know I’ve apologized for this before, but Cat … will you ever forgive me for having you neutered?”

My cat sucks in a quick breath. “I said I never want to discuss it,” he says, his eyes burning like branding irons into the depths of my soul.

“I know,” I say. “But clearly, you’re still very resentful. I just wondered–”

My cat holds up a paw, with his blood-stained claws protruding like Wolverine’s terrifying blades. “Not another word, you imbecile, or I’ll slice you up into human confetti. Your guts will be raining upon guests at a New Year’s Eve party when I get through with you.”

“OK. All right.” I rise from the couch and take a cautious step backward. “I’m so sorry, Cat. I swear. I’ll get you some milk now. Does kitty want some milk?”

“You’re goddamn right kitty wants some milk, you insufferable dumb ass! And bring me a handful of those crunchy treats while you’re at it. They help me fight tartar and bad breath.”

“You got it.” Though I’m still shaken, I cross the room to the kitchen to retrieve the milk and treats.

As I leave him alone in the living room, my cat stares blankly at the wall. Ever so slowly, the rage recedes from his eyes, and a dull, glassy stare takes its place.

Although he thinks he’s alone, he’s not aware that I’m watching him. Even through all of our trials and escalated conversations, I have nothing but fondness for him in my heart.

And as he extends his hind leg to lick it, a remorseful pang of guilt surges through me … because as he licks he gently nuzzles that place near the base of his tail — that now-vacant spot where his family jewels used to be.

Don’t throw garbage in there! That’s a decorative wastebasket

man daydreaming

Sure, I may have a string of failed relationships, but it’s not like I’m the one who’s the problem.

Roberta, I hope you’re having a good evening. Thank you so much for coming. I’ve been wanting to have you over to my apartment for quite a while.

I also hope you enjoyed your dinner. Sorry I burned the fish sticks! I’m just not used to baking them in the oven. I usually use the microwave, but then they get mushy. I always try to put forth a little more effort when I have a woman over. But you could probably tell that from the sprig of parsley and the slice of lemon I laid over the fish sticks when I served them.

Next time you’re over, I’ll use a timer. Either that, or I can whip up some Pasta Roni. It’s really good if you add a can of tuna fish. Then it becomes a more sophisticated version of Tuna Helper. And if I want to get really fancy, I’ll sometimes substitute a can of Atlantic pink salmon for the tuna.

I was thinking about doing my own cooking podcast, or maybe a series of YouTube videos. But I wouldn’t want people copying my recipes. Maybe I should self-publish a cookbook, first. I have so many money-making ideas, I just don’t know where to start. I’m ambitious like that. And ambition’s attractive. Aren’t I right?

Anyway, I’m so glad you’re here, sitting on my couch. Can you tell I cleaned up? Only this morning, there was a dirty pair of underwear right where you were sitting. Laundry Day isn’t until Wednesday, so I shoved the underwear underneath the cushion. You’re sitting on it, but you can’t see it. Pretty clever, huh?

So if you drop some loose change down the cushions, be careful as you feel around. There may be a condom or two down there, too. I don’t know — I’ve never lifted the cushion to see what’s under there. For all I know, there could be a mummified cat. Mine disappeared two years ago. You would have liked him. He was precious. I still have his litter box in my bedroom as a sort of shrine. I haven’t touched it since the day he vanished. For all I know, all his turds are mummified, too.

Anyway, before this evening gets serious and I dim the lights, I wanted to ask you something important:

Did you happen to use the bathroom earlier?

I’m not asking because there was a funky odor, or anything. In fact, I’m not even sure why I’m asking. I know for a fact you were in there, because you excused yourself during dinner. I could even hear you peeing, though I tried not to listen. I was trying to eat, and bathroom noises ruin my appetite.

I know — it’s a little awkward that the bathroom is located right next to the dining-room table. But I’m not the dumb-ass architect who laid out the apartment. If you ask me, dining rooms and bathrooms should be located in separate counties. No one wants to eat next to a full view of a toilet. But sometimes I light a cinnamon candle in there, and it gives me a craving for Christmas cookies, even though it’s July. So that’s kind of weird. Whenever someone serves me cookies at a Christmas party, all I can think about is my toilet.

It’s also too bad the bathroom fan broke. It’s useful not only for removing unpleasant odors, but also for masking private sounds. That’s why I could hear you peeing. If we’re going to keep dating, then I’ll have to get the landlord to fix the fan right away. The way you drink wine, you’re going to be in the bathroom every five minutes, and you sound like an overflowing stream surging toward a waterfall. (In other words, you seem like a lush. No offense.)

The reason I’m asking whether you used the bathroom is because I saw a wadded-up Kleenex in the wastebasket. I know I didn’t put it there, and unless my mummified cat somehow leapt back to life and wormed his way out from under the couch cushions, you’re the only obvious suspect.

The thing is — and I hesitate to ask — but I’m going to need you to go the bathroom, fish out the Kleenex, and flush it down the toilet.

See, the wastebasket isn’t really a wastebasket. I have it for decorative purposes only. I never intended for people to throw garbage in there. You should have known that, because the wastebasket lacks a bag. Nobody’s supposed to toss garbage into a bag-less wastebasket. It just isn’t done in polite society. I’m not sure if you’ve ever taken a course in manners, but you should at least be familiar with the works of Peggy Post. She used to write an etiquette column for Good Housekeeping. Not that I’m an ardent reader of Good Housekeeping. It’s just that my ex used to keep them next to the toilet, and they’re great to thumb through if you haven’t had enough fiber and are taking longer than normal to do your business.

Speaking of etiquette, I know that I’m the host and that I should pick up the Kleenex if it bothers me so much. I’m not one to inconvenience my guests. I didn’t even ask you to remove your shoes prior to coming inside. But that was more for my sake, as you appear to be wearing shoes without socks, which doubles the likelihood of your having foot odor. I like you and everything, but I don’t want to have your disgusting, pungent feet tromping all over my carpet. I just vacuumed two weeks ago, and I can’t afford to have it shampooed after you leave. So if you insist on going sock-less, then I’m going to insist that your shoes remain on. If you want to get comfortable later and make out, maybe you can put your feet in a plastic sack.

But anyway … if you could kindly flush the Kleenex for me, my appreciation would know no bounds. I just don’t know what you used it for. Maybe you blew a wad of snot into it, or maybe you dribbled a little while you were peeing and had to wipe it off the seat. I often to have to do that myself. In fact, when I get up to pee in the middle of the night, I’ll often splash all over the floor, because I can’t see where I’m aiming. Which reminds me: I neglected to mop before you came over, so if the bathroom floor was a little sticky, that’s why. The pee dries near the base of the toilet, and then it’s like chiseling earwax to remove it.

You look a little ill, Roberta. Are you feeling OK?

My point is, I don’t know what you used the Kleenex for, and I’m not going to make it my business this evening to find out. We’re just getting acquainted, and there’s still some secrets we should keep from each other. Like the gimp suit I keep in the back of the closet, for instance. Only I didn’t just tell you that. I was planning to mention it after we got to know each other better. So if you don’t mind, go ahead and forget I mentioned it.

Whatever you did with the Kleenex, I can’t bring myself to touch it. Even if you just dabbed makeup with it, that’s still gross. Your face is a little sweaty on this warm summer evening, and forgive me, but I don’t want to touch a tissue that touched your sweat.

Besides, I can tell that you tried to conceal a zit on the side of your nose. Maybe if you didn’t sweat so much, your noise wouldn’t sprout zits?

Look, I’m not trying to sound harsh. I’m just offering some constructive criticism. That’s how you can tell I truly care about you. That and the fish sticks with the sprig of parsley. (And I already apologized for burning them. At least I tried to scrape off the scorch marks with a butter knife. I hope you know, not every man would go to such extremes to please a date.)

If our relationship’s going to grow, then you’re going to have to respect my fondness for decorative wastebaskets. You won’t be able to toss snot-encrusted Kleenex or earwax-coated Q-Tips in there all willy-nilly.

Don’t you know that garbage in the bathroom is gross? When I’m soaking in an Epsom salt bath, luxuriating in a candle-lit spa of my own making (with cinnamon-scented candles, no less), and listening to the soothing soundtrack of Enya’s Orinoco Flow, the last thing I want to look at is an overflowing wastebasket. Yet thanks to you and your lack of etiquette, here we are.

I would have been happier if you’d left piss all over the seat.

Wait a minute. What do you mean you have to go home right now? Are you upset? Was it something I said?

Are you sure you’re not ill? You look all sweaty and disgusted. You’re not developing explosive diarrhea from the fish sticks, are you? I sure hope you’re not. I was worried if I cooked them thoroughly. Even though the outsides were burned, the insides felt a little raw.

Roberta, if you need to throw up, feel free to use the bathroom. I won’t mind. If you retch, just be sure to use the toilet, and not the wastebasket.

After all, it’s a decorative wastebasket.

A calm, easygoing commute

car driving on freeway in heavy traffic

My soothing motivational CD does little to relieve the insufferable hell that is my morning commute.

As you might know, I have a demonstrated propensity for getting stuck behind monstrous, slow-moving trucks on my way to work.

Today was no exception. I was already late, because I had stopped at the Jack in the Box drive-through to get a breakfast sandwich. I’d devoured it even before I reached the highway, and already I regretted not buying a second. I was starving, and my hunger was putting me in a foul mood.

“Stupid sandwich,” I said, grumbling.

As I cruised with the window down and my motivational CD playing (“You are a calm, easygoing person,” the pleasant voice chanted), a gargantuan, smog-belching behemoth of a truck barreled into traffic to cut me off.

I slammed on the brakes, slowing from 55 to 15 in a matter of seconds. My face slammed into the steering wheel and cracked my glasses.

“Dammit!” I screamed, holding my eye.

“You are a calm, easygoing person,” the motivational CD reassured me.

The truck lumbered ahead with uncertain spasms as the driver ground through forty gears. A putrid cloud of thick smog engulfed my car … sort of like the way my aunt’s denture breath engulfs me when she leans in for a kiss.

I put on my blinker to get around the guy, but a parade of cars blocked me. I slowly crossed the lane divider, to prod my way in, but the guy in the car beside me pounded on his horn.

“Up yours, you useless sack of jackass dung!” I screamed, waving my fist.

“You are a calm, easygoing person,” the motivational CD said.

The truck and I crawled along as the jerks in the lane beside us flew by in a frenzied blur. I gritted my teeth as I imagined them arriving at their jobs on time, their hides escaping unscathed from the boss’s furious ass-chewing — an ass-chewing that surely awaited me unless this stupid truck could get itself moving.

“C’mon!” I screamed, thrashing at the wheel and tailgating the truck so closely that his left mud flap was slapping my front bumper. “Move it, you idiotic lamebrain horse’s ass!”

The truck dripped pebbles onto the road and atop my hood. I backed way off, slowing to five miles per hour, but a rock slipped out of the truck and bounced on the road toward me like a deranged stone skipping across an asphalt pond. I tried to swerve, but the rock hit my headlight and shattered it.

“Dammit!” I screamed, slamming my fist repeatedly into the dashboard. “Dammit!”

“You are a calm, easygoing person,” the motivational CD said.

“Shut up!” I said, punching the CD player and making the disc slip.

“You are —” it stammered. “You are. You—”

I punched the CD player again. My knuckle hit the “play” button and split. I yelped as blood started gushing everywhere.

“You are a calm, easygoing person,” the motivational CD droned, reclaiming its cadence.

I grabbed a grubby Jack in the Box wrapper from off the floor — the one that my breakfast sandwich had been wrapped in — and cinched it around my hand to bandage the wound. Grease and dirt rubbed against the cut, making me clench my teeth and grimace.

Meanwhile, we were still inching along at 15 miles per hour. Even the Ice Age had made better time on its way to work.

“C’mon!” I screamed, wringing the steering wheel as if it were a dishcloth.

“You are a calm—”

“Shut up!” I hollered.

We were on a narrow road with no shoulder. I drifted over to the right, but I couldn’t see around the truck. So I drifted back to the left, but the stream of cars alongside me wouldn’t break, even though my left blinker was still flashing.

I started wailing on the horn and blinking my headlights. (Well, the one that wasn’t busted, anyway.)

The truck driver dangled his arm out the window and extended his middle finger.

“You jerk!” I yelled, pressing on the horn with all my strength.

The truck had a sign affixed to its tailgate that said “Safety is my goal.” However, there was no indication that getting up to speed was on his list of aspirations.

At that moment, a basketball-sized rock slid off the back of the truck and plodded onto my hood. I swerved off the road and barreled out of control across dirt and brush, careening into a parked trailer with a sign that said “Joe’s Jackass Dung.”

Unimaginable foulness spewed everywhere in a nasty, putrescent explosion.

Meanwhile, the truck kept crawling along, dripping pebbles onto the highway. One bounced and ricocheted off the shoulder, flying into and shattering my second headlight.

“You are a calm, easygoing person,” the motivational CD soothed me. “You are a calm—”

I punched the CD player with my good hand. My knuckle hit the “play” button and burst open, spraying blood everywhere.

Only this time, I didn’t have a Jack in the Box wrapper to bandage it with, because in my rush, I had neglected to buy the second sandwich that I had so desperately wanted.

“Stupid sandwich,” I said, grumbling.

A brick-sized bar of birthday soap

birthday present

Wow, what a wonderful-looking birthday present, Hannah! It’s the size and shape of a brick. I wonder what it could possibly be?

Dear Hannah,

Thank you for the gargantuan bar of soap you bought me for my birthday. It’s the size of a brick. Literally — it’s the size and shape of a brick!

Actually, I thought it was a brick before I unwrapped it. I was trying to figure out why you’d buy me a brick for my birthday, seeing that we’ve been co-workers for eight months, and we seem to get along OK.

What gives? I remember thinking to myself at the time. Does this chick hate my guts? 

Imagine my relief when I unwrapped what I thought was a brick to discover that it was, in fact, a brick-sized bar of soap. Talk about an unexpected birthday surprise! (A gift card would have been better, but no matter. You’ve worked with me for only eight months, after all, so how would you know?)

I like the soap. I do. I wouldn’t be writing you such a heartfelt thank-you note if I truly didn’t like it. It smells like pine, which fits my commanding portrait of rugged masculinity. I think women are attracted to men who smell like a forest. It must make them think of shirtless lumberjacks wielding axes, their chiseled muscles glistening with dew-like beads of sweat as they trudge through the thick overgrowth of nature.

Now that I’m washing with the soap, it hasn’t escaped my attention that more women are giving me discrete glimpses. They try to be subtle, but I notice them noticing. Women tend to have a better sense of smell than men, so I imagine they catch my scent only a moment before I enter the room. And they can’t help but to react like wild, savage felines on the prowl for meaty, succulent prey. Meow, indeed! Mmm, mmm.

No doubt the soap is emboldening my already-considerable sexual presence. Let’s face it: I’m a good-looking guy anyway, but the rich pine scent adds an intriguing layer of mystery to my masculine demeanor. And I don’t mean to sound all haughty when I’m talking about my looks, but we work together, so you know it’s true.

In fact, I think I’ve even caught you looking at me once or twice. Am I right, sweetheart? Don’t try to deny it. I’m a sponge for female attention. I soak up and savor every discrete (and not-so-discrete) glance they shoot my way.

My dog doesn’t much care for the soap, though. It makes him sneeze. And although I love the smell, the soap’s not exactly good for my skin. I’ve noticed some flakiness on my arms, as well as some cracks on my hands that weren’t there before. It’s not the most moisturizing soap I’ve ever used.

Sometimes scented soaps can have a dehydrating effect. I’ve seen it before. I just hope it doesn’t clog the pores on my face and make me break out. I’m no fan of adult acne. I thought I left all the pus-filled boils behind in high school. No way I want a repeat of that now. If I have to show up to work with a constellation of zits dotting my forehead, I’m not sure what I’ll do. I might have to throw out the soap and go back to my Lever 2000. (Not to be confused with 2000 Flushes. Talk about irritating your skin!)

If that happens, no offense. That’s why I’m writing you this letter of gratitude — not only to show my appreciation, but also to cover my bases in case I get tired of the soap. You work with me, babe, so you know I’m thorough.

So I do like the soap, but still … I wish it had a moisturizing effect. Sometimes it makes my privates itch, and I have to squirm and shuffle and rub the insides of my thighs together to get relief.

Clearly, I can’t scratch there while I’m at work. What would the boss think? She’d wonder if I have lice, and then she’d worry that I might spread it around the office, since I have such a strong rapport with women.

Besides, HR frowns upon the public scratching of genitals. It says so in the employee handbook. And I’m nothing if not a diligent employee. I’d rather grimace and try to tough it out, or maybe rub my crotch against the bottom of the desk when no one’s looking. I’m sometimes tempted to stick a ruler down my pants, but doing so might cross the bounds of propriety.

And again, I have the boss to think about. She’s pretty lenient, but I imagine she’d draw a line at me rubbing my junk with a ruler. Her threshold runs only so high, and I don’t want to paint an unflattering picture by jamming a piece of company property down the front of my pants. I endeavor to treat company equipment with the upmost respect.

And besides, the ruler has a sharp corner, and though it’s useful for scratching itches, the unintended consequences could prove disastrous if I wielded such an implement with a freewheeling hand. Nobody wants a mishap in the workplace —- especially one of such an epic magnitude. Can you imagine if I accidentally tore open my scrotum? How would I explain that on my workers’ compensation claim? Talk about embarrassing!

I apologize if I’m wandering, but I just want to convey how much I appreciate the soap. I can tell it came from a specialty shop. You don’t often see brick-sized soap, and so when one drops into your possession (like a ton of bricks, LOL!), it’s not an occasion I take for granted.

However, I certainly don’t want to give you the impression that it’s the best gift I’ve ever received. I assure you, it’s not.

Thoughtful? Yes. But amazing? Nah. More mediocre, if anything. Run-of-the-mill. Ordinary.

My profuse thank-you note is not intended to bolster your self-perception as a gift-giving guru. And if I gave you the impression that your gift is the most awesome thing in the world, then I deeply apologize. We work together, so your feelings matter greatly to me. I certainly wouldn’t want to lead you on.

The soap has some flaws. We’ve discussed in length already its tendency to dry out my skin. But a particularly annoying trait is its monstrous size.

Like I said, it’s a brick. Have you ever tried to lather with a brick? Or have you ever dropped a brick on your toe in the shower?

Yeah! Not fun. I still can’t bend my big toe. The soap landed so hard, it crushed the nail. Where I should have a toe, now all I have is a bloody stump with a mangled nail.

So thanks a lot. I appreciate that.

Plus, the soap has sharp corners — much like a regular brick. I can’t scrub with sharp corners, and it’s next to impossible to work up a lather. Specialty soap clearly hasn’t gone through the refinement process of most supermarket soaps. I doubt they’ve tested with focus groups or looked to see what the competition is doing. The soap market is competitive, and if you’re not going to refine your product, then you best drop out of the race so the master cleaners — like Lever 2000 — can reign.

Sometimes the soap will slip from my hand in the shower, and when it lands it sounds like a rock dropping on sheetmetal. It’s a sharp, painful noise, and it’s most nettling to my eardrums. And then I’ll pick up the soap, only to fumble and drop it again.

I don’t like to drop the soap in the shower. What if I were in a public setting, like the gym? The social awkwardness would be intolerable — especially with my hemorrhoids. Nobody but me knows I have them. And now you. Please use that knowledge with discretion.

How would you feel washing with a brick? Did you bother to try a bar of this soap beforehand?

Or when you were on your little gift-buying excursion, did you just throw it in your cart and hope for the best?

What I’m asking is, did you put any thought at all into your gift? Your card didn’t say “Hallmark” on the back, so that right there suggests you didn’t. You gave me some cheap knockoff brand that costs $2. The price was on the back, so I know exactly how much you paid. I notice things like that — again, because I’m thorough.

Just for the record, a real birthday card should cost at least $5. That’s a rule.

The worst part is, with soap this size, it’s going to take forever for it to dissolve. I’ll be scrubbing with this damn thing for a month before it finally wastes away to a hockey puck-sized speck.

And by then, everyone at the office will probably be sick of the overpowering pine-forest smell, and all the women who used to fawn over me will start avoiding me in the hall.

You know what? I should just toss the damn thing in the trash and go back to my Lever 2000.

So Hannah, here’s thing thing: While I deeply appreciate the thought, please don’t buy me gifts anymore. I tell you this only because we work together, and I know you value my opinion. Your gesture was sweet, but in the future, I’d much prefer cash and a card. (And remember my rule:  be sure the card costs at least $5.)

Thank you again for trying to make my birthday special. Better luck next year!