Sunday, February 19, 2012

You've Got A Friend

It goes without saying, I'm rather independent. I have no problem going to dinner alone. Heck, The New Yorker has outperformed some dates in the entertainment department. And when you get into your late thirties without ever having a husband, you learn to fend for yourself beyond dinnertime companionship.

My new job came together in record time. For my first week, I overlapped with my old job, not to please my boss but because I have a semblance of good work ethic. That my old boss went and shit all over the business my father created these last forty years doesn't make me regret that decision. Though his behavior did royally screw up the second week at my new job.

"PJ, I don't know how to cut and paste," my mom said with frustration and angst.

She and my father were sitting around their laptop in Florida while I sprawled out across the floor of my almost-empty condo. Together we were coordinating an effort to salvage the clients. There were letters to be constructed, emails to be sent, and hard copies of everything to be mailed. My parents, two people who have never had an ATM card and who have yet to grasp basic computer functions, were useless.

"Do you have Excel?" I asked. "I have a spreadsheet with information I gathered before I walked. I can email it to you and you can just input the missing data."

From their silence, I gathered they had no idea what I was talking about.

I knew that the back and forth with my parents would make for fabulous fodder, appreciated if only I wasn't caught up in the throws of it. I'd be cast as Al Brooks. But I had a condo to finish packing, three hundred pages of scientific information about the immune system to master, and a two-week work trip to prepare for. Let's not even address ancillary tasks like eating and going to the bathroom.

"That's it," I said Saturday night at eleven o'clock. "My brain hurts and I have to study. I'll try to finish more from the road but this is the best I can do."

As I'm writing this, I'm leaning against a wall in my condo with my life strewn across the floor. There are balls of yarn to my right, piles of paper to my left, and miscellaneous crap in every other direction. My suitcase is packed for a week in Chicago followed immediately by a week in Los Angeles. I remembered to mail my car payment. I didn't forget to grab my phone charger.

When I get back, I'll have less than forty-eight hours before I'm supposed to hit the road and drive for Atlanta, having previously set a goal to knock it out in one day. There's little chance I"ll be able to tackle everything I still need to do in that time frame. Nothing stands out as overwhelmingly time consuming but added up together, I know I can't handle the tasks alone.

It isn't like me to ask for help. But later tonight, when I settle into my room at a Chicago Westin, I will pull out my laptop and email a group of friends. I'll offer pizza and beer, music and laughter, and I'll request they show up the first Saturday of March to help me close this chapter. It feels awkward to admit I can't do something on my own. But it's comforting knowing I have so many people willing to help.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dude, You're Making This Too Easy

"Let me know if you need help with any boxes," my boss said Friday morning.

"At home? Like, to ship to Atlanta?"

"No, when you leave here tonight."

It was the kind of offer that, coming from a friend, would be sweet. Coming from a boss who has been underhanded and manipulative? Not so much.

"I'll be fine," I said.

I didn't leave work until a little past seven o'clock. I had files to return to the cabinets. There were documents to shred and paperwork to disperse. With a box in one hand and my keys in the other, I turned off the lights, set the alarm and, for the last time ever, walked out of that building as an employee.

On Monday morning, I received an email from a client who was concerned about what my former boss was up to. Then I got a congratulatory email from two different Aetna reps in response to an email announcing my departure, also an email I never personally received. And that's when things started to spiral out of control.

Here I was, sitting on my sofa, the lone piece of furniture still remaining in my almost-empty condo, studying about macrophages and cytyokines, and was being thrown back into the drama I had so strategically departed.

By early evening, I finally got my hands on the letter my former boss sent. In fact, it came from my former boss with an note admitting he had doctored it. I looked closely and immediately knew it was a letter my dad never wrote. Nor was it a letter that he had ever signed off on, even though his signature was right there on the bottom. More importantly, it was a letter that authorized a large carrier to transfer clients under my dad's name to my old boss, thereby granting him all commissions on those clients.

"That's fraud," a friend and longtime attorney noted when I read the email.

"No kidding."

Ultimately, none of it matters. Because a client can change brokers at any time. And in between memorizing the digestive process, I personally called clients. I spoke about my new job opportunity. I noted that the personal touch used by me and my father was no longer the cornerstone of what remains of our company. Then I told them how they could change to a different broker, a broker we had partnered with to absorb our clients.

"I'm so sad you're leaving but so happy for your new adventures," they all said. "Just send me the form and I'll get it right back to you. You've been great all of these years and I totally trust your opinion on this."

And then I emailed a former client and good friend who now works high-up in Harrisburg. I was wondering if she knew anyone at the Department of Insurance. After all, falsifying a document, besides being illegal, is grounds for one's insurance license to be revoked. And without that, like, you can't do shit with my clients.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Check Mate

For all of 2011, I bit my tongue. Or I bit it when I was at work. Outside of the office, I spewed my anger and frustration to anyone willing to listen. But I’m a strategic a person. Translation: there’s no way in hell I was going to make my boss aware of my dissatisfaction. I had nothing to gain by announcing my desire to smoosh him with an anvil plummeting off a high cliff (see The Road Runner for an example).

“You need to tell him that his failure to pay you your commissions for six months is illegal,” my mom would say.

“Do you want me to talk with him?” my dad would ask.

I always listened to their suggestions but also always politely declined them. It wasn’t that they lacked value. Perhaps those approaches could have made my life easier. For whatever reason, I opted to hash out a solution on my own terms, at my own pace. I stepped back from the moment, took a bird’s eye view, and plotted out an exit strategy.

“I have some bad news, well, for you,” I said last Wednesday night when I finally told my boss I was resigning.

He was surprisingly happy for me. He asked what I’d be doing, praised my accomplishment, commended me for making the move. That I could not give two full weeks notice didn’t bother him. And when I mentioned having to partake in a conference call during office hours, he made nary a stink.

“He thinks you’re useless. I’m sure he just sees your departure as a financial windfall,” my mom noted when I told her I had formally resigned. I didn’t disagree with her interpretation. But I was relieved he didn’t blow a gasket and tell me to pound sand.

This week, I am technically working my old job and my new job. The timing was terrible and there really was absolutely no way to flex my start date. Sure, I could have walked from my old job the day I gave my notice. I just care too much about my clients to do that to them.

“I’m terming your disability coverage as of Friday. Okay? And let me know when I can term you from the health insurance,” my boss said in an email sent to me on this past Sunday.

I wasn’t even gone and he was counting his pennies. Rather ironic seeing he has a beach house at the shore, drives a high-end luxury car, and is in the process of building a house in center city. More importantly, a man who has worked in operations for over three decades was bypassing COBRA paperwork and just ignoring the very rules we instruct clients to obey, lest they are gunning for a lawsuit.

“Be sure to tell your clients that you’ll be transitioning everything to me,” he said when I stopped in his office on Tuesday night.

“Actually, I haven’t decided what I’ll be doing with them yet. I might take some with me.”

“That isn’t ethical,” he sputtered.

“I think unethical would be sitting on my commissions for the first six months of 2011 and blaming a problem with the payroll service when, in fact, other employees were getting their payouts through the payroll service.”

He fumbled to find an excuse. He tried to justify his behavior. And then he said, “Those clients aren’t yours. If I had known you’d do this, I would have had you sign a non-compete.”

I refrained from pointing out that our company’s go-back-in-time machine was broken. Instead I shrugged my shoulders. “Actually, seeing you had nothing to do with closing those deals, those clients as mine.”

For once, for the first time ever, my boss was at the mercy of my intelligence, my strategic prowess, my confidence. I had a voice and he had no choice but to listen. All of my quiet, all of those times I tolerated his antics, had finally paid off.

A few minutes later, he stopped by my desk to give me a check to reimburse me for some office expenses I had personally paid for. He asked me if I was hungry. He offered some of his leftover vegan mulch. Simply put, he was acting as if nothing had just transpired.

Maybe he dismissed my threat as idle. Perhaps he recalled the windfall he will receive when he no longer has to pay my salary. Or maybe he surrendered to the fact that he had been outsmarted by a woman he so readily dismissed.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Upside Down

Thirty minutes before I was slated to be interviewed, I settled into a sofa in the lobby of the Westin O'Hare and practiced my presentation. Across the hall, I noticed the woman I had met on the shuttle over from the airport, a woman interviewing for the same position but based in Denver. I lowered my gaze and returned to my notes.

Almost four hours later, as I came through security, my phone rang. "How did it go?" asked the friend who had tipped me off to the job opportunity, the friend who worked where I was applying.

"Just before going in, I realized that the Smith transcript I oh-so-confidently included in my brag book noted a C+ in Medical Sociology. And I couldn't even yank it because 'transcripts' was listed in the table of contents."

"Don't worry about it."

"Medical Sociology. C+. It's a gig for a pharma company."

"No, I'm sure you were fine."

I turned off my phone, the battery almost dead, and sat down to eat a mediocre burger from an airport Chili's. Though I tried to read, my eyes couldn't focus. My jaw was tired from talking. My head ached from thinking. Halfway through the meal, I surrendered to my fatigue and waved down the server for the check. While I waited, I turned my phone back on and was immediately met with a text from the friend I had spoken with earlier: CALL ME!!!!

I took one last swig of my watered down margarita, scribbled my signature, and set off to find an outlet.

"Hey," I said as I leaned against the pale blue wall of a narrow hall connecting two terminals, the passageway cluttered with businessmen and pilots eager to recharge various forms of technology. "I just had a drink, figuring I could at the very least celebrate getting this far. Also, O'Hare never fails to deliver when it comes to suckiness."

"So I probably shouldn't tell you this but, um, the hiring executive I know just rang me. You got the job!"

"Shut. UP."

"Nope, they loved you. They'll be calling tomorrow to make an offer but you need to pretend you don't know."

"Know what?" I asked, before breaking into a high pitched squeal that echoed throughout the airport.

When I got off the phone, I called Leslie. Next I rang my parents. And then I sent quick text messages to the few people who were in the loop. As I moseyed to my gate, I lapsed into a state of shock and disbelief. It wasn't that I questioned whether I was a solid candidate. Not once did I fear I had come across badly in person. But all of a sudden, my life was about to be turned on its head. More importantly, for all of the right reasons.