I don't know if it's just an American thing, but I doubt it. Jingling keys in front of the baby to entertain them. Today, as I sat through one of those corporate-hired acts, I thought, "Don't be angry, Punkie. It's for the children." They had us banging on cowbells, drums, tambourines, and various other salsa instruments of acoustical pain. Now, here I should mention, I have no rhythm. None. I can't carry a beat to save my life. So I had to endure the same humiliation I suffered through elementary school music class: no musical talent whatsoever. Okay, it wasn't so bad, no one cared I had no rhythm. In fact, it was hard to hear any beat in that hotel ballroom. It was just a lot of banging chaos, and you could almost see the resigned determination to plod through a bunch of programmers and corporate types to do a 150-person samba band. The purpose of this exercise? To, and I swear I am not making this up, chant the new mission statement like a cultist act gone mad.
Okay, I was just glad I wasn't laid off. So I wasn't nearly as appalled and bitter as I usually am when confronted with such indignity. The meeting was one of those twice-a-year "restructuring" meetings we have, where we show what we've done, what we're changing, where we are going, and what it all means. The samba thing just seemed like an insult. People elsewhere are getting their jobs outsourced to India and South Africa, while I pound on a cowbell to the tune of some chant to drill the mission-statement-du-jour into my head. And of course, it was all vague statements about values which meant nothing. If you are going to chant something, at least chant something specific, like "Kill Bill!" or "What do we want? Bill 432/ab12 vetoed! When do we want it? Before the deadline on March 30th!" Not, "Values which make us RIGHT will help us sleep through the NIGHT!"
[ Seig heil ]
It was creepy. The rest of the meeting was appallingly boring, as I stated in a previous entry, which made it all the more hard to sit through. Luckily, the power went out back in our building, so I got to leave early. It wasn't as bad as some similar events I had been to in my past, however.
In high school, they hired some "Positive Values" guy to speak to us kids. He was the typical Corporate Jester: nice suit, boundless energy, full of puns and double entendres... "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt!" Al Franken had a character named Stuart Smalley who was very much like these types. Anyway, this guy wasn't really so bad, but he was playing to a very apathetic audience of bored rich kids. Many jaded faces of whom lived in split homes, or moved every two years. Using sarcasm and disrespect as shields, they sharpened their wit and tested the weaponry on people like this guy. He was really playing to the hardest audience he could have been hired for. But he made it through without losing dignity, and he had a few cool stories. He was invited back next year.
He wasn't invited back the following year. Why? He killed himself. Apparently hung himself in his own hotel room before a show in another city. Ironic, don't you think?
Years later, when I worked for the knife store, our happy-wappy district manager got all kinds of offers in the mail for sales training seminars, and for a while, they were his thing. Some of them were really good, like we went to a set from Strawberry Communications that was pretty good. But then there were some losers. Many of the losers just repeated vague "no duh" concepts like "if you sell more, you make more money!" The worst had to be a group, I think they were called "Up with People," or something, who pranced around in pastel tee shirts with their names across the chest like a show for preschool kids. The only seminar I went to with these clowns was a show about customer interaction which bordered on the insultingly patronizing. The worst moment had to be the hour, let me repeat HOUR, of bouncy talk, with skits, about why striking the customer was a bad idea. Yes, as in physically assaulting a customer that made you mad.
Folks, if you have to go to a seminar to learn that hitting customers is a bad idea, you need more help than this seminar could give.
When I worked for Cargo, we had annual sales conferences for all managers. The first year I went, they hired some poor sap who looked like a nervous rabbit. He had to somehow work into his standard "Yay teamwork" act the slogan "Soaring with Eagles," which was our sales slogan for that year. "Eagles," he said, "Soar in great packs..." and he lost me there. Then he started making up facts about how bald eagles care for chicks ("like you care for customers") in nursery packs, and he was completely making up everything on the spot like he'd just been told to mix it in his act right before he went on-stage. Bald eagles, which are solitary predators, and do not collect flowers to put in their mate's nests, are not exactly what one associates with teamwork. Ants, bees, wolves, and even prides of lions are examples of teamwork in the animal kingdom. But then again, I probably was the only one there who knew that. He then ended his act by putting his six year old nephew on-stage, who sang and did a tapdance to "You are my Sunshine" like someone had a gun to his dog backstage. I thought he would burst into tears at any moment, but to his credit, he didn't, and seemed to cheer up a little when we applauded him at the end. It was just weird.
The next year, the CEO of the corporation who owned our company had just gone through a heavy liquid diet, and lost like 160 pounds in three months. He was recovering, and full of spunk. He showed up, and discussed our recent buyout, Sav-on Office supply. He was so happy about this, that he tossed these things called "Bandy-balls" at us. These were balls of rubber bands sold in their office supply places. They fucking HURT when thrown at you. One girl had a goose egg on her head after taking one above the eye. Another guy sprained a finger trying to catch another one. After we started getting pelted by these things, a lot of us went under the tables, and the CEO laughed in sadistic glee.
The last year, they sent us to a dude ranch in Bandera, Texas. Cowboy Billy made us do all this teamwork stuff, like roping cattle, riding horses, and living in cabins in baking dusty dry Texas heat. Okay, honestly, were like mini upper-class ski lodges, and since I was the ONLY non-smoking hetero male in the group, I got my own cabin far away from anyone... which was great, because it had satellite TV, so don't feel sorry for me here. Our managers at the time consisted mainly of overweight or older women, and several gay men. Most of whom were heavy smokers and drinkers. After day two, we had a broken arm, two sprained wrists, three allergic reactions, many asthma attacks (myself included), and a variety of insect bites and stings that "didn't look right." The rest of the week, we were just told to lounge in the pool, and we actually had a great time, demonstrating both teamwork and competitiveness in water volleyball, singalongs, and at night... bar hopping. We got thrown out of two local bars for unruly behavior. I learned one night that just because a man is a flaming queen and likes margaritas with umbrellas doesn't mean he can't kick the ass of three large drunken locals with a pool cue and a large ornamental spittoon. Go, go Gary!
Sometimes, I feel for these Corporate Jesters, though. Most of the time, the audiences are unwilling to do anything "fun." I was one of those today, and I wasn't even the worst one. My coworker Roy, a volunteer fireman, had come off his overnight shift with two calls and two hours of sleep. He was in NO mood. I think half the crowd got into the samba, a quarter just followed along with no emotion, and the rest of us were being obstinant. That can't be easy. Forced entertainment upon a crowd of people you don't even know.
So maybe I shouldn't have stolen the drumsticks...
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000471.html