Panting, Petting and Passionate (Wet) Kisses: Saying ‘Yes!’ to Love in the Workplace

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By Elizabeth Speth

If you are human you have thought, from time to time, that there are things you must do before you die.

The urge to grab life by the — er… shoulders during our brief experience of it is universal, We seem to agree certain milestones are proof that we were worthwhile.  That our existence was adventurously lived, thoroughly enjoyed, deeply understood.

We hope these milestones will teach us something about the world. Perhaps they will teach us only that gravity is inescapable, and bones easily broken.  Or why it is a bad idea to lose our passports, or eat fermented fish from a street vendor in a Third World village.

We embrace the idea of them because we are brave, we humans, when we realize we are on a mortal deadline.

I recently have experienced one of these must-dos, one of these milestones, and like a new religious convert, like a freshly-minted cigarette-quitter, like a reformed alcohol-guzzler, I must insist that you do as I have done.  Because it’s a life-changer.

I’m talking about romance — about passionate love — in the workplace. Office canoodling.  Fraternizing.

Contrary to all the warnings, the threats of termination, and heartbreak, and humiliation, I’m urging you to dip your pen in company ink.  Dock your ship in the company port.

I’m telling you to bring your dog to work.

Now, I happen to work for a very liberal and accommodating company in this and many other respects.  We actually have two office dogs, counting mine.  Plus an employee vegetable garden and fruit orchard.  We cook a lot together at work, have soup days and pizza days and hummus days.  Not all workplaces are as understanding.

But you’ve got to get around it.  That’s all there is to it.  It won’t be easy, I know, but it’s not easy to live for a year in a Tibetan monastery either, and you still have it on your bucket list.  Don’t you? You think the Appalachian Trail is going to take nine months and hike itself, with only a backpack’s worth of hardtack and lip balm?  No.  But you are still reading the guidebooks, aren’t you?

I don’t care how you do it.  Get that dog to work.  Tomorrow.  You’ll thank me.  That’s what I did with my boy George, a six-month old secret recipe of terrier breeding, with little beady eyes and facial hair that would make a hipster proud.  This is George. At work.

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Why do you want to take your dog to work?  Why did I screw the top on his little commuter coffee mug (mostly because he doesn’t have thumbs), tuck him into the front seat beside me with his little briefcase full of chew toys and worming pills, and argue with him throughout the entire drive about who would pick the radio station?  Because it’s dangerous, my friends.  Wildly exciting and dangerous.

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This is George, saying goodbye to the family before leaving for work.

You haven’t lived until you look under your desk and see a tiny, snaggle-toothed, hairy devil’s spawn chewing furiously through a jungle of electrical cords.  Heart-plummeting doesn’t begin to describe the feeling as you count — one, two, three completely severed cords, and you hurriedly hide them behind the garbage can, hoping and praying you never find out what they once powered. Talk about an adrenaline rush.

Exhilaration is the only way to describe realizing your puppy is lifting his leg to pee on your boss’ desk chair.  During your performance evaluation.

That was the same day George also did something unspeakable to the executive printer, which is why he now has an appointment for a life-altering procedure at his veterinarian’s office next week.

I’m telling you it’s sheer adventure watching George passionately lick electrical outlets all over the building.  He is an ardent outlet licker.  He knows about grabbing life by the shoulders.

I think that about covers the danger aspect of this adventure I advocate.  Now let’s address the drama.  There should be drama in every milestone, every experience-of-a-lifetime.

George, I confess, is a polarizing force in the office.  He evokes strong emotions and responses. He is a bit of a thief, for one thing.  And he’s quick.  Many a co-worker has secretly, after looking around to make sure the coast is clear, slipped off her shoes to let her toes wriggle in temporary, private liberty.  In a split second — less than that —  the shoes are under my desk, George chewing them ecstatically to bits, making those odd, loud, grunting noises he makes when he is happy.

Shoe-less, trapped in her cubicle in shame, George’s barefoot victim must sit helplessly and listen as her shoe is murdered nearby. When I finally realize what is going on, I scoop up the battered, barely recognizable remains, I bury them hastily in shallow graves outside, and I say nothing.  At the end of the day, our poor naked-footed, fellow cubicle-dweller limps out to her car, traumatized and defeated, a grim, puppy-resenting look on her tired face.

Yes there have been problems.  Difficulties.  There has been urination.  But that is the definition of drama, is it not?

I have had to make adjustments.  The idea of a free-range George, traipsing from desk to desk, department to department, spreading love and joy, was not a sound one.  I re-calibrated, and I put up a child protective gate at the entrance of my cubicle, behind which George now sits, staring piteously out at passersby through his tiny button eyes.  Reprimanded for whining — and for overly dramatic sighing — he has resorted to throwing pieces of chew toys out of his cell, configuring them to spell out things like:  “Help me!” and “She’s mean!” and “She drinks!”

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George in captivity, not very happy with the carrot I packed him for lunch. Not that he helps me get ready in the morning or anything.

On to the warm, uplifting conclusion to my epiphany, my friends.

You must take your dog to work for the danger, the excitement, the drama, but you must also take your dog to work so you have someone there who understands you.  Someone who is part of your tribe.  For instance, George and are the most bedraggled, the least-groomed workers in our company.  This is what we usually look like, left to our own devices.

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But we look like this together.

We understand each other.  We are always hungry.  If we are ever not hungry, we still must be chewing something.  We are itchy and restless after short periods without stimulation.  We get overly excited about things.  We need a lot of short naps.

I bring George to work so I can stare at his warm little button eyes, under their busy, expressive eyebrows, when someone is yelling at me on the phone.

I need someone who can remind me about all the fun adventures we had together on the weekend, and that we will have more again after Friday.

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George and me, adventuring together on the weekends.

I need someone to sit at my desk with me, to help me decipher spreadsheets and write e-mails.

Big George

I need someone to shred an entire box of Kleenex over every square inch of our office when I step out to fill his water bowl.

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Sometimes he shreds Kleenex and shoes at the same time. He’s clever that way.

I need someone to eat the majority of my favorite orange highlighter and then keep me up all night while he vomits up piles the color of traffic safety cones.

My fellow employees need him — well, those who can forgive him about the shoes.

They need him to bark during unwanted conference calls, They need to cuddle with him after an angry client dressing-down.  He will look at them worshipfully when they are feeling less than proud professionally.  Especially if they sneak him a piece of chicken salad.  He is always available for a walk.  A slurpy kiss.  A game of tug-tug with a favorite tie or expensive pant leg.

We all need George.  You need a George.  At your work.  So you can take something as efficient, as unavoidable, as inevitable and business-like as a job, and you can inject a bit of thrilling, mortal humanity into it.  By way of sheer, joyful, unmitigated canine-ness.  Do you see the beauty of that?

Worst case scenario, you get fired.  You turn off your computer, with its frayed and severed cords.  You draw a diagram to show everyone where their shoes are buried, so they can have closure. You pack up your dog and you go home.  Then you are free to go to Tibet.

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Is Texting and Aging the New Texting and Driving?

By Elizabeth Speth

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This is an intervention.

It’s going to be awkward and painful, especially for the interventionee, my husband Neil, who has become a danger to himself and others.  Who has wrought destruction and acute embarrassment and also occasional nausea upon his loved ones.  Who needs to put down his cell phone.  And walk away.  No last-minute pictures.  No farewell texts.  It’s time to go cold turkey.

Some numbers to consider as I build my case:  According to the Pew Research Center,  83% of American adults own cell phones and three-quarters of them (73%) send and receive text messages. The average 18-24 year-old sends or receives more than a hundred text messages daily.  In the 55-64 age bracket, the number is a much lower ten or so.

In the Neil Bracket, the goal here is to get the number down to a nice, round zero.  My children will back me up here.

Our beef with Neil is based on other hard, cold statistics, like the following:

One or more times a week, Neil forgets he is on a group message chain, and sends shall we say inappropriate messages to our perpetually traumatized, gagging, horrified, eye-soap scrubbing offspring.  So far only our family has been targeted, but it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world is at risk.

It’s been going on for a while.  Neil has been chastised, he’s been warned, he’s been threatened.  There have been apologies, confrontations, ultimatums, tears, vows to go forth and sin no more.  But Neil is a recidivist.  He’s recalcitrant.  He’ll be fine for a few days, what we now know to call the Honeymoon Period, but then I get the textual equivalent of a mumble, something to the effect that he may have sent a text without his glasses again, not sure, and BOOM!  There is this, which cannot be un-seen:

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You will notice he tried to bluff his way out of this, which is typical behavior for an intervention candidate.

I actually retrieved this photo off my son’s Twitter feed.  It’s in the #Neilstrikesagain series.

More damning evidence:

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I have not included the texts that refer to specific body parts.  I have spared you that, but you can see them on our children’s Twitter and Instagram feeds.

I don’t mean to pick on just Neil here.  Well, that’s a lie.  I do.  This is an intervention.  But I’m probably guilty of being too old to text too.  I still try get the spelling and punctuation right, and I write in complete paragraphs with strong topic sentences and metaphors, as I was taught.  This kind of effort on my part, with the help of the auto-correct feature and my own lack of appropriate magnifying eyewear,  just results in a sort of word salad, especially after cocktail hour.

Perhaps you are feeling badly for Neil now.  You would like to suggest, in his defense, that he could dictate his texts, rather than typing them.  That doesn’t work in Neil’s case, because he does not proofread.  He can’t.  He doesn’t have his reading glasses.

Take a recent evening when he texted me while enjoying a seafood dinner, and presumably libations, with friends.  The mussels were apparently particularly tender that night, prompting the following dictated message of affection:

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In the wrong hands, this could have sparked an International Incident.  This man is clearly dangerous.  Note also the fact that this was, again, a group message.

It is time to face the fact that we are the Jitterbug generation.  The demographic for whom the straightforward flip phones with large, lighted keys were invented.  They can only be used to call 911 and Reverse Mortgage companies.  We can stay out of trouble this way.

Because it’s not just the texts.  It’s the photos.  Neil has discovered the selfie, and he’s obsessed.  I know for a fact, because I have photographic proof, that he goes into his office during the work day, closes and locks the door, takes inappropriate photos of himself and SENDS THEM TO PEOPLE  (more irrefutable numbers here) at the rate of approximately too many times per week.

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See what I mean?

Like a teenager, he sends pictures of what he is wearing:

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Yes, those are mis-matched shoes.  Neil wears them exactly twice yearly.  Neil doesn’t wear his glasses when he dresses either.  But that’s a different intervention.

Neil, you know we love you.  We think you are great dad (other than the inappropriate messages to your children), a great husband, and a good, hard-working provider.

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But author Sara Gruen summed it up best when she said:  “Keeping up the appearance of having all your marbles is hard work, but important.”   

So, yeah.  We just want you to put down the phone. Maybe take up the saxophone?

Or just get some sleep.

Hot, Crowded, Hungry…and Old

By Elizabeth Speth

midlife

Mid-life crisis? What mid-life crisis?

Recently, I had a birthday during an unseasonable wave of heat, against a backdrop of bad news.

Though it was supposed to be spring — the air soft and cool and green with possibility — Mother Nature had careened right past that season, screeching to a halt on a startlingly hot day,  the anniversary of the day of my birth.

Never mind which anniversary.  Suffice it to say I am getting close to the age of measuring in portions of centuries.  In most cultures, that is not something women feel like celebrating.

We become strangers to ourselves.  We grow speckles and spots.  We soften and spread.  We look like our mothers.  The older versions of our mothers.  Men stop behaving with gallantry toward us.  No one looks up when we enter a room, and what we have to say does not seem as riveting as it did when we uttered it through the rosy lips of youth.

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When we are young, our skin fits snugly and our clothing is loose. Now, of course, the opposite is true.

I know that there are three definite, terrifying signs that you are officially old. One is losing your memory.  I can’t recall the other two.

But that wasn’t the only bad news on my birthday.  Something else was dragging me down as I trudged sizzling sidewalks, wiped sweat from my newly creased forehead, wondered if the whole world was having a hot flash, or just me.

I was sluggishly digesting (that’s one more thing that fails with advancing years) a news story about falling rice production in my beloved home state.

California’s recent dry spell, it seems, is expected to have a dramatic effect on rice production.   That is a big deal, and not only because this state supplies virtually all of the nation’s sushi rice.  The other half of our crops are exported.

Economists say that, of all the food crops, rice is likely to be affected by the drought the most, and the California Rice Commission estimates that rice farmers will leave 100,000 acres, or about 20 percent, of their fields fallow.

This of course nudges prices up worldwide.  Which can be a tragedy, depending upon where you live.  For us, rice is a comfort food, a sticky pillow upon which to rest your sashimi.  Something to round out a meal.  But in other cultures, a bowl of rice can make or break your day.  Perhaps that is most of what you will eat in a 24-hour period, and now you can only afford half a bowl.

To complicate matters, with food stores in the pantry beginning to dwindle, a real crowd has just shown up for dinner.

California’s population grew by roughly 332,000 people in the last fiscal year — its biggest increase in nearly a decade, according to new California Department of Finance estimates.The estimated population rose 0.88%, exceeding 38.2 million as of July.

Most of that growth was “natural increase” — births minus deaths (all those young whippersnappers having babies, which used to be my job, minus old people at the end of their lives, which is what I am now).  The rest is immigration.

So let me put all the layers of the birthday cake together for you, so you can see it clearly.  (Hang on.  I will need to find my reading glasses so I can see it too.)

My world was suddenly hot, crowded, and about to be very hungry.

The sky seemed to narrow, its gaze hostile and unwelcoming.

The message I thought I might be hearing was, ‘Shove off, Grandma.  Move over.  Make room.’

In a time of contracting resources, like space and food and familiar climates, shouldn’t we defer to the talent, beauty and energy of youth?  Can we afford the luxury of a vast, aging population, sucking up sustenance and space, reminding us all that the end is coming, and it is wrinkled and grim?

Have I, at my advanced age, over-stayed my welcome?

My youngest child had become a legal adult the week before.  What would I do with myself now?  How would I contribute?  Here I was, your typical old folk, obsessing about  weather and crops and the fact that my joints, like today’s young people, are so darned disrespectful.

It’s enough to make you want to whack someone with your cane.

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As I usually do, I sought refuge and comfort in the gloaming of my horse pasture at evening feeding time.  I took comfort in the fact that I can still, for now, lift a bale of hay, and that I do still serve at least one purpose, even if it is only keeping the herd from starvation.  They need me.

I sat on the edge of a feeder and listed to the rhythmic munching of hay, and watched a feverish, fussy wind harass the tree tops.

I rejoiced as I felt one tiny tendril of cool breeze lift my hair, and then another.

I listened to the birds chirping to each other, telling stories about the day, and it did not sound as though they were complaining.  Small, colorful butterflies ignored the heat as they flirted with each other on the mustard blooms.  They don’t have a lot of time either, in this life, and they were getting on with the business of living.

I became aware of the drone of bees among the blackberry flowers and felt the world — finally, blessedly — expand.  As if drawing a breath.

Without realizing, I exhaled along with it, and the high, hot wind gusts finally quieted as the cooler breezes gathered momentum closer to the ground.

Because I had been thinking about rice all day,  I suddenly remembered something.  I remembered how many things can fit on a single grain of rice.

Grain-of-Rice-Art1Amazing-art-on-rice-grain

I thought:  If you can write entire verses — or faithfully detail the unique features of a human face — on such a small surface, how crowded are we really on this earth?  With the proper perspective, and appropriate tools, a grain of rice is enormous.

I looked around my familiar, large pasture, with its groves of trees, its seasonal ponds.

I thought, well, I have a little room.

I reminded myself that the hot weather I was finding so onerous of course meant the advent of the season of longer days.

That’s a few more hours in the day to get things right.  More time, if you will.

And my age has some benefits.  I can serve as a powerful cautionary tale, at the very least.  A walking, talking essay about things that should be done differently.

I am a living, breathing admonishment to:

— Wear sunscreen.

— Refrain from gluttony, because enough is as good as a feast.

— Live more outside of the comfort zone, even if it’s a bit terrifying, or become merely a collection of habits.

— Travel, or risk a mind that is fused shut.

— Accumulate fewer things.

— Glorify busy-ness less.

— Go ahead and get naked, because it’s only ever going to get worse.

Yeah.  That’s stuff young people aren’t born knowing.  Some unfortunate old person always has to demonstrate it.  I can do that.

Later that week, the oldest trainer in Kentucky Derby history, Art Sherman, 77, won that race handily with his horse California Chrome.  This duo — this perfect balance of very young horse and wise old man — also hails from the state of shrinking rice crops and swelling populations.  That made me feel better.

There was time, maybe, I thought.  Perhaps even for something amazing.

So, even though there is less and less room for me in the world, everyone knows people shrink as they age. I will take up less room. Well, vertically, at least.

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