Hat on Top, Coat Below


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Budget Cutting Paranoia

November 1, 2002

I went to work yesterday wearing an acid green punk wig and a tee shirt that says “I Heart My Attitude Problem”. True, it was Halloween, but there was no dress up day announced and no one else wore a costume to the office. I was just taking advantage of the very loose dress code to act out a little bit and inject some fun into my work life again. Based on the reactions of the coworkers who saw me, I brightened their day, too. One guy rounded the corner and stopped dead in my office door and just doubled over and laughed, and he’s probably the most serious and sober guy on staff.

It’s been less and less fun to work at Purple Systems lately. I know I probably should be grateful that it ever was fun, since going to a job is called “work” for a reason—it’s not playtime; it’s not supposed to be all grins and giggles. Still, I’ve enjoyed my time there more than any other place I’ve worked, and to see that fade away is sad and frustrating. If I’m going to be bummed when I go into the office, the hour commute each way seems less reasonable, too. I can find a job that makes me cranky much closer to home, I’m sure.

The root cause of the changed climate at work is money. The company has made a profit every year since it was founded, and we really don’t want to break that streak now and rattle the confidence of current and potential customers. That’s tough to do in the current weak economy, since companies aren’t spending on information technology the way they did in the boom times. We can’t count on strong revenues, so we have to watch the other side of the equation, expenses.

The first thing to go was the company-provided food. The cupboards formerly stocked with candy and other snacks are empty and our weekly pizza lunch has been cancelled. This doesn’t bother me, since I’ve been cutting back my intake of empty and excess calories since I got serious about Weight Watchers again and no free food around means less temptation.

Next, we got an e-mail about controlling other expenses. The biggest single outflow for us is salaries and related costs, and I saw an opportunity there. I volunteered to take a pay cut in exchange for working fewer hours, so now I’m going to be off on Fridays for the rest of the year (or until we land a major new customer who wants to start paying us right away), collecting 75% of my normal salary. Yes, I know I’m giving up more pay than I’m getting to reduce hours, but that’s okay with me. It’s good deal for the company and me. I get to avoid one day of commuting and, because Mr. Karen also has Fridays off, I also get to spend more time with my husband. At work, I collect some team player brownie points for contributing to the expense reduction effort, and they get the benefit of lower spending.

So, that’s where we were at the beginning of this week. I was feeling pretty good about things. Yes, we were in hunker down mode and having to cut back, but the belt-tightening wasn’t too painful. Then the Christmas party was cancelled. That was a blow. I haven’t been able to go to a Purple Systems Christmas party in the three years I’ve been here, and I was determined not to miss this fourth opportunity. Every previous year, Mr. Karen and I booked our December ski trip early and then the party was scheduled that same weekend. Didn’t matter which weekend we picked, that’s when the party would end up being. So this year I got smart. We picked out a weekend for our ski trip, but didn’t make the reservations. Of course, when Helen, the administrative assistant, scheduled the party, she picked that same weekend. No problem, we just moved the ski trip and bought our tickets for a different weekend. I was finally going to be able to go to a Purple Systems Christmas party. I could prove to all my doubting coworkers that I really do have husband (or at least that I’m organized enough to hire an escort who looks just like the guy in the pictures on my desk and thorough enough to prepare him with all the appropriate background information). I could cuddle all the babies I’ve made quilts for and meet the spouses of my coworkers. I could feel like part of the happy Purple family.

Except now I can’t. There isn’t going to be a party because it costs too much money. There wasn’t an announcement, still hasn’t been—it just disappeared off everyone’s December calendar. I might not have even noticed yet, except Helen stopped by to tell me personally because she knows I really made an effort to adjust my schedule so I could be at the party. I don’t know if she was being thoughtful and wanted to make sure I knew so I wouldn’t waste time anticipating something that wasn’t going to happen, or if she just wanted to witness my disappointment because she enjoys screwing with me. I never know with her. She wields power all out of proportion to her abilities, so I try to tread carefully around her.

Actually, she had worse news than just the party was cancelled. If there were going to be no party at all, I think I’d be fine. I suspected it might fall to the expense cutting axe; I was prepared for that. I wasn’t prepared for it to be postponed into the new fiscal year and scheduled on a day I won’t be able to come. That’s exactly what happened, though. Helen moved the party to a weekend when Mr. Karen and I will be gone on a different ski trip, one we’ve already got nonrefundable airline tickets for. Helen seemed almost gleeful when she told me that. She said she didn’t look at my calendar until after she’d moved the party, but I’m not sure I believe her. She knew how much I wanted to make this party; we had more than one conversation about it, and I’m halfway convinced she picked the new date just so I couldn’t be there. I find it hard to believe that that weekend is the only one that was available; it’s not like January and February are big party months.

I’m not sure why I’m so riled up about this. I’m not a big partier in general, preferring to spend time in small groups of people rather than larger ones. When I think of the most fun times in my life, none of them are at parties, even ones in my honor. So why is this party so important to me? I think it’s because I feel like I’m being excluded, like Helen is purposely scheduling it when I can’t come. I thought I’d foiled her plans this year, but she outwitted me. It feels like she’s got it in for me, like she hates me for some unknown reason but can’t screw with me the way she’s done with other people because I’ve got an in with the boss, so she thwarts me by making sure I can’t come to the one big event on the Purple Systems social calendar. That sounds awfully paranoid, doesn’t it? Yep, it does, but I can’t seem to look at the situation another way. Missing one or two parties is just bad luck, coincidence; missing four in a row seems like it’s got to be a plot. I wonder what will happen if I ever do manage to get to a Christmas party. Maybe that’s one of the signs of the Apocalypse and Helen is really working for the forces of Good to stave off that eventuality.

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