Negotiating, Politics, Stress and Bourbon

My Mother used to tell me I should be a lawyer, because I was so good at arguing with people when I was little. Not that I was just argumentative, but that I constructed a decent argument (albeit using kid logic). It was about the last thing I could think that I wanted to do, and still is. Ironically, I have worked for lawyers off and on for a total of close to 15 years in my life, so I guess I get along with people who think like that ok, even if I am not one of them. I’m not a lawyer, but I can play one on TV!

I negotiated a lot of stuff for the PTA dinners earlier this week. Last night I made a bunch of calls and managed to negotiate a lower APR on one of my credit cards. Last month I negotiated a new phone for almost nothing from Verizon, and have called twice to re-negotiate my calling plan since then, and now it’s cheaper than it was before. I convinced my doctor’s office to re-bill a charge that insurance didn’t cover, and even gave them the billing code to use to re-bill it so that it WOULD be covered. What the fuck do they care? It’s all as stupid to them as it is to me, and so now I’m waiting for that to be processed, saving me a tidy $100 that most people would have just said, well, shit, that’s not covered, guess I have to pay it. 25 years of dealing with medical providers, doctors, hospitals, vendors, and all kinds of insurance shit has helped out, I guess.

I was thinking today how much more stress there is at the jobs I’ve held now than ones I had when I first started working. I worked physically harder and physically more hours earlier in my “career,” such as it is, but now I work less hours at a higher level of stress. Thinking back over the many, many jobs I’ve had, I sort of miss those early days, where I might be asshole tired when I got off work, but there’s no lingering issue. When you work at a restaurant and have someone who leaves you a crappy tip, that’s generally the end of the transaction and of you having to deal with them, except on rare occasions. You like my service, you don’t like it, who cares, you’re gone in an hour or so. Same thing with retail. I have the product or I don’t. Your coupon worked or it didn’t. Out of my control, bye, thanks for coming in. Gates come down, count your drawers, lock shit up, and you’re out. Sure, there were general reviews. Every six months at one retail store where I worked, your sales goals were reviewed. If you hadn’t been hitting the daily sales goal a certain percentage of the time, or opening the requisite minimum number of store charge cards, you’d get a warning. After something like 2 or 3 warnings, they could actually lower your pay 10 cents an hour. But nobody was firing you just because someone came in to get an advertised blender or kid’s dress and they didn’t have it in stock. Not your fault, not your problem. Gates down, drawer counted, bags turned in, bye, let’s go drink. There was an ease and finality to the completion of each day.

Then I got out of restaurants and retail. I was really sick, and being on my feet just didn’t work when I had to use the bathroom 25 times a shift. I needed insurance and I needed to sit the fuck down and get a lunch break and some paid vacation days. Those early office jobs were difficult in terms of a learning curve, but otherwise were great. Answer the phone, take messages, book travel, answer emails, 5 o’clock, nobody wants anyone working overtime, time to go. The people are in or they’re not. They returned a call or they didn’t. You typed and copied the pleadings, you ran the mimeo machine for 800 psych exams for the professor to hand out, you typed up grant applications and sent a lot of faxes, and then it was time to go.

As I worked to get better and better jobs, there was more and more responsibility. More pay, sure, sometimes better benefit packages or better working conditions, or a boss who wasn’t as big a shit head as the last boss, but then stuff was YOUR fault. This didn’t happen right, it’s YOUR fault, and nobody else’s. This other thing isn’t done? That’s YOUR fault. You have to stay and get it done, you have to come in on a weekend or move your vacation, or even your surgery date, because something has to get done and it’s YOUR job. More pay, different job, more responsibilities. Tears at work, angry arguments, doors slamming, drama, office romances and their eventual ugly fallout, higher and higher stakes. I lived for a long time feeling like the Sword of Damacles was over my head. All those managers in a meeting together? All that whispering? Someone’s getting the ax. Bad earnings? They’re laying people off, and you could be next. The losses come harder as you climb higher. I got laid off from one job the week I came back from being married, and my new husband got laid off the next week, so that was a fun way to start things out. I went back to waiting tables after I couldn’t get hired anywhere. You really can’t go back. And desperate is no way to work. A bad fall in the grease and a lost deuce can leave you crying until you puke, the smell of bins and bins of iceberg lettuce never leaving your head, the smell of mesquite never leaving your clothes.

I think about some people I have lived with who have been at the very top of their departments or organizations, and the level of stress they have been under as a result of all that responsibility. Sure, you might be able to afford a nice house or a BMW or a $450 fancy grill, but if your de-stress ritual looks like something Raoul Duke’s Samoan lawyer hooked you up with, is that really living? Where is the balance? How do you find your way off that Habitrail, that goes faster and faster, the yellow plastic walls closing in on you but you never really getting anywhere?

The taxes are done, finally, and my meager “thanks for letting us borrow your money, sucker” return given back to me. I bought bourbon with it. Happy Friday.


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