On this Mother’s Day, 2017 I’m reflecting back on how my late, wonderful mother affected me in my work life.
It started in the 1960’s when I had my first job folding laundry at Mel’s Laundromat on Union Turnpike in Queens, NY. It was in a strip of stores that ranged from Glen Oaks Pharmacy where Richie the owner and pharmacist kept the store guarded by a massive German Shepherd who would sometimes snuggle up to your crotch while you were shopping….to Sol and Lefty’s candy store/luncheonette that served as a lunch counter, candy stand, place to get your school supplies and bookie joint. Yes..it was always safe to shop at Sol and Lefty’s because there was always one of NYPD’s finest on site…to place a bet. In between there was Ray’s Anchorage/old man’s bar, the Cracker Barrel supermarket a dry cleaner and deli. Mel’s was closer to the north end of the strip where Sol and Lefty’s was located.
Mel was a crappy boss. He was crazy and yelled a lot and made sure half the machines didn’t work right so customers would have to toss in extra quarters. I was 8 years old and even so, the 25 cents a day he paid me seemed like a screw job. My mother gave me my first workplace advice at that point. “Edward,” she said, “try not to work for assholes.” But I was young and impetuous and I didn’t obey that sage advice, for more than 40 years.
Later, as a teenager, I worked at a day camp in tony Great Neck, Long Island where the skinflint owner paid us 25 bucks a summer plus tips, but you had to pool your tips. Mom advice number two. “Pool your tips? What? So the lazy schlemiels can get some of your money? Screw ‘em! Toss in five bucks and pocket the rest. You earned it.” Smart mommy.
When I started my career as a broadcaster it was at a truly crappy station in Fulton, New York. Fulton is about a half hour north of Syracuse, which puts it squarely in the area commonly known as “Nowhere.” The station was located in a field in a concrete block building next to the transmission tower. Occasionally, the St. Bernard that lived in the farm that surrounded the station would walk up to the door, bang it with his massive head and wait for belly rubs. We always complied. When I brought my parents to see where I worked, my mother offered work advice number 3. “Edward, make sure your next job isn’t in such a shithole.” I dutifully obeyed and moved on to another station, in Auburn, N.Y. which was located in the top floor of an office building and had the best studios and equipment.
For the benefit of time and space I’ll skip ahead to when I eventually landed a job at CNN in Atlanta. My parents were duly impressed but were not familiar with either Atlanta or Georgia. This precipitated mom job advice number 4. “Edward,” she intoned, “this is a big deal. Do whatever they say, try your hardest, show them what you’ve got and whatever you do, do NOT start saying ‘y’all.’” I did everything she said and lasted two decades at the most manic place I had ever worked.
My last fulltime job was a Chrysler. I was hired to manage and ghost write a blog on behalf of the head of PR. This was 2005. My parents just could not fathom exactly what it is I was hired to do. Despite many explanations, blogging and social media did not compute with them. They attempted to send emails via the ghastly WebTV service, which was so slow, snail mail would arrive faster. It only frustrated my father who received a lot of useless “forwards” from other alta cockers at their Florida condo community. My father would respond to each and every one with “please don’t send any more of this stupid shit.” It got him elected to the condo board of directors and captain of the shuffleboard team.
It also led to my mother’s final work advice: “Edward,” she said patiently. “I really don’t know what the hell you do or why you do it but if it pays better than the laundramat I’m happy for you.” It did, indeed, pay much better than the laundramat, and led to a nice management job, an office and free coffee…which only proves, you should always listen to your mother.
Are you suffering from a syndrome I call “Simulated Holiday Amiability Malady,” or SHAM? It manifests itself in several ways, most notably in the workplace.
Here’s SHAM’s progression.For most of the year a person, let’s call him Schmeckel, will avoid you as one would a victim of Swine Flu, or abuse of Old Spice. Schmeckel is pretty sure you’re after his job, his office and premium parking space. It’s not true, but Schmeckel is a schmuck and sits alone in the cafeteria with an extra tray and an empty soup bowl so people will think he actually has a lunch companion who just got up to go to the washroom.
Snap! It’s Thanksgiving and SHAM carriers infect everyone they see with an obnoxious and insidious strain of false sincerity and feigned friendliness. “How you doin’!” Schmeckel may suddenly ask you. “Have a great Thanksgiving? Plans for the holidays?” Your soul tells you to invite him to enjoy a solo honeymoon, but you see, SHAM is terribly contagious. You are now obligated, against your will, to reciprocate the bogus buddy-buddy and reply you had a wonderful turkey with family and have big plans for Chanukah, Christmas, New Years, Groundhog Day and every day on a calendar that Hallmark cashes in on.
The most dangerous venue for contracting SHAM is the office holiday party. You have to attend because the boss will take 25 points off your annual evaluation if you don’t show up reducing your bonus to a Twix bar. For three or four hours you’re stuck in a small space with a large number of people who wish you dead but are all forced to put on happy, insincere faces, toasting, boasting, hugging, mugging, mentally barfing, for the benefit of convincing the boss he/she is lording over a homogeneous workplace, which enhances their chances of scoring a promotion to a position for which they are not qualified.
SHAM’s gestation period expires when the ball drops in Times Square marking the new year and, finally, the end of the holiday season. When you return to work on January 2nd, all of SHAM’s effects are instantly forgotten, its scars completely healed, and until that fourth Thursday the following November, you can return to a relaxing normalcy of honest loathing.