CURSE OF THE LEISURE CLASS.

Once upon a time in a life long ago, I worked hard. I don’t know if you could call it overworked. I never felt I had more work than I could do — if only they would let me get to it instead of using half my day in useless meetings. I always did the best job I could and worked as many hours as I needed to meet my deadlines while maintaining quality.

Blogging is the closest thing I do to “real” work these days, but I don’t get paid and I don’t have a boss, unless you count me. I’m not such a bad boss, except I don’t believe in sick days. Even with a doctor’s note.

I think most of us who have worked in offices of one kind or another are mentally abused by micro-managing bosses who have never had to perform the work they are supervising.

I don’t know if that makes us overworked. I think it is closer to mistreatment. The work is the easy part. Dealing with unrealistic demands, bad manners, and a myriad of absurd rules and regulations turns what ought to be a profession, into a nightmare.

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I’ve had a lot of bad bosses. Micro-managers and backstabbers. The plain cursedly mean ones whose main joy in life is making others miserable. The little emperors and empresses who think they have the right to rule your every breath.

I’ve had great bosses too. Managers who appreciated good work and believed it was their responsibility to help get the job done. To remove the obstacles and make work rewarding. When you’ve got a good boss, you can actually look forward to work. You don’t start dreading Monday morning on Friday evening. Thinking about work doesn’t give you a stomach ache and a migraine. It’s rare, but it can happen. Work doesn’t have to be a thankless grind. It just is and far too often.

To all the great bosses I’ve had, thank you. To the rest? If there’s a Hell, I hope you have a lifetime during which you have to work for you.

GIVING UP, NOT IN – Marilyn Armstrong

I almost quit any number of times. I didn’t smoke a lot. Less than a pack a day and eventually I got it down to five or six a day and sometimes less. The problem with cigarettes is that one day, for no special reason, you realize you smoked an entire pack. You just sort of forgot you had quit.

In my long and checkered professional career, I had many bosses. One of them had, in a former life, been addicted to heroin. It wasn’t a secret. We all knew because he told us. I had the feeling he was proud of having kicked drugs and was now the owner of a software development company. I asked him how he did it, how he got free of his addiction.

“You know,” he said, “It really wasn’t as hard as you might think. Mostly, I had to get away from the people, from other junkies, and the world of drugs. After I stopped hanging out with those people, getting off drugs was relatively easy. It’s the culture that pulls you in even more than the drugs.”

“I wish,” he continued, a touch of wistfulness in his voice, “It was as easy to kick cigarettes. When you hang out with junkies, you know it’s illegal. You sneak around. You are careful. But cigarettes? No problem. They’re legal. Grab a buddy and go for a smoke. It’s a social thing.

“You don’t hear heroin addicts saying to each other ‘Hey, anyone want to go out back and shoot up?’ but you can stop by another smoker’s desk and say … ‘Hey, want to go have a butt?’

“I’ve had a much harder time quitting smoking than I had quitting heroin. Much harder,” he said and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He did soon thereafter, quit. He decided having kicked narcotics, he could kick cigarettes too. So he did.

I was a smoker myself, then. I had been trying to quit for years. I’d quit, then I’d be somewhere where other smokers worked. I’d get sucked into it. It wasn’t the physical addiction that lured me. I understood how bad it was for my health, disastrous to my budget and getting more costly each day. It made my clothing and hair smell like a dirty ashtray. It was the social connection that got me. Hanging out with other smokers. The rhythm of smoking. I’d write, then take a break, grab a smoke. It was part of my process.

I was never as heavy a smoker other people I knew. I lit many more cigarettes than I smoked. But I enjoyed smoking. I liked the smell of fresh tobacco. I liked standing outside on a crisp night, watching my smoke curl up and away into the sky.

I did a lot of my thinking on cigarette breaks. When I was writing, if I was stuck, I’d have a smoke. By the time I was halfway through it, I’d know what I was going to do and how I would do it.

Smoking-Burning-CigaretteIt took me years of quitting, backsliding, and quitting again before it finally “stuck.” Years before the smell of tobacco brought back memories without triggering a desire to smoke.

I am sure today, after more than ten years if I were to smoke one cigarette, I’d be a smoker. Again. It’s not unlike being an alcoholic. One drink and you’re a drunk again.

It’s not because I’m physically addicted. After all these years of not smoking, I’m obviously not addicted to nicotine, if I ever was. Yet on some level, I will always be addicted to cigarettes.

It would probably be easier to quit now since most offices are smoke-free. That being said, it’s not that I don’t want a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.

RUINED FOR THE REAL WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

Oh to have that job again. The one where they keep paying you but you don’t have to do anything but deposit the money.


 

Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

I had been looking for a job that would let me flex my hours so Garry and I could spend time together. It was difficult. He worked terribly long hours, gone before the sun came up and not home until it was dark again. Ironic. Most people think reporters work “a few minutes a day” because that’s all they see on the news. Not true.

To get those few minutes of finished news on the air, they drag themselves through every kind of weather — blizzards, hurricanes, bitter cold, unbearable heat — and endless traffic, from one end of the state to another. They are often on the scene of the worst imaginable horrors before the first responders arrive.

And they have to look good while doing it. Without a break for lunch or even a bathroom. Someone once commented it’s like being in the army, just without the uniform.

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CORRECTING A WRONG TURN – Marilyn Armstrong

Once upon a time, I had a job in Connecticut. My daily commute was 140 miles — each way. I only worked three days at the office and worked the other two at home. Even so, after a few months, I was exhausted. I could not continue.

I quit and found another job that didn’t require as much commuting. It didn’t pay nearly as well, but it wasn’t going to kill me. Two-hundred and eighty miles of driving three days a week was nuts. Not only did it wear me down, but it also wore out my car.

I never thought of giving up as “throwing in the towel.” I was not giving up. More like I was acknowledging I shouldn’t have taken the job (or married that guy) in the first place. What in the world made me believe I could spend five or six hours a day in the car and also spend 8 to 10 hours at work?

Whenever I’ve given something up whether it was a job, a relationship, a recipe, or whatever? The problem was never being defeated by a foe. The enemy was always me. I made a stupid choice. I should never have started whatever it was in the first place. And usually, I’d known it from the beginning but for some reason, I couldn’t say no.

Ultimately, I knew I’d screwed up and changed course. If you look at this kind of thing as a defeat, you will have a lot of trouble coping when the road gets bumpy. Know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em.

A NEW STRATEGY FOR LIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

The strategy and rhythm of life are different between your working years and retirement.


Garry reminded me that he’s busy. By this he means he’s reading two books — one audio, the other print. He’s trying to keep up with his email and stuff on Serendipity and occasionally write a few things, too. Which made me think about busyness.

So I said to him, but also to myself: “How did we have enough time to work full-time and then some?”

Garry worked insanely long hours, often 14 to 16 hours. Just as he was finally about to get some sleep, the station would call him back in. This is why he so treasures sleep. For most of his life, he barely got any. On top of this, he worked strange hours, so his body was always on its own odd schedule.

He remembers better than I do about work, even though he has been retired longer than me. “It was the schedule we lived on. We got up, we went to work, we came home. Then we did it again.”

“I don’t think I could do it … for any amount of money,” I pointed out. “I went out on disability … and that was three major surgeries ago. I don’t think I’m healthier now than I was then.”

“That,” said my husband, “Is the other thing. It doesn’t matter how much money they offered me. I don’t think I could do it.”

That’s the definition of retirement — when not only do you no longer work, but you can’t do it, not for any amount of money. You’re finished. It’s hard to remember exactly what working full-time was like.

These days, I watch — and photograph — birds.

I know I did it. I got up, commuted, sometimes ridiculously long distances which is how I got hooked on audiobooks. Worked. Came home. Cooked. Cleaned. I even occasionally saw friends or family. Then, I got up and did it again. We both did. Together, we worked for about 100 years.

These days, I write a piece or two, read other blogs and maybe fix some pictures and listen to a book. Then, I make dinner and collapse into the sofa, I feel I’ve worked a full day.

It’s 12:15 am and I’m writing this. It’s the second post I’ve written today. I also processed about a dozen pictures. I made shrimp for dinner and Garry cleaned up. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a full day.

I am thoroughly and completely retired.

WE SHOULD ALL BE PLUMBERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #59


What does it mean to you in the 21st century
to be well-educated?


When I was growing up, you had to get good grades in school. You needed them so you’d be better positioned to get good grades and maybe a scholarship in high school so you could go to college. Because if you didn’t go to college, you would never get into heaven. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I knew that college was my destiny. As sure as the rising of the sun in the east, I would go to college.

I went to college. I even graduated and got a degree and everything. My B.A. in Speech and Drama had absolutely nothing to do with any work I did in my life, though some of it came in useful at odd times along the way. I have all but 1 credit to a degree in Music and 1 degree in Philosophy. I didn’t intend to graduate. I was trying to stay in school and get a philosophy degree and go into full-time academics. I wanted to stay forever in school and spend my life thinking.

Instead, I erred and completed a major. They made me graduate. It was stupid because I’d have been a good thinker, but I was also a good writer and that wasn’t a bad second choice.

Nonetheless, all things considered, I’d have made a lot more money if I’d been a plumber. People can easily do without thinkers, but when you need a plumber, you really need a plumber and usually, immediately.

Installation! The bathtub is already gone.

To put this another way, we should be seriously rethinking education. Unless you actually need a college degree, there are a lot of good-paying positions that urgently need people. Electricians, IT guys, developers, people who run those cool machines in hospitals.

We need masons and stonecutters, painters, roofers, and carpenters. We need teachers and teaching assistants. We need nurses and nurse’s aides. Veterinarians and vet techs. Hairdressers and barbers. We need auto mechanics. And we are going to need an awful lot of people to make the world green again after the current desecration.

We need to consider training a lot more people to do a lot more things. And we should do it soon because a lot of the jobs people do now will be done by AI robots in the future and if we don’t start training people now, there will be a lot of unemployed and desperately poor people. Which, by the way, is why I supported Yang. Pity no one took him seriously.

He was right and five years from now, everyone will know it.

Meanwhile, it would help if more people would read books. The more we read, the better educated we get. Not reading is making us stupid.

KIDS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

My kid will turn 51 in May, but he still says the darnedest things.

“Why,” he asked me, “When I was a kid didn’t you tell me getting old was going to be such a bummer?”

“Because we didn’t know. We weren’t old yet. What we also didn’t tell you was that you were going to get a job and no matter how tired of it you got, you’d have to keep working until you got old. We don’t tell kids that because if we did, they’d never get out of bed in the morning.”

He was only three

It’s not that sometimes you get lucky and you get a job you love. I had some high times with my career when it was great. Garry had a lot of great years when he felt he was on top of the world. But the thing is, even the great job lasts a lot longer than your best years. Even great jobs get to a point where you are tired and you really want to stop. Your job slogs on even when you are weary, worn out, not feeling well. When your back hurts, you’ve got a migraine, and realize you still have to work.

And then he turned 50

And, as my son pointed out, it’s even worse when you’re the boss because you can’t call in sick. You are the one to whom everyone else calls in sick. I pointed out that it’s even worse when not only are you the boss, but it’s your own company and you don’t give sick days.

You just can’t tell your kids this stuff. They would find it demoralizing. And they might give up before they even try to find a profession which makes them happy. Nonetheless, I wish I’d known getting old would be such a bummer. I might have been better prepared when it showed up.

NOT WORTH THE PAPER IT’S WRITTEN ON – Marilyn Armstrong

It was Samuel Goldwyn who supposedly said that “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” He had a point. Almost everything is done online these days from legal papers to mortgages.

Job offers, book deals, major purchases (like cars) are all done online, without people meeting face-to-face. I’m still not willing to make major commitments without a personal meeting, but I’m old-school. Maybe you should be, too.

Computers, or not, get it in writing. Without the handwritten signature of a live human with a name, address, and phone numbers, you ain’t got nothing.

When I was working my first jobs out of college, I would take anything with some connection — no matter how vague — to professional writing or editing.
It was the 1960s. Those days, before home computers and the Internet, getting a job was pretty simple, at least at entry levels.

You saw a listing in the paper for something you figured you could do. You phoned them (if they gave a number to call) or wrote a letter. On paper. Put it in an envelope with a stamp and dropped in a mailbox. You included a résumé or brought one with you for the interview.

You went to the meeting in person. A day or two later, that person (or his/her secretary) called back to say “Yes, you’re hired,” or “No, thank you.” An entry-level job didn’t require 30 hours of interviews or meeting everyone from the company president to the IT crew and the overnight backup guy.

And there really was a job, unlike now where they interview people for jobs that don’t exist just to find out if there’s a workforce to fill it — should it ever come up. You were qualified to do the job or not. The person who interviewed you actually had the authority to hire you. Which was why he or she was conducting interviews.

Unlike today where you can be certain the first person you talk to is someone from HR trying to ascertain whether or not you are a serial killer or corporate espionage agent.

Contracts? Those were for really important jobs. Getting in the door was relatively easy. Getting an office with a window might never happen. If you were a woman, knowing how to type was your entry card.

So the company made me an offer. I took it. I was optimistic back then. Any job might lead to the coveted and elusive “something better.” I was already working, so I gave my current employer two-weeks notice. On the appointed day, I showed up for work.

The guy who had offered me the job was gone. Quit? Fired? No one seemed to know or care. Worse, no one had heard of me, or my so-called job. I had nothing in writing. Without proof, I had a hard time even getting unemployment. I had learned the most important professional lesson of my life:


GET IT IN WRITING.


Whatever it is, if it’s not on a piece of paper, dated, and signed, it’s a verbal contract. Sometimes, that’s fine, but it’s not something you can show to a judge or for that matter, the unemployment department yo-yos. Which, in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, means it is not worth the paper it’s written on.

I’M STILL UNDER DEVELOPMENT – Marilyn Armstrong

One of the many things I learned while working for a living was “never let them know how good you really are.”

It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. Moreover, I’ve always been more fond of family and friends than my work, except for the year I ran a newspaper in Israel. I totally loved running a newspaper. I was busy all the time, either editing, writing, looking for material, helping design the physical paper.  This was before they had software to design magazines and newspapers, so you had to literally cut and paste the pieces into place.

I wrote three regular columns under three names: the lead story as me, a cooking column, and an astrology column under various names. And if we were needed another article, I wrote that, too.


I got to interview the big guns in 1980s Israeli politics including Netanyahu who I think was Education Minister. Pretty sure. We did a very long interview about how important it was to stop using the money for “other stuff” (settlements, for example) and spend it on education. He certainly has changed a lot since the mid-80s.

Other than that, I did what I could with the skills that I had. There was only one English-language newspaper and everyone who wrote in English wanted to work there. On the other hand, there were dozens of advertisements for technical writers.

I wasn’t a technical writer, but if that was what they were hiring? I was one.

And so I got my first got a job as a technical writer working with the group at the Weizmann Institution who were designing DB-1, the predecessor to all DBs since. The first real, multi-lingual database. Except I didn’t know anything about databases. In fact, when I got the job, it was the first time I’d heard of one. I hung around the office for a few days, realized I was useless unless I got some training and ‘fessed up.

After six weeks of having database design force-fed into my brain, I could use the database and design something simple that worked. Sort of.

I learned system analysis rather than computer programming, so I never knew how to write programming though I could read it. I learned how software is designed and understood why and how it works. During my three years there — until they sold the product to IBM — I found my technical writing legs.

I was a bit of a pioneer. Breaking new ground was exciting and professionally risky. I was known, by the time I left Israel, as its best tech writer in the country. Israel was a very small market and when I went back to the States, I was a little twitchy about testing my skills in “the big time.” But it was fine. Maybe better than fine.

Except for one thing: I discovered the reward you got for being very good and very fast was more work. Not a raise or a promotion. Just work. Not even overtime.

In my first job in the U.S., I started as “the junior writer.” Eventually, the other 5 members of the department were let go or moved on until finally, there was only me. Doing the whole thing that had previously needed (?) six people.

I was handling the “work” four writers and an editor had done before me. I finally asked how come I didn’t at least get the title of “manager” and was told I was too good a writer to be promoted. Too good to be promoted? Okay, how about a raise?

I got 6%. I changed jobs and made more money. That was when I realized that I should never have let them know just how good — and fast — I was because there was nothing in it for me except more work.

I eventually got really good and ultimately got a good salary. This is exactly when the dot com market blew up. The company for which I was working went out of business between Monday (when we got the news that our backers had lost all their money and thus we had lost all of our) and Friday. A lot of small investment companies disappeared that year.

It was also the same time when big companies decided \they didn’t need tech support departments that knew enough to offer tech support. Simultaneously, they concluded no one needed a manual since customers could call Pakistan and ask questions … and get the wrong answers.

I was already getting sick and working was difficult. Garry had lost his job and Owen’s company blew up on 9/11. My income mattered. But the industry decided I and the work I did was obsolete. Ironically today, the tech writing business is resurging. It turns out that people who buy expensive stuff — like cameras — feel they are entitled to a manual. Sadly for me, I’m 20 years out of date, lack the ability to work a full-time job, and live in the middle of nowhere.


Why am I writing all this? Because Garry and I were talking last night. He said he had a burning need to succeed. Virtually nothing else mattered to him. How did I feel about work?

I said no one has a burning need to succeed as a technical writer. It’s just not that kind of job. So what DID I have? I was an incredibly good writer and insanely fast. I was a better writer than anyone else I had worked with and at least twice as fast. They got paid more, but they were men.

If I’d had the drive and business sense to move out into the big wide world and build my own company? Could I have “made it big”? I don’t know, but I didn’t do it so I’ll never know. I never liked the business side of the business world.

But damn, I was good.

GAFFES OF AN ICONIC NAME DROPPER – Garry Armstrong

About the title of this post: “Gaffe” sounds nicer than “mind-numbing stupidity.” On the other hand, “iconic” doesn’t resonate well with “name-dropper.” A bit of sarcasm, a hint of irony.

Just trying to make sure you’re really reading this one. I usually offer stories about celebrities I’ve been fortunate to meet in my 40 plus years, toiling in the cotton fields of TV and radio news. It’s always an ego boost for this retired old news fart to spin yarns about time spent with the likes of John Wayne, Mother Theresa, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, The Boston Strangler, Queen Elizabeth, Presidents Johnson through Clinton, Whitey Bulger, Tip O’Neil and Princess Cheyenne, The Queen of Boston’s notorious “Combat Zone.”

How’s that for an eclectic bunch of names dropped? There are lots more to come depending on the retention power of my aging brain. Maybe it’s because of the fading hopes for my beloved Bosox who apparently won’t be chugging World Series Championship champagne this year. Maybe it’s the pollen and floating dog hair that impairs seeing and hearing.

It’s time for, as my former employers told me as they showed me the door after 31 years of faithful service, “To go in a different direction.”

A different direction. Instead of the heady celeb stories, how about some of the things that went wrong in my long, award-winning career (see, more name and fact dopping).  Lots of hinky stuff is stored in the locked chambers of my brain.

Figure it this way. If you do a minimum of half a dozen interviews a day, 5 or 6 days a week, 350 weeks a year, then spread it over more than 40 years. There are bound to be some stinkers, duds, and bombs mixed in with the celebrated stories. There’s no sequential order or grading of my gaffes. Just a handful to give you a glimpse into the not-always-successful days and nights of a TV/radio news reporter.

Embarrassing Gaffe 1

We were assigned to interview a couple who had been burgled and had their home invaded. The husband had chased the bad guys out with minimal injuries sustained. He was a hero. It was a “good news” story to sandwich in between the other “if it bleeds, it leads” stories.  Invited in, I quickly surveyed the house, looking for video possibilities to enhance the story which seemed to be “talking heads” and some file video of uniformed police responding to the initial 911 call.

I refocused my attention to the couple. He appeared to be middle-aged, maybe in his early 50s. His wife seemed to be in her 20s.  It was an immediate distraction, furthered by what also appeared to be a woman, well along in pregnancy. It set up an immediate log jam in my brain.

Before getting to the interview, I wanted to politely congratulate the couple. The words flew out of my mouth, unedited. “Let me offer you my congratulations – in the middle of this harrowing situation.” The husband stared at me. No smile. Just a very angry stare. “Mr. Armstrong, what do you mean by congratulations?  Is it because I chased the G.D. thugs out of my house? Punks! No guts, Mr. Armstrong. So, why congrats?”

I instantly sensed I was in hot water. I squirmed while offering my “nice guy” TV smile. The husband held his angry stare. I tried my best, “Um, er, I just noticed how your daugh–I mean your wife is absolutely glowing. These must be heady times for you”. The stare widened into anger. “Mr. Armstrong, are you implying my WIFE is pregnant?  If so, How DARE you? You reporters are all the same. No respect! My WIFE — is NOT pregnant – so what are you implying, Mr. Armstrong?”

I mumbled some apologies, visually telling the crew to pack their gear and get out quickly.  The guys were giggling and I was the joke. The husband was furious now, telling me he would call the TV station, their lawyers and his lawyer. “I’m gonna sue all your asses, especially yours, MISTER Armstrong” he fumed as we fled the house.

Long story short, back at the station, I pled ignorance, thought the wife (who looked like his daughter) was really pregnant. No, I never implied she was obese. No way.

The executive suits and the corporation lawyers had a field day with me. My “attitude” never sat well with them. However, the lawyers worked their magic and the threatened litigation disappeared like smoke from yesterday’s big fire story.  I never asked about it again. I may have been something of a smart ass but I wasn’t stupid.

Embarrassing Gaffe#2

Lunchtime at one of my favorite bars. Liquid lunch with a hot dog appetizer. I was on my 3rd or 4th Long Island Tea when a sultry voiced young woman struck up a conversation. The air was THICK with cigarette smoke, the jukebox was blaring Irish folk music that probably deafened all conversation including mine. Sultry voice complimented me on my clothing and said she was a fan of my work.

I nodded and repeated my thank you. I glanced at George, the bartender who owned the bar. He was leering — not grinning — at me. The sultry voice said she found me “exciting” and wanted to be alone with me.

I still hadn’t been able to see her through all the damn smoke. The one-sided, very complimentary conversation went on for maybe ten minutes as I ordered another drink from the leering George who was also giggling. I noticed some of the other bar regulars were staring at me and sultry voice.

I could finally feel the Long Island Tea working on me. I was repeating myself a lot. Sultry voice handed me a slip of paper with a seductive goodbye, “See you soon, honey.” She disappeared like Marlene Dietrich through the smoke. I still hadn’t gotten a clear view of her.

George came over to me, leaned over the bar, and spoke so I could hear him. He knew I had hearing problems. “Garry, my friend,”  he started, “Be CAREFUL, buddy”.  I stared at him — probably stupidly. George smiled a friendly smile, not a  leer.

George shook his head, “Garry, that’s a HE, not a she, Pal. Just be careful”.  I could feel the embarrassment shooting through my body. The impact of the Long Island Teas vanished as if I’d never drunk them.

I looked at my watch. Lunchtime had ended half an hour ago. I pulled out some money to pay my tab. George looked at me, smiling. “It’s on the house, Pal. Get back to work. Have a good day. Be safe”.

I returned to work. I did a couple of stories for the evening newscasts. No, I don’t remember anything about the stories.

THE NIGHTMARE JOBS OF YOUTH – Marilyn Armstrong

I complain about getting old, but occasionally, I remember being young wasn’t exactly perfect, either. Mostly, it was work. Men were one problem (especially the men AT work), but work itself and some of the monsters who ran the companies for which I worked … well … they were a special breed. I hear it’s worse now. 

I find that hard to believe. How much worse can it be? Between the sleazy offers of sex behind the office door and the micromanagement, not to mention the realization that the harder you worked, the more work you’d be given to do — and realizing that as a woman, you’d probably never get a raise or even a high five — how bad can it get?


As a retiree, I had more than 40 years of work full-time work. Of the 40 years of work, 30 of them involved working for bad-tempered, sleazy, mean-spirited bosses.

Were they born that way or did they grow into their positions?

There was the job for which I was paid exceptionally well. I was being paid to do absolutely nothing. I was assigned to sit all day in front of a computer and look busy. I was not allowed to fall asleep or read a book. I could not play a game or write a personal letter.

I had to sit there and stare at the screen. Worse, I had to “work” overtime. A standard 8-hour day was not enough. I had to continue the farce for 9 or 10 hours. Because the contract agency that put me in the job had to prove we were “necessary” by forcing us to do overtime … or an extra hour or two of doing nothing.

I am told there are people who crave such jobs. For me, it was torture. I couldn’t wait to move on.

There was the job where I was paid top dollar, had a gorgeous office. And nobody cared what I did. They only hired me because one big contract needed a manual. My job was to write it.

No one read it. Not only didn’t they read it, they also didn’t edit it or check to make sure it was accurate. I could have filled it with nursery rhymes or doodles. All they wanted to know was “Is it big and heavy?” and “Does it look impressive?” People wonder why manuals aren’t as good as they should be!

Working under a micro-manager is a special experience, especially for a writer. I had a few of them.

These are the bosses who stand behind you. You can hear them breathe, feel their hot air breath on your neck. Yuk. They watch with eagle-eyes to make sure you are doing Your Job and Nothing But Your Job. For me, that means I can’t do my job.

I’m a writer. I can’t write with someone watching over my shoulder. The micro-managers also stands by the door in the morning hoping to bag any worker who has the temerity to show up a millisecond late. I was once called on the carpet — really tore me a new one — for being three minutes late.

The good part? When I made a serious mistake and forgot to insert a full-page color advertisement in the middle of the magazine — just omitted it entirely which no doubt cost the company serious money — it wasn’t any worse than the dressing down than I’d gotten for being three minutes late. It’s like when you yell at your kids or dogs all the time and you realize, they aren’t listening.

If you yell at your employees for everything, after a while, they become numb and nothing you do or say has any effect. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That works better, though it didn’t get him re-elected.

I had a truly stupid job at college. Briefly. The work was easy. I was the receptionist. Some annoying women came in and asked me my name. I told her. She said, “I don’t like that name. Do you mind if I call you Jane?”

I looked at her, “Yes, I mind. My name is Marilyn. Mrs. Armstrong to you.” I got fired. I didn’t mind. It was a horrible job anyhow.

This is not the time or place to discuss the wonderful jobs, the terrific bosses, or the great work I’ve had the honor to do. The awful jobs — mostly — didn’t last long. The good ones (mostly) made up for the bad ones.

Retirement is the payback for professional suffering. I love retirement. It’s the bestest job of all.

WOMENS’ ROLES IN JAPAN – CHANGE AND STAGNATION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Many things have changed in Japan since WWII but many things have also stayed the same. This dichotomy is creating unwanted trends and having far reaching consequences for the entire country.

Certain cultural expectations have remained static over time. Employees are still expected to devote most of their waking hours to their company. Working past 10 PM is the norm and men are often expected to take clients out for drinks after work. Rigorous targets must be met in order to get raises and promotions. This culture of overwork even has a name – “death from overwork.” It’s been argued that this demanding work environment leads to inefficiency and low productivity yet it still has a tight hold on Japanese work culture.

Another social phenomenon that has not changed is that women are still expected to care for the home, children and elderly relatives. They are also still given onerous tasks that they must fulfill to adequately perform their roles in the home. Cooking, for example, is a major job for Japanese women. They must prepare numerous, small dishes for their families every day AND the school lunches that they must prepare for their children have to be works of art!

Dishwashers are not as common as in the U.S and neither are dryers capable of doing large loads. So most women have to hang wet clothes on clotheslines outside, which dramatically increases the amount of time needed to do a family’s laundry.

But this is just the beginning. American women would be horrified at the volume of paperwork women have to do, every day, for their children’s schools and day-cares.

That’s right. Pre-schools demand meticulous and voluminous daily journals documenting their children’s temperatures, what they eat, their moods, conversations, sleeping hours and playtime activities. The elementary schools and after school tutoring classes, ubiquitous for older children, also require that a parent corrects and approves every page of their child’s homework. Women are thus swamped with household and bureaucratic tasks at home, which affects their ability to work outside the home.

Japanese elementary school class

Here comes the change part – now close to 70% of women 15-64 have jobs. Nevertheless, the heavy burden of domestic tasks holds women back from advancing in their careers. They can’t put in the crushing hours men do when they are on the promotion track. As a result, almost half of all working women only work part-time and often the other half are on temporary contracts. This creates a huge pay gap between men and women and also a shortage of women in management-level jobs.

Only 1% of the female workforce is in management. Yet women who work more than 49 hours a week typically also put in close to 25 hours of housework a week. Men typically average less than 5 hours a week, even when their wives work too. Thus Japanese men do less housework and childcare than men in any other of the world’s wealthiest nations.

This rigidity of gender roles at home has ramifications in the economy and society. Japan’s economic status in the world has stagnated and China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. The Prime Minister of Japan has pledged to return the economy to steady growth, which means countering the severe labor shortage due to a declining as well as a rapidly-aging population. To increase the workforce and energize the economy, the Prime Minister’s goal is to elevate and increase women’s participation in the workforce. This initiative is called “womenomics.”

The problem is that for women to increase their impact on the workplace, everyone has to reduce the bruising hours expected at work so the women can begin to catch up to the men. In addition, the rigid and excessive demands on a woman’s time at home have to be reduced – and/or these tasks must be shared more equally by the husbands. But that would require a major change in social norms and entrenched gender roles, which is not likely to happen quickly.

However, social change is happening in Japan, just not in the way the government wants or society needs. The biggest trend in Japanese society today is the tremendous surge of women choosing not to marry at all! More and more women are rejecting the life of domestic drudgery that comes with marriage and parenthood and the concomitant drag on their career advancement.

The Japanese are exhausted most of the time

This is a problem because Japan is also suffering from a decline in population that politicians are frantically trying to reverse. The birth rate is the lowest it’s been since 1899 when record-keeping began. The economy can’t continue to grow if the workforce continues to shrink.

The statistics on women staying single are dramatic. In the mid-1990s, only 1 in 20 women in Japan had never been married by the age of 50. By 2015, 1 in 7 remained unmarried. In women ages 35-39, 10% were unmarried 20 years ago and now 25% are staying single. The number of couples getting married is at its lowest level since WWII.

There is some good news for the business world. A growing number of new businesses have sprung up to cater to this large market of single women. Single Karaoke Bars have women-only zones, restaurants market to solo diners, travel companies book tours for single women and photo studios offer photoshoots where women put on wedding dresses and pose for solo bridal pictures. There are even solo wedding ceremonies for women committing to their independence and their single, career-oriented lives.

Women no longer need husbands to ensure their economic security because if they stay single and avoid the cultural demands on wives and mothers, they can put in the hours to get ahead at work. They can also have the freedom to pursue hobbies, travel and cultivate large circles of friends. Many see this lifestyle as more rewarding than being stuck in the quicksand of the socially mandated gender role of wife and mother.

Until these domestic roles are redefined, Japan will see more and more women opting out of the domestic rat race. And the population will continue to decline along with the economy. I’m not sure how the government can mandate the kind of social change they need, but they may have to try. It should be interesting to watch how this social experiment works out.

SOME STUFF NEEDS INVENTING – Marilyn Armstrong

In a world where we are launching cars and other vehicles that can drive themselves, why can’t anyone create a pump for soap, shampoo, hand cream, and other gooey stuff that will keep working until the bottle is actually empty?

I’ve been a very good sport about paying huge amounts of money for fancy creams to deal with rashes. Soaps free of anything that might be remotely allergenic to use for my body and for the washing of clothing. The “good” dish soap that is safe the environment and is supposed to outlast all the other soaps but never does.

I have — for example — a soap dispenser for the Dawn in the kitchen. Why? Because Garry is a firm believer that more of whatever goop it is is always better than less. Thus he uses twice as much toothpaste as I do and ten times more kitchen soap. I figured if I put it in a dispenser, he’d get tired of pumping it out a lot faster than he would if he were to have his hands on the entire half-gallon container.

Today, though, he couldn’t get anything to come out. I opened it and it was more than half full, so I figured — as usual — it was all gunked up with soap. So I rinsed everything out with hot water, then found a pokey pointy thing to clear out the pump in the front, then washed the entire pump container which was all sticky and gooey.

After which, it worked. I commented that if we can replace human beings in production plants with AI devices, why can’t someone make a soap or hand cream pump that doesn’t clog up? Or, for that matter, a dispenser for packing tape that doesn’t stick to everything except the package you are trying to get ready for shipping?

Kitchen jar opener

If we can make so many complicated things that will ultimately make most people unemployable, why can’t we make the simple things work? Make child-proof drug dispensers that don’t require a wrench, lockpick, and hand-ax to open?

How about one of those zip pull envelopes that works? How about a “push here to open” place on a box that will actually open the pasta or whatever it is supposed to open rather than simply caving in the entire container?

I keep knives, scissors, and small wrenches in my night table and that’s just to open up sealed pill containers.  I have special implements to open the tops of jars and bottles. Even with all of these items conveniently at hand, sometimes, I can’t get them open and Garry can’t get them open either. Maybe Owen could, but he’s not here. Usually punching a hole in the jar’s lid works because it breaks the seal. But then you have a jar with a hole in the top.

Very expensive shampoo dispenser

I’m really tired of throwing away half a container of expensive goop because no one can get it out of the container. It is aggravating and a big waste of money. I want someone to FIX the problem.

My favorite innovation? Amazon charges you extra to get a package that a normal person can open without special tools.