Monday, October 03, 2005

Lisa, Not Jim's Wife

Harry Moss kept trying to steer his editorial meeting away from the distractions of the bovine growth hormone argument that had spilled in from the hallway, the new Target store announced to be built shortly, the drunken "personal assistant" to the diet doctor Helmut the photographer had just shot, who had shoved her foot not so discretely under the restaurant table so far into Helmut's crotch that he contemplated cancelling his prostate exam out of a sense of redundancy, but Harry was not doing a good job of it.

He felt like he was at the wheel of one of those kiddie pirate boat rides. You could spin it a thousand times in any direction and the damn boat would still travel down a predetermined path. The wheel, like the pretense of Harry running this meeting, really existed just to keep someone feeling comfortable and in, even if delusional, control.

Lisa, Not Jim's Wife began a reality check of that delusion.

“I just want to know how many people will be bringing spouses or significant others to the picnic?” Lisa did not ever relent from her pursuit of the meaningless.

Lisa Not Jim’s Wife was clearly not her real name. It was Lisa Jones. And nobody called her Lisa Not Jim’s Wife, at least not to her face. They, the rest of the magazine’s staff all referred to Lisa as Lisa Not Jim’s Wife even though there was only one Lisa in the entire company.

But there was another Jones and his name was Jim and he was head of maintenance which was to say he was in charge of the janitors. Jim was a quiet, kind fellow who generally saw that things were done right and well from the start and only got a little testy when the magazine ran late and staff had to be called into work on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That meant Jim had to be called in as well to unlock the offices and check that they were locked up correctly at day’s end. Jim tried hard to understand why a magazine that he had nothing to do with in terms of writing, illustrating, printing or selling, called the tune of his weekends when it ran late. Furthermore, nobody on the magazine stayed late or came in early when his cleaning crews ran behind and when a pipe burst last winter flooding the basement he didn’t recall a bucket brigade of editors and designers baling.

Nonetheless, that was the way of this world. He was head of building services and the buildings, more appropriate, the tenants, needed his services.

Lisa thought Jim was a fine fellow as well and spoke with him often, sometimes several times a day in times of climactic extremes. The office was too hot? Call Jim and tell him to stop being so cheap and turn the AC down a few degrees. Too cold? Jim needs to get down to the boiler room and crank up that heat. A girl could freeze and I can’t wear this sweater all day, it’s covering the rest of my outfit and let me tell you girlfriend, I didn’t spend hours at Nordstrom’s matching tops to skirts to hide the whole thing under some sweater, even if it is cashmere.

Jim was useful to Lisa but he was not her class of person and certainly did not hang out in the same places and with the same crowds has she did and they certainly weren’t married. So Lisa always introduced herself as Lisa Jones but I’m not married to Jim Jones in maintenance or Lisa Jones but I’m not Jim’s wife and if anybody’s told you otherwise, well somebody just isn’t being as funny as they think.

For all her pretensions, Lisa Not Jim’s Wife was not what Harry exactly considered at the top of the social heap. She was petite, very attractive and dressed impeccably, even Harry who thought there was nothing wrong with wrinkled khakis and blue button down Oxfords five days a week, had to admit. She carried herself well but, at the end of the day, Lisa was married to a town fireman, named Jim.

Harry didn’t get the aversion to building services. Jim Jones, the janitor’s boss, had a job taking care of buildings. Jim Jones, the fireman, took pains to save them so that the other Jim Jones could keep earning a living keeping buildings that Jim the fireman could eventually save from destruction. The whole thing was wonderfully symbiotic and how Lisa Not Jim’s Wife-at least not That Jim-drew the social distinction between building services and the fire department remained a mystery.

Lisa ran the magazine’s production department which, to Harry’s trained eye, really meant that Lisa delegated to the production department as it’s titular head. Not much else. Not that she did a bad job, it was just that she didn’t really do a job at all. She delegated it. All of it. Lisa was fortunate in that the previous production manager had made a series of well thought out hires of incredibly talented people before dropping out of the publishing game to open an eclectic pizza parlor with her lesbian lover. Harry promoted Lisa from assistant to manager when she showed incredible insight into higher management skills by retaining all the staff rather than replacing them with her people.

Harry knew and Lisa was honest enough to herself to realize that her people, while her friends and fun to be with and talk to an loyal, were just like she was which was to say not very effective at all. So she kept the staff just the way it was because they all made her look good and kept stress at a general minimum given what it could be when the book ran late.

Lisa had taken delegation to a new, higher plane. There was not a job, large or small, vital or passing that did not get promptly shunted off to some technical artist or layout designer. Find a low resolution image from the library? Liz, can you look? Count overset, the part of the story that ran over the allotted space in the magazine? Mike, take a look at what we’ve got, will you? With all the work safely out of the way, Lisa Not Jim’s Wife could focus on the more important business of Keeping Morale and Spirits Up and Making This a Fun Place to Work.

Yes, Lisa had made herself the Social and Events Queen of Towards Better Health.

Most of the staff appreciated it. The group was an eclectic one and as such, discordant and non-functional when it came to group activities. That was not to say they didn’t get along, they did. It was just that they were all so different it was hard to get consensus on how to make office coffee, much less where the annual picnic was to be held.

Even Harry deferred to Lisa on most matters social. But he did, as Managing Editor, retain and exercise veto power over some of her sillier ideas.

The Towards Better Health Fall Nature Hike was one such idea. Not one person on staff had a clue on what to do in the woods. On the inaugural and only year it was held the hikers promptly got lost three miles into the trail. It had taken another hour and a half to find a power line swath cut across the mountain they were hiking on and then they had even argued which way to follow the high tension wires. Logic and downhill prevailed. Motorists on the interstate were treated to twenty two bedraggled hitchhikers in a straight line at the side of the road where the power lines crossed the highway that day.

The picnic was not a silly idea. Harry rather enjoyed it. That was not the case with last December’s Secret Santa raffle though. Harry had been against that from the get-go.


Blogger Kathryn said...

I had to read that multiple times to keep all the Jims and Joneses straight and she doesn't sound like someone I would like, not that that matters, but she doesn't

she does, however, sound like quite a few of the women in this here office ....

11:17 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

This makes my office sound incredibly sane, if not altogether dull. (A feat given the overwhelming number of women on the magazine staff.)

Many thanks for the blogging encouragement! This newbie truly appreciates it.

2:09 PM  

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