August 19, 2004

Von PettyPumpkin

I work on a high-profile assignment in an important product line for Dream Job. The work I do-while not being something that will save the whales, end world hunger, or get those awful velcro-closing shoes to be banned-is interesting, fun, and something that my past experience with Company X gives me the perfect background for. Weirdly, I was cast loose from my old job and fit right into the puzzle of my new one. I'm not saying I am the only person in the world who could do this work, and I am not saying that I am fabulous and indispensible. I have learned otherwise, trust me.

But the biggest difference between my old job-besides me not being so paranoid about losing my Dream Job and me not living in Sweden freezing my ass off-and my new job is that once I worked for customers, tirelessly racing into presentations and taking the blame if things went wrong. I would sometimes be shipped from Stockholm to remote offices to take a pounding, to help the local offices save face, or because I was a shmuck and couldn't tell when I was being set up.

And now...I am the customer.

What a change.

And, in general, I get along great with the people that I am supposed to be the customer to. I am the only woman in a team of about 40 men, all of them telecoms flunkies that are pretty good guys. Some of them, ironically, are Company X employees that I never dealt with before, but like very much now. And some of the people for whom I am the customer come from another telecoms company I will call Teledick.

You can maybe see where this is going already.

One rep from Teledick, a smarmy, tall doughy character with the desire to be posh (you wanna' be posh, son? Don't advertise your love for Essex, m'kay?) in particular has gotten right up my ass. He did from day one, and then with an explosive effort on Tuesday he drilled himself his own private enclave for one in my anterior passage.

He took over the role as a salesman/programme manager from someone I got on great with, a guy who used to be able to joke with me and whom I respected. This guy, apparently, thought there was some coat-tail sailing that could be done, when the truth is, with me? In the busines environment, you have to earn the right to joke with me like that, I only do it with friends.

Day One, when we meet.

Him: Hello, Helen. My name is JOFF-rey.
Me: Confused, I look at him. "I'm sorry. What was your name?
Him: JOFF-rey.

I still didn't get it. He gave me his card. And there, on the card, was his name: Geoffry Von PettyPumpkin (English last name and all).

Me: Oh! Geoffrey.
Him: Right, it's pronounced JOFF-rey.
Me: JOFF-rey. I repeated this, feeling like a complete fucknut.
Him: (pulling his upper lip slowly back from his waxy teeth) Right. But I already heard about you. You need to be controlled with an iron fist.

I decide to let his last comment slide, and determined not to ever feel so stupid saying a first name again, I decided just to address him as Von PettyPumpkin. Somehow, that seemed less embarrassing. But only just.

I had to call Von PettyPumpkin about a conference he has booked last week. Without consulting with me or the team I "manage", he moved the meeting location halfway across the goddamn country, making it a more than 6 hour travel-time trip, extending the agenda to a 2-day meeting therefore necessitating an overnight stay. My team were not pleased. Neither was I. We needed the meeting moved back as my team simply can't participate if it's not, and because baby, I got a man. A man with a warm body that I should be with in my own warm bed. Overnight trips away from my man-unless John Cusack, some champagne, and some milk chocolate body cream-are simply not of interest.

I rang him up.

Me: Von PettyPumpkin? This is Helen. I need to talk to you about your meeting next week.
I hear him breathing on the phone, and I imagine his blond nostril hairs.
Him: What about it?
Me: The thing is, the venue was changed without consulting half of the team. You moved it to a location that is difficult for any of us to get to.
Him: It's booked. Done. That's the way it is.

I am put back a bit.

Me: Ri-iiiiight. Well, perhaps you can consider moving it again. None of the team can make it, and their participation is crucial.
Him: (rudely) Look, Helen, I've booked it. Understand? This isn't worth discussing with you.

Back the fuck up.
Isn't worth discussing with me?

Me: I beg your pardon?
Him: I just think you and your team need to get yourselves into gear and get some work done.

The inner beautiful black woman that I have always wanted to be just put one hand on her hip, snapped her fingers in the air, and with perfect precision, just elocuted the words I have always wanted to say as perfectly as I hear on tv:

Oh no, you di'uhnt!

Unfortunately, I am a tall white chick with slightly bucked teeth, but one can dream.

Me: Really, Von PettyPumpkin, I don't think you should be speaking to me like that. You don't know the work my team or I do. I don't appreciate your tone, at all.
Him: (extremely curt tone of voice-and it's not my paranoid mind imagining it, he really is being unkind) I have a more important conference call to attend in about 6 minutes, this isn't worth discussing. It's done. It's booked. You and your team should just try harder to make it. I-

But I didn't hear the end. I broke one of my own mantras, one of my own rules, and with a head on fire I snapped the clam lid on my mobile phone shut, hanging up on him.

I never hang up on people, I find it the height of rudeness.

But I did it to him.

I get it that nothing could be done about moving the meeting. I understand that. I am not full of myself, I don't think all my whims should be catered to. But when you are dealing with someone in a company that you hopefully want to milk for more cash in the future, you can be direct without being rude. Hem a little bit, be sympathetic. And when I was with customers in the past? Nothing was more important than when they had questions, not even if the Pope had wanted to host a conference call (which is ok, since both my Polish and my Italian need work).

All that, and I hate sales.

Ballistic, I rang my manager, and ratted Von PettyPumpkin out.

Me: And if he thinks he can talk to me like that, he can fuck right off!
Manager: I will talk to him. He can't talk to you like that, I totally agree. You will get an apology out of him on Wednesday. But please try to refrain from hanging up on people. (I came clean about that to him-I felt I should be as honest about the conversation as possible, even my mistakes).

So I steamed about it. I was livid. I wanted to ban Von PettyPumpkin to fucking NeverNever Land, having Michael Jackson offer him a sparkly purple M&M and a glass of wine and then do the naked funky chicken with him. I had visions in my mind of telling him (in an icy tone that Alexis Carrington would be impressed with) that his services would no longer be required and to please leave our meetings. Forever.

I was furious.

Wednesday, I woke up with an angry satisfaction. I wasn't in a bad mood-far from it, I felt alive!-and I looked forward to my apology. I wanted squirming. I wanted him to pay. I got ready for work.

IPod? Check.
Mobile phone? Check.
Banshee? Check.

And off to work I went.

Von PettyPumpkin comes up to me.

Him: Helen, can I talk to you outside? Have you had anything to eat?
Me: I've eaten, thank you.

We go outside the room. I am filled with rage but determined to be professional. I want to make him crawl on glass, but I will not give him ammo.

Him: (smiling that smarmy smile) I think you need to get to know how I work, Helen. When I say "It isn't worth discussing" it's simply because I feel other things should be addressed.
Me: I think you need to get to know how to talk to customers, Von PettyPumpkin.
Him: My job isn't really customer service focussed, Helen.
Me: I beg to differ, Von PettyPumpkin. I have worked towards customers before, too. And I would never in a million years speak to them the way you have. It's not acceptable. At all.

His mouth gapes open. He expected me to melt, I think. And I have yet to hear an apology. And this "understand how I work and talk"? Yeah-you don't get to dump the blame on me. This isn't like all of my past relationships, where the man who should apologize weasles out of it in favor of making me suck up the blame. Oh no-those days are past.

Him: I really think you need to just understand how I work and talk.
Me: I don't "just have to" do anything, Von PettyPumpkin.
Him: Listen, mate-
Me: (interrupting him) I am not your mate. I am here to do business. I will attend a part of your two-day meeting, the rest of my team will not be there. And in the future, if you want my team to be there, then you run it through all of us before going off and deciding to book something outrageously difficult to get to.
Him: Helen, really, you just need to understand how I talk.

Change the record, jabberwocky. Bored of the conversation, I start to walk back to the room. I open my mouth and realize I am about to say: I eat salesmen like you for breakfast, when it occurs to me that I should stop channeling Dirty Harry for a moment, because:

A) It's not going to be productive.
B) I am more of a bagel person at breakfast anyway.
C) I have never even seen a Dirty Harry movie, and it hurts my throat to talk like him.

Instead, I reach into myself and come out with a grown-up.

Me: Von PettyPumpkin? I'll see you Monday. We can be colleagues and work on this project, but I am not your mate, I am not your buddy. I am your customer, so please address me as such. (I pause at the doorway, one hand on the cool steel and my heart racing like a hummingbird. I may look tough, but inside I am a jumpy chick.) And you know what Von PettyPumpkin? It's not me-it's you.

And I swish through the doorway, patting my banshee on the back and feeling outrageously alive, ending the personal relationship the way I have always wanted to.


PS-Umm....while attempting to be cool, I walked back into the room, went to sit down at my seat, got my foot tangled up in the cable to my laptop and *BANG!* the laptop went to the floor. After administering mouth-to-mouth, I am sorry to say it was pronounced dead at 12:38 pm GMT. So if I am not commenting much in the next week, it's because I am waiting for a new hard disk. Sorry.

Posted by Everydaystranger at August 19, 2004 07:10 AM | TrackBack .

Wow! I am impressed. Oh, and by the way: Fuck that punk!

Posted by: Mark at August 28, 2004 02:25 AM

Wow! Fine work. You had me all fired up there for a minute. :)

I'm curious. Have you experienced this type of behavior from men in America, or is it just the British that are stuck in the 50s with their chauvinistic behavior towards women? I've heard a couple of stories like this now and am just curious if it's all men or just men in England?

Posted by: Almost Lucid (Brad) at August 23, 2004 08:36 PM

awesome, love it!! aww.... and I'm thinking get well soon wishes for your laptop :)

Posted by: melanie at August 20, 2004 08:53 AM

I'm need a Luuka update. Can I skip in line? I promise to put Luuka on the fasttrack :-)

Posted by: Marie at August 20, 2004 03:26 AM

Ohhh I wish I could be like you. I would have paid money to watch that swarmy MF squirm. Good job, Helen (and inner banshee )

Posted by: Marie at August 20, 2004 03:23 AM


As someone who just suffered a computer-loss myself, I feel your pain. On the plus side, I just got my new (well, it's new for me...someone else has been using it for a while) Apple! It's awesome. It the powerbook G4. I haven't had an Apple since 1984, when I got my Apple II+. Can you tell I'm a little excited?

About the post...FANTASTIC!!!! I loved it. I love this "I'm not going to take any crap off you" Helen. The Banshee. He was very wrong, and you were very right. And you stuck to your guns. Incredible. This was, like some other commentors, one of my favorite posts ever. Up there with the naked-Helen pictures (well, maybe not...ok, definitely not) but I liked it a whole lot.

Posted by: Jiminy at August 20, 2004 01:00 AM

Go Helen! Go helen!
(Doing the ghetto dance)

Posted by: sasoozie at August 19, 2004 08:54 PM

*Standing Ovation*

Posted by: Kip at August 19, 2004 07:21 PM

Also now craving bagels. Luckily the Deli News is just down the street, but my waistline hates you for giving it bad ideas like that.

Posted by: ilyka at August 19, 2004 07:21 PM

I think this might be my favorite post ever. Where to start?--The inner black woman? I do that . . . I think, "Lord, if you were so bound and determined to grant me monster boobage anyway, why couldn't you have gone whole hog and just made me Queen Latifah?" And I will laugh for weeks--in-between shudders of horror--at the thought of Michael Jackson doing the naked funky chicken.

Oh, and Dirty Harry movies are a total guilty pleasure for me and the man. You've never seen even one? We gotta remedy that.

Posted by: ilyka at August 19, 2004 07:19 PM

Gareth, I'm going to take your advice and head for one of those bagelries. I went to a FAB one in Dallas before, so I really am jonesing for the good ones!

Ms. Pants-I daresay, I rang off, my dear. I cahhhhhhhn't accept this type of perfidious behaviour in man.

(Dude. I put the u in there even) :)

And, on behalf of my laptop, who is awaiting critical hard disk transplant surgery, we accept your condolences and well-wishes. Sure, gifts would have been better, but luckily my Toshiba isn't taking it personally (and no-Toshiba isn't a nickname for my minge. My laptop is a Toshiba. With a big Dallas Stars shiny sticker on it).


Posted by: Helen at August 19, 2004 06:32 PM

"Oh no, you di'uhnt!"

You go girl!!!! Dont take that shit for anyone. Esp two bit sales people with no sense.

Posted by: Drew at August 19, 2004 05:57 PM

I must say, you are most certainly my hero! Way to go!

Posted by: Mick at August 19, 2004 05:43 PM

Bravo Helen. Good for you, sorry for your laptop!

Posted by: justme at August 19, 2004 04:41 PM

Really, Helen. You're much more dignified than "hanging up" on people. You did not "hang up" on him. You put the phone down.

Posted by: Ms. Pants at August 19, 2004 04:28 PM


did i ever tell you you're my hero...

Posted by: kat at August 19, 2004 04:27 PM

And that PS is why I love your site. That Briget Jones-esque moment right there. I swear my cube-mate thinks I'm nuts because I just laughed out loud. Well, I've got a bit of a throat issue right now, so it came out like more of a bark, so maybe that is why he thinks I'm nuts.

Posted by: amy t. at August 19, 2004 03:48 PM

Way to go Helen! I love starting my day with a cup of coffee and a read of Everyday Stranger. Your posts are wonderful at capturing humanity just as it is, which isn't often pretty. And in showing yourself warts and all I know you to be true and it is easy to relate to your every emotion.
I love how you dealt with Von PettyPumpkin and I especially love how you were able to capture it in this post!

Posted by: amelia at August 19, 2004 02:53 PM


Posted by: pylorns at August 19, 2004 02:27 PM

This is why I don't start my mornings (here in DALLAS, baby!) without reading you first! Thanks for the wonderful writing, Helen, it means more to me than you'll ever know for many many reasons.... dt

Posted by: dt at August 19, 2004 02:11 PM

you are my hero - klutz and all (makes me think one day i could be like you...which would necessitate an ending like that...)

Posted by: scooter at August 19, 2004 01:55 PM

See, this is why I'm no good in a business environment. I can deal with irate customers, but an idiot like that would send my blood pressure through the roof.

It reminds me of something that about half of my co-workers have posted above their desks:

STRESS - That state of mind which arises when the brain overrides the body's impulse to choke the living shit out of some asshole who desperately deserves it.

Posted by: Easy at August 19, 2004 01:39 PM

Not only do you know how to handle obnoxious male chauvenist salesmen but you know how to write about character conflict better than many novelists - well done :-)

Posted by: steve p at August 19, 2004 12:21 PM

You go girl! (That's what they say on Ricki Lake isn't it?)

The best places to get Bagels in London are either round Golders Green (a big Jewish area chock-full of bakeries), or, if it's about 3am, Brick Lane Bakery. In my opinion at any rate.

Posted by: Gareth at August 19, 2004 11:40 AM

Wow. That was brilliant! I join in the chorus of admiration. However, I do feel a little bad for you -- I don't recall ever being able to get a good bagel in London.

Sucks about the lap top.

Posted by: RP at August 19, 2004 11:02 AM

Hot damn! Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

I've got a grin plastered ear to ear and still have images of you doing the Sha-nay-nay head bob.

Ah, what a morning. :-)

Posted by: Jim at August 19, 2004 10:46 AM

I really said that, babe.

However, I don't think he got it. That you did makes me like you even more :)

Posted by: Helen at August 19, 2004 10:02 AM

If you really said "it's not me, it's you" then that's worth 100 points. The klutzy end, well that makes this sitcom-worthy.

You're living a sitcom. You must be proud.

Posted by: Simon at August 19, 2004 09:54 AM