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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Longest Year: Smirking ...

... at all the wrong places.

The boss had been absent for months since complications began to pile up. In the first week of spring she went to Vienna for an international conference to give a talk. Spending a week in Vienna and Prague was the best remedy for the sound and furies on her frayed nerves. She came back with renewed energy and attended the first team meeting in a long time. She felt an additional motivation to run the team meeting yet again, because she had just gained a new subordinate on the team, one who had not been dragged down by all the lethargy and negativity permeating the team for a long time. To top off the fun, the new subordinate was the first male under her in several years, albeit he was obviously gay.

As the boss gave decisive, spunky speeches and orders, I caught myself smiling at all the wrong place and forced myself to pretend scribbling notes and repress the bubbling amusement. For the new guy's benefit, she recounted the origin of her team's current major project and, in turn, the source of the budget for his position, so that he would appreciate the importance of this project.

A couple of years ago, the big, big boss, the head of the "center," was irritated by the sorry state of drug information officially put out by the organization. The boss did not explain why, but it was probably triggered by someone's direct challenge to the head's competency which made her lose face. So the head slammed her fist on a couple of tables and set a couple of eager puppets loose to chop off a few heads. Upon the first sign of trouble/opportunity, two separate "offices" under the "center" immediately started a turf war over whose fault it was and who should get the authority to fix it.

The outcome of that turf war was not immediately obvious to me, as I sat in the team meeting listening to my boss boasting the triumph of her boss, Mr. JJ, the king of our "office," the largest turf in the entire center, thanks to its massive budget. The rival office was more "high up" in name, but it was even more dysfunctional than JJ's office and had not been able to muster enough power to defeat the stupid but gigantic elephant. In any battle, there is no substitute for an overwhelming force in number and funds.

But the battle was hardly over, despite my boss's boasting. I suspected that the other office was still crouching in the bushes, gathering strength and ammunition, waiting for the elephant to slip up, so that it could pounce on it and reverse the balance of power. It was doubtful, however, whether the "center" head still remembered her own wrath some two years ago. Indeed, it was just as likely that the external irritation had long blown over and her face had long been restored and lost several times over for various other mishaps and embarrassments. Nevertheless, the wheel had been set in motion and the show must go on.

It was during the boss' diplomatic but ultimately illuminating spinning of the history of the battle that the truth dawned on me. From the reflection of my face on the polished shell of the projector on the table, I suddenly caught a glimpse of my own smirk at the revelation of this inter-office struggle and tried to straighten my curled lips before the boss saw me. Ah, one must be a Juliard graduate to survive this precariously hilarious situation.

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