Thursday, June 29, 2017

We Ended Our Relationship

Until I drafted this post, I thought the little red square button on my corporate bank office telephone read RIS. I always wondered what words stood behind the RIS acronym.

I hit that RIS button at 4:40 p.m. on Monday, May 8th, to end my attachment to that day’s conference call. Immediately, the other line rang. And rang. And rang. Working mother guilt assaulted me from the working side and the mother side. Tired and wanting to go home to Tall Child, Sharky, and Gnome, but feeling obligated to my clients, I answered, hoping the conversation would be quick. It was.

“[Bank], this is Bug, may I help you?”

“Hey Bug, this is Sweet Christmas in human resources. Can you meet Boss Bob and H.R. Bob in the human resources department at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow?”

“I can. Why?”

“I have no idea, Bug. They didn’t tell me.”

Of course they don’t tell Sweet Christmas anything. God forbid she turn Paul Revere on them and spread helpful info to hardworking East Tennessee bankers. God forbid she comfort anyone.

My stomach turned, partly for psychosomatic reasons, and partly from the ulcer my doctor diagnosed only one week before. I searched my memory. What have I done wrong? Has one of my employees—Adele, Mama Bear, Fire Woman, or Baby Caddy—done something wrong? Is the bank relocating me? Am I about to get…? No. Surely not.

I called my manager, Boss Bob. Voice mail. I sent him a text. No reply. I called Sweet Christmas and asked for some insight. She said, “I’m sorry this is giving you anxiety.”

I said, “Well, they need to find a more gentlemanly way to schedule these types of meetings. It is rude and disrespectful to have me wonder all night why I’m headed to human resources in the morning.”

As a bank branch manager, one has limitless opportunities to fail. I had little time to ponder those opportunities, because I had to meet a colleague for supper at El Jimador. That was the perfect time to sink into a salt-rimmed tequila bath, but I had to stay sober and professional. She and I were headed to the library to teach Habitat for Humanity applicants banking and money management basics.

I wrapped up the mentoring session at 8:15 p.m., and drove 45 minutes home. I bathed Gnome, cleaned up the house, watched a TV show with Tall Child, and checked Sharky’s grades. I went to bed. I worried.

Tuesday morning, May 9, I took my boys to their schools and drove to the bank’s main office parking lot. I called Delicious, who counseled, “Whatever this is, you’ll handle it with intellect and poise. Be calm, but don’t let them talk down to you. You needed help, and they made excuses.”

You see, my little five-person branch was short a head teller for most of my time there. That forced one of the two sales people (Adele and me) to work as a teller for a stretch of time each day. It’s a bit difficult to make outbound sales calls on the phone and in person while physically installed behind bullet-resistant glass. Plus, that time in teller windows caused follow-up and paperwork backups in our stated jobs, branch manager and financial services specialist. I hated to, but pestered the helk out of Merlin the Administration Magician to get help when one of my teammates was sick or on vacation. I covered Adele for lunch. Adele covered the tellers for lunch. No one covered me. Forgive me, but doesn’t it seem counterproductive and counter intuitive to delegate up the chain of command? When I repeatedly communicated the urgent need for help to human resources and upper management, I heard, “Staffing will always be an issue.”

Nothing should “always be an issue.” Imagine other industries making such a ridiculous excuse.

Bubonic plague will always be an issue.

The Kings of England will always be an issue.

Boll weevils will always be an issue.

If opposing countries can sign peace treaties, can’t banks hire more tellers? Shouldn’t executives who make eight times what a teller makes be problem solvers? Why is the undercompensated teller doing all the compensating for the executive's lack of compassion and creativity. Isn’t good employee morale profitable?

PEOPLE are everything.

Hire some.

At 9:25 a.m., I rode the elevator to the second floor and waited for the meeting with Boss Bob and H.R. Bob. I waited at least fifteen minutes. Then they small talked me into the office and discussed some type of software for another five minutes. I thought, Respect my anxiety and my time. Get on with this.

They got on it with, alright. I heard, “As you know, your branch did not meet fourth quarter incentive sales goals…so you were put on a performance plan…and first quarter your branch missed the minimum incentive plan goal, so we are ending our relationship.”

“Ending...with me? So, I’m fired?”

“You no longer work for [the bank]. We are letting you go.”

Yes, they let me go. Girls, always let the guy break up with you. That way, he can suffer in doubt and regret for the rest of his life.

I got my A$$ fired! Funny thing is, as embarrassing as it was, I was completely at peace. Truth be told, my soul wasn’t in that job. My soul was in it as much as I could do what I do best: create, teach, befriend, advise, laugh, and write.

As H.R. Bob rambled through his script (banks employ lots of scripts these days) “keys, combos, … you can collect unemployment…look for a packet in the mail…,” I perked up, thinking, I don’t have to play "Frogger" down Alcoa Highway today. Oh, if they stop talking soon enough, I can eat lunch at home in my rocking chair and watch "Ellen."

Outwardly, I listened and contributed to that great black cloud of a conversation. Inwardly, I silver-lined the whole ridiculous situation.

H.R. Bob said, “Do you have any questions?”

I should have asked, "Why,  when my team was struggling to hit minimums, did you send Adele to another branch for two weeks and leave me alone with only two tellers?" Instead, I said, "I find it illogical that someone of my character and integrity is being fired when [unnamed crook at another branch] is still employed here. Really, he's so crooked you fired his wife."

The Bobs' chins dropped a little, but they were silent. Actually, Boss Bob spoke fewer than ten words in the entire meeting.

I then said, "I have some requests.” I proceeded to lobby for my crew: Adele, Mama Bear, Fire Woman, and Baby Caddy. Case by case, I gave specific warnings and implored them to take better care of that little team.

I never stole, cheated, lied, caused a loss, put junk on the books, mistreated anyone, or jeopardized my Christian values. I am proud of how I treated employees, coworkers, and customers. I am proud of how I ran that tiny branch. We didn’t meet incentive plan minimum goals (by 3.7%), but we were profitable each year and twelve months rolling by 9-10%. (I think. It's hard to know exactly because the bank saves money by using Size 4 Calibri font on reports.)
My reputation is intact. If I had something to hide, I certainly wouldn’t write this post.

Boss Bob said he would go to my branch that afternoon to tell my staff. I said, “I’ll call them.”

H. R. Bob said, “Bank policy requires that your supervisor inform associates in this situation. Also, Boss Bob will clean out your desk, box everything up, and bring it here to The Capitol for you to pick up. That’s the policy.”

Um, no. What the helk did I care? I spent 40 hours a week for three straight years with my team. Not to tell them myself would be rude and weak. Policy meant nothing to me. I was “no longer with the bank.”

I left.

Once I cleared the parking lot, I called Tall Child. “I got fired.”

“What?!? Wow. I can’t believe that.”

“Tall Child, this is terrible. What the helk are we going to do about bills?”

"Oh, you’ll land on your feet. You know, this is great timing.”


“Yes, now you can go to Sharky's and Gnome's end of school stuff. You were going to miss eighth grade graduation, field day, everything. Plus, we don’t have Sharky’s tuition this or next month.”

“I think I’ll eat lunch with Gnome’s kindergarten class tomorrow.”

“He will love that. Take May. Get them out of school and all that. This time, figure out what YOU want to do.”

Readers, in saying "this time," Tall Child referenced a sacrifice I made three years before. Sharky needed to go to a smaller, quieter, religious school instead of the big, loud middle school for which he is zoned. For many years, a relative promised to pay for that private middle schooling, but two weeks into Sharky’s sixth grade year, the relative could not pay after all. Tall Child couldn’t leave his good job. My teacher paycheck wasn’t enough. I returned to banking to make more money. The difference in my teacher vs. banker monthly pay was the same as the monthly tuition bill. I wrote about the big changes in Theory 54: Good-byes are simply bittersweet beginnings. I LOVED teaching school. I did NOT want to quit. I felt I had no choice. Zoloft eased the transition, but it and the sedentary banker workday added 20 pounds. Unfair.

Funny thing is, Sharky and I, ahem, “graduated” from middle school and banking, respectively, within days of each other. Yes, Tall Child, it was great timing.

Anyway, after I talked with Tall Child, I called my mama. She said, “I am so sorry. They are morons. Will you teach again? This is good, Bug. Now you can write every day.”

I said, “I am in shock, but I need to hang up and call my team.”

I broke POLICY and called Adele, “I got fired.”

“You are joking. Are you joking?”

“Nope. Sales quotas, allegedly. Whatever. I need you to clean out my desk before Boss Bob gets there. He’s coming this afternoon. My personal items are none of his business. Box it all up. Make the office look as empty as possible. I’ll come get the stuff later this week. Oh, and act surprised when he tells you the news.”

“I am on it.”

On Thursday, Delicious accompanied me to my old branch. I reassured my sweet team, hugged everyone, picked up my stuff, and rode to our little mountain house in Townsend, Tennessee. I mixed a stout Bloody Mary and walked to the swinging bridge over the Little River. The exactly same place I had stood three years before and accepted that job. Poetic?

If you like Poe, I guess.

As a former educator, I spend loads of time reflecting. After the breakup, I reflected on what I did right, what I did wrong, what I said, what I didn’t get the picture. I wondered if I was as good a manager as I thought I was and tried my best to be. 

Banking has changed. Banking, these days, is retail. Bankers have changed. Bankers used to be prestigious community members. They were trusted confidants, advisors, and financial experts. As a modern-day banker, I felt like a telemarketer with all that scripting. My days were planned for me in short blocks of time. I wanted to invest time in people, not processes. I wanted to go on sales calls and see my customers. I was old-school. I made mistakes.

·         I didn’t track numbers ad nauseam. I figured that if I consistently treated people well, and gave them good advice, and gave them TIME to see how that advice worked, they would return to me and bring friends.

·         I put employees’ personal lives and professional goals ahead of the bank’s. It’s not easy managing a bunch of women in tight quarters! See Theory 36: Men are easier to work with than women.  I genuinely cared more for my teammates’ goals than I did the bank’s. Corporations don’t have souls. People do.

·         I had too much fun at work. I referred to the main office as The Capitol, and my little branch, only twenty-five minutes from the quiet entrance to the Smoky Mountains, as District 12 from The Hunger Games. Maybe one too many times I put this under my email signature:

·         My conference call skills were lacking, to say the least. Now and then, I’d inject humor at will or have Adele play Rue’s Whistle in the background for all to hear. Conference calls are a cliché exercise in humiliation. They tempt weak employees to embellish, fib, or cheat to avoid embarrassment. I asked my boss one time, “Does the number of checking accounts reported on our daily call determine your mood for the rest of the evening?” Guess how he answered.

Of all my retail sins, I am most guilty of falling short (numbers-wise) on a particular daily expectation. I didn’t “disposition” enough sales leads. It drove Boss Bob nuts. Being a writer, I tried to conjugate the word to find more meaning in the task:

The banker dispositions.

The banker is dispositioning.

The banker has dispositioned.

The banker dispositioned.

The banker was dispositioning.

The banker had dispositioned.

You see, kind readers, I couldn’t disposition leads because disposition IS A NOUN. Think of it this way:

The banker nouns.

The banker is nouning.

The banker has nouned.

The banker nouned.

The banker was nouning.

The banker had nouned.


~ ~ ~

I ignored that cardboard box Mama Bear and Adele packed with all my office junk for a week. When I did finally gird up my loins to sort through it, I found a severance package! In their furious rush to clean out my office, Adele and Mama Bear threw everything in. I scored a roll of stamps! I got my own home staple remover. I also found an envelope full of cash. No, it didn’t come from the vault. It came from my friends at work. We had been on a diet since January. Every Monday, each of us women weighed and measured. When a teammate lost a pound or an inch, she put a quarter into our diet jar. Our plan was to tally the results July 1 and give the winner the money. By May 9, we’d lost about 40 pounds and 40 inches. They gave me the money. Wasn’t that sweet of them?

I suppose if my employees were comfortable enough to weigh and measure their busts, waists, hips, and thighs in front of me, I did some things right. I’m honored to have worked side by side with Adele, Mama Bear, Fire Woman, and Baby Caddy. I am proud of the work we did together.

This little episode has taught me a few things:

·         My gifts are misplaced in a corporate environment. I was a tie-dyed ink blot splashed on a grayscale Excel spreadsheet.

·         I won’t be happy in work unless my tasks match my values.

·         I need to be my own boss.

·         I CAN BE MY OWN BOSS!

My whole life, I have revered the written word. My whole life, I have written for release, relaxation, recreation, and reward. I published my first work in 1990. My writing has evolved and served many purposes over time. A few years ago, when I was teaching, I started my small business, Crippled Beagle Publishing. From there, I’ve published books, essays, a short story, anthology projects, countless articles, and more.

God winks at you all the time. Pay attention. No joke; every single time I’ve told a friend or relative, “I got fired from the bank,” the person has responded, “Good. Are you going to write full time now? Are you going to teach?”

Friends, the answer is YES. I will write for others. I will write for myself. I will write for you.

I scribbled out a rough draft of this post on May 20, only 11 days after the bank and I ended our relationship. I was at Lakeshore Park’s playground with Sharky, Gnome, and Gnome’s buddy, The AP. A gentleman who was there with his toddler spoke to The AP and said, “I know your mother.”

I recognized him, but couldn’t place him. I said, “If you know her, I know you. How do I know you?”

We did the whole social dot-to-dot routine, and when he said his wife’s name, I said, “YES! I wrote a book about adoption years ago. When you were waiting for your baby, my friend Gams told me your story. I signed a copy and we gave it to your wife. I hope it helped her.”

He spoke through a wide smile, “That’s who you are.”

Amen! That is who I am. Little winks and hints over the past decade have formed into a glaring truth. No matter where I’ve “worked" —from bumper boat girl at The Track to IHOP waitress to banker, teacher, then banker again—I have always, in my heart and free time, been a self-employed writer.

I pray I find many opportunities, for years to come, to use my skills to serve people and provide for my family.

While missing a biweekly company paycheck is somewhat unnerving, I am okay. My ulcer vanished. I have several new clients with beautiful projects in the works. 

One could describe my current disposition as at peace and optimistic.
I have more time to think, parent, explore, read, drink, watch TV, change light bulbs, you name it. Also, when you run your life, you have time to settle curiosities.

I Googled “corporate telephone RIS button.” I found out the button actually reads RLS, and stands for RELEASE. Little did I know when I hit that button at 4:40 p.m., Monday, May 8th, that I would never hit it again.

This post might agitate some dispositions among corporate jargon-spewers and conference call champions, but if they, Boss Bob, H.R. Bob, or the legal department folks read it and want to sue me, they're wasting time and stockholders' money.

I’m a chunky starving artist now, so they'd be "Waiting in vain."

Writers do love irony.


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