Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Random Memories #49

This is part of an ongoing series that I've been doing about my memories of working at the same place for 12 years. This is a continuing series talking about the time I spent working in a Japanese office. The other parts are here: 123456, 7.

Last week, I wrote about one of the three foreign instructors with whom I worked at my former job at a Japanese company. I should note that, as I was writing that sentence, I "censored" myself from saying "teachers". There are two reasons for this. The first is that we did not actually "teach" as we worked by distance with our students and the capacity to do real instruction was quite limited. The second was that the company would not allow us to be graced with the title of "teacher". That would mean we'd have to be addressed as "name+sensei" and we didn't warrant that sort of respect around the office. We were always called "name+san".

Getting back to the point, which is the trio that I began working with in late 1992, the second most senior employee - after Jolene- was a man named John who had been there for a little under a year. John was from Michigan and 26 years old. He dressed relatively well for an office job in which one had no contact with clients. He generally wore long-sleeved, button-down shirts and dress slacks. Only the manager dressed more formally than John as he wore both a tie and jacket as well, though it should be noted that sometimes John came in wearing the same clothes that he did the previous day and looked a bit worse for wear.

John looked an awful lot like Bruce Willis in terms of his facial features. He even had a similar receding hairline which matched Willis's at that time. This was long before Bruce became entirely bald, or chose to become so, because shaving your head looks cooler than male pattern baldness. The main different between John and Bruce was that the former could play the latter's "mini me" in a movie. I don't know exactly how tall John was, but he was a bit shorter than me and I'm 5' 4". My best guess is that he was 5' 2". While I was dead average in height for an American woman, he was very short for a fellow countryman of the opposite sex.

Besides the obvious advantage of the potential to act as a "charisma man", John also had a higher chance of finding girls who were shorter than he was in Japan. I'm sure that, with his small stature, he had had at least a few problems attracting women back home. Most women prefer a man who is taller than them. That was rather easier to accomplish in Tokyo. It turned out that finding girls was something John excelled at during his stay in Japan.

It would be unfair to assert that John was a "charisma man" because the truth was that he was charming in his own right. Among my coworkers, he was the person who I bonded with and got along with the best and the fastest. On those occasions in which we had the time and opportunity to talk, I found that he had a great wit and a keen mind. That being said, one thing about John became rather obvious quickly; he did not respect the job he was doing one little bit.

Many people may feel that the job of English instructor is not one that one should respect, but it has always been my feeling that all jobs should be respected both by the people who are paid to perform them and those who are paying to receive the fruits of the labor. If a job is unappealing to you in some way, you should not do it - especially when you have a choice in the matter. John wasn't a single mother trying to support a family and therefore forced to do work he hated to fulfill his economic responsibilities. He was a middle-class white guy with a college degree and some Japanese capability. He needed the Japanese, of course, to pick up girls more effectively.

When we sat around the big table we used for correcting the four-page reports that our students sent in, one of the instructors said that we were "teachers". To this, John said that we were not "teachers", but rather we were "graders". What he meant was that we were correcting and scoring the paperwork and performing no real valuable function.

He saw the work as repetitive and mindless. The truth was that, it certainly could be so. We corrected between 10-40 reports a day. On my better days, I could get that number up to a whopping 80, but that was just me and I had to practically kill myself throughout the day to do that. It was repetitive, but that was only one aspect of the work, albeit an important one.

Beyond the reports, we also did the five-minute telephone lessons. The lessons had structured content so the students had to prepare meticulously for them. It was more of a test of their learning than a lesson, but it served as a motivation to do the textbook material and as a chance to give feedback. The scores we gave the students were reported to their companies and they used that information to make decisions about who to invest in further training for in some cases and who to send abroad in others. It was work of value to the companies who bought it, but John saw all that we did as pointless busy work.

During some of the phone lessons, I was stationed in the cubicle next to John's. Invariably, one person would get blocks of time in which a student would forget to call or choose not to because he or she had not prepared for the call's content. At such times, one could not help but clearly overhear what was going on in one's neighbor's call. On multiple occasions, I heard John say things to female students which were inappropriate such as calling them "honey" or making mildly suggestive and snarky remarks. There is no way that the students understood what he was saying so they weren't insult. They were probably just confused by English they didn't comprehend. His behavior, however, was a reflection of his complete contempt for the job and his lack of respect for the students, particularly the female ones.

Despite his bad attitude, John did appear to have a pretty good work ethic. He and I were the fastest and most efficient with the reports. This was extremely important since the loads at times could be very heavy and the company was always pressuring us to offer "same day" service. They promised companies that they'd have their reports back in three days. That was one day for it to reach us, one day to correct, and another day for the postal service to get it back. It was a tough promise to keep, and it surely helped to have a couple of correction powerhouses who could get the work done, particularly when you considered that there were slugs like Jolene on the job. Someone had to make up for their lackluster performance.

Though John was smart and fun to talk to, his adventures with Japanese young women were troubling. He didn't exactly brag about his prowess with the ladies, but he also didn't mind letting us know that he was dating a small bevy of what he believed were beauties. I never saw a picture, so I could only take his word for how desirable they would be to an audience that wasn't a short guy from Chicago.

During one of these talks about John's exploits, one of my other coworkers, Doug, asked him about "protection" during these escapades and he said that he used none. Like many men, he said he couldn't feel anything if he wore a condom. He rather favored the "pull out" method to ensure there was no pregnancy.

While I cautioned him that this method is hardly 100% foolproof, Doug was flabbergasted that John was not worried about the potential for disease. If John could persuade these girls to leap in the sack with him, then there was a chance they had been with other partners. He wasn't exactly "Mr. Commitment" so they surely weren't thinking this was a long-term relationship situation. Monogamy wasn't likely on the table for them just as it was not for John. Even if John was certain he was originally disease-free, he couldn't know for sure that the girls were not and that he might not be spreading diseases around. John brushed aside Doug's concerns by saying that he "only dated nice, clean girls." When we questioned how he measured their supposed "cleanliness", he waved off our concerns by saying that he "could tell."

This idiocy was part of an increasing pile of evidence that John thought with his loins, not his brain. He loved the illusion that he was a player and, even further, that he was so good that the girls who chose to play with him only "played" with him. He seemed to feel that it was only his incredible charm that persuaded them to part their knees. They wouldn't offer themselves for anyone else.

These sorts of situations did dampen my notions that John was intelligent, though I still liked him in general as a person. I thought he was certainly stupid about some things, but definitely not a moron. I'd met dumber people than him in Japan - quite a few actually.

One day, the evening shift (Doug, Jolene, and John) were sitting at the correction table doing their work while the morning shift (myself and 4 other temporary workers) were on the phones. We split off into two shifts in order to stagger in the phone time with half the number of cubicles. Usually, I was in the booth doing calls until 3:00 pm. John expected I wouldn't be around until the end of the schedule was completed, but I had about a half hour of free time at the end, so I headed out to the correction table to do that work instead.

As I approached the table, I heard my name. John was talking about me to the other two and what he was saying was crude and cruel. He was analyzing what he thought it would be like to have sex with me and it was extremely judgmental of my body. If you read my former post, you know that the fact that I was happily married in a manner which I did not keep a secret was part of why Jolene came to loathe me. John knew I had no interest in him as anything other than a friend, but he was nonetheless speculating on having intercourse with me.

This talk shocked and disgusted me. The derogatory and disrespectful manner in which he spoke of me when he'd treated me not only as a friend, but as a welcome presence in the office, felt like an incredible betrayal. He had been entirely nice and friendly to my face. In fact, there was no reason to believe that he felt anything but enjoyment while speaking to me as he often initiated conversations. What I realized was that John was incapable of seeing women as anything but objects that would or would not fulfill his sexual desires. In the end, we were all just cuts of meat to him.

I did not try to hide my approach, and when it was clear that I was there, John pretended he'd said nothing. I called him a back-stabber and told him he was two-faced as he feigned ignorance of what I was saying. When I didn't let up, Doug suggested that John give up the act and take his medicine. That was the end of any friendly feelings I had toward John. I continued to be civil to him, even appropriately cordial, but I did not trust him or converse with him beyond whatever was necessary for the job again.

John's attitude about the work was not lost on the manager, D., nor was my attitude and work ethic. Though John believed he put on a good enough act that no one could detect what he was doing or how he felt about the work, D. knew better. John felt he could charm everyone while still getting away with being an asshole behind their backs. He did it to me and he thought he could also do it with D.because his desk was about 12 feet away from our work table. Just as John slipped and I overheard the ugly things he had said about me, he must have slipped and D. had learned a few things about what was going on with John and the job. He was smooth and charming, but careless.

The busy season ended in late March for most workers, but I was asked to stay on for a couple more weeks when the huge influx of reports came in from deadbeat students who sent their work in at the last second. I was to leave around the middle of April, but D. sat me down and asked me if I'd like to stay. John's first year and his initial contract were going to expire some time in June. In an act of what certainly felt like poetic justice, D. fired John and hired me in his place. (to be continued)

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