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Wednesday, July 19, 2000

It's a dainty little dance I must do every day, to make sure I have both a job and a life. There is considerable overlap, what with working at home. My unrestricted accessibility to the whims of the Boss forces me to take measures, to take steps that keep him off my toes at times.

From eight until four every day, I'm at his mercy, and willingly so. Even when it causes me the stress that I so fear and shun, I'm happy to accept whatever combination of challenges he throws my way. I can be in the middle of updating a phone list for one job and a cost report for another, when he'll fax me a draft of a letter that has to be typed immediately.

His letters require spelling and grammar corrections, which I can do unconsciously, and interpretation of his meaning (and his handwriting), which can be demanding. I've been doing this for fourteen years now, so I have some confidence that I can take an incomprehensible rough draft and put it into a form that says what he means in the way he means to say it.

While I'm doing this is the time that the phone will ring, or the computer will crash, or I'll knock over my diet Mountain Dew and drown my notes. This is all just part of the way I expect my day to go, and even though it sometimes makes my stomach tense up and my head throb, I accept it. It's what I get paid for.

But I don't get to go home a four o'clock, or five, six, or seven. I'm already home, and the job stays here with me. I like to enhance my worth to the Company by being available whenever possible, but sometimes I just have to find a way to escape.

The Boss and I have been working on a proposal for a new client for over a week now. I stayed with him, at the other end of the fax, until after eight this past Saturday night, just to be sure he was ready for his meeting Sunday. Revision after revision of two alternate versions of the same letter. The words and numbers were his, the design and formatting mine. We were both satisfied with the result, but you know these things never go as smoothly as they should.

Apparently the customer wanted a more detailed breakdown of the proposal. The Boss worked on it all day yesterday, which is why it was so quiet on my end of the phone and fax. Today, I typed it for him. Revision after revision, back and forth, same old story, all day long.

I knew we weren't finished, but I also knew I was out of bread and orange juice and celery and mineral water. I needed to get to Safeway more than I needed to press the Boss for his final version of the letter. I slipped out at 4:25 and ran my errands.

When I got back there was a message, time-stamped 4:30, with much whining and cursing. He did say he wished he'd asked me to stay (I was glad he'd forgotten). As soon as I put away my perishables, I typed and faxed back his latest revision. Within two minutes he called me. "Are you getting tired of this?" he asked.

"Aren't you?" I said. He laughed, thanked me for getting the job done, and with a bow and a curtsey, the dance ended. But the melody lingers on.

Does it sound as if the most difficult part of my job is keeping the Boss happy? The most difficult part of my job is playing nursemaid, nanny and babysitter to his ne'er-do-well son Tim, who also happens to be our shop foreman and job superintendent. He thinks he owns me. He thinks that he can call me any time, with any request, and if he asks me with his trademark forced politeness, I'll jump through a ring of fire and land on a bed of nails for him.

And what I do is let him think he's right, while steering him the way I want him to go. It would be cheaper for him to check his phone list when he needs a number, instead of calling me, but it would cost even more if he called directory assistance every time. So I give him the number and save my energy for more important battles.

I tell him that the only way for me to get paychecks for him and his crew into the mail by Wednesday is for him to fax me the time cards by Tuesday. Now, there's no reason he can't have last week's time cards to me by Monday morning, so Tuesday is really a concession on my part.

And I draw these lines in the sand that don't really stand up to the wind and weather of real life. If I get the time cards Wednesday morning, as I did today, and if I have time, as I did today, I might make a special trip to the post office for him, as I did today.

And when he calls and asks if the checks went out on time, I'll be sure to let him know what a hardship it was to make sure that they did, and I'll have to remind him that I made an exception this time, but he really has to give me the time cards earlier if he expects to be paid before the weekend.

It sounds like beating a dead horse after the barn door is closed, but he doesn't seem to get it the first hundred times.

It would be helpful if the time cards were written legibly, but that's over the top, I know. Let's start with "on time" and boogie our way down the wish list from there. You have to learn to crawl before you can run the marathon, but at least you can be happy if you're crawling in the right direction.

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