I’m telling the world: He said he fired his Chinese employee for beating him at ping pong!

It was a joke, though.

ping pong

I’m at the gym, gliding along on the elliptical with my brain set in writerly mode, looking around and observing people. That guy on the treadmill in front of me, could he be a Marine? Oh look, there’s my friend from church, the one who speaks with a lilting accent, I must try to remember where she’s from, is it Panama? And behind me, a man with a booming voice is having a jokey conversation with a friend as they walk along the main corridor.

I miss most of the conversation, but when the man says “I’ll fire her!” in his booming voice and he and his friend burst out laughing, I swivel my torso around to get a look at him. It’s an awkward swivel if you’re on the elliptical, and what do I gain from it? Nothing, only This is what two businessmen sharing a laugh together look like, this is what the man with a booming voice looks like. He is a rather slight fellow with a mustache, as it turns out. His build doesn’t match his voice at all.

I pedal on and forget about him until a few minutes later, when he suddenly appears at my elbow, lightly touching it. At first, I don’t recognize him.

Excuse me ma’am,  just want to make sure you know I was kidding.

Kidding about what? And who is this guy? I wonder.

You know, when I said that about firing my employee.

Oh, that guy. I didn’t hear the whole conversation, I say. I was just being nosy, pay no mind, I don’t say.

Well, I was telling my friend my Chinese employee beat me at ping pong. She beat the pants off me, actually. But I wouldn’t fire her anyway, she’s the best employee I’ve got.

Oh, I say. I laugh a little, and he is gone. It takes me a moment to figure out that when he boomed I’ll fire her!, he was referring to her thrashing him at ping pong. Now the joke makes sense.

But his behavior astonishes me. After reflecting on his words, he came all the way back across the room to the woman who had turned around on the treadmill to listen to him–me. To explain himself. As though he had to. To me, a nosy nobody.


Did he think, Who is that woman who swiveled around to look at me, could she be a friend of my employee’s who will tell her about the conversation?

But even if that were the case, the employee would surely get the joke. That she might worry her boss would really fire her because she beat him at ping pong doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility to me. I’m sure they joked about it at the time, especially given his jovial, outgoing personality.

What else, then?

He wants to make absolutely sure nobody ever thinks he would fire his Chinese employee for beating him at ping pong. Not even the nosy lady on the elliptical whom he’ll probably never see again–nobody.

Because you possibly could, if you were particularly obtuse, interpret his joke as a racist or sexist remark. And racist and sexist are about the two scariest epithets you can hurl at someone these days.

I want to run after him and shout, Wait, it’s a joke, I get it! I want to shout, It’s none of my business anyway! I want to shout, Even if you meant it literally, don’t apologize, you have freedom of speech!

But it’s too late, he’s gone, leaving me wondering, as I pedal on, about freedom of speech and what it means. Doesn’t it mean some people have a right to express their racist, sexist opinions, even if they are highly offensive to other people?  If the offenders aren’t at the workplace, where their comments have a direct effect on the people who work with them, the answer is yes. We have the right. But what good is it if we’re afraid to use it?

This guy was not only not offensive, he was so worried about being perceived that way that he felt he had to explain himself, to protect himself. Presumably against the possible pc patrol on the elliptical.

And if we feel we have to police ourselves from people at the gym, how free are we?





A Business by Any Other Name

What’s in a business name?

Plenty, it turns out. Especially for women.

That’s what I realized after talking to a successful entrepreneur about my writing and editing business, which I named Teresa Meek Communications. A simple name that says who I am and what I do. Does the job just fine, or so I thought.

But no, my friend says, my first name makes it sound too personal, too much about me, not businesslike enough. I need to take my first name off and call it Meek Communications–or something else entirely. He was quite insistent about it. And he runs a multi-million-dollar business, so he should know.

Though I already have a website, a logo, and business cards,  making a change from Teresa Meek Communications to Meek Communications is not such a big deal. If I do it, my friend says, I will make more money. People will pay more for Meek than they will for Teresa. Meek sounds like it could be a company full of smart people, instead of someone who’s clearly a sole operator. And Meek is serious. They might not even realize it on a conscious level, but potential customers would take more seriously a company using a last name or a business name than one with a first name in the title. He didn’t say so, but I suspect having a female first name in the title compounds the problem. Or perhaps even is the problem.

I think of Mrs. Smith’s cookies. The Mrs. makes it personal and clearly feminine, but even she didn’t use a first name in the business title. But what about Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix and syrup? Hannah’s Cupcakes? Wendy’s hamburgers?

So there, I want to shout. They use first names in the food business. Female first names, too.

But maybe that’s because women have traditionally been associated with the kitchen. Everybody’s mom is the best cook in the world, so it stands to reason that a product or a company with a female first name would sound homey. As in familiar, homemade, fresh from the oven, delicious. A selling point, no question.

Outside the food business, though, I have to admit I’m initially stumped. There’s Barbie, but that’s a product, made by Mattel.

I’ve got it: Suze Orman, who after first working as a waitress, then making her way up the ranks at Merrill Lynch and Prudential, founded her own empire and named it the Suze Orman Financial Group.

She used her first name, and a diminutive-sounding one at that, but it’s a Group. A bunch of smart people, as my friend would say.

Like the Oprah Winfrey Network. Martha Stewart Omnimedia.

I could be a Group too. I’ve seen women in PR and communications use this trick. To take a hypothetical example, someone named Beth Jones calls her business Jones Media Group. Sets up an 800 line with people answering the phone for the Group. Must be a bunch of smart people working at that busy company. Who would ever know it’s just Beth?

It doesn’t work for me, though.  I don’t judge people who do it. I get it. But we all have our own comfort level when it comes to putting our best foot forward, and being a Group exceeds mine.

But you don’t have to do all that, my friend says. Forget the Group, forget the phone line. Just a simple name change.

I’ll think about it, I say.

I think about it. I decide my friend is probably right.

But I can’t do it.

Like most women, I identify much more with my first name than with my last. For one thing, my last name is my husband’s name. I wasn’t born with it and didn’t grow up with it.

But then, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using my maiden name either. Though it was my last name for 20-some years, it always felt like my father’s name more than mine.

The only name I feel comfortable using is Teresa. It’s who I am. Always has been, always will be. For my website, I even tried to get Teresa.com by writing to the owner, who doesn’t appear to be using it anymore. She didn’t respond, and who could blame her? If I ever got Myfirstname.com, I’d never give it up either, even if I stopped using my website. Even if the whole internet went down forever.

Next, I considered other names. Having a business name that has nothing to do with me is fine. It’s just the last-name thing that’s a problem. I thought of cutesy names like The Write Stuff (taken), SEO-driven names with Freelancer in the title, names with Writer, Writing, and Business in them. But none of them felt like names I wanted to be associated with.

I seem to be stuck with Just Teresa. Now there’s a name! Personally, I love it. But would you hire a Just Beth or a Just Rick? Probably not. Sounds like they don’t think much of the service they provide, so why should you?

I’m proud of the writing and editing service I provide. I would never denigrate it, but I don’t want to boast about it either. I’m fortunate because I’ve found something to do that suits me perfectly. It’s really an extension of who I am. Maybe that’s why the only name that seems to work is the one I’ve got.

So it will have to do. At least until the day comes when I can’t handle everything myself anymore.

It’s hard to envision a Network or Omnimedia in my future, but then, you never know. I started off as a waitress. Like Suze.






Welcome to the Office Tribal Council

If you take care of her, I’ll take care of you.- Rob Mariano on Survivor.

Is the workplace turning into high school, or even Survivor, with employee cliques instead of good, hard work becoming the ticket to success?

Maybe so–at least that’s how we interpret this Wall St. Journal article, which describes a company that is crowd sourcing its employee stock options–letting employees vote anonymously on who they think should get the most shares in the stock-option jackpot.

They can’t vote for themselves, but there’s nothing to stop scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours deals from forming.

But even without such blatant abuse, this system smells like a garbage dump on a hot summer afternoon.

Because we’re all human.

Who do you think will get the most votes? Assuming you have too much integrity to make a deal, who would you vote for–the quiet guy in the corner whose name you always forget (though he may be a diligent, honest worker with good ideas)?

Or the gal who always has a ready smile and an encouraging word for you?

Let’s face it, we all judge each other subjectively, mainly by how the other person makes us feel.

This system was created with the thinking that employees could be more objective judges of one others’ performance than the boss.

But in fact, they are less objective.  They are all indirectly, and sometimes directly, competing with one another. They can choose ignore this awkward aspect of reality most of the time and work together in relative harmony.

Until a system like this comes along and turns the workplace into Survivor.

At least, that’s how Domesticus sees it.

But maybe we’re old fashioned. We  have the same sort of problem with 360-degree feedback. Which was developed, by the way–We are not making this up!–by the Nazis. Really. Read the history section in Wikipedia.

What do you think? Is crowd sourcing a good way to award money to fellow employees, or does it worsen the competitive atmosphere?