Fickled Pink

I love to hang around with real artists. Although I have some design ability, I’m just an apprentice amongst truly brilliant masters, so I settle instead for befriending and working with the talented….

I love to hang around with real artists. Although I have some design ability, I’m just an apprentice amongst truly brilliant masters, so I settle instead for befriending and working with the talented. This is pretty much how I ended up in IT (Information Technologies e.g. the office computer geek). Much of today’s art is designed using a computer as the main tool, and I’m a bit better than decent at fixing these computers. This enables me to work in the fields that I love, design and art, and also allows me to seriously slack, since I don’t have to prove my artistic ability.

This sweet situation has allowed me to make some great friends, almost all of whom I’ve met on the job. I am proud to say that I know a terrific bunch of talented people, and should we ever get together and form our own company/commune (hint, hint), we’d be either a huge force in the art world, or establish a cult to rival Scientology.

So I had some high hopes when I first started working at Pinkhaus. This is a premier design house in Miami. I, of course, snuck in the backdoor as an IT guy, but the artists and designers there were responsible for corporate branding, which is how companies like to sell themselves to us consumers lately. The most recognized brand is Nike, but it goes beyond the familiar swish. Now when we say or hear, “Just do it,” we’re participating in a huge ad campaign that works by establishing a meme. A meme can be thought of a virus, in which it infects someone’s brain, stirs around for a bit, and then comes out to infect other people. In this essay, I’m spreading the Nike meme by quoting it. It is insidious and difficult to protect oneself from, which is why corporate branding is also referred to as viral marketing. This is a bit off topic, but it is included to share with the reader the enormous challenge of making an ad campaign work on this simple level that can spread like wildfire, but, of course, is unique and works with the company’s own mission. “Just do it,” will not work for a funeral home, but it is close to gold for Nike. And that is what the artists at Pinkhaus were challenged to do on a daily basis.

It was a great environment. Everyone there was quirky, including your humble narrator. It looked like an art studio should, concepts for designs littered on various tables, and all the artists had offices, not cubicles. Tchochkies and cool photographs were hung all over the walls. At any time, three separate streams of music could be heard blasting throughout the building. And everyone wore whatever they wanted, jeans, shorts, midriff-baring baby doll shirts. Sigh…. I was home.

As in every office, however, there was a hierarchy that had little to do with actual position. The office politics weren’t different from any other place I’d worked, which quite surprised me. Everyone, individually, seemed so nice. The place was so relaxed. But there was this insidious need to pass the buck. No one and everyone were responsible for nothing and everything. Why were people so untrusting of each other? Eventually, I found out there was a mole. He caused dissent and strife just so he could look like the golden boy to the company’s president.

Deadlines can make anybody crack. Artists are always in a struggle to complete the best work they can in the quickest amount of time. There is a lot of stress there, and that can bring out the worst in the nicest, quirkiest artist, but this, alas, is human nature. Competition is at the heart of every design studio, too. Artists compete against other agencies, obviously, but they also compete amongst themselves and with themselves. This is not negative. Commercial artists embody the ideals of evolution or capitalism. With every generation of art projects, the bar is raised, a new standard is borne. All else withers and dies. Only the wiliest art, and artist, flourishes. So by their very nature, artists are competitive, but just as a son may unconsciously compete with his father, this competition is often constructive. And sometimes it is not.

Carlos embodied the not. His father figure in this case was the previously mentioned company president, although, I believe, this was a relationship of context, not genuine affection. Had Joel been a mere mortal artist, and Mark, let’s say, been the president, Carlos would have been sweetly kissing Mark’s ass while stabbing Joel in the back.

Allow me to clarify, Carlos was and is a fine artist. He is extremely talented. Unfortunately, he embodies the negative qualities that are deep within everyone. He is sniveling, traitorous, and quite paranoid.

To continue, my dealings with Carlos were fairly benign, and he, I’m sure, had no idea of the cascading effects it would have on me, because I fall into a crisis-triggering depressive state (or did fall—thanks Zoloft!). But he quickly turned from a cool-music-loving, quirky artist, who had just spent two weeks in Russia on a photo shoot, to someone I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance, no matter where he was. It began fairly early in my brief tenure at Pinkhaus.

Carlos had been back for a few days. I’d only been there for two months. Officially, I was temping, but in another month, Pinkhaus would hire me permanently. I worked hard at establishing myself as a go-to-guy, which is my coined phrase for, “If you have a problem, go see Jonathan.” It didn’t make a difference what the problem was; I’d try to help. Towards that end, I gave out my personal cell phone number, so anyone could contact me if something came up while I was out of the office.

One Sunday, very late into the afternoon, Vicky and I were out at a bookstore, and, as is my habit, I left my cell phone in the car, because I find it terrifically rude to be out in public and act as if others don’t exist. We were in the bookstore for about 45 minutes. Upon returning to the car, I noticed I had received two voice messages. They were two minutes apart, and were placed about 20 minutes before. Both were from Carlos. He was in dire straits apparently, because when he came into the studio, his computer wouldn’t start. He had surmised that the power went out sometime during the weekend, and now his battery backup was dead, because he left his computer on.

Tech hint #1 (in a series of 8 million): NEVER leave your computer workstation turned on overnight or, heaven forbid, the weekend. You risk data loss and file corruption, and unless your computer acts as server, all you are doing is wasting energy and reducing the life of your computer components. Most computers have a “sleep” mode, which puts them in low power mode without quitting programs, and this may be fine for short term absences, but it still draws electricity, and if the power goes out, like it did to poor Carlos, you will come back to work to find a seemingly dead computer.

Carlos was quick to discover what went wrong, but he was in a near panic to find a solution. I called Pinkhaus back, and dialed in to Carlos’s extension, but he didn’t pick up. I left him a voice mail telling him to just switch out the backup battery with another one. I then called back 15 minutes later, but Carlos still did not answer. I assumed he had gone home and would deal with the problem in the morning.

Monday came and with it I walked in to find Carlos working on his now-functional computer. I asked him what happened, and he explained. He told me that he used my supervisor’s battery backup, since she was on vacation. This was a fine solution, although I let Carlos know that all he really had to do was reset his own backup by switching it off and back on. He thanked me for my concern and for approaching him first thing in the morning, and we left it at that.

Or so I thought. A bit later, my conscientious supervisor called me up to ask me how everything was going. We exchanged anecdotes and just before we were about to finish our conversation, Carlos popped his head into my office and asked me to transfer my supervisor to him when I was through. My supervisor was the head of production so I thought nothing of it. “Suzanne,” I said to my supervisor, “Carlos would like to speak to you before you go.”

I went back to work, checking my email and deciding what I would have for lunch, and not three minutes go by when my phone extension rang again. It was Suzanne, and she asked me, “What happened yesterday?” I was not exactly sure what she meant, and when I ask here to clarify, I felt an odd emptiness grow in the pit of my gut.

“Carlos said he called you several times yesterday with an emergency, and that you never responded,” she said.

I have little patience with exaggeration, even though I tend to indulge in it once in a very small teensy little while, so my first reaction was indignation. Ridiculous, I told Suzanne, and I had the phone logs on my cell phone to prove it. I explained to her the situation as I saw it, telling her of the two times I called back with no response from Carlos, but Carlos told her that I took two hours to call back, and by that time Carlos left in disgust.

“Ah,” I thought, and eventually relayed to Suzanne, “why didn’t Carlos scold me this morning?” Why did he tell me everything was fine, and then run to tell my supervisor that I had dropped the ball? I was close to furious. He even had the nerve to have me transfer Suzanne to him so he could rat me out. What type of weasel was this guy?

Suzanne seemed to be diplomatic about the affair, but later on, when it was far too late, it occurred to me that she, too, was intimidated by Carlos, even though she was in a higher position and with the company for much longer. And she wasn’t the only one.

This caused the first crack to appear in my perfect job with the quirky artists. A couple of days later, my tire went flat as I drove to work, and I used it as an excuse to not go to work. I just couldn’t deal with the stress, the stress that was non-existent the week before. This, of course, was my own hang-up, and shouldn’t be pinned to Carlos. But I later learned that he did these things habitually, and his main purpose was to tarnish others. I had been trying to be the go-to-guy, and I could no longer achieve that status. Take that, new guy!

I didn’t even realize how much the incident affected me until I went to an emergency session with a therapist. Pinkhaus had noticed my decline, difficult not to when I wouldn’t show up for a couple of days without reason. They took the high road and decided to help me get help. I met my therapist and told him about my depression. He asked me about my triggers, which I wasn’t really too aware of. He had me think about it for a bit, and then I told him about the Carlos incident. No one can imagine my shock when my therapist told me that this was “not the first time I heard about that pussy.”

My therapist had strong words about Carlos. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. He recognized Carlos as a destructive ass-kisser who would do anything to ruin others in order to remain the chosen one. Carlos apparently had turned up in the nightmares of someone else at the office, but, of course, my therapist couldn’t tell me who. I was all a-shiver trying to guess who it could have been, but I never did find out. But the important point was Carlos had sent someone else into therapy.

I still feel that Carlos represented nothing more than the failure of humanity, and this is what depresses and disappoints me. I didn’t, and don’t, want to give him, personally, any power over my emotions. He and I only crossed wires once after, where I explained to him of a problem with the Pinkhaus computer network that I had finally diagnosed.

It was a chronic problem, but one that was so blindingly obvious, I ignored it for several weeks. I just couldn’t accept the potential solution, because it should have been taken care of several IT administrations ago. But it hadn’t, and I had inherited it. When I finally accepted the problem, the solution was obvious, but I thought I needed a simple piece of equipment to work on it, which would be sent to me overnight. That very day, Carlos couldn’t print a file, due to the network problem. He asked me to fix it, and I told him that I would, but not until tomorrow. He immediately went to yell at Suzanne. At least that time he approached me first. I still thought he was out of his mind, but by then I understood his methods, so I didn’t let it get under my skin. Instead, I worked on a solution without the small piece of equipment and fixed it well into the night. (A quick shout out to Lance at the Designory in California: Thanks, Lance! Couldn’t have done it without you!)

One of my very last days at Pinkhaus, a few people were in a meeting, Carlos and myself included. The meeting was to discuss the means to finish the Pinkhaus web site, which had been languishing for years. I’ve never been to a constructive meeting that had more than four people involved, and this was no different. Everyone there discussed points and ideas that were logical, straightforward, and entirely obvious. But it was good, I guess, to see that we were all on the same page. And then Carlos spoke. In his three-minute monologue he repackaged all the obvious points that had just been made by everyone else. He said nothing, and said it with less finesse. He was obviously blowing smoke just to be noticed. And when he finished, the room was silent for a few moments until Joel, the president, said, “Carlos has the right approach. Let’s follow his lead.”

Everything wrong about Pinkhaus came together right there with the entire room seriously nodding and silently, but strongly, agreeing. I was the only one who cracked a smile. Was I the only one who was aware of the circle jerk that just took place? No matter. There are some artist’s games I can’t play, and so I was soon shown the door.

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