Personal File -- April 1996
It's Lew, Babe, Just Lew
by Lynn Caraganis
MY husband works for a giant corporation we call the Widowmaker. After a fast start he's had ten years without a promotion. He's at his wits' end. So I recommended that he try to distinguish himself there on Casual Wear Day, which is every Friday, when they're allowed to wear their chinos and golf shirts.
"Go barefoot," I recommended. "If your bosses come along, start yelling and yodeling--'Turkey in the Straw.' That's the way to get noticed. Do that extra bit that the other fellow won't." He didn't even bother to say no.
He likes his job and even has a nerdy briefcase. He gets high ratings, so why is this happening? Naturally, he doesn't want to go completely bald while still at district level! I think there must be a way to help him.
One evening in bed he was going over a report that he had to present the next day. It said on the cover "AGENDA:Telco/Cable Cross-ownership." I laughed and said, "Right below that you should put 'HIDDEN AGENDA: My Advancement in This Company.' They might feel sorry for you. Like, 'Bob's quite humorous. Let's surprise him with a promotion!'"
But he could not get into it. I know that his strategy will remain plain old working hard year in and year out. Yet every so often he laughs horribly and says, "You'll see, one of these days I'm going to make my move. I'm going to storm the ranks of middle middle management!" He's really in a lot of pain.
Even if he got promoted, we'd still be in debt. Especially since he'd probably go straight out and install French drains in the basement or something, and they are not interesting, however they may sound. And then, too, I don't have any important jewelry yet, so I might go ahead and get something, sure--but then I'd only be wearing it Friday nights, the nights we pop popcorn and rent videos.
However, I apparently do have the drive to succeed--even if meaninglessly--because I have come up with another idea, if only Bob will go for it. It's like this: The atmosphere over at the Widowmaker is a very wholesome one. "We're all deacons in the Methodist Church," they seem to be saying. Or "We all just about could be deacons in the Methodist Church." Now, my poor hubby is vying with about a million of these deacons. All of them--except that Long Island guy we sold our car to--seem this way. All of them are Republican, too, by the way--purely to do with their income taxes. If you ever ask them one thing about any other aspect of politics, they'll laugh and say, "Hey, remember, I'm just a tech weenie. I was hired as a tech weenie!" My husband was also hired as a tech weenie, but he doesn't care about it one way or the other.
They talk about their cars and their car maintenance all day, even though they now also have two young children to talk about. They are always saying they went to put oil in their wife's car and it took four quarts! It's happened to all the men at the Widowmaker at least once. Peering into that oil thing was just like gazing into a bottomless well of anxiety. And besides, if they have to go stand in a long line at the cafeteria, they'll say something like "Wish me luck; I'll need it!"
SO that's the atmosphere over there, put on or genuine, as I perceive it from Widowmaker picnics, etc. Well, my husband could never beat them at that wholesomeness game, even if he does have a nerdy briefcase (which he shopped high and low for, so that he could use it like a desk on planes!). My idea, therefore, is for him to distinguish himself with an entirely different image around the office. I would like him to present himself as a sort of dark racketeer.
If he would just buy himself a shiny silver-gray suit and a pale-blue Countess Mara tie, and if he would change his name--and I mean change it to Lew Manette. Then he should become a loner. Then, next time he's presenting a report on Telco/Cable Cross-ownership, he should be seen to have kind of a bulge under his arm. And in the cafeteria, while they're swarming all over their chili dogs, he should tell them he's "nursing a single whiskey."
When they send him on trips to Washington, Boston, or San Francisco, he will cash in his plane ticket and drive without stopping in an old black Mercury Montego. Before he leaves, he will remind the travel agent not to bother about reserving a room--just to hand him some cash. This will get innuendo going.
Once a month or so I'll go into the office and hang around all day in red capri pants and a sharkskin halter. He won't acknowledge me or introduce me to anyone, and I'll keep my legs up on his desk, doing my nails. I'll look up indifferently when the United Way coordinator comes in.
When a vice-president says to him, "Bob, I mean 'Lew,' I'll be needing you to put together a twenty-minute speech for my meeting in San Francisco--you know, competition among the local exchange carriers--" my husband will lean way back in his chair and say, "Well, well . . ." in a sarcastic voice.
Of course, I don't know what the other man's reaction will be, but surely this approach has never been tried! Moreover, Lew's only concession to Casual Wear Day will be to remove his jacket and go around with the gun showing.
He will have no special relationship with his own secretary, but will get little chores out of whichever woman happens to cross his path as he moves among the cubicles like a lithe jungle cat. Sometimes, purely by accident, he'll ask something of his own secretary.
"Oh, Mr. Manette," she'll say, "I've been waiting and waiting for you to let me do something!"
He'll shrug and say, "It's Lew, babe, just Lew."
As always, jittery groups will form and re-form just outside his line of vision. One day someone will say, "He says his new name is Lew Manette."
"I'm not sure whether he deserves to be promoted," another will add in a tentative voice.
"He used to be okay! He was hired as a tech weenie!"
And then someone will murmur, "You'd better promote him, Willard. He could get riled up."
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; April 1996; It's Lew, Babe, Just Lew; Volume 277, No. 4; pages 42-44.