Let’s talk about how Zoom is evil, or, The Seventh Circle of Hell

Camera-On Zoom Meetings for Work – Whose Stupid Idea Was That?

This is my robe but that is not I wearing it. Also, I did not get the matching slippers. I didn’t even know they existed but now I have but one mission in my life and that is to get these slippers.

The good news is I got a job.

Now that I have acknowledged that this is good news, I need to complain about said job.

I have never met any of my co-workers in person.

All my interviews were on zoom. Camera on.

And now all the work – the meetings – are on zoom. Camera. On.

Which I suppose I might not mind so much if I were photogenic and young and gorgeous, but Lord have mercy the camera on my computer has a way of highlighting things I would prefer not to highlight.

But – that is the reality of being lucky enough to be alive and I am trying to heed Laura Lippman’s admonition that WE MUST LOVE OURSELVES, so I am going to complain about things about zoom that are not about aging and not about not being photogenic.

To wit:

The entire advantage of working from home, or at least the advantage I have always treasured, is that I did not have to be presentable.

Zoom requires that I be presentable and I don’t even know what world those Zoom people were living in when they designed this awful thing

I worked from home a lot with my old job and we did not do cameras on. I was working with engineers and we were always going through some kind of meeting agenda or doing a formal product development review where we needed to be on the same (literally) page. We shared documents, not images of ourselves. Plus engineers and eye contact is not exactly a thing.

But this job. Oy.

My boss is new to the company. I am new to the company. Nobody has met and I understand philosophically why cameras on is a good idea, but what that translates to in real life for me is I now have to wash my hair more than once a week.

Which might not seem unreasonable to you but I have not been to a salon since January 2020. I have not had my hair colored since then and now I know what color it really is, which is a decent color I suppose but it is boring. And I have been cutting my hair myself and that has gone about as well as you might imagine.

I guess we’re all in that boat. Almost all the women I have met at work have long-ish hair. Nobody has had a haircut.

But I think they have better supplies than I have.

That is, although we still buy things, we are not buying unnecessary things. And we are not making unnecessary trips to the store. And we have decided we might as well use inventory.

Which means I am using the Bad Shampoo.

That’s the shampoo I bought years ago and tried and I didn’t like it but I also was not going to throw perfectly good (well, not good but functional) shampoo in the trash so I put it upstairs in the guest bathroom so my houseguests –

hmmmm.

Thinking this through, it’s not really the most hospitable thing to do, is it?

To ask my family and friends to use crummy shampoo just because they didn’t bring any?

Although in my defense, I thought it was Good Shampoo when I bought it.

Anyhow, I ran out of the Good Shampoo last year and decided I might as well use the shampoo in the house because who cares how I look anyhow?

And then I got a job.

And then I had to have the camera on.

And then I thought crap this means I have to wash my hair more than once a week.

And all I have is the Bad Shampoo.

Plus – it’s cold in our house so I wear my fluffy robe of leopardo over my gym clothes or PJs and that’s not really an option if you are on camera.

Now I am forced to shower more frequently than once a week.

I am trying to figure out The Shampoo Situation.

And makeup! I put on some makeup and I didn’t even recognize myself. Do people even wear makeup anymore? Is that still a thing? Because I am Done.

And I have to wear clothes that make me look like I have put a little bit of thought into what I am wearing, which, in the past year, has been at the very bottom of my list. I don’t care about clothes anymore. Does anyone? I don’t care about any of this anymore. Do you?

Let’s talk about sexism at work

Why does it seem that it’s always the women cleaning up after the potlucks?

Our roles are defined for us so early.

I was 23, working on a team of four men and two women.

Our boss invited us to his home for dinner.

(Yeah, this used to be A Thing.)

So how that worked was the spouse – the wife it was always a wife back then – did all the work, cleaning and cooking for people she didn’t even know.

Remember how a major plot point of Bewitched was when Darren would announce to Samantha that he was bringing his boss home for dinner?

With no notice?

Ah, the good old days.

My co-workers and I went.

We finished eating.

Mrs Boss started clearing the table.

Cindy, the other woman, and I looked at each other.

What should we do?

Any men reading this might be wondering, “What on earth are you talking about? What do you mean, ‘What should we do?'”

But I bet you women know.

You know the dilemma Cindy and I faced.

Are we Work Guests?

Or are we women?

Because Work Guests do not help clean up.

But women do.

And our boss was very very conservative.


As in, he had also invited us to attend his church with him.

(BOSSES! DO NOT DO THIS!)

I accepted the invitation. I went to his church one Sunday.

Because although in general I have very bad political instincts at work, I knew that telling my boss “no” to a direct personal request was a bad idea.

I am Catholic.

He was Assembly of God.

For some of you, that’s enough information.

For the rest, in general, the Pentecostal, evangelical, and non-denominational Protestants think the Pope is the anti-Christ and Catholics are going to hell because we have not been Saved.

(My roommate my freshman year of college was Southern Baptist and yes, she was sure I was going to hell. She has since become a homeschooling mother who has sent at least one child to Oral Roberts University, which I can’t even begin to describe to someone who doesn’t already recoil at the idea.)


Cindy and I looked at each other. Without a word, we got up and started to help Mrs Boss. We cleared the dishes and helped her wash them.

The men continued to sit.

Because that was the expectation. The women cleaned, the men conversed.

Woman > Business Guest.

I would like to think that if that happened today, I would not conform to gender expectations.

I would also like to think that if that happened today, my (male) boss would also be cleaning up.

I don’t know if either one is true. These forces are so strong in our lives.

I do know that in the office, I feel safer challenging the paradigm.

(Plus it’s now 20 years later.)

At my old job, there were about 250 people in the office.

Only 17 of us were women.

Yet for every social event, 100% of the people prepping and cleaning up were women.

I told my intern, who was a college sophomore at the time, never to help with potlucks unless she saw senior men helping.

I also told her not to bring brownies or cake or whatever to work to share.

“You need to be known as Sally, that amazing engineer, not Sally that cute girl who makes cookies.”

But I have to tell you, walking away while my fellow women cleaned up – it’s hard. It’s still hard.

But we need to stop this crap.

Let’s talk about sexual harassment

It was probably my fault

Maybe I was too provocative? I did wear navy suits, sensible black low-heeled shoes, and high-neck white blouses with a little maroon floppy tie. That’s a pretty hot outfit.

My first job out of college, I worked for an insurance company. I had a stint where I traveled through Texas, Arkansas, and New Mexico to train insurance agents in one of the company’s products.

I was 22 years old, a young women working with almost all men. In fact, I don’t remember seeing one single female agent.

Wow. I just realized that. I don’t think there was one single woman in the five offices I would visit.

I don’t know what the situation is now with women in insurance, but good insurance agents can make a really good living. Women, consider insurance and financial planning as a career!

When I would present to the agents – standing in front of them in the office, trying to teach them about a new product they could sell that could help increase their income, they would yell at me and tease me and interrupt me.

I thought that was normal.

I thought it was normal that men should not respect women in the workplace.

I thought it was normal, but I also knew that I couldn’t do my job if the men wouldn’t let me talk.

So I asked my brother for advice. “How do I get them to listen to me?” I asked him

“You need to pick one of them and turn the others on him,” he advised. “They need to be distracted from teasing you by teasing one of them.”

Which is exactly what I did.

I picked one of them and made some smart-aleck comment to him. I felt bad doing it – I felt like I was picking on him.

But it worked.

The pack gleefully turned on one of their own and attacked him.

And I was able to do my job and get through the presentation. The presentation that COULD HELP THEM MAKE MORE MONEY. Good grief.

I learned how to talk to the (always older) men who would ask me out.

At work.

I don’t know if this was the right thing to say, but it’s what I did say.

When OLD MEN would ask me out, rather than saying, “I don’t date people I work with” (which should have been my answer and also should have been my policy, but sadly, it was not, although there is nothing wrong with working with people you date but working with people you used to date? that’s tougher ask me how I know), I said, in an effort not to be rude, “I think I’m too young for you.”

Because saying “You’re too old for me man who is at least 35!” would have been SO RUDE.

Thank goodness I didn’t say that.

But also – MEN! Sheesh. Do not ask young women at work out on a date.

Don’t ask any women at work out on a date. Don’t get your honey where you get your money.

But I wasn’t so sure how to handle the physical harassment.

I was in the Albuquerque office, sitting at a desk, talking about the product with a few agents, when one of the men – who was my dad’s age, whom I had never met before, with whom I had no relationship at all – came up to me and

Put

His

Hands

Around

My

Neck

and

Massaged

My

Neck.

I froze.

I stopped talking.

I didn’t know what to do.

I don’t even remember what happened next. Did one of the other men tell him to stop? Did he notice that I wasn’t speaking and that my muscles were suddenly tense?

He lifted his hands away.

And I started talking again.

Later, the manager of that office asked if I would go to lunch with him to talk about agency strategy.

I wanted nothing to do with him or his people, so I said I couldn’t – that I was going shopping during lunch.

DO NOT DO THIS.

As my VP counseled me later, when I returned to the office, after he had called her to complain, “going shopping” is not a good excuse for not meeting with a work colleague during working hours.

I told her that I had eaten with him before and he ate with his mouth open (which was true) so I hadn’t wanted to eat with him again.

But I knew I couldn’t tell him that his bad manners were the reason.

My VP sighed and said I needed to have a better excuse at hand but also that it really was part of my job to meet with co-workers.

It didn’t even occur to me to tell her about the man who had massaged my neck.

It didn’t even occur to me that that was an event I should report to someone.

(Not that I would have known who to report it to.)

It didn’t even occur to me that there should have been rules against this sort of thing.

And I hadn’t even thought about this until recently, when I saw similar stories on twitter. And I realized that in all the decades since this happened, I never once thought, I SHOULD HAVE TOLD SOMEONE.

Not once.

That is how deep into this we are. That we don’t even see our own harassment.

At the time, it was something to shrug off. It was just what happened, right? That’s how the world is.

The older I get, the angrier I become.

I am a Bad Bacon Eater

Also, I do not Respect My Elders

Good Bacon that I will Eat Badly.

I just finished the (wonderful) The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

One of the characters – Alice – is not sufficiently deferential to her husband’s father. Alice’s father in law wants her to quit her job. When she refuses, the FIL tells his son to deal with Alice, threatening to hit her.

My father in law was like that.

What is it with men who think they get to control women? What is it with in laws who hate their children’s spouses?

My FIL hated me for the way I ate bacon.

(Although at least he never suggested – that I know of – that Mr T hit me.)

“You’ll hand in your notice….”

There was a silence. And then Alice heard her voice.

“No.”

Van Cleve [the FIL] looked up. “What?”

“No. I’m not leaving the library. I’m not married to you, and you don’t tell me what to do.”

“You’ll do what I say! You live under my roof, young lady!”

She didn’t blink.

Mr. Van Cleve glared at her, then turned to Bennett [Alice’s husband and Mr. Van Cleve’s son], and waved a hand. “Bennett? Sort your woman out.”

“I’m not leaving the library.”

Mr. Van Cleve turned puce. “Do you need a slap, girl?”

The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes

Mr T’s dad – let’s call him Mr B for Bully – did want Mr T to sort me out. He told Mr T to “get [me] in line.”

I had angered Mr B by defying him.

He did not like that.


I usually kept my mouth shut around Mr B.

No, this is not my way. Nor is speaking tactfully. As my former boss put it when I was talking to him today, “You are not a politician.”

But I had learned not to challenge Mr B because he took his revenge not on me but on Mr T’s mom.


Mr B and I had a history. He had taught me to keep quiet after an episode over, of all things, Alex Trebek.

Mr T and I were visiting his parents. We were watching Jeopardy when Mr B mused, “I have always found Alex Trebek to be pretentious.”

The words flew out before I could stop them. “Pot, meet kettle,” I said.

Mrs B started laughing.

Mr T started laughing.

For Mr B was indeed quite pretentious.

(Although he never insisted I call him “Dr” B, even though he held a PhD. So there is that. He never went full pretension on me.)

Then Mrs B stopped herself and whispered to me, “Uh oh. You’ll pay for that!”

Mr B glared at me. He glared at Mr T. Then he snapped at Mr T, “You’re pretentious and SO IS YOUR WIFE!”

Well, I thought. You told me. You told me.

(Except – neither Mr T nor I are particularly pretentious, I don’t think, so – the shoe didn’t even fit.)

But whatever.

An hour later, Mr B had Mrs B sobbing as he yelled at her about something inconsequential, called her names, and insulted her parents. He outweighed her by over 100 pounds. He stood over her as she cowered.

“If they had given grades for ‘stupid’ when you were in school, you would have gotten an ‘A!'” he shouted.

The message was clear: He might not punish me personally – he couldn’t, because I already didn’t care what he thought about me, but he would punish somebody.


I had learned not to defy Mr B, but I had also learned not to care what he thought about me.

It had taken years for me to reach that point.

After all, when someone tells his son not to marry you and that he’s going to boycott the wedding, you take it a little personally.

But a year after we got married (Mr T ignored Mr B’s instructions not to marry me and Mr and Mrs B, to my dismay, did not boycott our wedding but they did not add joy to the day), Mr T came slowly down the stairs after his weekly phone call to his parents.

“My dad is upset,” he said.

So what else is new? I thought to myself.

Those of us with good parents – rational, loving mothers and fathers who did not torment us emotionally – have no idea what it’s like to deal with narcissistic, selfish, alcoholic parents.

Those of us lucky enough to have been surrounded with a loving family – who have never encountered mean and narcissistic – assume that if someone treats us badly, it must be because we did something to deserve it.


Shortly after Mr T and I married, Mrs B wrote me a letter.

I think we need to start anew after I offer our read on how the tensions began. You should tell us your recollections.….It took me a long time to build a relationship with some of Mr B’s relatives and the initiative was all mine.

Mrs B

Let’s deconstruct this, shall we? This is but a snippet of her letter. I will offer details.

She offers her “read” on how the tensions began.

She listed the things they did not like about me – my religion, my politics. How I was closed and guarded at their house. How I spent time on the computer instead of watching football with them.

Although not listed, they also didn’t like how I use cabbage, how I offered (or did not offer) oatmeal, that I dry clothes on the clothesline, that I wash and re-use Ziplocs, that I use cloth napkins.

She asks me to tell her what I didn’t like about them.

My recollections? My recollections are that I am not a stupid person and I had nothing to gain by listing all the things I did not like about Mr and Mrs B.

I was and still am grateful that they brought Mr T into being. He is an amazing man and a far better son than they deserved. But who among us would say yes, I think I should write a letter to my in-laws and tell them every single thing I don’t like about them?

And although I would not tell them, I will tell you.

  • They told Mr T not to marry me and told him they were going to boycott our wedding
  • They called me a golddigger (if I am one, then I am a very bad one because Mr T did not have money when I married him)
  • They did not treat Mr T well. One year, when we went to Spain over Christmas instead of going to their house, Mr B called Mr T a “bad son” and Mrs B threatened suicide. She then sent an email to Mr T on Christmas Day in which she wrote, “Everything sucks and I get despondent.” Which – merry Christmas to you, too.
  • They gossiped horribly about Mr T’s half brothers and sisters in law and nieces and nephews to Mr T, telling him things that were none of his business and were just mean.
  • And lots and lots more but my reasons for disliking them are not the point of this post. (What was the point again?)(Oh right! How men try to dominate women by threat of physical violence!)

And she says bitch, I had to suck up to my in-laws and now it’s your turn.

She told me that when she married Mr B, she had to build the relationship with Mr B’s relatives. Which – honestly, was not fair. Yes, Mr B left his first wife for Mr T’s mom, but that was on Mr B, not on Mrs B. I mean, it was on her as well – she knew he was a married man with children, but why was Mr B’s family angry at Mrs B? They should have been angry with Mr B – he’s the one who abandoned his first family.

Mr T did not abandon anyone to marry me.

The default is that in laws welcome their children’s spouses.

Your children’s spouses are not supposed to have to grovel to earn your approval.

I refused to share my recollections. I refused to grovel.



Bacon-ish in Spain.

Mr T came downstairs after The Mandated Weekly Phone Call That Had To Be Initiated By Mr T And Initiated Before 4:00 P.M. Eastern Time Because That’s When Mr and Mrs B Started Drinking.

Any phone call from Mr T to his parents that started after they had started drinking did not count. If he called them after 4:00 eastern, they would be angry and send him emails telling him he had abandoned them and was ignoring them.

“My dad is upset,” Mr T said.

So what else is new? I thought.

“About what?” I asked.

“Remember the first time you went with me to their house?”

“The first time? You mean years ago?”

“Yes.”

“I remember they wanted us to sleep in the same bedroom even though we weren’t married, which I thought was weird. And that even though we had flown all morning, rented a car and driven an hour, and arrived at 1:00 p.m., not only did they not offer us anything to eat for lunch, they didn’t even ask if I wanted water.”

I started to get indignant all over again. I might not feed every person who crosses my threshold, but if you walk into my house, the first thing I will ask you is if you want something to drink.

WHAT KIND OF MONSTER DOESN’T OFFER A GLASS OF WATER TO A WEARY TRAVELER?

“I had to ask for water! Yes, I remember.”

Now I was cranky.

“Well, my dad is upset about something that happened when we visited.”

“Is he finally upset that they were such horrible hosts? That he offered the master bathroom to us so we could shower together like he and your mom did? Has he realized that his son’s girlfriend really does not want to think about her boyfriend’s parents naked together in the shower?”

He laughed. “No. He’s mad about the breakfast he made for us that Sunday.”

“What’s there to be mad about about breakfast?”

“He says you insulted him.”

I dug back into my memories. I am not the most diplomatic of people, but I can usually be on decent behavior, especially if I am terrified because I am surrounded by hostility and seething clear dislike.

As I had been.

“What did I do?”

“He didn’t like how you ate your bacon. He says it was an insult to the chef. Who was him.”

“He didn’t like how you ate your bacon.”

(I still can’t believe those words were ever said out loud. Or even thought.)

“He didn’t like how you ate your bacon.”

“What’s wrong with how I ate my bacon? I eat it properly.”

Mr T sighed. It’s hard to explain one’s parents when one’s parents are irrational. “You tore off the fat and ate only the lean.”

I waited.

I waited.

I waited for him to get to the part about how I had done it wrong.

He said nothing.

“That’s it? That’s what upset him? Here we are, four years later, and he’s still stewing about this? This is what he wants to talk to you about?”

He sighed.

“Your parents. Do not like me. Because of the way I eat bacon.”

He shook his head. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you.”

“No.” I shook my head. “No. No. This is good. This is great. For years, I have thought they had a good reason not to like me. I thought if I just did it right with them – if I behaved properly, they might like me.”

Narrator: We know the truth: Clearly she didn’t care enough to grovel as Mrs B had asked.

“They have no rational reason not to like me!” I exclaimed. “They’re making crap up! Their dislike cannot be resolved! I cannot fix this! They don’t have a good reason not to like me – they just don’t so they are grasping for objective reasons – stupid reasons but objective – so they can justify it to themselves. I win! I don’t have to try anymore. Because there is nothing I can do – nothing! – that will make them like me.”

I no longer cared what they thought about it. I knew they would never like me and it wasn’t about me.

I stopped trying.

I was free.