Whack Off While You Work
My co-worker pleasures himself at the office, and HR doesn't care.
I work in an office that I share with two other people. The desks are in a triangle with short partitions between us, but it is possible to see one another through the gaps. One co-worker is part-time, so I am frequently alone with the third. Lately, I have been hearing and then seeing him participating in a solo activity usually done in the bedroom. Once I figured out for sure what he was doing, I went to human resources. The manager told me that as she has only my word about this, I should go find her when he does it again so she can know for herself. The problem is, she is never around when it happens. He stops if I get up to go out the door and starts when I sit down again. I feel violated, abused, and totally grossed out. What should I do?
This HR manager says she wants you to tell your co-worker while he's in flagrante, "Hold that thought!" as you scurry off to get her, so she can return and catch him, uh, red-handed. So now you have two problems: You sit next to a pervert, and your head of HR is an incompetent lunatic. I spoke to Philip Gordon, an employment law attorney in Boston, about your predicament. He was more astounded that HR put the onus of proving onanism on you than that there's a masturbator lurking in cubicle-land. You are not required to don latex gloves and do a forensic search through the guy's wastebasket for incriminating Kleenex. Once you reported this gross violation, HR's obligation was to investigate and act to address it. Gordon says the company can check the guy's computer to see if he's been downloading pornography while he's been unloading—that's enough to get him fired. If he doesn't confess and there's no evidence, then at the very least the company has an obligation to take your complaint seriously enough to relocate him to a desk far away from you—preferably one with a 360-degree view, so they can keep an eye on him. If it's just for internal investigative purposes, the company might also be entitled to secretly videotape your pod. Since your HR department is a joke, you must take this complaint up the chain of command and explain the situation you find yourself in. Surely one of the bosses will be interested that the jerk-off you sit next to is creating a hostile work environment (and that the HR department is run by a dope). No one wants to get into a lawsuit, but a company that won't address a problem like this is one that really wants to end up in court.
I have been hit hard by the recession. I was laid off, my unemployment has run out, and I've had a difficult time finding another job. While I have no problem with scrimping, saving, and freezing my spending until things pick up, my girlfriend of five years, whom I love very much, has started to become very anxious about it. In more lucrative times, when we both had good jobs, we did a lot together. However, in the absence of funds on my part, her general demeanor toward me has become more acerbic and distant. Whenever she suggests we go out and do something, I calmly explain that I'm broke and can't afford any discretionary spending. She says I have a credit card and could use it if I really wanted to. I respond that that would be completely irresponsible. Then she gets mad and sulks about being bored. Now I'm worried our relationship was only good in proportion to our respective incomes. I'm also starting to worry she's spending way more than she should, but when I bring it up, she tells me not to "parent" her. I would rather lose a job than lose the girl I love, but it seems being poor is easier when you're alone. How do I convince her to settle down without seeming like I'm lecturing her?
No, it's not easier being poor alone; it's only easier if your partner wants you to spend yourself into the poor house. Negotiating the stresses of this deepening recession is going to be an ever-more-important issue for romantic relationships, and many aren't going to make it. The unemployed person has lost both income and identity, and the still-employed person feels the pressure of being an emotional and financial support. And everyone is longing for things to quickly go back to the way they were. (Note: if you want to hang onto that hope, do not read anything by Nouriel Roubini.) But you two need to recognize that the end of discretionary income doesn't mean nights of darning socks by candlelight. Find free or bargain ways to enjoy life. Join or start a book club (first selection: The Grapes of Wrath). Have potluck dinner and rental movie nights with friends. Go to museums during free or discounted hours. Check out speakers at the nearest college. Cook vats of soup together. Take hikes. Hey, being broke sounds so productive, maybe darning socks by candlelight is fun after all. If your girlfriend insists that having a good time requires offerings to the gods of APR, then, sadly, she may not be the woman for you. And since she's not your wife, and your finances are separate, if she wants to get herself into debt, you can rightly enter this into your calculation about your future together, but she's also right that you can't stop her.
Photograph of Prudie by Teresa Castracane.