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One artist's depiction of the Tangerine Man. To date, no verifiable photos of him exist.

One artist’s depiction of the Tangerine Man. To date, no verifiable photos of him exist.

“EEEELLLEeeccccCCHH!! What is THAT?!!”

It started one overcast, drizzly day as we were cleaning out the fridge specifically for the use of the Records Division of the police department. Thanks to the benevolence of a coworker and her husband, who worked in the beverage industry, we had acquired a dedicated fridge on our end of the building.

Besides being more convenient than the creepy, putty-colored fridge in the designated break room we never used, we felt that our food would be more protected. We were wrong. Someone kept stealing my yogurt at night when our division was closed. Yes. In a police department. It happens more than you’d think. We knew, from surveillance tape, that the janitors had lifted an amaryllis one woman gave to another as a Christmas present, but the person/people with the midnight munchies who helped themselves to my Yoplait and also stole my Blackhawk Down documentary were never apprehended. Officer Yogurt Bandit, I have not forgotten.

Yeah– what was that? Someone had removed what very well could have been a shrunken pygmy head with Smurf-colored hair from a back corner of the second shelf. We gathered round and debated was it was… or had been. No one recalled stashing a fruit even remotely resembling that in our snazzy little cooler. We all had our names on our shelves so that one person’s food cache was not confused with another’s. But that edible has-been had worked its way off the beaten path and morphed into something quizzical and disturbing.

“It was the Tangerine Man,” one coworker stated confidently.

“Who’s the Tangerine Man?”

“He’s the mischievous guy who sneaks rotten fruit into unexpected places.”

Shazam! The light went on. At long last, after decades of wondering, our group finally had a coherent explanation for the times when mystery fruit seems to materialize out of nowhere. Our culture believes in the Tooth Fairy, doesn’t it? Elves? Leprechauns? Honest politicians? Elvis partying on without most of his internal organs? Why not a Loki-like character who specializes in produce? The Tangerine Man is likable in the sense that he gives something instead of taking away as well. He’s a pay it forward type.

A recently discovered planet? Or what you intended to have for lunch Monday?

A recently discovered planet? Or what you intended to have for lunch Monday?

Fast forward to a meal with my grandparents soon after. I began to tell them about The Legend of the Tangerine Man. My grandfather was intrigued and had a sparkle in his eye. “He struck just the other day,” Grandpa said. “Where?” I asked. He told me how he’d reached onto the top of the fridge for something (in my mind that’s the parking spot for an ever present bag of corn chips that has been faithfully replaced on a weekly basis since 1976). His hand touched something unnatural. It was an overripe banana, oozing out of its peel. “Aha!” I thought. “He is real!” Our family proceeded to discuss other recent visits by the Tangerine Man at our various residences.

And why not? Think about the last time you cleaned out your fridge. There was inevitably mystery Tupperware, the contents of which had fermented and evolved into another life form weeks ago. There was that half jug of (insert juice-ish beverage here) that the kids had forgotten about despite their insistence that you buy it because they were dying of thirst. Perhaps there was a moldy can of refried beans or a cubic inch of ancient cheese that could cut a diamond. If you dug deep enough, though, you were sure to find a shriveled little– citrus fruit? apple? maybe a nectarine?– wedged behind a wire rack. No one remembers buying it. It may be unidentifiable. If this has happened to you, you’ve probably been visited by… the Tangerine Man.

How other cultures might see the Tangerine Man

How other cultures might see the Tangerine Man.

The Tangerine Man has visited me when I’m driving. I keep my vehicle relatively clean and while I find an occasional French fry or balled up muffin wrapper that someone tried to hide in the console, there have been times when I’m startled by a hard object rolling out from under my seat and striking my accelerator foot. Perhaps I’ve just been cut off by an oblivious motorist coasting through a stop sign on a side street and have had to hit the brakes. Wham! Something shot out from under the seat and tried to tango with the pedals. “NOW?!!” I roar, hoping the Tangerine Man can hear me while he’s crawling back under the spare tire. There’s usually just a fleeting suggestion of a chuckle as I try to kick the hacky sack-sized object to the passenger side (where I have to remember to pick it up later).

He’s also targeted my purse and bags. I like to take enough of everything to work that I and possibly one or two other coworkers of my choosing will survive a nuclear war if needed. But this generally involves packaged items, and when I bring produce, it’s usually in its own bag. (For my people in Police Records reading this, I don’t carry the Family brand foreign dried mangoes from the white elephant exchange in 2004 to work, but they remain in one of my emergency kits. I knew you’d ask. If they actually do go bad– I don’t think so– the hallucinations might make nuclear war more bearable. Or even hilarious.)

You already believe in these guys...

You already believe in these guys…

Anyhow, I have a mental inventory of what goes to work every day and so when I’m cleaning out a bag and do the “whazaat” shudder when my hand touches mystery fruit, I can say with a degree of relative certainty that the Tangerine Man did it. I don’t like to waste food. I work because I like to have food. I like for my tribe to have food. Yet once or twice a year I’ll find a dehydrated alien pod-looking thing in the bottom of a bag and start debating its origins. You’d think I’d smell it if I were walking around with rotting ___?? in that bag for 39 days. But I didn’t. Here again, it’s only logical to blame the Tangerine Man.

So keep an eye out for the Tangerine Man. He can strike when and where you least expect it. Right now you might be rolling your eyes and sighing away the possibility that such a character exists. Trust me, you will come to believe. He will find you. Sooner or later you’re going to find that pinkish-peachy thing resembling a Nerf ball fried by a death ray and have a “hmm” moment. You’ll ask your husband if he remembers what it was. You’ll ask your children what it was. All will disavow knowledge of the purchase and prior knowledge of the object’s existence, and at that moment you will gasp slightly as you think back to a blog post from last National Skyscraper Day.

“The Tangerine Man… he’s real.”

He certainly is. And I assure you that Officer Yogurt Bandit is as well.

A possible associate, the Kiwi Kid.

A possible associate, the Kiwi Kid.

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Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy. -Thich Nhat Hanh

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Update, 9/11/14: Further evidence of the Tangerine Man’s existence. I found this… banana peel (?) under a hedge today. Nearby my dog located yet another piece of a discarded double cheeseburger that he keeps sniffing out pieces of. The former matches the Tangerine Man’s MO. The latter was likely the work of a local hoodlum who was using the unfortunate bovine remnant as a Frisbee. Believe…

Oops. He did it again.

Oops. He did it again.

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.


 

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Roz

When was the last time you walked into a business and wanted to go back because of the generic, cardboard treatment you received at the hands of an emotionless drone? Probably never, right?

Over the years I’ve pondered what, exactly, constitutes professional behavior. We see unprofessional behavior all the time– laziness, swearing, bullying, people who act like their jobs are all about them… the list could be endless. But what, in your mind, causes you to say, “wow, that person was very professional?”

During my first full-time job back in the day I was introduced to business speak. I was listening to a female supervisor banter with some male business guests and felt incredibly awkward about the exchange. But the exchange was, by some standards, professional. It sounded like all parties in the conversation were reading lines from a Dale Carnegie seminar or the latest trendy book on sales that everyone bought because they knew someone else who bought it.

“It is interesting to observe your operations.”

(polite laughter, “a ha ha ha”)

“We’re about improving the bottom line.”

(“Yes, yes, a ha ha ha.”)

“We must improve our paradigm and shift our resources to the bifurcated capital establishment.”

(“Great, a ha ha ha.” Generic smiles and emphatic nodding. This could have been anybody talking to anybody.)

My young mind thought, “that’s how people do business?” These people did not sound like they were talking to other human beings; it was more like they were trading superficial niceties with fancy, fashionable labels, accomplishing…? The stroking of an ego? Future opportunities to throw around more ’90s phrases?

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I don’t do superficial. If someone walks up to me and politely sneers, “hiiiii, how are yooooouuu?” they should be expecting an honest answer. While on the phone, as a public servant, I’m not going to launch into a detailed description of my neighbor’s mishap with his Nutri Ninja the night before, I still cringe when, “to be professional,” I say, “good.” Because if I’m not good, I feel like a liar.

Similarly, I feel that spending any amount of time sounding like I’m reading from a script during a business interaction is largely a waste. We’ve all done this dance. We exchange pleasantries, we toss around worn euphemisms, we talk about the kids’ sports and how the Seahawks are doing. But I believe everyone has a story. Everyone is unique and has something to give. To me a professional person is one who treats me as an individual and shows true caring rather than going through the motions of what they believe their bosses expect of them.

The other night I was brainstorming terms that that can be synonymous with professional. I’m just going to share it as it came to mind, because I’ve both worked in places where some of these traits are expected and witnessed it as a client or citizen.

Stern

Emotionless

Authoritative

Mean

Having the right to insult and disparage others

Superficial (!!!!)

Using worn, shallow, generic phrases instead of actually communicating with people

Patronizing

Impersonal

Not allowing creativity or individuals’ personality traits

Demanding uniformity rather than emphasizing individuals’ strengths

Reading from a script

Artificial

Have you ever felt this way at work? Like you’re expected to be a robot and just paste on a smile and say the same things no matter who you’re talking to? My question to management is, “when have you ever felt better after being treated this way?” Another question is, “is that really what your customers or public want?”

Then I made my list of qualities I consider professional:

Respectful

Helpful

Accommodating

Personable

Upbeat

Creative

Interested

Caring

Willing to think outside the box

Individual personality traits shine

Problem solver

Follow-through

Takes issue to the next level if needed

Respects me as a taxpayer, citizen, customer

Someone I’d want to talk to again

Obviously there are jobs and situations in which we have to show restraint. We can’t create liability for our organizations by apologizing, showing too much emotion, or becoming overly involved. We have defined roles and protocols. But almost every contact we have is an opportunity to treat others like their problem and input is important– because it often is.

If someone is being entitled or demanding you can always wait until you hang up or walk away to rassa frassa aahhhhh!!… and I openly admit to having my rassa frassa aahhh!! moments throughout the day. It’s no secret. I just have to ensure that I was professional enough to allow them to air their grievances (within reason) and make sure they felt heard. They took the time to call; even if they didn’t get the answer they wanted, they need to at least have the satisfaction that a fully functioning human being heard them out.

Government employees in particular can get a bum rap for being staid automatons who are just there for the paycheck. Fortunately I work with hundreds of people who aren’t like that at all. My circles are brimming with personality and I love that. But once in a while you’ll walk into some agency where you find a little truth to the stereotype and think, “It’s Roz! From Monsters, Inc.!” In particular, people don’t like being treated generically or talked down to by those in authority.

This can be a particularly sensitive issue in law enforcement because police officers have to maintain solid boundaries while interacting with all types of people. However, some of the most effective cops and other law enforcement employees I’ve known are those who command respect through being personable and committed to solving the problem at hand. Frankly, when you’re talking to them, you feel like you’re being taken seriously by a fellow resident of earth rather than simply being preached at or chastised by a superior life form. The latter may be seen as professional, but the former is infinitely better received by the public and causes both victims and suspects to open up.

Having been a front counter person for many years, this same behavior can happen in that venue. When you walk up to get help, do you want someone to stare at the ceiling like Steve in Office Space and start in with a monotone, “Good evening sir, my name is Steve. I come from a rough area. I used to be addicted to crack but now I am off it and trying to stay clean. That is why I am selling magazine subscriptions.” If you’ve seen the movie you know exactly what I’m driving at.

And– no! When I interact with someone at the counter I want to know who they are, how I can help them, and find something to laugh about while I’m at it. It creates rapport and fosters a mutual problem solving relationship rather than an adversarial one. I often notice people’s hats or t-shirts and strike up conversations about what’s on them. Inevitably we all know someone who knows someone who also stalks Bigfoot, served in a particular war, or enjoys being a walking billboard for a certain brand.

Next time you’re at the store/renewing your tabs/mailing a package/reporting a crime/buying a suit/getting a new battery for your cell phone that seems to be inhabited by sadistic, power hungry micro-gnomes, ask yourself if you’d treat you that way. Seriously. Were you treated as an individual with a unique need? Was the interaction pleasant or would you have felt the same if strapped to the wall of an overcrowded squash court with a blindfold on and bad Burt Bacharach muzak playing?

Ultimately, the question I’m asking is, “what feels professional to you?” Is it the generic, impersonal, outdated junk that’s been instilled in us from early on that we spew without thinking twice, or is it being human and helping other human beings find solutions? You already know the answer because you already know what speaks to you. Now go and do that, and watch how it transforms your relationships, your job, and your success.

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Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.  -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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Bullying at Work: Workplace Mobbing is on the Rise | World of Psychology.

Over on PsychCentral’s site, Australian psychologist Dr. Sophie Henshaw has posted a must-read on workplace bullying. The article begins:

Mobbing is “bullying on steroids,” a horrifying new trend whereby a bully enlists co-workers to collude in a relentless campaign of psychological terror against a hapless target. (more…)

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Office Space Cake

FARE’s latest newsletter highlighted a great resource they have for those with food allergies, a page called Managing Food Allergies at Work

This is a topic I’ve dealt with for years. I have celiac disease and multiple food allergies and the workplace can be like a minefield for the food allergic. Not only do you have to deal with others’ ignorance of your condition and even their hostility towards it, but you have to be cognizant of minute details to avoid getting sick. (more…)

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Embezzlement

In the past day I’ve seen at least three news stories in which employees of government agencies or nonprofits have ripped those entities off to the tune of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. And by entities I mean that ultimately you and I as taxpayers and donors have been used.

All three stories are on The Herald’s front page:

YWCA– $300,000

(more…)

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Five years ago or so I read a book by Dennis Bakke called Joy at Work. I found the author’s candor and clarity refreshing.

In this book, Bakke takes on the old school “Industrial Revolution” mindset of many managers, pointing out that holding to this type of traditional mentality is often demeaning and disrespectful to employees.

Bakke’s book should be on every supervisor’s must-read list because it can help them fully utilize their employees’ strengths for the common good, as well as increase their contributions to the organization’s success. (more…)

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