Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In which I work for a grad school professor and develop a crush on him and then he goes all crazy on me so we never talk again

During and after grad school, I worked for a professor, Marvin, who was just the cutest, funniest thing in the world. I did odds and ends for him: sorting through the piles of mail that accumulated on his desk. Well, that was most of what I did. Try to find his desk underneath the mail. He was not big on opening or answering his mail. There were unopened checks that were over three months old.

Marvin started having me do some work to support his expert witness business. I scrawled my invoices on the backs of envelopes. "2.5 hours @ $20/hour, $50. Signed, Gold digger." So fancy. So professional. They don't teach you invoicing in grad school. Obviously.

Although maybe they shouldn't need to teach you invoicing. Maybe they think if you have an ounce of common sense, you will know that handwriting an invoice on the back of an envelope is not comme il faut.

I worked for Marvin for about a year after grad school. Then I went to his 50th birthday party - did I say my very mild crush was appropriate? no I did not - and met his wife. (I liked one of his PhD students a lot lot more, but Wyatt had no interest in me whatsoever and was instead captivated by a bosomy, long-haired classmate of mine. But that's not this story.)

Marvin's wife, apparently, did not like me and I did not understand why because even though I had a crush on her husband, it's not like he was interested in me and besides he was married and only a sleazeball messes around with a married man. Plus he was also my mother's age and that's just a little bit creepy - getting involved with a man who is your mom's peer? Gross.

I thought Marvin was cute and funny and brilliant, but I really liked him for his $20 an hour. Yes, I was using him for his money.

A week or two after the party, when I called to ask Marvin if he had any more work for me because I missed that money, he told me he wouldn't be able to employ me any more. "My wife doesn't like me hanging out with nubile 29 year old women," he said.

Me? Nubile? Ha.

But when the wife talks, the husband better listen or else you know what. I understood.

I went to Chile. I returned from Chile. I went to Minnesota and stayed with my mom and dad. I went to Washington DC to look for a job.

Those international development jobs are for those kids whose parents still give them an allowance. Who else can afford to take a job for $20,000 a year in DC? I surrendered and made my way back to Austin after my short stint working at the factory in Tijuana where they hired guys from the heroin halfway house and where, unbeknownst to me, I was living in the heroin trading district.

I got back to Austin and went to the placement office at school to seek employment. Ran into Marvin. He asked me if I wanted to work for him again. Well yes money would surely be nice. Then he told me that his wife could use some help on some projects she was doing. I should come to their house and work there.

Which was fine. That eliminated The Wife Problem, because The Wife was there with me as a chaperone and besides, my (mild) crush was long gone.

I worked and did random things for both of them and they would leave me alone in the house occasionally which was fine because I am mostly trustworthy.


But I am going to say this.

If you embark on a project, Mrs Marvin, where you are going to record all your poops on 3x5 index cards, noting everything including color, shape, and floatingness, then maybe you should not keep those cards in the top drawer of your desk where your occasional employee might look for a pen.

Once you've seen that kind of thing, you can't unsee it.

Marvin was a sweetie, though (and Mrs Marvin was always very nice to me, but the poop thing - ick), and was my reference when my possible employer called him a few weeks after my interview.

What did they ask you? I asked him. The job was in corporate finance, so maybe they asked him if I knew the Black Scholes pricing model? Oh man I hadn't priced options in a few years.

Not that I have ever needed that skill since, either. When I worked for International Paper, I got stock options every year. And every year, the market price for stock dropped lower than my strike price, thanks to the fabulous management ability of the company's leadership. By the time my options had vested, they were worth $20 a share more than the market price. My mother asked me why I would buy stock from my employer when I could get it cheaper on the open market and I explained that I wouldn't. That only an idiot would buy stock in IP, from any source. Not that I'm bitter about that $48,000 I never got to realize.

Marvin shrugged. They wanted to know if you show up for work on time, he said.

That's it? That's all? I asked.

Yep, he said. That's all.

I cocked my head, puzzled. I had a 4.0 gpa from a top-20 school and they don't think they can assume I show up on time?

He looked at me, shook his head, and answered, Oh you'd be surprised.

Later, when I was working at IP, I found out that a guy they'd hired with me had been fired after two months. He had an MBA and an MS in Chemistry. And didn't bother to show up to work until 10, 11 a.m., explaining that he'd been out the night before. Who knew?

I got the job and moved to Miami. My new boss there, Paul, had gotten his MBA from a program where Marvin had taught one semester. I guess they liked him enough that they flew him up once a week for his class. Paul had taken a class from Marvin and really liked him and respected him: Marvin is a hotshot in his field, although I lost a lot of professional respect for him when I googled him the other day and discovered he had put on his resume that he had gone to an international conference in Cuba and had spent an hour with Fidel. That's not something polite people who know anything about what an evil man Fidel Castro is ever admit in public, much less put on their resume. Once you know what goes on in that place, you burn your Che t-shirt and you don't brag about how charismatic Fidel was when you met him.

At the time, though, working for Paul in Miami, I didn't know about Marvin's little Fidel crush so I still respected him and liked him.

Then he called me one afternoon. I cannot remember why - maybe I had called him to tell him about Paul or he still owed me money or I had a 1099 question. Whatever. We were speaking on the phone. He asked how I liked Miami and I said that the little I had seen of it when I wasn't at work was great but that my job stank and why on earth would anyone want to work in M&A and corporate finance?

Then I said he and Mrs Marvin were welcome to visit and use my place as a hotel: I had a guest room and was living in Coconut Grove in walking distance of all kinds of fun places.

That's when it got so weird that it has taken me three weeks to finish this post.

He asked if I had a boyfriend yet and I told him sha! as if! and he said maybe he could visit me by himself.

I answered that if he came alone, it would be better if he would stay at a hotel but I'd sure like to meet him for lunch.

No, he insisted. He would come alone and we could practice sex--

Stop! I shouted into the phone. Marvin! Stop!

He continued. His words were slurred, making me wonder if he had been drinking.

No! I told him. You are a married man!

I slammed the phone down. I was shaking. Had I provoked this? Had I encouraged him in any way?

When I was still in grad school, I had to talk to my marketing professor. I went into his office and closed the door. He walked behind me and opened it again.

"What's that about?" I asked.

"I need to keep it open to protect myself from allegations that I might have harassed a student," he explained.

In what was not my most tactful moment, I looked at him incredulously. "I don't usually make a habit of attempting to seduce men my father's age," I said.

Later, when I was working for Paul, he started to tell me about a fight he had had with his wife. "Stop," I told him. "Do not tell me this. You guys will work this out and then you'll be mad at me because I know about it."

He blinked, thought, said, "Man, you're right."

I really do not seek intimacy with married men. I really do not try to seduce men who are in some kind of authority over me. I do not have those daddy issues. So I was confused about Marvin's propositions.

Maybe I was unaware of the strong seduction vibes I emitted. Maybe I was a siren that Marvin found irresistible. I don't know. But I was horrified at what he said to me and had to shake the horror out of my ears by sharing it with someone. I walked into Paul's office and told him the whole story.

He, too, was appalled. "I had so much respect for him," Paul said. "Now everything's changed."

Marvin never called me again. I have never called him. I almost never think of him, but when I do, it is with some anger. All that nice friendship, down the drain of one bad phone call.