For years, we’ve marveled at Mallory Ortberg’s “Dear Prudence” column over at Slate. While we generally love Ortberg’s wise responses, she is, at times, a tad too earnest—and way too sensible—for our tastes.
Dear Jekyll is Entropy Magazine’s bi-weekly off-beat personal advice column with a snarky passive-aggressive streak. Do you have relationship problems? An irritating work situation? Perhaps a bad case of fleas no soap yet invented can treat with the gentle care you demand? If so, please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org!
I am a thirtysomething single woman who has worked in the same small company for years. During this time a few of my male co-workers have approached me for dates. I have never had an issue with kindly turning any of them down, until now. One co-worker is irritatingly persistent. He constantly inquires about the relationship status of every woman that breathes. For years he has asked about me. I began by deflecting his interest politely, but after years of it I have had to up the level of aggression in my dealings with him. I now give one-word answers and don’t look or smile at him when he talks to me. It’s exhausting to be so rude. I try as hard as I can to avoid him when he is in the building. If I see him in one department I turn tail and put off my task until later. Unfortunately, whenever he feels chatty he corners me in my office. At that point I try to look as busy as possible, but he doesn’t take the hint! I can’t keep working like this. His behavior is making it difficult for me to do my job.
We don’t have an HR department. My boss respects me, and I him, so I could speak with him about this, but I don’t want to give him the impression that I’m a damsel in distress, and I don’t think the creep needs to be fired over this behavior—he just needs to respect boundaries. This week he asked me to a movie and I said no, but his behavior has not changed. I know I need to be more direct, but we will continue working together—so how can I keep what I say professional while making it clear that I am not interested in dating him?
The Jekyll Response:
I’ve taped a copy of that famous picture of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue above my bed. This is, perhaps, too much information, no? But that picture gets me every time. I am convinced Albie would’ve been a fine character actor had he ditched physics and devoted himself to the stage. Just think: he could’ve been the cuddly but sagacious grandpa character on a network sitcom. And isn’t that what the world needs? More junk TV?
If you aren’t familiar with this photo, Google it. Look at Albie’s wild hair, his bushy white mustache, and those big dark eyes. Is not he amazing? Does he not remind you of a schnauzer begging to chase after a Frisbee? I swear, one can’t help but be happy when mooning over that picture.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Einstein said that.
My guess is that your co-worker is insane. But let’s be charitable. Perhaps he is merely forgetful. Does he suffer from dementia? Early on-set Alzheimer’s? Perhaps he played college football or some other brutal sport where brain injuries and bad manners are common? Does he not realize he’s asked you out again… and again… and again?
Take a moment to chart out all the occasions he’s suggested the two of you meeting up outside the office. The movies. The dinners. The coffee dates and the after-work drinks which you’ve declined. Include as many specifics as possible. Include the names of others who may have overheard him asking you out. On top of that list, write-out Albie’s definition of insanity.
The next part of my suggestion, frankly, might cause you some discomfort… but bear with Jekyll on this.
Should your office Romeo asks you out again, show him the list. Remind him that you’ve already turned him down dozens of times. Look him in the eye. Tell him that any sane person would have gotten the message by now that you are never ever going to warm up to his invitations. Please do not think of Einstein’s tongue at this moment, but please tell your co-worker that you share Einstein’s concern about mental health. Mention that, as a loyal employee, you feel duty-bound to alert your boss to suspicions that some of your co-workers might be insane.
Hopefully, your co-worker will get the message. If not, share the list with your boss. The documentation will show you’re no mere “damsel in distress” but someone who’s had the fortitude to continue working solidly despite the harassment. Tell your boss that you haven’t discussed your concerns with other employees. Tell your boss that you are not a mental health professional. But tell your boss that you value Albie’s insights into insanity and that, frankly, insanity ought not be tolerated in your workplace.
But back to that Einstein picture: In the mornings, I wake up, look at the picture, and think, Man, I wish I had a tongue as long as Albie’s. The better part of living nests in our imagination. Einstein understood this well, for he implored that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Which is fine by me because me and knowledge don’t exactly mix well. Some mornings, I go up to the bathroom mirror and imagine, I, too, have what it takes to be an Einstein. E = mc2 and all that rigmarole.
Outside my apartment building, a homeless man roosts in a dumpster. Wild and white and untamed, his scraggly beard stretches to his waist. One can only imagine the bugs and maybe small rodents nesting in that beard. Last week, someone hurled a watermelon at him, nearly beaning him in the head. People can be so heartless, can’t they? I watched this high above from my apartment window. I watched as the homeless guy pounced on that watermelon, ripping through the rind with his bare teeth. It might have been the guy’s only meal all day. Juices spurted out of that watermelon, glistening his beard and moistening his bruised hands. There was something joyful in his expression, something child-like that reminded me how refreshing a watermelon can be at the end of a hot, humid day. I’ve never seen anyone eat a whole watermelon before—rind included—but I swear this is what the man did. When he finished, the man let out a contented groan. He burped, satiated, and wiped his mouth with the tail end of his scraggly beard. Even the meekest among us are entitled to a little happiness, but when he saw me at the window, looking down at him, his face reddened with shame. I felt bad for him but, try as I might, I could not shrink from my window. I gave him a little wave of my hand, a friendly gesture that I thought would convey a no foul/no harm message. Instead, he stuck out his tongue. There’s a little Einstein in all of us, isn’t there?
We just got a wedding invitation from a close family member. The trouble is, the bride is requiring all guests to pre-screen their attire with her. Supposedly, we’re to email her pictures of what we intend to wear. She thinks she’s being gracious because she’s allowing each of us to send a few different options so she can choose which duds she wishes to see us in. Please tell me this isn’t the new normal for wedding planning. We’re not in the wedding party but would like to think we’d be cherished guests at the event regardless what we wore. We’re not terribly wealthy and can’t afford to buy all new gear for this one night. My fear is that she’s the type of person who’ll peek at my closet and tell me NOTHING meets her satisfaction. What should I do?
The Jekyll Response:
An apple a day keeps no doctors away should it sit on your desk all day. True fact. In elementary school, I sat next to a boy who collected apples. He brought one to school each morning and somehow, because custodians never ever cleaned our classroom, they accumulated on his desk throughout the first of weeks of school. Green Granny Smith apples. Red Macintosh Apples. Yellow Golden Delicious apples that must have cost his parents a pretty penny. The boy was so proud of his apples. Each morning, before we’d pledge Allegiance to the tattered flag that hung on a stick above the chalk board, he’d polish the apples on the sleeve of his blue sweatshirt so that, under our classroom’s fluorescent lights, they positively shone.
When asked if he was ever going to eat one of them, a look of horror would flash over the boy. It was as if he was a parent to the apples—a mother or father or foster da—and could not bear the fact that his apple children were destined to be devoured.
You know what happens next.
As September ebbed into October, our teacher taped Halloween decorations to the walls. Jack O’Lanterns made of construction paper. Silhouettes of black witches. White skeletons. That kind of thing. We talked eagerly of trick-or-treating and the hobgoblin and vampire costumes we’d wear on All Hollow’s Eve.
The apples, too, began to take on a ghoulish appearance. They shriveled up like shrunken heads. Each morning, the boy arrived at school and shooed away the flies that clustered around his desk because of the rotting apples. He showed such devotion, such love and care, shining those apples against his sleeves but rub them as he may, he could not return the luster to his shrunken, discolored apples.
One morning, I stepped into the classroom just as the boy started howling. Tears streamed down his red cheeks. Apple mush stained his blue sweatshirt sleeve. In his hand was the remains of a rotten apple. He had rubbed it too hard against his sleeve. The softened apple must have burst apart in his hand.
No one can entirely control their surroundings. Many have tried, much to their frustration.
Color me amused at most modern wedding planning activities. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of letting a bride orchestrate her nuptials. Songs and readings must be selected for the ceremony, wine pairings and seating charts must be considered for the dinner. Limousines and wedding bands be hired. Bridesmaids’ dresses must match one another so as to not clash with or upstage the bride’s own gown. Flowers must be arranged, hotel ballrooms or firehouse halls must be booked. And on top of that, you’ve got to worry about what happens should Uncle Mel or Cousin Tootsie drinks too heavily and causes a scene.
Sadly, planning gives way to more planning. The more one plans, the more one realizes there is yet more they can plan. I fear the bride of this particular wedding you’ve been invited to has gone too far. One wonders whether she will send out supplemental letters prescribing the cars one is expected to drive to her wedding. Might regular unleaded gas be an acceptable fuel for the occasion, or must you splurge for high-octane fuels? Will she mandate cosmetic dentistry should your smile not up to snuff? And hairstyles? Might a prima donna bride decide that no woman at her wedding can have longer—or shorter—hair than she?
I’ve been to weddings in my lifetime. Some of them were mine, some of them not. But I’ve never heard of anyone needing to pre-screen their clothes just so they can witness two consenting adults profess their love for one another. Needless to say, your particular bridezilla has crossed the lines on this one. At a certain point,
So what do you do?
Email her pictures of you and your family in ratty clothes. Say, sweat pants and torn tee shirts. Or snow suits. Or jogging shorts and a moth-eaten cardigan. She will likely reject your proposed outfits. So send her more pictures of the same. Clown suits. Football jerseys. Maybe she’d prefer that novelty tee-shirt with the slightly risqué slogan which your sorority sisters gave you years ago as a gag gift. Buried deep in my closet are a pair of paint-splattered jeans I now wear only when performing messy home-maintenance tasks or automobile repairs. I’d gladly send a picture of them to you so that you can submit them for bridezilla’s consideration.
The point is, sooner or later, you’re going to tire this bridezilla out. Sooner or later, she’s bound to realize how ridiculous she’s being.
If not, well… write her a brief note informing her that you are an adult of sensible tastes who knows how to dress herself for a wedding. Tell her you’ve been to weddings before and never once have you been confronted for wearing inappropriate attire. Tell her that, frankly, you really wish to witness her wedding vows. Tell her that her pre-screening process is rude and burdensome. Cannot she trust her most cherished friends and family members to dress appropriately?
And if that doesn’t work… consider sending her pictures of a boy’s blue sweatshirt, the sleeves of which have been crusted over with dried apple mush.
*a question posed to Slate’s “Dear Prudence.”
The mononymous Jekyll is a disgraced flâneur who, regrettably, remains unwelcomed by the people who, frankly, most need his counsel. Nietzsche once said that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Jekyll’s corollary is that a good blowtorch tests even the best of us. Recently, while browsing the stacks at an antiquarian bookseller’s shop, he stumbled upon a rare and well-preserved copy of the original 1922 edition of Emily Post’s ETIQUETTE. A misunderstanding arose. Books, even incredibly valuable first editions, are no match for a blowtorch. Owing to an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, Jekyll remains free on bail while awaiting trial following this mishap. Be not afraid of his intentions, for his fondest desire is to be a lap dog. Toss him a doggie biscuit or two, but please do not let him hump your leg—especially if you wear fabrics that stain easily.
Jekyll is available to answer your personal questions. Do you have relationship problems? An irritating work situation? Perhaps a bad case of fleas no soap yet invented can treat with the gentle care you demand? If so, please email your questions for publication to email@example.com.
Click here for a peek at a previous Dear Jekyll column.