When I am King: Spelling Beegone

When I am King...

I will do away with the Spelling Bee.

Last week, I spent an evening at a Spelling Bee for fourth and fifth graders. I don’t like to admit it, but I was emotionally overcome by a sense of, well, horror.

A Spelling Bee is like a death match with letters. There is no team to win or lose with. There is no score or grade. Instead, play continues until only one child is left. The last one standing in the puddle of tears must by definition be the winner.

A girl steps up to the microphone and the judges say the word, “psychoanalysis.” She can ask for it to be repeated, derived, defined, and used in a sentence. These are all good stalling tactics and you can see their mind whirring around thinking, “I have no idea what that word is.” Meanwhile, I’m in the audience thinking, “Does that 9 year old really need to know that the word is a combination of roots from French and Celtic?” Then the girl spells the word, haltingly, knowing that everyone is watching and listening to every letter. And since everyone in the room is either a competitor or the parent of one, they are all secretly hoping she will fail.

And she does, eventually, because every child except one does. The judges let her get to the end of the word, while everyone else in the room knows that she was dead as soon as she said “P-H”. After she repeats the word at the end, signaling her completion, the judges ring a bell. it’s a small bell, a friendly bell, and it means YOU FAILED. Each child will remember the sound of that little bell for eternity, listening for it in the auditoriums of life waiting for it to ring out and tell them that they have been judged and found wanting. That they are a Bad Speller.

The girl waits politely at the microphone while the judges tell her what she should have said, and all of the parents and other children nod knowingly, “I would have spelled it the right way.” One of the parents served as the failure committee, greeting each losing child with a goodie bag so that the kids can remember losing. She gives the girl her bag, pats her on the back, and sends her, slowly weeping, toward her parents. Then the failure committee mom goes back to the box of shame to get another goodie bag, because there’s another kid stepping up to the mic, and they’ll probably lose, too.

When I am King, there will be no spelling bee. It obviously doesn’t go far enough in training these children that it’s every man for himself in this world. Instead, children will be locked in a hot room with a single juicebox. Then we’ll see who’s got what it takes. But at least in this competition there will be no roomful of people witnessing each child’s unique failure, no goodie bags of shame, no sweet bell of doom. There will just be a prize, a winner, and a roomful of straw-gouged runners-up.


Little Joke for Monday

I think this would be a good name for a religious mortuary for couples:

Hymns and Hearse


Corporate Survival Guide: Don't Get Fired

In my previous article on New Years Resolutions, the final item was “Don’t Get Fired”. But far from being the least important goal on that list, it was perhaps the most important one of all. First of all, Not Getting Fired (NGF) is such an important step toward becoming tolerated and eventually even relevant in the company. But also, in these times of economic hardship, company downsizing, and unreasonable corporate demand for competence, it is increasingly difficult to avoid getting fired, so it is important that this goal is the one you must strive to reach each year. Besides, Not Getting Fired is, according to one survey, an important way to keep getting a paycheck.

The inexperienced worker might think that Not Getting Fired can be achieved through initiative, hard work, and success, but they are, of course, completely wrong. HR won’t care who you are when they come to your cube with triplicate forms and a company-issued tazer. No, you must be far more clever and devious to win this battle. Here are some proven techniques that you can use to avoid getting fired in your situation.

Blame Someone Else

Sometimes, despite all of your efforts and bullet points to the contrary, you make a mistake. It’s human to make a mistake, but corporations, like politicians and other reptiles, are not human and typically do not tolerate error. Industrial accidents resulting in injury and death, product fraud costing the company millions in damages, plugging the break-room espresso machine with chewing gum and causing a minor explosion: these are just a few of the things that can be put down to simple human error on your part. But they’re also some of the things that can result in termination. So how do you recover from these misunderstandings?

The advantage to working in a big company is that there is always someone else to blame. Ask yourself: how many other people are there in my department? That is coincidentally exactly the number of people that you can point the finger at whenever anything goes wrong. It doesn’t matter whether they did anything, whether they know anything about it, or whether there’s any credibility to your accusation; the fact that you accused them will throw a delay into the process of corporate blame that should last long enough for you to weasel out of whatever you did.

Get Terminally Ill

Companies usually won’t fire someone that is terminally ill. This doesn’t come from any form of human empathy as much as a fear of bad PR and good lawyers. So all you have to do to stick around is to contract some terminal disease. This limits your time at the company overall, of course, but your job is safe in the meantime.


A tactic closely related to the last one is to actually die. This approach has been a proven-safe measure against getting fired since ancient times. However, I wouldn’t recommend this strategy in general, as you lose some of the more interesting benefits from still having the job, such as living. This tactic was often used in ancient battles, where generals would fall on their swords rather than stick around for the humiliation of defeat. They certainly achieved their goal, but unfortunately weren’t around to enjoy it.

Claim Sexual Harassment from Everyone

Sexual harassment has become a serious issue in the workplace, resulting in lawsuits, firings, and hours and hours of required HR sensitivity training for employees to attend. The last thing the company wants is any charge of sexual harassment.

Of course, the simple thing to do if you know you’re going to be fired is to claim harassment from your boss, because that’s what everyone expects. But this tactic is so expected that the company will have measures in place to negate that claim. So you have to go bigger: claim harassment from everyone: your boss, your cube-mate, your HR representative, the guy in the mail room, the woman in Finance, the CEO, and even yourself. The more people you can drag into the situation, the longer it will take for the company to sort it out and the more inclined they will be to just step away from you and let you keep doing your job.

Be Somewhere Else

If everything else on this list fails and the company is going through with the act of firing you, then make sure you can’t be found. They can’t actually throw you out if they can’t get ahold of you. Sure, they can turn off your badge so that you can’t get back in the building, but who says you need to leave? That handicapped stall in the bathroom is larger than your apartment and you can always take showers with the spray nozzle at the sink in the break room. Become invisible and you might just hold onto your job even after every shred of dignity has deserted you.

Remember the Business Battlecry: “He who works and runs away lives to work another day.”


If the tactics above are unsuccessful and they’re coming to take you away, break down in tears. Besides having a cleansing affect on the soul, it’s just possible that you will spark some feeling, some idea deep inside of that HR representative that you’re going to get water and snot all over their suit and maybe they have better things to do that day than fire you.


Corporate Survival Guide: New Years Resolutions

It’s appropriate, at this time of year, to set goals, to form plans, to set in motion devious and unstoppable strategies for world corporate domination; in short, to make New Year’s Resolutions.

Since ancient times, warriors have performed this ritual as they looked forward with grim determination and blood-soaked chainmail to the coming year’s conquests. From Alexander the Great’s epic “I’d like to see what Persia is like this time of year” to Napolean’s ill-fated “I wonder what the Borscht is like in Moscow?”, soldiers and leaders alike have set battle goals that shaped their not only their lives, but the entire shape of society and the combat-fatigue fashion world around them. Today’s Corporate Warrior owes it to himself and his fellow troops to do the same.

Here are some suggested resolutions to draw from, but feel free to improvise for your particular situation. Remember, the main idea is to set optimistic but reasonable goals, ones that will be difficult to achieve, but which are realistic enough for you to attempt them. I’ve listed these in reverse order of achievability; choose accordingly to your abilities.


  • Become CEO and fire everyone that ever slighted you. Remember that guy that cut in line in the cafeteria and ordered past ahead of you, causing you to have to wait an extra 2 minutes? Sure, he apologized and said he didn’t understand that the general milling-about was actually a line, but he didn’t really mean it. When you are CEO, you get to fire him. HR will say that you need a reason and a paper trail, but the best part about being in charge is that you can have other people do that work for you.

  • Invent a new product that becomes the cash-cow of the corporation. Nobody has power in a corporation like the person running the most profitable product. They get to set the overall corporate agenda, pick the best meeting rooms, and change the coffee vendor. There’s nothing to stop you on the grueling battlefield of internal politics if you’re the guy bringing in the payroll. All you have to do is come up with the product that makes it all happen.


  • Get invited to The Meeting. There’s usually one conference room where it all happens. You can tell the one by looking in the hall outside; there are always catering carts for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea, because these people are busy, and I mean busy implementing corporate strategic imperatives. Obviously, this group of people is critical to the future success of the company or else the company wouldn’t be spending so much on catered cookies every afternoon, so it stands to reason that every person in that room is a star. So all you have to do to be a star yourself is get in that room. You can use subterfuge (“Alan couldn’t make it today, I’m his proxy”) to ignorance (“Oh, I thought this was the Accounting Principles and Practices weekly”) to actual aptitude, although this last one is a pipe dream, so I’d focus on the others.

New recruits

  • Suck up every day. This one is obvious; you only get promoted on the Corporate Battlefield by sucking up to your entire chain of command. But make it a goal this year to do it not just once or twice a week, but every day, even several times a day. Remember: there’s always an excuse to talk to your boss, and there’s always some compliment you can come up with (“Nice shoes!”, “Good joke at that meeting last month!”, “You radiate power today!”), so do it, today and every day.

  • Don’t get fired. Sometimes the best you can achieve on the battlefield is not dying. Some days, it’s not the bodies that you littered No Mans Land with, but the fact that one of them wasn’t yours. Do whatever you have to, every day, to not get fired. Call in sick, contract a debilitating disease, file for sexual harrassment, kidnap your manager’s dog, acquire compromising photos from the holiday party: whatever it takes. If everything else fails, when you see that HR person coming to your cube with an envelope and a box of tissues, switch nameplates with your coworkers and hide in the printer room.

Maybe you have a better resolution in mind (doubtful, but possible), which is fine. But the important thing is to make some New Year’s resolution. A resolution is like a goal, and a goal is like a plan, and a plan is like a strategy, and a war with no strategy is like decaffeinated coffee or nonfat desserts: what’s the point?