Dear Ms. Mason,
As one who has dealt with people nearly as cut-throat and psychotic as academics, what is your advice for the appropriate congratulatory gift for an ex- that just received a tenure-track job for which you also applied?
–Untenured and Tenuous
The key here is subtlety. You have to get something that’s useless and terrible but that’s plausible. Like, a lovely flowering plant — but only if they have terrible allergies, which somehow slipped your mind. A nice music box, ideally a really big one, because they’re useless and take up space, and if you can get one that’s just a little off key, so much the better. Or a “joke” gift — like a “… For Dummies” book on the subject of your mutual expertise. Ha. Ha ha. Something that requires upkeep is always good; an antique clock you have to wind every damn week. A living thing is a terrible burden but if you present it at a party no one is going to say, “What the fuck were you thinking giving me a puppy?” A tropical fish with very specific environmental and dietary needs: also good.
I mean, I’d just get them a haunted paperweight, so a screaming eldritch skull would shatter their every working moment, but you get the general idea.
Dear Auntie Marla,
How do I keep fairies from switching my newborn baby and leaving a changeling?
What, is your newborn baby so great? Changelings are pretty fantastic, you know. They cry less than normal babies — they just silently stare at you with their terrifying unblinking eyes. They sometimes poop gold coins, though they usually turn back into poop after a day or two. They grow quickly and speak later than normal children, but once they do speak, they are creepily erudite. Way more interesting than a normal crap-and-scream machine.
But if you’re really attached to your own squalling beast, the only reliable way to avoid the old switcheroo is constant vigilance for the first three days of life, followed by damn-near-constant vigilance for the first six weeks. I recommend lots of methamphetamine.
I work in an office job, and my department has an open floor plan…. That’s not that big of a deal per se. What does boil my blood is the Slitheen that sits across from me. When she is not well, which is rather often, she will cough and sneeze without covering her mouth so her aerosolized germs head straight towards me…. I have asked her politely to cover her mouth, and she will for a few days. Then she relapses. I have shamed her into covering her mouth. Again, the results don’t last. I have tried human resources. They can’t do anything…. While this woman is mostly a nice person, she is a bit of a know-it-all. If you have a story, she always has one to top it. She even uses the phrase “you have no idea” to the point where I once said in reply “actually, I do have an idea” but she didn’t get it. Everyone, to her, is an idiot and any mistakes that she makes are always someone else’s fault. I wouldn’t mind hearing how a woman such as yourself would handle a situation such as this. Presuming, of course, that you would ever stoop to an office job.
Purell Stock Holder
Cover her desk with biohazard stickers. Fill her drawers with graveyard dirt squirming with worms. Leave printouts about Dunning-Kruger on her chair. Release crickets into her handbag. Save up all your snotty tissues for six months and then scatter them around her workspace like snow.
I mean, that’s what you should do. I’d just tell her she was an idiot with delusions of competence and that if she sprayed her germs at me again I’d arrange for her to receive several hundred papercuts and then submerge her entire body in a vat of rubbing alcohol. But then, I don’t have to answer to HR.
Send me questions. It’s almost a new year. Ask me about your dumb resolutions.