203 days

Funny the things I learn in unit. Not really the usual stuff about taking men and being responsible for their lives, but I get insights about workplace dynamics every day. And the past few days it’s dawning on me that getting a good boss and great workplace atmosphere is a lottery, and I’ve landed just about the worst prize ever in army.

This afternoon my entire office left for a buffet lunch to celebrate someone’s ORD, but I’d to be someplace else for a meeting in the afternoon. It’s understandable that some people will get left out in this sort of large ‘cohesions’ (as they ironically name it), and especially since I’m a lowly NSF 2nd Lieutenant I shouldn’t expect them to be poring over my schedule. But once my office knew I couldn’t turn up they immediately stopped informing me about the plans for that day, as if it became extremely awkward to talk about it with me (a conclusion preferable to the more likely one that they just didn’t give a shit). I later found out by accident that the office was taking a half-day off after the lunch, which was also going to be attended by a multitude of other people from other offices who had nothing to do with Ops Section.

I may be pigeon-livered about many things but I have incredible gall for this kind of things. Before I left for my meeting I walked into my superior’s office and asked him if I could get the off some other time, because just a while back when he’d been in a much better mood we’d been alluding to how offs were quite flexibly earned.

Boss: Uh… we’re not actually having a half day off what. We’re having a cohesion.
Me: Yes, but I understand that the whole office is taking a half day after the lunch, which I can’t take because I actually have to work, so is it okay if I…
Boss: Well. You already took off what. The other day. For FTT. So no.
Me: Okay, but other offices granted their servicemen offs for driving tests. Data Centre for example…
Boss: So why’re you talking about other offices? Is there actually a directive about this? Should I consult Head Log about this, since he’s the CO?
Me: Well, I don’t know, that’s why I was hoping you could shed some light about this…
Boss: You ask Thomas, you ask Tengkiat, when they took their exams, did they take off or leave? You go ask them. THOMAS!
Thomas: Yes sir?
Boss: When you had to go for your exams the other time, did you take off or your own leave? Is there a directive saying superiors have to grant off for personal exams?
Thomas: …no sir. I took my own leave, but I think it’s up to individual superiors’ discretion.
Boss (to me): See? It’s up to individual superiors. Granting off is a privilege, not a right.

I just stalked off in a sort of pretended shame and deference.

Ultimately I don’t care that I didn’t get what I wanted. It barely rankles, even, that my whole office decided to up and leave for an “office-plus-other-random-people cohesion” without me and no one gave a crap. I guess I feel shitty mostly because I’ve been feeling super sorry for myself and that to me is weakness of the highest degree. Sorry that I seem to have the most toxic office environment in the entire unit – the boss who’s extremely tight-fisted on offs, lunch treats and goodwill of any sort; the lower-ranked superior who smiles at me only immediately before dishing me something so evidently above my NSF pay-grade and his capabilities; Thomas, the NSF spec who’s incredibly good with regulars (helped by his good command of Mandarin and sky-high tolerance talking about inane, inconsequential stuff) and acceptably nice to me but ultimately powerless. It doesn’t matter that the SAF is fully populated with scumbag regulars who fawn on those with more decorated epaulettes than theirs while treating everyone else like dross – it matters to me (and it really shouldn’t) that my own office is the very picture of wayang and ill-disguised mutual condescension. So ironic that the person who’s ORDing was someone few in the office even bothered to treat with anything more than contempt before his last few days. It’s a reluctant recognition of the fact that one gets suddenly elevated from shit to human the moment he leaves the service.

And maybe this is too harsh, because I’ve had Majors and Lieutenant-Colonels talk to me like an equal – even friend – and I know some officers genuinely deserve to be drawing the pay they’re drawing, if basic human respect was any criterion. But as for people from whom it’s impossible to draw any goodwill from, don’t expect any extra from me either.

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