Real World – Mid-Life Crisis Edition….

This is the true story of seven middle-aged men and me….forced to live in a house…work together and sing Kumbaya together….hopefully not on tape….to find out what happens….when people have little choice but to be polite….and not likely to get real.

Every year, my boss “treats” my co-workers and I to an extended staff meeting, which typically takes place in a beach or lake house somewhere in the northeastern United States during the tropical month of March….that is if your definition of tropical is a balmy 30-40 degrees.

I don’t mean to sound unappreciative….hell, who am I kidding….I totally mean to sound unappreciative, because….I don’t appreciate it at all.

The meeting always runs a full week, while our collective accomplishments amount to nothing that couldn’t be achieved in a day….but this retreat isn’t about productivity….it’s supposed to be about team building.

Team Building

While I think a suitable team building exercise would be free time to do something other than this….I’m told there’s no “I” in team and apparently there is no better way of team building than by making us live together….under the same roof….for an entire week.

The Secrets in the Sauce

Part of the week’s team building agenda requires us to break into designated pairs and prepare one breakfast and one dinner for the collective group. Prior to the meeting, we are to get together with our partners, decide on a menu and create a shopping list. Right….I’ll squeeze that in somewhere between my overflowing workload and my responsibilities for feeding my own family.

More than that though….who hasn’t licked a cooking spoon….while still using it to stir the pot?  Exactly.

All the quasi-gross things I might do when preparing meals for my own family, like sneaking a taste of something too hot and letting it plop back into the pan, or using my finger to swipe a few tastes of frosting….are one thing….we either share DNA or I’ve elected to regularly swap germs.

I’m not germ-a-phobic, but there is decidedly something quease-inducing about watching a co-worker go bare-handed and elbows deep into a vat of some kind of meat concoction and then, once thoroughly mixed, use his typically sweaty palms to mold it into a ball.  Especially when you don’t recall witnessing a thorough hand-washing before he began the project.


Anyone remember this?

Some of us are a little more Chef Boyardee and a little less Gordon Ramsay

While we’re on the topic of food, some of us should just stick to what we know….i.e., Hamburger Helper or a Hot Pocket.

None among us are gourmet chefs and I see no reason why we should attempt to don those hats during these retreats.

I consider myself an acceptable cook.  I make healthy, classic meals for my family.  My recipes are not exotic or complicated….that’s what the restaurant industry is for….so it would stand to reason that my menu suggestions for this gathering would match my capabilities….like roast chicken with homemade mashed potatoes and a salad.

If history is truly doomed to repeat itself however, my partner will likely insist we WOW by preparing and serving something like his wife’s really delicious recipe for Cassoulet SHE learned to make in her French cooking class.  A quick scan of the recipe and I’m all….”Where exactly does one purchase duck fat and four confit duck legs?”

By the time the meal has been served, it looks like a simmering pot of carnage and tastes like road kill….and the Crème Brulee we attempted to caramelize with a bic lighter….Pas bon.


Our peers are no better.  Last year, I was served a bowl of some kind of soup/stew.  In it, was what appeared to be chunks of potato or possibly turnips….suspicious looking chunks of meat….various vegetables and beans and one half of an ear of corn floating on top.  I had no idea if I was supposed to scoop it out and eat it like an ear of corn, or just eat around it…I opted for neither and instead just stirred it, pretended to occasionally chew it and tossed it into the disposal the first chance I got.  

Snow White and the Seven Middle Aged Dwarfs:

Snow White was a real gem.  She cooked, she cleaned, she sewed and she entertained, all while looking adorable….and because the seven dwarfs had physically demanding jobs as miners and appeared to be a rather hearty group, I’m going to assume she didn’t have to consider things like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol when meal planning.

Food Funny

I don’t work with a group of hardscrabble miners though….rather, soft, squishy office folks with a long list of dietary restrictions.

♦Happy will eat anything.

♦Doc is currently claiming to be vegan.

♦Grumpy has diabetes and insists on bringing and preparing his own food for every meal….no matter if our recipes come directly from a diabetic cookbook….he trusts no one.

♦Sleepy was recently advised by his doctor he has high cholesterol, so if we could we please keep this in mind when selecting our cooking oils that would be great….and he’ll be bringing his own butter substitute and some egg beaters.

♦Bashful gets wicked heartburn….nothing acidic or spicy is what’s for dinner.

♦Sneezy was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease, so if we could please opt for gluten free ingredients his gastrointestinal tract would appreciate it….as might anyone he’s sharing a bathroom with.

♦Dopey had a heart attack a few months ago and is on a strict weight loss diet….no red meat, but anything high in fiber, low in salt and primarily consisting of unrefined carbohydrates is acceptable.

This Snow White is suggesting we pass out a menu and order out on my team’s night to cook.

Blah, Blah, Blah

The real team building/bonding moments at these little getaways, occur long after the meals have been served, the dishes washed, dried and put-away.

With snifters of brandy in hand, my male counterparts will slowly begin to make their way out to the porch or balcony where they will enjoy their drinks with a Cuban cigar, (because what’s better than a good smoke and some hard liquor for a failing cardiovascular system), while discussing the good ole days of business….before the millennial invasion.

They’ll wax philosophical about their hard earned rises to the top, their years of 80 hour work weeks, skipped vacations and the personal and familial sacrifices they made at the altar of The Company along the way.

They’ll huff about “kids these days” and scoff at the changing definition of work ethic and the ridiculous notion that there should exist a reasonable balance between work and life….and this is when I will make my escape to my room for a few blissful hours of trapped freedom.

It’s not that I’m totally opposed to engaging in their conversation….but for one, I’m a cancer survivor.  I had a tumor the size of a softball in the center of my chest….wrapped around my windpipe and pressing against my heart and lungs….which was then chemo’d and radiated into remission….so spending an evening basking in the haze of second-hand smoke, is not exactly on my list of recurrence avoidance tactics.

Secondly, I was born in 1979….at the tail end of the X generation. My personal opinions regarding work and life tend to fall somewhere between crusty X’er and flighty Y’er and when it comes right down to it….I just don’t care.

I might don a gas mask and engage if they were talking about great books or movies, vacations, hobbies, their children, or families, but I spend enough time talking about work and I refuse to make it the thing, around which, my world revolves.

I’m not one of those people who defines myself based on what I do for a living.  If I were asked to list my priorities, they would be as follows:

  1. My health
  2. My family
  3. My friends
  4. My hobbies
  5. Stuff
  6. Stuff
  7. Stuff
  8. Stuff
  9. Stuff
  10. Work

I’m not solving world hunger, or curing disease.  There is nothing I do that is so important it warrants significant personal sacrifice.

I do my job, I do it well and I earn an honest paycheck.  I’m organized, efficient and I minimize the amount of time I spend socializing and engaging in non-work related activities while “on-the-clock” and when I end my day, I am done.

I firmly believe that work is just supposed to be work and I am certain that when it’s all said and done, I won’t be looking back on my life wishing I had worked a little bit more and lived my life a little bit less….but these relics of a fading era have only read books written by Stephen Covey, the last television show they really got into was M*A*S*H and work is their hobby of choice.

So, I retreat to my room and hope for a “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” marathon or I kick back with my iPad and Netflix for some mindless entertainment….until it’s morning and I head down to a fiber’licious breakfast.


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