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Ask Otto

Author’s note: Of all the characters I’ve encountered in my many years in commercial drywall, there are a special few who merit mention. Of that select coterie, I would deem one extraordinary figure the consummate estimator. In fact, he commands such admiration that numerous deferential colleagues have come to ask his advice on various issues. Now, by some degree of artifice, I recently gained a glimpse of several of these gems of inquiry, and am now able to acquaint my readers with some timeless wisdom from the email files of Mr. Otto Bidwell.

Dear Otto:

Yesterday, I accepted a pair of NASCAR tickets from one of our material suppliers. Then this morning I got his quote for the big casino project, and he was significantly low. Now if I give him the job, he’s going to think this is some kind of tit-for-tat arrangement, and that’s going to invite more of the same. Now I feel guilty about taking the tickets at all, but if I try to give them back, or stay home, I’m afraid it will offend him. Any suggestions?

—Quantifier in a Quandary

Dear QQ:

This is a common dilemma among estimators who mete out vendor awards. Once you consent to receiving fringe benefits from dealers, it soon develops into a tacit agreement for quid pro quo. It’s a stain on our profession. I only hope you’ll think twice before accepting any such perks in the future.

As for your immediate predicament, I can relieve you of any appearance of wrongdoing by taking those tickets off your hands and attending the races in your stead. I’ll let your vendor friend know that you took ill at the last minute. This way you don’t receive any benefit from his generosity and no one’s feelings get hurt. Please don’t thank me. I’m always happy to help a colleague.

BTW, did he throw in some pit passes?

Dear Otto:

The workload these days is taking its toll on me. The deadlines keep coming daily, and I’ve been losing a lot of sleep. I considered a sleep aid to counter my insomnia, but I worry about being fuzzy the next day and making mistakes. And we all know where mistakes lead.

—Dazed and Confused

Dear Daisy:

I certainly sympathize with your plight. The bid load lately has gone from ridiculous to absurd, and the stress level has risen to the stratosphere. It’s a good thing our office is on the ground floor, if you follow my drift. But you are absolutely right to try to avoid chemical crutches to help you sleep. They tend to cloud the skull. Besides, there are other ways to relieve stress and open a path for the sandman. Some say an hour at the gym does the trick. Others do yoga. My personal bedtime preference is a good merlot and a bad book. No, I mean seriously bad, as in anything by Ayn Rand or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hey, if that doesn’t put you to sleep, then fuzzy-be-damned, I’d wash down a Benadryl with a glass of red wine and dowse the lights.

Dear Otto:

Have you heard anything about Christmas bonuses yet? I’m pretty sure I’m getting one; I just don’t know how big they’ll be this year. I want to get my wife something nice this year, like a good pasta maker, but I don’t want to buy something I can’t afford. So what are you hearing?
—Wondering Mind
Dear Wandering Mind:
I’m truly appalled at your presumptuous attitude! We estimators are a well-compensated bunch in the first place, and bonuses are purely discretionary and never to be anticipated. Besides which, I inadvertently heard something about a year’s membership in the jelly-of-the-month club.

Maybe you ought to get your wife a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. Now your only dilemma is that agonizing choice between creamy and crunchy.

Dear Mr. Bidwell:

Ever since Mr. Snively’s daughter, Heidi, has been interning here, I’ve wanted to ask her out. I’m getting the nerve up to ask her to dinner tomorrow night. I think she’ll accept. My only concern is the office politics aspect. After all, she is the boss’s daughter. Your thoughts?


Dear Novice:

Intra-office relationships are always, always a bad idea, and this is no exception. There are several good reasons to avoid kindling a romance in the workplace. First, do you really want to be in a forced interface with your girlfriend every day, all day? Does she? Then there’s the specter of preferential treatment, real or imagined, that is bound to poison all of your other working relationships. Also, could you really feel comfortable bitching about your boss to Heidi? I mean, right there you’ve just eliminated 90 percent of all clever conversation material.

Then, when the inevitable breakup finally occurs, will you be able to find another job? Because that’s what happens to guys who break up with the boss’s daughter—they get the axe.

You should really think this one through. And besides, your timing is bad to begin with. I happen to know that she’s going out tomorrow night with somebody who’s holding NASCAR tickets and pit passes. You’re outta luck, but believe me, you’re better off, pal.

Vince Bailey is an estimator at E&K of Phoenix.

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