Phil Gulley: Happy To Report

Illustration by Ryan Snook

The Quaker meeting I pastor assesses my work each year for the purposes of professional development, affirming the things I do well, and providing guidance for needed improvement. I have had 21 job reviews, and they’re usually the same—I do well with preaching and being available for people in need, but I sometimes skip events the congregants wish I would attend. “We’d like to see more of you,” they write in my review, which sounds so much more positive than, “Where the heck were you?” The nice thing about being reviewed by Quakers is their general reluctance to crack down hard on anyone, even those of us who deserve it.

My older son is self-employed and has never had a job review, but when I offered to evaluate his performance, he told me to mind my own business. I wrote, “Fails to take advice from father,” and handed it to him. I hate to tarnish his employment record, but how else can he grow? It recently occurred to me that after 35 years of marriage, I’ve never given my wife a performance review, even though she has become a bit careless about certain things. I pointed out that a shirt I wanted to wear was in the dirty clothes hamper, and she said, “Are your arms broken? Wash it yourself.” She never would have said that 35 years ago. Of course, I had to put a note in her permanent file that will now follow her around the rest of her life. Too many people spout off without thinking and it comes back to haunt them.

I don’t know how my family became so resistant to self-improvement, but something needs to be done, so I’ve decided to focus on my granddaughter Madeline. She’s almost 5, and with proper guidance, she should be capable of professional development. Fortunately, we spend quite a bit of time together and I’m well-acquainted with her work habits, which I have to say are somewhat checkered. She’s good at putting away her toys and books, but leaves her tricycle on our sidewalk, where I trip on it. I was going to take away her tricycle for a day to teach her a lesson, but her grandmother wouldn’t let me. It’s hard to teach children anything when their grandmothers won’t cooperate.

My wife sees Madeline more than I do because she’s the school librarian where our granddaughter attends preschool, so I’ve asked her to keep me posted on Madeline’s work. She told me Madeline is doing a fine job with napping, eating lunch, and playing, but isn’t taking her coloring as seriously as she should. I spoke about it with a child-psychologist friend of mine who said if such indifference carries over into kindergarten, it might hurt her chances of attending a good college. When I mentioned that to Madeline, she didn’t appear at all concerned—no tears, no apology, no pledge to stay within the lines. In fact, she laughed and told me I was funny and asked me to play Barbie with her.

I’m not sure how I feel about Madeline playing with Barbie. I hope it doesn’t give her antiquated ideas about gender roles. Plus, I’m a little troubled that Barbie doesn’t wear underwear. When I was a kid, my next-door neighbor Ricky had a G.I. Joe who didn’t wear underwear, and Ricky grew up to be a pervert. I suggested to my wife that she sew some skivvies for Barbie, that being woman’s work, but she pointed out that my arms weren’t broken and that I could do it myself. If my wife keeps this up, her file is going to be so thick with grievances she’ll never be able to land another job.

Sometimes, Madeline does something and I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad. I was taking a nap recently, and she woke me up to tell me she was being quiet so I could sleep. Should I write in her file that she woke me up, or should I note she is unusually considerate for a child? These are the kinds of decisions that make an objective analysis difficult, and I am struck with newfound sympathy for the bosses who must make such judgments.

I think Bill mowed my yard so I wouldn’t complain when he burns his brush pile. But if he thinks that will affect my objectivity during his performance review, he has another thing coming.

It occurs to me that I’ve been working for Indianapolis Monthly for nearly 13 years now and have never been given a performance review. Several years ago, I wrote a snarky column about Realtors and a bunch of people wrote in to say I was an idiot, but nothing ever came of it. Now I can’t help but wonder if my boss put something in my file as documented proof in case I’m ever shown the door. Then again, during the Great Recession, when advertising revenues were down, I took a voluntary pay cut so no one would be laid off. I hope my boss remembers that should push come to shove.

But enough about me, let’s return to Madeline and her work ethic. I was cleaning our bathroom recently and came across a fuzzy strawberry behind the toilet. It could only have gotten there from Madeline, who likes to eat fruit while she takes her bath. Kudos to her for being well-groomed, but her dietary habits could certainly stand improvement. I notice after we share a candy bar that she has chocolate smeared on her face and hands. That’s okay for now, but when she’s the president, that won’t go over too well, so I suppose I should speak with her about it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could give our neighbors annual performance reviews? My wife and I have a couple of really fine ones who’ve become close friends, but I’d like the chance to tell Brian Ritchie that he runs his leaf blower too often and that he should switch to a rake. On the plus side, he plows my driveway for free every winter, so maybe I’ll give him a verbal warning about the leaf blower but not write anything permanent in his file. Of course, it’s only fair that Brian be allowed to evaluate my performance, but he’s never said anything negative about me, so I can only conclude I’m without fault.

A new neighbor of ours, Bill Eddy, moved in last month. He and his wife, Karen, spent the past year building an addition to their home. When my lawn mower broke down this summer, Bill cut my grass for me. I’ve known Bill since the first grade, and sometimes he can be a little sneaky. I think he mowed my yard just so I wouldn’t complain when he burns his brush pile. But if he thinks that will affect my objectivity during his annual neighbor performance review, he has another thing coming. 

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor, author, and humorist. Back Home Again chronicles his views on life in Indiana.