Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Frenemies and other human detritus by Suz deMello

Humans are very much like wolves. You want to know about human behavior? Watch a TV show about wolves, and you'll learn everything you need to know.

We're social, pack animals who create hierarchies without intending to do so. And in any hierarchical society, there are those who seek to improve their status by undercutting others. Some are open about it, while others are sneaky.

And thus, we have the frenemy.

Most often found in work environments, the frenemy is just what s/he sounds like--an enemy disguised as a friend--think Littlefinger in Game of Thrones. The term was popularized by Sex and the City, but was used as early as the 1950s by, of all people, Walter Winchell, who used it in regard to the Russians.

Whenever I hear someone who is not my family member say, "We're family," I know I'm going to get screwed.

Case in point: in 2009 I worked as a grant writer for an outfit in downtown Sacramento that was in the business of ripping off taxpayers. We were family (of course) according to the ripoff artist who ran the show.

What this business did was apply for and get state contracts for projects that were, for whatever reason, farmed out to unrelated business entities instead of being handled in-house by government workers. I never was able to find out how or why this took place. The state of California employs about 2.5 million people, and you'd think that among that large number, there would be someone who could do whatever it is or was that needed to be done.

This company specialized in project management and computer software system design for various parts of this vast, sprawling monster. As such, it was easy for them to claim that work had been done while actually very little or nothing had taken place. 

Here's an example: there's something called a "deliverable" that can be something--or nothing at all. I regret that I didn't keep any--this was a few years ago--but I saw deliverables that were no more than a one vaguely worded paragraph about how someone had written a few lines of software or visited a job site.

I didn't get paid much, and even though I held down  two other jobs--one as a Starbucks barista and another as a freelance writer--I couldn't make ends meet. So I left to go overseas to teach English, a gig I'd still be doing if I didn't need to live in SacTown for family reasons.

I left the job owed over $3K but didn't worry about it. We were family, right?


I had to sue those Bozos in Small Claims Court just before I left the country. I won, of course, but had to enforce the judgment from overseas. FROM CHINA, where I was teaching English to toddlers in a backwater called Luoyang. Though about five million people live there, it's primitive by American standards. I had to travel to Shanghai to visit the US Embassy to get papers notarized to enforce the judgment and get my money--including interest, of course. I was angry enough that I wasn't going to let a single penny slip through my grasp. I actually had to put a lien on the asshat's house--the guy who told me I was "family." Ha.

No one but family is family.

Help me
I'm not so suspicious that I believe that frenemies are lurking everywhere, but... I have experienced so many betrayals that, deep down, the only person I really trust is the person I see in the mirror when I brush my hair.

And I'm not so sure about her.

We're often our biggest detractors especially women. Brutal self-examination is taught to us from an early age. We undercut ourselves in ways we don't even see because negative self-talk and programming is instilled from Day One. We're compared, often unfavorably, with our siblings, and when we get to school, it's even worse. Instead of being appreciated for whatever our gifts might be, we're taught that we're not so hot. 

As we become adults, it's clear that we'll never be thin enough, blonde enough, sexy enough. 

The entire world has become our frenemy, our detractor.


  1. Hey, Suz.

    I find your legal pursuit of the bozos totally inspiring!

    Of course, I'm sure they didn't appreciate your single-mindedness. But sometimes it's worth standing on principle.

  2. It follows that somebody in the business of ripping off the public wouldn't have qualms about screwing one more person. Looks like their definition of 'family' is, "Keep your mouth shut."

    This is the same thought process that hires private contractors in war zones to provide services that the Armed forces used to handle themselves. Same for the private prison system. Once the state can put some distance from how prisons are run, or wars are fought, only graft and abuse can come of it. Damn.

    Great post, Suz! Very effective. But now I'm pissed off. ;>)

  3. This is an inspiring story, but I'm sorry you had to go through that, Suz. I live in a government town, and I kind of like it. Here, the municipal gov't seems to be in bed with the real estate biz, but that's the only corruption I know of. In general, the various levels of government here do their own work, including locking up criminals. (And on that note, for anyone who remembers my post on the "red dress" project to dramatize the number of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, a white man in my town has just been convicted of 2 murders of beautiful young women - he confessed! It's a start.)

  4. Suz, like Lisabet I'm inspired by how tenacious you were in making sure you got your money! I hope I'm that good at advocating for myself someday. :)

  5. Thanks for your comments, guys. It was a sh!tty situation but I triumphed, in my own fashion.


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