Stalked in Silicon Valley

Dear Sensible Midwesterner:

I’m not sure whether this fits in your purview or not, but I’m in an uncomfortable situation where I don’t know what to do – so I thought you might be able to help!

I’m a small business owner in Silicon Valley, and I have a stalker.

I have no hard, fast evidence, but I am certain (from context and intuition) that the stalker is a former employee. The person, let me call her Ms. Stalker, left my employment (voluntarily) two years ago, a few months after she quit I started receiving hostile, anonymous emails criticizing how I run my business.

Since then, I’ve continued to receive the emails intermittently, but lately Ms. Stalker has also started sending snail mail to my home and, creepiest, posting anonymous letters on the dashboard of my car, parked in front of my house. The messages have moved from being about my business to being about me, and they are mean: (e.g. your car is dirty, you should take etiquette lessons, your latest Facebook post was dumb). Most unsettlingly, lately they have started criticizing my child (e.g. Your child is ADHD and needs better discipline.)

I haven’t ever responded to Ms. Stalker. She scares me (obviously, she is angry and unpredictable) and she knows a lot about my personal and business life. She lives a few blocks away from my house. I’ve wracked my memory for specific incidents that caused this level of ongoing hostility from Ms. Stalker and come up with nothing; there were some (perceived) social slights involving coworkers that I wasn’t even involved in. I’m guessing that Ms. Stalker felt she wasn’t celebrated enough as an employee (she only worked a few hours a week, on an irregular schedule).

But this is making me unhappy; my tactic of waiting it out hasn’t worked, as the messages have gotten more frequent lately. Being silent about it makes me feel more the victim.

I’ve thought of going to the police, though that seems melodramatic. I’ve thought of confronting Ms. Stalker or talking to her husband. I’ve blocked her from my Facebook account but she still has access to my public-facing business.

Does a Sensible Midwesterner have any insight on what I should do?

Thanks for your help.


Stalked in Silicon Valley

Dear Stalked in Silicon Valley,

How terribly unsettling. The Sensible Midwesterner understands your reluctance to involve the authorities. It does seem melodramatic.

And yet….

Waiting it out and ignoring her, the classic sensible Midwestern response, hasn’t worked. The Sensible Midwesterner’s mother (and life experience) taught her that no good comes from trying to reason with crazy people, so approaching Ms. Stalker directly will lead, I’m afraid, to no good. What response is likely? I doubt very much, no matter how you put it to her, that she would say, “Oh yes, I have been leaving creepy, threatening notes on your car, but I didn’t realize that wasn’t pleasing to you and shall stop forthwith!”

The Sensible Midwesterner has also observed that people tend to stick up for their spouse. To a fault, if necessary. It is difficult to imagine approaching the husband would lead to a better result.

It sounds like this woman isn’t simply being creepy, but is committing civil harassment according to California law under which harass means “engages in a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose.”

The first and absolute essential step: Log these events and save these creepy communiqués. Your position in Silicon Valley immediately brings to mind the possibility of using of technology to catch a creep. A webcam on the car, for example, comes to mind. But the main thing is to document what has happened and, importantly, your reaction. Fear? Annoyance? These elements, as noted in the definition above, are important in defining “harassment.”

One step the Sensible Midwesterner might be tempted to take before going to the police is public confusion. Draft an email as if you do not know who is doing this or why. In as cool and collected and neutral language as you can muster, explain that someone has been sending you anonymous notes (no need to go into specifics) and that because of their content you can only assume it is someone who once worked for you. Express complete bafflement and confusion at who could be doing this or why and ask the recipients for their help in getting this to stop if they happen to know who might be doing it because if it doesn’t stop you’re going to be forced to go to the police, and you really don’t want anyone who once worked for you to experience that hassle and shame. Send it (bcc, of course) to current and former employees.

There are many reasons you may not want to do that. In that case you need to go to your local police station and report your case. It pains the Sensible Midwesterner to give that advice. It seems that civilized people should be able to work out their differences without involving the authorities, but, alas, not everyone is sensible nor capable of respectful, civilized behavior, which is why we have authorities to turn to. Best of luck.

Closet Conundrum

Dear Sensible Midwesterner,

We are a family of four living in a very small house in San Francisco. I am constantly going through the closets and getting rid of clothes. If anything is stained or torn or too small, out it goes. But still, our closets are stuffed. As someone who enjoys clothes and fashion, I am not looking to go all Yankee austere, but I’m wondering what you think is a reasonable amount of t-shirts, jeans, sweaters, etc. for each person to have. I want to have a ballpark figure to aim for to keep things from getting out of control (you should see my children’s t-shirt drawers, for example). So, if you were starting from zero for each person, how would you stock up?


Closet Conundrum

Dear Closet Conundrum,

Let it be known that as a city dweller in an old house, the Sensible Midwesterner feels your pain. Quarterly clean outs and an absolute intolerance of stained, torn, or ill-fitting items are the order of the day; I’m happy to hear you are already on that train.

Contemporary practice, from my anecdotal observation, is to take whatever space one has for clothes and fill it to bursting. Live in a gracious suburban ranch with room-long closets? Fill ’em up! Is your abode a century old with closets barely a foot deep and do you live with someone with a yen for funky old dressers with drawers too shallow to properly house a chunky wool sweater? You’re going to be a tad more picky.

It appears you need to be more picky (and one assumes enforce it throughout your family) and think absolute numbers are the answer. Any sensible Midwesterner would have to agree. I have been called in to help friends clean out their closets on many occasions, but always with more of an eye to style and fit, rather than absolute number. This is, I must say, a real treat and I’m pleased to have an answer for you. Assuming you or someone in your home is willing to do laundry once a week, the answer is ten.

Some things you need about ten of; for other things ten is an outside limit to provide non-austere variety but keep your closets from exploding.

With children it is relatively easy. Rather, it is easy to imagine and impose such limits. Ten days worth of outfits suffices quite nicely. For things where choice is less important – i.e. underwear, pajamas, socks – keep it to ten maximum*, that gives you a nice buffer for that weekly laundry (an extra day to get things put away, etc.) without overloading your storage system. Even for bottoms (jeans, shorts, skirts), keeping the total number to ten at the most will ensure things get worn before they get outgrown or need a seasonal (summer-to-winter-to-summer) change. Since tops tend to get layered more, stretching the number a bit makes sense, but only a bit. Younger children will need sweatshirts or sweaters that get washed after every wearing during cooler months, but as they get older having just two or three will become possible. One or two (again, depending on how dirty your kids get) seasonally appropriate jackets is sensible.

For adults the same guideline can apply. The closer to ten outfits, the better, but one can make a sensible argument for up to fourteen. When I’m feeling particularly sensible, I dream of owning a uniform (I’ve made a drawing) that would include a few layers for seasonality and would look stylish, be flattering, and be appropriate for (most) activities I engage in. In that sensible fantasy, I have seven of them and my closet is a gloriously spare thing. In any case, it is far better to have fewer outfits one is really excited about, wear the life out of them while they look great, and move along to something new than to have a stuffed closet you feel you are constantly cleaning out.

Choose your ten favorite outfits from your wardrobe. Put the rest in boxes or otherwise out of sight. See how that goes.

For people who need truly different work clothes and home clothes, ten work outfits and ten home outfits, fewer, though, if you only wear them on weekends. Note that a pair of jeans or a flattering skirt (why would one own any other kind?) may count as a component of more than one outfit.

Of course modern life means we have a fair amount of specialized clothing. Most of us need exercise or work-out clothes. You get seven, max (although if you only work out four days a week, you only get four). Formal wear or party dresses? That number depends on your social life, but for most people having more than half a dozen to choose from seems overdoing it.

As far as the children’s t-shirt drawers go, one can only wish you luck. The critters seem to track them in like mud, don’t they? Every camp, team, birthday party, and trip down the block seems to generate a new specimen.

* Lest you think the Sensible Midwesterner doesn’t walk the talk, when my son went to camp for two weeks, we needed to buy him more underwear and socks since he needed the full two weeks worth. We instructed him to wear his shorts more than once.

Exhausted Middle-Aged Mom Making Dinner

Dear ASM,

Being the 21st-century mom that I am, I’m finding it difficult to balance motherhood, housewifery, and working. One of my main challenges is exhaustion. Mental exhaustion. By the end of the day, I often wish someone would just tell me what to cook each evening. Could you create a simple weekly calendar meal schedule with recipes? It’s official: my brain is getting smaller and smaller as I age.

Thank you,

Exhausted Middle-Aged Mom Making Dinner

Dear Exhausted Middle-Aged Mom Making Dinner,

To be clear, you have too much on your plate. My sense is that you know this and that’s part of why you’re asking for help on a specific front that you sense could be improved even if your overall duties cannot immediately be lessened. Given that….

There is a reason housewives of yore had set weekly menus – it makes shopping, preparing, and even serving dinner much easier. You (and your family) may not be up for a “chicken on Monday, pork chops on Tuesday, etc.” approach, but I’m going to suggest something somewhere between that and the approach so many of us take today which involves getting home and scrounging through cupboards before ordering pizza.

Sensible Midwesterners know that it is best to teach someone to fish, because fishing is such a wholesome, relaxing, and noble activity. (In fact, Midwesterners believe so firmly in the improving properties of fishing that they have entire charities dedicated to keeping folks fishing.) So, instead of giving you a set menu I’m going to gently suggest that you and your family take 10 minutes each week to sit down together and decide on the meals for the coming week. One plan you could consider:

Monday: your choice
Tuesday: kid #1 choice
Wednesday: super easy option*
Thursday: kid # 2 choice
Friday: take out
Saturday: spouse’s choice
Sunday: leftovers**

Put the results on a chalkboard or paper on the fridge for easy reference. Sit down a week later and change it, tweak it, or keep it for the following week. Repeat weekly. The person who chooses the meal might even help make it. This could prove a way not only to get everyone invested in what’s for dinner but also to get the whole gang to take on some kitchen duties, lessening your feelings of exhaustion. And who knows, maybe a kid or two will get into cooking and before you know it someone else is making dinner.

* A few ideas: boiled eggs, toast, and salad; scrambled eggs with rice and spinach; grilled cheese sandwiches.

** Don’t have enough leftover of any one meal to make a full meal? Put everything in a pot with some broth; use tidbits to make fried rice; chop everything up, toss it with an egg and some bread crumbs and even a bit of cheese, stuff it into peppers or hollowed out zucchini or tomatoes, and bake until hot and yummy.