I’ve had a lot of bosses because I’ve had a lot of jobs. So there have been many “incidents,” as I like to call them, throughout the years that don’t seem to add up to much until, well, maybe they do…
1. The Dead-Bird-In-the-Tissue-Box Incident – I had a boss no one liked very much but particularly one co-worker who was older than my boss and had been there longer and was having some, shall we say, negative feelings about reporting to someone younger. The two of them would either be screaming at each other in my boss’s office or exchanging passive aggressive remarks in staff meetings. This was at a Catholic school for girls (so don’t let religious people try to fool you about how harmonious and understanding they are – both these women had attended the school as teens and went on to work there, so they’d been in the environment a long time and both behaved like infants). Things came to a head right around Easter vacation. My boss took the week off to go someplace (maybe Sante Fe – she was always going on about Sante Fe) and I stayed there for most of the time but then was off for the long weekend.
We came back to work the next week and my boss was working in her office when she started screaming. “Oh my God, there’s a bird in here,” she said. I thought she meant a live bird, trapped in the room and swooping around. But when I went to investigate, she was looking into her tissue box on her desk. The bird was in there and she’d reached for a tissue only to get feathers (I’ve often thought since then about how lucky this was – that the gag went off perfectly and she didn’t just see it in the box. Also, this wasn’t a Kleenex box with the clear platic “dispenser,” it was one of those boxes with a wide-open mouth, like a Puffs box). She spent the next hour having me climb up onÂ chair to check all the windows in her office to see if they were open or broken (the windows were very high up). Of course everything was sealed. Then I had to call maintenance and have someone remove the bird. She insisted for the rest of the day that the bird got in from outside, flew around in there all weekend in desperation and died, possibly of exhaustion, in the tissue box. Right. I refrained from reminding her that she had many enemies in the building. But slowly, as the days went by, she became more and more morose, resigned to the fact that someone had given her a dead animal as a show of hatred. Not soon after that, she announced she was leaving for another job.
2. The Wreath-is-On-Fire-Incident – I had a boss who was clearly an undiagnosed manic-depressive. My co-workers and I were subjected to the high-highs and low-lows – you never knew what you were going to get. When Christmas rolled around, she decided the department would celebrate by going out to her townhouse in the next suburb over at 9 in the morning for a sort of holiday brunch. Her townhouse was completely crammed with stuffÂ – she collected everything and every wall or table held another collection. It was so crammed it was difficult to see just where the furniture was. We went upstairs and an entire room was devoted to collected merchandise from the live action remake of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. None of the boxes were even open and she said she wasn’t going to open them because that decreased their value. Needless to say, this was a woman who lived alone, had never been married and had a serious weight issue – she was completely depressed – and I waffled between hating her and her caustic remarks (she wanted everyone around her to be as miserable as she was) and feeling empathy for what she must be going through. Mostly I hated her though. Anyway, we ate some sort of brunch, she plied us with eggnog and then, while we were eating, my co-worker noticed that a fire had started. She had about a hundred candles burning and one of her decorative holiday wreaths caught fire. But she was talking and talking, telling us about how the garage was so stuffed with crap she couldn’t even go in there anymore, and my co-worker wasn’t being very assertive. Finally she raised her hand up to point at the fire and said, very politely, “There’s some fire over there.” The wreath was going up in flames. My boss easily put it out but I was on edge after that, worried about all that stuff catching fire and falling down around us, trapping us in the townhouse. But my boss insisted that we stay and eat red velvet cake with ice cream at 11:00 in the morning, after our huge brunch.
3. The Meet-My-Married-Girlfriend Incident – I had a boss who was older but single and clearly fancied himself a Ladies Man. Think David Carradine meets Robert Redford. Our offices had a dry-walled divider between them but it didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling, so phone conversations were anything but private. This didn’t botther him in the least. I would hear him on the phone with his married girlfriend, with another woman he was trying (unsuccessfully) to woo and with a former employee who had moved away but whom he still had the hots for. I could tell when it was a call to one of the ladies because he would lower his voice and laugh a lot, in a way he hoped sounded sexy. Anyway, the married girlfriend started coming to the openings we had (this was at an art gallery), being introduced around as his “friend” and she even brought her pre-teen daughters to a couple of them. They looked miserable, probably contemplating a life with their equally-as-miserable parents or life with their mom and this old guy who liked to wear his shirts wide open to expose red and gray chest hair. Eventually, the married girlfriend made it onto the Board of Directors! But that was after I left so I can’t attest to whether or not she ever divorced her husband.
4. The Ongoing Pretend-I’m-Here Incident – My boss worked for himself in a rented office downtown. It was really just an office and an outer room, where I sat. The outer room had no windows and florescent lights. I begged for lamps but this was deemed too weird and un-office-like. My boss was just marking time until retirement and really preferred to: go golfing, go up to his cabin, go hunting for ducks, go hunting for deer or go down to Florida and scout around for places to retire. In this way, he was not unlike my father, except my father went ahead and retired and does these things on his own time. The trick was that my boss needed to pretend he was on-hand and working for his clients. That’s where I came in. My main job was to sit in the room, especially if he wasn’t there, and answer the phone and check office e-mail. Sometimes I had to check his e-mail. Then he would call in several times a day from wherever he was and I would relay everything going on so he could make calls as if he was in the office and not in a swamp up north or strolling on Sanibel Island. One summer Friday he was gone (he never worked on Friday, even if he was in town) and the phone hadn’t rung for hours and the florescents were giving me a headache so I decided to leave at 4:20 instead of 5:00. On Monday, he confronted me. He was very angry. Apparently, he had started calling me at 4:25 and called all the way until 5 but I wasn’t there. This was completely unacceptable. The unspoken sentiment here was that I could have blown his cover. He said, “I was so mad I almost…” and I knew he was going to say, “Fired you,” for which I would have been grateful, but he stopped short. If he fired me he’d just have to find my replacement.Â My biggest regret about that job is that I didn’t at that very moment say, “I quit.”
5. The You’re-Worthless-Dirt Incident – No, no one actually said that but my boss’s boss came close once. I was working for a software company that changed its name and “rebranded.” To celebrate the launch (ever notice how everything new that’s high tech or even low tech is now always “launching?”) internally, there was to be a morning when employees came in to find all kinds of new crap on their desk with the new logo and name and every cubicle was to have a branded balloon tied to it. As part of the Marketing Department and because there wasn’t anyone else to help, I got stuck staying late the night before to help blow up balloons. Our department had an intern, a rich kid whose dad knew the president of the company. Basically, this guy got to use a cubicle as a place to call his friends, snack and surf the Internet. But we made him help us with balloons because it was, admittedly, a menial task that no one wanted to do. The boss guy, a vice president at the company, walked into the room where we were blowing up balloons and said to the intern, in front of all of us, that it was too bad the intern had to blow up balloons. “You have a college degree, don’t you?” the guy said. “You don’t want to sit here and blow up balloons.” Never mind the fact that everyone else in the room was older and actually had a college degree (this kid hadn’t finished college yet.) But we were all women and the boss and the intern were men. Rich men. I stuck the knife in later when, before a staff meeting, the kid whined about how his dad was selling their house on a lake. “You’ll get over it,” I said. “When you get older.”