WHO’S THE BOSS?
I am in receipt of a most interesting email. (Forgive the pseudo-British narration. I’ve been reading this, and the writing style has usurped my senses, a word which here means “to take hold of and not let go”.) This email is titled “NEWS, NEWS, NEWS!!!”, and is from somebody at my old company. I never really expected to hear from anyone at my old company, let alone with an email titled, “NEWS, NEWS, NEWS!!!”, so you can imagine how intrigued I was.
As you may remember, at my old company, I had a Very Bad Boss. Everyone hated VBB, no one more so than me. For over two years, I plotted my escape, and finally, about three months ago, I gave my notice. I didn’t have another job lined up, didn’t have much money in the bank. He was just that bad.
And I expected that would be pretty much the end of it. But earlier this week, there was that email, sitting in my inbox, and in the nanosecond between when I saw it and when my drool sensors kicked in and I clicked on it, I was extremely curious as to what this NEWS, NEWS, NEWS!!! would be.
As it turns out, he’s leaving the company. As much as I wish he went down in some sordid scandal and was led from the building in handcuffs in front of dozens of news crews, all that happened was that he found a job at another law firm and gave his notice. Sure, there was a bit of late-night document copying and Jerry Maguire-esque client-poaching going on, but nothing that would really be of any interest to anyone outside the firm. In other words, either the three exclamation points in the email subject line or the all-caps letters may have been justified, but not both.
Still, I was amazed how interested I was in news that no longer affected me. I couldn’t help thinking about how ecstatic the mood must be at the old office, as evidenced by the headline “NEWS, NEWS, NEWS!!!” and the content of the email as well, which was about five paragraphs long and contained a total of 1,472 exclamation points.
And I also couldn’t help thinking that if I’d stayed, I would pretty much have been screwed. As a result of my old boss’ departure, his entire department was being disbanded. (Although he was a pain in the ass and everyone hated him, the department really can’t function without him, as they were kind of the loser frat of our office, held together by one guy with a big client list. He chased out anyone with any ambition, and the three people who remained were his sycophantic whipping boy, a guy who’d been spending over a year trying to get fired, and a clueless new guy who took the job because he was really desperate.)
So, if I’d stuck around, I would’ve been out of work anyway. But at the same time, I kind of wished I could have witnessed the elation as the news passed around the office. As smug as he feel to be leaving on his terms, the fact that he’s backstabbing the company gives everyone complete immunity to tell him off. I’m sure he’s had his ass handed to him quite a few times since announcing he was leaving, from the tech support woman who was tired of his constant demands, and the office manager who bore the brunt of his tantrums, and from everyone within a ten-office radius of him, who was tired of his constant screaming on the telephone. So many smackdowns, and I wish I could’ve heard them all. As much as I wanted to think I had left the place behind me forever, I have to admit it’s still a part of me. All the petty dramas still strike a chord. To any bystander, it would just be news, but to me, it really was “NEWS, NEWS, NEWS!!!”
The day after I received that email, I was at the Pixies concert, when I heard a voice calling me: “Jerry! Jerry!” And then, because I hadn’t responded, “… Jerry?” I was staring right at the guy, a disheveled, borderline-homeless-looking guy in a ratty plaid shirt and jeans, with thick neo-hipster glasses. He looked like some cryogenically-frozen undergrad from the early-80’s who hadn’t bathed in twenty years, a sad late-30’s loser who couldn’t let go of his youth.
I had to stare at him for a few seconds before I finally realized who it was. It was my old boss.
No, not that old boss. My old old boss. (If this didn’t really happen to me, I wouldn’t believe the coincidence either. I don’t believe in fate, but I’m a firm believer in dramatic irony.) He seemed stunned that I didn’t recognize him, although I should also point out that he had lost a lot of weight. And, out of fear of libeling him, I don’t want to say something I can’t prove, like, “He was stoned out of his mind.” So rather than resort to possible hyperbole, I’ll leave it at, “He had perhaps had a puff or two of a marijuana cigarette.” I remembered now that he was a huge Pixies fan and realized I shouldn’t have been surprised to see him. But earlier that day, when I’d gone through my head wondering who I knew whom I might bump into at the concert, I hadn’t even thought of him.
The old old boss predates the blog, so I haven’t really written much about him, but he was about 100 times worse than the old boss. Whereas Old Boss was passive-aggressive, Old Old Boss was just aggressive. Extremely. He yelled at me. He called me names. If something wasn’t filed in a timely manner, he threw the file across the room. And he also said I was the best assistant he’d ever had.
One time, Old Old Boss tried to do something nice, but he even messed that up. Everyone kept telling me he’d gotten me a very generous birthday gift, but my birthday came and went and he said nothing about it. I think he was terrified to be generous, so he kept putting it off. As time dragged on, I figured the gift was never coming. Six weeks after my birthday, my father died. I took a week off from work.
Then, about three weeks after I came back — more than two months after my birthday — he came up to me one day, barked a few commands at me and then said, “Oh, yeah. I got you a birthday present.”
“My birthday was two months ago.”
“Well, yeah, but you were mad at me for a while, then you were sad about your dad, so, I kind of held off.” He pointed toward his desk, which was piled about three feet high with junk and old files. “If you want to dig around in there, if you see something that looks like a gift certificate, that’s for you.”
I worked there for a year and a half. I was miserable, and I hated him, and when I left I hoped I’d never see him again. I continued working in the same area, though, so I’d occasionally run into people from the old office at lunch, and whenever I did, I’d soak up all the latest company gossip.
Now I was standing next to him, this man who’d stirred up so much anger and frustration in me, and I had no idea what to say. I wasn’t intimidated, I wasn’t curious. I was just indifferent. It helped that he was mellowed out — possibly by controlled substances, but you know me, I’d never speculate on that. Our entire conversation lasted about thirty seconds, and about ten seconds into it, all I could think of to ask was:
“Is, uh, Cyndi still there?”
“Yeah, she’s still there.”
“Yeah, she left, but then she came back.”
“Oh, how funny.”
We didn’t have NEWS, NEWS, NEWS!!! to talk about. We didn’t even have news. Once we’d gone through the whole list of people I remembered, we kind of shrugged and then parted ways. And I realized the key to neutralizing a person’s negative effect on you isn’t just cutting them out of your life. It’s moving on.
As much as I can’t stand him, I’m still intrigued by my old boss’ life and career. I still need to hear that news, because everything I went through when I worked for him is still fresh in my mind and very much a part of me.
But ask me again in three years. By that time, if I run into him on the street, it may take me a moment or two to even recognize him.