Sunday, August 7, 2016

please release me, let me go

In 1997, my very first job in the corporate world was obviously drawing to a bad end. I worked for a national publisher of books, magazines and newsletters for the legal trade. It was a great job with a great working environment and nice co-workers. However, for the entire two years of my employment, the threat of the company up and moving to Florida always hung over our heads. There was a small, West Palm Beach office and the CEO spent a good portion of the year there and rumors circulated regularly about the suburban Philadelphia office shutting down. But, we soldiered on.

A black cloud fell on the production department (where I worked laying out over 35 monthly newsletters). There was a drop in morale and a lot of employee turnover. My boss, Babs, suspiciously began arriving late several times a week, until I confronted her, asking if she was looking for another job. She confirmed that she was. I so began to seek other employment as well. 

I came across an ad in the "Job Opportunity" section of the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer (may I remind you that this was 1997) offering the position of art director at a start-up ad agency specializing in the real estate business. I called and made arrangements to meet the fellow I spoke with at a restaurant in a hotel near my job, so I could just go into work after the interview had concluded. Along with my portfolio of samples, I brought my years of varied experience — production, design, illustration — my marketing ability and my sense of humor. I shook hands with a guy who vaguely resembled media bad-boy and one-time child star Danny Bonaduce — someone who I seriously despised — but I went ahead with the interview. We spoke at length. I walked him through my work and work experience. He painted a stunning picture of the work he had lined up with a fairly large client — RE/MAX realtors, as well as several small local business. He told me about his previous job at another ad agency and his desire to start his own. He hired me on the spot. I told him that I had to give a reasonable amount of notice to my current employer. he was anxious to get started, so he requested that I give just one week notice. I reluctantly agreed.

I left the interview and drove to work. As I walked across the parking lot, I thought about how I would tell my boss that I would be leaving. I didn't get the opportunity, however, because as I entered my department, Babs was being escorted out by company security. Just a few minutes earlier, she had given her notice and her superior deemed her a "hostile employee" and ordered her removed from the premises. With my boss gone, I gave my notice to the next person up the corporate ladder, began gathering the few personal items I had on my desk and counted the hours until I started my new job.

The Happiest Place on Earth
Monday morning arrived. I took my new, shorter commute to work. I climbed the stairs to my new office, where I was to be the art director for an ad agency — a position I dreamed about since my graduation from art school. I hung a few pictures I brought with me (including a newly acquired framed print celebrating Walt Disney World's 25th anniversary) and tried to make my new digs my own. My new boss — the Danny Bonaduce doppelganger — was anxious to begin work. He explained that we would mostly be producing newspaper ads for a slew of RE/MAX agencies in the Philadelphia area. The more explanation I heard, the more I understood that very little creativity would be involved. These ads would be jammed with grainy, black and white photos of homes, accompanied by a description of the dwelling that would require a translator to read, based on the amount of abbreviations in each brief sentence, (4BR w21/2B, LR, eiK, DtchGr, FnBSM. That means "four bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, living room, eat-in kitchen, detached garage, finished basement.") Each ad would be packed with two dozen individual listings, totally devoid of any design, structure or spacing. The idea was: the more homes that could be crammed into an ad, the more money my boss made — based on the "column inch" rate he negotiated with the newspaper. (Column inches are units used by newspapers to determine the cost of an ad. The particulars are a bit complicated, so let's just say that it is very difficult to get a cheap rate from the largest newspaper in the fifth largest market in the country.) My new boss, as I soon discovered, did not fully understand what was involved in negotiating a good rate. He panicked when he realized he had to nearly double the listing content of the same size ad in order to turn a profit. I started to get a bit nervous about the career move I had just made.

Little did I know that my brand-new, padded swivel chair was poised at the fiery portal of Hell.

As the days and weeks went on, it was apparent that we were not making the amount of money (and profit) that Danny had envisioned. It was also apparent that Danny had absolutely no idea how to run a business. The more I observed how he did things and how he spoke to various people on the phone, the more I realized that I had been sold a lie during my interview. I came to realize that he was just an account agent (read: salesman) at his previous job and was jealous of the boss, convincing himself that he could be the boss and do, y'know, boss stuff. This was not the job I had been promised. I was not the art director. I was the only one doing any work. I answered the phone. I did the filing. I maintained a hand-written spreadsheet (I'm an artist. I still don't understand Microsoft Excel.) tracking contracted ads and ad placement. While I did this, Danny sat in his office, reclining in his comically large, leather-upholstered chair, feet up on his desk, and spoke loudly on the phone with friends from high school, telling them he owned an ad agency now. After his morning of phone calls, he would go out and bring back lunch — for only him — and noisily slurp it down at his desk. (Once, he even borrowed my car to go get his lunch... and still didn't ask if I wanted anything.) In the afternoon, he would continue his phone bragging, pushing my completed ads aside. Their approval (of which he and he alone determined) would wait until he was goddamned good and ready. Soon, I learned that he had a strained relationship with his wife and dreaded going home. This office — this tiny, second-floor shit hole office — was his sanctuary. He was "king of the castle" here and I was his loyal subject. During the course of an eight-hour work day, he did no actual, work-related work.

I worked quickly. I deftly assembled the ads, tweaking and closing space where I could. My mouse cursor whizzed around my monitor and I tracked it with my full attention. Danny, however, with nothing to do, would wander around the office, sometimes making his way towards me to watch me compose ads. He would stand close behind my chair, his hot breath uncomfortably warming my neck. He would point out errors on my screen, only to rescind them when he saw I just hadn't gotten to it yet. Sometimes, he stood so close to my chair that he kicked the wheeled base with his big feet. By this point, I was barely speaking to him, only conversing when absolutely necessary and only if it was work-related. When he began to kick my chair, I couldn't take it. I bit my lip and politely asked — through gritted teeth: "Could you not kick my chair, please?" He seethed and growled back at me: "It's my chair." He did not move. He stayed behind me, almost daring me to continue this. I did not.

When I left work in the evening, I would come home and have little to say to my family. On weekends, I would silently count the hours until I had to return to work on Monday. At times, I actually fought back tears. After only a few weeks, I actively began searching for another job. One evening, after Danny left, I called another agency who had advertised a position. I spoke to a woman and arranged an interview later in the week. The next morning, Danny confronted me about my looking for another job. It seems he came in early to check the last number dialed on my desk phone. He screamed and berated me, telling me that he pays me well (he actually did pay me very well) and I had no right to look for another job. He made me promise that I would cease my search. He also increased my salary again, as gesture of good faith. "Fuck him!," I thought, as I agreed to his terms out loud.

My torture continued. As a matter of fact, it got worse. Danny was constantly in a foul mood, as his wife began divorce proceedings. The RE/MAX ads grew smaller, thus generating less income. He undermined my designs for brochures. His belligerence almost ruined my relationship with a local printer, a fellow I had known for years.

Finally, I lined up another interview. This one required me to sneak out early in order to drive nearly forty-five minutes, where my prospective new employer graciously offered to stay later for me. I did something I hadn't done since I was a kid. I faked being sick. Here I was — 36 years old — and I was pretending I was ill so I could leave. Danny bought my act and I dashed to my car and frantically drove out to the interview. Once again, and for the second time in my career, I was hired on the spot. When asked when I could start, I replied, "You'll see me on Monday." I came home with a smile on my face, something my family hadn't seen in a while.

I arrived for what would be my final day of the most hellish work experience of my life (and I worked for my father-in-law at one time). I decided I would be nice and give Danny a full two-weeks notice, so he could find a suitable replacement for me. Of course, I would wait to tell him after I got my paycheck. Too bad for him, he waited until late in the afternoon to pay me. As soon as the check was folded neatly and safe in my wallet, I cleared my throat.

"Danny, " I nervously began, "can I talk to you for a minute?"

He stopped mid-step and pivoted around. He didn't say a word. He just raised his eyebrows to indicate that he was ready to hear what I had to say.

"I am giving you my two-week's notice. I have another job."

"You son of a bitch!," he spat, "I thought you weren't going to look for a job. I thought we had an agreement."

"Well, I have another job and I'll stay for two weeks." I didn't owe him any explanation. He was lucky I didn't just walk out.

"Well, what the fuck am I supposed to do? I'm gonna have to close! You can't do this to me!" Then, his tone changed. "How dare you do this to me, you ungrateful bastard!"

Well, Danny's luck just ran out. "There is no way I'm going to take another two weeks of this bullshit," I said. Danny continued ranting as I gathered up my mug and the few small tchotchkes that littered my desk. I never looked up. I could hear Danny screaming as I descended the stairs.

Unfortunately, I left my Disney World poster hanging on the wall. But, that was a small price to pay in order to leave that eight-month nightmare.

1 comment:

  1. I agreed to a job with someone like that, but then managed to get another job before actually starting with the evil one. Life is too short to spend it with people like this!