2006
06.04

Last year I found myself in a miserable position. I was working at a call-center for a catalog company and hating every minute of it. They offered me 401k and dental plans but the benefits didn’t makeup for the lack of morale. The place made Office Space look pretty appealing.

The work itself was simply mind-numbing. Our clientele consisted of every woman in North America over the age of 80. Their brains were usually fried from whatever geriatric meds they were on and most of them were insanely temperamental and demanding. Some days I’d be on a call for more than two hours while a 300 year old woman read her credit card numbers to me incorrectly at least a dozen times. Once in a while one of these ladies would swear up and down that her AMEX number started with a B and ended with a Q.

But it wasn’t the customers that made me wish I was standing in the unemployment line. My boss was the biggest source of my misery. Her name was Donna and she was practically impossible to please. Her nit picking was incessant. She once lectured me for 10 minutes because I had forgotten to record the time I’d finished doing some data entry. In the grand scheme of things it was a very small deal but to Donna it was a great excuse to bust someone’s balls. This was just her way of doing things and unfortunately she did it to everyone.

One day I arrived at work to find that my belongings had been moved to a different cube. This wasn’t all that unusual since our cubes were moved on a constant basis for one reason or another. What was unusual was Donna’s assistant rushing over to me and requesting that I have a private meeting with the two of them in “The Room”.

The Room is where they bring you when they want to cause you emotional distress over petty issues. I’d never been to The Room before and I was on the verge of shitting my pants. I’d seen co-workers come out of The Room in tears because Donna had threatened to fire them over something as trivial as taking lunch 2 minutes early. I’m pretty good at playing the hardass role but I wasn’t sure I could handle a trip to The Room.

“Erin, why don’t you have a seat?” Donna said, pointing to a chair across from her assistant.

I sat down and folded my hands in front of me.

“Erin, do you like your job?” she asked. Clearly it was a veiled threat and I immediately had the urge to vomit.

“Um….yeah, I guess I do” I lied.

“Well, I must tell you that your behavior here is beyond alarming.”

This was crazy. The only alarming thing I’ve ever done at work is take a shit after a night of binge drinking and there was no way I could be fired for that. My head was swirling and that urge to vomit was quickly subsiding. Now all I wanted to do was cry.

“What do you mean?” I asked, trying not to sound as petrified as I was.

“You bang on your desk and it’s alarming. In fact, it’s scary.” she said.

It took me a second to register this information but it wasn’t long before I understood what she was talking about.

You see, everyone had their own special “I’m-so-fucking-pissed-at-this-customer-I’m-going-to-kill-myself” stress reliever. One of my co-workers would write notes on post-its, saying things like “I want to rip this lady’s face off and charge her $20 for shipping”, roll them into tiny balls and throw them over into peoples cubes so that they could chuckle at her misery. Some people would raise their voice to the customer, which I thought was bad customer service. But me? I would slam a hand on my desk just hard enough for the other 3 cubes around me to pop their head over and laugh.

“Well, yeah. I do that sometimes” I admitted.

“Why, Erin? Why would you do such a psychotic thing?”

I was beginning to tear up. I had no idea she could be this mean.

“I don’t really think it’s psychotic. It’s not even seriously aggressive. It’s a joke with some of the other girls. Comic relief, I guess.”

There was a long pause before she spoke again.

“A joke? That’s not a joke. That is the kind of thing that might make me think you’re crazy”.

I told her that I would admit to the act being unprofessional and that I would stop doing it. I didn’t do it very much to begin with. Usually, it was reserved for when Canadians would all but have an aneurysm over shipping costs and taxes. But she refused to let up.

“I have a grandson who was having problems in school because he couldn’t sit still. It turned out to be ADHD. Maybe that’s your problem.” she said.

Her assistant tried to comfort me by giving me sympathetic looks. It was obvious that she’d been in this situation before and was uncomfortable. At this point I was just mad. My boss was ripping me apart for doing something unprofessional while assuming that I had some kind of mental problem. Granted, I do take a healthy dose of Paxil everyday but that’s none of her fucking business and it never affected my work. What did she want from me? A confession?

“Uh…right. That’s too bad about your grandson but I don’t have ADHD. I was just under the impression that my sense of humor wasn’t a big deal. Apparently it is and I’ll quit doing it. It’s not really a big deal.”

“But it is a big deal, Erin!” she yelled “Isn’t this a big deal to you?”

She then began punching the table that we were sitting at, making a huge commotion. Clearly she was trying to have a pissing contest with me and thought that greatly exaggerating the situation would help her win. But she had already won. She was my boss and she’d have the last word no matter what. Now she was just trying to beat me down so that she could watch me crumble.

I gave up.

“You’re right, Donna. It’s a big deal. I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.”

I would have thought that it would be over at that point. There was nothing left to say. I’d go back to my new cube, resist the urge to bawl my eyes out, and do my work. Again, this wasn’t the case. She was relentless and went into a long story that truly WAS “alarming and disturbing”.

“I don’t know if you know this but I work a part-time job at Stop and Shop” she began. “One day a guy came through my check-out line and began tapping on things. He couldn’t stand still for a minute and I was really annoyed with him. After he left, I told the other customers in my line that he probably had a mental disorder and hadn’t taken his medication that day.”

After telling me this appalling story, she finally let me go back to work. I took 5 minutes to think about the situation and considered walking out and never going back. Instead, I chose to give Donna the benefit of the doubt. Maybe people really did think I was crazy. It seemed doubtful but I was pretty paranoid at that point.

At lunch I saw Donna’s assistant sitting in the sun outside.

“Gina, I just wanted to ask you something.” I said to her.

“Erin, I’m so sorry. That was crazy. You must feel really bad.” she said before I could get any further.

“Thanks. It was crazy. I just want to know if people really do think I’m insane around here.”

She laughed. “No. Donna is crazy. Everybody knows that and you’re definitely not the first person she’s done that to. You’re fine.”

I was somewhat relieved by this but decided to ask a few other people what they thought about the situation. After retelling the events to the post-it throwing girl, she was convinced we needed to quit our jobs and I didn’t disagree. Exactly one week later the two of us stopped going to work. I let my cell ring whenever Donna called to see why I wasn’t there. I deleted my voicemail so that I wouldn’t even have to hear her messages. I wasn’t even willing to go back and collect my Hello Kitty tape dispenser or the expensive Japanese toys that I’d used to decorate my cubicle. I just wanted out and if unemployment was the biggest consequence then it was worth it.

It took the company 2 months to ship my belongings to me. I was afraid to even open the parcel for fear of there being an evil note from Donna inside. In the end, it was just a box of my deer figurines and about 500 gel pens.

The irony is that I now work with kids who have behavioral problems.

  1. “I’m pretty good at playing the hardass role”

    after that little wus fest? hardass would be the last word on anyones mind. I always knew you were weak it was easy to spot this just confirmed it.

    next time why not just lay on the ground and put a sign that says “doormat” on you.

  2. wus=wuss

  3. But I make up all of my stories. Why should this one be the truth?

    ;)

  4. Heh, I work in a call center… Love it.

    “No.. we will not assist in the repair of your veh, it has 120,000 and 12 years old” “You are outside all warranty”

  5. the part about you being weak is true, that was already known.

  6. TGO on June 4, 2006 at 9:43 am said:

    the part about you being weak is true, that was already known.

    You’re such a killjoy, you make it almost unwelcome for people to be here, both writers and readers.

  7. No shit.

  8. John on June 4, 2006 at 10:00 pm said:

    You’re such a killjoy, you make it almost unwelcome for people to be here, both writers and readers.

    just telling it like it is. I pull no punches nor do I apologize for it.

  9. It’s sad that people in positions of authority feel like they can abuse employees to boost a wounded ego.

    Luckily, I’ve never had a boss like that. I actually wish that my current boss would stand up to some of my co-workers instead of letting them walk all over him…

  10. John on June 4, 2006 at 10:00 pm said:

    You’re such a killjoy, you make it almost unwelcome for people to be here, both writers and readers.

    If you pretend he isnt there.. he eventually keeps going so you can pretend more…

  11. but in the long wrong pretending im not here doesnt really work