Boss Culture II

Back in May, I shared some nonsense about one of my old bosses. Time to do it again! We’ll call him Brian, and for this we’re going to the way way back, the before-times. 1994, and a tiny boutique bookshop in a ritzy suburb of DC.

The shop consisted of two rooms — one for books and one for gifts — and we’d maybe get a couple dozen customers a day. Regardless of seemingly no foot traffic, the shop seemed to thrive as some sort of strange tax dodge. In its heyday, it had eight employees. They were all strange, bizarre people, and, if you worked there long enough, you’d see eventually see it all. Sex on desks, granola types camping out in the woods and showing up to work with sticks and leaves purposefully placed in their hair to remind them of nature, lonely housewives throwing themselves at you, theft, fistfights, a knife fight, someone trying to get high by “huffing” a fire extinguisher (setting it off point blank in their face), people riding a child’s bike — complete with training wheels — and wielding a baseball bat at unwary customers… On and on.

We had an assistant manager position that was something of a revolving door. Nobody lasted more than a year or two, and they were all, to a person, lunatics. Brian was one of the worst. He’d creep around and sneak up on you, which is a trait I hate in any boss. If they really have so much time that they can master some sort of ancient far eastern art of sneakery designed to catch employees shirking while on duty, then maybe we don’t actually need an assistant manager position, eh? I would think a real boss would be able to rationally evaluate an employee based on the workload completed, yes? If a job is assigned and completed, great. If a job is assigned and not completed, problem. Things you can judge right there from your desk. If you’re creeping around like some sort of fucking rapist, then you’re disrupting the flow.

But I’ve long been convinced that middle managers have no brains. They need to clamber up into the rafters and peer down at you from their spider’s perch to see what you’re doing and, hopefully, get a glimpse of your cock.

Brian took his creeping a step further. Every night, after I left, he would go through all the trash cans and analyze everything. He’d note what had been eaten, what had been drunk, and even restore shredded and torn notes. When I arrived the next day, he’d pride himself in constructing a detailed Holmes-style analysis of my previous day’s activity, the trash lined up across his desk, torn notes taped together. Piece by piece, he’d hold up the trash and break down my day.

I’d stand silently and let him work through his brain-death. When he was done (and, sometimes, I’d be in his office for half an hour), he’d ask me, “Can you explain all of this?” and take in the reassembled, neatly-ordered trash with a wave of his arms.

I’d always answer, “You got it all right the first time.”

Eventually, I began to load the trash with strangeness. I’d write 25 cent SAT words on scraps of paper, then tear them up and place the scraps in multiple trash cans. I wrote short nonsense poems, also spreading them across trashcans. Once, I filled up one whole sheet of paper with: “Should I do it? YES! Should I do it? YES!” written over and over in increasingly crazed scrawl.

I think I eventually shorted out his brain, because the sessions in his office fell away from his bizarre reconstruction of the previous day to simply reciting the words, poetry, and mini-stories that I wrote. No comment, no attempt to explain my thinking. He’d just read everything out loud, then stare impassively at me with cold, dead eyes. I’d hold his gaze with Beaver Cleaver innocuousness until he told me to get back to work. Day after day we’d go through this routine — I’d spend all my time creating increasingly bizarre notes and, the next morning, he’d calmly read them out loud to me, and then we would stare.

One day, he just didn’t show up for work. I never learned the full details but, apparently, he disconnected his phone number, packed up his apartment, and simply vanished.

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