My Worst Boss Ever
(Mike Cope and Mark Meador, relax. It's not either of you.)
To protect the innocent, and to protect myself should the guy Google his own name and find this, I will refer to him throughout this post as "WBE," for "Worst Boss Ever." I'm also going to be vague about the name of newspaper and town, but those of you who know me already know that stuff.
Chad and I moved to a certain town in August of 1995 for Chad to do grad work at a certain university. I got a job at the local newspaper as a copy editor. Here I was, at a job using my college degree, making seven bucks an hour. I had just left a job as a church secretary -- not using my degree -- where I made $7.50 an hour. Yes, something was wrong with this picture, and it wasn't just the paycheck, as I was about to find out.
The copy desk chief was a girl named "M," who ended up being one of my really good friends. I had a bit of a warning of what was to come on my first day, when M told me that the copy editor whose place I was taking quit because of the editor's temper.
But when I met WBE, he seemed like a nice guy. He was British but had grown up in Canada, and had a British accent (yes, like the boss in "The Devil Wears Prada.") WBE liked me right off. I'm not sure why, but the whole time I worked there, only one of his tirades was directed at me. (Something I'll get to later.) This is probably one reason why I lasted six months instead of the two- or three-month tenure that was typical among this newspaper's copy editors at the time.
I soon found out that WBE's nice side was only half of his personality. He was either pleasant and chipper or mad as heck about something. When you came into work every day you never knew which side of him you were going to encounter. If there had been a typo on the front page, he might laugh it off. Or he might hold you hostage in his office until he was done yelling at you. I was spared a lot of this because he liked me so much, but I had to watch him do it to other people. One woman named Mary was one of the other copy editors. She was older and had always had a dream of working at a newspaper. She raised her kids, put them through college and scraped together money (she didn't have much) to get her journalism degree. Her job at this paper was her first out of college and I hated watching the way WBE treated her. He would yell at her over stuff that wasn't even a huge deal and then would seem so satisfied with himself after he reduced her to tears. This happened several times a week. I remember more details about this but I just can't bring myself to type them.
At this job, I quickly learned that taking breaks was not allowed. Even going to the restroom was risky if WBE happened to be looking for you. He used to send female staffers into the restroom to get M if that's where she happened to be when he needed to yell at her. Reporters who were staring into space at their computers -- lost in thought over the wording of a lead -- would get yelled at for "daydreaming." And even though we copy editors worked from 3 p.m. to 11 or 12, getting dinner was always tricky. Going somewhere to eat was out of the question. Technically, we could eat in the break room. But if the WBE (or the city editor, his evil sidekick) happened to see us in there and then the paper was late that night, we heard about it the next day. ("Well, I saw Deana in the break room last night so that must be why the paper was late.") So we usually ate at our desks with one hand while scrolling through the wire or editing obituaries with the other hand.
WBE also threatened to kill people. A lot. One day one of our reporters had gone to a neighboring town to cover a murder trial. It turned out WBE needed the reporter to be covering something else but didn't have a way to reach him (cell phones were still new and we didn't have them yet.) When he finally got the reporter on the phone, WBE yelled, "I'm going to kill you. Don't come back to the office because I will kill you." He threatened people with death on a daily basis. We almost wished one of us would wind up dead in a dumpster because then the entire newsroom staff could all testify at the trial: "Why, yes, your Honor, I heard him threaten to kill that person every single day." We could have put him away for life.
On Halloween night, WBE was having a party at his house. I had to stay at the office until the paper was done -- about 10:30 or 11 p.m. -- and was not planning on going. I was exhausted from the stress-filled days and late nights and I just wanted to go home. While I was waiting to check the first-run copies of the next day's edition, one of our photographers, "B," was gathering up his equipment and asked if I was going to the party.
"No, I'm really tired and I think I'm just going to go home," I answered.
B put down his stuff, walked over to me and put his face just a few inches from mine.
"Deana, go to the party. If you don't go, you'll get no end of grief from WBE. Trust me, you want to go to this party," he said.
There was no trace of "I'm just kidding" on B's face. He was dead serious. So I called Chad and we reluctantly went to a very boring party at WBE's house.
The next day, I watched as WBE cornered all the poor, unsuspecting souls who had missed his party. Thank you, B, for saving me on that one.
Those of us in the newsroom operated in survival mode and learned to watch out for each other like that. Once on one of my days off, I got a call from another copy editor.
"Don't answer your phone. M just got fired and WBE's probably going to call you into work," she whispered from a newsroom phone.
So I didn't answer my phone the rest of the day. But I was sad that M, the copy desk chief who had become my good friend, had been fired. Nevertheless, she was at work when I went in the next day. Turns out WBE didn't really fire her. Firing people was like making his death threats -- it was just something he said when he got mad.
Almost daily, WBE would unleash a torrent of rage on everyone in the newsroom. He usually ended these fits by yelling, "I don't care if you don't like me! It's not my job to make you like me! It's my job to run this newspaper!" On a few of these occasions, he would call me into his office. I would sit there and he would ask me over and over, almost in tears, "Deana, why doesn't anyone like me? Am I that terrible?"
I was one of the very few people on staff who didn't drink or smoke. But believe me, I was thinking about starting.
Every single day was so stressful I came home completely worn out. I was late to work most days just because I had to sit in the parking lot for a while to gather my courage to go in. I started getting sick a lot and developing pain in my neck. I went to the doctor several times and he never found anything. I was discovering how stress can affect your body. I started desperately looking around for another job. And WBE hadn't even blown up at me yet.
That would come the day our press broke down and we were having to use the press at a newspaper in a nearby town. We had to have our paper off the press in time for the other paper's deadline, so we were all called in to work early so we could get the paper out five hours ahead of our usual deadline. I didn't really mind this. These things happen in the newspaper business.
So I got to work early and WBE was in a happy mood, thanking everyone for coming in early and working extra hard to get the paper out. Then he offered to order pizza for everyone and asked me to call it in. I called Pizza Hut and ordered a bunch of pepperoni pizzas. I figured everyone liked pepperoni and, with everyone working so hard, I didn't want to take the time to go around and ask everyone what they wanted. As I was ordering over the phone, WBE walked by and heard what I ordered.
"Pepperoni?" he asked. "No mushrooms and black olives?"
"I still have the pizza guy on the phone," I said. "I can change it if you want."
"No, no. That's OK." WBE said. "Pepperoni is fine."
As soon as I hung up, all hell broke loose.
"I'M THE ONE PAYING FOR THIS PIZZA!" he ranted. "AND I WANT MUSHROOMS AND BLACK OLIVES!"
He was kind of yelling at me, but he was also yelling at everyone else in the room. He kept going on and on about how ungrateful we were, and how mushrooms and black olives really weren't too much to ask for, and why couldn't he ever get anything he wanted around here, and so on. Finally M sneaked away into an office, grabbed the phone, hid under a desk and called Pizza Hut back and changed the order.
Newsroom staff members had had enough of this kind of thing and were quitting in droves. Reporters and copy editors only lasted a couple of months. One of our sharpest reporters quit and told us "When he gets fired, call me and I'll come back."
I kept thinking back to where I was working a few months earlier. I worked in Abilene at the Highland Church of Christ office. We had our share of stress, but they were things worth stressing over, like the series of tragedies that our church family had encountered the year I worked there. There was no yelling or cursing or pointless tirades (at least on Mike Cope's days off. HA HA -- that's a joke.) I loved everyone I worked with and always looked forward to being there every day. All of that seemed light years away now.
After six months, I finally landed a job in production at a publishing company across town. I put in my two-weeks' notice and WBE begged me not to go. I didn't care. I almost skipped out the door on my last night. Everyone who was there when I first started -- including M, who left for another newspaper job -- were long gone. I had been there the longest of anyone in the newsroom, and I had only been there six months.
A few months later, WBE got fired. I heard about how hurt he was that no one called to check on him when it happened. He moved on to another job and last I heard, he was working on a novel. I think that's code for "I'm so insane that no one will hire me."
And that reporter who said she'd be back after WBE left? She did come back. She's the managing editor now.
The sad thing is that I loved some aspects of this job. I loved having access to the AP wire. I knew that Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated minutes after it happened. I loved breaking a big story across the top of the front page and seeing the headline I had written for it beaming from newsstands all over town the next day. And I loved, more than anything, watching the press run at night. A big roll of paper goes in one end of this amazing piece of machinery, and a folded newspaper comes out the other end. I never got tired of watching it. But none of this was worth what WBE was putting me and everyone else through every day. There's that old saying about how winners never quit and quitters never win, but the truth is that sometimes quitting is the best thing you can do for yourself. I worked at my next job at the publishing company for a year-and-a-half, and I had my share of stress there, but every day felt like a day off just because I didn't have to walk into that newsroom and face WBE.
So that's my story. If you ask me, the devil is a short British man who is "working on a novel."