Monday, November 23, 2009

Two objectionable employers

I have had two objectionable employers. The first was Barry, who supervised the Devon amusement arcade in which I worked for three summers to help fund my degree. Every morning, without fail, Barry would greet me by saying “What’s the matter, wet the bed?” He would make many an unpleasant little ‘joke’ of this ilk, and compounded the irritation by going “Eh? Eh?” until you acknowledged it, by which tactic he denied you the natural defence of ignoring him. Barry was not good company. Even for a Devonian man in his late 60s he was appallingly racist. He referred to all black or Asian people as ‘coons’. When I told him that I went to university in Bristol he remarked: “I used to like Bristol but it seems now that every time you turn a corner you see a black face.” I gave him no encouragement in this line but neither did I heroically speak out. I wanted my wages. One day he purchased, from God knows where, a set of repulsive Sambo-style figurines which he cheerfully placed into the 2p pusher machine as prizes and as he did so he sang a little song about “putting in the coons.”

Barry was lecherous, frequently quizzing me about whether things “were still free and easy” at universities. He leered as he did this. He was, surprisingly, married. Every couple of weeks a newsagent called, I think, Steve, would stop by the arcade and drop off a large black bin liner, sealed with gaffer tape. This was Barry’s regular delivery of pornographic magazines. He also literally stank, exuding a greasy, idiosyncratic body odour which, it took no great leap to imagine, might have been manufactured by his bad thoughts. He died of heart failure soon after my second summer at the amusement arcade and I shed no tears upon hearing the news. I’ve no idea what they said in his eulogy but I imagine it wasn’t the above.

My other objectionable employer was Mark. Mark was not as straightforwardly objectionable as Barry but he had a much bigger impact on my life. He gave me my first proper job and subsequently promoted me rapidly and frequently. I am both grateful and resentful towards him. Mark was a serial entrepreneur. He was narcissistic, generous, selfish, chippy, erratic, insecure, domineering, weak, tunnel-visioned, brilliant, thick as a brick, famous (in his field), mad, infantile and, in many important ways, a complete fraud. I have exhausted my views on Barry in two paragraphs, but I could write a whole book about Mark and someday, perhaps, I might. And then again I might not. It could be that this post is enough.


Willard said...

Your hate is beautiful in its economy. I have had many bad employers of my own but none quite as appalling as the first or as interesting as the second.

worm said...

I've had plenty of weird bosses (gangsters, drug addicts, thieves) but never a horrible one.

Your second boss sounds like a typical 'alpha'. My current boss is just like that, brilliant, friendly and cheerful, but scary, and totally infuriating because he just does whatever he wants, when he wants. I still like him though

David said...

I'm just about to head downstairs to teach Employment Law. Whether employers are good or bad doesn't really enter in to it.

Interestingly, though, it is surprisingly difficult for the org behavior people to show, one way or another, whether being a bad boss effects organizational or employee performance. If it does matter, it doesn't matter much, which is to say that Brit pretty much performs like Brit, whether his boss is Barry, Mark or the unseen internet hordes.

Anonymous said...

A lecture in U.S. employment law? Must be a short one. "If you don't like stupid slacker, tell him to hit the road! Class dismissed." :-)

David said...

I had them read Parker v. Town of North Brookfield, a 2007 case in which the town animal control officer, who had not previous taken offered health insurance because she had insurance through another job, told the town she would now start taking the insurance.

The town fired her for it. The court said, "fine with us."

Now, that's employment law.

Gareth Williams said...

Very prospective territory, work. Where else are you going to be put into close confinement with a stranger for sometimes years on end, putting hostage situations and prison to one side? Confirms your theory, Brit, that all ordinary people invariably have some form of madness once you get to know them.

Perhaps we might expect further amusing and insightful disclosures?

malty said...

"One thing about you" he said, "you're doors always open, you're a listener."
"Why, now and then, don't you take some notice of what we say?"
Being a filthy capitalist bastard is a lonely task Brit, spare a thought.

Worked for a bloke in London, married into the defunct Italian royal family, just to gain access to the right people, MOD sort of right people, every contract we had was cost plus. He would show his face once a week, breeze in with fish and chips for everyone, having just parked the Roller. Lived in Mayfair.
Must be long dead by now.
Cocky git.
Birtwhistle he was called, how could a member of the defunct Italian royal family marry a bloke called Birtwhistle.

Worked for another bod, nicknamed him Barney Rubble, he found out.
Took it rather well really, he put me in charge.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Yes, fascinating, and I do hope that you'll not consider this post to have been enough. I've worked for some very good employers but looking back I fear I may not always have been a very good employee - I kind of wish it had been the other way around.

Hey Skipper said...

I have had only two truly bad employers.

The first was an idiot, liar, coward, incompetent sociopath who may very well have killed people that didn't need killing.

He became a two-star general.

The other was merely an idiot who couldn't organize a drunkfest in a brewery, and was given to saying things like "that's water under the dam."

He became a two star general.

Of all the mysteries in the universe, those two should rank right up there.

Sadly, they don't.

Hey Skipper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brit said...


Hey Skipper said...

Apologies -- I must have been suffering tabular disorientation. The comment I just biffed belonged somewhere else entirely.

Brit said...

Too many windows open at once, eh Skipper? It's a growing problem.