Hey, look: it’s “Rant Thursday”! (Okay, I just made that up, but all worthwhile traditions begin somewhere.) If you have something to get off your chest, now's the time. Here's one from me — it's about 15 years old, but it bubbled up recently and so I have decided to release it from my psyche into the Internet, where all good things go to die. Herewith:
I had a job once, when I was 23 or so. A real, honest-to-goodness, 9-to-5, show up at the office, full benefits job. I lasted a year and a half, mostly because I was young and inexperienced and kept thinking that maybe this was how things were supposed to be. My boss was this big, burly guy who managed to con his way into the position of — I kid you not — “philosopher in residence” at an institution that shall remain nameless, which granted him office space and a stipend (a stipend! Ye gods.) to, as far as I could tell, wander around and spout aphorisms. In actuality, the philosopher-in-residence gig was just the smallest in a series of cons he was pulling off, the largest being that he was in actuality the director of a virtual policy think tank, which employed me as his glorified assistant. Because, of course, with my masters degree in women’s studies and English literature, I was ideally suited to be a policy wonk. But he liked to hire, as he put it, “smart young people to see what they could offer.” And what he offered in return was unfettered abuse and an opportunity for me to perpetuate the ongoing fraud that he was actually qualified to do his job. It got stressful after a while.
Years after I quit, I would get phone calls from shaky-sounding young women, who would ferret out my name from various employee records. “I’m just calling because I work for the Philosopher in Residence,” they would begin, and then they would querulously engage me in a reality check on the months they’d spent with the PIR: Did he shout at you, too? Did he like to belittle you in front of other men? Was he moody and inconsistent? Did his hypochondriac wife phone a half-dozen times a day? Was it him, or was it them?
“It was him, honey,” I’d tell them. “It was so, so, him.”
This past summer, I met up with one of my coworkers from that period, who had recently run into another of our then-colleagues, who had reminded her of my last day. Which was, apparently, so traumatic for the then-colleague to witness that he went home that evening and got drunk. I’ve blocked most of the details of that day from my mind, but I do remember my final exchange with the PIR. He was fuming in his office, ostensibly because his PC wouldn’t start and mostly because I was leaving him — after two months notice and complete obligations — in the lurch. His final words to me? “I am not happy.” To which I replied something like, “Oh well.” But every so often I think about what I should have said instead, and that goes something like this:
You know what? It’s not my fault that you’re not happy. It’s not my fault that your computer is broken. It’s not my fault that the massive research project you’re undertaking is a joke and that the funders are beginning to call and ask exactly what is it you’re doing with their money. It’s not my fault that the Emperor Has No Clothes, that your wife is a nutbar or that you’ve spent the last three months locked in a dark office playing Freecell for hours on end because you’re depressed. It’s not my fault that you’re a misogynistic ass with a smarter younger brother and a crushing mortgage. I will admit, for the record, that it was my fault that there was no minibus that day you were supposed to take a group of foreign executives on a tour around the city — I ordered the bus for the wrong day, but then I went back into the file after the fact and changed it so that my mistake wouldn’t show up. And maybe, just maybe, if you wanted me to stay so badly, you might consider that yelling at me in front of a roomful of people isn’t the best retention strategy on record. You’re unhappy? No kidding — if I were you, I’d be miserable, too. But guess what? It’s not my problem any more!
And then I would have skipped off, launched on my freelance career. Where, ever since, I have worked with lovely, decent people as a matter of course. Thanks to you all.
K. Your turn.
PS: Photographs courtesy my excellent friend Julie, who designed this here blog. We are getting a series of her photographs of restaurant signs printed and framed, because every day is opportunity for a rant, or just a rest.