Terrible Bosses

“Terrible bosses,” I snorted. “You don’t know about terrible bosses.” 

Janie and I had met for a coffee and chat style lunch at a halfway point between our two offices. The August afternoon was clear and warm – until the wind blew in over the water, and rustled through the leaves above us at The Bistro where we sat on the patio. Janie wanted to talk bosses. Beyond the cryptic message on my phone this morning about the topic of conversation, I knew little else. 

“Please!” Janie grimaced over her coffee. “Of course I do. How could I not?”

Janie did work long hours, I knew – but at a very flexible, go-ahead-and-work-from-home, kind of way. I wasn’t sure if she had ever actually done any sort of manual labor, on a time-clock, with every pea break allotted only so many minutes. Her boss did expect nothing short of miracles from her in terms of last-minute assignments and deadlines. It was not uncommon for Janie to be up at odd hours – like three in the morning – after a few hours sleep to work on a pending assignment, or sketching out a draft in the middle of a sermon at church. 

“I’m not talking about Ruby,” she said.

Janie could generally follow my thoughts, even as slow and lumbering as they tended to be. I gave up fast thinking years ago after it cost me a quick marriage and even quicker, but extremely messy, divorce. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, I gave up thinking when connected to strong emotions and had learned to just sit until the simmering cooled down. 

Thinking about my current employer caused me to simmer with a lot of disgruntled resentment — therefore I kept it packed away in its own little whistling teapot, hastily removed from the hot burner and left to cool off for a bit. 

Ruby was Janie’s current employer, for the last two years. Which for Janie was quite a feat. She liked to swoop in to a faltering business, do a little clean-up magic, and move on the next challenge. “I was remembering Tom in the BurgerJoint from my college days. Marco called last night and he’s really struggling with his current campus job. Wants to quit.” 

I watched her delicately extract a Virginia Slim from her purse and puff with great somberness, carefully blowing the smoke away from me. Janie was a very thoughtful smoker. She didn’t smoke inside her home, her car, near doors, or people . . . unless they were clear they did not mind. As a reformed smoker, I rather delighted in it, and wished she’d waft some smoke my way. 

“Tom was horrible,” I agreed laconically. “To me.” 

“He was rude to me, too!” she protested. 

“When?” I laughed shortly. 

Janie floundered for a moment, opening and closing her mouth, then taking another puff. “Well, we both had work, and it was awful to watch him creep around you.” 

“Does Marco have a Tom in his work life, then?” I asked. Marco had come out to his mother last year. As his god-mother, I wasn’t quite sure if that meant something different in terms of relationship dynamics – but my daughter assured me it all was the same. As a straight woman, how she would know was beyond me – but she and Marco were close, like brother and sister – so I figured they talked a great deal about Marco’s first tentative venturing into the dating world. 

Dipping my almond biscotti into the steaming coffee, I took a nibble I knew I didn’t need the biscotti, but when I quit smoking last year, I promised my quaking inner self that I wouldn’t balk at the guilty pleasures of eating a few extra sweets to deal with the nicotine longings. On the other hand, I remained strict with myself about daily trips to the gym – in a somewhat vain attempt to control the damage caused by my ever-growing sweet tooth. I was going to have to invest in a larger pants size soon. 

“Not exactly,” Janie replied. “If by that you mean ‘does his boss hover over him while he scrubs pots and pans at closing, trying to look down his shirt while regaling him about the mating habits of ducks’ – no. On the other hand, his boss apparently modifies timesheets to reflect no OT after he keeps his employees over their assigned hours.” 

“That’s illegal!” I said. 

So was what Tom had done to me in my young 20s – but far harder to prove in a court, sexual harassment still being a figurative elephant in the back stockroom or boss’s office. Besides, for all of Tom’s faults, he also was a single parent and I needed that sort of understanding as I had put cart decidedly in front of horse by having a child before going to college or getting established in a decent career. (As I said, hasty marriage and even hastier, but messy, divorce. 20 years old, high school graduate, no job, no skills outside of minimum wage jobs, and a baby. Eee gads.) 

Tom understood about calls from the child care center when the baby spiked a fever or threw up. “Go, go,” he’d say, waving me out the door. “Make up the hours later. Plenty to do around here.” 

I thought it was a somewhat reasonable trade-off . . . until his hands tried to follow his eyes. Reason departed at that point, and I hastily (and with great emotion) wadded up my apron and threw it at him, telling him shove his lousy dishwashing job where the sun didn’t shine, and to keep his hands to himself if wanted to keep them connected. 

Janie had been a new hire – only around a couple of weeks at that point – working the front register. Her jaw had dropped as I exploded out of the kitchen shrieking like a banshee at Tom who retreated in front of me as though hell were after him. 

Actually, remembering the explosion and his reaction was still fairly satisfying. I grinned to myself. 

“So, what’s Marco going to do?” I cocked my head, eying Janie inquisitively. 

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “He needs a job to pay his living expenses. I don’t have it once I have paid the tuition.” She sat up straighter and shook her head. “How in hell did I get roped into tuition – and at an out-of-state-college? My parents did not pay a single cent towards my college. They cheered a lot from the sidelines, and let me come home for dinner and laundry once a week. But otherwise, I was on my own.” 

I shrugged. Janie had indulged my godson shamefully, and I rather thought he could use a dose of reality. I would never say that to Janie, though. That would be one quick way to destroying a perfectly contented friendship of over 20 years – and in my mind, love Marco or not, the friendship trumped the godparent/godchild relationship. 

Janie stubbed her cigarette out, and then (her one rude characteristic as a smoker) flipped the butt into the bushes behind her. 

I shook my head at her, tsking through my teeth. 

“No reformer righteousness,” she said, raising an eyebrow, 

“Me?” I mimed great surprise, placing a hand over my heart. “Never!” 

“I have to get back to the office,” she muttered, rummaging in her purse for some cash to pay for her coffee. 

“I’ll get it,” I offered. “You can treat next time.” 

“That’s what you said last time,” she smiled at me. “Thanks.” 

Hard worker or not, Ruby had a hard time saving her pennies. She paid her bills, she paid her son’s bills, and the rest dribbled out through her fingers at beauty salons, bookstores, weekend trips. I suspected her retirement fund was shoddy, perhaps even non-existent . . . and I more often than not picked up the tab when we met up for coffee or lunch. 

“Janie,” I stood up as she did. “Did you just need an ear – or did you need some help? Is Marco okay?” 

“I guess I just needed a reminder that he really is ok —  a short paycheck is not the best thing in the world, but probably a good chance to learn how to stand up for himself.” She looked down at her hands, and then back up. “I just worry so about him. He’s . . . he’s . . .” 

“Flighty?” I suggested. “Immature? Inexperienced?” 

Janie gave me an exasperated look. 

“I’ll stop!” I threw up my hands in surrender, grinning. 

“Yes, all those things,” she reluctantly agreed. 

“And he is also kind, generous, and very artistic,” I reminded her gently. “You’re right, Janie, this is his chance to get some real-life experience — which he needs. You can still help him brush off the dirt from any stumbles, but you need to let him fall so he can learn. Don’t rescue him.” 

I put a bill down on the table, and lodged it into place with the water glass. 

“Back to the office?” I asked. 

“Yep,” she said. “Back to the office. Hopefully, with less fretting and stewing than before our lunch.” 

Janie smiled at me, and we headed back out the door, hugging quickly in farewell. I set off at a quick trot along the uphill slope of Broadway Blvd to make sure I was at my desk before my boss came looking. Behind me, without needing to look, I knew Janie was peering in curio shop windows, meandering her way slowly back while her mind continued to gnaw on the puzzle of her son, mothering, and probably one or two work conundrums, as well.