and new year’s eve.

Rich’s girlfriend Lissette had a New Years’ Eve party at her mother’s house and invited all her friends and all Rich’s friends.

It had become a tradition for us to spend New Years’ with Rich.  It was sort of a pensive holiday for us (that also happened to involve copious drinking and usually some really odd shit), as Rich, Sandy and I would always find some time to take stock of what we did the past year, and what our plans were for the upcoming year.

Our plans never worked out.  Not that we weren’t trying to do things, and not that we weren’t progressing toward our goals, but we were all moving pretty fast, and it’s awfully difficult to plan where you’re going to land when you’re flying by the seat of your pants.

Rich had published one issue of Indier Than Thou! in electronic format, and then scrapped the whole idea of zine publishing.  He had begun doing freelance graphic design work and building a nice little portfolio, and started looking for a graphic design job in the city.  Sandy had continued her career in the public relations field, becoming more and more entrenched at her job and taking on more and more responsibility.  I had moved into a product management job in the wireless industry, and although I was unhappy with where I was, I also realized I was doing fairly well.

And together, the three of us overcame some ridiculous hurdles and managed to release  a couple of really good CDs and turn our little label into something that was just a little more viable, just a little more known.  

Sitting there in Lissette’s basement, we talked about the New Years’ Eve party at Paulie’s house in 1991, when we had just moved into our Lodi apartment and didn’t even have electricity.  That year, we moved until it was too dark to see and then, sweaty and exhausted, we drove to Paulie’s house for a small gathering.

“If you could have looked forward then,” Rich asked, “what would you have said you’d be doing?”

“By now, I would have thought I’d be working for some record label.  Not a huge, high-paying job, but something.  I would never have told you I’d be running my own label, working full-time in the cellphone business.”

“Do you regret working in the cellphone business?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “I’ve learned a ton of stuff there.  It’s stuff I can apply to what I do at Dromedary.  So far, I can relate my shitty dayjob to my shitty nightjob.  What about you – what would you have said you’d be doing?”

“Pretty much what I’m doing now,” he said.  “Maybe I would have told you I’d be living in a nicer apartment.”

“Do you regret shutting down Indier Than Thou!?” I asked.

“Nope.  I didn’t enjoy it that much.”

Rich always seemed to have a pretty clear focus.  Even when he seemed to be spinning every which way, it was sort of a controlled chaos.  He had a plan, and he never seemed to regret any of his decisions.  As much as he pissed me off sometimes, I really looked up to him.

“Are you going to quit your job?” he asked.  He was aware of the issues with my new boss – she was brought in as a “senior-level” product manager, ostensibly to teach me how to do my job better.  Instead, I was teaching her.  She was nice enough, but she was clueless about how the company worked, clueless about the products in our industry, clueless about how to choose which products to launch.

The cellphone industry in 1995 was like lightning.  Companies came out with new phones every few months, and we couldn’t possibly support all of them.  So it was important to know who our customers bought their phones from, and which ones they’d be carrying.  By keeping an ear to the street and an eye on the industry trade publications, I could easily tell which phones I’d need to support, and by the time the phones hit the market, I’d already have accessories for that phone in production.  We were usually the first company to bring the aftermarket accessories to market.

My new boss didn’t understand how that worked.  Rather than keep her ear to the street, she’d wait for the “official” announcements.  So for the first few months she worked there, the flow of new products ground to a complete standstill.  Without a flow of new products, we couldn’t keep pumping products through to our customers, which meant that sales were slumping.

Plus, she was scared to death of my old boss.  He was loud, abrasive, and moved very fast.  She was timid and still learning the system.  Despite the fact that she was brought in partially to run interference with my old boss, she would yes him to death and give him what he wanted.  Because of this, she was always making promises that she didn’t know how to keep.

One day she called me into her office and locked the door.  She was crying.

“I just quit,” she said.

“What?!”

“I quit.  I walked into Mike’s office and told him I couldn’t take it anymore, and that I was leaving.  I don’t need this bullshit.  There’s too much drama here.  I can still go back to my old coworkers and find a job.”

“Well jeez, I hate to hear that,” I said, “but if you don’t think you can stand it, then I’m not going to try and convince you to stay.”

The next day, she was right back at work.  She did this two or three more times in the next month or so, and consistently made it clear to me that she was looking for a new job.

It’s very difficult to get settled under a new boss when she tells you she’s quitting.  Especially when I felt entitled to her job, and I wanted her job.  I resented her.

The company was crazy.  Our President, a great man who was the founder of the company (and who had maintained his entire group of core employees from the company’s foundation by making them all Vice Presidents and paying them well), eventually sold his stake to a larger company, who brought in a professional CEO.  The CEO was hot-tempered and intolerant.  He insisted on new product meetings once a week, with all the product managers, buyers, and packaging people.  We’d have to make up PERT charts and then sit in the conference room, going through product-by-product, explaining where everything stood and how the timelines were progressing.  The other product managers would have eight or ten new products in various stages of development.  I consistently had 40 or 50, and since my new boss had no level of familiarity with the products, I had to run the cellular portion of the meeting.  Invariably, the meetings degenerated into finger-pointing sessions, every single week.

We had one gentleman who had been with the company for ever – almost since its founding.  He was older, maybe in his mid to late 60s, and he often fell asleep at work.  It was sort of funny – he fell asleep in the new product meetings every week.

One week, he fell asleep as the meeting was drawing to a close.  Someone noticed him sleeping, and so a plot was hatched for everyone to quietly get up and leave the room.  I honestly don’t recall who had the idea of doing it – when some people tell the story, they say it was me who came up with the idea.  That seems sort of mean of me, though – I don’t think I would have done that.

Anyway, we all got up and tiptoed out of the room, leaving the poor guy sound asleep in the conference room, all by himself.  Eventually he woke up and sheepishly went back to his office.  

We had another guy in engineering who was laid off and went a little bananas.  He told a few people that he was coming back with a gun, and he was going to shoot his old boss with it.  

The company offices were housed in three different buildings, two on one side of a dead-end street and one on the other.  Mario and I would catch the engineering VP getting ready to walk across the street to the lab – he’d slowly open the door, look both ways, and then run full speed across the street, hoping not to get shot by a disgruntled employee, hiding in the woods.  A few times, Mario would wait for him to go over into the other building and then page him, and ask him to come across the street – just so we could watch him run.  It gave us endless amusement for a week or two, watching him frantically dash across the street for his life.

But the bottom line was that I was extremely unhappy.

My old boss noticed it and asked me about it one day.

“I’m supposed to learn from her?” I said.  “She’s learning from me.  She hasn’t taught me a thing, other than how to be slow.  Plus, she’s constantly threatening to quit because she can’t take it here.”

“She’s a pro,” he said.  “What you learn from her in six months will put you in a position where you’ll really be able to move up.”

“Oh?” I asked.  “And where am I going to move?  With her in the spot above me, I mean.”

“Well, you won’t be able to move anywhere at this company,” he said.  “But that’s how you make your money.  You go to another company for a bigger salary.  In six months, you’ll have the experience to do that.”

That’s what it had come to.  The head of the division for which I was the product manager was telling me that my best course of action would be to leave.

So when Rich asked me if I was going to quit my job, my answer was simple:

“That’s my plan.”

~ by Al on July 24, 2009.

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