you’re fired.

We had a guy, let’s call him Jim, who worked for us, part-time, in marketing.  He was a nice man, an incredibly nice man, in his early fifties.  He worked full-time for the company for a while, and then his wife got very ill.  In a strange bout of compassion, my boss, Fred, decided to keep the gentleman on as a full-time employee so that he could have health benefits, despite the fact that he was only working part-time while caring for his wife.

Eventually, and unfortunately, his wife passed away from the illness.  He continued to work part-time and get the benefits of full-time employment.  Fred never brought it up.  He never said “Jim, it’s time for you to get back to work full-time.”  He just let him continue working part-time.

At the same time, we also had a freelance guy, who’s name was also Jim.  Jim was an old friend of Fred’s who ran a small graphic design shop.  Their work was horrible, dated and old-looking, and I wanted to move to a new, more contemporary firm to do the graphic design work I needed to do – new logo, packaging, and collateral materials.

When I brought this up to Fred, he looked hurt.

“I’ve known Jim for thirty years,” he said.

“He’s terrible,” I said.  “I have to work with the best designers I can afford, if I want to do this right.  Everything he is giving me looks like shit.”

Fred thought in silence for a minute, and then said “I’ll tell you what: you can hire a new ad agency if you fire Jim.”

“What?!” I asked, surprised, “What does one have to do with the other?”

“Let me ask you,” he began, “is Jim doing anything here at this point?”

“He does what I need him to,” I said.

“What does he do?” Fred asked.

“He does what I ask him to do.  He’s a part-time employee.”

“I pay him full-time.  He gets benefits.”

“That was your decision,” I said.  “You can’t take that back now.  You can’t make me take it back.”

“Well, I don’t trust that he’s actually doing anything for us,” Fred said.  “From now on, every Friday, I want to have a meeting in the conference room.  You, me, and Jim.  I want him to provide us with a written report that includes everything he did that week, and I want to review it with him.”

“No,” I said.  “That’s not fair.  That completely undermines me.  Jim works for me.”

“Wait a minute,” he said.  “What did you say?!”

“I said Jim reports to me.”

“No, you didn’t.” he said.  “You said Jim works for me.  Let’s make no mistake about this. Everybody at this company works for me.  I am in charge here.  And when I tell you I want a review every Friday, I want a review every Friday.”

We did that for a few weeks.  It was miserable.  On Monday I would give Jim a list of the things I needed him to do that week.  Jim would do them, and then write up a report on Friday mornings.  Friday afternoons, we’d have our meeting, and Fred would crucify him.  Why didn’t you do this?  Why didn’t you do that?  Why don’t you think?

And then I would explain to Fred that Jim was doing exactly what I told him to do, and that if Fred had a problem, it was a problem with me, since I was the guy assigning Jim his work.  Then Fred would launch into a litany of reasons why I was incapable of being a manager, because I didn’t think things through, because I didn’t look at the whole picture.

“You’re fucking myopic,” he’d say.  “You’ve got to stop being so myopic.”

After a few weeks of this, I couldn’t stand it anymore.  Eventually, we were ten minutes into a review meeting, and Fred had already begun tearing into Jim, and I lost my patience.

“Okay, that’s enough,” I said.  “Jim, go back to your office.  Fred, I want to discuss this with you alone.”

Fred looked at me and said “Anything you have to say, you can say in front of Jim.”

I looked at Jim and softly said “Jim, go back to your office.”

Once he left, I looked at Fred and said “This is unacceptable.  We can’t keep doing this dance.  It makes me look awful, it’s embarrassing to Jim, and you’re obviously doing it for a reason.  What do we need to do here?”

Fred looked at me, cigarette dangling from his lips, and said “Fire that guy.”

I went back to my office and called the other Jim, and told him that I needed to see him in my office in a half hour.  Then I called part-time Jim into my office.

“Jim, I’m sorry,” I said.  “I tried.”

Jim smiled.  He was a warm and friendly, softspoken man, who had been beaten down by his wife’s illness and reduced to a shell of whatever he once was by Fred’s incessant abuse.  “I know you did,” he said.  “I’m sorry, too.  I think you’re starting to realize that you made a mistake by coming here.”

“I won’t say that,” I said.  “I just need to figure out how to manage him.”

“Al,” he said.  “He can’t be managed.  He’s been like this for years. He’s a monster.”

“Why have you stayed here all this time?” I asked.

“I owed him,” he replied.  “As much as he’s a monster, he has these brief flashes of – I don’t know, goodness. When my wife was sick, I had to take care of her.  I couldn’t come to work every day.  He let me come in whenever I could, and he kept me on as a full-time employee so that I could keep the health insurance.  He didn’t have to do that.”  He had tears in his eyes.

“Jim, he’s making me fire you,” I said.

“I know he is,” he said.  “And I know you’ve been trying to prevent it for a month.”

“I’m sorry.”  And then I told him to clean out his office, and leave.

When he left, the other Jim was waiting in the lobby.  I went out and got him, and brought him to my office.  He had his leather portfolio with him, and his notebook.  He started opening everything up, spreading out his stuff.

“Jim, you don’t need to spread all this stuff out,” I said.

He stopped and looked at me.  “I’ve got a lot of things to show you.”

“Jim, this isn’t working,” I said.  “I’m not happy with the work you’re doing.  I’m getting these bills, and I’m paying them, and I haven’t seen any tangible results that I can use.  You’re not right for what I need.”

“I think you’ll change your mind once I show you what I’ve got in my bag,” he said.

“I don’t want to see what’s in your bag,” I said.  I knew it was going to be awful, and I did not want to prolong the relationship, even if the designs were somehow good.

“I’ve got all kinds of packaging design treatments,” he said.  His face was turning as red as a tomato.

“I don’t want to see them.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because,” I told him. “You’ve been back here three times with packaging designs.  You’ve been back here three times with brochure designs.  They’re industrial-looking, and old.  They’re not what I’m looking for.  And every time you show me a new design, I get a bill.  You’re billing me for your inability to design something fresh.”

“I won’t charge you for these,” he said.

“You won’t charge me for them because I won’t look at them.  We’re done.”

“Does Fred know about this?” he said, raising his voice.

“This is my decision,” I said.

“I want to talk to Fred.”

“Fine.  Go talk to Fred.  We’re done.”  I was pissed by that point.  I didn’t want to argue, I just wanted to move forward.

He got up and stormed out of my office.  He was gone for about ten or fifteen minutes, and then he came back.  With Fred.  He shook my hand, and said “Fred explained that this is your decision.  I just want you to know that I appreciate all we’ve done together, and when you decide you want to come back, or if you ever need anything, just pick up the phone and I’ll be there.”

Fred stood behind him.  “Did you do that other thing?” he asked me.

“I did,” I told him as I shook Jim’s hand.

Fred looked at Jim.  “Okay, buddy,” he said to him.  “Let’s go out to lunch and get drunk.”

I spent the rest of the day frazzled out of my mind.  Fred never came back from lunch.

After work, I drove to the gas station and filled up my tank.  I had to fill my tank every other day because of the ridiculous commute.  I paid the attendant, and then pulled away from the island.  A car was in front of me, waiting to pull into traffic.

I felt like I needed to talk to my mom.  Sometimes when I have a bad day, I call my mom.  I don’t necessarily need to talk with her about anything, just hearing her voice makes me feel better.  So I picked up my cellphone and dialed her.  The car in front of me pulled out, and I nosed up to the edge of the sidewalk, looking left to see if I could get into oncoming traffic.

“Hello?” said the voice on the other end of the phone.

“Hi, mom,” I said.

“Hi, honey!” she exclaimed.  “How are you?”

“Long day today,” I replied.  I saw an opening in the oncoming traffic, and started to nose out into the street.

And then I felt a thud on the front of my car.

My head immediately snapped to the front of the car.  There was a man, standing there, with both hands on my hood.  Right next to him was a young girl, maybe twelve years old.

They were walking on the sidewalk.  I had hit them with my car.

“You motherfucker!” he screamed.  He walked around to my window.  I put the car in park and looked at him.  His eyes were wild.  I didn’t blame him.

My window was still halfway down, from paying the gas station attendant.  “Is she okay?” I asked, motioning toward his daughter.

I could see they both were fine.  They had been walking down the sidewalk as I nosed out into traffic.  There were shrubs to my right, and it was dark.  When I first looked, nobody was there, but then as I was trying to nose out into traffic, they came from behind the bushes.  They walked right in front of my car as I was slowly easing into the traffic.  Why they walked in front of my car like that, I’ll never know.  Thankfully, he slammed both his hands down on my hood, which caused me to instinctively jam on my brakes.  I was never going more than a mile an hour or two, but if he hadn’t slammed his hands on my hood so I could hear it, I would have run them both over.

He looked in my car and saw me holding the cellphone.  “You’re talking on the fucking cellphone?!” he screamed.

“Dude, I’m sorry.  You walked right in front of my car.  I didn’t see you.  Is your daughter okay?”

“You’re talking on the CELLPHONE! he screamed.  He reached into the window and grabbed the phone from my hands.

“Whoa!” I yelled.  “What the fuck are you doing?  Get out of my car!”

“I’m gonna kill you!” he screamed.  He wrestled the phone out of my hands and threw it forcefully across my car.

I could hear my mother screaming on the other end of the phone. “Hello?!  Hello?!  Are you okay?  What’s going on?”

The phone was on the floor of the passenger seat.  I found myself wildly thinking It’s a good thing it’s not wet there – my phone would be ruined. That’s a top-of-the-line cellphone.

“Is she okay?” I asked again.  She was still standing in front of my car.

“You’re talking on the cellphone.  You almost killed us! Get out of the car.”

“I’m not getting out of the car, dude.” I said.  I was scared shitless.  “I said I’m sorry.  I don’t think I hurt you.  You walked right out in front of my car.  You saw me there, and you walked right out in front of me.”

You weren’t paying attention!” he screamed.

“You’re right,” I said.  “I had a terrible day today.  My mind is a mess.  I’m just trying to get home.”

“What’s going on?” I could hear my mother screaming on the other end of the phone.

“Get out of the car!” the guy screamed again.  I sized him up.  I’m a big guy.  He was a medium-sized guy. Definitely older than me.

Then again, I just almost ran him over with my car.  And his daughter.  He was pretty pissed.  And I was an emotional wreck.

I wasn’t getting out of the car.

I rolled down my window the rest of the way and grabbed both of his hands.  “Look, brother.” I said.  “I’m sorry.  I had a shitty day.  Did you ever have a shitty day?  My mind is having trouble focusing.  I just want to go home.  I looked to the right and didn’t see you there.  It’s dark.  I started nosing out into traffic and you walked right in front of my car.  Why would you do that?  Why would you walk right in front of an oncoming car, with a little girl?  I didn’t even see you.  I could have killed you.  What if I had gunned my engine instead of rolling out into traffic?  You’d be underneath my car.”

It may have been the first time I ever called anyone “brother,” but I specifically remember saying it.  I was trying to establish some common ground with the guy.  I use the word “brother” all the time now, as a real term of endearment for my closest friends.

He took a deep breath and stared me down for a second.  Then he said, “Don’t ever talk on the cellphone while you’re driving.”

“I won’t.”

He grabbed his daughter and walked away.  I picked up the phone.  My mom was still yelling into it, frantically asking what was going on and if I was okay.  She was freaking out.

“It’s okay, mom.” I said.

“What the hell just happened?” she yelled.

“Some asshole just walked in front of my car while I was pulling into traffic.  Then he came after me when I almost hit him.”

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I think so,” I said.

I drove the rest of the way home in silence and darkness.  I was shaking like a scared little schoolgirl from the parking lot all the way to my house.  I pulled into my driveway, went into the house and went straight up to bed.

That was easily the worst day I’d ever had in my life.

~ by Al on October 30, 2009.

3 Responses to “you’re fired.”

  1. Dude.

  2. Well, on balance, I could have been in Kenya looking at the moon through binoculars. Instead I was in Westchester trying to make a cellphone call.

  3. Dude, that was one messed up day. I don’t even know how to respond other than…dude.

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