Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Boss From Heck #2 – Continued

Kim’s post from last month, about the jobs she had as a teen, reminded me that I have never finished my Boss From Heck stories. Shame on me. Well, I guess I need to get back to it!

So, it’s 1994 and I am working for BFH#2 as an admin assistant slash computer maintenance person slash system administrator slash whatever. If you remember, BFH#2 owned, and was a principal of, a private school. It was called Private School of Free Development. And free that development was! The school’s primary selling point was that, in it, children would not experience the pressure and humiliation of the traditional academic system. Moreover, they did not receive any grades either, since grades (as we are all aware by now) are a source of low self-esteem and all things negative for an impressionable child’s soul. Instead of grades, the school gave out quality characteristics at the end of each term. What those were was, at the end of a term, each teacher had to write a small essay on each one of their students. Those were then printed out and handed out to parents. My coworker’s daughter was in that school, and the Mom used to rave about quality characteristics and how far superior they were to the ordinary grading system. (Her level of excitement was lowered considerably when, after three years, she had her daughter tested at a mainstream school, only to find out that her reading and math skills were two years below her grade level.) (For the record, the whole family was highly gifted. Quirky, sure, but highly, highly gifted.)

What none of us realized was how the quality characteristics were made. I mean, physically made. They were to be handed out to parents on the last day of school. The deadline for the teachers to turn them in was the day before last. The office was located in our town; the school, however, was in a different town about an hour away. The teachers always waited till the last minute to get their essays written. Finally, at the end of the day, they turned the essays in to the principal, who arrived at the office at about nine PM, bearing ten composition notebooks (one for each teacher), each of which contained quality characteristics for all students in this particular teacher’s subject, jotted down in a great hurry in incredibly illegible handwriting. My job was to decipher those; enter them into a computer (an old, slow thing such as were usually available in Russia in the early nineties); sort them by student, so that I had all subjects for one student on the same page; and print out five copies for each student on an old, beaten-up matrix printer. I had to get it all done and ready to be handed out by 8AM the next day. Need I say I was up all night?

I lasted in that job for two terms. My last encounter with the quality characteristics was right before the winter break. It was dark and cold. BFH unloaded the notebooks, and ordered me to walk over to his apartment building and put the printouts in his mailbox when done. Because, you see, he couldn’t be bothered to drive the ½ mile back to the office in the morning. (Yes, the man had a car. I, naturally, didn’t.)

At three in the morning, dead tired, I staggered out of the office, carrying the printouts. I seemed to be the only person awake in the whole town. Bracing myself against the wind, I walked carefully across town to the place where BFH lived. It was very dark. I was very afraid.

On my way, I had to walk past a traveling circus that had just come to town. I could hear the animals stirring in their cages. I briefly contemplated the possibility of being eaten up alive by a hungry lion or tiger. Was this job really worth it, I wondered as I plowed through the snow.

Next day, I had a conversation with Mr. Goldie.

“This job is inhumane, and it’s killing me. If I have to stay up another night, I swear I will keel over.” (Eleven years later, I’m on call 24x7. Go figure.) “And you know we are trying to have another baby. There’s no way I can survive in this sweatshop AND stay pregnant at the same time. If I keep working for this man, I swear I will miscarry.

“I don’t care how badly we need my income. I don’t care if we all die of starvation. I want out.”

“Then quit,” agreed Mr. Goldie.

So I decided to quit. But I had to time it well. I already knew BFH by then. I knew full well that, once I gave notice, he wouldn’t pay me a penny afterwards. And he’d still make me work the required two weeks. For free. I didn’t want to work for free, especially for BFH.

By that time, BFH had gotten out of control. He’d summon me to his office at all hours, to type random stuff he’d just written. I didn’t have a phone, so he used to send our accountant to my apartment with handwritten notes: “Please come immediately. Thank you. BFH”. I jumped three feet in the air each time our doorbell rang. That had to stop.

I didn’t say a word to the accountant (who I had become friends with), any of the teachers, or, naturally, BFH. On my next payday, I brought my son LilProgrammer to work with me. He had just turned two. It so happened that BFH decided to stop by the office on that day.

“Did you get paid yet?” he inquired, ever so quick to care about his employees’ well-being.

The accountant handed me the cash. I put it in my wallet and said,

“Oh, by the way. My husband has found a second job, so, with him out of the house for twelve hours a day, I need to be home watching our son. So, I’m very sorry to say, I’m quitting.”

Need I say there was no second job?

“You need to give a two weeks notice,” BFH informed me.

“Oh, I’d love to. I’d really love to. But, you see, I can’t. He’s already started at his new job, and he needs me home ASAP, to watch our son. See, I had to bring him with me today? See?”

“Uh, uh. Perfect timing, huh? You just got paid, huh?” BFH was getting angry. A new thought went through his head.

“You know, when you leave, you have to turn over to me every item in the office. And you have to pay for what’s missing. Is there anything missing?”

“Not really,” I told him.

“Oh yeah? Let’s see. When you started working here, there were twelve floppy disks in the office. And now, there are eleven!”

I was puzzled. “How do you know there’s eleven?”

“Because I took one home.” A new light shone in BFH’s eyes. “This is very unethical of you, this quitting without notice. You have no integrity. But beware! Your sin will come back to you.”

BFH was dead on about the karma part. Two weeks later, I found a contract job as a technical translator at a software firm. Excellent conditions, great team (half of them my former coworkers), flex hours, fun and exciting work, and the pay three times as high as what BFH used to give me – plus the ability to make more on the side by taking random translating jobs. I worked there for eight months until I had ChinchillaBoy. We spent some of my earnings on good food and baby clothes, and set the rest aside. The money added up nicely over eight months, and came in very handy when we had two children and a single income.

BFH, on the other hand, spent the next eighteen months looking for a new admin assistant. He had many applicants, but none were willing to accept the measly salary he used to pay me. It didn’t exactly help that he stressed in his job ads that he was looking for a University graduate with a degree in computer programming, who would be willing to do admin assistant work.

This concludes my stories about BFH #2. There was also a BFH #3, but I’ll tell you about him later.

The Goldie has spoken at 5:36 PM

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