Monday, May 19, 2008

Ted Turner's Turpitude

Saara Dutton has had a run in with Ted Turner. She still works in the car-chase-and-lost-girl-obsessed, morally-outraged-anchor-filled world of cable news, but no longer has the responsibility of handling the chip chart. 

My first job out of college was as an entry-level Video Journalist at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.  For this honor I received a paltry salary of $20,000 a year.

My mother was convinced that Ted Turner took great satisfaction in my slave wages. In her eyes he was a ruthless, penny-pinching fiend who micro-managed his network to an extreme. Whenever I'd complain about anything at CNN, she'd blame it all on Ted Turner personally.

I'd say, “The bathrooms on the third floor stink.”

She'd reply, "That Ted Turner. Not cleaning the toilets," as though he were a shiftless janitor.

I'd say, “The Brunswick stew in the cafeteria gave me gas."

She'd reply, "That Ted Turner. Makes his employees fart all night with his food," as though he were in the kitchen stirring the stew himself. 

I'd say, "I hate working the 7pm to 4am shift."

She'd reply, "That Ted Turner. Exploiting you kids for his own pleasure," as though he were perched in his penthouse apartment at the Omni hotel, watching me enter the CNN Center as he cackled, “Boy I love seein’ that Dutton girl on this miserable shift!"

While I didn't necessarily blame Ted Turner for my lot in life, working at CNN was the root cause of my empty wallet. Still, I became indignant one night when a weather reporter bestowed some left-over holiday party peanuts on the VJ crew. Naturally, none of us peons had received an invite to her party. Eyeing those pathetic Ziplock bags of Planters mix, I was livid. Was this any way to treat your professional colleagues? Scattering picked over peanuts in our script-ripping area? 

But one by one my co-workers’ eyes lit up as they exclaimed “Peanuts!” and happily wolfed them down.

It was a lost cause.

We were literally working for peanuts.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bad Day Payback - The Expense Statement Chronicles

Leigh Buchanan is an editor at large at Inc. magazine. For reasons she finds unfathomable someone actually pays her to write about office life, which she does here. However, she does assure me that if I write him an email, Bill Gates will give me gold I can use to buy blogs. And now, on with the tale of woe:
Thirteen 13 years ago I worked for a technology magazine, writing lush, deeply moving articles about client-server computing. I was largely unversed in office politics, so when the publisher introduced our new editorial director I didn’t understand why the staff seemed uncomfortable-verging-on-hostile. Apparently the publisher was trying to force out the editor-in-chief by hiring someone in over her. The editor herself discovered what was happening just hours before the rest of us.
Not surprisingly, the editor resigned. The publisher—displaying unexpected sensitivity—suggested that instead of a farewell bash she invite her favored colleagues out for dinner. He would treat; more importantly he would not appear. So a dozen of us met at a restaurant on the top floor of Boston’s Prudential Tower: one of those view-is-better-than-the-food places where the side dishes cost $10. Attendees ranged from underlings the editor found amusing (me) to her closest allies.
The table ordered wine and more wine and then more wine. The conversation got louder and nastier. The publisher and editorial director were verbally drawn and quartered. The editor and her posse (can 50-year-old women in wool suits and costume jewelry be a posse?) started ordering bottles of expensive liquor. Those of us drinking less tried gently to discourage them. We went unheeded.
The next morning the CFO, highly agitated, came to each of our offices. The bill for alcohol alone was $2,000, and he feared presenting it to the publisher. Could we each chip in $100 to $200 to help defray the cost? I, a junior staffer, was less protective of the publisher’s pockets; besides, I hadn’t drunk that much. Still, I felt queasily obligated.
In the end the publisher got wind of what was happening and told the CFO to stop fund-raising. The editor left and the editorial director didn’t last much longer. (He was a poor fit for a technology magazine—shortly after arriving he asked me, “If I have an email address does that mean I also have a Web site?”) The managing editor—an editorial genius—became editor-in-chief. So all’s well etc.
Since then, I do most of my drinking off the expense account.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Alliterative Supermodel Disses Dis Dude

Peter Olson who is the Director of Web Development for Marvel Entertainment and an occasional freelance writer has a bad day and has a bad suit to show for it. He no longer has an entourage.

It was launch day for the Official Web Site of Very Famous Supermodel With An Alliterative Name. And for a late 90’s internet company, launch day meant one thing: a party. All the day-to-day frustrations and long hours we’d endured to bring Alliterative Supermodel into the 21st century would culminate in a well-deserved bout of drinking, socializing, and a live web-chat with Alliterative Supermodel herself.  And more importantly, all our hard work would finally be recognized by the high muckety-mucks at the company.

Around noon, the CEO came by.

“Where’s your suit?” he asked me. I looked at him blankly.

“You know you have to man the door, right?” He stared down at me. “I need you to make sure no one gets in that isn’t on the list. Oh, and Alliterative Supermodel hasn’t vetted you, so you can’t be in the building while she’s here. And get a suit.”

That cold November night, I shivered in my ill-fitting, un-reimbursed suit as a parade of celebrity flotsam streamed by — the Alliterative Supermodel, her entourage, her pushy talent agency people, a couple of Broadway actors, and a thoroughly un-vetted adult film star friend of the CEO — none of whom had helped build the thing they were celebrating. Only after the Alliterative Supermodel had exited the building, almost knocking over a 9-year-old boy trying for her autograph, were we allowed back in.

Our office looked like a high school gym after the prom: dirty, abandoned, and tackily decorated. There were, however, two Serbian bartenders still pouring a shot called Vodka Nikolai, in which of a jigger of vodka is chased by a lemon wedge, sugar, coffee grounds and copious regret. I drank four, got a cab back to Brooklyn, and started polishing my resume.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hillary Water-Gate

In my writing class, I have students write about a bad day on the job. The post below came from Jared Coleman who had a run in with a Mrs. Hillary Clinton. It's my favorite bad day this year. (And by the way, after you're done reading it, you might be amused to know that the Hillary water bottle is available from her website. What would you put in it?)

I once interned for the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) in Washington DC. Each year CAF host a large event called “Take Back America” attended by prominent American politicians including presidential candidates. 

Each politician’s staff pre-requests stuff for their boss—like a rock band requesting green M&Ms—including specific lighting, entrance music, food, and water. I got the job of supplying the water. 

The vast majority of candidates just asked for bottled water without specifying a brand. However, Hillary Clinton requested Fiji water. At the local CVS, 2 bottles of Fiji cost the same as a 24-pack of Deer Park. Apparently, is actually comes from Fiji. Deer Park, according to Wikipedia, comes from places like Florida and Michigan. Since I needed to supply nearly 75 politicians with water I bought a few cases of Deer Park—thinking that a bottle of water is a bottle of water, no matter what name is on the outside. 

During the event, I handed bottles to the speakers a few minutes before they went on. Most thanked me and then engaged in short, friendly conversations—the kind of welcoming behavior you would expect from the leaders of our country. 

Mrs. Clinton, however, acted differently when she was handed her cold bottle of Deer Park. “Every year, every year, there is something different that is wrong with this event!” she told me and my boss. I personally felt disrespected and thought that as a potential President she would have handled herself better. 

She waited for a moment backstage, clearly displeased, and then proceeded to the main stage. During her speech she was booed for a comment about the War in Iraq. I guess karma truly does exist. I cracked a little smirk. Maybe it was something in the water? 

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cheese Market of Shame

Today we bring you a tale of humiliation, low wages, and moldy dairy. David Serchuk is now an editor at, has a blog of his own about being a dad and being in Brooklyn (, and still has an issue with Emmental. 
It didn’t start off as such a bad day. 

True, I worked at the Ninth Avenue Cheese Market, in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. True, I was paid $6 an hour. True, I was 30 years old.  

But if I just concentrated on the work, it was okay. The Turkish owner of the market, Pondo, seemed to like me. I ate all the cheese I could sneak, and there were several friendly shop cats to keep me company.

But if it wasn’t so bad, it wasn’t so good, either. Pondo could be kind of a jerk. Once, for example, I tried to hoist the heavy wrought-iron gate onto the back of the store as he watched. 

“You are weak, like little girl,” he said.

But mostly the market signified failure. I had been a journalist one year before, covering the financial world. Though it was kind of boring it paid the bills. I chucked that to intern at National Public Radio, which didn’t pan out. And then my old job was no longer available. 

Now I was broke, and basically paid in dairy products. 

Then one day Alicia, one of my former co-workers from the journalism job walked in. 

I knew it was her because her hair was so blond it was almost white. She had always been nice to me, but I couldn’t let her see me like this, in an apron. I hid behind a counter as she bobbed around the market, praying Pondo wouldn’t call on me. I was ashamed. It had all gone wrong, and I didn’t know how it would get better. There wasn’t much future in cheese. I prayed she wouldn’t recognize me.

She didn’t. 

After she left I got out from my hiding. A customer needed coffee, now. I was summoned.  

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sorry, A Good Day

Whilst this is a blog about bad days, I have, I'm sorry to say, a good day to post. Or at least a confusing one. You see, I have become a full time employee at Diageo and as part of my job I, and the rest of the company, serve as Brand Ambassadors.

What is a Brand Ambassador you ask? Does it mean that I wear a tuxedo and attend galas hosted by diplomats of foreign booze? No. It means I am given a quarterly stipend to by liquor. A great deal of high quality liquor.

This is a good corporate program.

(By comparison, my father worked at IBM and got discounts on hard drives. Ha!)

So today I made my way over to the local purveyor of distilled spirits. Being a good BA, I waited my turn at the counter, and then explained I was here to purchase one, two, three or maybe even four hundred dollars of the best products made by my firm.

As I smiled with satisfaction at how much they would love me, I, simultaneously, realized that the woman behind the counter was as happy as me, spoke fluent Chinese, and very little English. "Yes, we sell lee-quoor." At this she gestured at the store.

Twenty minutes later I emerged onto the sun-filled streets with bottles of Tanquery 10, Oban single malt whiskey, a very very carefully written receipt detailing said purchases, and a mission to collect some more before the end of the fiscal quarter.

As I said, a good, if confusing day.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Taxi Cab Confession

The post below comes from Dale Waldt, who is now a consultant in the world of publishing technology. He hasn't had to fire anyone for years.

I was working at a big publisher, head of a department that had offices in NYC, DC and upstate NY. There were several people upstate I was directed to layoff. The wizards in HR set a date for corporate-wide downsizing. Something vague about improving profit margins and being "lean". It struck me that profit margin is another way of saying bigger bonus for senior execs and that I was the henchman that had to rationalize their decision. Of course it snowed that morning and I couldn't get a plane to fly up and layoff my four people. 

I called my HR VP. I wanted to delay it and go when the weather cleared. She said no. Gotta do it all at the same time she said. HR logic. Said I had to do it over the phone. People all over the country getting canned and I have to be the one jerk who can't even do it in person.

I jumped in the cab and headed for LaGuardia anyway, but only got a few blocks before turning around and heading for my office.

The call went about as well as expected. I was called a few colorful names like chicken shit and asshole. I couldn't argue. I didn't even try to explain, just mumbled something about the snow and that I had no choice.

I had spent weeks trying to make their exit packages as strong as possible. But they would never know. We had worked together for years. They did nothing wrong, just victims of across the board cuts. Percentages. I had turned 4 colleagues into new enemies. This wasn't the first time I felt sick about being a mid-level manager. All accountability, no power.

I left the company within a few months.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Worst Day

This is an excerpt from my book, Typo. It's kind of depressing. But that's why it was my worst day at work.
I went in his office, closed the door, and offered to buy him out.
“And what would I be?”
“You could be chairman emeritus,” I said.
“How much?” He sucked his cheeks in tightly.
“Seven hundred thousand. We’d pay you seventy thousand a year for ten years.” It was less than half his pay, but, I thought, a fair deal for his half of the company. I would have been happy if someone had offered it to me.
“Not enough,” he said. “Two million.”
“Seven hundred thousand. And you have to sign this before I can draw it up.” I presented him with documents to transfer voting of his shares of stock to me. He said no. I told him again to sign.
He got up to leave and I put my open palm on his chest. Aside from when I’d hauled him off that bed, it was the most we’d ever touched. I tensed, resisted his weight, my arm straight. He pressed his cowboy boots to the floor and put his hand with its long yellow fingernails around my wrist. I prepared to put his skull through the thin office wall.
He released me, turned and collapsed in the chair.
“Is this what you want? Is this it?”
“Sign,” I said. He signed, stabbing at the page, and then put his head in his hands and cried. I left him to tell the employees. When I came back five minutes later, he’d snuck away. I had fired Dan.