A while back, I blogged about the unintentionally hilarious bon mots of people I've worked for, such as the pet products magnate who ordered his firm's canine toys to be positioned on the low shelves in grocery stores, "So the dogs can see them."
A tsunami of requests (six and counting, including my mom) for a follow-up -- along with a slew of anecdotes from friends -- inspired this Top Ten list of boss encounters of the absurd kind.
1. My ex-boss at a music magazine was at his desk and about to chow down on a mammoth sandwich from the Stage Deli when he remembered he'd been invited to a free lunch. (Yes, there was such a thing as a free lunch during the halcyon days of the music biz.) The boss stopped at the mail room on his way out, sandwich in hand, and asked the mail guy if he'd eaten. The mail guy hadn't, and the boss sold him the sandwich for half price.
2. Speaking of music biz lunches, my friend Bob worked for a food-obsessed female record exec whose day revolved around her meticulously planned afternoon repasts. Bob says, "When it was a 'to-go' order she'd shout out to her secretary -- who was on the phone ordering -- 'Ask for extra butter!' Once, she was reviewing menu choices for an upcoming event and recited each possibility out loud so as not to miss a virtually tasty morsel. She got to one dish that had a rice component and looked up and me and asked most earnestly, 'Do people like rice?'"
3. Back to the music mag: one week, a special insert didn't arrive in time for publication. The owner came in on Monday -- after the issue had been printed and distributed -- and asked if I knew of a "printer's trick" to magically insert it.
4. My friend Gregg's job interview with that same owner went like this: Boss: "So, I hear you know everything about Rock'n'Roll?" Gregg: "Well, I think I know a lot." Boss: "Can you tell me about Frankie Avalon?" Gregg: "X%@!*#!" (Gregg got the gig.)
5. After we published a popular Elvis Presley cover story with a bright green background, my publisher came into the office I shared with Howie, our associate editor, and declaimed, "Green don't sell magazines." Howie looked him in the eye and said, "Oh, yes it do."
6. A very stoned colleague popped into the midtown Manhattan office I shared with a very drunk boss. He shrieked, "I just saw an American eagle at the window" and then quickly exited. The drunk boss said, to no one in particular, "I've seen plenty of things that weren't there, but this guy is insane."
7. Another ex-chief, to avoid paying double rent, insisted we move into our new offices before they -- or we -- were ready. We worked flat out for days and then took the plunge. When the chief arrived and surveyed the chaos -- there were still power tools on saw horses and wires hung like Spanish moss from an exposed ceiling -- he said, "We have to move back."
8. Most of us feel underpaid, but sometimes it goes the other way. My ex-colleague Ira recalls, "Several months after being hired for a start-up -- just sitting around a conference table doing nothing -- I told my boss that it wasn't worth it to come in, so I was quitting. He looked at me baffled, then angry, and exploded. 'Who the f**k told you to come in? I'll tell you if I need you. Shut up and take the money.'" Ira did, as did his boss.
9. My writer friend Dave says, "I'd been hired to be a house slave for a notoriously abusive Hollywood director, had been working for him for a week but hadn't yet met him. I'd been running errands for his associates and was told to always enter his house by the kitchen door. One evening I walk into the enormous kitchen and there he is, standing on the far side of the enormous food-prep island, talking with his sister. He turns on me like I'm a burglar, but his sister stops him and says, 'This is Dave. He works for you now.' The director chews me out for entering without knocking. I reply that I'm sorry, but that was what I'd been told to do, and I would not do it again. I reintroduce myself, walk to the near side of the island and extend a hand to shake. He lifts his hand, but not to meet mine: He raises his hand flat, palm down, positioning an enormous ruby ring inches from my lips. I reach up and shake the flaccid fish, then turn around and march outside, wondering how long I was going to last at five bucks an hour and twenty-four cents a mile."
10. I turn to Bob Z, who's helped shape my world view since I was a teenager, for the ultimate crazy boss story. In the Gospel according to Bob, God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son." Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on." God say, "No." Abe say, "What?" God say, "You can do what you want, Abe, but the next time you see me comin' you better run." Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done ?" God says...well, you know the rest.
Seems everyone has a favorite boss encounter of the absurd kind. What's yours?
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