I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: "O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous." And God granted it.
'So , whatchya do this weekend?" She waited for my answer as I poured myself a cup of coffee and toyed with the idea of telling her the truth. Well, since you ask, on Friday night I dressed like a dominatrix and went to a club called Perversion, where I picked up a stuttering goth boy and, well, let's just say it wasn't long before I discovered that he was wearing black lace panties. Saturday, I slept in and then around midnight, I joined up with my friends at Insomnia -- a hole-in-the-wall raver's paradise in K-town. A few pills of E, some snorts of K, and a sip of G later, I found myself at an after-party in Venice Beach, where I fed my buzz from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is when I returned home to crash so that I'd wake up in time to shower before work this morning. And you?
"Not much," I finally answered. "How about you?" I struggled to hold my eyes open as wide as hers and nod or shake my head at the right moments. When she finally stopped talking, I repeated her last spoken sentence with feigned enthusiasm: "You found those candles on sale at Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Unbelievable. I mean, that's awesome. Well, I guess we better get to work."
When it comes to coworkers, I remind myself of one rule: do not trust anyone. The office is festering with potential enemies just waiting to transform a sliver of information into a sword of destruction. One mention of a hangover to Chatty Kathy and by the end of the day the office will be buzzing about how my partying has a negative impact on my work. Once that happens, shit-talk is inevitable. As a result, my résumé is nothing but a road map following the trail of office enemies I have left behind. More often than not, these enemies were the catalyst for the termination of my employment.
Shortly after California deregulated its power industry, I began working for a new electric service provider in another city. Though I thought it odd that my new boss wore the same thing every day -- a black leotard hugging her copious rolls, hardly hidden by a long blazer -- I chose not to question her sanity. When she asked me to stay late, I did. When she asked me to lie to investors and potential customers, I did. When she asked me what I did for fun, I told her -- open-mike poetry readings, clubbing, and socializing with friends.
One day she asked me to work late, and I explained I was unable to -- it was poetry night, and I was off to strut my stuff onstage before strangers. She removed her hair-tie and, while pulling her long brown hair into another tighter ponytail, she launched a barrage of belittling statements. In a volume best construed as screaming, this woman berated my poetic endeavors, chastised my work, and as I stood shocked into silence, she dredged up every bit of my personal life that I'd ever shared with an employee of her "firm" and used it as fodder for why I was a worthless piece of shit.
After she'd expended her energy, I said I'd stay late. She looked pleased. That night, I typed a three-page letter with bullet points explaining my reasons for walking out. I included details of the lies I'd been asked to tell and made it very clear what I thought of the firm's integrity from the top down. I made copies for every employee and personally delivered them to each desk. I never set foot in that office again, but I heard from old coworkers that my little memo made a big impact.
I didn't have a chance to quit before I was fired from my next job. I worked as a recruiter for an employment agency, and the rules were specific -- no personal e-mails. The thing was, in our office of six women, everyone, including the branch manager, sent personal e-mails. I received personal e-mails and forwarded jokes from people in every department of the corporate office. So when I was written up for personal e-mails, I detected the stench of hypocrisy.
A month before, I had stood by helplessly and watched as the office harpies conspired to get rid of Nicole. Nicole was a "liability," I had overheard my manager say. She was convinced that Nicole, a black woman, would find some reason to sue the company for racial discrimination. I found this surprising, because our boss -- a boney old bitch from the Bronx -- had lived with her younger black boyfriend for over three years.
Nicole and I ate lunch together every day. She confided in me that she'd been reprimanded for not placing enough people in permanent jobs, though her numbers were the same as two other women in the office. She was fired two weeks later and replaced with a white woman.
"Gay men and black women have never worked out here," I heard our boss announce later that week.
My numbers were high, and everyone benefited -- commission was split equally between members of our branch. After Nicole left, we absorbed her percentage; the new girl would have to wait three months before getting her share of the cut. Personal e-mails from coworkers continued to flood my in-box, so I sensed no imminent danger in sending my own.
I should have known better than to write about my boss. I listed her faults to my friends, explained in detail why her write-ups were bullshit and how she plotted and schemed like a witch to suck the most out of her employees' commissions. I also wrote of my weekend exploits, from clubs to drugs, omitting few details. I used my Yahoo! account instead of company e-mail. I wasn't aware that with technology that allowed her to see what was on each computer screen, my boss had been reading all my racy correspondence. Oops.
Driving home with my box of personal items, I called my parents and sisters to share my indignation. It was the first time I had ever been fired, and I couldn't help but take it personally. Why was I having such difficulty keeping a job?
I began to see a pattern with each position I took. Men are easy to work with -- they're straightforward, and if they're going to attack, you will see it coming. Women are a different story: they have a competitive, catty streak. If you are a woman working with other women, it's not unreasonable to wear armor on your back. But I rarely encounter problems with women my age; all my office enemies have been middle-aged women.
I have never worked in an office without encountering a bitchy old battle-axe who had worked there for over ten years. Perhaps if you have been stuck in a dead-end job for too long and are bitter that your small, miserable life is passing you by, you will resent the effervescence of a young, happy woman. You'll hate the fresh, changing energy she brings to the table, and you'll do your best to squash it. I would advise any jubilant young woman to keep her happiness close to her chest in order to avoid becoming the target of such cronies, but the truth is, for every job I've been driven out of, I have stepped into a better, more prosperous one.