Startup Beatdown

Chapter 9: Leaving Early

The rest of my week went like this: On Thurs­day, I tried my best just to get through the day, spend­ing most of my time there star­ing at the lit­tle clock in the cor­ner of my screen, wish­ing it were 6:00.  Though, tech­ni­cal­ly, I was sup­posed to work from 9:00 to 6:00 every day, leav­ing on time was often a crap­shoot (and where the house usu­al­ly won).  Leav­ing ear­ly was an impos­si­bil­i­ty.  Basi­cal­ly, it all came down to this – if Sean Etin made it in to his office before 6:00, I could count on stay­ing at least an extra half hour (though it was not uncom­mon to stay an extra hour or two).  If he didn’t arrive at 6:00, I could slink away.  Some­times, I heard the door that sep­a­rates the home part of his house from the work area where we were sit­u­at­ed slam open, the heavy, quick-paced sound of his foot­steps, and his bark­ing orders for those unfor­tu­nate to be in his sight to stay – while I qui­et­ly tip-toed down the spi­ral stair­case and out of harm’s way.  There was one time, in par­tic­u­lar, when I heard him scream my name through the walls of his house as I was get­ting into my car (need­less to say, I jumped in and gunned it out of there).

Oth­er times, I was not so for­tu­nate, with his entrance coin­cid­ing with my turn­ing off my com­put­er or putting on my coat.  “Stick around.  I’ll need to speak to you for a minute,” he’d say, brush­ing past me and get­ting back to the phone con­ver­sa­tion on his blue­tooth ear­piece.  “You too,” he’d tell whomev­er else he hap­pened to bump into.

At times like these, I would fol­low him into the senior staff room and then wait with the oth­er unfor­tu­nate souls, as Sean Etin con­tin­ued with his phone con­ver­sa­tion and stepped into his pri­vate office.  And so, we’d wait, stand­ing around like cat­tle in a pen.  Some­times we’d wait ten to fif­teen min­utes, lis­ten­ing to him bark about “destroy­ing that piece of shit,” orches­trat­ing some pow­er play to deal with some trou­ble­some board mem­ber, or tell an off-col­or joke.  Usu­al­ly, though, it would take much longer, and we’d all stand around, lit­er­al­ly with noth­ing to do but grit our teeth and silent­ly wish him harm.

Once his call had end­ed, he’d call one of us in – usu­al­ly one of the senior staff mem­bers like Flo or Joel.  The rest of us would con­tin­ue to wait, lean­ing against the office desks and qui­et­ly chat­ting to our­selves.  This would usu­al­ly last anoth­er half an hour or so.  Often­times, Flo or Joel would come out of the office after their meet­ing, look at their watch­es and say, “you guys can go,” as we hear Sean Etin back on the phone.

It might seem like a frus­trat­ing occur­rence to stay an extra hour or so every cou­ple of days with­out any over­time ben­e­fits and then leave with­out being told why you were asked to stay, but the alter­na­tive was much worse.  Some­times, Sean Etin was insis­tent on speak­ing to one of us and then the process would be much more ardu­ous.  For one thing, the wait­ing involved was about twice as long, as we had to wait in turn to meet with him, and these meet­ings were almost always sand­wiched in between more phone calls.  In these cas­es, I would usu­al­ly be the last per­son called into his office, but final­ly, at 7:30, or 8:00, or 8:30, I would be beck­oned and take a seat across from him, his clut­tered desk thank­ful­ly keep­ing me out of arm’s reach.  It was extreme­ly rare for him to bring up the progress of a project I was work­ing on, or ask­ing me to do some­thing that need­ed to be done that night.  More often, he would call me in just to bab­ble at me.  I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard him say how “the wheels are spin­ning” or “the pen­du­lum is swing­ing” and how “we’re about to exit the start­up phase.”  He would con­tin­ue to spew his stream-of-con­scious­ness plat­i­tudes until he receives his next call, at which point he’d say, “I have to take this.  You got every­thing I said, right?”

Yes,” I’d lie, briskly step­ping out of his office and head­ing home before the call ends and he calls me back in.  It was once in the blue moon where I was asked to stay late for the pur­pose of doing actu­al work that could not wait until morn­ing.

Occa­sion­al­ly, Sean Etin would also call impromp­tu staff-wide meet­ings.  This was the case on Thurs­day evening.  At 5:58, as I was pack­ing up to go, Sean Etin lum­bers in and tells every­one to meet him in the senior staff room.  So, we all gath­ered togeth­er as Sean Etin began, the senior staffers sit­ting at their desks while the rest of us (con­sist­ing of myself, my three bud­dies in the cre­ative depart­ment and the omega wolf, Hemp­stead) stood.

I called you all in because I have some big news,” Sean Etin began.  I briefly won­dered if this was relat­ed to some of the things we had dis­cussed on the day I was locked in his car (was it only two days ago?), or if he had heard about my “pow­er play” the day before.  These thoughts were only made in pass­ing, as I stopped car­ing.  I just want­ed to leave.  “The pen­du­lum is swing­ing and we’re about to exit the start­up phase…”  I felt stu­pid for won­der­ing what the meet­ing was about, as I should have known.  It wasn’t about any­thing.

Sean Etin con­tin­ued to ram­ble, hit­ting on a wide range of top­ics, such as his upcom­ing tri­al with a cer­tain large inter­net cor­po­ra­tion, his pre­vi­ous bat­tles in court, play­ful (and uncom­fort­able) jabs at his sis­ter, Rita, and how much mon­ey we were all going to make – but he elu­ci­dat­ed us with no new infor­ma­tion.

When I got to know Flo a lit­tle bet­ter, she told me about a game she and a for­mer employ­ee used to play at meet­ings like these.  As Sean Etin con­duct­ed the meet­ing, they would take a piece of paper and start draw­ing cir­cles.  Every time Sean wan­dered onto a new top­ic, they would cre­ate a new cir­cle, but they were not allowed to com­plete a cir­cle until he came to a def­i­nite con­clu­sion to a top­ic.  If he mean­dered on any top­ic for an extend­ed peri­od of time with­out get­ting to a point, they would draw a spi­ral.  At the end of the meet­ing, they would count how many spi­rals and incom­plete cir­cles they had and com­pare them to the num­ber of spi­rals and incom­plete cir­cles from pre­vi­ous meet­ings.  It sound­ed like a good game, but I nev­er played it.  The sym­bols seemed too sober­ing a metaphor to play with.

Back to the meet­ing, Sean Etin would con­tin­ue his ora­tion, spew­ing words that seemed designed with the sole pur­pose of killing time.  I imag­ined tiny, micro­scop­ic let­ters – assort­ed ‘g’s and ‘k’s and ‘e’s – com­ing out of his mouth and attach­ing them­selves to the hands of a clock, destroy­ing it like a virus destroys a healthy cell.  He spoke for near­ly two hours, only stop­ping when his cell phone rang.  “I have to take this,” he’d say every time the phone would ring.  “Nobody go any­where.”  Still stand­ing and hav­ing not moved from the spot where I stood when the meet­ing began, I was now sway­ing in place, reliev­ing pres­sure on one foot and then the oth­er.  While I only gave my watch dis­creet, furtive glances dur­ing the first hour, I was unashamed­ly star­ing at it for the sec­ond, think­ing “end now, end now, end now …” for every sec­ond that ticked away.  Towards the end of the meet­ing, Sean Etin got to what I could only assume was the point of call­ing us togeth­er, talk­ing about stock options and how there was only a lim­it­ed time for us to invest at the ‘start­up price’ of some­thing like $30 a share.  I didn’t real­ly under­stand much of it, oth­er than the fact that he was ask­ing us to pour mon­ey into a com­pa­ny that we saw was fail­ing on a first­hand basis every­day, and which I per­son­al­ly wasn’t exact­ly sure I want­ed to suc­ceed.  I stored this infor­ma­tion under ‘crap I’ll nev­er need to know’ when Rita began push­ing Sean to wrap it up.  He thank­ful­ly did, with the only bit of infor­ma­tion that was worth any­thing to me – he announced that the next day, Fri­day, we would only have to come in to work for a half the day.

To me, hav­ing gone through the week I went through, this was per­haps the sweet­est words I could hear, besides per­haps, “Joel and I have con­tract­ed a rare form of anal warts that cause us extreme dis­com­fort and will keep us from com­ing in to work for the next year or so.  Here is a big pile of mon­ey for all of you.”

So, I left work relieved at the prospect of not hav­ing to be there for a full day tomor­row.  I called up my friend and arranged to go to Best Buy with him in the ear­ly after­noon.  There were some good sales and I thought I deserved to treat myself to some DVDs from the mon­ey I earned from work, which I was not real­ly spend­ing.

Even with the news that I would only have to suf­fer through five hours of work instead of nine, I still didn’t feel like inter­act­ing with any­one.  I didn’t speak to my par­ents since the night after I got locked in Sean Etin’s car, even though we were liv­ing in the same house.  I felt com­bustible.  Unsta­ble.  On edge.  The idea of the half-day relieved some of the anger I felt, but I didn’t know how much.  For the last two nights, I went straight to my room, with­out speak­ing to my par­ents, with­out check­ing my email and with­out hav­ing din­ner.  I would lock the door and watch the extend­ed edi­tions of the Lord of the Rings movies.  That night, I watched all three and a half hours of The Two Tow­ers and went to sleep.

The next day, I went in to work and once again watched the lit­tle clock on my screen, wait­ing for 2:00 to come.  At around mid­day, Sean Etin made a rare pre-6:00 appear­ance, but only to get some­thing from his office and announce he had to leave some­where.  “Great,” I thought.  With Sean Etin gone, I could leave ear­ly on time.

As 2:00 approached, and I began pack­ing up, a call came through.  “SeaShel Pro­duc­tions, this is Dan­ny,” I said, as one of my many unof­fi­cial job func­tions was as the office recep­tion­ist.

Put Flo on the phone.”

My heart sank.  It was Sean.  I trans­ferred the call.

A few moments lat­er, Flo came into the hall­way and announced, “nobody leave until Sean gets back.”

When is he get­ting back?” I asked.

He said very soon.”

As 2:00 hit and I found myself trapped in my seat, a sud­den wave of anger washed over me.  I was angri­er than when I was stuck in his car for five hours.  I was angri­er than when I was “put in my place” by the senior staff.  I was angri­er than when I stood for the two hours after work and lis­ten to Sean Etin prat­tle on about noth­ing.  I had looked at leav­ing ear­ly as a karmic reward for the hor­ri­ble week I had, and for every minute of free­dom that was denied to me, I increased in vit­ri­ol.

An hour had passed and I had to call my friend and tell him that our trip to Best Buy was can­celled.  “I’m stuck at work,” I said.  I couldn’t bring myself to say any­thing else.  I felt like scream­ing.  I hung up and stared dag­gers at the lit­tle clock.

Usu­al­ly, in the call of office-relat­ed injus­tice, my first incli­na­tion would be to join my three friends in the back room (or, if it were lunchtime, the bas­ket­ball courts where we usu­al­ly played quick pick­up games) and bitch about it.  The bitch­ing would turn into jok­ing and I would feel bet­ter.  I couldn’t do it this time.  I was afraid, once I start­ed com­plain­ing, I wouldn’t be able to stop.  I felt that if I tried to release some of my anger, it would all come out in a mael­strom of unbri­dled rage.

At 4:00, I found myself uncon­scious­ly clench­ing and unclench­ing my fists and toes.  By 5:00, I was sur­prised to find that I was breath­ing much heav­ier than nor­mal.  I don’t know what it was.  Sure­ly, not being able to leave ear­ly wasn’t near­ly as heinous an injus­tice as any­thing else I had to go through that week (or, real­ly, any week), but some­how, this both­ered me more than any­thing else I had to go through up until that point.  Maybe it was a buildup to every­thing I went through.  Maybe I hat­ed my job so much that being denied leav­ing at the only time it seemed like a sure thing put me over the edge.  Maybe it was that this seemed to be an out­right lie as opposed to the duplic­i­tous equiv­o­ca­tion I was used to.

Per­ry came to my desk.

Hey, man.”

I am so angry.  I am so god­damned angry,” I mum­bled to him as qui­et­ly as I could.  “He lied to us.  He lied.”

Per­ry looked at me incred­u­lous­ly.  “Are you real­ly sur­prised?  Did you real­ly think we were going to leave ear­ly?”

I did.”  I don’t know why I did, but I did.

I nev­er believed it for a sec­ond.  He’s promised us half days before and nev­er once deliv­ered.  In fact, he once said that every Fri­day would be a half-day.  I real­ly can’t believe you believed him.”

I couldn’t real­ly either.  I felt even angri­er.

Per­ry left and I went back to clench­ing, star­ing and breath­ing heav­i­ly.

At 6:05, Sean Etin came charg­ing into the hall­way.

Nobody go any­where,” he said, as he rushed by us to his office.  I stayed in my seat and turned off my com­put­er.  There was no doubt – we were stay­ing for no rea­son.  I sat there and wait­ed.

Twen­ty min­utes lat­er, Flo stepped into the hall­way.  “All right,” she said.  “You guys can go …”

 

At home, I went straight to my room, locked the door and put in “Return of the King.”  Some time lat­er, my mom, who had not seen me in days, knocked on my door.  “Dan­ny, can I come in?”

No.”

Dan­ny, what’s wrong?”

Leave me the hell alone!”  The sec­ond it came out, I regret­ted it.  I ran to the door, unlocked it and apol­o­gized.  I told her about the rest of the week.  My mom lis­tened and said, “You need to quit this job.”  My dad, who came in as I was telling the sto­ry, put in his opin­ion.  “Don’t you dare quit until you have anoth­er job lined up.  You can’t just sit around and do noth­ing.  Don’t be stu­pid about this.”

I rec­og­nized the sense my dad made.  I had already gone through long peri­ods of unem­ploy­ment, and that wasn’t very fun either.  Besides, my health and den­tal insur­ance kicked in in a mat­ter of days.  (I actu­al­ly won­dered if I was treat­ed so bad­ly this week because they want­ed me to quit before my ben­e­fits kicked in…)  I was deter­mined to stay, at least until I took advan­tage of my insur­ance, but I need­ed to find a release to my frus­tra­tion or I would go crazy.  I didn’t want to yell at my mom again for no rea­son, or do worse (I lat­er found out that this was a com­pa­ra­bly light reac­tion as com­pared to what a for­mer employ­ee in a sim­i­lar job sit­u­a­tion did …).  At any rate, I knew that I had to find a way to make my job more bear­able.  I had already stopped car­ing about the work done there.  Now I need­ed to find the time I spent there tol­er­a­ble, which was dif­fi­cult, since the only thing I learned to look for­ward to was leav­ing  …

 

On Sat­ur­day, I called up my friend and we end­ed up going to Best Buy.  As opposed to the $20-$30 I was plan­ning on spend­ing, I end­ed up spend­ing over $200 on DVDs.  I felt a lit­tle bet­ter.  It didn’t solve my prob­lem of what to do at work, but it at least gave me some­thing to do when I got home …

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