Chapter 7 in my true life work horror story. In this chapter, I go on a field trip to Washington DC with my boss and nearly die of heat stroke…
Chapter 7: Riding With the Devil, Part 1
Sean Etin drove his car like he lived his life – with the pedal to the floor and a reckless disregard for everything around him. I had the terrifying displeasure of riding with him a few times, and each time I got out of the car, I would want to get on my hands and knees and kiss the ground (mixed with the need to throw up on it). Sean Etin would drive as fast as his car could go, no matter what the road (it was not uncommon for me to swerve to the side of the road as I came to and from work, as Sean Etin zipped through his own neighborhood, where his own children played, at 60mph). He would bob and weave his way through traffic, never using his brake and never EVER using his turn signal (which is a big pet peeve of mine). On one-lane roads, he would practically ram the cars in front of him, sticking to their bumpers like glue, even if he were already going way over the speed limit. He would then impatiently honk his horn as if to say, “Move out of the way! I’M driving. ME! Sean Etin!”
The first time I ever rode with him, I was sandwiched in the back seat with a bunch of other employees, as Sean Etin drove us to the train station, where everyone would travel to New York (except me and Hempstead, who had to drive the cars back). On the way there, Sean needlessly cut someone off, and at a red light, the woman in the other car pulled next to us and gave Sean the finger.
“Hey, Bossman, I think you made someone angry,” Joel said, as he pointed to the woman.
“Oh really?” Sean Etin remarked. “Watch me make a new friend.” And with that, he rolled down his window and began yelling at the woman. “Hey lady! You have something you want to say to me? HELLO? Don’t you want to be my friend? Roll down your window, lady!”
The woman did not roll down her window, and tried her best to keep her eyes forward as Sean Etin made cutesy (in this case, cutesy = horrifying) faces at her, tilting his giant head down, rolling his eyes up, pursing his lips and putting one of his sausage pinkies to a corner of his mouth. “What an asshole,” I thought to myself, as Sean swiveled around, looking at each of us for validation that what he just did was the funniest thing in the world, his red potato face beaming with joy.
Sean Etin drove an Escalade, which suited him perfectly. It was the biggest, heaviest, most-expensive SUV on the road. It’s 8-miles-to-the-gallon says to the world, “I can afford to piss my money away, and the environment isn’t my problem – it’s yours!” I have since noticed that, like dogs, cars can say a lot about their owners. Escalades are for the rich and extremely aggressive. To this day, I have yet to see an Escalade use its turn signal. Seriously.
The Etins, of course, owned two Escalades – one for Sean and one for Shelia. During my time there, Shelia’s Escalade was replaced by an Escalade of the same model and year, but a different color. They also owned a pickup truck and a two-seater Lexus sports car, which never left the garage.
Well, that’s not entirely true … the one time I saw it driven, I was in the passenger seat. It’s (surprise!) a crazy story. It goes like this:
It was lunchtime at Seashel Productions and, being the stingy person I am, I brought my lunch in a brown paper bag, which was waiting for me in the company fridge. I was on my way to the kitchen to eat it, when Sean Etin barged into the hallway from the private side of his mansion, which we worked out of. It was extremely rare to see Sean enter this side of the house any time before 5:30 (at which time, he would order his employees to stay late on most days) and any time he appeared before then meant trouble for the person he was looking for.
“Just who I wanted to see. Danny, you need to come with me to Washington.”
“When?” I asked.
“’When?’ Now!” he said, amazed at my stupidity.
Flo, who was going to join me in the kitchen, interjected. “Danny just started his lunch break, Sean.”
“Well, I have an extremely important meeting that starts in forty-five minutes, and if I miss it, I’ll never get another chance to meet with this guy. Danny, I’ll treat you to lunch on the way back, but we need to go NOW. Meet me outside in three minutes.”
He marched back to his side of the house and Flow gave me a “sorry kid” expression before she made her way into the kitchen. I sighed deeply and made my way down the spiral staircase and waited for Sean in his driveway.
I had to accompany Sean on a trip to DC once before. That time, he pulled me and Joel from what we were doing and threw us in his Escalade, where he harangued us on all the things that needed to be done. In the forty-five minutes it took to get him to his meeting, he didn’t stop listing random tasks (in random order) in the rapid succession of machinegun fire. “I need someone to write Marc Lasseter. We need to get ‘round to titling the new Goo songs, and it needs to get done yesterday! Find the contact information to Colin. He’s a child actor. Maybe his name is Kevin. Nabulla needs to come in tomorrow and work on the phones. Enter into the Webby Awards, and make sure we win! Bring me the head of … “
I furiously scribbled down as much of what he said as I could, but I was only able to get about two-thirds of everything down. Later, I copied what I wrote in an email and sent it off to Joel, who, as far as I could tell, never got to work on a single thing Sean mentioned.
Sean’s upchucking of tasks wasn’t why we rode with him, though. He actually had us accompany him to DC so we could drive his car back (Shelia, who was in the city, would pick him up when his meeting was over).
So, with a notebook in hand, I was prepared to write down notes on the way there and drive his car on the way back. This plan was strengthened when Sean rumbled out of his house and asked me, “which car should we take? The Escalade or the Lexus?”
“The Lexus,” I quickly said. Riding in an Escalade was one thing, but driving one was quite another. I imagined myself in the driver’s seat, barreling down a steep decline, smacking old ladies and dogs and rolling over other cars like a monster truck, me slamming on the brakes to no avail. No, driving an Escalade wasn’t for me.
“The Lexus? How do you feel safe in that thing?”
“It’s your car!” I thought very hard, but did not say.
“Well, okay. If that’s what you want …”
So, Sean Etin and I got into his Lexus. He entered in the destination in his navigation system (with some difficulty – either mentally or due to the sheer size of his fingers) and we drove off. I had little hope that Sean’s comments on the Lexus being a less safe car would mean he would drive more carefully, and he did not exceed my expectations, peeling out of his neighborhood and making a left turn at a stop sign without stopping (and possibly speeding up).
Unlike the last time I rode with him to DC, I had no need for the notebook. From the moment he began driving until the moment we reached DC, Sean barked and honked on his cell phone’s bluetooth headset. He made about five or six calls in rapid succession. He would simply end his call and dial the next person without saying a word to me. This made the ride slightly more pleasant, though there were numerous times, as he swerved and sped and nearly rammed his car, where I thought to myself, “this is not how I want to die …”
It was interesting to listen to him work on the phone. On one call, he was the raging brute I knew so well. On another, he was charming and affable. On another, he played dumb. It reminded me that he didn’t get rich by bullying millionaires out of their milk money. He owned an ability that most successful people possessed – he could change his personality to suit the environment. This is an ability I sorely lack, owning only two basic personalities – the silly goose and the quiet creep. Neither have been terribly helpful during the course of this job (or in any aspect of my life, upon further inspection …).
Sean Etin didn’t get off the phone until we were already in DC. He probably would have continued his calls until he was opening the door to his meeting, but there was a situation. In addition to having trouble programming the navigation system, he also had trouble following its directions. Every time Sean Etin made a wrong turn, the machine would recalculate, only by the time it did, Sean (not a patient man by any stretch of the imagination) would already be making another wrong turn, and the machine would pause again to recalculate. “Stupid, fucking machine,” Sean Etin muttered. He looked at the clock on his dash and saw me from the corner of his eye. “Danny, you had better get me to this meeting before I’m late.”
Not being the one driving or a navigation system myself, I thought it was an odd threat to make, but I nevertheless took it seriously. I did not want to drive back with this man if he had missed his meeting. What was I supposed to do, though? I didn’t know the DC area and I didn’t know where we were going. What I did know was that not helping him meant trouble I did not want to deal with. I looked at the navigation system. While the screen was still frozen, recalculating (or possibly just giving up), our position on the screen was still there, as was the general direction of our destination. “Turn right here, Sean,” I told him with as much authority as I could muster. I didn’t know exactly where we were going, but I knew that our destination was to our north and west. I promised myself, as I continued to direct him to the general area of where he needed to be, that I would never sound unsure of myself and never have him turn around. Any sign of weakness and I was done for.
Fortunately, in heading him blindly in the right direction, I spotted the street we were supposed to be on. “Turn left here and just keep going ‘til we get there,” I said, feeling pretty good that my gambit paid off and that I didn’t give a crazy, violent, very large man a reason to take his anger out on me. I, of course, got no ‘thank you’ nor did I expect one.
Sean pulled his car to the side of the building, illegally standing his car in a yellow-marked loading zone right in front of the entrance. He was exactly on time.
I was set to drive his car back to his home, but Sean said something that changed my plans. “Stay in the car and drive it around the block if the police ask you to move. I have satellite radio. Feel free to check it out. I don’t know how long this meeting will be – fifteen minutes, an hour – but this should keep the cops from asking you to move the car for a while.” And with that said, he reached into the middle compartment of his car and pulled out a handicapped sign, which he attached to his rear view mirror. “I took it from my mom,” he explained. The situation and the wording of his explanation were so despicable that I have no idea how I was able to keep my contempt of him from reaching the surface. Perhaps it did, and he simply didn’t notice. At any rate, I couldn’t wait for him to leave the car so I could listen to some soothing oldies on his XM. In fact, I hoped to God that his meeting would take over an hour, and God, that irascible scamp, complied, but not before this happened:
“Uh-oh,” Sean said, as he was getting out of the car. “Looks like I’m running out of gas. You’re going to have to leave the car off.”
And with that, he was gone.
I remember finding it amusing at the time. I was nearly three months into my job, and was well used to the ridiculous abuse that I went through. Of course I’d be left sitting in an illegally parked car with no power in the middle of DC … “It’s just another typical day at Seashel Productions,” I thought to myself …
Within minutes, I found my situation to be much less entertaining. It was just past high noon, in late August. The sun was shining brightly directly above the car and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was over one hundred degrees out and for those of you unfamiliar with DC summers, the humidity is such that you feel like you’re constantly walking through thick spider webs heated by a blow dryer. Sean Etin’s tiny sports car soon became an oven, and without power there was no air conditioner. With no radio, I had no way of entertaining myself other than mentally counting the degrees going up.
I was suddenly wishing that Sean’s meeting would be of the fifteen-minute variety. That amount of time I could stand, but a solid hour in a baking car – I didn’t know if I’d survive.
Fifteen minutes passed. Then another fifteen. The heat and the boredom were getting to me. I searched Sean’s car for something to occupy my time, but the only thing I found was a novelization of the ‘Xmen 3’ – a movie I hated to begin with. I threw the book back, hoping that I wouldn’t become bored enough to read it, when it hit me – I still had my cell phone! With my spare time, I could call up some old friends and catch up. So, I called up some friends – people I haven’t spoken to in months or even years. Nobody picked up. Perhaps they didn’t recognize my number. Perhaps they did recognize my number. Most likely, they didn’t pick up the phone because it was Tuesday afternoon and they were at work (and probably at a job that did not trap them in cars). With the seventh call, I closed my phone and angrily threw it in the bucket seat next to me.
It was now a full hour since Sean had left me in his car, and my sweaty shirt was now acting as a bonding agent between myself and the upholstery. I had a brief moment of clarity and mentally kicked myself for not thinking of it earlier. I put the key in the ignition, turned it and rolled down the windows. Horribly hot air sucked out of the car, replaced by slightly less hot, but stickier air. It felt great, but I needed more. I stuck my arm out the window, letting the slightly cooler air dry some of the sweat on my forearms. I let my hand jut awkwardly out of the car for a few moments, enjoying the sensations, before I rested my arm on the outside of the car. I could swear I heard the sizzle of burning flesh as my arm made contact with the outside metal of the car. “Aaahgh!” I pulled my arm back in and rolled up my sleeve. A reddish pink welt was appearing where I contacted the burning metal. “Oh, that’s it,” I said, putting the keys back in the ignition, rolling up the windows, blasting the AC and flipping to the oldies station on his XM radio.
“You didn’t have to be so nice,” I sang along, “I would have liked you anyway …”
I enjoyed the cold jets of the air conditioner and the radio for fifteen solid minutes. The oldies had done the trick and I calmed down. The last thing I wanted to do was to have Sean come back and find that his car was out of gas. He had been gone for nearly an hour and a half and I figured he had to be coming back soon. I had decided, in case he didn’t, that I would ration air conditioning and radio. I’d leave everything off and open the windows for twenty minutes. Then, for eight minutes, I’d pull up the windows and turn everything on. It seemed more than fair, I thought.
So, with renewed vigor, I attacked my cell phone, calling every name in my address book. (If you were my friend at the time and I had your number, yes, I did give you a call). Nobody picked up, but my mom, who was at work.
“Guess where I am,” I said to her. My mom worked in DC and as it turns out, I was about fifteen blocks away from her. I told her my situation and silently wished that she could take care of everything. I imagined her marching over to my boss’s meeting, giving him a piece of her mind, grabbing me by the arm and taking me home. Sometimes, it sucks being an adult. “He left you in the car for nearly two hours without air conditioning? It’s a hundred degrees out! You wouldn’t do this kind of thing to a dog. I really don’t like this boss of yours,” she said.
“If he doesn’t come back soon, and you’re bored, give me a call.”
That was all she could do. “I will,” I told her. I hung up and continued down my list of people to call. Nobody picked up. Twenty minutes had now passed and I rolled up the windows and turned on the car.
“I say Georgia,” I sang along, “Georgia …”
By the third hour, I found myself reading through the first few chapters of the Xmen 3 novella, which only reminded me of how much I disliked the movie. I hadn’t heard a word from Sean Etin since he left and I was growing more and more miserable. I had forgotten that I didn’t get to eat lunch, and my stomach was now strongly reminding me. I had considered getting out of the car and getting food. There was a hot dog cart in the far distance, but I decided not to leave the car. For one thing, I knew that the second I was out of the car’s sight, Sean Etin would come out, and drive home without me, teaching me a lesson about abandoning my post. Or, the police would come and write him a ticket, which I would have to pay. The point is, I knew my luck, and I knew leaving would cause me added grief. Besides, Sean Etin owed me a lunch and I was going to make sure I’d order as much food as possible …
As these thoughts were running through my head, a police car slowly drove towards me.
“Yes!” I thought. “I’m illegally parked. They’ll order me to move. Then I can find a gas station. And find a nice shady spot somewhere.” I threw the worthless book to the side and looked hopefully at the approaching squad car. As they slowly crept by, I looked into the window, trying to make eye contact with them – trying to connect with their minds and souls. “Ask me to move,” I silently implored them. “Help me! Save me!”
They averted their gaze and rolled past Sean’s car. “Arrest me! Come back!” But they were gone. I guess I could have celebrated the fact that had I left the car when I wanted to, there very well could have been a parking ticket written, but I’ve never really been a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. Instead, I cursed Sean Etin’s mother’s handicap sign, cursed myself for not being sharp enough to take it down in time, and gave an especially invective curse for Sean Etin for simply being the kind of man that he was. Then I turned back on the car.
“Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on …”
By the fourth hour, I was seriously wondering if Sean Etin would ever come back. I was beginning to wonder if something had gone awry. Maybe his massive body gave out on him. Maybe he was murdered by someone he had wronged in the past (perhaps he had left this person in a car for four hours …). Or, maybe he had been the one to do the murdering. This seemed more likely …
I had decided to do some investigating. I called the office. Joel picked up (which was a very rare occurrence). I didn’t care that I hated him almost as much as I hated Sean – I told him about my situation, emphasizing the fact that I was stuck in the car for over four hours and that I wasn’t allowed to use the air conditioner (which I didn’t tell him I was using anyway). He had sympathy for me, and I hungrily took it. “That’s messed up, man,” he said, chuckling a little. “Wooo …”
I asked to speak to Flo, who had the best chance of knowing Sean’s schedule. Joel connected her and I immediately told the story again. Flo was too much of a professional to ever badmouth her employer over the phone and in front of other employees, but I could tell she sympathized. “Hang in there, Danny,” she said in her southern drawl. I asked if she knew when Sean would be out of his meeting. She didn’t. Sean did, indeed, state that he didn’t know how long his meeting would take, but by mentioning fifteen minutes and an hour, certain expectations were made – the main one being that I wouldn’t be in the car for over four hours. I asked Flo to call my cell and keep me informed if she hears anything, and hung up.
I then called my mom again. “You’re still in the car?!?” she asked in disbelief. I told my mom my situation. “Have you tried calling him?” she asked me.
“What am I supposed to say when he picks up? Where the hell are you? I’ve been waiting in your car for over four hours? He knows this. I think it’ll only get him mad, especially if I’m interrupting an important meeting.”
“Well, you yourself said that you don’t know what happened to him, and it has been four hours. You should call him and say that you’re concerned that something might have happened to him.”
“I guess that … might work.” The only thing I was questioning was my believability in pretending to care about him.
My mom ended up staying on the phone with me, keeping me company while I waited in the car. She told me about the legal cases she was working on and read me lawyer-related jokes that were forwarded to her work email. Forty-five minutes flew by with my mom on the phone, and when I hung up, I decided to follow my mom’s advice and call Sean Etin.
I took a deep breath and dialed his number. One ring. Two rings. Three—
“Hello, what is it?” Sean Etin barked.
“Yeah, Sean, it’s Danny,” I said, trying hard not to sound meek, but probably failing. “I’m calling you ‘cuz it’s been a while since you went in there, and I was getting … concerned.”
“You were getting ‘concerned?’” Sean Etin asked, contemptuously. “What do you think could happen at the dentist’s that would warrant concern? ‘You were getting concerned.’ Really.”
I was going into shock. He was at the dentist …
“I’m going to be done soon. Is the car still in front of the building?”
“… yeah …” He was at the goddamn dentist …
“Good.” He hung up. The phone stayed at my ear. He was at the mother-fucking dentist. He had me wait in a car for five hours with no power, in oppressive heat, while he was at the dentist …
I closed my phone and turned on the car. “Big girls doe-wont cry-eye-eye. They don’t cry. Big girllls don’t cry-eye –“ I turned the car back off. I wasn’t in the mood for music and I no longer felt the heat (though, to be fair, the sun was beginning to set at this point …). He was at the dentist …
I later told my dad about my misadventure in the car. “Why didn’t you move the car anyway?” he asked. “Better yet, why didn’t you show some initiative and fill up his car for him, so you wouldn’t have to bake in there.” The answers to those questions are, “I don’t know.” It seems incredibly obvious now, but those thoughts never occurred to me while I was in the car. Maybe it was because my brain was pretty fried from the heat within a half an hour. Or, maybe, it’s just because I’m not the kind of person that thinks that way. This could be the reason why, in my opinion, I’ve taken more job-related abuse than anyone I know. Most people would have driven somewhere else and lied about it, or filled up the tank, or bashed Sean’s fat face in with a tire iron. Not me, though. When the fight or flight response is supposed to kick in, I simply take it, hoping only that, when all is said and done, that it makes a good story at the end.
Anyway, this was how my worst week at Seashel began. I still had the ride back to deal with and a couple of other bad things that happened to me, but that’s a different story (the next chapter, in fact). But, needless to say, I never did get treated to lunch …