Chapter 8: Riding With the Devil Part 2

Startup Beatdown

Chapter 8 – Riding With the Devil Part 2


In a way, the dri­ve back from DC was worse than the ride there and the five hours I spent boil­ing in his car.  This wasn’t because some­thing hor­ri­ble hap­pened on the way back.  No.  The ride back was worse because it gave me hope, which at SeaShel Pro­duc­tions, was much worse for my long-term well-being than mere­ly being yelled at, or fear­ing for my life while Sean Etin reck­less­ly bruised his way down the road.  Even being stuck in the man’s car, not being allowed to use his air con­di­tion­er in near dead­ly heat for five hours had no long-term detri­men­tal effects (that I know of…).  No, the great car­cino­gen in an envi­ron­ment where mis­ery is real­i­ty and all good things are will‑o’-the-wisps is hope that things will improve.

Of course, when Sean Etin first came back to the car, I was still burn­ing with rage and absorbed heat, hav­ing just min­utes before learned that what I thought was an impor­tant busi­ness meet­ing that kept me locked in his car for five hours end­ed up being a dentist’s appoint­ment.  For some rea­son, one which I still can’t ful­ly explain, I was will­ing to “take one for the team” (even though I hat­ed the team I was on…)if it meant some­thing pos­i­tive for the com­pa­ny, but the fact that Sean Etin was wast­ing my time and putting me in bod­i­ly harm for his per­son­al busi­ness filled me with pal­pa­ble anger, which I could taste in the back of my mouth and caused my vision to blur.  (The anger I felt when I was forced to per­form these per­son­al tasks comes into play in lat­er sto­ries to a much larg­er degree … so look for­ward to that …).

Well, that was hell,” Sean Etin said, get­ting into the car and turn­ing on the igni­tion.  “They pumped me full of pain killers, but I think I’m good to dri­ve.”  I was hap­py to hear him say that, as I did not want to do any­thing for this man and hon­est­ly did not trust myself to hold his life in my hands by dri­ving him home.  I didn’t respond.  He peeled out of his ille­gal­ly parked spot and began dri­ving out of DC.  As opposed to the ride there, and all the oth­er times I was a pas­sen­ger in his car, I didn’t fear for my life.  The sun had fried my brain and my anger sup­plant­ed my sur­vival instincts.  I was no longer clutch­ing the uphol­stery of the pas­sen­ger seat, or dart­ing my eyes back and forth for signs of oncom­ing col­li­sions.  It just didn’t mat­ter.  All that mat­tered was rage.

I think that Sean Etin sensed my anger, because after a few min­utes of dri­ving in silence, he said to me, “the rea­son why I had you come with me today was so I could talk to you.”

You fuck­ing liar.  The rea­son why you brought me here is so I could wait in your car of your ille­gal­ly parked spot, you self­ish pig,” I thought to myself.  “Yeah?” I said.

Yeah.  I want to know what you think we could be doing to make this com­pa­ny more pro­duc­tive.  Things just aren’t get­ting done and time is fast approach­ing when we’ll be mak­ing the move from being a start­up to a real cor­po­ra­tion.  You’re my only employ­ee with actu­al expe­ri­ence in children’s car­toons with your work at Sun­bow.  What do you think we need to change around here?”

I was shocked.  In all the pho­to­copy­ing, dri­ving his chil­dren, mov­ing box­es around, car­ing for the com­pa­ny chameleon and all of the oth­er pid­dling tasks that took up my days at SeaShel, I thought he had for­got­ten that I had actu­al expe­ri­ence in the field of his busi­ness, and that every­one else that worked there didn’t.  I was begin­ning to for­get myself …

I, uhh… there are a num­ber of things that I think can make the com­pa­ny more pro­duc­tive.”  I thought back to my time at Sun­bow Enter­tain­ment.  Things weren’t per­fect there, but things were so much less chaot­ic.  I told him about the bi-week­ly devel­op­ment meet­ings and the gen­er­al account­abil­i­ty that peo­ple had for each project.  I told him how they uti­lized interns and diver­si­fied their cre­ative slate by con­stant­ly scout­ing for new projects.

As Sean pulled over for gas, he said to me, “You know, the things you’ve been say­ing are dead on.  I’ve been telling Flo to get us some interns for over a year.  I have no idea why she hasn’t got­ten on it.  But look – if you’re will­ing to take the bull by the horns, you can spear­head all of the ini­tia­tives you mentioned.

Okay.  That sounds good,” I said, actu­al­ly mean­ing it.  The prospect of doing real work excit­ed me.  Seeds of hope, long since buried and seem­ing­ly asphyx­i­at­ed in the until­l­able soil that was my job, began to sprout, seek­ing out the sur­face for sun­light, water and air.  I felt that the worst of my job was over – that the five hours bak­ing in his car turned me to dust and from the ash­es, I was reborn with a fresh start.  I felt ener­gized and, for the first time since I began work­ing at SeaShel, was excit­ed about com­ing in the next day.

When we returned to his house and I got into my car to go home, I found that I was no longer angry about my tor­tu­ous day (in fact, I was already find­ing it kind of fun­ny).  I didn’t mind the fact that we had returned over an hour after work was sup­posed to end (which real­ly just meant that the rest of my co-work­ers got to leave on time, since if he were actu­al­ly at the office at six o’clock, there was a good chance he would have us all stay late any­way) and I didn’t mind that Sean skimped out on treat­ing me to lunch like he had promised.  I didn’t even choke my usu­al mix­ture of revul­sion and amuse­ment when Sean told me about his ‘oth­er’ idea (‘idea’ should prob­a­bly be in quotes too …) for a show – an ani­mat­ed series of Romeo and Juli­et, but with the Mon­tagues as dogs and the Capulets as cats (or, as I believe he called them ‘Cat­ulets’) – which ranks, now that I can think more clear­ly, as the worst show idea I’ve ever heard in my life.  I was just excit­ed to imple­ment the plans we had talked about.


The next day, I found that my excite­ment had not abat­ed.  I came in to work and imme­di­ate­ly wrote two emails.  The first one was to Flo, stat­ing that I want­ed to meet with her regard­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of get­ting interns through the local col­leges.  The sec­ond email was addressed to Joel and regard­ed the imple­men­ta­tion of cre­ative meet­ings.  I knew there was a chance that Joel, whose dra­con­ian mind was con­vinced I was after his job, could inter­pret this email as over­step­ping my bounds, so I was very care­ful in what I wrote.  I con­struct­ed it as sub­mis­sive­ly as I could, and tried to make two points crys­tal clear – that he would be in charge of the meet­ings and that the request for these meet­ings came direct­ly from Sean Etin.

Fin­ish­ing my emails, I next went about map­ping the planned cre­ative meet­ings.  I thought of the dif­fer­ent sub­jects we could go over dur­ing the meet­ings.  The only actu­al cre­ative prop­er­ty SeaShel ever seemed to work on was the atro­cious Googles From Goop, but there were a lot of dif­fer­ent projects in the works milk­ing this hor­ror of an idea.  In the time I had worked there, I heard many, many projects men­tioned in pass­ing – a new music album, a car­toon show, a live-action show, a live show (pos­si­bly on ice), a web-only show, an inter­ac­tive children’s web­site, video games, children’s books, novel­las and, of course, the assort­ed mer­chan­dise and adver­tise­ment tie-ins (who wouldn’t want Googles Amer­i­can cheese?)  Joel was in charge of over­see­ing all of these projects, and I knew the pro­gres­sions of none of them.  I wrote these projects down as a list, mak­ing room under each top­ic for writ­ing notes.  The idea for cre­ative meet­ings would be very sim­ple.  The cre­ative staff would get togeth­er for fif­teen min­utes or so, every two weeks, and we’d sim­ply go down the list, mark­ing the progress of each project.  I also made space for new projects, hop­ing that some­one would pitch an idea that would steer us away from the Googles and on to a project that doesn’t make me imag­ine tod­dlers burn­ing their TVs in protest.  I would even set­tle for astound­ing­ly bad, but hilar­i­ous­ly enter­tain­ing show ideas.  I imag­ined Sean Etin pitch­ing his Romeo-and-Juli­et-as-cats-and-dogs idea and the rest of us try­ing, for the sake of our jobs, not to burst out laugh­ing.  I imag­ined, after meet­ings like this, hav­ing a sec­ond meet­ing, this time just my friends at work, on the bas­ket­ball court dur­ing our lunch hour, mak­ing fun of the bad ideas of our employ­ers.  “If you liked my Romeo and Juli­et idea, you’ll love this!” I imag­ined one of us say­ing, imi­tat­ing Sean Etin.  “It’s an episod­ic show about the Titan­ic, only – get this – with dol­phins instead of people!”

A flash­ing icon on my com­put­er snapped me out of my (kind of lame) day­dream.  I had a new email.  I was half-expect­ing this.  A let­ter from Joel, stat­ing I had no author­i­ty to orga­nize a meet­ing like this – that my expe­ri­ences at Sun­bow means noth­ing here and that, in between the lines, there was no way I was going to take his job or tell him how to do it.  “Try to stop me, ass­hole,” I thought to myself as I clicked open my email pro­gram.  The dev­il him­self (Sean) was behind me, and Joel, for all his slimy, bul­ly­ing, con­niv­ing ways, did not want to tan­gle with a more pow­er­ful, smarter and more under­hand­ed ver­sion of himself.

The email wasn’t from Joel, though.  It was from Flo.  I opened the email.  Like all of her emails (and, real­ly, every­thing she did in the office), this let­ter was pro­fes­sion­al and to the point.  The con­tent, how­ev­er, sur­prised me.  It read:

Dan­ny – You do not ask to have a meet­ing with me.  You request it.  I am a senior lev­el employ­ee and cer­tain pro­to­cols must be adhered to.  Please keep this in mind for future ref­er­ence.  – Flo.”

In think­ing about my plans on chang­ing the com­pa­ny and the best way to deal with Joel, I did not give any con­sid­er­a­tion to Flo.  I checked the email I sent to her and, sure enough, I didn’t request a meet­ing.  I word­ed it as “I’d like to meet with you about …” Flo was the one mem­ber of the senior staff that I did not want to dis­ap­point.  As opposed to Sean and Joel, she didn’t del­e­gate by intim­i­da­tion and blus­ter.  She was pro­fes­sion­al.  I didn’t know whether or not she liked me as a per­son (I heard rumors that she was one of the peo­ple most put off by my stu­dent films (see Chap­ter 2)), but she always treat­ed me with respect.  Over half of the work that came my way was under her juris­dic­tion, and I would have wished her to by my sole boss if not for the fact that her tasks were always cler­i­cal, always mind-numb­ing­ly bor­ing and not at all relat­ed to my inter­ests or skill sets.  Plus, if there was a way to be bad at pho­to­copy­ing or col­lat­ing, I some­how man­aged to find it …

Flo was an inter­est­ing lady.  She was a South­ern Dame.  A lady of the land.  She rode hors­es and went on a vaca­tion to small towns in Cana­da to take in var­i­ous rodeos.  She spoke in a heavy South­ern twang, and had a propen­si­ty for say­ing col­or­ful col­lo­qui­alisms like “this is stick­i­er than fly paper in a glue fac­to­ry” (that was one I made up.  Hers were bet­ter …).  It shocked me when I lat­er found out she grew up mere miles from where I did, because even though Mary­land is tech­ni­cal­ly below the Mason-Dixon line, I didn’t know a sin­gle per­son who spoke with a South­ern accent or con­sid­ered them­selves to be a South­ern­er.  She was petite and in shape for a lady of about fifty, with cropped brown hair and beady, squin­ty eyes.  Though she nev­er com­plained, there was an air of fran­tic stress about her, but because she was always so pro­fes­sion­al, she would nev­er say what was both­er­ing her – which I always assumed, due to the nature of her job as Office Man­ag­er, was her hav­ing to deal with Sean Etin more than every­one else.  She also nev­er talked about pol­i­tics or reli­gion, but I could tell she had strong Repub­li­can lean­ings and was devout­ly Chris­t­ian.  Because she nev­er pestered peo­ple about reli­gion and, from what lit­tle she revealed to me, acknowl­edged a high-and-mighty hypocrisy in some of the more fer­vent fol­low­ers, I was nev­er put off by this.  She once told me at lunch that her ex-hus­band was extreme­ly reli­gious and a pil­lar of the com­mu­ni­ty.  “He’d go to church and was about as anti-abor­tion as you c’n get, but what do you think he asked for when he found out I was preg­nant?” she’d ask.  “A cig­ar?” I respond­ed, being a smart-ass.  I some­times won­dered how she felt work­ing for a Jew, but I lat­er found out that before she had this job, she worked for a Jew­ish non-prof­it.  She was also, at one point, a cop.  Like I wrote – an inter­est­ing lady.

I hit the reply but­ton on my com­put­er.  I want­ed to patch things up with Flo as soon as pos­si­ble.  This was a sim­ple mis­un­der­stand­ing that came out of care­less writ­ing – though, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that her response was unchar­ac­ter­is­tic of her and a lit­tle bit pet­ty.  It smelt of a pow­er-trip, which wouldn’t have been so sur­pris­ing if it had come from Sean (though his response would have been more explic­it­ly cru­el) or Joel (his would have been less pro­fes­sion­al and coher­ent).  Maybe I didn’t under­stand Flo after all, but I still didn’t want her to be angry with me.  I wrote, “Flo – Please excuse the care­less writ­ing in my last email.  I did not mean to put your author­i­ty into ques­tion and I will be more care­ful in my choice of word­ing in the future.”

With that done, I tried to con­cen­trate on the sweep­ing changes I was plan­ning to make, but before I could get too far into my fan­ta­sy, Joel came out of the senior staff room and into the hall­way where I worked.

Dan­ny,” he told me, “you need to do more stickers.”

Oh God no,” I thought.

On the first day I worked at SeaShel, I spent most of the day ‘doing stick­ers.’  The employ­ees at SeaShel, before I start­ed work­ing there, print­ed out a bunch of col­or­ful, four-page adver­tise­ment book­lets for, say, when they had a booth at a children’s indus­try con­ven­tion and want­ed to give out a short, punchy keep­sake of who they are and what they do.  Since their only prop­er­ty was the Googles From Goop, most of the pam­phlet was about that.  But, the back page enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly promised work on many oth­er col­or­ful char­ac­ters and cre­ative prop­er­ties – the Friz­zles from Flooze, the Woo­zles from Wooze, the Floogles and oth­er sim­i­lar-sound­ing names that I nev­er once heard any­one ever men­tion at work and just assumed didn’t exist.  The only prob­lem was that one of the names was already copy writ­ten by some­one else and had to be tak­en out.  Appar­ent­ly, at this point, thou­sands of book­lets were already print­ed and instead of throw­ing them away, they decid­ed to make sheets of one-page cor­rec­tions that need­ed to be cut to the right size and past­ed onto the pam­phlet in a way that made it look like the orig­i­nal page.  So, the orig­i­nal back of the pam­phlet, which read like this:

The Googles™ will soon be joined by a whole sta­ble of oth­er, col­or­ful char­ac­ters kids will love – includ­ing the Friz­zles from Flooze, the Woo­zles from Wooze and the Floogles – a wacky group of aliens who are tru­ly out of this world!”

Was changed to this:

The Googles™ will soon be joined by a whole sta­ble of oth­er, col­or­ful char­ac­ters kids will love – includ­ing the Friz­zles from Flooze, the Woz­zles from Wooze and a wacky group of aliens who are tru­ly out of this world!”

Yes – they got rod of the poten­tial­ly trou­ble­some name and didn’t replace it with any­thing else.  Yes – they kept the descrip­tion of the char­ac­ters that they removed.  Yes – it’s stu­pid, but I didn’t bring it up with Joel because by the time I noticed the stu­pid, stu­pid sen­tence, I had already changed over 100 pam­phlets and didn’t want to redo them.  ‘Doing stick­ers’ was an extreme­ly hor­ri­ble task and the less I did it, the bet­ter.  It involved grab­bing a pile of long, glossy sheets of paper, which had eight ‘cor­rect­ed’ copies of the last page print­ed on them and care­ful­ly cut­ting each out.  If the cuts weren’t exact, they had to be thrown out.  The next step was apply­ing glue from an aerosol adhe­sive spray can.  The can shot a tox­ic spray of aerosol chem­i­cals and glue par­ti­cles.  I would turn over each cut out sheet and even­ly spray the backs with the glue spray.  I then care­ful­ly put the glued sheet to the offend­ing page in a way that made it look like it was a part of the orig­i­nal book­let.  Because the sheets of paper were so numer­ous and del­i­cate, and could not risk being blown by the wind or sul­lied in the dirt, I had to use this glue spray indoors, by an open win­dow of the kitchen.  My fin­gers would be caked with glue that wouldn’t come off until I shed a week’s worth of skin, and the fumes would make me headachy and dizzy.  Though I was not asked to do this often, I was still the only per­son who was ever told to per­form this task.  I hat­ed it.

How many do I have to do, Joel?”

Sean said we need ten thousand.”

The process of ‘doing stick­ers’ is extreme­ly slow and pro­found­ly bor­ing.  That, exac­er­bat­ed by the fact that I can’t ‘do stick­ers’ any time any­body else needs to use the kitchen (because it’s bad for their health …) means that, if I’m lucky (and I use that term loose­ly), I can do about one hun­dred stick­ers a day.  That means it would take me one hun­dred full work days to get this done.  I don’t know how much they think they saved by reprint­ing only one page of the pam­phlet, but I’m pret­ty sure that it was not equal to one third of my year­ly pay­check.  I need­ed to change the subject.

Joel, did you get my email?”

No.  I’ll read it lat­er.”  And with that, he walked away.

There was sim­ply no way I was going to spend my time ‘doing stick­ers’ on the day I was charged with fix­ing the com­pa­ny.  To paci­fy Joel – to show him that I still respect his author­i­ty (even though I didn’t), I decid­ed to ‘do stick­ers’ for an hour.  So, I went into the kitchen to pay my sac­ri­fice to the god of office politics …


I was just fin­ish­ing up my hour of ‘doing stick­ers’ when Rita, anoth­er senior staff mem­ber (and lit­tle sis­ter to Sean Etin) came in to the kitchen.

The chameleon looks hun­gry,” she said.

Anoth­er task that I, and only I, was asked to do was feed the office chameleon.  I had to feed it because the thought of feed­ing dis­gust­ing-look­ing crea­tures alive to anoth­er dis­gust­ing-look­ing crea­ture was icky to my fel­low employ­ees.  It was icky for me too – but when I noticed that absolute­ly nobody else fed it and it would lit­er­al­ly get as thin as my fin­ger, not to men­tion turn a sick­ly yel­low col­or, it became one of my reg­u­lar job tasks.  I was also in charge of going out and get­ting food for the chameleon.  This usu­al­ly con­sist­ed of going to the pet store and hav­ing an employ­ee there scoop crick­ets from a crate to a plas­tic bag like they were bulk food to be weighed by the pound.  Occa­sion­al­ly, for the sake of vari­a­tion, I was asked to pur­chase super-worms.  Super-worms were like reg­u­lar worms, only more dis­gust­ing.  They were short­er and fat­ter than reg­u­lar worms and jet black.  (Appar­ent­ly they are not worms at all, but actu­al­ly some kind of gigan­tic bee­tle lar­vae giv­en a snap­py new name by some mar­ket­ing genius …)  The rea­son I was giv­en for not feed­ing the chameleon super-worms too often was that if the chameleon was not care­ful, the super-worms would try to eat his eye­balls.  Not that I need­ed an excuse for not buy­ing super-worms.  Those things grossed me out big time.

The ‘crea­ture’ (as I sim­ply called the chameleon) was total­ly out of ‘food.’  I was actu­al­ly going to go to the pet store the day before, but got side-tracked (and heat stroke) by my adven­ture in Sean Etin’s car.

So go to the store and get food for the thing,” (which I guess is what Rita called it).

I didn’t know much about Rita, beyond the fact that she was Sean Etin’s sis­ter.  She looked to be in her ear­ly for­ties and, like Sean, was ‘big-boned.’  By that, I mean she is the kind of per­son who, if she lost the weight she prob­a­bly want­ed to, she would look grotesque and dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed to the nature of her being.  Her large bone struc­ture sim­ply need­ed meat around it.  She was fair­ly tall for a woman (per­haps five foot nine or ten), had shoul­der length, blond hair and always wore heavy, dark mas­cara around her eyes.  Her main fea­ture, though, was her expres­sions, which were always dour and a lit­tle mali­cious (this was prob­a­bly a fam­i­ly trait).  When I first start­ed work­ing at SeaShel, she seemed to regard me espe­cial­ly cold­ly and was a part of the meet­ing in which I was accused to being a rapist (again, see Chap­ter 2).  Since then, she nev­er did any­thing to make me have any feel­ings for her one way or the oth­er, but we nev­er engaged each oth­er in pleas­antries and the great major­i­ty of our con­ver­sa­tions began and end­ed with ‘hel­lo.’  She seemed to be good friends with Joel, which put her in the cat­e­go­ry of ‘ene­my,’ but on the oth­er hand, she was the only mem­ber of the staff who would stand up to Sean.  Dur­ing his long-wind­ed, mean­der­ing, I’m‑keeping-everyone-that-works-for-me-here-late-because‑I’m‑on-a-total-power-trip speech­es that he would often stage, Rita would be the one to try and break it up.  “Sean, we want to go home,” she would say.  Sean would usu­al­ly counter with some­thing cru­el, like, “Why?  What do you have to go home to, huh?  When was the last time you were even on a date?”  To which Rita would respond, “if we’re stay­ing, then I get to tell every­body about sum­mer camp in 1972.  Remem­ber, I have dirt on you.”  This back-and-forth had a kind of nasty nat­u­ral­ness that can be found between a broth­er and sis­ter, but I hon­est­ly couldn’t tell if they liked each oth­er or not.

Rita was the head (and only mem­ber) of the HR depart­ment and had no juris­dic­tion over my day-to-day activ­i­ties – but, she was a senior staff mem­ber and if she ordered me to do some­thing, I had to do it.  So, I left to pick up crick­ets from the pet store.


This is exact­ly why we need interns in the first place!  I can’t keep doing this shit!” I fumed to myself as I thought back on my last two job tasks.  I pow­dered the crick­ets with some sort of flour-like nutri­tion sup­ple­ment and dumped them into the creature’s cage.  I then checked my email.  Joel still hadn’t got­ten back to me, but I had a new email from Flo.  It read: “I am free to meet with you at 4:00.  Be pre­pared to dis­cuss interns with me in the kitchen.  – Flo.”

Since nobody but Sean Etin had a pri­vate office, all pri­vate meet­ings were held in the office kitchen with the door closed.  My job inter­view was held in that kitchen.  That should have been my first hint that this was not a pro­fes­sion­al company …


At 4:00, I was sit­ting in the kitchen, wait­ing for Flo.  I had done my research, look­ing up all of the area schools and the con­tact infor­ma­tion for their intern­ship depart­ments.  When Flo came in, I quick­ly told her about my con­ver­sa­tion with Sean Etin the day before, and ran through some of the uni­ver­si­ties I thought would be the best to get interns from.  “I fig­ure we could have an admin­is­tra­tive intern, and enter­tain­ment intern and maybe even an intern for legal.  We could even have mul­ti­ple interns for each depart­ment, since they’d only be work­ing 10–20 hours a week.”

Flo lis­tened to my pre­sen­ta­tion with­out word.  After I was fin­ished, she stayed silent for a moment and nar­rowed her tiny eyes as if to gath­er her thoughts.  Final­ly, she spoke.

You know, Sean asked me to get interns a long time ago.”

Yeah, he men­tioned that.”

I nev­er did, because …” she paused.  “It just wouldn’t be fair to them.  First of all, where would we put them?  I mean, we already have you work­ing out of the hall­way.  More impor­tant­ly, the kind of work we’d be ask­ing them to do, the office envi­ron­ment, the nature of a start-up, Sean’s man­age­r­i­al style … well, let me put it this way – if you were still in school and you interned here, how would you feel?”

I thought about it.  If this were my very first job, and I thought that all work was like this, AND I didn’t get paid for it, I think I’d spend all my mon­ey on lot­tery tick­ets and if I didn’t win, jump in front of a bus.

She con­tin­ued.  “You and I get paid for being here, but they’d be work­ing for free.”

Actu­al­ly,” I inter­ject­ed, “they’d be pay­ing to work here, since they have to pay their school for each cred­it they ‘earn’ here.”

There you go, then.”

It was weird.  I think I want­ed an intern as much as Sean did.  Of course, not for the same rea­sons – he want­ed some­one to take his abuse with­out hav­ing to pay him or her for it, and I want­ed some­one else to be the office bitch – but for this brief moment, he and I were on the same page.  It dis­gust­ed me.  Of course it wouldn’t be fair for an intern to work here …

So, what do I tell Sean?” I asked.

You don’t tell him any­thing.  He shouldn’t have put this project on you to begin with.  I’ll take care of it.”

Flo then looked over my shoul­der.  I turned around in my chair.  Joel and Rita were stand­ing in the doorway.

You done with him yet, Flo?” Joel asked.

I sup­pose so.”

Joel and Rita came in and Joel sat down next to me.  He held a piece of paper in his hand, tick-marked with numer­ous lit­tle high­lighter swatches.

Dan­ny, we need to have a talk.”

Oh God,” I thought.

This place is a team,” Joel explained to me.

Silence.  He expect­ed a response.  “Okay.”

And in order to sur­vive here, you need to be a team player.”

More silence.

I am a team player.”

A team play­er wouldn’t have writ­ten this.”

He put the damn­ing evi­dence on the table.  It was a print­out of my email, with each time I used the word “I” highlighted.

In my efforts to be as sub­mis­sive as pos­si­ble, I lit­tered the email with phras­es like, “I was won­der­ing” and “I want­ed to ask you.”

Look at how many times you used “I” in this let­ter,” he ordered.

I looked.  It was dis­pro­por­tion­al­ly high, com­pared to some oth­er let­ters, like ‘q’ and ‘z,’ but, I felt, not high enough for a sane per­son to bring atten­tion to it.

You’re … kid­ding, right?” I asked, know­ing full well he wasn’t.

If you want to sur­vive here, you’re going to have to learn that this isn’t all about you,” he told me.

This isn’t all about me!  Look at the let­ter and ignore the ‘I’s.  Look what it’s about!  It’s ask­ing for biweek­ly progress meet­ings so every­body is on the same page.  It’s for strength­en­ing the team.  The very idea that I – Look,” I said, try­ing to cut to the heart of the top­ic, “I want to make this absolute­ly clear – this was NOT some mad pow­er-grab by me.  I’m not gun­ning after anyone’s job.  I’m just try­ing to do my own.  These tasks I was giv­en came straight from Sean.  He wants these things done, and he’s the boss.”

Some­times, Sean doesn’t know what’s best for the com­pa­ny.”  I turned my head, shocked that those words came from Flo.

You can say that again,” Rita said.

You see, Dan­ny,” Flo said, “Sean is the idea man, but when it comes to the day-to-day stuff he’s – “

Insane,” Rita added.  “And we don’t need some­one report­ing every lit­tle thing we do to him or we’ll go insane.”

My intern plan was already shat­tered, but the cre­ative meet­ings – the only way I could think of to find out what this com­pa­ny was actu­al­ly doing, and have a chance of using my expe­ri­ence and skills and do some­thing that was worth­while – this I was will­ing to fight for.  “I’m not going to be some kind of spy for Sean.  I’m not going to be his – “

Gestapo,” Rita said.

Did she just call me a Nazi?  I tried to move on.  “Hav­ing cre­ative meet­ings is a good idea.  We did this at my old com­pa­ny.  It works.  Peo­ple get togeth­er, find out what every­one is doing, and come up with new ideas.  I real­ly think that if we give it a chance, it will be real­ly good for us.”

We DID give it a chance,” Joel said.  “Before you came here.  It didn’t work.”

Well, maybe you didn’t do it right.”  The words escaped before I had a chance to stop it.  “What I meant to say, is that I have expe­ri­ence in these kinds of things, and I real­ly think I can make it work.”

I then played the last card I had.  “But, I’m a team play­er.  If you guys don’t want to do this, who am I to say we will?”

Good to hear,” Joel said.  “We’re not doing it.”

And with that, my hopes of chang­ing the com­pa­ny into a tol­er­a­ble work envi­ron­ment came to a put­ter­ing end.  It took less than a day.  The phoenix, which had risen from the ash­es in Sean Etin’s car, was imme­di­ate­ly shot, blud­geoned, evis­cer­at­ed, burned with acid, chopped up into a mil­lion pieces, and scat­tered across the vast reach­es of out­er space.  It would not be return­ing again.  I knew then that no mat­ter what I did to improve my chances at hap­pi­ness, this job would make me total­ly mis­er­able.  I was there for not quite three months at this point.  In a lit­tle more than a week, I would have med­ical and den­tal insur­ance.  “Take advan­tage of them like they do to you,” I thought to myself.  “Don’t do any­thing stu­pid.  Get a check­up.  Go to the den­tist.  Find a new job.  Then walk away.”

Clar­i­ty washed over me.  I looked at Flo, Joel and Rita.  I felt like I final­ly under­stood them.  They hat­ed Sean Etin like I hat­ed him.  They hat­ed me like I hat­ed them (actu­al­ly, I didn’t hate Flo …).  We were all very much alike – try­ing to find com­fort and sta­bil­i­ty in an uncom­fort­able and unsta­ble place.  The major dif­fer­ence between us was that they had found a mea­sure of com­fort with their jobs, and they weren’t going to give up an inch of it for me.  Not if it meant more work.  Not if it meant more Sean Etin.  Not if it meant a change in their habits.  Not if, in the case of Joel and Rita, it could pos­si­bly reveal that they did noth­ing to earn their pay­check.  This, to them, wasn’t about mak­ing the com­pa­ny bet­ter.  They couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the progress about the com­pa­ny.  It was about mak­ing their lives eas­i­er and a steady income.

It’s six o’clock,” I said.  “May I go?”

I stood up and walked out of the house and to my car.  After being triple-teamed by the senior staff and hav­ing my hopes for improv­ing the com­pa­ny dashed, my thoughts turned to how things would resolve them­selves with Sean Etin.  A smile sur­pris­ing­ly crept across my face when I real­ized I didn’t care.  I didn’t care about anything.



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