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.
“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?”
“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 …