February 20th, 2019
“Ohh, backstabber, backstabber, backstabber, backstabber
Backstabber, backstabber, backstabber, backstabber
Backstabber, hope grabber, greedy little fit haver, God, I feel for you, fool
You shit lover, off brusher, jaded bitter, joy crusher
Failure has made you so cruel.”
Refrain from “Backstabber” by the Dresden Dolls
Stefan came home a few minutes ago. He was more than little grumpy. This was understandable, seeing as he worked all day in the freezing rain. However, his irritability was primarily caused by the knowledge that he would be laid off in two days. The lay off was not really a surprise to him. Iron Workers are expected to deal with lay offs during the winter months. That’s just the way the work flows. Stefan was involved with a construction project that was nearing completion, and he knew it meant that apprentices like himself would soon be superfluous. The lay off itself wasn’t what upset Stefan. What bothered him was the fact that he learned about the lay off from somebody other than his boss. Stefan wondered when his boss planned on telling him that he was laid off. Perhaps, the guy was going to wait until the last possible moment.
Firing somebody without warning seems to be a standard practice in corporate America. I have seen it happen plenty of times over the years. I have seen people, including managers, walk into the office, and then immediately be told by a superior that their services were no longer needed. The person being discharged then gave up their keys and other company-owned property, and was unceremoniously escorted back to the parking lot. Sometimes, employee sensed that the ax was going to fall. Sometimes, it came as a total surprise.
Stefan’s comments made me remember an event from over thirty years ago. At that time, I was working for a trucking outfit in Salinas, California. I was only out of the Army for maybe a year, and I had become a supervisor/dispatcher with this company. I was working at a tiny outpost of a large, nation-wide corporation. We usually only had four drivers making deliveries and pick ups each day. We had two supervisors; I ran the early shift, the other guy worked in the afternoon and evening. Our boss was the facility manager/salesperson. We all worked long hours, and everybody had to know how to do everything.
Have you ever read “The Screwtape Letters” from C.S. Lewis? It’s a short book in which Lewis, who was a Christian apologist, described hell as being like a corporate bureaucracy. The demons in the story devoured the souls of the damned, and failing that, they devoured their co-workers. This particular trucking company was just like that. It had an ingrained culture of ruthless competition and distrust. There was constant fighting between the Teamsters union and the company management, and there was also a lack of cooperation, and a kind of false camaraderie between members of management. The corporation fostered an environment that encouraged employees to cut corners and fudge numbers. It also encouraged backstabbing. The unofficial motto of the corporation was: “We Eat Our Young”. It was a profoundly toxic place to work.
I was friends with the other supervisor. His name was Dave. I trusted him, and I think he trusted me. Hans was born in the spring of 1987, and Dave’s wife, Maria, served as Hans’ godmother. I still write to Dave and Maria, to tell them how Hans is doing. They don’t write back any more.
Dave did not get along with the manager who hired me. That is actually an understatement. The two men loathed each other. The manager who hired me was unique. He is the only man I have ever met who had no code of ethics. He wasn’t necessarily a bad person, but he was utterly amoral. Working for this guy was like working for Trump.
Being as this manager was amoral, he got promoted. His replacement was a woman who still had a bit of a conscience. Unfortunately, the manager from hell left a time bomb ticking when he left. He made certain that Dave would be fired, and he left this firing to his successor.
I remember being called into the new manager’s office on a Monday morning for a top secret sort of meeting. The new boss told me that Dave was going to be fired soon, but they had to wait for the new trainee to take over his position. She planned on letting Dave go at the end of the week. I don’t understand why she told me this. She knew that Dave and I were friends. For some reason she wanted me to be a co-conspirator. She swore me to secrecy.
“Don’t tell Dave.”
For some strange reason I still felt loyalty to the company, but I also felt that this whole thing was totally wrong. I felt dirty, really dirty. Even now, after all these years, I feel ashamed.
My shift and Dave’s shift had some overlap. We typically spent a couple hours working together before I left for the day. I made it through Monday and Tuesday without mentioning Dave’s impending doom. I don’t have a poker face, so on Wednesday Dave asked me if something was wrong.
I blurted out, “You’re getting fired! You’re done!”
Dave started crying. At that moment the manager came back from a sales call. She figured out quickly that her plans had failed. She immediately terminated Dave and took his keys. Once he left, she told me, “I handled that badly.”
The manager cancelled the rest of her sales calls for the week, and she ran Dave’s shift until the trainee was ready. She should have done that right from the start. but she wanted to do what was best for the company. She was loyal to the company. I was loyal to the company. That’s why I kept my mouth shut for two days. We both manipulated and hurt Dave because we cared about an organization that didn’t give a fuck about us. It was pretty sick.
That episode shook me to my core. I stuck around for a few more months, but I was broken. I couldn’t function at that place, and eventually I quit. I am glad that did. If I had stayed with that company, I would have lost my soul.