I have gotten so little out of my interactions with other people, especially in my professional life. Whereas other people build careers, I have just built an agonizingly long resumé that’s all over the map and leads nowhere, which is where I am now: nowhere. No career, no job, no money and a morbid fear of employment. Why, do you ask? Am I just a slacker? No, I think I have a legitimate fear of how I respond to the work place, and how the workplace personalities respond to me.
1986: At the end of six years of running a photo lab I founded in Seattle, and building it from a $2,000 investment to a $100,000 a year business, I sold out to my financial partner, Lee. When I called our banker to settle accounts, he told me “Oh, I didn’t know Lee had a partner!” Lee tried to assure me up and down that he had told the banker our business was a partnership, but somehow the message didn’t get through.
1987: My wife, daughter and I move to the Bay area, San Francisco. We are living in a commune and trying to buy a house. I get a job in a photo lab; six weeks later I’m laid off in a downturn. We lose the house. I get a job in a camera store but I have to leave for reasons I cannot now remember. I think they had to do with unfair treatment by the management. Other salesmen were allowed to sell my equipment (video products), but I wasn’t allowed to sell anything else.
1988: We move to the Portland, Oregon area. I get a job in another photo lab doing their custom printing. Idiots run the lab. (Idiots run most of the jobs I’ve had.) When I complain that the copy negatives are blurry, the boss scoffs at me. ”We use Leica lenses!” he says. Investigating on my own one night, I find somebody has left big, gooey fingerprints on the back of the lenses. I clean the lenses and immediately results improve, but I tell no one. I improve productivity 40%, but after a couple of months, the lab closes the custom division. I get a temp job working in the darkroom at an electronics manufacturer, Tektronix. The woman I’m replacing doesn’t run control strips and can’t keep the processor clean, resulting in big globs of black goo, called “tar,” on the prints. I clean the processor and the problem goes away. When the woman comes back from pregnancy leave, so does the job. I finally get a job in the photo division of the University of Oregon Medical School. Suddenly, all the copy camera settings that have been the same for years don’t work any more, and of course I get the blame, as if I was doing something different (I’m not). Then I get accused of narcing on my manager for organizing a demonstration about the parking situation; needless to say, it wasn’t me that narced on her, but I get the blame and at the end of my 90-day trial period I voluntarily leave the job. Hostile work atmosphere.
1990: My first wife leaves me to go live with her mother, outside Seattle, taking our six-year-old daughter with her, until I’m able to get the family’s shit together. No help from her. I land a job as a car salesman. My sales, at first good, gradually decline over several months. In June I want to go visit my daughter for Father’s Day, so I ask my boss for the day off. “Haven’t we heard enough of this shit about your daughter?” is his response. I quit on the spot. I ask my wife about coming up to visit. ”My mother says that’s the stupidest idea she’s ever heard,” is her response. Before I get off the phone I angrily tell her we are no longer a married couple. Divorce ensues.
1992-1994: I move to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and get a job reporting with the Farmington Daily Times, owned by publisher Eliot O’Brien, a crazed fundamentalist. When O’Brien finds out I’m practicing Wicca he declares “I won’t have Satan in my news room” and tells his editors to find some excuse to fire me. The editors find me “combative, rude and insubordinate” and fire me illegally. My EEOC case against the newspaper goes nowhere because of collusion in the Clerk of the Court’s office and an incompetent attorney. Eventually the EEOC sues O’Brien on behalf of several other clients, winning a $75,000 judgment against him. O’Brien pisses it out the next morning.
1994-1999: I work for the Gallup Independent, a daily paper published by Robert Zollinger, an angry egomaniac who beat his wife. After five years of watching him belittle, abuse and insult everybody under him, it’s my turn. One day I am having a bad morning. My marriage is falling apart and I feel like I am losing my daughter. Zollinger throws an assignment on my desk. I make a polite, simple request of him relating to the chain of command, and he tells me “Kiss my ass.” I come unglued. I literally see a crosshairs imposed on his chin, and my fist lands there. Zollinger tells the cops I hit him eight times, but I wasn’t keeping count; I didn’t do any serious damage, not even a bloody nose or black eye. The paper’s expensive video security system has failed to capture the moment of truth, and the cops (who hate Zollinger as much as everybody else in the town does) don’t press charges. Half an hour later, Zollinger calls and leaves a message on my answering machine, asking me to come back to work for him, and I do – for one week.
2000: My second marriage breaks up and I move to Albuquerque where I land a job at the University of New Mexico Health Center in the public affairs office. This is, in terms of salary and benefits, one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, but I struggle with the personal relations aspects of it. My home computer breaks so I start getting my e-mails at work, including bitter hate mail from my ex. I get an assignment to present a workshop in Gallup the next day, and then I get a particularly nasty e-mail from my ex, so when a co-worker innocently asks me “Why are you going to Gallup tomorrow, Malcolm?” I jokingly but stupidly respond “To shoot my ex!” My co-worker, knowing my situation, laughs but a third party overhears my remark and takes it seriously. She calls a detective friend of hers on the Albuquerque Police Department who forwards her concern to the Gallup PD who also take the threat seriously and the next day, when I arrive in town, the high school where my ex teaches is shut down over fears of a shooting incident. A couple of days later, a sheriff’s deputy shows up at work with a subpoena for me. The university has a “no tolerance” policy on threats like that. Thus ends the best job I ever had. You know what’s funny? I don’t even own a gun.
2001: Working for a weekly paper in the played-out mining town of Grants, N.M., I write a Veteran’s Day column to explain why I am not a veteran and to try to convey some of the complexities of the Vietnam War. When he reads my column the publisher tells me “You can’t write that kind of shit in Grants!” I begin looking for a new job immediately.
2003: I never figured out exactly why the Charlotte Sun, my local paper, fired me after sixteen months. It may be that I failed a drug test, but nobody ever told me that. Instead, the managing editor called me into his office and belittled and humiliated me about having “burned” an anonymous source for a story — which I did not do. So the next time he called me into his office, with several other editors present, for a tongue-lashing, I brought in my tape recorder, rolling, to put him on record. Of course he refused to speak, and I refused to turn it off, whereupon he ordered me to say where I was and came back in two minutes with my termination letter. It had already been typed up and ready to go, he just wanted another chance to verbally dig at me before firing me. Fortunately my strategy with the tape recorder foiled his plans. Otherwise I might have slugged him like I did with Zollinger.
2005: About 14-16 months seems to be my mean time to failure on any given job. I lasted about that long at the Boca Beacon, a weekly newspaper, before harassment and hostility from the editor, Gary Dutery, drove me to quit. That an the hour-long commute to and from work, and a rise in gas prices. But Dutery was abusing me so badly I actually left in the middle of writing a story, then came back and finished it… because I didn’t want to drive all that way back to clean out my desk the next day. I estimate I came within about 30 seconds of slugging Dutery when I walked out the door. Close call that time.
And then there was the 2007 fiasco at Babcock Ranch which is somewhat complicated… it had to do mainly with one of my co-workers saying I frightened her so badly she couldn’t sleep or eat. What did I do to this poor, wounded, sexually-frustrated woman? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I just think she had a problem with men, especially men who aren’t wimps.
So there you have it, gentle readers, my job history for most of the past 30 years, a tragic cavalcade littered with the corpses of my dead jobs. My daughter thinks I ought to move to the San Francisco Bay area, where I might be more “appreciated,” not “living among a bunch of rednecks” like she says I am now. What do you think, dear readers? Is there a “geographical fix” for my problem? Your opinions would be appreciated.