I had an interesting lunch yesterday which I'm still digesting in several ways. I try to lump all the things I need to do in one trip to make the most of my time the rare venture into NYC. The purpose of this trip was to see my dear friend as well as my tattoo artist who only comes to NY three times a year. Luckily, we both scheduled tattoos back to back.
I hate going into NYC for one reason: the sound of the City drives me crazy. My brain can't juggle the sounds from outside to the sounds going on inside and renders my mind dull, clogged from the onslaught of aural input and deaf to almost all that goes around. This time, I'd stave off the overwhelming sensory distraction and wedged special ear plugs in both ears.
There're two schools of thought concerning what I have and use of ear plugs. They're not highly recommended. It's believed they may do more damage. As if I have to worry about that. I weighed the pros and cons. If I don't wear ear plugs, I'd be reduced to a gelatinous blob in an hour. If I did wear them, perhaps I can finally enjoy myself in a social environment instead of wanting to hide in a closet. All the ear plugs succeeded in doing was successfully trap the sound in my head, turning the volume high. Nothing like having discordant tinnitus ricocheting with the wind tunnel.
When I disembarked from the two hour bus ride, I did my errands. I had around three hours before my lunch date. The City was amazingly quiet for a Sunday. Which was a good thing. Tromping a five block radius, I made purchases and returns of items, something I can't do where I live, hoisting a designer knapsack filled with crap.
Due to the oppressive heat, I twirled my unruly mop of hair into a bun. The ear plugs are huge and quite visible. They resemble antennae. I didn't feel in the least bit self-conscious: I'm in NYC. Still, people stared at me and some made disparaging gestures. I guess they clashed with my lovely dress. Luckily, I didn't hear the comments.
The lunch date was a new thing I tacked onto my schedule. I received an email a few days' earlier from a former employer who hasn't contacted me in, say, twenty-seven years, give or take. There's a lot of history going on there. I had no idea why the man contacted me and decided to find out with his kind invitation to lunch.
He was a big honcho back then and I reported to him through my immediate supervisor (who I'll call John). John didn't have both oars in the water at the same time. We had a good work relationship and I learned a lot from him. Yet, that got squirrely over the years. Which reached a head the last year. For I got involved with a man who moved in with me, the first serious relationship I had in years. That drove John out of his mind.
"Now you can't work long hours because you've a boyfriend," he groused on more than one occasion.
"What's your problem? I'm the only one here who does!" I responded in kind. "No one works a second after five, except me."
Undeterred, he held a departmental meeting where he complained to my colleagues, "Maura has a boyfriend." My colleagues exchanged dubious glances.
"What does that have to do with the work at hand?" I asked.
"Everything," he said.
The constant goading reached such a pitch that I told the boyfriend about the bad blood and feuding at the office.
He looked askance at me. "Why should he care? You work like a dog." Then, he stared at me, "Did you have an affair with him?"
"No!" I shrieked. "I like the man, that's the extent of it. I can't believe that someone who works so little can get so far."
My boyfriend remained unconvinced. What he didn't understand was that I worked constantly with John, in his office for hours every day going through records and files of the most boring detail-oriented work imaginable. I forced myself to like him, otherwise my life would've been miserable. The work I did was not the substance of creativity or thought. There were times when the meticulous, picayune details numbed the mind. Oftentimes, he'd tell me about his childhood and family stories and I'd respond in kind. In addition, I developed very deep friendships with former bosses that remain firm and solid to this day. I never considered this one more than what it was.
To appease John's chronic tirade about me having a boyfriend, I asked the boyfriend to do me a favor. He worked in the entertainment industry and had access to free tickets to movie premieres.
"Can you give me two special seats for my boss and his wife?"
"If it gets him off your back, sure," he said.
The day after the movie premiere, John and I shared a cab from a luncheon meeting. I turned to him and asked, "Say, did you have fun last night? Were you seated next to any celebrities?"
At this point, the taxi sped down Fifth Avenue, navigating through buses and pedestrians. He bitched, "Oh, it was horrible. We had to stand in line. The movie sucked." No thanks for thinking of him, nothing. Then, he complained about me having a boyfriend. I was pissed. In a gesture of goodwill, I got him and his wife tickets to the top movie of the year and this was how he reacted? He added, "Your boyfriend's a jerk."
Even though he was right, I retorted, "Hey, you've no right to speak about my life like that. Nor about him. Show me a little respect. I don't speak that way about your wife."
"I can say whatever I want. I am, after all your boss."
"You can say whatever you want about me and my work. You don't have the right to talk about my personal life like that."
"You're fired," he said. He leant over, threw a wad of singles at the back of the driver's head and jumped out of the cab. The cabbie hit the brakes and swerved into a pedestrian, almost striking her.
"WHAT THE FUCK?" the driver shrieked. Horns blasted, people screamed, the pedestrian flagged a finger. We watched John sprint down the street toward the office.
I sighed. "Just continue to the original destination."
"Is that guy a nut job?" continued the cabbie. "He could've gotten killed pulling a stunt like that!"
"No such luck," I muttered. Minutes later, I trudged to my office and was greeted by security guards. They allowed me to pick up my personal belongings and while exiting, I bumped into the company's corporate attorney, Rick.
"What the hell's going on here?" he asked. Rick and I worked closely together as well on company-wide contracts. Part of my job entailed negotiation and restructuring of all business-related transactions. I did have a very important position in that company.
"John fired me."
Rick's eyes went wide. "Phone me tomorrow and I'll give you the name of a good lawyer to sue this fucking place."
Two weeks later, I had a better job, three times the salary and a team of people reporting me in a competitor institution. And a terrific labor lawyer, thanks to Rick. At the same time, the boyfriend and I broke up. There's more to that story, a horrible one, but I'd prefer not to disclose it on the blog. Perhaps in a book.
After a month on the job, my new boss approached me. "What the fuck's going on? John phoned me and told me to fire you." My head reeled. "I don't need anyone to tell me what to do at my place of business. And I don't need any trouble from you."
He had additional reasons for freaking out. Turns out the motherfucker was doing illegal activities and worried I'd find out. I did. I barely lasted two years there. During those two years, I actively sought other jobs, only to find that John approached every company and every recruiter in the tri-state area, using his clout to destroy my reputation.
I phoned my attorney at this time. "How can I muzzle John?" I screamed, out of my mind. "I've at least two hundred people who've said the most heinous things about me. I can't work anymore, my reputation's destroyed. No one wants to touch me with a stick."
"Not much as people won't want to testify. Good thing your case has come up for mediation."
We met in a conference room. My lawyer and I sat across from Rick and two other attorneys representing the company. The judge entered with a seeing eye dog. I said to my attorney, "Oh, justice is blind."
"But he ain't deaf, Ms. Stone, I take it," said the judge. He went over the files. "Let's start."
"Your honor," I interjected, "We've got a conflict of interest situation here." My attorney groaned.
"What is it?" he said.
"The opposing counsel, Rick, recommended my attorney when I was fired."
The judge groaned. Rick excused himself from the premises.
"Now, may we start?" the judge asked of me. "Ms. Stone has an accomplished resume. I've looked at her past performance reviews which are stellar. It clearly appears to me that this was an illegal firing. What do you have to say in defense?" Opposing counsel didn't say a word. Exasperated, the judge said, "You have to say something for the record."
A female attorney for the former company said, "She ate an egg suggestively."
"WHAT?" yelled the judge and my lawyer. The court stenographer snickered. "You had two years to prepare and this is what you bring in? What about affidavits from her colleagues?"
The female attorney mumbled, "Nothing."
"Oh boy," said the judge. "Well, this simplifies matters. Ms. Stone, you currently make triple what you made there and leapfrogged your former career track. The way things stand, you'd be paying them for there are no damages only benefits to your illegal firing. However, given the fact that this has been a waste of time for me, I'll give you a paltry sum to take care of your attorney. Mind you, this is a closed proceeding and closed with full confidentiality."
He then addressed the company. "Given what you stated as a defense, I take it that there's sexual discrimination going on. I'll have NY State and NY City fine you and open your company up for examination."
The fines totaled over $1million.
Still, it didn't deter John. I received weird phone calls, spotted him several times in my neighborhood, far away from where he lived and received strange hate mail. I phoned my attorney, "That fucking lunatic won't leave me alone."
Not too long after, I opened a consulting practice and went to acting school on a fling. A former colleague phoned me, distraught. "John's doing weird shit to me." I gave her the name of my attorney. Within days of retaining him, the company moved John overseas for a decade.
Still, the damage to my career was done. After 9 1/2 years of successful consulting where companies preferred to retain me on a temporary basis than permanent, I went on as an executive in another industry. Only to return to NY, seeking full-time employment. I thought the matter was over, considering John wasn't in NY. Yet, every job I interviewed for, I was informed, "John phoned us about you. Although you've all the credentials and qualifications, your reputation preceded you. We're not in the habit of hiring someone who sued their employer."
I found out that John returned to New York.
I phoned my attorney, out of my mind. "What the fuck's going on with that lunatic? He's not supposed to tell anyone about this! I've kept my mouth shut and now I can't get work seventeen years later!"
My attorney sighed. "This is impossible to litigate. Just move on. You've an untenable situation."
I was once a shining star in several fields of finance. Once on a fast track of senior management, having had extensive experience in every facet of commercial banking as well as corporations, my last full time position was a shadow of what I once did. My career was destroyed at the hands of a guy obsessed about me. His obsession had more staying power than any of my relationships.
When the top boss entered the restaurant and spotted me, his jaw dropped. I did remove the ear plugs. The last time he saw me I was 31, at the epitome of my youth and beauty. "Oh my god," he said, "you look as beautiful as ever." Yes, middle-age has been kind to me. I may not longer possess that slender as a reed body and unlined face, but damn, I'm still a hot momma. Apprehensive at this encounter, I found myself seated across from John's boss with no idea why he reached out to me.
The man was well aware of what John did to my career, haunting me for nearly twenty years. I had several misgivings, but curiously killed the cat.
He's a charming man and kept me entertained with his life, his family, his accomplishments and achievements which are notable and almost legendary. At first, I was reluctant to state what I was up to, then incrementally told him of recent events. I noticed then that his questions about my life were perfunctory. Because, when I described how my brother died right after saying, "I love you," on the phone, several minutes later he asked about my brother. And I thought I was the deaf one here.
Incredulous, I repeated, "He died on the phone after saying, 'I love you,' last year."
When I spoke about my books and writing, he interrupted me to tell me about his daughter, an accomplished writer and actress. I had no idea who he was talking about because he assumed I knew his daughter's stage name. Only at the end of the meal did I realize who she is. I greatly admire the woman. Of course, my achievements are dull in comparison to those of his daughter. Yet, I'm proud of what little I've done in my life, given every curveball that I've had to dodge.
At the end of the meal, he came to the crux of the situation. This was a social call, plain and simple. The man reached a stage in his life where he's seeking companionship. I must've been the last entry in his little black book. He must've dug deep and hard to seek me out.
"I found you intelligent," he told me even though he insulted my intelligence several times over the course of the meal. "And, even though my life is full, I'd like to share it with someone."
This was a medicine ball I wanted to dodge and fast. As diplomatic as I ever was, I let him know that I've also found it difficult to meet men on the same level as me. I don't want a companion and certainly not one who was complicit in having my career destroyed by his subordinate. Besides telling him that I prefer younger men, I let him know that, "With this deafness, I'm unable to socialize and can't abide having anyone around me for long periods of time." That's the unbridled truth.
At this stage, I wanted to put my two cents in. I said, "You do remember I sued the company and won?"
He waved his hand in dismissal. "I've nothing to do with that. I delegated all authority for personnel to my subordinates."
"He died two years ago of cancer."
Shit. Now I couldn't speak ill of the dead. He successfully sidestepped the entire issue. The meal quickly wrapped up and I had my tattoo party to attend. It was an amicable good-bye where we promised to contact each other via email. We exchanged European kisses to the cheeks although he planted one on the base of my neck.
Head still reeling from the contents of our discussion, my inability to properly vent seventeen years' worth of angst and grief, I went to the tattoo parlor. Needless to say, my head clogged up from all the noise and I became, in essence, a walking robot. But, I got a cute tattoo on my left inner forearm of five multi-colored stars, a recurrent tattoo theme.
PS: I got home around 1:30am and shot him a nice thank you email for the lunch and conversation. I may be an evil bitch, full of resentment, but momma taught me the basics of civility. His return email was quite an eye-opener, as kind as it was. Right then, I knew he crossed me off the list. He misspelt my name.
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This blog and all its posts are a work of fiction. Names, character, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.