Several times in my life I've been a social leper. It's quite funny, actually. In retrospect.
A long time ago, I was put on probation for writing thinly veiled pornography in my financial analytical reports. What astonished me was that it took them two years to realize what I was up to. They were always more concerned about the words I used than paying attention to the content outside of the number crunching.
One junior lending officer ran out of a committee meeting with my report in his hands. Concern creasing his face, he yelled, "YOU MADE A TYPO!"
"Yes. You wrote 'evince' and not 'evidence.'"
"That's no typo," I informed him. "Evince is a real word."
"No it isn't!" he shrieked. "Nobody on the committee ever heard of it!"
Which didn't astonish me. I was a commercial banker. After thirty years in that field, I'm convinced the industry's a sieve that collects the dissolute, disenfranchised and unemployable. There were tons of wannabees, has-beens and people who really shouldn't leave their homes. I fell under the category of "lost." Lost people like myself who knew we had something, but couldn't quite put a finger on it. In that way, commercial banking was a perfect safety net so we could earn a living. It didn't tax our minds, it gave us a solid paycheck and for some, predictable 9 to 5 hours with no overtime.
Sighing, I explained, "Evince evinces evidence."
"STOP MIND FUCKING ME! Change the word!"
Sighing, I took the report, scratched off the word and pencilled in evidence. Soon thereafter, the division head ran out of the committee meeting.
"Will you stop pulling these pranks? I just got reamed out for your typo."
"It's not a typo. Evince is a real word. It's even in the dictionary."
He groaned. "Please. Please. Stop it. You're the senior analyst here. I rely on you. How can I do that when you toss in these... literary words?"
"Wait a sec," I said. It dawned on me that the man simply signed off on all my work. "You mean to tell me you never read my reports?" I asked stupefied. "How can you add comments to it?" Then it hit me. "How can you sit in that meeting and NOT know what I wrote?"
He turned a myriad of shades from pink to red then white. His eyes narrowed. That was my first mistake.
The second came shortly after. During my performance review. Seated across from him, I knew he was out for blood. He didn't like that I had his number. "I have to correct 80% of your work," he informed me.
"You mean 80% of the work you never read?" I was never known for tact and diplomacy. "Well, let's put it to the test."
His eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"One moment," I said. I left his office, went to my cubicle and opened one of my desk drawers. I picked up a stack of my first drafts (I was a pack rat back then) that must've weighed 300lbs and heaved them to his office, straining my arm muscles and back. I dropped them on his desk. "Let's go through each one with the final version and get to an equitable figure."
He groaned. The man was a Viet Nam vet who guarded the perimeter of a compound with dogs and guns. He must've wished he had both with him when dealing with me.
I slid back into the seat across from him, smirking. "Well?"
He equivocated. "Well, how about 50%?"
"Now we're negotiating?"
I sighed. "5% and that's it."
"Good. I'm not recommending you for a raise," he stated with authority.
"You're not recommending me for a raise?" I repeated. "How about this: how do you explain not giving a raise to the most prolific person in your department who writes over 300 reports a year when the typical analyst writes 100?"
"Because I have to correct 5%."
Even so, I got the ONLY bonus, quite a chunk, in a bank that stripped back bonuses AND RAISES that year due to massive scandals. Someone in senior management must've liked my vocabulary. Yet, I was pissed. Even though he still didn't read my reports, he dogged me constantly about my lunch and bathroom breaks. Then I got creative. I had nothing to lose and decided to put the final nail in the coffin.
My analyses were written like murder mysteries. Everyone loved to read them. Except my boss. But what people don't realize is that reading is passive, especially when it's filled with numbers like 18% with ROI of 2%, a $65MM decline in EBIT. Taking into account non-aggregated items... You get what I mean. Strip out the numbers and what you're reading is financial porn, I like to say. Where numbers grow, swell, ebbing, flowing, increasing, sometimes decreasing, yet again building to a cataclysmic finale. Damn, I wish I had those reports today!
At any rate, after two years of this, finally, some member in the committee asked my boss to read aloud a section of my report to stress a point. It was a highly contentious deal about which they waffled. In a loud voice, he read the paragraphs. I only wish I were a fly on the wall!
Minutes later the door to the conference room swung open so hard it smashed into the wall. A scarlet faced division head ran to my cubicle. With the scantest of self-discipline, he clasped his trembling hands. No doubt, he wanted to strangle me which made me wonder about his tours of duty in Viet Nam. "GO TO HUMAN RESOURCES!"
Seated across from the VP of Inhuman Resources, I watched the woman struggle to compose herself. "You do realize you've now five major infractions besides insubordination?"
I failed to mention that I was already in trouble for situations arising outside of my job. The major one occurred when the building caught fire. We were on the 2nd floor and our chief of security locked the only exit door to make us stand up against the walls. He was scared out of his wits and didn't know what else to do. For some reason, he wouldn't answer the phone from the building's security. Once I realized the man lost all capacity for thought, I piped up.
"I don't know about you, but I'm getting the fuck outta here!" I said after I answered the special wallphone from security who shrieked, "What the fuck's wrong with you people? Do you want to burn alive? Everyone already left the building."
I shouted to my colleagues, "Everyone form a single line and quietly and quickly follow me." After kicking the door open, we vacated the premises.
That didn't gain me any kudos. Then, a few months later, the building removed an entire external wall in the depths of winter. I went to the head of security who already had a gleam of hatred in his eye when he espied me. "I need to move my cubicle. I fear frostbite."
"Troublemaker," he hissed. "Wear your coat, gloves and hat like everyone else." The office was partially filled with snow.
"If you don't move me to a warm area right now, then I'll phone the Board of Health."
After the Board of Health visited the premises, after suffering reprimands from HR, I was moved to another area with heat, without wind and snow gusts. They even moved my colleagues so as not to show preferential treatment.
The head of HR fluttered her eyelashes. "I can't believe you still have a job! What the hell's wrong with you? With this last stunt, you're on probation. If you don't clean up your act, you'll be fired."
There's something magical about the word "probation" - it seems to flutter out of one mouth and in a snap embed itself into everyone's minds. The moment I stepped out of HR, people refused to meet my eyes. I knew then and there my fate was sealed.
Needless to say, my relationship with my boss deteriorated into full-scale warfare. After publicly humiliating him, there was no road back. Now he went through each one of my reports, tweaking every word, number-crunching all over again to catch the slightest of errors. The man worked very long hours and on weekends because of me. And when he found a typo or error, it was DRAMATIC; the public thrashing over a comma lasted hours at times. My goose was cooked.
Soon after, I job hopped to another bank where it took a matter of time before they found out I was a renegade. But a renegade in a different direction: maintaining my integrity and refusing to support pernicious banking activities that would undermine depositors and shareholders. Once again, people drifted away from me, scared to interact should my patina of social outcast rub off on them.
I was a leper. A work zombie. Someone to run away from. I could empty a room out in less than three seconds. It was a recurrent theme in many of the institutions where I worked. Which doesn't say much about these firms. Or the people who work there.
Around twenty years later, I bumped into my former boss in the streets of NYC. He was very happy to see me. "I'm now one of the top people in XXX bank," he gleefully announced. "Give me a call. I really want to bring you on board." He handed over his business card.
"Are you out of your fucking mind?" I asked. "I drove you bonkers. Hell, you tried to fire me!"
He smiled. "You're still the best analyst around. No one can match your productivity, analytical skills and writing acumen. Give me a call."
What an endorsement! Yet, I had this perverse thought that the man wanted me to leave my current job and be at his mercy where he can finally cook my goose. I never phoned him.
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This blog and all its posts are a work of fiction. Names, characters, 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.