Nancy White, 12/1/2014
My current occupation: Administrative Assistant, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Former occupation: I'm assuming you are requesting my occupation at the time period of the article. Also, Administrative Assistant.
Contact Information: Born in Washington, D.C. I grew up in a military family and spent my formative years traveling the globe. I've called Columbus, Ohio home for the last thirty years. I have one daughter and an Italian Greyhound. Both are loved equally. I graduated from Capital University with a major in English/Technical Writing.
The Boss From Hell
Take it from me, the house number on her return address was 666. Ruby, Corporate Secretary for a national landscaping company, hired me to be her administrative assistant when I was 28 years old after a five-year hiatus due to my daughter’s birth. As things do happen in life, my husband thought our neighbor across the street would be better suited to him than me and, therefore, I joined the ranks of single-working mothers. Prior to my hire date, my friends and family considered me to be a kind and considerate person, but there were darker sides to my personality yet unknown to me about to make their debut. Little did I realize that with new-found employment I would also gain insights that would serve me well the rest of my life.
The office was located on the sixth floor of a skyscraper with floor to ceiling windows all around decorated with live plants in every niche and corner of any size. My first day included an introduction to Susie, who held the position before me. Her desk, just two desks away from mine, would come in handy should there be questions later. Honestly, upon meeting Susie I understood why Ruby needed a new admin. We were about the same age, but she had gray frizzy hair, wore thick glasses and pushing away from the dinner table looked to be a challenge for her. Susie gave me a tour of the building, introduced me to everyone, had lunch with me that first day, and brought me up to speed on the projects on my desk. I was very optimistic about my new position and eager to begin.
Ruby was in her fifties, a rather imposing woman about 5’5” tall and weighed approximately 300 pounds. She possessed a bust of gigantic proportions. When she wore a necklace, it did not hang down. It lay horizontal around her neck and upon her bosom. The Corporate Secretary title came with a large salary, and it was quite obvious she enjoyed a pampered life style. She possessed an extravagant wardrobe accessorized with lavish jewelry and stylish shoes. Her shoes were the envy of the office and were often the topic of conversation at the break room. She always wore heels without a back, commonly called mules, but that makes them sound dumpy. Her shoes were anything but dumpy. Some of them had gem stones, some had feathers, and some were alligator. She wore a pair of shoes to work one day that were mink. Jimmy Choo, if he were designing shoes then, would die of envy. She could be heard before being seen because the heels would slap against the sole of each foot as she took a step. Hair perfectly coiffed and makeup applied like mortar, she sailed into the office every morning at 9 a.m. sharp.
The first week on the job ran smoothly, but as the days went by, I began to feel like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dam. My job responsibilities were not as described to me during the job interview. Work days for me resembled episodes of the Twilight Zone. What horror awaited me each day at the office I never could predict.
Ruby’s office was approximately 50 feet from my desk, and when she wanted me she would bellow my name down the hallway. Of course, everyone in the office could hear her. All work activity would cease, and I would go directly to her office. Let me give you an example of reasons why she would call me to her office.
“I need coffee. Get me some from Starbucks, not that nasty office coffee.”
“Find out who delivers lunch and get their menus.”
“Take my car and get it washed.”
“Pick up a prescription for me.”
“Call so-and-so and when you get him on the line transfer him to me.”
One day it would be, “Mail this proposal to so-and-so” and the next day she would say, “I can’t find the so-in-so proposal. Have you seen it?” Reminding her that she told me to mail it yesterday didn’t help because she would deny ever telling me to do so. Therefore, I came up with the idea of the Contract Log the very next day. Every contract or proposal she gave me to send out would require her signature on the log before being processed.
“I can’t find the Acme contract. Do you have it?”
After the obligatory search, I realized the requested contract had vanished into thin air. I didn’t know if I was losing the contracts or if she was eating them. Not logged out either, where the heck could they be? Only one original with signatures of a proposal or contract existed. If you lost it you had to start at the beginning and type it over. I would keep Xerox copies in case we would need to recreate documents, but you still had to type it over again.
We had many file cabinets as well and sometimes she requested a certain file. Strangely, missing files also became an issue and there would be no place holder card indicating who had checked it out. It’s mystifying. The paperwork in this office seemingly sprouts legs and wanders off when the mood strikes. In my previous job before the birth of my daughter, performance appraisals declared me to be quite an organizational wizard and not being able to find contracts and files bothered me. I was beginning to worry about being fired; not an enviable fate for a single working mother. Seeking advice, I asked Susie, who now worked in Personnel, if she experienced the same issues with Ruby that I was experiencing, and Susie said she’d rather not comment. She wanted me to form my own opinion of Ruby. I thought that was an odd response at the time, but I knew Susie was a somewhat reclusive person. She always ate lunch at her desk and as far as I could tell didn’t cultivate close relationships at the office.
So one day about four months into my landscaping career, Ruby tells me she’s going out for a long business lunch. While she’s gone I decide to go in her office and sneak around to see if I can find one or two of the most recent missing contracts or files. Maybe Ruby just misplaced them. Desk drawers opened, all the files within examined, next the closet, then all the boxes in the closet and all for naught. Back at her desk I try to imagine if I was a misplaced file or contract where could I be? I lift up her overly large desk pad and low and behold there are five files and three contracts lying there. I look at the files and documents to see if they are the missing ones and they are. So I’m putting two and two together and realize this was no accident. For some reason, Ruby has been squirreling these away and dishing out the guilt about “losing them”. I paper shredded the files and documents and went back to my desk. Now they are truly “Missing”. And the feud begins.
Ruby comes back from lunch, walks past my desk with her shoes slapping against her feet as she progresses down the hallway. No verbal exchanges made. About an hour later I’m on the phone when Ruby screeches down the hall, “Nancy, has someone been in my office?” I didn’t answer because I was on the phone. She comes to my desk and even though I’m on the phone with a customer; she asks the same question again. I tell the customer I’ll have to call them back and hang up.
“No one has been in your office. I never let anyone else in your office.” Anyone else besides you and me I’m thinking to myself.
“Are you sure?” she asks again.
“Why do you ask?”
“I’m missing something.”
“Oh, what would that be? I’ll help you find it.” I said trying to be helpful (not really).
“Never mind!” She screeches and returns to her office.
So I was right. She did it on purpose. Why? Why would your boss hoard important information and claim that you lost it? It just didn’t add up. So, of course, being a stellar example of a professional employee, I started complaining about her at lunch and break times to my co-worker friends. What was the method to her madness? Why? Why? No one seemed to have an answer.
One morning she said I had to go home and change clothes. Since when are slacks and a blouse with a peter pan collar inappropriate? I had to take an hour of vacation to go home and change.
Soon after that Ruby told me she was waiting for an important personal call from her best friend, Barbara, and let her know as soon as Barbara called even if she was in a meeting. Barbara called, and I filled out the message receipt for Ruby and time stamped it two hours later and put it on her desk at the time indicated on the message. She came back from her meeting, called Barbara and came out of her office angry and commenced to yelling at me in front of all the employees whose desks were nearby.
“I missed the fitting,” she tells me. “Barbara says she called almost three hours ago, why didn’t you let me know she had called?”
“What does the time stamp on the message say?”
“Then, that’s what time she called and I put the message on your desk.” Two can play at this game. She stormed away from me back down the hall to her office and slammed the door.
Maryanne was the HR admin whose desk was next to mine. She would overhear me mumbling about Ruby under my breath day after day, incident after incident, and she made it her mission to bring a little happiness into my life. She says to me one day, “Where does Ruby get all of those beautiful little shoes that she wears, I wonder? She has the smallest feet and the biggest a*s I have ever seen.” Of course, I laughed until I choked.
A couple days later Ruby is walking down the hall and Maryanne whispers to me, “Don’t you think those little bitty shoes must suffer something awful every time she steps down onto them?” I nearly laughed out loud as Ruby passed us. Then Maryanne notches up her game. Every time Ruby walks by us she would say under her breath so only I could hear her, “Ooh, Ouch, Stop, That hurts, Please, Ooch, Ouch, please, torture, pure torture, stop, ouch,” as if the little bitty shoes were suffering in earnest.
One day my babysitter had a schedule conflict and called and asked me to come at noon and pick up my daughter. Well, not having anyone else to watch her I took her to work with me. I’m thinking how much trouble can a five-year old be in one afternoon? She was fine for the first hour or two and then she got restless. My back was turned while I was filing. My daughter apparently wandered down the hall, into Ruby’s office and I hear this very familiar little girls’ voice say, “You’re not as fat as my mommy says you are.” Ruby’s booming demand that I come get this urchin out of her office closely followed.
It wasn’t me that said she was fat, but it might as well have been. It was all out war from that day on. She never did anything inappropriate to me that I could prove and the same was true of me. I got so upset about my employment situation that I was stressed to the point of breaking. Every time she asked me to do something, which most of the time was something irritating, I would say to myself why don’t you just die and go away. I’m not proud of my lack of professional behavior, but I felt driven to it. Every night when she left for the night and said good night to everyone, but me, I would say to myself why don’t you just go home and die. You’re mean and evil, and no one likes you.
And then it happened. On a Wednesday at 5 p.m. Ruby said good night to everyone but me and left the office for the day. I had to finish processing a contract before I could leave. About 15 minutes later, someone comes running in from the parking lot screaming, “Someone call 911. Call 911 now. Hurry.” He found Ruby dead in the parking lot sitting in her Mercedes with the driver’s door open, one leg in the car, one leg on the pavement. She had a brain aneurism and died on the spot. She had complained of a headache all day.
Those who were still at the office rushed out to the scene. Alone in the office I remained at my desk until the ambulance came and took her away. Once you go out to see what’s going on it becomes real. Guilt consumed me all the way down to my toes and back. What kind of a person wishes for someone else’s death every day? I sat at my desk and cried. Ruby had a husband and a daughter. She had a life. I wished her away from her loved ones. Who did I think I was? Guilt consumed me and I fell into a depression.
Susie chose that time in my life to seek me out. She would ask me to lunch almost every day, and we would chat about unimportant things. Then she asked one day if I’d like to go to a movie on Saturday, and I said sure and before you know it Susie and I were becoming fast friends. She and I had a standing Saturday night “date”, dinner and a movie. Who knew she could be so friendly? She had never married, but she gave me the most sensible advice when it came to relationships. She taught me how to take care of myself when it came to men, money and career choices. If someone I dated didn’t like Susie that was our last date. We were together all the time. She amazed me.
Then one day out of the blue she says to me, “It’s not your fault you know.”
I knew what she was talking about without asking, “Why do you say that?”
“I wished that woman dead every day I worked for her. If I hadn’t landed my job in the Personnel I would have quit. I couldn’t take it any longer. I just wanted you to know that you have company in that dark place your in right now.”
The weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. It was a burden, a secret that we shared. It was the burden of knowing I had become something loathesome and the secret of knowing something hideous lived inside me, but I wasn’t alone
Susie and I were closer than sisters ever could be for 24 years. During all that time, we never missed a Saturday night dinner/movie. We were so different from each other that people often wondered how we could be so close, but we knew we were the same inside. To the world, she appeared to be a reclusive bookworm who barely spoke to anyone at work and had the only office in the building that looked like a F5 tornado had just touched down. Ask her for any particular report and she would go to a sloppy stack of books and paper in a corner of her office and pluck a few choice pages from somewhere in the stack and that would be the document you were looking for. I don’t know how she did it. The world didn’t often get to see her kindnesses, generosity, and graciousness. She did not brag about such things. Her wardrobe resembled clothing previously refused by Good Will. Shopping for new clothes remained low on her priority list. She donated almost half of what she earned to those in need. She always thought of others before herself.
I, on the other hand, was a wise-cracking, cigarette-smoking, and gum-chewing harridan. I’d do anything for a good laugh. I was probably the last person in the world anyone would want as a friend. She was my confessor, my plus one, my ‘sister’, my best friend, my confidant and I loved her until the day she died of a heart attack far too young. I still miss her every day. Knowing her made me a better person and for that I am grateful. Ruby, I want to thank you for hiring me and changing my life forever. Looking back, it was the nicest gesture anyone has ever done for me.
Rest in Peace.