The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Stories
We were in my tiny office on a weekday morning. It was a summer day in Sacramento with the temperature forecast to go to almost 100 in the afternoon. I know the exact time and date because I’m re-creating this scene from a journal I kept at the time, which was in the late 1980’s. I was then a Research Specialist in a section of the State of California’s giant Health Department. Sara Gonzalez was my Statistical Clerk. The evil woman was Gertrude Beadle, who’d been our Section Chief the last three months and had proved her qualifications as horrible boss.
The Horrible Boss I: Saving Sara
“That woman is evil,” said Sara.
“What’s she done now?” I asked.
“She wants to dock my pay because I was late coming in this morning. I had to go to school with Jose. His teacher wanted to see me.”
Sara was a woman in her thirties, a single mother. Jose was her son, 15 years old and in high school. Although I wasn’t the Section Chief, before Gertrude Beadle’s coming, it was understood that I supervised Sara, who spent about 90 percent of her time on my work. Ann Rivers, the previous Section Chief, had no objection to this. I let Sara come in late and take long lunches when necessary to take care of Jose, who, as a teenager, required a lot of care. It was worth it; Sara was an excellent worker. She understood numbers and had a knack for preparing tables and graphs so that they were understandable even to our agency heads and legislators.
“She can’t do that,” I said, although I wasn’t sure about this.
“She stopped at my desk this morning and told me she would. She told me she’d been keeping track of my time. She also gave me a lot of her memos to type.”
“Let me see what I can do,” I said.
“I hope you can do something. I won’t work for that woman. If I can’t work for you I’ll look for a job someplace else.”
Uh, oh, this was serious. I didn’t want to lose Sara. “I’ll go talk to Denny Meese,” I said. Meese was our Division Chief. I’d been thinking about seeing him as he was above Gertrude Beadle on the organizational chart and possibly he could he could curtail some of her more outrageous activities.
“I don’t think that will do any good. I know his secretary and she says he’s kind of a wimp.”
“Well, let me give it a try.”
“Okay. What should I do about all that stuff she gave me to type?”
“Do my tables first. If she gives you any flack tell her to see me.”
“Okay. I hope you can do something.” She looked doubtful.
I said that I was keeping a journal at that time. I’d started taking notes on my job activities a few years after I started working for the State because my horrible boss at the time was in the habit of telling us to do something one day and then something else the next day. This gradually evolved into my keeping a journal. Who knows, maybe I thought that one day I might use the journals as a source for writing stories.
After Sara left I gave some thought to Gertrude Beadle and to why the State had so many horrible bosses. The one I’d had who gave contradictory orders had been a political appointee. In Gertrude’s case, we were in an era of PC, political correctness, and the State was behind no one in obeying its dictates, one of which was that women (and minorities) were to be advanced no matter how unqualified. It was too bad, I thought, that Gertrude Beadle had become our Section head just when I’d thought I’d have a relatively peaceful last few years with the State and then retire. Ann Rivers, who was now happily retired herself, had a lot to answer for.
I’d had a number of encounters with Gertrude Beadle before that time. One of the first things she’d done was to order that anything done---reports, memos, phone calls---had to be reported to her. I had a number of contacts, including the local media, interested in vital statistics and they routinely called me. When I gave some data on deaths by drowning to a reporter facing a deadline Gertrude was incensed that I sent her a memo only after the fact. Another thing she’d done was to post a board on which everyone was to sign in and out and whenever I forgot to do so I had to face an inquisition about where I’d been and whom I’d talked to. Our section put out a number of reports called Data Matters and she mandated that her name be listed as first author even though she had nothing to do with the report. We’d had a long discussion about that.
That day I had a quick lunch at my desk, then walked over to Capitol Park. It was already warm but I wanted to look at the trees and squirrels and forget about Gertrude Beadle for a while. She must have sensed this because as soon as I returned she stormed into my office. She was a dumpy woman with reddish hair and very pale skin, which became mottled when she was angry. Her face was mottled now. As I’d expected, she was upset because Sara was working on my tables and hadn’t begun typing her memos. I explained that the tables were on information about teen-age birth rates that a State assemblywoman had requested for a talk she was giving that weekend. In State circles, anything desired by a legislator had top priority. Gertrude calmed herself down and said that from now on I was to let her know when any such request came up. I said that I’d copied her on a memo I’d sent to the assemblywoman’s office. She said she’d been so busy she hadn’t had time to look at all the paper on her desk. Then, completely switching topics, she said she’d heard one of my sons had been admitted to UC Berkeley. I told her he had and she congratulated me and that was the end of the encounter. I said nothing about Sarah’s threatening to leave.
That encounter, I thought, was typical. The first thing Gertrude had done when she came was to take the section out to lunch; to get to know us, she’d said. Then she’d put up that sign-up board. She was intensely ambitious and would do anything to get ahead, as when she’d used her feminist connections to become Section Chief. She wanted to have total control over her staff. At the same time, she was insecure, was suspicious that everyone was trying to undermine her but also wanted everyone to like her. I recalled a previous time when we’d had an argument over something or other and she’d told me that all she wanted was to be a good manager but that many people were hoping she’d fail. There are eyes in the walls, she’d said. That was when I began to wonder about her sanity.
I had a nodding acquaintance with our Division Chief Denny Meese but had never had a one-on-one meeting with him before. You didn’t just walk into a Division Chief’s office so I had to make an appointment through his secretary and it wasn’t until two weeks later that I was able to see him. In that time Gertrude Beadle’s secretary had transferred out to another agency, telling us that Grtrude wanted her to spy on the other members of the section and when she refused she had threatened her with a demotion. I hoped to use this as ammunition in my visit with Denny Meese.
My meeting, like the one with Sara, is based on notes in my journal. I was kept waiting in an outer office for half an hour, no surprise to me as I was familiar with the ways of State management and I’d taken some computer printouts to examine. When I was finally admitted Meese half-rose from behind his desk, shook my hand and told me he’d been on the phone with the Governor’s office. I said I knew how busy he was and thanked him for seeing me. I ran through the situation with Gertrude and Sara, emphasizing how valuable an employee Sara was.
DM folded his hands in front of him. He was about 45, a large florid man with curly brown hair. “I don’t like, hem, hem, to interfere in personnel matters,” he said. “Have you, hem. hem, talked to Gertrude about this?” I remembered that he had a habit of coughing in between words.
Of course I hadn’t talked to Gertrude. If she knew Sara wanted to transfer out she’d really get on her. I tried to get this point across. Meese looked thoughtful, his hands still folded. “If you don’t feel, hem, hem, you can talk to her, I don’t see what I can do.”
“What about telling her she can’t dock Sara’s pay. She’s already made up the time lost working through her lunch hour.” This was almost true.
“I really have no, hem, hem, control over such matters.”
I was beginning to see that Sara’s assessment of David Meese was right; he was a wimp. “Then I expect we’ll be losing a top-flight stat clerk. Did you know that Gertrude’s secretary has already left and I wouldn’t be surprised that some of our analysts also leave. They’re looking. Gertrude has antagonized our whole section.”
“Gertrude told me her secretary was, hem, hem, disrespectful and not a good worker.”
“And she didn’t want to spy on her fellow workers.”
“Gertrude told me that you all take too much, hem, hem, time off for breaks and other things. She told me you were once, hem, hem, gone for an hour and she didn’t know where you were.”
I started to explain, then I stopped; this wimp wasn’t going to help. “You know Gertrude’s a little nutty,” I said.
I probably shouldn’t have come out with this incautious statement. Meese unfolded his hands and picked up a pad and pencil. “That’s a, hem, hem, serious accusation,” he said. “Hasn’t she had to talk to you about not keeping her informed?”
Ah, yes, anything you say will be taken down and held against you. I knew how to handle this. I stood up and said, “I’ll advise Sara to see her CSEA rep about the pay docking matter.” CSEA was the California State Employees Association, our almost- union. “Sorry to have wasted both our times.” Then I left. Meese said something as I was going out the door but I kept going.
The first thing I did when back in my office was talk to Sara. I told her she’d been right; there’d be no help from Denny Meese. I’d understand if she left. If I could leave I’d do so myself. But while a clerk in the State system could pretty easily find another spot the same wasn’t true foe research analysts. As I’ve said, I was in my last years with the State. I got out some figures I’d come up with if I retired. I thought I might just about make it except for our son going to Cal Berkeley. My wife, a teacher’s aide, would have to keep working. And I could see about getting a job, maybe part-time, as a retired annuitant. I decided that I’d put out some feelers. I knew Meese would lose no time in telling Gertrude about my little visit and I could expect retaliation. And now besides Gertrude I’d have my Division Chief coming down on me.
Amazingly, the next day the situation changed. Our section, we learned, was to have a visit from none other than Dr. Kenny James, our Department Director. Dr. James was known as the young doctor as he was only 33 years old and he had a reputation for doing unorthodox things such as having direct contact with his employees. Gertrude was predictably agitated at the impending visit. She went around the office, telling everyone to look busy. She made it a point to order me to neaten up my desk. (Among other things, she was a neat freak. Her own desk was always clear; of course she did little except write memos and make phone calls to her feminist friends.)
Dr. James finally arrived, an hour or so after he was supposed to come, and made the rounds, shaking hands and asking about what work people did. When my turn came I was surprised that he remembered a Data Matters on teen suicides I’d done and said it might be used to send a letter to the Pacific Journal of Medicine. “I hear you have some data on AIDS,” he said. “That would really be useful.”
In fact, I had recently run a group of tables using the medical codes for AIDS-related illnesses as at that time there was no code for AIDS itself. These were the tables , prepared by Sara, that I’d been looking at while waiting to see Denny Meese. I told this to Dr James and he asked to have them. Gertrude, who’d been hovering over us like a vulture, said, “You didn’t tell me you were doing this.”
“I was just playing around with the data,” I said, “to see what came up.”
“I’ll look at the numbers,” said Dr James. “I’m giving a talk in San Francisco in two weeks. I’ll see if I might use them.”
This was an interesting development, not the least interesting aspect being that Dr. James had known of my project. I soon learned how this had come about. It seems that Sara had mentioned it to Dr. James’ secretary, who’d then mentioned it to him.
I didn’t have long to wait to hear from Dr James. Two days later he called Gertrude, told her the tables were very illuminating and asked for a meeting that afternoon. I’d run the numbers for a ten-year period and they clearly showed a spike in AIDS-related illnesses in the past two years, the time when AIDS had come to the fore. When we met, we were shown into the Director’s office after only a five-minute wait. Dr James was very enthusiastic. He asked if I could run tables by age. I told him I could; these presumably would show the worst hit were younger men. “How about by geographical area?” he asked. I said that too could be done. The odds were the areas most affected would be San Francisco and Los Angeles. Then came the key question: could I have all of this information ready for his talk in San Francisco? I told him that if I worked full-time on it I could. He looked at Gertrude, who nodded. What else could she do?
Then I took the plunge. I said that my statistical clerk, who’d done the nice graphs he’d seen, was on the verge of transferring out of the section. He asked why? I’d thought about how to reply to this. I couldn’t just say that she wanted to get away from a horrible boss. I said that Sara and I had developed a close relationship and that I was to all intents and purposes her supervisor and she wanted this to stay the same or else she’d be leaving. Again, he looked at Gertrude. Her face was mottled, the sign that she was angered. But she said she saw no reason why this arrangement couldn’t be continued, at least for the time being. The Director smiled. “So everything is all set,” he said, standing up, which signaled the meeting was over.
When we were out in the hallway, Gertrude said, or rather hissed, that she wanted to see everything before it was sent to the Director.
“Sure,” I said. I had no intention of doing this but would find a way of getting around her when the time came.
© Martin Green June 2013
My Cecily Infatuation
I was 25 when I came to San Francisco from New York City, got a job as researcher in an ad agency, started going to parties and became infatuated with Cecile Thornton.