I worked at a food magazine where we got a lot of random snack samples. One day I was walking down the hall with a big bag of chips, minding my own business, probably eating a handful, because free chips. My (male, older) boss walked past and said, “What, did someone break up with you?”
When I was 16, I worked in the accounting department of my small hometown bank with a bunch of ladies who were all at least three times my age. Every day, we shared stories of our aches and pains, our newest medications, and how our children had disappointed us once again that week. Normal stuff. They were fun, except for one woman — I’ll call her Gloria — who constantly commandeered our conversations to say something so horrifically sad, we’d be forced sit in silence for the rest of the day, just to process what psychological hell she’d just unleashed upon our souls.
One day, we were talking about vacations we’d taken, and Gloria decided to tell us the story of one family trip: They were camping. They’d left their dog in the tent while they were out foraging. The tent was elevated, I guess to keep it away from bears or forest robbers or whatever bad things that happen when people go camping. It was all fine and fun. UNTIL… they came back to their site and found that their dog had jumped out of the tent, still attached to its leash, and HANGED ITSELF while they were away.
Literally, in the middle of a regular conversation about vacations, Gloria managed to slip in a fun anecdote about how her dog committed suicide while camping.
3. Joanna Borns
I worked at a place where my boss was asked to make an announcement to all employees to make sure we knew that no one should ever flush magazines down the toilet. Because someone had tried to flush a magazine down the toilet.
I had a co-worker who passive-aggressively gave me shit about wearing my hair in a big, naturally curly afro. She would introduce me to people as “Tracy with the craaAAAaazy hair!” I came to the office with it straightened once and when she saw me she gasped dramatically and said, “OH, you look so professional now!” Still not sure how I managed to not leap over my desk and attack her. Days later, I saw her in the kitchen with the nozzle of the communal can of whipped cream in her mouth.
5. Sandra Allen
I once did the opening shift at a big Italian cafe. I would get there before dawn and have about an hour of darkness and spooky silence before a usual batch of early risers would come and order their usual things. One morning, though, my first customer was a man I’d never seen. He was middle aged and seemed nice. We exchanged pleasantries in low voices, both aware that it was very early and we were alone. He eventually ordered a large black coffee, to go. As I was pouring it from the Pyrex coffee pot, he began to yell.
“Is that plastic?!” he shouted and pointed to the coffee pot.
“Um — ” I was totally startled.
“Are you trying to give me cancer?!” he shouted.
“No —” I said, and tried to say I’m pretty sure that this is the kind of coffee pot you’ve seen at every restaurant ever.
“Well I’ll still pay for it” — he slammed a dollar and some change on the marble counter — “But I’m not drinking it.” And shaking his head and laughing like he’d narrowly escaped my attempt to kill him, he strode out the door. It slammed behind him, and I was again alone.
6. Tanya Chen
When I was 15 I worked at a Mexican restaurant where I was the only non-male, non-Mexican on staff besides our manager, a 4’11” woman who would only speak Spanish to me even after I told her several times that I don’t speak any Spanish. It was one of many creative ways she’d mess with me on the job — usually out of harmless fun.
One day, though, she came up from behind and exclaimed, “Did you forget panties today, mami?” and pulled my pants back by their belt loop to check, giggling to herself as she walked away into the kitchen. I was mortified. I quit two months later, after I saved enough money for a hot new ZUNE mp3 player.
My first job out of college was at a live TV show: a great learning experience — for the work, yes, but mostly for learning about how to handle absolutely crazy people.
Before I came in one morning, a woman everyone called “pot roast lady” came in really hungover/still drunk from the earlier show that morning. I guess she was really drunk because she THREW UP ON HERSELF, but instead of getting up and cleaning herself off, she just took off her shirt and proceeded to work on the rest of the show without a shirt. She really took “the show must go on” to heart, I guess. Anyways, I came in at the end of the show and all my co-workers just looked a mixture of horrified and stunned. She still works there, I think.
8. Joe Heaney
When I started my recent temp gig at a non-profit health care provider, I was told I’d be sharing the position with another temp. I had not been told, however, that the other temp would essentially be a tiny, squeaky lady house-elf. Our job was to call insurance companies and verify the mental health benefits for potential patients for this program. They’d use a lot of insurance lingo, so it was normal for us to have questions, and usually it was fine, but my co-temp was unable to form coherent questions that featured more words than sounds. For example, and I immediately texted this question verbatim to a friend so I’d have a preserved copy for later study, she asked the healthcare expert who was training us, “Gzzz-if you… because, like, er… when you mmm phone — ugh — the right words, right?”
We were about two weeks into the six-week project when She-Dobby gave up and switched her focus from making calls to making sure that enough Saved by the Bell was being watched, in our shared cube space, without headphones. When the second day of this began, an employee passed by and asked, “Are you able to make phone calls with the volume up on your show like that?”
“Not really,” my co-temp responded.
“Oh. Are you going to make anymore phone calls?”
“Eh… I don’t think so. Mmmm I’ve had a problem with motivation since I was a kid.”
This was far too much unexpected honesty for Tyler, the unwitting employee, and he walked away.
On what would turn out to be her last day, she left me with a comment that has perplexed me more than anything I had yet encountered in any workplace. I was standing in the break room staring at my rotating food thawing in the microwave, because it’s the most fascinating thing that happens in an office, when she walked in and said to me, “Hgz- Man! You microwave your food. That’s soooo smart,” and then walked out. That was all. This has been really hard to wrap my head around. I knew I’d seen her with food that is purchased frozen, and I could find no evidence of a campfire anywhere in the building. What did she use, a lighter? Or did she just prefer her Lean Cuisine cold and crunchy? What does “Hgz” mean? What did any of it mean? Unsurprisingly, she was asked after week three to not come back.
I once watched my boss belly slide across a long conference room table after he got super drunk at an office party. He giggled the whole time while everyone cheered him on, and he landed right in front of me, his new assistant, as I walked into the room. The most awkward part was watching him sloppily sideways-roll off the table while sheepishly trying to tug his shirt down over his very exposed stomach.
10. Driadonna Roland
A couple of years ago I was a cashier at Forever 21. A woman who looked older than me placed a mountain heap of clothes on the counter — clothes that her mom was happily paying for. Mom was studying my every move, asking me to “please be more gentle.” At one point she asked me to put something in a garment bag. I paused and reminded her that she was at Forever 21 and we did not carry garment bags. She proceeded to try to explain to me what a garment bag was, until her daughter so graciously said, “Mom, give her a break, she only makes minimum wage.”
…which I didn’t, but thanks, maybe?
I worked in content management for a now-defunct internet company and one day decided to take a liberally long lunch. When I returned, my direct manager, a sweet but nervous type of fellow who often wore neckties with puppies and ducks on them, asked me to step out into the hallway where I assumed I was going to be reprimanded. Instead he basically asked me if I would go on a date with his adult son, whom I had never met or heard of. I lied and said I was dating someone, but diplomatically asked about his son’s interests in case I thought of any single friends.
He replied: “Games and gaming. Computer, board, video… all varieties. [Huge sigh] And he’s a theme park mascot. We really just want to get him to move out of our basement.”
Great pitch, and also made me wonder about how my manager perceived me. Basically, this was a Failure to Launch situation. Had I had my druthers, I would have figured out a way to charge for my services à la SJP.
12. Scott Bryan
When I was 18 I got a job in a nightclub. I was desperate. I needed the money. And with no bar experience whatsoever, I was given the duty of glass collecting throughout the club, as well as cleaning up the toilets in case they overflowed.
I saw everything. I saw people having sex in the cubicles. I saw people throwing up and punching each other in the face. The amount of clothes I used to find in the back of booths at the end of a shift was so much I stopped reacting. You used to see jeans, bras, knickers; in one case, all of someone’s clothes. I have no idea how they managed to leave the club afterward without any.
Anyway, one night I was mopping the nightclub floor after someone spilled their entire pint. It was very difficult to clean, since nobody had moved from the wet area and I had to mop around people, and occasionally underneath people’s legs. Then, one woman, spectacularly drunk, grabbed my mop. I got angry and swiped it back. For no reason whatsoever, she proceeded to spread her legs and shout “mop here” while squatting down close to the floor. I didn’t know what to do, so I obliged. I started mopping a spill between her legs, while she squatted just above it, in front of her friends.
She started making sex noises. She was pretending that my mop was my penis (?) and that I was having sex with her with a wet mop. “Kkkeeeeeppppp going,” “HAAAAARRRRRDDDERRRRRR,” “uuuuuggggghhhhUUUUGGGGGGHHHH.” I should have stopped. I should have not kept going, but it was a big spill. I am not joking, this kept going for about five minutes. I never knew you could simulate sex with a mop.
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