In 2014 I hit the wall and decided to get back into the rat race. I’d spent a couple years half-heartedly pursuing acting and comedy, two things you shouldn’t pursue half-heartedly. The plan was to find a full-time gig that would pay the bills, and I’d be forced to cram all my creative endeavors into my free time. It wasn’t an ending, just a new beginning. That was the lie I told myself.
It only took me twenty applications to land a phone interview. It was with Paula, the Ops Manager of a Manhattan-based solar energy company. They were looking for a Marketing Manager. The interview was very much a softball; she skimmed my resume and asked some basic questions. Paula then invited me into the office for a follow-up conversation.
The office was in a fancy building just a few blocks south of Central Park. I spoke with David, a solar industry veteran sales rep. He was a middle-aged South African geezer with a greying flattop. David took an instant liking to me because of our Commonwealth connection, and I could tell he was going to be an ally.
“If I get the job, who will I be reporting to?” I asked him.
“The Boss,” David said as he pointed to an empty room at the end of the hall. “We all report to the Boss.”
I was right — David did put in a good word. A few days later I was invited back to the office to meet the main man.
A wiry dude with thick glasses sat behind a huge desk. He was typing away at his keyboard with manic intensity.
The Boss stood up and shook my hand. He looked to be in his late forties. There was something waxy about his face — he looked like one of The Thunderbirds. “Angus. Nice to meet you. Take a seat.” Angus reviewed my portfolio. “This is all you?”
“Yes,” I lied. To flesh out my portfolio, I’d exaggerated my input with my wife K’s side hustle, an ecommerce store. The reality was that I’d delivered a few packages to the USPS for her. But on the portfolio I was handling all the web design, email newsletters and blog content.
“What type of salary are you expecting?” Angus said.
I avoided divulging my number. Angus tried to needle me for the rest of the conversation but I danced around him, and he seemed to respect the hustle.
The next day I emailed across my salary demands. Angus seemed like the type of guy who lived to win arm wrestles, so I went ten grand higher than I needed to.
Paula called me. The job was mine, but the offer was five grand under what I wanted. I accepted.
- - -
Hindsight’s a sly bitch. When I look back on this time, I’m amazed at my gullibility. If something moves like a rat and talks like a rat it’s probably a fucking rat. But we always overestimate our ability to morph reality. Some situations are sticky as hell. Smoldering piles of wet dog shit. There’s no way to clean up the mess without getting filthy.
During my first week on the job, I observed Angus and thought to myself, “Wow, this guy’s a force of nature. There’s probably a lot I can learn from him.” The dude was single-handedly pushing the entire company forward with his will and determination.
By the start of my second week, I’d changed my tune to something along the lines of, “This Angus cunt is the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever met. I hope he gets bone cancer and dies in a sewer.”
Rather than cherry-pick instances of his craziness, I’d prefer to describe Angus more generally as an abusive, narcissistic parent. The man rode everyone he worked with into the ground. If he fell into a fit of rage, the entire office would quickly inflate with a weighty sense of doom. His movie villain evilness was borderline vaudevillian. He started every morning with a 4am run. He lived in a $50 million two-floor penthouse on Central Park South with his Russian mail order bride. His whole existence was about winning the green game. A walking, talking, putrid amalgamation of Trump, Gordon Gecko, Jordan Belfort and Dr. Evil.
Initially, he was cool with me. But soon Angus started picking holes in my work and setting ridiculous goals. Once he dressed me down in front of the whole office, and I felt both my fists clench. Soon I became disillusioned with everything. The weekend would roll around, and I’d drink myself into oblivion. Monday morning would slap me in the face like a sadistic prison guard. The thought of five more days in the office around that man was unthinkable.
Out of the blue, I heard about a picture framing business in Brooklyn that were looking for a social media guy. I looked them up and saw the pitiful effort they were coughing up on Pinterest, Facebook and Insta. It wasn’t hard to come up with some suggestions about how they could improve their content, so one weekend I bundled together a package and sent it express to their office.
On a Tuesday Angus told me that he needed me onsite in rural Massachusetts the next day to film an installation for the website. I had to get up the next morning at 2.30am, catch two trains over to New Jersey and then ride up to Mass in my coworker Todd’s car. That day we chased Angus around the worksite as he maniacally checked a thousand different things. It was bitterly cold and I stupidly hadn’t brought my winter jacket. When Angus realized that I was shivering in my suit, he retrieved a puffy jacket from the boot of his car and handed it to me. There it was — the humanity I’d been looking for all along. But when I put the jacket on, he snapped right back into his debased shell, and started screaming orders to all in his presence. I had mistaken benevolence for practicality — he needed me fit so he could continue to boss me around.
As I ate my packed lunch in a nondescript demountable, I noticed an email come in from the picture framing business. They’d reviewed my social media pitch and wanted me to come in for an interview.
For the rest of the day I was absolutely buzzing. When you fucking hate your job, a viable new employment prospect is like a lifeboat full of gorgeous hookers and Class A drugs. There was something in me that knew I was going to ace this picture frame interview. Angus bitched and moaned all day long. He drove me back to New York, but only as far as a subway station in Queens — my place in Brooklyn was simply too far out of his way. I jumped out of his convertible and he sped off. It was 11.30pm, I’d just worked a 21 hour day, and the last thing Angus told me was “I want you in bright and early tomorrow”. But I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. My days in his presence were numbered.
The first interview with the Brooklyn picture framing crew went really well. A few days after that, I had to leave the Manhattan office early for a follow-up interview. Angus was back in Massachusetts. So I wrote him a text explaining that an emergency had come up, I had to leave the office early, but I’d make up the hours. He didn’t respond. The follow-up interview went well. The picture framing Boss offered me the job. I accepted.
I went to work the following day with a spring in my step. I’d emailed myself my resignation letter, and couldn’t wait to forward it to Angus. As I got off the subway in Manhattan, I saw that Angus had just responded to my text from the day before:
THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! WE DO NOT ALLOW ANY UNPLANNED LEAVE. YOU WILL HAVE ONE DAY REMOVED FROM YOUR ANNUAL VACATION. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS WHEN I GET BACK TO THE OFFICE.
I smiled to myself. It was time to step away from the smoldering pile of shit.
- - -
My resignation was actually pretty underwhelming. As Angus wasn’t in the office, I just spoke to Paula. She nodded pathetically and accepted my notice. It all became clear — the churn in that place must’ve been crazy. A survivor, Paula had seen it all before.
That afternoon I spoke with Angus on the phone. I was half-hoping for a McEnroe level freak out, but he was actually very calm. Angus congratulated me earnestly on finding a new position.
I sometimes wonder why Angus didn’t fly off the handle when I quit. My best guess is that it’s because I’m an escape artist. That guy would’ve fired so many people over the years. Many would’ve chosen unemployment over working another day underneath him. A very small minority, the most masochistic or desperate amongst us, would’ve dealt with years of humiliation before eventually becoming survivors and mini versions of the Boss. Angus would be well aware that he’s essentially operating a type of capitalist prison. So perhaps escape artists like me help illuminate flaws in his design, and allow him to further reinforce the perimeter of his insane gulag.
Now, there’s probably some people out there who’ve read this piece and don’t buy my story. Maybe you think that I was unqualified, got a rude shock when I found myself working for a successful entrepreneur in the Big Apple, and bitched out when it all got too hard.
I know there’s some people out there who think this because I used to think this. A few months after bidding Angus adieu the trauma began to fade and I began to question my own experience. Maybe, just maybe, all the crazy shit I thought I saw was inside my own head.
On a whim earlier this week I decided to check out the Glassdoor reviews for Angus’ company which is still in existence. In a moment, I was validated. All of the reviews are terrible. And there are some scathing reports of the CEO’s behaviour which mirror all of my horrific flashbacks. The icing on the cake was when I discovered through some hardcore Googling that Angus was found guilty of investment fraud in the early 90s, just like old mate Belfort.
In a recent guest article on Wired “Why Are Rich People So Mean?” , writer and podcaster Chris Ryan shared his Rich Asshole Theory:
The Spanish word ‘aislar’ means both “to insulate” and “to isolate,” which is what most of us do when we get more money. We buy a car so we can stop taking the bus. We move out of the apartment with all those noisy neighbors into a house behind a wall. We stay in expensive, quiet hotels rather than the funky guest houses we used to frequent. We use money to insulate ourselves from the risk, noise, inconvenience. But the insulation comes at the price of isolation. Our comfort requires that we cut ourselves off from chance encounters, new music, unfamiliar laughter, fresh air, and random interaction with strangers.
We’re all assholes from time to time, but the people in our lives have a tendency to bring us back down to earth. So next time you’re scheming of a plan that will put you “ahead” of all your peers, think of my old boss, Angus The Isolated. In the words of Nada Surf, “the weight is a gift.”