Sunday, September 21, 2008


Consider the supervisor. From the day you enter the workforce, you have a boss of you, unless you end up working for yourself, which is even worse.

Your boss is a personage that looms large in your life, whether you realize it or not. He or she can review your performance, authorize or reject any number of initiatives including vacation, and influence your income. Your boss is the one you worry about when you're rolling into the office at 9:20 instead of 9:00. Your boss is the one you think of when you are e-stalking a romantic interest or old buddy, instead of finishing that project.

Your boss giveth, and your boss taketh away.

Your boss is also pathetic. Your boss is answering to another boss who is much worse. Your boss is dealing with crap that you wouldn't want to deal with, not in a million years. Your boss has made it this far without really knowing what he or she is doing. Your boss has fewer friends in the office than you do. Your boss is a cariacature, sketched out by everyone else.

In my life, I have been fortunate to work for some very good people. Along the timeline of bosses, only two stand out as utter tools:

1. Mo, short for Mohammed: American Cafe, Washington, D.C. Mo was a short restaurant manager, embodying exactly the Napoleon complex and inflated self-importance that you would expect from that description. My most salient memory: I'm standing at a station, ringing in an order, during a busy dinner service. "Don't do that," I hear from behind me. It's Mo, glaring at me. "What?" I say, not sure what I'm doing wrong. "Don't put your hand there," he said, pointing at my left hand, which was resting on the wall as I keyed in the order. "It gets the wall dirty." That was Mo.

2. G.J.: Magnet Interactive, Washington, D.C. This guy was a dick. I'm a little biased, and you will soon see why. G. was Revenge of the Nerds with a cocaine habit. He handed out stimulants to the people he liked, and screwed over everyone else. I fell into the latter camp. I got put on a project, two-thirds of the way through, that he had massively oversold to the client. The project had gone spectacularly wrong on several levels: the graphic designer was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder, the senior producer quit, the animator was a druggie who tended to disappear at key times, and then there was me, 25 years old and a good little worker, but way too green for the gig. The dimensions of the snow job Greg had achieved with the client were too staggering for me to correct. After the project's conclusion, G. called me into his office and fired me, taking care to invite my coworkers to watch. He told me, among other things, that I "couldn't read people." It was an undeserved public shaming that took me years to get over. Later I was told that when the client heard I was fired, they responded that G. J. should have been the one to go and not me. It was small consolation. But I did emerge smarter and stronger from my encounter with this person.

Others committed milder offenses. One of my uber-bosses at a news organization sat down next to me on her second day at the office and clapped her hand on my shoulder, saying, "Hey girlfriend, what's happening?" I knew immediately to distrust this person. We are in a place of business, you are nearly 20 years older than I am, and you are my new boss, lady. This is not Living Single, and we no longer work in the jounalistic boys' clubs you're used to. Get a grip. She later screwed over one of my female colleagues, letting her die on the advancement vine while blowing smoke to her about women needing to stick together in this business. Hey girlfriend.

Most of my bosses have been good, beleaguered people who did their best with me. One of the early ones was Tim at Byron Preiss Multimedia. Tim, are you out there? At the time, Tim was only about four years older than I was, but he was heading up his own CD-ROM publishing imprint and staff, and he seemed infinitely more mature to me. He looked, and I mean no insult here, like a male Molly Ringwald, with floppy hair and pouty lips and freckles and a slight build. In other words, he looked like the kid he was at 28, but the guy had it together. Even when he was totally stressed, he was still the nicest, most well-meaning guy. It seemed like he was always handling a crisis.

Other bosses -- Nick, Kelly, Refet, Josh, Todd, Joe -- they were just darn nice people who may have driven me crazy at times, but mostly tried to do right by me. If you have at least a couple of bosses in your life who utterly suck, the ones who don't seem to be all the more valuable.

One night I went searching for Tim online so that I could add him to the ridiculous people-quilt of my life that is Facebook. I didn't find him, but I did find this. Jesus. Jesus! One of my former bosses is dead?

Byron was the first Big Cheese I ever worked for. He ran his company out of a loft in New York's "Silicon Alley," and he was the classic intimidating entrepeneur, in my twentysomething eyes: swiftly decisive, possessed of a temper, obviously smart, and a person whose time was in demand. In every interaction that we had, because he was the head of the company, I wanted to impress him, because he managed to be a person you wanted to impress.

Like any authority figure, Byron took his licks among the staff, who usually carped at how demanding he was and how lean his approach was to running the company. But implicitly, we all acknowledged that we were there to please Byron, and as a logical corollary to that, Byron's judgment was to be respected. After all, this was a guy who had turned sci-fi nerdiness into profit! He had a niche and he was ruthless.

Reading about Byron's accident, I could picture him exactly as he was in 1995, leaving his office in his Flatiron district loft, suited and bespectacled. Important. I couldn't believe that he wasn't still out there somewhere, making deals and pissing people off. The fact that he met his maker in tony East Hampton, at least, made sense. Rest in peace, Byron. To all my other former bosses, even the sucky ones: Live long and prosper. I ain't mad atcha.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

My Buddy.

Reflecting on this classic commercial, a few questions come up:

What eventually became of the poor boy surely coerced by a stage parent from hell into delivering this frightening vocal performance?

Was the child actor here thinking, "This is kind of weird"?

How many boys actually asked for this doll?

The answer to this last question is surely "not enough of them," because Hasbro apparently discontinued My Buddy by the time the '90s were up. Today it is a symbol of a (hopefully) bygone period when people optimistically believed that boys could have their boyness socialized out of them.

The argument for encouraging boys to play with dolls rests on the idea that it encourages good parenting skills. But most men who had a decent set of parents seem to figure out the fatherhood thing just fine without a doll being shoved into their arms.

Kids are going to play how they want to play, no matter what is in the toybox. My niece was looking for a purse to carry by the age of two and was assembling her own fashion ensembles by age four, while my non-frou-frou sister looked on in amazement, unsure where her daughter's girliness came from. For my part, I played with Barbies *and* my brother's Star Wars figures. And if a little boy wants a doll, he's going to ask for one or find one, whether it's offered or not.

What's hilarious to me about the My Buddy ads is the way they suggest that we can create a world where a boy wants to play with dolls, but still promotes all the reassuring stereotypes about masculinity. Imagine if Hasbro had chosen to produce a doll for boys that looked like Carson Kressley and came with styleable hair, multiple outfits, and a mod furniture set. Now THAT would have been a step forward.