Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Startup Beatdown, Chapter 9 -- Leaving Early

Startup Beatdown, Chapter 9 – Leaving Early

The rest of my week went like this: On Thursday, I tried my best just to get through the day, spending most of my time there staring at the little clock in the corner of my screen, wishing it were 6:00. Though, technically, I was supposed to work from 9:00 to 6:00 every day, leaving on time was often a crapshoot (and leaving early was an impossibility). Basically, it all came down to this – if Sean Etin made it in to his office before 6:00, I could count on staying at least an extra half hour (though it was not uncommon to stay an extra hour or two). If he didn’t arrive at 6:00, I could slink away. Sometimes, I heard the door that separates the home part of his house from the work area where we were situated slam open, the heavy, quick-paced sound of his footsteps, and his barking orders for those unfortunate to be in his sight to stay – while I quietly tip-toed down the spiral staircase and out of harm’s way. There was one time, in particular, when I heard him scream my name through the walls of his house as I was getting into my car (needless to say, I jumped in and gunned it out of there).
Other times, I was not so fortunate, with his entrance coinciding with my turning off my computer or putting on my coat. “Stick around. I’ll need to speak to you for a minute,” he’d say, brushing past me and getting back to the phone conversation on his bluetooth earpiece. “You too,” he’d tell whomever else he happened to bump into.
At times like these, I would follow him into the senior staff room and then wait with the other unfortunate souls, as Sean Etin continued with his phone conversation and stepped into his private office. And so, we’d wait, standing around like cattle in a pen. Sometimes we’d wait ten to fifteen minutes, listening to him bark about “destroying that piece of shit,” orchestrating some power play to deal with some troublesome board member, or tell an off-color joke. Usually, though, it would take much longer, and we’d all stand around, literally with nothing to do but grit our teeth and silently wish him harm.
Once his call had ended, he’d call one of us in – usually one of the senior staff members like Flo or Joel. The rest of us would continue to wait, leaning against the office desks and quietly chatting to ourselves. This would usually last another half an hour or so. Oftentimes, Flo or Joel would come out of the office after their meeting, look at their watches and say, “you guys can go,” as we hear Sean Etin back on the phone.
It might seem like a frustrating occurrence to stay an extra hour or so every couple of days without any overtime benefits and then leave without being told why you were asked to stay, but the alternative was much worse. Sometimes, Sean Etin was insistent on speaking to one of us and then the process would be much more arduous. For one thing, the waiting involved was about twice as long, as we had to wait in turn to meet with him, and these meetings were almost always sandwiched in between more phone calls. In these cases, I would usually be the last person called into his office, but finally, at 7:30, or 8:00, or 8:30, I would be beckoned and take a seat across from him, his cluttered desk thankfully keeping me out of arm’s reach. It was extremely rare for him to bring up the progress of a project I was working on, or asking me to do something that needed to be done that night. More often, he would call me in just to babble at me. I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard him say how “the wheels are spinning” or “the pendulum is swinging” and how “we’re about to exit the startup phase.” He would continue to spew his stream-of-consciousness platitudes until he receives his next call, at which point he’d say, “I have to take this. You got everything I said, right?”
“Yes,” I’d lie, briskly stepping out of his office and heading home before the call ends and he calls me back in. It was once in the blue moon where I was asked to stay late for the purpose of doing actual work that could not wait until morning.
Occasionally, Sean Etin would also call impromptu staff-wide meetings. This was the case on Thursday evening. At 5:58, as I was packing up to go, Sean Etin lumbers in and tells everyone to meet him in the senior staff room. So, we all gathered together as Sean Etin began, the senior staffers sitting at their desks while the rest of us (consisting of myself, my three buddies in the creative department and the omega wolf, Hempstead) stood.
“I called you all in because I have some big news,” Sean Etin began. I briefly wondered if this was related to some of the things we had discussed on the day I was locked in his car (was it only two days ago?), or if he had heard about my “power play” the day before. These thoughts were only made in passing, as I stopped caring. I just wanted to leave. “The pendulum is swinging and we’re about to exit the startup phase.” I felt stupid for wondering what the meeting was about, as I should have known. It wasn’t about anything.
Sean Etin continued to ramble, hitting on a wide range of topics, such as his upcoming trial with a certain large internet corporation, his previous battles in court, playful (and uncomfortable) jabs at his sister, Rita, and how much money we were all going to make – but he elucidated us with no new information.
When I got to know Flo a little better, she told me about a game she and a former employee used to play at meetings like these. As Sean Etin conducted the meeting, they would take a piece of paper and start drawing circles. Every time Sean wandered onto a new topic, they would create a new circle, but they were not allowed to complete a circle until he came to a definite conclusion to a topic. If he meandered on any topic for an extended period of time without getting to a point, they would draw a spiral. At the end of the meeting, they would count how many spirals and incomplete circles they had and compare them to the number of spirals and incomplete circles from previous meetings. It sounded like a good game, but I never played it. The symbols seemed too sobering a metaphor to play with.
Back to the meeting, Sean Etin would continue his oration, spewing words that seemed designed with the sole purpose of killing time. I imagined tiny, microscopic letters – assorted ‘g’s and ‘k’s and ‘e’s – coming out of his mouth and attaching themselves to the hands of a clock, destroying it like a virus destroys a healthy cell. He spoke for nearly two hours, only stopping when his cell phone rang. “I have to take this,” he’d say every time the phone would ring. “Nobody go anywhere.” Still standing and having not moved from the spot where I stood when the meeting began, I was now swaying in place, relieving pressure on one foot and then the other. While I only gave my watch discreet, furtive glances during the first hour, I was unashamedly staring at it for the second, thinking “end now, end now, end now . . .” for every second that ticked away. Towards the end of the meeting, Sean Etin got to what I could only assume was the point of calling us together, talking about stock options and how there was only a limited time for us to invest at the ‘startup price’ of something like $30 a share. I didn’t really understand much of it, other than the fact that he was asking us to pour money into a company that we saw was failing on a firsthand basis everyday, and which I personally wasn’t exactly sure I wanted to succeed. I stored this information under ‘crap I’ll never need to know’ when Rita began pushing Sean to wrap it up. He thankfully did, with the only bit of information that was worth anything to me – he announced that the next day, Friday, we would only have to come in to work for a half the day.
To me, having gone through the week I went through, this was perhaps the sweetest words I could hear, besides perhaps, “Joel and I have contracted a rare form of anal warts that cause us extreme discomfort and will keep us from coming in to work for the next year or so. Here is a big pile of money for all of you.”
So, I left work relieved at the prospect of not having to be there for a full day tomorrow. I called up my friend and arranged to go to Best Buy with him in the early afternoon. There were some good sales and I thought I deserved to treat myself to some DVDs from the money I earned from work, which I was not really spending.
Even with the news that I would only have to suffer through five hours of work instead of nine, I still didn’t feel like interacting with anyone. I didn’t speak to my parents since the night after I got locked in Sean Etin’s car, even though we were living in the same house. I felt combustible. Unstable. On edge. The idea of the half-day relieved some of the anger I felt, but I didn’t know how much. For the last two nights, I went straight to my room, without speaking to my parents, without checking my email and without having dinner. I would lock the door and watch the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings movies. That night, I watched all three and a half hours of The Two Towers and went to sleep.
The next day, I went in to work and once again watched the little clock on my screen, waiting for 2:00 to come. At around midday, Sean Etin made a rare pre-6:00 appearance, but only to get something from his office and announce he had to leave somewhere. “Great,” I thought. With Sean Etin gone, I could leave early on time.
As 2:00 approached, and I began packing up, a call came through. “SeaShel Productions, this is Danny,” I said, as one of my many unofficial job functions was as the office receptionist.
“Put Flo on the phone.”
My heart sank. It was Sean. I transferred the call.
A few moments later, Flo came into the hallway and announced, “nobody leave until Sean gets back.”
“When is he getting back?” I asked.
“He said very soon.”
As 2:00 hit and I found myself trapped in my seat, a sudden wave of anger washed over me. I was more angry than when I was stuck in his car for five hours. I was more angry than when I was “put in my place” by the senior staff. I was more angry than when I stood for the two hours after work and listen to Sean Etin prattle on about nothing. I had looked at leaving early as a karmic reward for the horrible week I had, and for every minute of freedom that was denied to me, I increased in vitriol.
An hour had passed and I had to call my friend and tell him that our trip to Best Buy was cancelled. “I’m stuck at work,” I said. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything else. I felt like screaming. I hung up and stared daggers at the little clock.
Usually, in the call of office-related injustice, my first inclination would be to join my three friends in the back room (or, if it were lunchtime, the basketball courts where we usually played quick pickup games) and bitch about it. The bitching would turn into joking and I would feel better. I couldn’t do it this time. I was afraid, once I started complaining, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I felt that if I tried to release some of my anger, it would all come out in a maelstrom of unbridled rage.
At 4:00, I found myself unconsciously clenching and unclenching my fists and toes. By 5:00, I was surprised to find that I was breathing much heavier than normal. I don’t know what it was. Surely, not being able to leave early wasn’t nearly as heinous an injustice as anything else I had to go through that week (or, really, any week), but somehow, this bothered me more than anything else I had to go through up until that point. Maybe it was a buildup to everything I went through. Maybe I hated my job so much that being denied leaving at the only time it seemed like a sure thing put me over the edge. Maybe it was that this seemed to be an outright lie as opposed to the duplicitous equivocation I was used to.
Perry came to my desk.
“Hey, man.”
“I am so angry. I am so goddamned angry,” I mumbled to him as quietly as I could. “He lied to us. He lied.”
Perry looked at me incredulously. “Are you really surprised? Did you really think we were going to leave early?”
“I did.” I don’t know why I did, but I did.
“I never believed it for a second. He’s promised us half days before and never once delivered. In fact, he once said that every Friday would be a half-day. I really can’t believe you believed him.”
I couldn’t really either. I felt even angrier.
Perry left and I went back to clenching, staring and breathing heavily.
At 6:05, Sean Etin came charging into the hallway.
“Nobody go anywhere,” he said, as he rushed by us to his office. I stayed in my seat and turned off my computer. There was no doubt – we were staying for no reason. I sat there and waited.
Twenty minutes later, Flo stepped into the hallway. “All right,” she said. “You guys can go . . .”

At home, I went straight to my room, locked the door and put in “Return of the King.” Some time later, my mom, who had not seen me in days, knocked on my door. “Danny, can I come in?”
“Danny, what’s wrong?”
“Leave me the hell alone!” The second it came out, I regretted it. I ran to the door, unlocked it and apologized. I told her about the rest of the week. My mom listened and said, “You need to quit this job.” My dad, who came in as I was telling the story, put in his opinion. “Don’t you dare quit until you have another job lined up. You can’t just sit around and do nothing. Don’t be stupid about this.”
I recognized the sense my dad made. I had already gone through long periods of unemployment, and that wasn’t very fun either. Besides, my health and dental insurance kicked in in a matter of days. (I actually wondered if I was treated so badly this week because they wanted me to quit before my benefits kicked in…) I was determined to stay, at least until I took advantage of my insurance, but I needed to find a release to my frustration or I would go crazy. I didn’t want to yell at my mom again for no reason, or do worse (I later found out that this was a comparably light reaction as compared to what a former employee in a similar job situation did . . .). At any rate, I knew that I had to find a way to make my job more bearable. I had already stopped caring about the work done there. Now I needed to find the time I spent there tolerable, which was difficult, since the only thing I learned to look forward to was leaving . . .

On Saturday, I called up my friend and we ended up going to Best Buy. As opposed to the $20-$30 I was planning on spending, I ended up spending over $200 on DVDs. I felt a little better. It didn’t solve my problem of what to do at work, but it at least gave me something to do when I got home . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Transylvania Part 3 - Beyond the Revenge

Transylvania Part 3 – Beyond the Revenge

I wrote this a long time ago, about my trip to Transylvania, but never posted it. There's probably a good reason why . . .


I learned something about myself . . . I have tremendous difficulty distinguishing between ‘gay’ and ‘European’. My ‘gaydar’ was going off all the time in Transylvania and needed to be recalibrated to ‘Europe.’ Men are a lot more touchy-feely there. It’s kind of weird. America is such a homophobic culture, but, thankfully, people have the choice to be open about their sexuality. In Romania there is no real homophobia, because, as far as I can tell, there are no openly gay people there. I imagine it’s like it was in the olden days. Not until recently did people identify themselves as ‘gay.’ Back then, men who had gay proclivities married a woman, and sort of buggered on the side. It wasn’t really a ‘lifestyle’ thing. Romania seemed to be that way. Maybe I’m wrong.

Speaking of which, the night before I left Romania, I was nearly convinced I was being hit on by Tommy. I spent an extra three days in Romania after the symposium was over (due to a scheduling flub more than anything else), and for two of those nights, Tommy showed me around. The first night, he took me out to a bar (which will be a later story), but for the second night, hours before I was to leave for my flight (which will also be a later story), Tommy took me up to his family’s land on the woody hill outside the town. As we were walking along the path to Tommy’s bungalow, he was pointing out his family’s land. He showed me his family’s strawberry patch, grape vines, cherry trees and pointed out the boundaries of the land. It was actually pretty beautiful. “How long has your family had this land?” I asked. He had trouble understanding. “We always had it,” he answered, as if I asked the stupidest question in the world. Forgiving my stupidity, he further explained, “for thousands of years. This has always been my family’s land.”

We reached the family bungalow. It was a little wooden shack with a beautiful view of the town. We went inside and he pointed out three gigantic wooden barrels. “Wine,” he said. “We will drink some.” He removed the bung from the bung-hole (this is real terminology, people) and inserted a rubber tube into the hole, putting the other end in his mouth and sucking. He siphoned the wine like someone would siphon gas from a car, and once the wine was flowing, he grabbed two filthy cups and poured some for us. I was kind of getting weird vibes from him the entire time, but by this point I was more used to the culture, and just accounted for it as ‘European.’ “He’s just being nice,” I thought to myself. “Taking me into the woods, all alone, to share some wine on his family’s bungalow overlooking the town. Nothing wrong with that.”

“I will build a fire,” he said, grabbing a hatchet from the bungalow and going outside. “It will be very nice.”

I followed him outside and soon a ‘very nice’ fire was burning.

“Ooof. I am hot,” he told me, and took off his shirt. “I have American music on my telephone,” he said. He started playing Rihanna.

“Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is getting really gay . . .”

The sun was setting. “Do you have a girlfriend?” he asked me. “What? I, uhh, no. Not at the moment.” I immediately kicked myself, thinking that I should have said that I did. My gaydar was going off the charts. Tommy smiled. “You know what mistake people make in beginning of a relationship?” he asked, “you need to fuck on the first date or is no good.” That line of macho bullshit reminded me of the US, but the feeling that he was hitting on me did not dissipate. When guys hit on me in the US (and it does happen occasionally), I’m fine with it. In fact, it’s flattering, even though I don’t have any similar feelings. But here, in Romania, all alone with a young man who, by the look of the flab on his exposed chest and stomach, easily outweighed me by a hundred pounds, without anyone else in hearing distance – not knowing how to get back to the town, not knowing the language and not being able to get back to my hotel without his help – I suddenly got a little frightened. Moreover, what if he thought this was a first date? (Plus, I noticed, he still had the hatchet . . .)

As I was thinking of possible escape routes, Tommy’s mom and sister came up the hill. Tommy quickly put on his shirt and we got ready for dinner. He seemed a little embarrassed. For dinner, we had fire-grilled pig’s fat. Basically, it was like bacon, only a hundred times thicker, and with no actual muscle in it. Also included were raw onions that they just plucked from the ground. The mood had changed with his family there, and I was no longer in a worried state. I began to think about what he asked me. He was a younger guy at about 18 or 19. Maybe he asked me if I had a girlfriend because he needed advice, and he simply doesn’t know me well enough not to ask me. After dinner, his mom and sister left, and I asked him if he had a girl. “I am just in a break-up,” he said. “The father, he is a priest.” “Oh, that’s rough,” I told him. “Yes. But the father is not the reason. He and I just broke up.” “You mean, ‘she and I’,” I absent-mindedly corrected him. Then I finally realized it – in this case, my gaydar probably wasn’t malfunctioning. Tommy probably just needed to share –with a stranger from a land that is possibly more tolerant than his.

I learned a couple of things about myself. First, though I think of myself as a socially conscious liberal, I am possibly more homophobic than I thought I was. Second, though I always imagined myself exceedingly empathetic to the problems of others, a kind soul in a sea of selfish brutes, I found myself surprisingly indifferent to his troubles. “I, uhhh, am sure somebody else will come along,” I told him, brushing him off like so many people have done to me in the past. Then, I changed the subject, telling him that I needed to get back to my hotel soon . . .

Monday, July 21, 2008

Startup Beatdown, Chapter 8: Riding With the Devil, Part 2

Startup Beatdown, Chapter 8 – Riding With the Devil Part 2

In a way, the drive back from DC was worse than the ride there and the five hours I spent boiling in his car. This wasn’t because something horrible happened on the way back. No. The ride back was worse because it gave me hope, which at SeaShel Productions, was much worse for my long-term well-being than merely being yelled at, or fearing for my life while Sean Etin recklessly bruised his way down the road. Even being stuck in the man’s car, not being allowed to use his air conditioner in near deadly heat for five hours had no long-term detrimental effects (hopefully . . .). No, the great carcinogen in an environment where misery is reality and all good things are will-o’-the-wisps, is hope that things will improve.
Of course, when Sean Etin first came back to the car, I was still burning with rage and absorbed heat, having just minutes before learned that what I thought was an important business meeting that kept me locked in his car for five hours ended up being a dentist’s appointment. For some reason, one which I still can’t fully explain, I was willing to “take one for the team” (even though I hated the team I was on . . .)if it meant something positive for the company, but the fact that Sean Etin was wasting my time and putting me in bodily harm for his personal business filled me with palpable anger, which I could taste in the back of my mouth and caused my vision to blur. (The anger I felt when I was forced to perform these personal tasks comes into play in later stories to a much larger degree . . . so look forward to that . . .).
“Well, that was hell,” Sean Etin said, getting into the car and turning on the ignition. “They pumped me full of pain killers, but I think I’m good to drive.” I was happy to hear him say that, as I did not want to do anything for this man and honestly did not trust myself to hold his life in my hands by driving him home. I didn’t respond. He peeled out of his illegally parked spot and began driving out of DC. As opposed to the ride there, and all the other times I was a passenger in his car, I didn’t fear for my life. The sun had fried my brain and my anger supplanted my survival instincts. I was no longer clutching the upholstery of the passenger seat, or darting my eyes back and forth for signs of oncoming collisions. It just didn’t matter. All that mattered was rage.
I think that Sean Etin sensed my anger, because after a few minutes of driving in silence, he said to me, “the reason why I had you come with me today was so I could talk to you.”
“You fucking liar. The reason why you brought me here is so I could wait in your car of your illegally parked spot, you selfish pig,” I thought to myself. “Yeah?” I said.
“Yeah. I want to know what you think we could be doing to make this company more productive. Things just aren’t getting done and time is fast approaching when we’ll be making the move from being a startup to a real corporation. You’re my only employee with actual experience in children’s cartoons with your work at Sunbow. What do you think we need to change around here?”
I was shocked. In all the photocopying, driving his children, moving boxes around, caring for the company chameleon and all of the other piddling tasks that took up my days at SeaShel, I thought he had forgotten that I had actual experience in the field of his business, and that everyone else that worked there didn’t. I was beginning to forget myself . . .
“I, uhh . . . there are a number of things that I think can make the company more productive.” I thought back to my time at Sunbow Entertainment. Things weren’t perfect there, but things were so much less chaotic. I told him about the bi-weekly development meetings and the general accountability that people had for each project. I told him how they utilized interns and diversified their creative slate by constantly scouting for new projects.
As Sean pulled over for gas, he said to me, “You know, the things you’ve been saying are dead on. I’ve been telling Flo to get us some interns for over a year. I have no idea why she hasn’t gotten on it. But look – if you’re willing to take the bull by the horns, you can spearhead all of the initiatives you mentioned.
“Okay. That sounds good,” I said, actually meaning it. The prospect of doing real work excited me. Seeds of hope, long since buried and seemingly asphyxiated in the untillable soil that was my job, began to sprout, seeking out the surface for sunlight, water and air. I felt that the worst of my job was over – that the five hours baking in his car turned me to dust and from the ashes, I was reborn with a fresh start. I felt energized and, for the first time since I began working at SeaShel, was excited about coming in the next day.
When we returned to his house and I got into my car to go home, I found that I was no longer angry about my tortuous day (in fact, I was already finding it kind of funny). I didn’t mind the fact that we had returned over an hour after work was supposed to end (which really just meant that the rest of my co-workers got to leave on time, since if he were actually at the office at six o’clock, there was a good chance he would have us all stay late anyway) and I didn’t mind that Sean skimped out on treating me to lunch like he had promised. I didn’t even choke my usual mixture of revulsion and amusement when Sean told me about his ‘other’ idea (‘idea’ should probably be in quotes too . . .) for a show – an animated series of Romeo and Juliet, but with the Montagues as dogs and the Capulets as cats (or, as I believe he called them ‘Catulets’) – which ranks, now that I can think more clearly, as the worst show idea I’ve ever heard in my life. I was just excited to implement the plans we had talked about.
The next day, I found that my excitement had not abated. I came in to work and immediately wrote two emails. The first one was to Flo, stating that I wanted to meet with her regarding the possibility of getting interns through the local colleges. The second email was addressed to Joel and regarded the implementation of creative meetings. I knew there was a chance that Joel, whose draconian mind was convinced I was after his job, could interpret this email as overstepping my bounds, so I was very careful in what I wrote. I constructed it as submissively as I could, and tried to make two points crystal clear – that he would be in charge of the meetings and that the request for these meetings came directly from Sean Etin.
Finishing my emails, I next went about mapping the planned creative meetings. I thought of the different subjects we could go over during the meetings. The only actual creative property SeaShel ever seemed to work on was the atrocious Googles From Goop, but there were a lot of different projects in the works milking this horror of an idea. In the time I had worked there, I heard many, many projects mentioned in passing – a new music album, a cartoon show, a live-action show, a live show (possibly on ice), a web-only show, an interactive children’s website, video games, children’s books, novellas and, of course, the assorted merchandise and advertisement tie-ins (who wouldn’t want Googles American cheese?) Joel was in charge of overseeing all of these projects, and I knew the progressions of none of them. I wrote these projects down as a list, making room under each topic for writing notes. The idea for creative meetings would be very simple. The creative staff would get together for fifteen minutes or so, every two weeks, and we’d simply go down the list, marking the progress of each project. I also made space for new projects, hoping that someone would pitch an idea that would steer us away from the Googles and on to a project that doesn’t make me imagine toddlers burning their TVs in protest. I would even settle for astoundingly bad, but hilariously entertaining show ideas. I imagined Sean Etin pitching his Romeo-and-Juliet-as-cats-and-dogs idea and the rest of us trying, for the sake of our jobs, not to burst out laughing. I imagined, after meetings like this, having a second meeting, this time just my friends at work, on the basketball court during our lunch hour, making fun of the bad ideas of our employers. “If you liked my Romeo and Juliet idea, you’ll love this!” I imagined one of us saying, imitating Sean Etin. “It’s an episodic show about the Titanic, only – get this – with dolphins instead of people!”
A flashing icon on my computer snapped me out of my (kind of lame) daydream. I had a new email. I was half-expecting this. A letter from Joel, stating I had no authority to organize a meeting like this – that my experiences at Sunbow means nothing here and that, in between the lines, there was no way I was going to take his job or tell him how to do it. “Try to stop me, asshole,” I thought to myself as I clicked open my email program. The devil himself (Sean) was behind me, and Joel, for all his slimy, bullying, conniving ways, did not want to tangle with a more powerful, smarter and more underhanded version of himself.
The email wasn’t from Joel, though. It was from Flo. I opened the email. Like all of her emails (and, really, everything she did in the office), this letter was professional and to the point. The content, however, surprised me. It read:
“Danny – You do not ask to have a meeting with me. You request it. I am a senior level employee and certain protocols must be adhered to. Please keep this in mind for future reference. – Flo.”
In thinking about my plans on changing the company and the best way to deal with Joel, I did not give any consideration to Flo. I checked the email I sent to her and, sure enough, I didn’t request a meeting. I worded it as “I’d like to meet with you about . . .” Flo was the one member of the senior staff that I did not want to disappoint. As opposed to Sean and Joel, she didn’t delegate by intimidation and bluster. She was professional. I didn’t know whether or not she liked me as a person (I heard rumors that she was one of the people most put off by my student films (see Chapter 2)), but she always treated me with respect. Over half of the work that came my way was under her jurisdiction, and I would have wished her to by my sole boss if not for the fact that her tasks were always clerical, always mind-numbingly boring and not at all related to my interests or skill sets. Plus, if there was a way to be bad at photocopying or collating, I somehow managed to find it . . .
Flo was an interesting lady. She was a Southern Dame. A lady of the land. She rode horses and went on a vacation to small towns in Canada to take in various rodeos. She spoke in a heavy Southern twang, and had a propensity for saying colorful colloquialisms like “this is stickier than fly paper in a glue factory” (that was one I made up. Hers were better . . .). It shocked me when I later found out she grew up mere miles from where I did, because even though Maryland is technically below the Mason-Dixon line, I didn’t know a single person who spoke with a Southern accent or considered themselves to be a Southerner. She was petite and in shape for a lady of about fifty, with cropped brown hair and beady, squinty eyes. Though she never complained, there was an air of frantic stress about her, but because she was always so professional, she would never say what was bothering her – which I always assumed, due to the nature of her job as Office Manager, was her having to deal with Sean Etin more than everyone else. She also never talked about politics or religion, but I could tell she had strong Republican leanings and was devoutly Christian. Because she never pestered people about religion and, from what little she revealed to me, acknowledged a high-and-mighty hypocrisy in some of the more fervent followers, I was never put off by this. She once told me at lunch that her ex-husband was extremely religious and a pillar of the community. “He’d go to church and was about as anti-abortion as you c’n get, but what do you think he asked for when he found out I was pregnant?” she’d ask. “A cigar?” I responded, being a smart-ass. I sometimes wondered how she felt working for a Jew, but I later found out that before she had this job, she worked for a Jewish non-profit. She was also, at one point, a cop. Like I wrote – an interesting lady.
I hit the reply button on my computer. I wanted to patch things up with Flo as soon as possible. This was a simple misunderstanding that came out of careless writing – though, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that her response was uncharacteristic of her and a little bit petty. It smelt of a power-trip, which wouldn’t have been so surprising if it had come from Sean (though his response would have been more explicitly cruel) or Joel (his would have been less professional and coherent). Maybe I didn’t understand Flo after all, but I still didn’t want her to be angry with me. I wrote, “Flo – Please excuse the careless writing in my last email. I did not mean to put your authority into question and I will be more careful in my choice of wording in the future.”
With that done, I tried to concentrate on the sweeping changes I was planning to make, but before I could get too far into my fantasy, Joel came out of the senior staff room and into the hallway where I worked.
“Danny,” he told me, “you need to do more stickers.”
“Oh God no,” I thought.
On the first day I worked at SeaShel, I spent most of the day ‘doing stickers.’ The employees at SeaShel, before I started working there, printed out a bunch of colorful, four-page advertisement booklets for, say, when they had a booth at a children’s industry convention and wanted to give out a short, punchy keepsake of who they are and what they do. Since their only property was the Googles From Goop, most of the pamphlet was about them. But, the back page enthusiastically promised work on many other colorful characters and creative properties – the Frizzles from Flooze, the Woozles from Wooze, the Floogles and other similar-sounding names that I never once heard anyone ever mention at work and just assumed didn’t exist. The only problem was that one of the names was already copy written by someone else and had to be taken out. Apparently, at this point, thousands of booklets were already printed and instead of throwing them away, they decided to make sheets of one-page corrections that needed to be cut to the right size and pasted onto the pamphlet in a way that made it look like the original page. So, the original back of the pamphlet, which read like this:
“The Googles™ will soon be joined by a whole stable of other, colorful characters kids will love – including the Frizzles from Flooze, the Woozles from Wooze and the Floogles – a wacky group of aliens who are truly out of this world!”
To this:
“The Googles™ will soon be joined by a whole stable of other, colorful characters kids will love – including the Frizzles from Flooze, the Wozzles from Wooze and a wacky group of aliens who are truly out of this world!”
Yes – they got rod of the potentially troublesome name and didn’t replace it with anything else. Yes – they kept the description of the characters that they removed. Yes – it’s stupid, but I didn’t bring it up with Joel because by the time I noticed the stupid, stupid sentence, I had already changed over 100 pamphlets and didn’t want to redo them. ‘Doing stickers’ was an extremely horrible task and the less I did, the better. It involved grabbing a pile of long, glossy sheets of paper, which had eight ‘corrected’ copies of the last page printed on them and carefully cutting each out. If the cuts weren’t exact, they had to be thrown out. The next step was applying glue from an aerosol adhesive spray can. The can shot a toxic spray of aerosol chemicals and glue particles. I would turn over each cut out sheet and evenly spray the backs with the glue spray. I then carefully put the glued sheet to the offending page in a way that made it look like it was a part of the original booklet. Because the sheets of paper were so numerous and delicate, and could not risk being blown by the wind or sullied in the dirt, I had to use this glue spray indoors, by an open window of the kitchen. My fingers would be caked with glue that wouldn’t come off until I shed a week’s worth of skin, and the fumes would make me headachy and dizzy. Though I was not asked to do this often, I was still the only person who was ever told to perform this task. I hated it.
“How many do I have to do, Joel?”
“Sean said we need ten thousand.”
The process of ‘doing stickers’ is extremely slow and profoundly boring. That, exacerbated by the fact that I can’t ‘do stickers’ any time anybody else needs to use the kitchen (because it’s bad for their health . . .) means that, if I’m lucky (and I use that term loosely), I can do about one hundred stickers a day. That means it would take me one hundred full work days to get this done. I don’t know how much they think they saved by reprinting only one page of the pamphlet, but I’m pretty sure that it was not equal to one third of my yearly paycheck. I needed to change the subject.
“Joel, did you get my email?”
“No. I’ll read it later.” And with that, he walked away.
There was simply no way I was going to spend my time ‘doing stickers’ on the day I was charged with fixing the company. To pacify Joel – to show him that I still respect his authority (even though I didn’t), I decided to ‘do stickers’ for an hour. So, I went into the kitchen to pay my sacrifice to the god of office politics . . .
I was just finishing up my hour of ‘doing stickers’ when Rita, another senior staff member (and little sister to Sean Etin) came in to the kitchen.
“The chameleon looks hungry,” she said.
Another task that I, and only I, was asked to do was feed the office chameleon. I had to feed it because the thought of feeding disgusting-looking creatures alive to another disgusting-looking creature was icky to my fellow employees. It was icky for me too – but when I noticed that absolutely nobody else fed it and it would literally get as thin as my finger, not to mention turn a sickly yellow color, it became one of my regular job tasks. I was also in charge of going out and getting food for the chameleon. This usually consisted of going to the pet store and having an employee there scoop crickets from a crate to a plastic bag like they were bulk food to be weighed by the pound. Occasionally, for the sake of variation, I was asked to purchase super-worms. Super-worms were like regular worms, only more disgusting. They were shorter and fatter than regular worms and jet black. (Apparently they are not worms at all, but actually some kind of gigantic beetle larvae given a snappy new name by some marketing genius . . .) The reason I was given for not feeding the chameleon super-worms too often was that if the chameleon was not careful, the super-worms would try to eat his eyeballs. Not that I needed an excuse for not buying super-worms. Those things grossed me out big time.
The ‘creature’ (as I simply called the chameleon) was totally out of ‘food.’ I was actually going to go to the pet store the day before, but got side-tracked (and heat stroke) by my adventure in Sean Etin’s car.
“So go to the store and get food for the thing,” (which I guess is what Rita called it).
I didn’t know much about Rita, beyond the fact that she was Sean Etin’s sister. She looked to be in her early forties and, like Sean, was ‘big-boned.’ By that, I mean she is the kind of person who, if she lost the weight she probably wanted to, she would look grotesque and diametrically opposed to the nature of her being. Her large bone structure simply needed meat around it. She was fairly tall for a woman (perhaps five foot nine or ten), had shoulder length, blond hair and always wore heavy, dark mascara around her eyes. Her main feature, though, was her expressions, which were always dour and a little malicious (this was probably a family trait). When I first started working at SeaShel, she seemed to regard me especially coldly and was a part of the meeting in which I was accused to being a rapist (again, see Chapter 2). Since then, she never did anything to make me have any feelings for her one way or the other, but we never engaged each other in pleasantries and the great majority of our conversations began and ended with ‘hello.’ She seemed to be good friends with Joel, which put her in the category of ‘enemy,’ but on the other hand, she was the only member of the staff who would stand up to Sean. During his long-winded, meandering, I’m-keeping-everyone-that-works-for-me-here-late-because-I’m-on-a-total-power-trip speeches that he would often stage, Rita would be the one to try and break it up. “Sean, we want to go home,” she would say. Sean would usually counter with something cruel, like, “Why? What do you have to go home to, huh? When was the last time you were even on a date?” To which Rita would respond, “if we’re staying, then I get to tell everybody about summer camp in 1972. Remember, I have dirt on you.” This back-and-forth had a kind of nasty naturalness that can be found between a brother and sister, but I honestly couldn’t tell if they liked each other or not.
Rita was the head (and only member) of the HR department and had no jurisdiction over my day-to-day activities – but, she was a senior staff member and if she ordered me to do something, I had to do it. So, I left to pick up crickets from the pet store.
“This is exactly why we need interns in the first place! I can’t keep doing this shit!” I fumed to myself as I thought back on my last two job tasks. I powdered the crickets with some sort of flour-like nutrition supplement and dumped them into the creature’s cage. I then checked my email. Joel still hadn’t gotten back to me, but I had a new email from Flo. It read: “I am free to meet with you at 4:00. Be prepared to discuss interns with me in the kitchen. – Flo.”
Since nobody but Sean Etin had a private office, all private meetings were held in the office kitchen with the door closed. My job interview was held in that kitchen. That should have been my first hint that this was not a professional company . . .
At 4:00, I was sitting in the kitchen, waiting for Flo. I had done my research, looking up all of the area schools and the contact information for their internship departments. When Flo came in, I quickly told her about my conversation with Sean Etin the day before, and ran through some of the universities I thought would be the best to get interns from. “I figure we could have an administrative intern, and entertainment intern and maybe even an intern for legal. We could even have multiple interns for each department, since they’d only be working 10-20 hours a week.”
Flo listened to my presentation without word. After I was finished, she stayed silent for a moment and narrowed her tiny eyes as if to gather her thoughts. Finally, she spoke.
“You know, Sean asked me to get interns a long time ago.”
“Yeah, he mentioned that.”
“I never did, because . . .” she paused. “It just wouldn’t be fair to them. First of all, where would we put them? I mean, we already have you working out of the hallway. More importantly, the kind of work we’d be asking them to do, the office environment, the nature of a start-up, Sean’s managerial style . . . well, let me put it this way – if you were still in school and you interned here, how would you feel?”
I thought about it. If this were my very first job, and I thought that all work was like this, AND I didn’t get paid for it, I think I’d spend all my money on lottery tickets and if I didn’t win, jump in front of a bus.
She continued. “You and I get paid for being here, but they’d be working for free.”
“Actually,” I interjected, “they’d be paying to work here, since they have to pay their school for each credit they ‘earn’ here.”
“There you go, then.”
It was weird. I think I wanted an intern as much as Sean did. Of course, not for the same reasons – he wanted someone to take his abuse without having to pay him or her for it, and I wanted someone else to be the office bitch – but for this brief moment, he and I were on the same page. It disgusted me. Of course it wouldn’t be fair for an intern to work here . . .
“So, what do I tell Sean?” I asked.
“You don’t tell him anything. He shouldn’t have put this project on you to begin with. I’ll take care of it.”
Flo then looked over my shoulder. I turned around in my chair. Joel and Rita were standing in the doorway.
“You done with him yet, Flo?” Joel asked.
“I suppose so.”
Joel and Rita came in and Joel sat down next to me. He held a piece of paper in his hand, tick-marked with numerous little highlighter swatches.
“Danny, we need to have a talk.”
“Oh God,” I thought.
“This place is a team,” Joel explained to me.
Silence. He expected a response. “Okay.”
“And in order to survive here, you need to be a team player.”
More silence.
“I am a team player.”
“A team player wouldn’t have written this.”
He put the damning evidence on the table. It was a printout of my email, with each time I used the word “I” highlighted.
In my efforts to be as submissive as possible, I littered the email with phrases like, “I was wondering” and “I wanted to ask you.”
“Look at how many times you used “I” in this letter,” he ordered.
I looked. It was disproportionally high, compared to some other letters, like ‘q’ and ‘z,’ but, I felt, not high enough for a sane person to bring attention to it.
“You’re . . . kidding, right?” I asked, knowing full well he wasn’t.
“If you want to survive here, you’re going to have to learn that this isn’t all about you,” he told me.
“This isn’t all about me! Look at the letter and ignore the ‘I’s. Look what it’s about! It’s asking for biweekly progress meetings so everybody is on the same page. It’s for strengthening the team. The very idea that I – Look,” I said, trying to cut to the heart of the topic, “I want to make this absolutely clear – this was NOT some mad power-grab by me. I’m not gunning after anyone’s job. I’m just trying to do my own. These tasks I was given came straight from Sean. He wants these things done, and he’s the boss.”
“Sometimes, Sean doesn’t know what’s best for the company.” I turned my head, shocked that those words came from Flo.
“You can say that again,” Rita said.
“You see, Danny,” Flo said, “Sean is the idea man, but when it comes to the day-to-day stuff he’s – “
“Insane,” Rita added. “And we don’t need someone reporting every little thing we do to him or we’ll go insane.”
My intern plan was already shattered, but the creative meetings – the only way I could think of to find out what this company was actually doing, and have a chance of using my experience and skills and do something that was worthwhile – this I was willing to fight for. “I’m not going to be some kind of spy for Sean. I’m not going to be his – “
“Gestapo,” Rita said.
Did she just call me a Nazi? I tried to move on. “Having creative meetings is a good idea. We did this at my old company. It works. People get together, find out what everyone is doing, and come up with new ideas. I really think that if we give it a chance, it will be really good for us.”
“We DID give it a chance,” Joel said. “Before you came here. It didn’t work.”
“Well, maybe you didn’t do it right.” The words escaped before I had a chance to stop it. “What I meant to say, is that I have experience in these kinds of things, and I really think I can make it work.”
I then played the last card I had. “But, I’m a team player. If you guys don’t want to do this, who am I to say we will?”
“Good to hear,” Joel said. “We’re not doing it.”
And with that, my hopes of changing the company into a tolerable work environment came to a puttering end. It took less than a day. The phoenix, which had risen from the ashes in Sean Etin’s car, was immediately shot, bludgeoned, eviscerated, burned with acid, chopped up into a million pieces, and scattered across the vast reaches of outer space. It would not be returning again. I knew then that no matter what I did to improve my chances at happiness, this job would make me totally miserable. I was there for not quite three months at this point. In a little more than a week, I would have medical and dental insurance. “Take advantage of them like they do to you,” I thought to myself. “Don’t do anything stupid. Get a checkup. Go to the dentist. Find a new job. Then walk away.”
Clarity washed over me. I looked at Flo, Joel and Rita. I felt like I finally understood them. They hated Sean Etin like I hated him. They hated me like I hated them (actually, I didn’t hate Flo . . .). We were all very much alike – trying to find comfort and stability in an uncomfortable and unstable place. The major difference between us was that they had found a measure of comfort with their jobs, and they weren’t going to give up an inch of it for me. Not if it meant more work. Not if it meant more Sean Etin. Not if it meant a change in their habits. Not if, in the case of Joel and Rita, it could possibly reveal that they did nothing to earn their paycheck. This, to them, wasn’t about making the company better. They couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the progress about the company. It was about making their lives easier and a steady paycheck.
“It’s six o’clock,” I said. “May I go?”
I stood up and walked out of the house and to my car. After being triple-teamed by the senior staff and having my hopes for improving the company dashed, my thoughts turned to how things would resolve themselves with Sean Etin. A smile surprisingly crept across my face when I realized I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything.

Startup Beatdown, Chapter 7: Riding With the Devil, Part 1

Startup Beatdown, Chapter 7: Riding With the Devil, Part 1

Sean Etin drove his car like he lived his life – with the pedal to the floor and a reckless disregard for everything around him. I had the terrifying displeasure of riding with him a few times, and each time I got out of the car, I would want to get on my hands and knees and kiss the ground (mixed with the need to throw up on it). Sean Etin would drive as fast as his car could go, no matter what the road (it was not uncommon for me to swerve to the side of the road as I came to and from work, as Sean Etin zipped through his own neighborhood, where his own children played, at 60mph). He would bob and weave his way through traffic, never using his brake and never EVER using his turn signal (which is a big pet peeve of mine). On one-lane roads, he would practically ram the cars in front of him, sticking to their bumpers like glue, even if he were already going way over the speed limit. He would then impatiently honk his horn as if to say, “Move out of the way! I’M driving. ME! Sean Etin!”
The first time I ever rode with him, I was sandwiched in the back seat with a bunch of other employees, as Sean Etin drove us to the train station, where everyone would travel to New York (except me and Hempstead, who had to drive the cars back). On the way there, Sean needlessly cut someone off, and at a red light, the woman in the other car pulled next to us and gave Sean the finger.
“Hey, Bossman, I think you made someone angry,” Joel said, as he pointed to the woman.
“Oh really?” Sean Etin remarked. “Watch me make a new friend.” And with that, he rolled down his window and began yelling at the woman. “Hey lady! You have something you want to say to me? HELLO? Don’t you want to be my friend? Roll down your window, lady!”
The woman did not roll down her window, and tried her best to keep her eyes forward as Sean Etin made cutesy (in this case, cutesy = horrifying) faces at her, tilting his head down, rolling his eyes up, pursing his lips and putting one of his sausage pinkies to a corner of his mouth. “What an asshole,” I thought to myself, as Sean swiveled around, looking at each of us for validation that what he just did was the funniest thing in the world, his red potato face beaming with joy.
Sean Etin drove an Escalade, which suited him perfectly. It was the biggest, heaviest, most-expensive SUV on the road. It’s 8-miles-to-the-gallon says to the world, “I can afford to piss my money away, and the environment isn’t my problem – it’s yours!” I have since noticed that, like dogs, cars can say a lot about their owners. Escalades are for the rich and extremely aggressive. To this day, I have yet to see an Escalade us its turn signal. Seriously.
The Etins, of course, owned two Escalades – one for Sean and one for Shelia. During my time there, Shelia’s Escalade was replaced by an Escalade of the same model and year, but a different color. They also owned a pickup truck and a two-seater Lexus sports car, which never left the garage.
Well, that’s not entirely true . . . the one time I saw it driven, I was in the passenger seat. It’s (surprise!) a crazy story. It goes like this:

It was lunchtime at Seashel Productions and, being the stingy person I am, I brought my lunch in a brown paper bag, which was waiting for me in the company fridge. I was on my way to the kitchen to eat it, when Sean Etin barged into the hallway from the private side of his mansion, which we worked out of. It was extremely rare to see Sean enter this side of the house any time before 5:30 (at which time, he would order his employees to stay late on most days) and any time he appeared before then meant trouble for the person he was looking for.
“Just who I wanted to see. Danny, you need to come with me to Washington.”
“When?” I asked.
“’When?’ Now!” he said, amazed at my stupidity.
Flo, who was going to join me in the kitchen, interjected. “Danny just started his lunch break, Sean.”
“Well, I have an extremely important meeting that starts in forty-five minutes, and if I miss it, I’ll never get another chance to meet with this guy. Danny, I’ll treat you to lunch on the way back, but we need to go NOW. Meet me outside in three minutes.”
He marched back to his side of the house and Flow gave me a “sorry kid” expression before she made her way into the kitchen. I sighed deeply and made my way down the spiral staircase and waited for Sean in his driveway.
I had to accompany Sean on a trip to DC once before. That time, he pulled me and Joel from what we were doing and threw us in his Escalade, where he harangued us on all the things that needed to be done. In the forty-five minutes it took to get him to his meeting, he didn’t stop listing random tasks (in random order) in the rapid succession of machinegun fire. “I need someone to write Marc Lasseter. We need to get round to titling the new Goo songs, and it needs to get done yesterday! Find the contact information to Colin. He’s a child actor. Maybe his name is Kevin. Nabulla needs to come in tomorrow and work on the phones. Enter into the Webby Awards, and me sure we win! Bring me the head of . . . “
I furiously scribbled down as much of what he said as I could, but I was only able to get about two-thirds of everything down. Later, I copied what I wrote in an email and sent it off to Joel, who, as far as I could tell, never got to work on a single thing Sean mentioned.
Sean’s upchucking of tasks wasn’t why we rode with him, though. He actually had us accompany him to DC so we could drive his car back (Shelia, who was in the city, would pick him up when his meeting was over).
So, with a notebook in hand, I was prepared to write down notes on the way there and drive his car on the way back. This plan was strengthened when Sean rumbled out of his house and asked me, “which car should we take? The Escalade or the Lexus?”
“The Lexus,” I quickly said. Riding in an Escalade was one thing, but driving one was quite another. I imagined myself in the driver’s seat, barreling down a steel decline, smacking old ladies and dogs and rolling over other cars like a monster truck, me slamming on the brakes to no avail. No, driving an Escalade wasn’t for me.
“The Lexus? How do you feel safe in that thing?”
“It’s your car!” I thought very hard, but did not say.
“Well, okay. If that’s what you want . . .”
So, Sean Etin and I got into his Lexus. He entered in the destination in his navigation system (with some difficulty – either mentally or due to the sheer size of his fingers) and we drove off. I had little hope that Sean’s comments on the Lexus being a less safe car would mean he would drive more carefully, and he did not exceed my expectations, peeling out of his neighborhood and making a left turn at a stop sign without stopping (and possibly speeding up).
Unlike the last time I rode with him to DC, I had no need for the notebook. From the moment he began driving until the moment we reached DC, Sean barked and honked on his cell phone’s bluetooth headset. He made about five or six calls in rapid succession. He would simply end his call and dial the next person without saying a word to me. This made the ride slightly more pleasant, though there were numerous times, as he swerved and sped and nearly rammed his car, where I thought to myself, “this is not how I want to die . . .”
It was interesting to listen to him work on the phone. On one call, he was the raging brute I knew so well. On another, he was charming and affable. On another, he played dumb. It reminded me that he didn’t get rich by bullying millionaires out of their milk money. He owned an ability that most successful people possessed – he could change his personality to suit the environment. This is an ability I sorely lack, owning only two basic personalities – the silly goose and the quiet creep. Neither have been terribly helpful during the course of this job (or in any aspect of my life, upon further inspection . . .).
Sean Etin didn’t get off the phone until we were already in DC. He probably would have continued his calls until he was opening the door to his meeting, but there was a situation. In addition to having trouble programming the navigation system, he also had trouble following its directions. Every time Sean Etin made a wrong turn, the machine would recalculate, only by the time it did, Sean (not a patient man by any stretch of the imagination) would already be making another wrong turn, and the machine would pause again to recalculate. “Stupid, fucking machine,” Sean Etin muttered. He looked at the clock on his dash and saw me from the corner of his eye. “Danny, you had better get me to this meeting before I’m late.”
Not being the one driving or a navigation system myself, I thought it was an odd threat to make, but I nevertheless took it seriously. I did not want to drive back with this man if he had missed his meeting. What was I supposed to do, though? I didn’t know the DC area and I didn’t know where we were going. What I did know was that not helping him meant trouble I did not want to deal with. I looked at the navigation system. While the screen was still frozen, recalculating (or possibly just giving up), our position on the screen was still there, as was the general direction of our destination. “Turn right here, Sean,” I told him with as much authority as I could muster. I didn’t know exactly where we were going, but I knew that our destination was to our north and west. I promised myself, as I continued to direct him to the general area of where he needed to be, that I would never sound unsure of myself and never have him turn around. Any sign of weakness and I was done for.
Fortunately, in heading him blindly in the right direction, I spotted the street we were supposed to be on. “Turn left here and just keep going ‘til we get there,” I said, feeling pretty good that my gambit paid off and that I didn’t give a crazy, violent, very large man a reason to take his anger out on me. I, of course, got no ‘thank you’ nor did I expect one.
Sean pulled his car to the side of the building, illegally standing his car in a yellow-marked loading zone right in front of the entrance. He was exactly on time.
I was set to drive his car back to his home, but Sean said something that changed my plans. “Stay in the car and drive it around the block if the police ask you to move. I have satellite radio. Feel free to check it out. I don’t know how long this meeting will be – fifteen minutes, an hour – but this should keep the cops from asking you to move the car for a while.” And with that said, he reached into the middle compartment of his car and pulled out a handicapped sign, which he attached to his rear view mirror. “I took it from my mom,” he explained. The situation and the wording of his explanation were so despicable that I have no idea how I was able to keep my contempt of him from reaching the surface. Perhaps it did, and he simply didn’t notice. At any rate, I couldn’t wait for him to leave the car so I could listen to some soothing oldies on his XM. In fact, I hoped to God that his meeting would take over an hour, and God, that irascible scamp, complied, but not before this happened:
“Uh-oh,” Sean said, as he was getting out of the car. “Looks like I’m running out of gas. You’re going to have to leave the car off.”
And with that, he was gone.
I remember finding it amusing at the time. I was nearly three months into my job, and was well used to the ridiculous abuse that I went through. Of course I’d be left sitting in an illegally parked car with no power in the middle of DC . . . “It’s just another typical day at Seashel Productions,” I thought to myself . . .
Within minutes, I found my situation to be much less entertaining. It was just past high noon, in late August. The sun was shining brightly directly above the car and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was over one hundred degrees out and for those of you unfamiliar with DC summers, the humidity is such that you feel like you’re constantly walking through thick spider webs headed by a blow dryer. Sean Etin’s tiny sports car soon became an oven, and without power there was no air conditioner. With no radio, I had no way of entertaining myself other than mentally counting the degrees going up.
I was suddenly wishing that Sean’s meeting would be of the fifteen-minute variety. That amount of time I could stand, but a solid hour in a baking car – I didn’t know if I’d survive.
Fifteen minutes passed. Then another fifteen. The heat and the boredom were getting to me. I searched Sean’s car for something to occupy my time, but the only thing I found was a novelization of the ‘Xmen 3’ – a movie I hated to begin with. I threw the book back, hoping that I wouldn’t become bored enough to read it, when it hit me – I still had my cell phone! With my spare time, I could call up some old friends and catch up. So, I called up some friends – people I haven’t spoken to in months or even years. Nobody picked up. Perhaps they didn’t recognize my number. Perhaps they did recognize my number. Most likely, they didn’t pick up the phone because it was Tuesday afternoon and they were at work (and probably at a job that did not trap them in cars). With the seventh call, I closed my phone and angrily threw it in the bucket seat next to me.
It was now a full hour since Sean had left me in his car, and my sweaty shirt was now acting as a bonding agent between myself and the upholstery. I had a brief moment of clarity and mentally kicked myself for not thinking of it earlier. I put the key in the ignition, turned it and rolled down the windows. Horribly hot air sucked out of the car, replaced by slightly less hot, but stickier air. It felt great, but I needed more. I stuck my arm out the window, letting the slightly cooler air dry some of the sweat on my forearms. I let my hand jut awkwardly out of the car for a few moments, enjoying the sensations, before I rested my arm on the outside of the car. I could swear I heard the sizzle of burning flesh as my arm made contact with the outside metal of the car. “Aaahgh!” I pulled my arm back in and rolled up my sleeve. A reddish pink welt was appearing where I contacted the burning metal. “Oh, that’s it,” I said, putting the keys back in the ignition, rolling up the windows, blasting the AC and flipping to the oldies station on his XM radio.
“You didn’t have to be so nice,” I sang along, “I would have liked you anyway . . .”
I enjoyed the cold jets of the air conditioner and the radio for fifteen solid minutes. The oldies had done the trick and I calmed down. The last thing I wanted to do was to have Sean come back and find that his car was out of gas. He had been gone for nearly an hour and a half and I figured he had to be coming back soon. I had decided, in case he didn’t, that I would ration air conditioning and radio. I’d leave everything off and open the windows for twenty minutes. Then, for eight minutes, I’d pull up the windows and turn everything on. It seemed more than fair, I thought.
So, with renewed vigor, I attacked my cell phone, calling every name in my address book. (If you were my friend at the time and I had your number, yes, I did give you a call). Nobody picked up, but my mom, who was at work.
“Guess where I am,” I said to her. My mom worked in DC and as it turns out, I was about fifteen blocks away from her. I told her my situation and silently wished that she could take care of everything. I imagined her marching over to my boss’s meeting, giving him a piece of her mind, grabbing me by the arm and taking me home. Sometimes, it sucks being an adult. “He left you in the car for nearly two hours without air conditioning? It’s a hundred degrees out! You wouldn’t do this kind of thing to a dog. I really don’t like this boss of yours,” she said.
“Me neither.”
“If he doesn’t come back soon, and you’re bored, give me a call.”
That was all she could do. “I will,” I told her. I hung up and continued down my list of people to call. Nobody picked up. Twenty minutes had now passed and I rolled up the windows and turned on the car.
“Georgia,” I sang along, “sweet Georgia . . .”

By the third hour, I found myself reading through the first few chapters of the Xmen 3 novella, which only reminded me of how much I disliked the movie. I hadn’t heard a word from Sean Etin since he left and I was growing more and more miserable. I had forgotten that I didn’t get to eat lunch, and my stomach was now strongly reminding me. I had considered getting out of the car and getting food. There was a hot dog cart in the far distance, but I decided not to leave the car. For one thing, I knew that the second I was out of the car’s sight, Sean Etin would come out, and drive home without me, teaching me a lesson about abandoning my post. Or, the police would come and write him a ticket, which I would have to pay. The point is, I knew my luck, and I knew leaving would cause me added grief. Besides, Sean Etin owed me a lunch and I was going to make sure I’d order as much food as possible . . .
As these thoughts were running through my head, a police car slowly drove towards me.
“Yes!” I thought. I’m illegally parked. They’ll order me to move. Then I can find a gas station. And find a nice shady spot somewhere. I threw the worthless book to the side and looked hopefully at the approaching squad car. As they slowly crept by, I looked into the window, trying to make eye contact with them – trying to connect with their minds and souls. “Ask me to move,” I silently implored them. “Help me! Save me!”
They averted their gaze and rolled past Sean’s car. “Arrest me! Come back!” But they were gone. I guess I could have celebrated the fact that had I left the car when I wanted to, there very well could have been a parking ticket written, but I’ve never really been a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. Instead, I cursed Sean Etin’s mother’s handicap sign, cursed myself for not being sharp enough to take it down in time, and gave an especially invective curse for Sean Etin for simply being the kind of man that he was. Then I turned back on the car.
“Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on . . .”

By the fourth hour, I was seriously wondering if Sean Etin would ever come back. I was beginning to wonder if something had gone awry. Maybe his massive body gave out on him. Maybe he was murdered by someone he had wronged in the past (perhaps he had left this person in a car for four hours . . .). Or, maybe he had been the one to do the murdering. This seemed more likely . . .
I had decided to do some investigating. I called the office. Joel picked up (which was a very rare occurrence). I didn’t care that I hated him almost as much as I hated Sean – I told him about my situation, emphasizing the fact that I was stuck in the car for over four hours and that I wasn’t allowed to use the air conditioner (which I didn’t tell him I was using anyway). He had sympathy for me, and I hungrily took it. “That’s messed up, man,” he said, chuckling a little. “Wooo . . .”
I asked to speak to Flo, who had the best chance of knowing Sean’s schedule. Joel connected her and I immediately told the story again. Flo was too much of a professional to ever badmouth her employer over the phone and in front of other employees, but I could tell she sympathized. “Hang in there, Danny,” she said in her southern drawl. I asked if she knew when Sean would be out of his meeting. She didn’t. Sean did, indeed, state that he didn’t know how long his meeting would take, but by mentioning fifteen minutes and an hour, certain expectations were made – the main one being that I wouldn’t be in the car for over four hours. I asked Flo to call my cell and keep me informed if she hears anything, and hung up.
I then called my mom again. “You’re still in the car?!?” she asked in disbelief. I told my mom my situation. “Have you tried calling him?” she asked me.
“What am I supposed to say when he picks up? Where the hell are you? I’ve been waiting in your car for over four hours? He knows this. I think it’ll only get him mad, especially if I’m interrupting an important meeting.”
“Well, you yourself said that you don’t know what happened to him, and it has been four hours. You should call him and say that you’re concerned that something might have happened to him.”
“I guess that . . . might work.” The only thing I was questioning was my believability in pretending to care about him.
My mom ended up staying on the phone with me, keeping me company while I waited in the car. She told me about the legal cases she was working on and read me lawyer-related jokes that were forwarded to her work email. Forty-five minutes flew by with my mom on the phone, and when I hung up, I decided to follow my mom’s advice and call Sean Etin.
I took a deep breath and dialed his number. One ring. Two rings. Three—
“Hello, what is it?” Sean Etin barked.
“Yeah, Sean, it’s Danny,” I said, trying hard not to sound meek, but probably failing. “I’m calling you ‘cuz it’s been a while since you went in there, and I was getting . . . concerned.”
“You were getting ‘concerned?’” Sean Etin asked, contemptuously. “What do you think could happen at the dentist’s that would warrant concern? ‘You were getting concerned.’ Really.”
I was going into shock. He was at the dentist . . .
“I’m going to be done soon. Is the car still in front of the building?”
“. . . yeah . . .” He was at the goddamn dentist . . .
“Good.” He hung up. The phone stayed at my ear. He was at the mother-fucking dentist. He had me wait in a car for five hours with no power, in oppressive heat, while he was at the dentist . . .
I closed my phone and turned on the car. “Big girls doe-wont cry-eye-eye They don’t cry. Big girllls doe-wont cry-eye –“ I turned the car back off. I wasn’t in the mood for music and I no longer felt the heat (though, to be fair, the sun was beginning to set at this point . . .). He was at the dentist . . .

I later told my dad about my misadventure in the car. “Why didn’t you move the car anyway?” he asked. “Better yet, why didn’t you show some initiative and fill up his car for him, so you wouldn’t have to bake in there.” The answer to those questions are, “I don’t know.” It seems incredibly obvious now, but those thoughts never occurred to me while I was in the car. Maybe it was because my brain was pretty fried from the heat within a half an hour. Or, maybe, it’s just because I’m not the kind of person that thinks that way. This could be the reason why, in my opinion, I’ve taken more job-related abuse than anyone I know. Most people would have driven somewhere else and lied about it, or filled up the tank, or bashed Sean’s fat face in with a tire iron. Not me, though. When the fight or flight response is supposed to kick in, I simply take it, hoping only that, when all is said and done, that it makes a good story at the end.

Anyway, this was how my worst week at Seashel began. I still had the ride back to deal with and a couple of other bad things that happened to me, but that’s a different story (the next chapter, in fact). But, needless to say, I never did get treated to lunch . . .

Startup Beatdown, Chapter 6 - The Mexican

Startup Beatdown, Chapter 6: The Mexican

Of all the horrible tasks I had to do at Seashel Productions, my least favorite, by far, was having to pick up and drop off Sean Etin’s kids.

During any given day, I would be asked to make runs in my car – to mail something to the post office, or buy office supplies, or even to pick up a shareholder at the airport – and usually I didn’t mind. In fact, I would usually jump at the chance to be paid while getting away from the office and whatever torture-inducing insanity that would be going on at any given day. I even managed to not be screwed out of my car mileage costs by printing out an IRS form along with my expense report for how much money they legally owe me per mile after the comptroller
suggested I should just fill up the car and give them the receipt.

There was something different about picking up and dropping off the kids. For one thing, I couldn’t delude myself that what I was doing was for the good of the company. It was one thing to be a gofer for a faceless company (no matter how evil), and it was quite another to be a chauffer for over-privileged children. The thin line between Sean Etin’s business and Sean Etin’s home life had been trampled over, and I was grabbed by the shirt collar and bum rushed over the other side. The fact that it was so obviously not a part of my job description (as it had nothing to do with the company) made me feel used. The fact that, during these car rides, I was essentially working under the eyes of children made me feel demeaned.

More of an issue was the fact that Sean Etin’s son, Gareth, was an insufferable, little shithead. At ten years old, I could already tell that he was a chip off the old block. The kid was a cruel-natured bully who delighted in causing pain in others. Unlike his father, whose cruel persona was masked in a crusader-like, pugilistic sense of moral evangelism and paranoia, Gareth’s cruelty was guileless and pure. He was a bastard because he liked being a bastard. Causing the greatest amount of discomfort to those around him caused him giddy joy. There was nothing more to it than that. I despised him.

Sean Etin’s wife, Shelia, was always the one to ask me to pick up or drop off the kids. When she asked me, she always did so with kindness. She treated it like I was doing her a personal favor, and that that’s what I took it as.

“Danny,” she would say, “I’m really sorry to bother you, but I need you to do me a big favor. I have an appointment that was scheduled at the last minute, and I won’t be able to pick up the kids from school today. Could you do me a huge favor and pick them up for me? I would really appreciate it.”

Because she treated me so nicely, I always agreed to help out. “It’s bad enough for her that she has the devil for a husband and a monster for a son,” I thought to myself . . .

So, I would pick up her kids from school. And take them to the dentist. And drop them off at friend’s houses. And send them off to assorted after school activities. Once, I was asked to drop them off at school. They went to an all-Jewish private school a few towns over (the same one I went to, in fact, from Kindergarten to the second grade). In morning DC traffic, it was a 45-minute commute each way, and I had to be at their house at around six in the morning. Besides the fact that I wasn’t being paid overtime for being at the office three hours early, I was not a happy man. I am not a morning person (as most of you that know me can attest to) and when my job makes sleep the best part of my day, I don’t want to wake up early to go to work. To their credit, they only asked me to do this once – possibly because I alluded to the fact that it was a miracle I was able to drive without getting into a sleepy, fiery car-wreck that early in the morning.


In the first month I worked there, Shelia asked me what I was doing over the weekend. “Not much,” I replied, thinking, rather dully, that she was just making conversation.

“Oh good,” she said. “I was hoping you could do me a HUGE favor.” She smiled pleasantly.

Sean and Shelia were going out of town over the weekend, and Elka, their live-in maid, would be gone too. “I don’t need you to baby-sit,” she explained. “I just need someone to drop the dog off at the kennel in the morning, and take Gareth to his grandparents in the afternoon.” This was still early in my career at Seashel, and thinking that a willingness to do demeaning bitchwork would endear myself to my employees, I agreed. It was faulty logic. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I thought, “Once they see that I’m willing to do whatever it is they want me to without complaint, surely, they’ll see how unfair it is and start asking other people to pitch in. Hell, they might even do the work themselves!”

Friday winded down, and she called me again. “Danny, I forgot to tell you. Could you drop Gareth off at the comic book store when you pick up the dog? He has one of those Yugi-Oh tournaments with his little friends.” It wasn’t a big deal . . .

On Saturday, I woke up early and headed to the Etin’s house. I gathered Gareth, Kathie, the Etin’s attention-starved rottweiler, bags of dog food, leashes and other dog supplies (you’d think they’d have this sort of things at a kennel, but whatever) and loaded them into my car. I dropped Gareth off at the comic book store and drove to the kennel, which was nearly an hour away. I waited there for a little while, holding the stupidly excited Kathie by a leash in the waiting room, and filled out paperwork. I then drove home, had a quick lunch, and went back out to the comic book store to pick up the kid. As I opened the door, I heard squeals of children’s laughter, arguing, and the assorted indecipherable noises that children make. Trying to rise above the din was the comic shop owner, Gus, whom I had known since I frequented the store as a dorky kid in high school.

“I swear, you kids better calm down, or I’ll kick you out of my store. Gareth, I want you to clean up the mess you caused, now!”

“One more game! One more game!” Gareth exclaimed excitedly, completely ignoring Gus.

“Goddamn it! When are your parents gonna pick you brats up? Gareth, I said pick up those damn cards!”

Gus saw me out of the corner of his eye and turned to me. “Hey man,” he said, looking askance at the kids and shaking his head a little in a way that perfectly communicated, ‘I’d-like-to-put-these-kids-in-a-sack-and-beat-their-parents-with-them.’

“What’s up,” he asked me.

“I’m, uhhh,” I paused. “I’m here to pick up Gareth,” I finally replied, sheepishly.

Gus looked at me confusedly. The last time I saw him, I was visiting home from New York, where I was working for a somewhat prestigious children’s animation company. I’m sure I casually mentioned that to him when we last met.

“He’s the boss’s son,” I explained.

“You become a babysitter or chauffer or something?” he asked.

I tried to save face. “No, I work for a children’s entertainment company. A startup. I was hired on to help with the development of their projects, since I’m the only person there with any experience in the field.”

He was silent for a few seconds. “Why do you have to pick up the boss’s kid on your day off?”

“I don’t know,” I answered truthfully.

At this point, Gareth, who sat in the corner of the store with hundreds of Yugi-Oh cards scattered around him and two of his friends by his side, saw me.

“Can’t you come back in an hour?” Gareth asked, looking annoyed.

“No. I need to take you to your grandparent’s house.”

“Daaaaaannny,” he said playfully, “there’s three dollars in it for you . . .”

I let his insult wash over me and said nothing.

“Fine! Two dollars!” Gareth said, finding himself highly amusing.

“Get your stuff together, Gareth.”

“Yeah,” Gus added, “it’s definitely time for you brats to go.”

“ONE MORE GAME! ONE MORE GAME!” Gareth squealed . . .


The ride to his grandparent’s was not as painful as usual. Gareth was still riding his high of winning the Yugi-Oh tournaments and taking assorted cards from his friends. I engaged him in conversation about Yugi-Oh, which, for once, kept him from his usual display of random screaming, kicking my car’s dash, and pleading to go into every store we passed by.

By the time I got home, it was nearly six o’ clock. I had spent an entire Saturday doing errands for the Etins, without pay.

The following Friday, Shelia approached me and asked what I was doing that weekend. I quickly told her I would be out of town. This would become my stock answer whenever anyone from work would ask what I was doing over the weekend. “Prove me wrong,” I silently challenged them. During the times the office called me during the weekend, I just didn’t pick up the phone. On Monday, I would tell them that I didn’t have cell reception where I was, and by the time I got their message it was too late to call back.

I was learning.

Of course, when I was at work, it was much harder to pretend I was out of town. In fact, it was near impossible to pretend that anything I was doing there was worthwhile. Asking if I was doing anything important was nothing more than a formality, especially when cornered doing such activities as shooting the breeze with my friends in the back room, or spinning around in my chair . . .

As my time at Seashel continued, I was asked to pick up the Etin’s kids with more regularity.
What was once a bi-weekly occurrence, I was now asked to pick up the kids two to four times a week, and little Gareth was becoming more and more of a pain. Once, while Gareth ran in some random direction in the parking lot of his school (for the sole purpose of pissing me and his older sister off), I finally decided to teach him a lesson. I was going to get in my car and run him down.

Eventually, I decided to take a slightly less drastic approach. “Get in,” I told his sister. “We’re leaving without him.”

Her eyes went wide. “Really?” she asked. “Cool!”

We hopped in my car and drove away. As we pulled out of the school, Gareth’s sister asked me if we were really leaving without him. “No,” I told her. “We’ll come back in five minutes and get him.”

“Oh. That’s too bad.”

Perhaps all Gareth needed was a hard lesson, I thought to myself. I pictured him back in the parking lot, all alone and crying unabashedly, the veneer of brattiness washed away by his tears, revealing a lonely little boy. I would drive back, roll down the window, and say, “Gareth, I hope you realize now that not everything revolves around you.” With his lesson learned, I would then proceed to run him down with my car . . .

Of course, when I drove back, Gareth greeted me with a wide, impish, close-eyed smile and began running away from the car again. His sister rolled down the car window and screamed at him. “Gareth, you little brat! Get in the car! I want to go home!”

“Ha ha ha!” he replied.

Eventually, we were able to corral him into the car. From his spot in the back seat, Gareth spent the length of the car ride kicking the back of my seat and barking loud, ugly noises.

“GRAHGGHHH!!” “Ba ba ba ba!” “REEEEEEE!” It was his own nonsense language, but it communicated what he wanted to say to me better than if he were saying it in plain English.

“You can’t bother me like I can bother you, and I’ll never, EVER stop.”

I already knew that to be true. Over the man y times I had to drive the brat around, I tried my best to keep him in control. I tried reasoning with him. I tried yelling at him. I tried ignoring him. I tried treating him like an adult and treating him like a kid. I even tried joining him once. Nothing worked. He looked past my methods and saw the real me – a grown man who despised a little boy. He loved it . . .


One time, I was asked to drop Gareth off at his Pop Warner football practice. This was the only time I was actually looking forward to dealing with the little bastard. Why? Because, it was towards the end of the day and after some smooth talking on my part, I was able to convince Flo to let me go straight home afterwards. “By the time I get back here, it’ll already be 6:00, and I’ll have to go straight home anyway . . .” I pleaded. She saw the desperation in my eyes and gave me the okay, allowing me to get home a full half an hour early. This was the rarest of treats. Not only was I able to be home early, I would be ensuring I wouldn’t have to stay late, by totally bypassing Sean Etin’s usual 5:55 appearance in the office, ordering everyone to stick around for an extra hour or two (usually for no reason).

On the ride to his practice, with his pads, helmet and uniform bunched up around his legs, I tried to engage Gareth in talk about football – a subject that I actually cared about. “What position do you play?” “What’s your team’s record?” “Are you a fan of any pro team?” (I was hoping he’d say the Cowboys to this one, so I could have reason to hate them both a little more . . .) Unlike the time I got him talking about Yugi Oh, he wasn’t responsive to my scheme. The most I got out of him was that he didn’t much like football before he was importuning for me to pull over to a Starbucks and buy him an Iced Caramel Macchiato . . .

We had gotten to his practice field and I parked the car. I had made good time in getting there (no, I did not stop at Starbucks) and if I left now, I would just miss rush hour and be home with a little over a half an hour early. Gareth, however, didn’t move. I thought about why he wasn’t leaving. Was it because he didn’t see anyone he recognized? I scanned the field for any kids that were wearing Gareth’s uniforms. I saw none. “Do you see any kids you recognize, Gareth?”


Crap. I may have despised the little shit, but I wasn’t going to leave a ten-year-old alone in a park. So, I waited in the car with Gareth, feeling my early freedom tick away. Every few minutes, I would ask him if he saw someone he recognized. A teammate. A coach. A celebrity.
I didn’t care. I just wanted him to be someone else’s problem.

After asking him for the tenth time, I noticed a bunch of kids congregating on the field, wearing Gareth’s team uniform.

“Isn’t that your team over there?” I asked him, pointing to the kids.


“Then why are they wearing your uniform?”

“I meant yes.”

“Okay then.”

Gareth still didn’t move.

“Get out of my car, Gareth.”

“I can’t. I need to get changed first.”

“Then do it!”

I angrily wondered why Gareth didn’t put his pads on beforehand, but it soon became clear to me, as he continued to just sit there. He was keeping me here on purpose. I don’t know how, but he somehow knew that this was cutting into my free time.

“Put on your pads, Gareth.”

He gave me his best “I’m-a-little-fucker” smile and continued to do nothing.


“I don’t know how . . . “

Oh, God, how I hated him. The lying gremlin wanted me to dress him. I didn’t
know what game he was playing, and I didn’t care. I wanted him out of my car so badly.
As I picked up his shoulder pads, I was struck by a random image in my mind. I
saw Gareth, bursting into Sean Etin’s den, in tears. “Daddy, Daddy! Danny touched me on the way to football practice!”

“He WHAT?!?” Sean Etin would say, as he gets to his feet, throwing his glass of cognac into the fire. The flames grow and are reflected in Sean Etin’s murderous eyes. Gareth smiles impishly.

Cut to: my bedroom. I am sleeping in my bed, when I bolt upright, sensing the presence of someone beside me. Sean Etin steps out of the shadows. “You touched my child. Now I get to touch yours . . .” He would then grab my crotch with his giant, meaty fist, and squeeze it into a red paste. I howl in agony. “I’m also suing you,” he would say. “And I expect you at work first thing in the morning . . .”

I snapped out of it. The thought was far-fetched. Gareth wouldn’t have the forethought for a plan like that (though the evil intent would certainly be there), and Sean Etin wouldn’t break into my house while I was asleep. He would crush my balls when I was at the office. Still, I decided not to put my hands anywhere near his son.

I threw the shoulder pads onto Gareth’s lap. “Put this around your neck,” I told him. He gave me another stupid grin. It was now 5:50, and I had wasted over a half an hour in the parking lot with the little prick.

“PUT ON THE GODDAMN PADS!” I said calmly.

Gareth picked up the shoulder pads and gingerly put them around his neck. When finished, he looked at me again.

“Now put on the rest of your uniform,” I told him.

“I need to tie the pads in place first,” he said.

“Goddamn it, Gareth! You are really pissing me off! Put on the rest of your uniform, do it correctly, and get the hell out of my car!”

Again, Gareth got to work. He tied his pads in place. He put on his jersey, his socks and his cleats. It all seemed to go in slow motion – mainly because Gareth was moving at half speed, his movements exaggerated as if someone pushed ‘slow’ on a remote control.

“Go faster,” I told him.

“I am,” he assured me, moving at the same snail’s pace.

“You are such a goddamned brat.”

The second Gareth finished, I opened the door of my car, marched out to the passenger side, and opened his door.

“Get the hell out of my car!”

He took a glance at my dashboard and hopped out of the car, running towards his teammates on the field.

I slammed the door shut and got back into the driver’s seat. I looked at the clock. I was exactly 6:00.


I had decided that enough was enough. My days of picking up and dropping off the kids were over. At this point in my ‘career’ at Seashel, I knew I would be quitting soon and wanted to gain some modicum of dignity before I did. So, the next time Shelia pulled me aside, wanting me to pick up Gareth from school, I asked to speak with her.

She and I walked into the empty kitchen. “I’m perfectly willing to pick Gareth up from school today, because I don’t want to leave you in a lurch, but I just wanted to let you know that I would appreciate it if you didn’t ask me to drive around your kids anymore. I’ve always thought of driving them around as a favor to your family, and I really don’t consider it a part of my job, and I would like to spend my time at work doing what I’m being paid to do. Again, I’m willing to pick him up today, but ask you to please not ask me to again,” I quickly spat out.

Shelia looked at me, her smile only wavering for a brief moment. “Sure, Danny,” she said. “Thank you for picking Gareth up today.” She walked out of the kitchen, and I went off to pick up Gareth, feeling good that it would be my last time.

I drove to Gareth’s school and came up to the curb. Gareth usually waited for me there, but today he was nowhere to be seen. I called Shelia on my cell and she told me that he would be waiting for me in the school library. In the shock of my telling her that I wouldn’t be her bitch anymore, it must have slipped her mind.

I parked my car and entered the school. It was weird being back in an elementary school. Back when I was a kid, school seemed so big, the cooler, noisier kids seemed so intimidating and the teachers seemed so old. Now, as I walked through the school, the hallways seemed narrow and the ceilings low. The “cool kids” (and I can tell they were the cool kids by the way they carried themselves) seemed so puny and ridiculous in their posturing. The teachers I passed, I noticed, looked to be my age or younger. I had come a long way . . .

I walked into the library and saw Gareth towards the other end of the room, chatting with some friends. I walked towards him as he called out, “Hey, Mexican! Get over here!” I stopped dead in my tracks. Did he just call me ‘Mexican?’ I didn’t understand. Maybe he was talking to someone else. I looked around. Nobody looked Mexican in the all-Jewish private school library . . . I was deep in thought. ‘Maybe it was a friend’s nickname, like Booger or Boner or Cockroach . . .’ ‘Don’t fool yourself. You know the little shit was talking to you.’ ‘Yeah, but what does he mean?!?’

He interrupted my train of thought. “Mexican! Get over here! Now!” He emphasized the ‘now’ with his finger pointing down in an angry staccato. He was looking straight at me. His two friends were looking at me too, with toothy smiles, alternatively looking back at Gareth.

I decided that the best thing to do was to totally ignore them. I casually walked in the opposite direction, examining the books as if I went to the elementary school to do some casual reading.

“Ahh, yes,” I thought to myself. “The Boxcar Children. I wonder what exciting mysteries they are solving this time . . .”

After five minutes, I saw in the corner of my eyes Gareth’s two friends walk past me and leave the library. Soon after, Gareth approached me.

“Why didn’t you come when I called you?” he asked. He, for the first time, seemed genuinely frustrated.

“Because you didn’t call me,” I calmly replied.

“Yes I did! I said, ‘Mexican’.”

“I’m not ‘Mexican’.”

“Yes you are,” he explained to me. “You’re a Mexican because you do everything I tell you to do.”

There it was. For some reason, I had trouble wrapping my head around the fact that it was a racial epithet (mainly because I was white and Jewish).

I thought about what to say next. Should I scold him for trying to bully me in front of his friends? Should I elucidate him on the evils of prejudice? Should I explain to him my confusion over what he was trying to invoke?

I breathed deeply. Much like my job in general, he wasn’t worth it.

“Come on,” I told him, as I walked out of the library and back to my car.


Shelia never asked me to her a favor again. No, the era of doing favors was now over. From that point on, I was ordered to pick up the kids. The very next day, a phone call came into the office. At this point, they had gotten a secretary, so I was no longer the one to pick up the phone every time it rang. About a minute after the call came in, Rita approached me.

“Sean needs you to pick up the kids,” she told me in her bored monotone.

A silent rage filled me. I was quiet for a moment, and, in as even a tone as I could muster, I asked her, “Can I speak to him?”

“He already hung up.” She walked away.

In the fifty or so times I was asked to chauffer his kids, Sean Etin was never once the one to ask me to do it. It was always Shelia.

I had oftentimes wondered how someone who could marry a monster like Sean Etin be such a nice person. The answer, the only answer there could be, was that she couldn’t. Like any successful marriage, Sean and Shelia worked as a team. Shelia was the good cop, and Sean was the bad cop. For nine months, the good cop; the carrot-approach; the preying on my kindness had done the trick. Now that it failed to work, it was time for the bad cop; the stick-approach; the preying on my ability to be bullied.

I was shocked at the gambit that the Etin’s had just played. Order the one person who specifically asked not to pick up the kids to pick up the kids, one day after he made the request, and outright refusing to communicate with him on the subject. They were literally willing to sacrifice their own children’s safety and well-being to make a point – that as long as I worked there, I would be a Mexican to any member of the Etin family, be it my boss, his wife, or his ten-year-old son. It was the ballsiest, most selfish thing I had ever encountered in my life. I thought of quitting on the spot. Let some other sucker pick up their brats. I thought of getting into my car and driving straight home without telling anybody, and smashing my cell phone with a hammer. I imagined the Etin’s, in the middle of the night, wondering where the hell their kids are, while Alia (their daughter) and Gareth waited at their school. I might have done it too, but I had a doctor’s appointment that week and I wanted to take advantage of my health insurance while I had it. Also, as much as it went against my favor, I was a nice guy. I couldn’t strand children, even one as evil and cruel as Gareth – even if their own parents could. So, I got up, got into my car, and once again drove into the heart of darkness . . .


Throughout the abuse I took from Gareth, I had oftentimes considered telling his parents about his sadistic behavior (especially when I thought Shelia was a good person) – but I never did. This was because, as much as I hated to be tortured by a ten-year-old boy, I knew that I would only have to deal with him while I worked there, and that Sean Etin, who I hated above all people, would have to deal with him for the rest of his life. I imagined Gareth at fifteen, giving his parents hell in his angst-ridden teen years. I imagined him at twenty, fighting his very first statutory rape case. I imagined him at fifty, his father now old and decrepit, and in need of some love and care. I imagined, when his father asked him for help, adult Gareth replying, “What am I, your Mexican?” leaving Sean Etin alone and uncared for – and I smiled. And then I wished Gareth would have children exactly like him . . .