When it comes to bosses, I’ve had my share. The good, the bad and the in-between. Thankfully, my current boss, is not only good, she’s GRRREAT!! She possesses the perfect combination of skills: leadership, generosity and diplomacy.
But I’m not here to talk about the good ones. Instead, I’d like to tell you about Gleda Balls. As far as bosses go, she falls in the in-between.
Of course, Gleda Balls wasn’t her real name, but it came close.
You may recall that my first job in Seattle was at a TV station. Patti, a dynamic, down-to-earth woman, hired me the day I walked in. She was genuine and super friendly. She even threw a party for G and I, after we returned from getting married back east. Patti was everything you could hope for in a starter boss.
But within a few months, Patti announced she was going to head the public affairs division. And so, a nationwide search ensued for a new promotions director. Jeff, the assistant director, applied but didn’t get it. Too bad, because he was an amiable and funny guy. “Wake up and smell the coffee,” was his mantra.
One day, we learned that management had hired Gleda Balls to replace Patti. Gleda was a tall, thin woman, who hailed from Lubbock, Texas. She had shoulder-length, chestnut-colored hair, and a face that looked like a rainbow exploded on it, leaving her with a permanent coating of blue green eye shadow, magenta lipstick, and peach-colored cheeks.
Did I mention Gleda Balls wasn’t her real name? Mary, the publicist, gave her that name when she accidentally typed, “Gleda Balls” in the contact line on a press release that was sent out to every newspaper in the Seattle-Tacoma area. And to TV Guide,too. After that snafu, the name stuck, though not to her face.
I didn’t interact with Gleda Balls right away. She didn’t invite me into her office, nor did she stop by mine. After all, I was just a lowly assistant, and not at all on her radar. At least, not at first.
Around the third month of her tenure, she breezed into my office, which was really the front parlor of the Victorian house the station occupied. I shared this room with Ann, another assistant, who was about 2o years my senior and half my size.
When Gleda entered, she waltzed right up to my desk, and stood inches away from me. I could feel her warm breath on the top of my head. I looked up. Gleda had on a red jacket and pencil-thin skirt, and three-inch heels. Considering the rest of us wore jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers or Birkenstock shoes to work—we were in Seattle, after all—she seemed a tad overdressed. A gargantuan brooch, in the shape of Texas, and studded with sapphires, was pinned to her bosom and protruded over my head, daring me to stand up and bump my head against it.
Yep, Gleda towered over me, and I was at once nervous and excited. She was unnerving, but I imagined she had come because she finally wanted to learn about my work and how I was contributing to the department. No doubt, our general manager had already told her what an asset I was to the station and how in just six months, I’d gone from a part-time, hourly employee to full time with benefits, on account that the general manager and the program manager had noticed my capabilities. So now, in addition to typing up the weekly listings I had more important and challenging work to do—I was answering viewer mail and serving as a station receptionist three days a week.
“Why, I’ve heard such wonderful things about you!” she said in her sing-song, Texas drawl voice, adding, “I’d love to talk to you about something real important.”
I beamed. I anticipated that an invitation to her office was imminent. Perhaps a promotion was in the offing! Or maybe she wanted to discuss new opportunities for me! I was ready.
“Honey, I’m in a bind,” she sighed. “I’m moving this Saturday, into a new home, and was hoping you could help me.”
She must have noticed how my business smile suddenly froze on my face, for she added, “It would be a great way for me to get to know you.”
My eyes darted from side to side, looking for a way out. G and I actually had plans that weekend. She looked at me expectantly, lightly tapping her foot against my desk, with a smile so broad and glistening, that I wondered if she’d ever been in a beauty contest. For all I knew, I was talking to Miss Texas 1965 and didn’t even know it.
“Well, Sugar, can you be a sweet girl and come to my rescue?”
I carefully weighed my options: Say no and risk always being perceived by my boss as an ungrateful employee, someone who is not a team player, or say yes, and get on her good side.
“Sure, I’d love to help you.”
“Oh, darling! I just knew you would!” She handed me a piece of paper. “Here’s my address. Be there at 8:30 sharp, okay?”
“Perfect! Oh, and make sure Jan can come, too.”
Jan, was a student at the university and a part-time assistant who helped out in the office a few days a week. She was also obsessed with pigs and would regale me with humorous poems she’d written about the creatures. It was Jan who first caught the “Gleda Balls” mistake on the press release, once it had been mailed. She also helped to proliferate the use of the new moniker. I knew Jan wasn’t going to be happy about our “special” assignment.
On Saturday, we arrived precisely at 8:30. We soon discovered that Gleda Balls hadn’t even started packing up her kitchen. She handed us empty cartons and a stack of newspapers. One by one, I wrapped up the glassware. Jan alternated between helping me pack up the kitchen and moving the boxes out to the truck. Gleda didn’t do much except tend to her two children, who were being fussy and whiny about having to move. Clearly, we were in it for the long haul, and ended up spending the entire day there, doing nothing but packing and loading the truck.
At around 10 pm, Gleda finally said, “You girls ought to leave. I’m pooped and need to call it a day.”
As we walked to our cars, I heard her call to us, “I owe you girls lunch. Maybe you can come back sometime?”
“When pigs fly,” muttered Jan under her breath.
“We’d love to,” I said loudly, hoping that we’d already earned enough brownie points to last the year.
But in my short experience in the work world, there was no way I could foresee that, within the year, Gleda Balls would spin out of control, leaving Jeff, Jan and me to pick up the pieces. Of course, like everything, her downward spiral started in the most innocent of ways.
Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.