The Undoing of Gleda Balls

Like many things in history, the undoing of my boss, Gleda Balls happened by chance. It began with an incident that, in and of itself, would give you no reason to suspect that a shake-up was imminent. Much like the cow that kicked over the lantern and brought on the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Or, the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which consequently led to World War I. Who could predict that these events would lead to something so consequential?

Mrs. O'Leary and the alleged cow that started the Great Chicago Fire.

Yet, that is exactly what happened to Gleda Balls. And, it all began with, ahem, me, the typist. Or maybe it really began with Mary, the publicist, who would hand me the press releases to type.

When Gleda came on board, she hired Mary to write all the copy for the department. The only problem was that Mary wasn’t a writer at heart, and nobody seemed to notice but me. Jeff, the assistant director, was in charge of producing the promo spots and spent a lot of time in the editing room in a building across campus. But it wasn’t his job to check Mary’s work.

From the moment Gleda arrived, she missed Texas something awful and spent a lot of time talking about the wide-open spaces on the cattle ranch her daddy owned. She was a regular Scarlet O’Hara, who still considered herself a coquette, even though she was well past her twenties. I imagined she kept a bag of smelling salts in her purse for when she got the vapors. All this left her little time to run the department, much less proof Mary’s work.  So I was the only one reading it.  Each week, as I typed the copy, I’d make corrections as I went along, and nobody knew, except, maybe, Mary.

Much like the cow that knocked over the lantern, or the guy who killed the duke, I didn’t set out to start the chain of events that led to Gleda’s undoing. All I did was question something Mary wrote. A little red flag. Nothing mind-blowing; just enough to make me wonder if I should get a second opinion. I considered taking it to Mary, but that didn’t seem efficient since she was the one who wrote it.

So, I went in search of Gleda Balls. In typical fashion, her office was empty. She was seldom at her desk. Long lunches and the fact that she was still getting settled into her new home, while pining for her old one, kept her away much of the time.

I headed back to my office, and, in the hallway, ran into Burnie, the program manager, who happened to also be my boss, on days when I worked on viewer mail. Burnie, who hailed from Nebraska, was tall and rather bland looking, with shorn hair, deeply recessed, squinty eyes, and thin lips. He also happened to care a lot about the station.

“You look lost,” he remarked. “Is there something I can help you with?”

I debated whether to say anything. This was Gleda’s domain, after all, though the release was about a program, which was Burnie’s purview.

I handed him the release. “Would you let me know if you think this is okay to say?”

He read the first line aloud. “Set your VCR’s and be sure to record this ____ program.”

The line was a bit longer, but that was the gist. Burnie looked at me incredulously. “No, this is not appropriate at all.”

Granted, by today’s standards this particular line might not seem like a big deal. But, at that time, VCR’s were still new, and copyright issues were running rampant. Program managers like Burnie understood that they were witnessing the beginning of the end for TV ratings and audiences. He would often tell us this at staff meetings. As a TV station, it was our job to do everything we could to encourage watching the programs when they actually aired, even though it was a losing battle.

“What does Gleda think about this?” I didn’t say anything, but from the strained look on my face, Burnie was beginning to figure it out.

“She hasn’t read this, has she?” His beady eyes probed into mine.

“I’m not sure,” There was no way I could tell him she never reads the releases before they go out.

“Do you think you can rewrite the opening?” I nodded. Having typed and secretly edited many a press release, I knew the formula.

He then headed back to his office.

The next day, Gleda called me into hers. She seemed tense. There was a twitch in her eye, as if an eyelash was stuck in it, and she was biting on her fuchsia-colored lips.

“Sugar, a little birdie told me you found something wrong with one of the press releases. Is that so?”

I nodded, even though I wasn’t sure if she said, “birdie” or “Burnie.” I’d never seen her so discombobulated, as if working in the office was new to her, and it was all she could do to hold it together. She was making me anxious, and I wondered if her smelling salts were handy.

“Tell me, Honey, is this the first time you’ve found a problem with the press releases?”

“Not exactly.” I then explained how I’d been correcting some of the grammar and spelling as needed.

“Really? Well, that’s just peaches. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.” 

As I walked back to my desk, I wondered what Burnie had told her. It was just a little red flag, and we’d resolved it, or so I thought, so I wasn’t sure why she seemed so frazzled now. But then I heard it. A high-pitch scream that resonated throughout the halls.

“MAAARY!!”

Here’s what I didn’t know at the time of my meeting with Gleda. Apparently,  the “little birdie” she referred to was the general manager. The head honcho. Burnie had shared our conversation with him. The GM, in turn, tried in vain to reach Gleda, who was nowhere to be found.  Evidently, she was having a spa day, only she hadn’t “officially” taken the day off. When he finally reached her, the GM went ballistic, demanding to know who was running the department. Where were the checks and balances?

Word had it that Gleda tried to work her Texas charm on him, but he just told her to stop sulking about Texas, and grab the reigns and get a hold of her department.

Or, as Jeff would say, “Wake up and smell the coffee.”

Which is what she did, and she took it out on Mary. I kind of felt bad, on account that it wasn’t really Mary’s fault, as she had never received any guidance from Gleda. But then, neither had I.

The following week, Mary, who hadn’t yet been there six months and was still in her probationary period, took the fall. Gleda got off scot-free, but, unbeknownst to me, management began keeping a close eye on her.

As for me, someone put a word in on my behalf, and I became the new publicist.

Turns out, the press release wasn’t the only problem, but it was the one that broke the camel’s back. And kicked the lantern, too.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

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40 thoughts on “The Undoing of Gleda Balls

  1. Your references are probably the best in the biz. I’m from Texas but I cannot stand when people wont ever shut the fried chicken up about the freaking state!

  2. Love this story. Like love love LOVE this story.

    Hey BTW, in case you haven’t heard, you have been nominated for the “Mikalee is a D*ck but You Are Not” Award! (Actually, I just wanted to thank you for my nomination and to help others connect with your awesome blog.) So stop by for a visit if you get a chance, k? 

    http://mikaleebyerman.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/i-am-such-a-dick-and-other-eloquent-musings-from-my-award-show-acceptance-speech/

    XOXO,

    Mikalee

    • Oh, Mikalee, you really are amazing and wonderful and oh so supportive. I checked out your post and LOVED it, too. I love how you’ve been there from the beginning for me, and that we have discovered we have so MUCH in common. Thank you for the honor, my friend.

  3. Monica, I’m sucked in by the dialogue of the posts related to Gleda Balls! I can hear her purring, “Sugar” and it makes me smile. Ultimately, when someone screws up, it’s always just a matter of time before they’re found out. And that seems to be what will happen to Gleda. As for Mary, lets label her collateral damage. We don’t like it but unfortunately, it happens all the time! 🙂

    • Bella, thank you! I’m sure you know how hard dialogue can be, and I try really hard to get it right, so I’m pleased that you like it or, at least, are “sucked in” by it. 😉

      Everything happens for a reason and, though I don’t know why this had to happen, the fact that it did ended up being my good fortune. Stay tuned for the next post!

  4. I saw your link on She Writes. Oh, how I feel your pain. The last boss I had before moving to the UK was just like Gleda. She was never at her desk, tried to charm anyone with XY chromosomes, and couldn’t manage to get lost without a map.

    I had to work with the woman and put up with her incompetence for nearly a year, but fortunately I knew I would be leaving and I kept a record of everything. Why? For my exit letter, of course.

    I knew this woman hadn’t impressed HR and some higher up the food chain were keeping discrete tabs, but my exit letter and exit interview did her in. It was my farewell gift to my friends and coworkers who had to stay. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness her “undoing” but a friend who still worked there gave me the play-by-play. Management came down hard on her and basically made her learn her job and tied her to her desk. In the end, she took the hint and quit.

    I still have the letter. It’s one of the best complaint letters I’ve ever written! 😀

  5. I love the name Gleda Balls. The reader instantly knows that she is a witch with a Texas size capital B. She deserved everything she had coming to her. I think your unintentional role in tugging the string that became her undoing was pure karma because she conned you into packing up her kitchen. Yes, I had to go back and read the last installment as I missed it. Happy New Year!

    • Nancy, I’m so glad you went back and read the first chapter of the Gleda Balls story arc. She really was a piece of work, though it could have been a lot worse. Luckily, it was soon nipped in the bud. Glad you enjoyed it!

  6. We are loving the Gleda Balls story over here! I think many of us have had bosses or worked with people like Ms. Balls, but we don’t always get to see their undoing….so this is really satisfying and fun to read!!

    – Uptown Dog’s Mom

    • Hi U.D.’s Mom! I’m so glad you’re enjoying this story. Now that I’ve gained years of experience in the workplace, I can look back and smile at my young self and how different I was. But I consider myself lucky. The situation could have been much worse, but management was very supportive. 🙂

  7. HeeHeeHee, this gets better and better, Monica! I’ve been in a similar position — the person ahead of me regularly swiped my business letters, signed his name to them, and passed them off as his own. I’ll be reading to learn how you handled an obviously incompetent superior — hopefully with more tact than I did!

  8. You do spin a good yarn, and keep us readers on the hook for more. As Kim says, not really a belle and we’re all hoping she takes a fall. It’s always a mystery to me how some people climb the corporate ladder when there isn’t an ounce of work ethic in their body, whereas some toil and slave and never see the big office. There is something to be said for being political, but at some point, the person (say your Texas tornado) is found out. I am rooting for her demise. Does that make me evil? 🙂 Can’t wait for the next installment, one of your letters out to the world. A excellent read.

    • Why, thank you so much for the compliment!

      I can tell you how she climbed the corporate ladder. She was good looking and engaging, possessing the qualities of a beauty pageant contestant. So, I can see how she was promoted. Problem was, she had feet of clay and couldn’t stay up there very long.

  9. I am curious, what ultimately happened to Gleda?
    I have been in this position before when a subordinate continuously provided me with sloppy inaccurate work that I had to correct. She worked for the owner’s son. I asked another manager if I should complain about this. He recommended I stay out of it, that I needed to choose my battles. He felt if she isn’t working out, the sales department would complain, I work in accounting. Two years later she refused do get off the phone (she was talking to her daughter) when our company’s owner wanted to discuss a huge mistake she had made. She was gone by the end of the week. In hindsight I should have complained when I realized she was not working out. In essence I was covering for her. This didn’t do me any good, the company or her. Kudos to you for taking charge of the situation at such a young age.

    Also unbeknownst to employees, employers do keep an eye on problem employees. My sister had a huge problem with her manager, complaining to HR a couple of times. She was frustrated because she felt the company didn’t address her complaints. During the next downsizing, her manager was laid-off. Also we have a manager here, not doing his job, sneaking out, unavailable to answer questions, etc. Believe me they are watching him & there is a file.

    Great post.

    • I do not know what ultimately happened to her, but I do know she went back to Lubbock, Texas. She’s probably still there today. In my next installment, I’ll explain what happened after this episode. Yes, I do remember the moment when I realized that by fixing her mistakes all I was doing was making her look good. I was tempted to just start typing the releases “as is,” but then the little red flag popped up and everything changed, seemingly overnight. I’m starting to think, management was already on to her by this point.

      And, you’re right, that management keeps an eye on problem employees. But they also keep an eye on the ones doing well. I know this because, as I mentioned I went from a part time job to full time within 6 months, when I was given the responsibility of working for Burnie answering viewer mail. Do you know how that happened? Well, I was in my little office that I shared with Ann. Until that point, I’d never really had a conversation except with the people in my department and in Patti’s new department. One day, Flo, the HR director, out of the blue, walks into my office and offers me the position just like that. She said I came recommended by the General Manager himself. That was the first time I realized that he even knew I existed! We’d never spoken, except once or twice in the hallway to say hi. And, still, he recommended me! Now, that was powerful. Put me on Cloud 9.

    • I like how you ask a question and then add, “Why, not?” Which assumes that you think you already know the answer.

      Well, guess what? I did. I did try, as diplomatically as I could, to show her what need correcting. But she got a bit defensive and didn’t want to hear it from me, a lowly assistant. Though, she never did stop me from editing her work. Nobody was the wiser for a long time.

  10. —Somebody like Glenda will Always be found out in the end.

    It’s called Karma.

    She isn’t a Southern Belle…She ‘s more like a Southern Bitch…..

    But I find her character delectable & interesting.

    & I love the dialougue, Monica. Superb. Xxx Kisssss

    • My problem was that I was completely intimidated by her. But you’re right, though I wished (back then) that i hadn’t been the one to break the camel’s back. Though, I wasn’t privy to what was going on behind closed doors. Perhaps management already had her on their radar. Who knows?

      Ain’t Karma a bitch?

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