The Other Shoe Drops

The downward spiral of Gleda Balls, continued, but I wasn’t privy to the details. There were closed-door meetings, of which I was not included in a single one. It was all very hush-hush. As were the wringing of hands, the pacing in the hallways, and occasionally, the sound of an unanswered telephone coming from Gleda’s office.

I was in my own world, much like before, only now I’d been promoted. Which meant I got to move out of the front office I shared with Ann, the other assistant, and into an office in the back, which I now shared with Jeff, the assistant director. Jeff was very funny and kept me perennially bemused. We did our jobs and had fun doing it. Sometimes he’d be called into a meeting to meet with Gleda, who looked more harried than ever. Yet, despite all that was going on, I don’t think either of us ever thought we’d see the other shoe drop.

The meeting that changed my life was in a parking garage, much like this one.

Gleda Balls continued to sit at her own desk, in her own office, across the hall from Jeff and I. She continued her pattern of flitting in and out of the office. Mostly out.  A few times she asked me to babysit her kids and I obliged, because I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to decline.

The next few weeks were business as usual. Jeff spending good parts of the day at the studios on campus, and me, working blithely and bringing my work to Gleda for approval, then to Jan to type up, and, finally, to Ann mail out. Gleda would swing in, check her mail, grab her phone messages from the receptionist and retreat into her office, carefully closing the door behind her.

Then, the following Friday there was an unusual amount of activity. Flo, a middle-aged Japanese-American woman, in charge of Human Resources, met with the general manager in his office with the door closed. Several minutes later, he came out and entered Burnie, the program manager’s office and also closed the door. Then, the general manager and Flo left and headed to the administration building. None of these activities puzzled me because I was oblivious. I was in my office doing my job. That’s all.

But then something happened that I did find perplexing. The general manager called Jeff and asked Jeff to meet him immediately, and to bring me with him. He gave no reason as to why. But, here’s the kicker. He didn’t want to meet us in his office or in the Administration building, nor in Flo’s office. He asked that we meet him in the underground parking garage near the administration building. Jeff looked at me quizzically. And I looked at him confused. This is so strange, we both decided, as we anxiously headed to the garage a few blocks away.

We must have arrived too soon because we didn’t see the general manager at first. Just rows and rows of cars. We loitered just inside the entrance to the garage, as he didn’t say exactly where we should meet him. By the green Datsun wagon? The silver Volvo? Were we going to have a tailgate picnic here? Jeff didn’t know any more than I did. So we stood there, in the cold concrete garage, stuffing our hands in our pockets to stay warm, and wondered what this was all about. I felt as though we were waiting for a rendezvous with the mob, and not our General Manager. Perhaps, he was going to give us instructions on a hit, or confess to a clandestine affair.

Ten minutes later, he briskly walked in. He had black curly hair, a bulbous nose and a thick mustache, and the New York in him immediately stood out. His larger than life mannerisms made it seem as if he’d grown up on a Broadway stage, and needed to project every nuance and every word. His cavernous voice could, indeed, carry to the opposite side of an auditorium or, in this case, a garage. Extending his arms out wide, he loudly exclaimed,

“I have a proposition for you!” I looked behind me to see if we had an audience listening in, but we seemed to be alone.

“I’m about to meet with Gleda and I’m going to let her know this isn’t working out, so I need to know that you’re on board with me.”

I looked at Jeff, who seemed to be nervous with anticipation. Could this be it? I nodded and so did Jeff, who then said,

“Of course we’re with you. What did you have in mind?

“Jeff, I want to make you Acting Director of the department.” Then, turning to me, he added, “And you will be Acting Assistant Director, which means an automatic 10 percent raise for you both. If all goes well, in six months we can make it official.”

I had a wide grin on my face and so did Jeff. We nodded eagerly, like kids whose great uncle was about to buy them the toy of their dreams. The General Manager excitedly shook our hands. The deal was set and the wheels were in motion.

“Good then,” he said. “Time’s a wasting!” And with that, he dramatically swept out of the garage, like a magician performing a magic trick, and disappearing into thin air.

So this is how the other shoe dropped. Out of sight or, at least, out of my line of vision. I never quite learned all that was going on in those weeks, and I never saw Gleda again after that day. The General Manager must have met with her and asked her to leave on the spot. From that day on, Jeff became my boss, and for the next seven years, he, like Patti before him, proved to be one of the greatest—and coolest—bosses I’ve had. I will always be thankful for all he taught me during our tenure together.

But, like I said from the start: To me, Gleda wasn’t a good boss or a bad one. She fit in the “in-between” category. I owe her a good deal, as her actions, inadvertently or not, helped launch my career.

As far as bosses go, the real “bad boss” would come later. A regular “Cruella De Vil” meets the “Devil Wears Prada.” But, this was several years later, after I left Seattle and took a new job in a new city. Frankly, I didn’t know the meaning of bad bosses until I met this one. And, she was a doozy.

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

The Road Taken: Girl on the Run

Pam and I worked at the station, though in different departments. At first, I didn’t know what to make of her, but if I had one word to describe my first impression of her, it would be, intimidating. Add to that, a deep, throaty laugh, reminiscent of Cruella De Vil. And just like Cruella, she was not the type to care what you thought of her, or make any effort to meet you halfway. Nope. If she had been Cruella, I probably would have been quick to hand her the Dalmatians.

Pam wasn’t what I’d call beautiful, either, but she was stunning in a take-no-prisoners sort of way. Her nose, rather elongated, had a slight bump along the ridge, and her dark eyes penetrated into you when she spoke, always with a seemingly mock air of disapproval. She was tall, slender, with long, thick chestnut hair that cascaded down her back, the kind of hair I’d wished for when I was a kid. A definite, stark contrast to my thick, stubby curls, which my mother had long taught me to wear pixie short, for ease in maintaining those damn, knotty locks.

Pam could tease you mercilessly about the most innocuous things. Like the time I wore a brand new yellow cashmere sweater to work. All day long, the sweater shed relentlessly, leaving a trail of yellow lint wherever I went. By the end of the day, Pam had dubbed me Lint Woman. I never wore the sweater again, but too late. The name stuck with me for years, used not only by her, but by everyone in the office.

On the surface, we couldn’t have been more unalike, Pam and I, and yet that didn’t stop us from becoming fast friends. I managed to pass the test, or whatever it is Pam does to determine a person’s measure. I had no idea what she saw in me, as I was a basket of insecurities and generally reserved around new people. Perhaps, it was that I got her biting wit and her sharp intelligence. Who else would refer to her brother’s girlfriend as the Succubus? Her strong, assertive presence thrilled me. It even emboldened me to say what was on my mind, without fear of repercussion or worry that Pam, or our other friends from work, would think me stupid. Which was a far cry from G.

Every now and then, G and I would go see a play. I preferred frothy comedies or musicals. G liked them too, but mostly he favored seeing dramatic plays with a message. I dreaded those, only because, when they ended G would want to engage me in what he called, a thoughtful discussion on the play’s symbolism and meaning, in order to determine how well I’d understood it. Even if I had enjoyed it, I’d find myself at a loss for words, stuttering as I desperately tried to put two thoughts together that made any sense.  Inevitably, he would scold me for lacking the depth to probe deep into the meaning of the drama. Thankfully, now that he was working on his degree, he had little time for the theater.

So with G in the lab most days and nights, Pam became my sidekick, and I, hers. And our favorite pastime was shopping. She took it to a whole new level for me, showing me her panache for retro and whimsical kitsch, and taking me to shops in little, out-of-the-way places I would never have considered. Suddenly, I was learning the in’s and out’s of antiquing. Our world revolved around the next best find, and Pam had plenty of ideas on where to search it out. I loved her sense of style, which I endeavored to make mine, too.

On this particular day, with Rick having become a distant flicker of disappointment in my heart, we boarded her red roadster and headed south on the I-5. Pam said there was plenty of shopping to be had in Portland, Oregon, and, best of all, no sales tax on clothing.  Well, having never been there before, I was excited about the prospect. This would be my therapy. My way of getting over “it,” whatever “it” was or had been. Far from the distractions of my life.

I scribbled a note for G and left it on the kitchen counter, certain he’d see it when he arrived home late that night, making a beeline for the fridge. He’d probably expect me to have left dinner prepared for him, as I often did, wrapped in saran wrap, and ready to pop in the microwave. Earlier, I had thought of preparing chili con carne, something relatively fast and easy to make, but I had run out of time and changed my mind.  It was either cooking or packing for my weekend getaway with Pam. Packing won.

Which is why, I left the note next to the empty Pyrex dish and, at the last minute, placed a can of minestrone soup in it. There. Dinner. I shuddered to think what my mother-in-law would say if she knew how I was taking care of her son.  Oh well, the soup would have to suffice.  I looked at the note, I’d written.


Pam asked me to go to Oregon with her. Back tomorrow evening.


I scribbled out “Later,” and wrote over it, “Love.” Then, locking the front door behind me, I squeezed my duffel bag into the trunk. Pam put the car in gear, and we were off in a flash.

Face it, I liked this freedom. Best of all, I got to spend it with Pam.

Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.