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 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.


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.