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.

Bosses: The Good, The Bad & Gleda Balls

A Road Taken Story

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.

Gleda Balls' kitchen didn't look quite like this, but close.

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?”

I nodded.

“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.

“Sorry?”

“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.