It was late 2000 and I had been working for this company for about one year. I had my performance review and was told that I would be receiving a 5% pay raise. I had been working jobs since 1980, when I had my summer job. This would be my first-ever pay raise on the job.
It would be.
About half-way through they pay period, before I’d see my first new-and-improved paycheck, I came in one day and the office was very quiet. Too quiet. Certain people weren’t there, and it was too many of them for a traffic issue, or calling in sick.
I settled into my desk and attempted to ignore the uneasy feeling that something was horribly wrong. At 9:00 we were told that there was an all-hands meeting in the main conference room. This was our first-ever all-hands meeting.
Knowing the room was not big enough for everyone who worked there, I was surprised to see extra space in the room once everyone was there.
They had this guy we had never seen before, standing up front to talk to us. He gave us a 15-minute dramatic speech about “The Fog of War,” and how there are times when things can get chaotic, you don’t know what’s going on, and you have to trust that the people around you have got your back.
Then he told us what happened.
Our old CEO, whose name I will be leaving out, had been leaving sexually suggestive messages on the answering machines of his two Administrative Assistants. One of the older, sexist guys in the office referred to them as “high-mileage hookers, desperate to cash out.” Regardless, those messages should not have been left by the CEO, because he should not have been doing things like this with both of his assistants.
Of course, both of his assistants rightfully decided they were suing him and the company. However, the remaining THREE YEARS of this philandering CEO’s contract still had to be paid out, and the new guy who talked to us was our new CEO.
Our new CEO concluded the story, “And that is why we’ve made a 30% staff reduction, and everyone else who is here will be taking a 5% pay cut.”
He concludes the meeting by handing out a copy of a book titled, “Who Moved My Cheese?” When a company gives you a free copy of this book, it’s a sign that you need to run like your life depends on it.
Instead of running, I went back to my desk in the Marketing Department. As I’m sitting at my desk, sweating about how my workload is going to increase and what’s going to happen, I can hear my boss on the phone. His door is open.
He’s telling his boyfriend about the 20% performance bonus he just got.
So I walk in and interrupt, “Hey, glad that I could take that 5% cut in pay so that you could get your bonus. There is nothing more important to me than YOU making more money. I can starve. But YOU, you need that desperately. Gucci doesn’t pay for itself.”
Yes, I was abrasive. These were abrasive times.
It was about to get worse for me.
ANOTHER PROBLEM ADDED
About one month later, I went on my lunch break, as I do. I had just mailed checks to pay for all of my bills. I went to the bank to get cash for lunch and some Christmas shopping. My bank was across the street from the office. It wasn’t just a branch; it was their corporate headquarters.
I go in to make a withdrawal, and the teller informs me that my account has been put on hold. The teller said that I needed to have a seat and a manager would be out to speak with me.
The manager looked pissed.
He sat down and told me that my account was closed due to fraud. He says, “We have record of you going into the Santa Monica branch, cashing a bad check, and then moving on to the next branch. You did this six times before we caught on and locked your account.”
I told him that I didn’t do that, and I was at work all day long. He said the person had an ID that matched mine, so it HAD to be me. When I asked how long this investigation would take, he said “six months.”
This meant that I couldn’t get cash for lunch, my bills would bounce, I had no money, and I was labeled a criminal. My life felt as if it was over.
HOW THIS HAPPENED
Back then, whenever you would write a check at the grocery store, the clerk would ask that you put your drivers license number on the back. The front already contains my name, address, and account number.
The person who did this made a fake ID. Then they fished out some expired checks from dead accounts out of the trash. They would go to a branch, pretend to be me, and have a check made out to me. They’d cash it and move on.
I got angry with them and had an Autistic melt-down. I was yelling, “I want my fucking money RIGHT NOW!” as security was dragging me out of the building. I got thrown out of the building, like I was some kind of bum.
REALITY SETS IN
I went back to my desk, without lunch. I was worried about the checks bouncing. I was worrying about whether or not I’d be able to get my next check in physical form, because stopping automatic deposit back then took time and paperwork.
I tried to do my job, but I couldn’t work.
I got on the elevator and went to the top floor of the 48-story skyscraper. I went wandering around, looking for access to the roof, as I considered jumping off the building to a guaranteed demise.
Roof access was locked.
I went back to my desk and sobbed over my work that wasn’t getting done. My boss wasn’t there that day, as he was probably spending all the extra money he’d received with his boyfriend. I was alone in my department.
5:00pm quitting time came and went, and I couldn’t even bring myself to go home. How would I explain this? What would happen? What would I do? How would I sleep that night?
It was starting to get dark by the time I decided to leave the office. I was walking to the elevators, when the Vice President of the company saw me. He asked why I was staying so late.
I couldn’t lie or contain myself, so I broke down in his office and told him what had happened. He says, “But you were here all day long. I saw you. I know you didn’t do this. Hold on. Let me make a call. Don’t worry about it.”
He calls his friend, who is an executive at the bank where I had my account. His office is in the building across the street, in the Penthouse Suite.
He explains the situation to his buddy, tells him that I’m a good worker, that I was in the office all day and didn’t commit check fraud. He explained how this was crippling my life. He read my ATM card number to his friend. After a few minutes, they hung up.
The VP looked at me and said, “Within one hour, your paycheck will be in a new account. Your ATM card will have access to that new account. Checks you wrote will be forwarded to that new account, as will your automatic deposit.”
I thanked him. He ended up being the reason why I would stay at that job for another year.
At some point, I told them that I really needed that raise. They replied, letting me know that there was a special opening at one of their newly-acquired properties, where I’d work on-site with two brokers.
I knew these guys.
I had worked as a TEMP for them when they were working for a competitor. I’d overheard them talking about how they wanted to get a mock website of the property, when they were presenting to win the bid, but this would cost them $10,000.
I went in and told them that I would do it for $5,000.
After they won the $30 million contract, I asked about my $5,000. “Oh yea, about that. The thing is, you’re already getting $11 per hour from the agency. Speaking of which, we called the agency and no longer need you, so you can leave right now.”
I really needed the money because of a child support order. As the Commissioner put it, “I’m going to base your income on what I feel you should be making as a white man.” I would not earn that amount until 2005, so this was a struggle.
I accepted and transferred to work for these two guys who had ripped me off. That’s how messed up things were.
They remember me, but conveniently forget how they ripped me off, as we stood in the office space of the contract I helped them gain.
The job went okay, although it had sickening moments. These brokers would openly plot on how they would hide money from their wives. One of them bought his wife a $20,000 tennis bracelet and gave it to her, completely with appraisal and insurance paperwork, because she caught him cheating.
I GET AN OFFER
The CEO of the other company, the one where I helped with the mock website, had heard that I was in need of money, so he called and asked me to meet him at a steak house.
I showed up and he had a job offer for me. It was $5,000 more than what I was making at the time. I told him that I would think about it.
I take the bus to work and walk a half mile, as I do every day. When I got to the office, the two guys I worked for were standing outside the front of the building. One of them had a baseball bat.
“We know that you met with X last night. We know you’re looking for work elsewhere. We no longer trust you with our client information. We’re removing you from the property right now.”
I was forced under threat of attack with a baseball bat to get into one of the guy’s Porsche. He drove me half-way home and threw me out. As I got out of his car, my bus fare fell out of my pockets. He grabbed it with his hands, saying, “It’s mine now!”
I had to walk five miles home.
I would start the new job within the next few days. However, he was starting to have second thoughts after screwing up my life, so I only worked there for a few months.
IN THE END
Capitalism makes people do some horrible things. This story leaves questions, such as why the original CEO’s contract didn’t have a morality clause, or why my boss got a 20% performance bonus after 30% of the staff was let go and the survivors took a 5% pay cut.
I did later run into the guy who dumped me on the road from his Porsche. It was 2011 and I had started a new job with a new company. He was the broker who ran the trashy building we were renting.
He gave us all a tour, to talk about improvements they were going to make, but never did. This explains why we moved a few months later.
I don’t think he recognized me at first. He was busy being careful with his leg and ankle, moving around with crutches.
I looked at him. “What happened? Did the baseball bat get YOU?”
His eye widened. I leaned in. “This building is a stinky piece of shit, just like you.”
He got afraid. I never saw him again.
I hope that his wife got smart and dumped his corrupt ass.