A few months ago, my friend Alan, who runs an event company, asked me if I’d like to work a major charity function for him. We would load, deliver, and unload heavy furniture on Friday, then strike down the event late Saturday night, and finish returning the furniture on Sunday. He would pay good money and we could see the international hip-hop-pop star, Flo Rida, perform at this event.
Pursuing your dreams can mean living quite broke until said dreams can come true. I have to take up some odd jobs here and there to bring in income. When I do these odd jobs, I like them to be as mindless as possible. My brain is worn out enough as it is and he will go on strike if I shove much else inside him (insert butt joke here). So, I accepted Alan’s offer.
I admit that I had juuuust enough hipster in me to not know who Flo Rida was. Alan was floored and immediately played a few songs for me - knowing that somehow I would recognize them.
“He’s one of the top grossing artists right now,” he said.
“He’s sold over 80 million albums,” he said.
“It will be an amazing show. People would kill to see it,” he said.
I DID recognize these songs maybe from the gym or a bar or a cruise ship or something, and I could see why people would find it fun (because I am not soooo hipster that I would act like I was above it). On a separate note: people need to stop killing for Flo Rida tickets. Violence is not the answer. Anyway, this essay is not about Flo Rida.
I asked my partner, Luke, if he would like to come work the Saturday strike down with me and see the show too. Luke had juuuust enough country in him to not know who Flo Rida was either. Actually, he’s filled to the brim with country. I’m also just enough hipster to mock him for this.
Luke sacrifices a chunk of his income to help me survive while I pursue a dream as a writer, so he could’ve also used the money. He also enjoys mindless busy work since his job requires a lot of his brain. Besides, it would build a fun new memory together. He agreed to come work too.
A few days before this gig started, I ended up coming down with a nasty cold. I won’t claim it as the flu, but it was awful. I felt light headed and lethargic with some body aches. The mucous coming out of my nose was like water coming out of a fire hydrant. But I needed the money, so I had to at least go try.
When Friday came, I went to the job site where I met with Alan and a couple of other guys he had hired. One was a short, nice florist who he had flown out from Texas. The other was a ginger guy who looked like he might have been kicked out of a trailer park.
I had met the ginger guy at a previous job. I didn’t interact with him much before, but I could tell I would struggle with him. He was like this hyper-masculine mix of a know-it-all, a Captain Obvious, and a Bossy Betty.
Four hours later, another guy showed up to work as well. He had a ponytail along with the same obnoxious vibe as the other guy. Once the two of them joined forces, they became incredibly bossy and condescending. Before I could pick up or set down a piece of furniture, they told me how to do it as if I were too stupid to know.
I told them both how I was genuinely sick with a cold. That information didn’t seem to matter. If I sat down to rest from getting too dizzy or achey, they wouldn’t ask if I was okay. They’d just bark on how I needed to keep up.
Instead of words of encouragement, I got words of shame. Instead of offering guidance, they offered criticism. Instead of being a team, their demeanor created an atmosphere of “us vs them.” I didn’t know how to handle it and the whole experience started to feel degrading.
That evening, when I got home, Luke had dinner waiting for me. I hurt so bad I could hardly move. The moment I took my first bite, I started crying.
“Why are you crying?” Luke asked, concerned.
Part of it was tears of joy. I felt so grateful to have Luke, who helps me so much. But the other part was because I had this horrible Ginger Douche and Ponytailed Douche telling me what to do all day when they hardly looked like they could take showers. What happened to me? I felt like such a loser.
“You’re not a loser,” Luke comforted me. “We’re doing what we need to do so that you can succeed at your writing. And tomorrow night we will have lots of fun seeing the show and working together.”
The next night, we made it just in time to see the Flo Rida show. When the show ended, our strike down was to immediately begin. Up popped another one of Alan’s employees - a gap-toothed girl who I had also encountered before and didn’t find pleasant. She immediately spouted off directions that weren’t very clear. If you asked her to clarify, she’d talk to you like you were an idiot.
We stripped down flowers, vases, and table clothes - bringing them to the side of the room where she and other employees could organize them and pack them away (except the gorgeous flowers which went in the trash). When Luke found a unique item, he asked her where she wanted him to put it.
“Put it on that cart,” she snapped.
He started placing it on top of the cart. Gap-Toothed Girl Douche ran over, huffing and puffing, yanking it out of his hands and placing it on the lower part of the cart. Her body language screamed “UGH, DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING MYSELF?”
I wanted to say, “Yes, you do have to do everything yourself when you can’t properly tell anyone how to do anything in the first place.” Though, if I had said it, it would have looked incredibly strange seeing as how she didn’t actually say her part. She constantly acted as though we were an imposition rather than a help to her. Nothing makes you feel worse than this when you’re enduring tough, physical labor.
Later, when Luke came back after helping all of them at the loading dock, he pulled me aside. “You weren’t kidding,” he said. “They are ALL obnoxious!”
I joked. “See? Now do you understand why I came home and cried last night?”
We laughed and I thanked God my partner was there to help me get through this.
When we made our first trip to unload stuff, we (and the other minion-temp-workers) worked our asses off taking box after box from the truck to their store. Gap-Toothed Girl Douche stood aside talking to Alan. Out of nowhere, she broke from their conversation and said loudly at us, “Keep working you guys!”
This stunned me. Why did she feel the need to say that? None of us had stopped working! What in the hell was her problem? She’s not even hauling any boxes herself. What the fuck?!
Alan had said nothing. Did he not find that a little weird, or inappropriate, or uncalled for? Maybe he was used to her and therefore didn’t notice. Either way, I was beyond irritated. How could she deem it necessary to order us around when we were already working so hard and she was just standing there?
Once an appropriate distance away, I told Luke, “I am going to punch her in the face before the end of this night?”
Another one of us temp-workers, a cute black lesbian girl, overheard me and laughed at my joke. “I can’t believe this either,” she said. “I’m getting pissed off.”
“Luke, I don’t know if I can come back and finish up tomorrow. I am going to lose my mind if I have to work with these people anymore.” He understood what I was talking about.
I stopped and asked the lesbian and another temp-worker guy if they’d be back the next day. I figured it’d be helpful to at least have them to roll eyes with each other. Unfortunately, they both said they wouldn’t come back because of the douches. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones affected by this. But none of us were saying anything.
Back at the hotel, we began taking down cabanas and moving furniture. It was 3 a.m. and I stopped for a moment so I could eat a burrito. You might have read before how I tend to eat burritos at the most awkward moments.
The Ponytailed Douche did not seem to take kindly to this. “Scott, do you think you could start helping the rest of us,” he said loudly, in front of everyone.
“I’m just grabbing a quick snack. I’ll be right there,” I said.
“We need you to do your work so we aren’t here all night.”
Was my taking five minutes to eat really going to derail us? “I’ve been working for five hours. If I don’t eat I’ll pass out.” I wasn’t lying. I get very light headed if I go too long without eating.
“Oh yeah? Well, I have been working since 8 a.m.”
I failed to see the relevance and refused to give into him. “Well, I still need to eat.” (Looking back on it, the better response would have been, “Well, you should stop and have a snack too.”)
After we loaded a bunch of furniture onto the freight elevator, I decided I needed a moment to myself to decompress. I told Luke to tell them that I’d take the other elevator and meet them down there. Luke passed on this information. However, Ginger Douche didn’t absorb this information.
“SCOTT!” Ginger Douche screamed. “SCOTT, WHERE ARE YOU?! WE NEED TO TAKE THIS STUFF DOWN! SCOTT, WE ARE ALL WAITING ON YOU!”
That was it. I lost it. “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” I screamed back. “YOU DON’T NEED ME TO RIDE DOWN IN THE FUCKING ELEVATOR WITH YOU! YOU CAN TAKE IT DOWN YOURSELVES AND I WILL MEET YOU DOWN THERE IN A FUCKING MINUTE!!”
This was not me. I mean, yes, I have a dirty mouth, but I don’t curse people out. And sure, I’m kind of a bipolar mess, but a mild mannered one at that. What would Alan say? What would Flo Rida say?
Had Alan heard me, I probably would have looked like the asshole. He would have been appalled. Come to think of it, if he reads this blog, he will probably be appalled now (sorry, Alan). I guess that’s what happens when we write in transparency.
When I took the elevator and met them at the loading dock, Luke grabbed me. “Yeah. I don’t want you coming back to work tomorrow.”
If Luke said this, you knew I had to stop dancing around with these douches. I had to figure out a way to tell Alan that, unless I could do a job where I didn’t have to interact with these people, I couldn't come back. I’d end up in a straight jacket. But how could I tell him this? How could I tell him that three of his people were so obnoxious, I was about ready to slap, stab, or kill?
When we finished loading up the giant 26’ truck, Luke and I road with Alan to deliver the next set of furniture to his warehouse. We wanted to press him for details about the douches.
“So, are these guys employees of yours?” Luke asked. Although Alan wouldn’t catch on to it, Luke was trying to create an opportunity for me to tell him how much I was struggling with these people.
Alan talked about them. Gap-Toothed Girl was a florist and a single mom. The other guys were movers that he regularly contracted with. He described them as total workhorses, to which he was right. They didn’t slow down for a moment (the guys anyway). He even talked about their lives - describing their personal struggles. By the end of the ride, I realized a few things.
First, I didn’t really know anything about these people. I didn’t know what they had been through or the journey they had taken that had somehow made them so bossy and frustrating. I had forgotten how important it is to be more tolerant and empathetic even when it’s not convenient for me.
Second, I realized that they were no longer fucking with me. I had actually stood up for myself. When people are unkind to me, I disable like a robot and shut down. This inadvertently causes me to take their shit, but I had proven that I wouldn’t tolerate them bossing me around or talking down to me, and that felt pretty incredible.
Third, I realized I had stood up for myself...in the worst way possible. There could have been a dozen better ways to tell them them they needed to tone down their condescending rudeness. I lost my temper, and with it, I lost my sense of professionalism. I had responded to their douchiness with my own douchiness. Instead of taking the high road, I had become a bit of a douche myself (just a small bit).
The key thing when it comes to dealing with terrible people is that it’s up to me on how I let them and their ill-spirited words affect me. People technically can’t “make us” feel things. I truly have a choice in how much other people like this impact me, as well as how I respond to it. Several of my mentors had taught me this over the years, and in my exhaustion and frustration that night, I lost sight of it.
When we got out of the truck, I told Luke that I would come back and work the next day after all. If I didn’t, then I would be giving them the power to stand in my way of an opportunity to make great money in a short amount of time. Besides, I had made a commitment to Alan, and I didn’t want to let him down.
That night, our work ended at 5 a.m. Luke and I didn’t get to bed until 6 a.m. and I only got about five hours of sleep before waking up to head back to the warehouse to unload the final furniture.
If it was up to me on how I respond when dancing with douches, then I needed to have a game plan. So, I went to work like a total professional: drugged to the gills. Well, maybe not “the gills.” But I loaded myself up with coffee and Xanax - a combination that doctors perhaps wouldn’t recommend.
A better route in handling douchebags would be to meditate and read self help books on dealing with anger. But sometimes it’s okay to just let ourselves be chemically calmed (and wired) every now and then in order to tolerate terrible people (and lift heavy things).
When I arrived to the warehouse, I only had to work with Ginger Douche and a new guy - one who was very kind. Ginger Douche and I didn’t say much to each other. Perhaps standing up for myself still stuck, or maybe he was on some Xanax of his own. Regardless, the job only took two hours which made it well worth the money.
Afterwards I talked with Alan - not about anything deep or relevant, but it reminded me of why I appreciate him. He is a good man and a dedicated entrepreneur. He probably doesn’t notice these people’s demeanors as I imagine they don’t talk down to him they way they did to us. Or maybe he does notice and feels it’s worth their hard labor. It doesn’t matter.
Douches will always exist, but the fact of that matter is that we don’t know their backstory or how they came to have more abrasive personalities. In the end, we have the power to accept or deflect that energy. If necessary, we can stand up for ourselves without necessarily being abrasive back - perhaps even offering a little compassion.
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