“You are part of the rat race because you are letting them treat you like a rat. This is the modern definition of a slave.”
I landed a job in the graphic department of a weekly newspaper in Brooklyn. At first I had to create the ads for local advertisers. The old lady who owned the newspaper liked my work, and after just a few weeks I was promoted to production manager.
I was now in charge of the entire newspaper. I was the one who determined how many pages each issue had, how many copies to print, what the newspaper looked like, and where each article and advertisement went on each page. It was another job I had gotten by pretending to know their software, even though I didn't. I had to learn everything on the fly, without letting anyone know that I had no idea what I was doing.
After a few weeks, I was pretty good at my job and had made several improvements to the paper. Before I took over, the previous production manager still had cut and paste boards, where each page was literally being glued together with snippets of text on paper strips. And photos still had to be developed in a dark room. Like we were a bunch of savages or something.
I upgraded their computer systems, installed a network, optimized the work flow and went fully digital. The layout of each page was now being created on networked computers and all photos were digital images.
The old lady who owned the paper passed away just a few weeks after promoting me to production manager. A lawyer bought the paper and moved his law office into the back of the newspaper building. Every time one of his clients came to see him, I saw how his little law firm operated: If someone came to have a will or a deed prepared, the lawyer charged him $1000 and then told his minimum-wage secretary to take care of it. She had an archive of legal document templates, and all she had to do was fill in the client's name and a few details. That's it. Pretty easy money.
For legal reasons, the newspaper was not in the lawyer's name, but in his wife's name. I guess he figured if anyone was going to sue the newspaper, his wife would be the one to take the fall, not him, and they wouldn't be able to get to the assets that are in his name.
In order to make the story believable, we were instructed to treat his wife like the boss whenever she happened to stop by the office. It reminded me a lot of the precautions I took as a teenager, to create a believable story of how not I but my non-existent friend Lucifer was supposedly the one running my hacking crew.
Being the production manager was an incredibly stressful job. I was close to having a nervous breakdown once or twice, because it was up to me to make sure the newspaper came together in time for the deadline. Otherwise there would be no newspaper at the newsstands the next morning. If anything went wrong, it was my fault, because I had forced the old folks who had worked at that paper for decades, to welcome the 21st Century into their office. Change is never easy. And some of the old folks fought me every step of the way.
And on some days, it just didn't seem like the paper was going to come together in time, because everything went wrong. But somehow it always worked out in the end, even if I had to stay in the office until 11 pm, while everyone else went home at 5 pm. I was not on the clock. I was getting the same salary each week, no matter how long I stayed. So when I was in the office until 11 pm, I wasn't even getting paid for it. It was just my German sense of duty that made me want to do the right thing and get the job done, no matter how.
The old lady who used to own the paper was very supportive of me and the changes I had made to improve the paper. I was running the show, and she told the others to listen to what I was saying.
But the lawyer had no clue about the newspaper industry and why there even had to be a deadline at all. He told the lady who was in charge of taking ads not to turn away any ads, no matter how late they came in, even if it was past the deadline.
I started to hate my job. I tried to explain to him why a deadline is important. I can't put the paper together if all of a sudden there's a new ad that needs to be created, and then placed onto a page that is already full. So now I have to tear that whole page apart again, and I might have to re-arrange other pages to make room for whatever important information or ad was on the page I had to re-do to make room for the new ad. There's only so many hours in a day, and when a few unexpected ads come in past the deadline, there is just no way to put the paper together in time.
But this lawyer just didn't get it. He kept giving these arrogant speeches. I guess in his mind they were supposed to be motivational. He would say things like: "I am fine without this newspaper, but you folks need this job. So you better do whatever it takes to make it happen. This newspaper is like a boat. If it sinks, you all drown. I am the only one here who can swim."
He was such a fucking douchebag.
Everyone else nodded politely and went back to work. Nothing he said made any difference to them, because they all went home at 5 pm. I was the one who always ended up getting stuck with the extra work if the paper wasn't ready by the 5 pm deadline. So I was the only one who stood up to him and tried to tell him why it couldn't go on like this.
He pacified me and pretended to take what I say to heart. But then he went behind my back and told Carol, the lady who was in charge of taking the ads, to ignore me and keep on taking ads past the deadline anyway, even if I tell her not to. He was just a greedy bastard who figured every ad is more money in his pocket.
One day an advertiser called way past the deadline and wanted to have a full-page, full-color ad in that week's issue. Carol took the ad but didn't tell me about it. She asked Kenny, one of the other guys in the graphic department, to make the ad, but not tell me about it, and then give it to her, so she could sneak it into the paper without me even knowing about it until the next day, when the paper appears at the newsstand.
Before I took over as production manager, the paper had always been black and white. One of the improvements I brought in was a full color front and back cover, and a full color middle insert. It allowed us to charge a lot more money for ads when people wanted their ad to be the one in full color in the middle. But I was the only one who knew how to make full color pages.
In order to print a newspaper page in full color, you actually have to break it down into four color separated templates. Each template has one of four colors. And when all four colors are overlayed on top of each other during printing, they create the full spectrum of every color there is. Similar to the way a TV screen has only three different colored pixels, but the TV mixes those three different colors to create every other color.
So Carol had Kenny make the ad in full color, even though he didn't know what he was doing, and after I proof-read the final draft of the complete issue and it was about to be sent off to the printer, she removed one of the pages and replaced it with the full color ad, without me knowing about it.
The next morning the paper appeared on the newsstands, and the advertiser was livid, because his expensive full color, full page ad was a complete mess. Kenny had completely screwed up the color separation process, and some things that were supposed to stand out in bold colors, like the advertiser's phone number and address, weren't even there at all.
When the lawyer came into work later that day, he called me into his office. He told me that since I am the production manager, and I am responsible for every aspect of the paper, I should have caught and corrected any mistake before it went to print. He said he would deduct $500 from my next paycheck to make up for the loss in ad revenue, because he had to refund the price of the ad to the advertiser.
I was SO pissed, because this whole clusterfuck clearly wasn't my fault. This was exactly the kind of thing I had always warned him about, if he kept telling the girls to ignore the deadline and keep taking ads. And because of his instructions to ignore me, Carol took it upon herself to put an ad into the paper behind my back, without me proof-reading it or even knowing about it. He was the worst fucking boss ever!
After work, I googled labor law. I found out that legally he was not allowed to just take any money out of my paycheck without my permission. I knew that during any legal conflict, you have to do everything in writing, so I wrote him a letter and explained to him that he had no right to dock my pay, and I quoted the exact paragraph of the labor law that said so.
When he came to work the next morning, I handed him the letter without saying anything. He went into his office, read my letter, and left without saying a word. He probably felt pretty stupid that I suddenly knew more about labor law than he did. The day after that, he came into the office and greeted me way too cheerfully, as if the whole thing had never even happened. But I knew that I was a thorn in his side now, and he was going to fire me sooner or later.
Sure enough, when I put together the classified section for the upcoming issue, there was an ad for my job in it. He tried to disguise it, by using the phone number of his silent partner, an accountant. But the job description was clearly for a newspaper production manager. I pretended not to notice, and when the paper came out, I asked Donna to call the number and apply for the job. My job.
As soon as I went on my lunch break, Carol called Donna and asked her to come in for an interview. Carol didn't know that she was actually talking to my wife. Donna didn't go in, and the ad for my job ran for several weeks, and they obviously could not find a replacement for me. Ha!
Then the lawyer called Kenny into his office and secretly asked him if he wanted my job, without getting a pay raise. Kenny declined and told me all about the lawyer's schemes to replace me. Kenny and I had become pretty close friends, and he dreaded the thought of having to work there after I leave, because he knew how stressful my job was and that all that stress would fall in his lap once I'm gone.
So he looked for a new job and gave his two week notice. He was my right hand man, and without him things were going to be even harder on me, so we decided to both quit on the same day. Only I was not going to give them any notice, just like the lawyer had not given me any notice and he was scheming behind my back. And we tried to convince another guy in the graphic department to quit with us, but he didn't, until about a week after we had left.