Isolation and rebellion
From the day we moved into the new digs at Kaplan Drive, Donald’s new corporate structure went into effect, a forced isolation of each of the old staff.
Carmella, prickly as a lone secretary at the old warehouse, became more and more hated and mocked as she became the head of a staff of younger and less loyal secretaries, who were charged with receiving calls and doing invoicing.
Stanley was forced by direct command and geographic location and he became the bugger between workers and Donald. Stanley was ill-equipped for a role that made him more of a traffic cop than a warehouse manager.
He was the man in the fishbowl workers made fun of, less feared than he ought to have been, and with the exception of new workers, no one respected him, seeing him largely as a puppet Donald operated by removed control from his inner sanctum.
Donald became easy to hate simply because had had achieved what he always wanted, adding more layers to that buffer between his working class roots in his father’s garage and the corporate executive he ached to become.
Remote prior to the move, Donald became almost unapproachable after it, insisting on a new formality that had always been alien to someone like me.
Donald in upgrading had created a situation in which the old staff had to choose sides. While he berated Stanley for being too close to the men, I suffered the same unfortunate choice.
The new men who lacked the more intimate experience of the smaller warehouse more or less accepted the new conditions as normal.
I could not.
Going into 1976, John took to the new system like a puppy – not only because he had too little experience with the old system, but because he had too much experience dealing with a small company at his father’s trucking firm. The expanded operation allowed him to more or less become one cog in a larger machine, degraded as a member of the working class, but no more or less than any of the other workers.
John saw opportunity for advancement and quickly learned that by expanding the operations, Donald had introduced an element non-existent prior to this: office politics.
As much as I came to like John – and for a time I liked him a lot – I never trusted him. This may have been the result of my seeing him kiss Stanley’s ass in the early months of 1976. At some point, John must have realized that Stanley lacked the power to give him what he wanted, and secretly he began to groove up to Donald instead.
John – even years later when I met with him again – never said who initiated his spying on the rest of us.
It hardly matters.
By isolating Stanley from the rest of the work force, Donald needed a new means of gathering information about what actually went on in the warehouse.
Donald needed to know about the issues and who the ring leaders were, and it could not have been much of a surprise to learn that I was the ring leader.
New people gravitated to me in a way they could not with Stanley and less so with the God-like Donald we saw only once a day when he made his parade through the warehouse to get the lay of the land.
In some ways, I had deluded myself as much as Stanley had when it came to what the expansion of the business meant.
It was a common delusion I would see repeated during the 1980s and 1990s when I worked for small companies sold while I still worked in them, and the relationships employees made with old bosses vanished, leaving them to start from scratch or leave.
I should have left Cosmetic Plus.
Instead, I bitched both in public and in private, and this bitching became infectious so that other employees caught it, and to a greater or lesser degree my disease.
Never stupid, Donald used John to learn about how deeply this infection went, and to pick a time when he would cur it by firing me and those other in whom the disease had progressed too far.
I found out about the spying by accident when I went into the warehouse women’s room to store some rarely used item and I heard John’s nasally voice on the other side of the wall that separated the toilet from Donald’s inner sanctum.
When I put my ear to the wall I heard John talking about me, Cliff and several other people in back. It took me a moment to realize what was going on and then I got angry.
Cliff being Cliff wanted to beat John up when I informed him about the spying.
But I had a better, crueler idea and one I would live to regret just as I regretted
One or two other vicious things I have done in my life.
I began a campaign of abuse that did not stop until John resigned.
And from the start, I let him know why and drafted help from others, especially Cliff.
We tortured John over everything, including the woman he dated.
This last had something of an ironic twist in a relationship already tangled with twisted motives.
I resented John for wanting and trying to steal from me a job I didn’t actually want.
I felt betrayed by John, but I actually still liked him down deep, and truly believed the girl he dated and would later marry was no good for him.
We did everything possible to talk him out of being with her, especially after we learned that a truly remarkable woman – a woman who loved books and history – had taken an interest in him.
Cliff was convinced that John’s girlfriend had something on him, some bit of perverted dirt perhaps that made John give into her every whim, a woman we came to call “Fish Face” even in front of John.
John married her a short time later, and she gloated about it to me, since she had heard all about how heavily we had lobbied against her.
She would later bear John’s child and after they moved to California, she refused to return east again when John decided he wanted to come home.
This left John more than a little bitter, and terribly alone.
Donald, of course, didn’t trust John any more than we did. So after consulting with Stanley, he offered the job of assistant warehouse manager – the job John had lobbied so hard to get and I was supposed to get and did not want – to Cliff.
This was early 1977.
I still don’t know for sure whether it was my abuse or Donald’s betrayal that drove John to quit.
But Donald’s scheme backfired.
He and Stanley had apparently hoped to cut the legs out from under my petty rebellion by buying off my biggest supporter in Cliff.
Donald – through John’s spying – knew very well that Cliff was as angry about everything as I was, but he simply didn’t make as much noise about it as I did.
For Cliff, however, Cosmetics Plus was always a stop over between college and some as yet unimagined future. His plans for a possible career in the NFL had evaporated with the injury to his knees.
One thing Cliff was certain of is that he didn’t intend to make a career out of cosmetics.
The offer to become assistant manager propelled him to leave.
He did something he had resisted since before going to college, he went to work in his father’s insurance agency. He also proposed to some girl he had only dated a few times, promising himself a future as bland as his past at college had been exciting.
Stumped by this sequence of events, Donald and Stanley made plans for the upcoming Christmas season, which included the establishing of a night shift.
To my under astonishment, they offered me to run it, and even a bigger surprise to me – I said yes.