No moment in the whole of the three ring circus Cosmetics Plus had become seemed more romantic than the start of the night shift did.
In as progression of corporate moves that continued to isolate people, putting us all into boxes out of which were could supposedly better operated like a machine, Donald had finally isolated me to a point where I actually felt free again – not quite as free as I had felt in the earlier days on the road, but out from under the insane pressure of the day time where everybody hated everybody else, especially the boss.
Years later, I would think back on this moment and the role that Donald’s son played in developing and promoting President Bill Clinton’s NAFTA, the biggest screwing of American workers in history, and understand that in this case, the apple did not fall far from the tree.
For me, the night shift was as if I had found a loop hole in Donald’s corporate structure, and adding to the ironic twist, he had put me in charge.
This may have been a test to determine how well I would do if I actually got promoted to assistant manager now that Cliff and John and left, and I – at the moment – was the last possible candidate for the job.
Perhaps Donald had thought to buy me off the way he had tried with those two by giving me a taste of what it would be like to be part of management.
But as I detailed in an earlier journal about that time, I knew it was an illusion.
“Management didn’t except for Stanley and Donald, the owner, and Donald didn’t really fit the role, and Stanley could no longer talk about ordinary things the way he had with us in the old place, his personal hands-on work habits no longer fit with the vision Donald had for the expanding company. The more authority Stanley got, the less control he felt.”
While I could not have known it at the time, I instinctively knew there was barely room in management for Stanley and no room for me.
But I was grateful for the reprieve from the pressure of the day shift as pointed out in that same journal entry.
“There was never
really a need for a night shift had the day shift functioned properly,” I
Donald constantly struggled to get around human failings with innovation; but like all capitalists Donald feared that by entrusting too much authority in too many hands, he would lost control of his vision. It was easier to control a machine than a thinking person, especially if that thinking person was someone like me.
By hiding me away in the night shift, Donald might have thought to buy some time until he could figure out what to do next. I was a poison in the warehouse for a number of reasons and this move, he hoped, would also reduce tensions in the day crew.
Stanley believed I would screw things up so badly at night they would have an excuse to fire me – or at worst, it would put me in my place and teach me not to question the wisdom of my superiors.
Unfortunately for Stanley, Donald put three good men under me, a hippie deadhead, a musician named Tim Holly, and Donald’s pharmacist friend from a West Orange pharmacy with which we did business – one of my regular stops when I was still on the road.
This last was supposed to serve as Donald’s failsafe, a new John to spry on us at night. But the pharmacist was no John and had come to help Donald out as a favor, not as a career. The two of us, who had liked each other prior to the night shift, got on very well.
“In the summer of 1997 in anticipation of a larger than ever Christmas rush, Donald set up the second shift, one journal entry from 1997 recalled. “In the new building, we had already taken on a significant staff, growing from the four person operation (including Donald) at the old warehouse to three-full time pickers and packers, one full time driver, Stanley, me, three secretaries working with Carmella, three sales women in the outlet, and the woman Donald had hired to oversee operations there.”
In a journal entry from June 1994, I concluded that Donald had created the night shift to handle the back log of orders the day shift was unable to catch up on.
“Three men were assigned to the shift with me,” I wrote. “At the beginning of each shift, I divided up the orders equally, handing a pile to each man, telling them to have them done by the end of the night. I didn’t check on them. I didn’t ask what method they used or watched over them in various stages from picking to packing, I simply let them do what they were hired to do and questioned them towards the end of the night if one or more of them had problems keeping up.”
In the 1997 accounting of the same period, I wrote, “I was the 2nd longest employee working in the warehouse and was put in charge of the shift, something that clearly concerned Stanley from the start. We had become friends over the years, but now I became competition.”
Stanley may have feared by showing him up because of his obvious deficiencies.
“I did just that but never by design,” I wrote in the same 1997 journal entry. “I just didn’t believe I had to look over everybody’s shoulder and believed people could be trusted to do their jobs. If they screwed up, then we would talk. Meanwhile I just let them go and went on with my own work – they and me, working side by side to get our assigned lot of shipments done.”
The 1994 account shows some of the reaction from the others.
“They seemed relieved to be left on their own and seemed to respond to this new freedom rather than being under Stanley’s watchful eye.”
The two accounts differ on the percentage of total work done, but both record how amazed Donald was by the result, and how much Stanley resented it.
“We did not have to deal with many of the interruptions the day crew did, such as the arrival of the lunch truck or the regular deliveries by UPS and other trucks. We worked until we were finished, then we sat down for a while. Tim Holly and I broke out our guitars, and then we all went home.”
Stanley was appalled as recalled in the 1994 journal.
“Stanley began to double check each order after we’d completed them, actually knifing open sealed boxes at random to check, not just how well they were packed, but the accuracy as to what we said was contained in each carton. Did he find mistakes? Of course. Any large operation is going to result in some error. But Stanley didn’t see it that way; we had rubbed his perfectionist fur the wrong way. He began to writ up a list of our mistakes and took them to Donald.”
The 1997 account detailed Stanley’s confronting me about it.
“He stared at me when I came in to pick up my paycheck, showing me the list of all the mistakes we had made. These were natural mistakes that came with filling orders, minor items with similar names of package designed put in one box or another to get shipped out.”
Stanley gloated defiantly as if he had won some moral victory.
My accounts of Donald’s reaction differ; one suggesting Donald was less concerned about the mistakes than Stanley was. The other said he shut down the operation a month earlier. I believe both account to be correct, and that he shut down the shift because we had managed to catch up with the back log early.
The only problem was that we now had to go back to the corporate structure of the day shift and work under a supervisor who had a grudge against me.