Confession No. 84 — Unhappy at work? You decide.
I’ve been unhappy in a few jobs.
I worked in the dish room at the local Red Lobster. My hands, by the end of each shift, looked like prunes. My skin smelled like fish and cocktail sauce for days at a time … I also had a stint in construction as a go-fer. The money was good, but it was brutally hot and I was constantly sore and tired.
I stunk so badly at both jobs that — so as to not get fired — I had to quit and promise to never even think about reapplying for employment, unless it was at the competition.
I was 16.
In the almost-30 years since, I’ve loved each and every job. After all, we spend most of our lives on someone else’s clock. Why choose to be miserable? Some folks, unfortunately, cannot answer that question … and they tend to drag others down with them.
Cruella de Vil
I was in my mid-20s, working full-time in the newsroom at a Toms River, NJ radio station. I didn’t need a second job, but I wanted to dabble in the print side of things. Ocean County’s Observer, the ‘old person’ newspaper in town, hired me to work 3-4 nights a week.
Cruella had bright red hair (from a bottle). Her skin was pale and clammy, as if she were on her death bed. She was in dire need of something — a boyfriend, pack of smokes, stiff drink — and it showed in the first five minutes of knowing her.
‘I know that you won several AP awards for news reporting, but they were in broadcasting and we don’t recognize that here,’ she told me, looking over her half-glasses.
‘Why not?’ I asked. I could see blood rushing to the tiny vessels of her ghost-like skin.
‘Because,’ she said condescendingly, ‘broadcasters aren’t journalists.’
‘But, I had to gather the news and write it,’ I retorted. ‘The only difference is that I was writing for time.’ Cruella didn’t like my reply and she let it be known in a quiet angry voice.
‘You are bottom of the totem pole here. As far as we’re concerned, you’re a rookie with absolutely no experience. You either accept that, or you can go back to your little broadcasting job.’
Yep. That was my first conversation on the clock of my very first newspaper job.
I managed to sweet-talk Cruella here and there so as to tone her down somewhat. There were a few times I attempted to get her to fire me to no avail. Though she made my life miserable and tried at every turn to remind me that I was not a writer, I felt sorry for her.
I eventually left on my own terms — to write for a much larger newspaper. I also began writing for a regional magazine and for more than 600 radio stations (and three TV networks).
Cruella, I would occasionally hear from Observer reporters, was still working the night desk. And her surliness hadn’t waned.
The crazy Arkansas Razorback teacher
Our son was in fifth grade, if memory serves me correctly. He was generally a good kid who made decent grades, but was showing signs of trouble in one particular class.
So, I emailed the teacher. And emailed her again. Then called and left a message. And finally sent Christopher in with a note for her to call me.
A couple of weeks later, working with the campus principal, we set a conference. It would be with the ‘silver team’ of teachers, as the school referred to them.
‘Good morning everyone,’ the gleeful principal said from the head of her conference table. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Holland are here because they have concerns. OK, Mr. and Mrs. Holland, can you tell us what your concerns are?’
Catherine and I sat beside one another on one side of the table, while a group of six teachers — all wearing sweatshirts from their college alma mater — faced us on the other side. It was poor planning on someone’s part to have such a setup, especially since no one donned a Texas Longhorns logo. I came out swinging.
‘My first concern is that when I email, call or write a note, I expect a response,’ I said, peering over the top of my black horn-rimmed glasses at the teacher wearing the Arkansas Razorback sweatshirt.
That teacher — the same one who ignored my attempts at communication — stood up and pointed at me.
‘I’m communicating with you now!’ she shouted. ‘I’m not going to arrange a meeting with you when the whole team can meet!’
‘I see you are defensive,’ I responded, still seated. ‘I would be defensive too if I neglected my ethical and contractual duties as a teacher. Are you always this unprofessional?’
Believe it, or not, we didn’t have a history prior to that meeting. We’d met at open house and I told her what I tell all of my children’s instructors: Call us if you need us. We’re on your side. If our child comes home with mysterious bruises, we won’t ask questions.
Apparently, we must’ve dated at some point, because she was acting toward me like all of my ex-girlfriends.
‘I’m professional!’ she shouted back, still standing. ‘Your child has disrupted my class and you need to be a parent and do something about it!’
‘Who knew?’ I responded.
My bride had had enough and stood face-to-face with crazy Arkansas Razorback teacher.
‘You are being inappropriate and unprofessional,’ Catherine said angrily. ‘You’d better back off, unless you want a battle that you can’t win!’
I won’t go into detail, but my lovely also rebuked me — right then and there — for being part of the problem. Though everyone agreed to settle down and start over, it didn’t get much better. When it was all said and done, my son became lost in the pissing match. Shame on me. Shame on that cold, angry teacher.
And shame on anyone who trudges through life unhappy — especially at work. Get rid of the fake red hair and Arkansas Razorbacks sweatshirt, for crying out loud!
Ireland. The Emerald Isle. Home to the Blarney Stone, the Straw Boys and Bono. Not to mention, the original place to get a decent pint. The place is so popular on this side of the pond, we’ve named college football and NBA teams for the people there.
But, I don’t subscribe to the whole ‘luck o’ the Irish’ philosophy. For starters, there was the whole Great Famine thing about 150 years ago. How lucky was that? Also, my roots are German through and through. Still, one day a year, I wear my St. Patrick’s Day drinking glove as I swill hoppy nectar with my apple and barley pudding as I try to explain — through slurred words — to my (Scot-Irish) wife ‘Twas the Leprechauns that done it!’
I’m not going to go out on a limb and claim that Guinness Beef Stew is an authentic Irish thing. But, Ireland’s claim to brewing fame certainly lends a wonderful flavor during the braising process. Unlike many other recipes, I add a little celery seed for some root vegetable-style bite. — Served atop my own (skinnier) version of Colcannon, this is a combination fit for Saint Patrick himself.
Guinness Beef Stew
2 lbs – Chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 2-inch cubes
Freshly ground Black Pepper
2 TB – All-purpose flour
2 TB – Vegetable oil
3 – Large Shallots, chopped
2 – Garlic cloves, minced
2 TB – Tomato paste
3 cups – Beef stock
12 oz. (bottle) – Guinness Extra Stout
2 cups – Fresh mushrooms, whole
4 – Medium Carrots, sliced about 1/2-inch thick
1/2 tsp – Celery seed
2 tsp – Dried Thyme
2 tsp – Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Season cubed chuck roast liberally with black pepper. Coat with flour. (I use a large plastic bag.) In a large skillet or roasting pan, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add meat. Sear, stirring regularly, to brown all sides.
Add shallots and garlic. Combine with meat. Add beef stock and beer, stirring to loosen any bits on the bottom of the pan. Add mushrooms, carrots, celery seed, Thyme and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine.
If preparing in a skillet, transfer mixture to a large casserole and cover — leaving a small part of the vessel uncovered (to help liquid reduce). Otherwise, prop lid on roasting pan, leaving some open space.
Bake for about 3 hours, stirring about once per hour. Sauce should be reduced and thickened. Season with Kosher salt to taste. Serve over smashed potatoes or Colcannon.
Colcannon w/ Cauliflower and Garlic Scapes
1 head – Cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
5-6 – Small White or Gold Potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 head – Green cabbage, shredded
1 – Shallot, sliced thinly
2 tsp – Garlic scapes (stems), chopped finely (substitute finely chopped green onion tops)
1 TB – Vegetable oil
3-4 pats – Butter
Kosher salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
In salted water, boil cauliflower until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Drain completely. Run through a food mill or ricer into a large bowl.
In separate pan, boil potatoes until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Using a potato masher or fork, smash the boiled potatoes. Add to bowl with riced cauliflower.
In a skillet, fry cabbage and shallot until tender, about 7-8 minutes. Add to potatoes and cauliflower. Combine. Add butter. Combine.
Season with Kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
Makes about two quarts — plenty for leftovers.