Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Company Barbeque Cringe

From 1997 through 2005, I worked in Human Resources for a printing manufacturer. If an MBA student wanted to prepare a case study in the decline of a business, Smith (fake name) Printing Company during this time would be an ideal example.

In the fast and profitable 1980s, Smith had been a terrific place to work. There was plentiful business, good wages with annual increases, bonuses, fully-paid health benefits, and notorious company-sponsored parties. Back then, the annual summer picnic was held in the parking lot under a tent with music, beer, more beer, steak, and prizes like camcorders and giant television sets.

By my tenure, the annual picnic was reduced to a sad half hour event held in a shipping bay. The executives would remove their monogrammed links from French-cuffed shirts and grill frozen hamburgers for the steel toed boot-wearing disgruntled rank and file. These workers had seen their wages freeze, their bonuses stop, their friends laid off in waves, and growing chunks of pay extracted from their checks for healthcare coverage. They even lost free coffee in the cafeteria. The most hated executive had removed the machines as part of a cost-cutting initiative. Shortly thereafter, he upgraded his company car.

The tension at the watered-down barbeque was heavy—disdain oozed from the employees as they ate the lousy hamburgers and runny potato salad from Shoprite. Hardly anyone spoke. The more ornery men let their paper plates sit untouched. They didn’t want to accept the charity from the suited buffoons who had run the company into the ground and now jauntily manned the barbeque, trying to demonstrate their common-man macho grill skills. The whole scene was CRINGEWORTHY.

There was animosity from the workers towards both the executives and the sales force. The printing salesmen were a group of spoiled, elitist, wealthy jerks, with just a few exceptions. Their poor sales performance was a direct cause of the failing factory. The worst of the lot was a man I will call Freddy. Freddy was an insipid, pretentious, asexual, bow-tie-wearing fool. He loved to boast about his collection of 40,000 rare first-edition books, catalogued at his estate. I loathed Freddy. I had the misfortune of being assigned to a planning committee for the company’s 100th anniversary event (for clients to enjoy, not employees), chaired by Freddy. He treated the committee members like feudal serfs.

“Tracy,” he would whine, “could you please proof this copy and then type up accordingly?” He used words like accordingly often. I would take his messy cursive notes and dream of ripping them into confetti and dumping it all into the open sunroof of his big BMW in the parking lot. I had visions of depositing other refuse in that sunroof, all of which would be very unladylike to describe.

I was not the only one who couldn’t stand Freddy. My most senior boss, one of the executives at the grill named Mike, was not a fan either. Freddy was a strict vegetarian. I knew this because he ate rancid-smelling tuna fish sandwiches during our committee meetings. He would send an email to Mike every year before the barbeque to remind him of his dietary preference.

And every year, I would watch a very evil and satisfying routine play out.

“Hey, Freddy!” Mike would call to the vegetarian as Freddy guffawed with his sales associates congregating at the barbeque. “I’ve got your veggie burger coming up!” Mike would flash a wide grin at Freddy. That was my cue to slip behind the grill station. I would bite my lip as Mike mashed Freddy’s colorful vegetable patty with beef juice from the spatula. Mike would smile at me as he turned a hamburger on its side and let the meat fat drizzle all over Freddy’s lunch.

“Here you go, partner!” Mike would sing as he handed the plate to our enemy. We both watched as Freddy nibbled at his sandwich, delighted.

“How’s that tasting, Freddy?” Mike would call out.

“Delicious!” Freddy would answer.

I would cringe, just a little, as grease dotted the sides of Freddy’s thin lips.

Thanks everyone for reading my little blog. The readership is growing each week, which is great. Please feel free to forward to anyone you think might enjoy. If they send me their email addresses, I can add them to my distribution list. Thanks, Tracy


  1. I was there and I can tell you...Tracy is NOT exaggerating in the least. In fact, she's being kind. This dude was a complete tool.

  2. Let me know when you post about his snowy-coiffed, scabby partner. HATE him!

  3. Sounds like a tough place to work! Good to stick it to guys like Fred.

  4. you are an excellent writer-- good luck with your memoir. i would have never known if cat wouldn't have told me, it's hard to be heard at a lanza family party . . .

  5. You have a very good blog that the main thing a lot of interesting and useful!hope u go for this site to increase visitor. BTW keep blogging!!