My mom once cautioned me against using those words. “You know, every time you say that it makes me want to sock you in the mouth,” she’d say. I listened, for the most part. But every now and then, when I’m backed into a corner, that finicky phrase finds its way out of my vernacular arsenal. As a result, I’ve almost been arrested and almost been fired. Lets start with the first one.
In an effort to keep graduating seniors from destroying the rural Minnesota town where my college was located, the administration threw us a party. It doesn’t take much to woo college students. Enticed by free t-shirts and pizza, we drank their beer, jumped in their inflatable kiddie castles (seriously) and partied at the bar they’d rented out for the evening.
Needless to say, I was in a celebratory mood. I was about to graduate from college, after all. I’d imbibed a few more drinks than I should’ve, but not so many that I was belligerent. I was a happy drunk when the bar closed and all of us seniors were corralled into a post-bar pizza garden. The area was gated in by a bright orange, plastic fence. Guarding the gate was a combination of private security and police from what seemed to be the tri-county area. Overkill, if you ask me, but I didn’t care. I just ate pizza and mingled with groups of friends. In a moment of respite between conversations, I made eye contact with Alex, a friend of mine from across the way. The minute we locked eyes I shot him an overdramatic scowl. He scowled back, reciprocating my playful/drunk expression. We were about fifteen feet apart and surrounded by a sea of unoccupied folding metal chairs. Maintaining eye contact and scowl, I slowly touched one of the chairs with my pointer finger and pushed until it fell over with a crash. He mirrored me, tipping over his own chair. I put my hand on one of the other chairs, but froze in place when I saw a huge police office bee-lining straight for me, brisk walk and stern expression, this one not at all playful. He aggressively pushed his chest against mine and barked, “Pick. It. Up.”
“Excuse me?” I said, a little incredulous about how suddenly serious such a ridiculous back-and-forth had turned.
“Pick it up, now!” At this point two other police officers had come over to flank him (like I said, there were a lot of cops around).
“Woah, settle down,” I replied, at which point the officers firmly grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the middle of the crowd, so now I was amongst the brigade of police officers guarding the fence.
The original cop approached me again, “What’s the problem? Why won’t you listen to what I’m telling you to do?”
“Hey man, I’ll pick up the chairs,” I said. “My issue is how you’re speaking to me. Just talk to me like a person, you know?” For the record, I blame the beers for my inarticulateness, but I turned around and picked up the chairs. End of story.
Fast-forward two years to the present. I’m working at a retail store with a manager who has a penchant for temper flares. His name is Jurgis. He’s a tall, eastern European dude who is a kickboxer in his free time and, though he can be a nice guy when he’s in a good mood, today he is decidedly not.
On top of that, I’d just made a mistake at work. Part of my job is to count stock when it comes in and compare it to the delivery docket. I had marked down that only 5 of 25 salt shakers had arrived, when in actuality all 25 came. I must’ve missed a box while I was counting. Jurgis stood over me with the docket glower. He lectured me very seriously on how this could not happen and I needed to be more careful. He has a tendency to take things overly seriously, but I still knew that this was a mistake I couldn’t be making. I told him it wouldn’t happen again, but Jurgis proceeded to treat me like a jerk the rest of the day.
I arrived to work the next day immediately overwhelmed. Usually deliveries start showing up a half hour or so after we’ve opened, but today no sooner have we unlocked the shop door when four pallets of product come rolling on in. I had a flatbed trolley full of product that needs to go somewhere or it would be blocked in by the incoming pallets. So I pushed the trolley to the front of the store to see if Jurgis will take any of it to price and put it on the floor. As soon as he sees me he scowls.
“What the fuck are you doing with that stuff up here?”
I’m used to him being in a foul mood, so I take it in stride. Still, I’d just arrived to work and I didn’t appreciate his tone. “I’m just checking to see if you can take any of this product or if I should bring it up to the —“
“Does it look like we need any more product up here?” he interrupts with anger in his voice. “Look. We have enough product. We don’t need any more. Use your brain.” As the volume of his reprimand grows other employees start listening in. His tone was really getting to me, and before I knew it, I let the fateful phrase slip.
“Woah, Jurgis, settle down. I’m just coming to ask where you need —“
He gets right up in my face, whisper-yelling and finger-pointing, “Do you want me to go to The Boss right now and tell him about all your fuck-ups? Because I can make that happen.”
“That’s not the issue here, Jurgis. The issue is how you’re speaking to me. You can’t speak to me like that, I don’t care if —“
“Shut the fuck up and do your job!”
“You really can’t talk to me like that,” I say, voice quivering.
“Shut up and do your job.”
I walk away before I say anything I’ll regret to the manager.
So as I said, those words can create quite a reaction. I should note one neat postscript from the college party story. As I was walking out of the gate to leave the party about 45 minutes after the confrontation occurred, I heard a “Hey!” I looked back and the first police officer was standing there. “Sorry about before,” he said.
Stunned, I just said “Thanks” and walked away.
Meanwhile, back at work, the boss got word of Jurgis’ blow-up (not from me, but from one of the half-dozen employees within earshot of it). Jurgis has quit acting like a jerk, but I’m still waiting to hear an apology. I’m not holding my breath.