The first Working with Dickheads featured the manager of a mattress store. So does this one, but not the same guy. Be assured, I’ve worked with dickheads at lots of other jobs, but the mattress industry seems to attract them like moths to some sort of bright hot thingy I can’t quite remember the name of. Anyway, for this edition of Working with Dickheads, we turn to a man I worked with who had a ridiculously inflated sense of self. A person who said some of the most profoundly stupid things I’ve ever heard in my life. This guy would almost be dangerous if he wasn’t so dumb. In fact, if you could peer inside his head you would see a few stray pigeons flying around, constantly knocking into each other, and falling to the ground.
I’d been working for Sleep Train for nine months when the district manager called to tell me he was moving me to another store. That was common practice. The store I’d be working at would be staffed by me and one other person: the manager. A little information on the duties of a mattress store manager. The manager makes the schedule and handles inventory. Aside from that, nothing differentiates them from a salesperson. They have no real authority. They can’t fire or hire. They can’t discipline for poor work performance. Most of them can barely push the right code for an alarm system. Pssst-It’s 1234. Don’t tell anyone.
“J. what you need to know about me is that I rule with an iron fist, but wear a velvet glove. I have many expectations for the way you’ll conduct yourself in the store.” With those words, one thing was clear-my manager was a gigantic schmuck.”
On my first day at the new store, Trevor, the manager, was already there. We had a split shift. I took a seat, clocked in, and asked him if there was anything he wanted to review before he took off for the day. I thought he’d probably want to discuss the schedule or how he preferred to handle sales related minutia. He told me he had a few things he wanted to go over. Then he uttered the following words in a serious tone “J. what you need to know about me is that I rule with an iron fist, but wear a velvet glove. I have many expectations for the way you’ll conduct yourself in the store.” With those words, one thing was clear-my manager was a gigantic schmuck.
There is so much “what the fuck?” with what he said, it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s try. First, even if you have some authority or power as a manager, that’s an awfully nasty and passive aggressive way of talking to someone you manage. Secondly, when you have no power at all, but you insinuate that you do, well, you’re a troubled and sad human being.
So how did I handle Trevor laying down the gauntlet? Well, when you’ve been underemployed for a number of years, you have to figure out early in a job if you want to go up against the idiots you’ll undoubtedly run into. Feigning interest is always the easiest and smartest path. Just nod and agree. It doesn’t cost anything, and is easier than arguing with aggressively stupid people.
Trevor went on to speak about his stellar reputation for running a superior store, and how he would only accept certain standards of excellence. This is the thing about that comment. I worked at about seven different stores that year, and had never once heard of this guy. Ever. Also, every Sleep Train is the same. Same layout, same environment. A ferret could run a Sleep Train. Of course you would have to train the ferret. After that ten minutes though, slap a name tag on him, and that ferret is good to go.
Trevor’s delusions of grandeur were kind of hilarious, but a touch unsettling too. He went on to talk about the cleaning of the bathroom, the dusting of the window sills, the pampering of each pillow on a mattress. He walked me through the entire store like I was a puppy being taught where it could go. I just nodded along like a happy idiot to all of it. Until he brought up pop culture.
Trevor wanted to talk about movies. He bragged about being a huge fan of Star Wars. Trevor was so big a fan of the movie, he proudly named his kid Anakin. He was beaming when he told me. He then went on to rattle off a thousand trivial facts about Star Wars. Did I know the original actor George Lucas wanted for Han Solo was Jerry Seinfeld? Was I aware Mark Hamill used Prell shampoo? Did I know Lucas edited out seven minutes of Darth Vader looking at his watch. You know I have to apologize. I may have some of these facts wrong, so many were thrown at me at record speed. The piece de resistance was when he showed me his new light saber. The one signed by an extra from Return of the Jedi. It read- May the Force be with you, Travis Berrybee, aka Quim the Ewok.
Once Trevor finished his soliloquy on Star Wars. He asked me what my favorite movie was. I’m a big comedy nerd, and told him it was a toss up between Blazing Saddles, Duck Soup, and Young Frankenstein. I asked him if he’d seen any of them. He hadn’t, but he told me Spaceballs was his favorite Mel Brooks movie. I told him he should see Blazing Saddles if he enjoyed Mel Brooks. Trevor let me know he had an ironclad rule. He wouldn’t see any movies made before he was born. Trevor apparently had another ironclad rule-he would only say things that made him sound like an imbecile.
Trevor was born in 1980, and Blazing Saddles came out in 1974. I asked him why he would prevent himself from watching so many great films simply because they were made before he was alive? His answer was, “there are too many great films too catch up on after I was born. I simply don’t have time to see anything but those.” I started laughing, an appropriate reaction I think, because it was hard to believe he was serious. He was. He said he couldn’t handle movies that don’t look modern.
I reminded Trevor his favorite movie of all time; the one he spent an hour talking about, Star Wars, was made in 1977. A movie he’s so devoted to he scarred his kid for life by naming him Anakin. “Yeah, I made an exception for Star Wars.” OK, well that explains everything. I called him out on having a principal, violating it, and then acknowledging his favorite movie of all time was one he wouldn’t have ever seen if he had stuck to his ludicrous principal. He then tried to convince me he didn’t need to see Blazing Saddles because Spaceballs was the greatest comedy ever made. Nothing could top it, therefore there was no reason to watch it. I was speechless. A strategy I should have had when I came in for work that day.
I lasted a full three weeks with Trevor before I finally cried uncle and quit. He was consistently mean spirited, pompous and infuriating. Working with someone like Trevor was a turning point for me. When I quit, I told myself that was it; I wasn’t going to work for assholes anymore. I started to trust that things would work out for me if I followed my instincts more. I felt like some type of force might be with me. Either that or my antidepressants were finally kicking in. Either way, I was good.