Songwriters: Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor
Original Release: Lateralus
Definitive Version: None.
My tenure at The Dispatch reached the breaking point in 2001. I mentioned the debacle concerning the Wheels section after 9/11 and said that was the final straw. More appropriately, that was the final insult.
Really, it had been building since the Business coup d’etat in 1997. Since that time, which, I might remind you was announced by a note to the entire paper and not a personal meeting between upper management and the employees in Business, it became quite clear where Business fell in the scheme of things. If Business was thought of at all, it wasn’t thought of well.
And it didn’t help that Harvey, the newly installed Business editor, and I didn’t get along at all. I didn’t respect him from the beginning, and it didn’t take long for that disrespect to turn into dislike. No matter the situation, there was no crisis that he couldn’t run out on, because, you know, he had to go home and be with his family and, after all, it WAS 5 o’clock. The evening staff can handle it; that’s WHY I have evening staff!
When the assistant business editor who had been promoted with Harvey left for another job, there seemed to be an opening for a new relationship, because my friend Brutus was promoted to assistant business editor. (I think you can see where this is going, right?)
Brutus not only was my best friend at work, we were friends outside of work, and we were sympatico. He was a hard worker, a solid reporter, and he, too, had little respect for Horace’s sorry work ethic. That changed after Brutus’ promotion, as might be expected. What didn’t change, however, were the work conditions.
An interesting development took place at about this time. After Paul left, the poobahs decided to name a copy desk chief to run the Business copy desk. (Paul had performed this role for most of the past decade with neither the title nor the respect that came with it, to say nothing of the bump in pay.)
Chuck and Barb applied to be copy desk chief. I didn’t. I saw the job as basically a set-up for someone—not Horace or Brutus—to take the fall for any problems in the Business section. I had no interest in being their stooge.
Apparently my lack of interest—I was the senior Business copy editor by several years—hadn’t gone unnoticed. Both Chuck and Barb told me that a lot of their interview consisted of Horace and Brutus asking why I didn’t apply for the job. Finally, Chuck just said it was none of my business. Why don’t you ask him? To no one’s surprise, Barb got the job … and became the doormat I suspected whoever took that job would become. So that was a lot of fun.
In April 2001, of course, my personal life turned upside down to match my professional life. I asked for a meeting with Horace, Brutus and Barb. I explained that I had just broken up with my fiancée and that I was pretty broken up about it.
I then asked for their patience: Look. I’m going through some tumult, and there’s a good chance I might snap for reasons that have nothing to do with work and say something I’ll regret. I wasn’t asking for special consideration, just the consideration they would give any employee in the same situation: Just cut me a little bit of slack for a while. They sympathized and promised they would.
And they did, for six whole weeks. In June, Chuck and I were chatting, gearing up for our two-person Monday shift, when Brutus came over to discuss the story lineup. I honestly don’t remember what was said, but at some point, I made a pointed cynical comment about newspaper policy that Brutus—now well-treated by that same newspaper—didn’t appreciate. He said something; I said something back, and he just shook his head and walked away.
Chuck said later he didn’t think it was a big deal, just a heat-of-the-moment thing that’s typical of newspapers. We both quickly forgot it by the end of the day.
Well, it was a big deal to Brutus, because he did what Brutuses do in such situations: He ran straight to Horace to tell him about my deplorable behavior. The next day, I was called into a meeting with the two of them and Barb. They read me the riot act for my actions. (Barb said next to nothing.)
I tried to defend myself, but Brutus and Horace weren’t interested in my explanation. Brutus was deeply offended by what I said, and Horace said my job was on the line if I didn’t straighten up. He pointed out to me—helpfully—that he could have just let me go right then for my insurrection but was willing to give me another chance. Then, after the out-of-the-blue gang-assault, the triumvirate left me in the conference room to think about what I’d done.
The fourth-floor conference room at The Dispatch looks over Capital Street, which is little more than an alley that includes some parking. One of the windows was open.
Debbie was gone; I was by myself, and now I was on the verge of being fired. The window beckoned, and I looked at it a long time alone in that room.
I stayed in my chair, my eyes welling up. Going out that window would be the easiest thing to do, and it would end my pain. But if I went out that window, the bad guys win. It was that simple.
I got out of the chair, went over to the window and looked out. Then I shut it and walked out of the room. Fine. I’ll do this the hard way.
For a while after the smoke cleared, Brutus tried to engage me in nonwork-related conversation, but I wasn’t having any of it. I was dutifully respectful, but my contempt couldn’t have been higher. Back that right up, Bruté. We aren’t friends any more. You’re my boss; I’m your minion. And by the way, here’s your knife back.
Eventually Brutus took the hint and gave up. I never spoke with him again except in the context of the job for the nearly two more years I was there. He was one more reason why happiness was seeing The Dispatch in my rearview mirror.