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"Bullshit" Is One Word, "Performance Review" Two

    I had just arrived in the newsroom for my shift as a copy editor when a manager came over to my desk and declared, “We need to discuss your goals.” I was 66 years old - past retirement age, damn near old enough to be his father - and
he wants to discuss my “goals.”

    “Go away,” I told him. Preparing to take over the main desk was always an extremely hectic part of the day. I was "reading in," as journalists call it, looking at all the stories that had been edited that day by the main desk. It was impossible to read every story from start to finish, so you skimmed some, skipped some and made sure you thoroughly read the big ones you knew would be changing once you took over the desk.

   Floyd, the name we'll give the manager, wasn't attuned to the idea of a right time and place to do things. Like a squirrel digging for nuts, Floyd kept at it. “We have to discuss your goals sometime. It’s part of your Performance Review.”

    “Well, we’re not doing it now. Go away!”

    Floyd was both dense and tone deaf.  He wouldn’t go away. If only Floyd were as dogged in fleshing out a good story. The Performance Review had to be done, he said. I wasn’t going to budge either. It was a crock - something dreamed up by the morons in Human Resources who had nothing to do and, worst of all, absolutely no experience in newsrooms. They all ought to be fired, I said, several times in several ways. This back and forth continued, with the volume of each exchange rising, until the magic words came out.

    “Go fuck yourself,” I said.

    Why does anyone say that? It’s a physical impossibility for most of us, isn’t it? It has to be or otherwise every country in the world would have a jobless rate of over 98% because most everyone would be home - fucking themselves.

    Floyd reddened - a condition associated with self-fucking - and accused me of being incapable of a civil conversation and suggested it was time to retire.Then the squirrel left without finding his nuts. Perhaps he went looking for them elsewhere. He didn’t come in for the next two or three days.

     I concede I was out of line, but if this twinky felt he had a chore to do - and I’m sure he did - then there had to be a better way to alert an editor about to take charge of the desk that sometime soon the two of them had to set a time to sit down and talk about the Performance Review. We did that the next time Floyd showed up, agreeing that we would get this nonsense over with two days down the road.

     We met in the conference room with its breathtaking view of parking garages, and, while I was admiring the scene, Floyd handed me the damn thing and said my overall rating wasn’t just his opinion but the collective judgment of every manager in the unit. After only a glance at a couple of pages, I let him have it. My editorial skills got the highest possible marks, 5s, but right below those was a 2 and the word “outbursts.” In the language of the Gods of Management, “Larry must control his outbursts.” Hello? If you “control” an “outburst,” it isn’t an “outburst.” It’s whining. 

     A second 2 caught my eye; “Larry must work on his people skills.”

     “You think everything’s fine here, don’t you. If I’d just shut up, things would be perfect.”

     Floyd was quick with a “No, no. We value your judgment and want you to point out problems but try ….”                               

     “Bullshit. You want a newsroom full of wusses. You don’t want to hear it when one of our reporters or AP butchers a story or misses the point completely. And it happens all the time, all the God damn time.”

     “That’s not true,” Floyd said, reddening again. Was he doing himself again? If so, it wasn’t at my suggestion. The guy’s a sex maniac.

     I began a running commentary on a few of the other evaluations. 

     “Listen to this: ‘Invests time in developing and coaching staff.’ And I get a 3.

That’s not my job. That’s your job!  According to this piece of shit you gave me, I’m supposed to do your job and then you call me in and tell me how well I’m doing, doing your job. Right? That’s nuts.”

     A twitter was all I got from Floyd whose eyes looked glazed. Not surprising, if he took the least bit of this insanity seriously, which he did.

     “And how about this one: ‘Moves others to action without a reliance on positional authority or proximity. Builds consensus through give-and-take, and facilitates win-win business outcomes.’ What the hell does that mean? I don’t understand a word of it.”                               

     “Well, yes, that is a muddle, isn’t it,” he snorted while shaking his legs. 

     “What the fuck does it mean?”

     “I don’t know either, frankly. Some of this language is standard to all departments and comes down from the Human Resources people,” Floyd said.

     “Ahhh. You inherit language from someone else, give me a grade on it and then admit you don’t know what it means. That’s one hell of a wonderful system!”

     I was worse than he was. I was digging for nuts, his.

     “Here’s another good one, Fluh-LOYD. I get a 2 for ‘Keeps supervisor appropriately informed.’ Isn’t it the supervisor’s job to keep up, to know what’s going on? Why would any intelligent journalist tell a supervisor here what was going on? The one sure way to make sure something doesn’t get done quickly or doesn’t get corrected is to tell a supervisor about it like I stupidly did the day Dale Evans died. AP called her ‘Queen of the Cowgirls,’ so of course that's what we called her, but it was wrong. Management claimed there was no need for a correction. Why not? It wasn't wrong enough?”

     I could have gone on for days, but it was like yelling at a four-year old for wetting his pants: Even if you have a point, it doesn’t help the situation. “If we’re done here, I’d like to finish reading in and get on the desk.”

     Floyd nodded, tried to smile and pointed to the box where my signature went to acknowledge that he and I had discussed my Performance Review, but, of course, not his performance. I actually felt a little sorry for him. Imagine, a grown man being told to waste time on such crap.

     Later that evening, after all the managers were gone, Wally, my favorite person in the newsroom because he frequently was the only one on the rewrite bank who had any clue what to do with a story, asked how the Performance Review had gone. Although I had a feeling he already knew about my “go fuck yourself” “outburst,” I told him about it anyway. It was only then that I realized Floyd and I had never discussed my “goals.” What were my goals outside of coming in, trying to do a good job and finding good stories and angles others may have overlooked?

    Wally, who is at least ten years younger than I am, said Floyd had approached him earlier in the week about his Performance Review and the need to discuss his “goals.”

    “What did you tell him?” I asked.

    “World Peace.” 

    I laughed. “World Peace is your goal. I like that. I’ll remember it for next time.”

    “Yeah, when he asks, you can tell him -‘World Peace. Now go fuck yourself.’”   

 
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   This was published by the online magazine Paradigm in May 2010. It is part of a memoir, "Everyone Needs An Editor (Some Of Us More Than Others  ", to be published this year by Sunstone Press.  

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