President Trump’s curt cutting loose incumbent U.S. Attorneys reminds me of the times I’ve been on both sides of the equation, and how flawed the firing process can be.
First, getting fired but having the firing extinguished.
I was 16, working as a stockboy in the linens and domestics department at the long-ago bankrupt department store S. Klein on Long Island. It was a 20-hour a week after school gig where I stocked the shelves, folded sheets, curtains and table cloths and spelled the sales ladies when they went for their breaks. After my first manager was fired she was replaced by an insane guy named Sam. He had a habit of asking me to find oddball items that never sold and had them marked down to a nickel. He’d have me toss them all in a box and wheel it out to the sales floor on a dolly. Then Sam would stand up on the dolly and holler, “Shoppers! Cheap shit! Just a nickel!” Sam liked me.
So he was a bit put off when I showed up one day and told Sam the store manager let me go with the lame excuse they were “cutting back,” which was B.S. because I was the only linens and domestics stockboy. “Tell him to go screw (didn’t use that word) himself and then punch in and get to work!” Of course, I had been fired and my punch card was removed. I went to the store manager to deliver Sam’s message. I improvised so as not to get tossed out by security and the confused store manager says, “I don’t remember firing you. You’re not fired. Get the hell to work…and punch in!”
The next time I was exposed to the firing process was the first time I had to let someone go. I was the program director at an upstate New York radio station and decided it was time to let go our evening announcer who not only sucked, he engaged in what I would call greasy kissing. You see he and his girlfriend would enjoy the greasiest, oiliest submarine sandwiches during his air shift, then they would lock their highly lubricated lips while the records played. He didn’t bother to wipe his hands which caused all the knobs and switches on the control board to be a gross, greasy mess and the studio to stink like a fermenting dumpster. The boy had to go.
This was my first firing so naturally I was nervous. I had it all planned. Had my “script” down pat. Was going to tell him his air product was not up to snuff and that was compounded by his disgusting eating habits and so the general manager and I agreed it was time to part ways. I followed this plan to the letter. Instead of him being upset or fighting for his job he responds, “so you’re cutting costs and need to trim the announcing staff. I understand completely and I appreciate the opportunity to work here.” Huh? Tell me I’m an asshole! Fight for your job! Instead, the guy masterfully makes up on the fly a totally false rationalization and walks out. Took us three days to clean the grease off the board and the smell of onions in the studio.
A few months later at the same station I got out the knife again. This time to fire the morning news guy. He had this idiotic habit of leading the news with the latest ski report. When I called him on it he argued “people wanna know the conditions!” This one was quick. “We’re letting you go based on your poor performance and lack of adequate news judgement.” He just shook his head and muttered something with the word “asshole” in it as he left which I totally understood, under the circumstances. Of course, this is long before I started skiing and now wish newscasts would lead with the latest conditions.
Late in the 1980’s at CNN, we managers were treated to a two-day seminar on how to fire people. Not how to save or rescue employees, but how to get them the hell out of the building without us being sued. The process involved the now discredited method called “progressive discipline.” This mainly consisted of telling someone they did something wrong and if they do it again something bad could happen. Then when they do it again you tell them something worse could happen. Third offense, you tell them the worst IS happening and they were out the door. You can see how this motivated employees to raise their performance by constantly worrying about the lowering boom rather than concentrating on the work at hand.
Several years later the authors of a book entitled “Abolishing Performance Appraisals” paid me a visit to pitch a story on their book. I still have the book. Its premise is simple. Performance appraisals are for the most part bullshit and never contribute to improving an employee’s performance. Here’s how it works. An employee’s raise or bonus is often tied to the final score on his or her evaluation. Knowing this, the manager decides in advance how much money the employee should get and finagles the evaluation so the score matches the desired pay increase or bonus, or rigs it low enough to warrant canning their butt.
The best way of evaluating an employee is to keep track of their work on a daily basis. Something’s right? Give ‘em some praise. Not good enough? Take immediate corrective action. Have honest conversations several times during the year, not just during the specified evaluation period. You know what? If you’ve been honest enough all along, the inadequate employee will know they’re gone before you even tell them.
Then again, Henry Ford II didn’t waste a lot of time or thought when he decided to can Lee Iaccoca in 1978 telling him, “sometimes you just don’t like somebody.”
The first political convention I can remember watching was the 1964 Republican at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. As a 12-year old my first thought was, “are you kidding me? They’re gonna nominate a candidate for President in a place called the Cow Palace?” It seemed more appropriate as a venue for judging heifers and goats at a state fair. After two days of viewing on our 19-inch black and white Zenith TV, it became apparent it was exactly the right place since the delegates were packed together as tightly as canned hams and the nominee, Barry Goldwater, was throwing out conservative red meat to the crowd poised to gobble up every morsel of anti-Communist paranoia. Sidenote: many years later when I was a weatherman at KGUN, Tucson, Arizona, Goldwater came walking thr0ugh the studio as I was preparing my map. He stopped and joked, “you’re not gonna make it rain this weekend, are you?” “Oh no, Senator. This is Arizona. We don’t do rain,” was my lame reply. He kept walking.
I don’t remember much about the Democratic convention that year. It was held in Atlantic City where we vacationed each spring break with another family long before the casino/parasites sucked the once quaint beach resort dry. LBJ was the Dem’s nominee having benefitted from taking office after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I do, vaguely remember Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s running mate, being pushed to the sidelines and made to appear as the strong-willed Johnson’s man servant.
1968 didn’t happen for me. Of all years. I was 16 and working for a camp that took disadvantaged inner city kids from New York City, camping and canoeing and hiking in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. White Mountains of New Hampshire and Baxter State Park in Maine. While the upheaval and violence was going on at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, I was fending off a 10-year thug at a campsite in New Hampshire who pulled my own jackknife on me. He wasn’t hard to disarm but I had to escort him on a Trailways bus back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan and deposit him with his parents who just couldn’t believe their darling Julio could do such a thing.
The closest I ever got to actually covering a convention was in 1988 when I worked for CNN. The Democrats did their thing at the old Omni Arena in Atlanta, which was about 10 steps from CNN Center. That made things very convenient. I was assigned to work, most of the week, in one of our trailers below a viaduct between the Omni and CNN Center. I honestly don’t remember exactly what I did but I do remember two things: Al Franken walking glumly through the trailer after being fired when his “humorous” commentaries fell flat, and the unbelievable large quantity of pigeon droppings that adorned our little metal workplace. When I wasn’t working in the trailer I was the Supervising Producer in the actual newsroom in CNN Center. It was a cool time. All sorts of celebrities toured our complex. The one I remember clearly was CNN’s own Larry King. I’d never seen him in person before but if “The Walking Dead” had been a thing in ’88, he’d have been either the star, or the inspiration for the series.
Over time, of course, the long death march primary system has replaced the conventions as the method whereby candidates actually win the nomination, but I still enjoy watching them. For one, I get the greatest amount of joy seeing some low-level official attempting to capture the delegates’ attention while giving a speech at 4 p.m. I confess, desperation has its allure, when it’s not mine.
So I look forward to the unusual arrangement of both conventions running back-to-back this time around. Someone is bound to do something foolish or personally destructive, but on the other hand a new political star may be born. Just ask Hillary Clinton about one such star who wowed the crowd at the 2004 convention in Boston, then outshined her own candidacy in 2008 and is completing his second term. Is it her turn, finally? Will Donald Trump rock Cleveland…or turn it into a casino/condo development? Don’t know but I have a better TV now and I can’t wait to watch…in color.