Take this job and...

The story of Steven Slater blowing the chute on a JetBlue airliner--and his aviation career--resonates with anybody who has been demeaned on the job by a boss or the public he or she is trying to serve.

Whether or not he was insulated, assaulted or simply sick of asking grumpy passengers for their beverage preferences, Slater's actions, illegal though they may be (oh, for William Shatner as Denny Crain to handle Slater's case!), became the stuff of legend, because he had the cojones to sail out of an untenable situation with style, harming no one but his employer. Who hasn't felt the exact same way?

I have and did, though there was no chute to deploy. It was my first job out of college and I was serving as the de facto editor of a tiny, alternative newspaper, having been promoted beyond my experience because of staff attrition. The man we worked for was a mysogynist and a sadist, who thought nothing of berating editors in front of their reporters or walking through the layout room, remarking, "I sure have hired a staff with great asses." Ha. Ha.

It was the early 1980s before Anita Hill when we really didn't have words for this kind of behavior. When he gave me a copy of How to Make Love to a Man at the holiday Christmas party--a comment on what he accurately surmised was my inexperience in bed--I had no idea how to respond. I read the book but would have preferred a bonus.

And he didn't limit his insults to women. One night, after having to write some hair-brained story spun from our publisher's coke-induced musings, a colleague called in a drunken rage, swearing he was going to kill himself and come back as a cancer in this man's prostate gland.

I worried for my friend's mental health, but also thought, "I'll have what he's having."

In the two-and-a-half years I worked there, I saw many talented writers and editors pack up their typewriters and Rolodexes, politely in some cases, angrily in others, and walk into the Denver recession and successful writing careers.

When he questioned my news sense over a dispute about a story featuring a newspaper-sponsored hockey league with a female player and a mobile home park who's tenants faced eviction, I left his office enraged. I walked into the newsroom and looked at my desk, covered in galleys and photos. It was Wednesday, deadline day, and I said to the other writers, "I think I'm going to quit." 

Two writers took me to lunch. Not to talk me out of it, but to give me a chance to calm down enough to make a rational decision. The collective wisdom at the time: Yea, quit.

I returned to the newsroom, packed a box, then went into the publisher's office, where sputtering and dropping ef-bombs (which I did only rarely back then) and demanding payment, I quit. I stormed out of the building, threw my small box off stuff into my 1976 baby-shit yellow Corolla and drove home.

Unlike Mr. Slater, who has no doubt ended his career in the sky, my behavior, immature as it was, left no mark on my career but in fact enhanced it. That this publisher had a citywide reputation for abusing good writers stood me in good stead. Within two weeks, I had applied for a passport, started freelancing on my Smith-Corona Selectric, and secured part-time employment at my alma mater.

Could Mr. Slater have handled his situation in a more productive and reasonable manner? Sure, he could have given his two-week notice and flown his remaining lame-duck flights. He could have behaved just the way society expects a fully functioning adult to behave when unhappy at work.

However, by grabbing those two beers and riding that chute to media stardom, Mr. Slater redefined himself and changed the course of his life. I say, you go, cowboy.

Comments (1) -

August 20. 2010 14:40


Geez, what a horrible situation for you.  I'm so glad you did what you did and it enhanced your career.  I'm amazed you made it as long as you did!

Caitlin |

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