I’ve Known Some Dumbasses in My Time: Workin’ With Ralph

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Ralph was a dumbass.I’ve known some dumbasses in my time – politicians, teachers, corporate executives, co-workers, and many others. Some of the worst were bosses who made sure they obscured the dawn of each new day with heavy overcast. They were jugheads that gave jugheads a bad name. Now, they make good stories and allow me to feel superior when I tell them.

Ralph was the stupidest. At the dawn of the computer age, he had one pc installed in each 2-person cubicle on an extending arm … unannounced … at a time when no one knew how to type except me.

Shockingly, people didn’t use them. Still, he mandated their use, so we simply turned them on each morning and went back to our pencils. He was happy for a while, but after a few weeks of seeing nothing by C-prompts – Bill Gates was still fighting a young upstart named Steve Jobs over the potential of graphical interfaces – he channeled his inner pointed-haired boss and asked what we needed to make the machines useful.

‘Why Do You Need a Printer?’

With no network or email, the only thing I could do was write customer letters to send by snail mail, which we still just called “mail”. Due to excellent planning, there was no printer on the floor – in fact, none in the building. I thought a printer might be a good idea.

“Why do you need a printer?” he asked.

Thinking he hadn’t heard my letter-writing needs, I repeated my explanation. I thought it would be self-evident to the biggest of morons.

“Yes, but why do you need a printer?” he asked.

“Um, to print the letters out to mail them,” I said. “BTW, I need stamps and envelopes too.”

“I understand but why do you need the printer?”

After several more verbatim exchanges, I answered, “Words in machine,” I said condescendingly patting the pc. “Need words out of machine to send to customer. Send disc to customer no work,” I said in my best brain-damaged, Cro-Magnon voice.

“Yes, by why do you need the printer?” Ralph unfortunately and predictably asked again.

“Never mind,” I said with familiar resignation.

“No, it’s OK. I’ll get the printer. Could you write up a justification for it? I don’t think I can convince the higher ups to get one. They aren’t computer savvy,” he said while walking away to parts unknown.

I eventually got the printer. I used it to write letters. But, he never did give the writers typing lessons. It was another three years before Bill Gates caved to Steve Jobs and we abandoned our typist for that new-fangled Windows thing. We typed copy inserts for hand-written mock ups that a computer vendor re-typed.

Ralph Stories: Equally Stupid, Equally Pointless

There are other Ralph stories – equally stupid, equally pointless –from long before the pointy-haired boss became a cultural icon.

People tell me that my absolute absence of fear and total disregard for superiors like Ralph is “career-limiting”. I concede the point. However, after Ralph my patience with them has become rather thin.

I used to ridicule Ralph in large meetings, prompted by his unwitting invitations scorn. I often brought the room to tears of laughter with my deadpan responses. He never rose above these insults or even understood he should try. Invariably, he never got the joke. But the biggest lesson Ralph ever taught me, and they were manifold, was that speaking your mind is rarely as dangerous as people think and quite satisfying to boot. Still, I often felt like I was tormenting a village idiot like I tormented George the Lesser.

I still apply Ralph’s lessons, but no more effectively than with another boss. We called her, “The Commandant of Fun” (that’s a whole other post) who routinely subjected me to 3 am meetings before big, all-employee events to discuss pressing items like tablecloth color(always red, despite any other opinions) or the most appropriate candy for meeting tables.

Have you ever tried to buy a case of Ferrero-Roche at 3 am? How’d that work out for you?

My dealings with her insanity were never easy, but always quite blunt. She once said to me, “You never do anything I say.”

“That’s not true,” I countered. “I always carefully consider everything you tell me and then don’t do the stupid stuff.”

That approach was surprisingly ineffective – but it felt oh-so-good.

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