My Editorial Colleague whispered to me that no one in the company had copped to having typed this sophomoric swear word into my Pagemaker file, before I’d sent it to the printer.
But every one of the 15 employees had been in on a conspiracy to remove every single issue from the office, in order to keep the owners from finding out and initiating the inevitable investigation. The only remaining evidence of the crime being this little clipping that I was holding in my trembling hand.
Which put me in a position that my fancy college English education hadn’t quite prepared me for. Obviously I was not the culprit in this crime, but rather the victim. However, the plot to conceal the crime had been ostensibly carried out to keep me out of trouble, as much as the perpetrator. After all, as the editor, I was ultimately responsible for sending obscenity-free copy to the printer. And fresh off a European sabbatical one year into my career, I was not in a strong position with management.
And so, not wanting anyone else to get in trouble for this stunt, I kept the secret, too.
Which was fine. For another six or nine months, as my young career at this place flagged to the point that I gave myself the title of, “Bastard Project Boy,” and thought of having business cards made up. The Rival Editor was doing a bang-up job on the flagship newsletter, and I spent a lot of time watching through the glass window into the President’s office, the two of them yuk it up, uproariously. If they weren’t laughing at my expense, they might has well have been.
Around that terrible time, I found myself at a cocktail party, at a conference the company was hosting. Uncharacteristically, the President called me over to join a conversation he was having with one of our customers.
“Dave!” the President shouted. “Get over here! You’re not going to believe this!”
The customer sheepishly explained that she’d been reading the newsletter I edited sometime back, and shockingly, she’d run across a dirty word, smack in the middle of the copy. “Asshole,” she thought it had said.
Of course I showed pure innocent surprise.
The President told her to fax a copy of what she’d seen, when she returned to the office. I nodded enthusiastically, assumed she’d forget, and forgot about it myself.
On Monday morning, the fax came over the wire. The President, who patrolled the machine frantically, looking for for conference orders, snatched it up before the receptionist could.
And then President was yelling. And the whole office was 30 furtive eyeballs spinning around me. I trudged into the President’s office and told all that I knew.
More yelling. Older employees brought in and admonished that they should have known better. Then the cold shoulder from other colleagues, who must have harbored hope that I could somehow confess to the entire crime and take the fall all by myself. And still, no confession from the guilty party.
A pretty bad day at the office.
When my father heard this story, he shook his head. “Buddy,” he said sadly, “things just aren’t going your way at that place. Do you think maybe you should just cut your losses and move on?”
Within two years, I would be the editor of the flagship newsletter, within three I would be a managing editor and within four, I would be editorial director of the whole place. (And that girlfriend would be my wife!)
Tune in tomorrow. Meanwhile, behold the young Chicago boulevardier, in London.