I’ve found, in my professional experience, that sucking up doesn’t work. Not that I’ve tried… I’ve just seen other people fail. Simply showing up on time and doing your job well doesn’t always do the trick either; if you’re too dependable, you may render yourself completely invisible.
Manipulation, however–if done correctly–can work brilliantly in one’s favor. But it has to be subtle, and smooth. Surprisingly, on occasion, I’m capable of being both.
Take, for example, my current situation. I work as a bartender in a restaurant owned by a guy who’s been a drinking buddy of mine for years. When I worked on the harbor and he owned a different restaurant down there, my coworkers and I used to refer to his bar as “the office.” We went there on our breaks, after work, and occasionally even before work. Our boss had a running tab for our restaurant pretty much constantly. This mutually beneficial relationship is how my current boss and I became friends. There’s a certain camaraderie among people who have the same batch of stresses and vices. Now, a few years later, he owns an upscale establishment quite different from the first one, and although he still has the same partner, he’s pretty much running it himself.
So he’s a bit of a shit show. And he’s predictable. He does expo for the dining room himself, and at about eight thirty or nine every night, as soon as the board is full of tickets and the dining room is full of guests, he has a bit of a meltdown. If it’s a weekend night or there are VIPs in the room, the meltdown can border on Oscar-worthy. The hair goes all askew, he starts pacing, and employees start hiding. Having come in with a bit of an advantage, however, I don’t hide. I don’t hide because I’m not scared–and I because I know the solution: a smile that belies the disaster going on around us, and a well-timed (and paid for out of my own pocket on occasion) shot of whiskey.
He’s usually so caught up in his freakout that the surprise of being stopped, smiled at and handed a glass of tasty beverage by an employee that is not in the least bit frantic or stressed out is enough to derail his unraveling entirely. He exhales, and a few minutes later, so does everyone else. Gradually, the ship rights itself and by the end of the night we’re all laughing it off. I am NEVER in the doghouse. It’s like Occam’s razor.
Below the owner on the totem pole is the general manager, who’s also a completely overworked, stressed out mess of a human being. He lives across the street from the restaurant and is on salary, which means that he couldn’t escape the place if he tried (and he tries). He’s the emergency contact, so he can’t really shut his phone off, and like every restaurant, something’s always going wrong. He has the added disadvantage of being terribly easy to locate. We’re understaffed, and it being the end of the season, half of our staff is underqualified or burned out and useless, so by nature of his position and proximity, he becomes stop-gap. He shucks, he cooks on the line, he hosts, he watches the door. He comes running if something goes awry–and something always goes awry. And he never fucking sleeps. He’s a testy little bastard most of the time, and people stay out of his way a lot and shit talk him the rest of the time. He doesn’t bother me–my friendship with the owner entitled me to special privileges (like smoking out back after the front door has to be closed and never paying for all of my drinks) long before I worked there, so once again, the intimidation factor was kaput.
Tonight, I was in the bar for the owner’s surprise birthday do (which didn’t happen because there was no one there to do damage control when his daily disaster hour struck and he stayed in a sour mood all night, which prompted the party’s organizers to postpone it). The manager was there looking wild-eyed and on edge as usual–he’s the most serious, high strung, and in my opinion completely unintimidating looking twenty-five year old I’ve ever met. A baby-faced blue eyed blonde who’s so tightly wound that he’ll probably grind out half of his teeth before his next birthday. And he doesn’t do coke.
After I’d been there for about half an hour, he called me aside. His manner was that of a scolding superior–a terse handwave and a beckoning into the dark dining room, away from prying ears. I thought for a split second that I was in “trouble”. I raised an eyebrow.
“No, no, no,” he said. He pulled me farther into the dining room and in a hushed whisper, he said, “Um… do you know where I can get any weed?” I suppose he figured he wouldn’t jeopardize his authority with me by asking, because we both know he never had any to begin with. One insomniac to another, I answered that yes, I happened to have a very good idea where some relief was located.
Ah, ha, I thought. And now I’ve got you under my thumb, too, Opie. And a free ride home to boot.