“I want to see you in my office,” Rick snapped.
I sensed I was about to be fired, but being spoken to like that did not agree with me and I did not soften any anger in my eyes as I rose and followed him. Instead of turning toward his room, he went the other way, to the AOC exit, into the rest of the Pentagon.
“Let’s do this outside,” he said, walking ahead of me. “I don’t want anyone else hearing what I’m going to say to you.”
Silently following, I glowered at the threat, especially for him saying it within earshot of coworkers. I would not listen to a bunch of attitude thrown at me, if that’s what he had in mind, and he clearly did. Being an adult in my early 30s had me unaccustomed to being spoken to like a brat. He was going to moderate his tone or the conversation would end when I said it did, not him. After United Systems, I was not inclined to take a lot of shit for long. By purposely walking slower than him, I forced him to slow down and look back repeatedly as we went, his frustration at this amusing me. We soon stepped into the courtyard with the hot, humid summer air pounding down on us and rising from the concrete. The food trucks were doing brisk business, some people leaving with their purchase and others sitting on a bench to eat or doing so while walking around. We began doing laps around the exterior as he started in on me.
His first words were, “I’m going to fire you if you don’t step up your productivity.”
I stiffened in shock on hearing the most loaded word from my employer. I felt ambushed and broadsided. “That’s what this is about? My productivity?”
“No, it’s about a lot of things, but the client has noticed how slow you are. So have we, and they want you gone. I’m thinking of agreeing.”
Cold anger swept over me. A lot of things? I hadn’t been told about a single issue. On the job disapproval scale from 1 to 10, “you’re fired” is #10. The suggestion of firing is #9. In theory, we should be told there’s an issue long before arriving at that end of the scale, and given a chance to improve. He undoubtedly included Matt in that “we” and I wondered who “they” were. I had seen nothing but friendly behavior toward me. Now I would always wonder who wanted me fired, and this, by itself, made this a hostile work environment that my asshole employer had just willfully created. Was Rick lying? Why would he? And what had Matt said about me to Rick, but not to me? A manager is supposed to have your back and help you stay out of trouble, not say nothing and badmouth you to his boss. Was that how I leaped to #9 without warning? Something was going on behind my back.
“If this is such an issue,” I began, “then why has it taken so long to bring it up?”
“We were giving you a chance to shape up.”
“Thanks for that,” I dryly interrupted. “You have to tell me you think there’s a problem in order for me to fix it.”
“What do you think I’m doing right now?”
I didn’t hide my disapproval. “Threatening to fire me.”
“Well, there is no excuse for you not getting more done. You are spending way too much time on the internet.”
My anger returned. “Matt knew I had little experience with .NET and SQL Server and so did you. It’s hardly on my resume and I was upfront with him. That and him refusing to help me is causing any delays, not screwing around on the internet. Check my traffic logs.”
“I will,” he said defiantly, not seeming to realize this statement was an admission that he hadn’t already done it and therefore didn’t know what he was talking about. I caught him. “You also shouldn’t be making personal calls.”
I frowned. “It was less than five minutes, and I was on my forced lunch break, which you interrupted, by the way. I even still had a sandwich in my hand.”
“I know you were talking to a reporter,” he said, startling me that he knew this. “We’re working in the Army Operation Center at the Pentagon while we’re at war, and you call a fucking reporter. How do you think that looks?”
I flushed a little, feeling stupid. He was right, but only because of appearances. My predecessor using Pentagon computers to arrange sex with a minor seemed to rear its head. Rick was undoubtedly still upset about it and I was to take the brunt of this. My call had nothing to do with spilling military secrets or work at all, but that seemed to be his other point.
I asked, “Are you saying I can’t do personal things while I’m on the personal break your contract forces me to take?”
“Just stop screwing around and get your work done.”
“It’s a valid question and you aren’t answering.”
“Why do I have to spell it out for you?”
“Because that’s what good managers do.” I wondered if he was being vague so that I couldn’t follow a rule he refused to say and then fire me for not getting it right.
“Just stick to work-related websites.”
“Even on break?”
“It doesn’t matter when you do it. You’re making us look like shit.”
No, you’re doing that all on your own, you asshole, I thought, resenting his statement. There had to be some reason wouldn’t say it, so I persisted, partly because I could tell doing so irritated him. “So can I do personal things on my personal break or not?”
“Get back to work.”
“Yes or no.”
“Get back to work.”
I wasn’t spending any additional time with this asshole and wasn’t walking back with him. “I’m still on break, so are you ordering me to violate the terms of your contract? Or is that another simple question you can’t or won’t answer? I’ll finish my break here and find my own way back.”
He shot me an annoyed look and walked away, disappearing into the building.