After 3 months of employment at the publishing company, I’d forgotten her real name was Pam. She was, is, and will forever be “The Berlin Wall.” She fit the nickname like she’d been tailored for it. She was cruel, authoritative, stone cold, and—worst of all—anti-fun.
I was 22-years-old when I was hired, which was a problem in itself.
It felt wildly unnatural to find myself fastened to a swivel computer chair for 8 hours a day. The ink hadn’t yet finished drying on my college diploma, yet here I was, working as a production editor in some dusty, cramped Manhattan office.
I landed the job because of my stint at the school newspaper. Of course I exaggerated my responsibilities during my job interview, making it sound as if I’d oversaw a publication that stood as a sterling example of hard-hitting journalism.
In reality, I’d used the paper as a vehicle for absolute stupidity. Drinking stories. Inside jokes. Gossip.
Don't let it get to you
Yet I somehow convinced The Berlin Wall to hire me, which was the one and only piece of goodwill we’d ever shared. Then, starting on my first day on the job, we became sworn enemies.
It all started when I’d told a lie—a white lie. She’d asked me if I’d checked a set of page proofs. I hadn’t; yet I wanted her approval, so I said I did.
Harmless lie, I thought.
Of course, The Berlin Wall immediately called me on it, asking me to see her in her office, and then added, “Please close the door behind you.” I received a 30-minute lecture on office integrity and honesty. There were at least 3 occasions where she directly—and uncomfortably—pointed at me to emphasize that I had a responsibility to this company, I had a duty as a production editor, I had an obligation to be honest with her, The Berlin Wall.
I was told it was my first warning. But I knew it wasn’t a warning—it was my prison sentence.
From that day forward, I was guilty until proven innocent on whatever I did. It didn’t matter if I was five minutes late returning from lunch or if I were checking the third round of page proofs on an Encyclopedia of Native American Peoples (Volume 3), I was expected to verify (with physical evidence) any claim or explanation I made.
I compulsively saved receipts, stuffed my desk with photocopied memos, and—on one occasion—Googled and printed out a story about a commuter who was killed by the F train to explain why I was 47 minutes late one morning.
I wasn’t the only employee The Berlin Wall hated. She doused my esteemed coworker and lunchtime drink buddy Sal with an equal share of malice and suspicion. Yet, for year and a half, I had to work at that job, as a crappy production editor, making 29K a year, proof-reading books I loathed, and having my manhood robbed of me every morning I collapsed into my swivel computer chair.
I felt like a neutered underling every time I heard my name screeched by The Berlin Wall to see her in her office for yet another lecture. Once I was told I was on “thin ice” for talking too loudly with a coworker about my weekend plans (which, in The Berlin Wall’s defense, involved total and irresponsible intoxication).
Though, having my spirit thrashed every day by someone so awful, while, at the same time, having my young adult livelihood dependent on my ability to silently endure said thrashing, was an emasculating ordeal.
Not surprisingly, I really sucked with women during this time.
It wasn’t as if I was going to sweat an entire day under the microscope of The Berlin Wall and then suddenly and magically transform into a dominating, confident stud.
I felt shitty long after my workday ended.
Even on a Friday night, when I had a full weekend’s buffer between The Berlin Wall and me, I couldn’t help but to dread Monday. Her finger, pointed at me like a bayonet, as she scolded me on my countless transgressions and follies, always seemed uncomfortably nearby.
If you’re cringing right now, if your butthole is puckered up, if you “feel” what I’m saying, then maybe you have your own Berlin Wall to contend with. And if so, you have to ask yourself
What’s it doing to your manhood?