East of NORMAL

Dolly Dagger’s jagged edge

I hate Vanderbilt’s guts. I hate every brick, every squirrel. I won’t even drive by it. If ISIS had a basketball team and played Vanderbilt, I don’t know who I’d root for.
     I feel this way as only someone who’s worked there can understand. I toiled there 15 years. I know the beast. Vanderbilt is a dour city within itself teeming with worker ants who dream of sitting in hot baths, opening their veins and bleeding to death. You check your sense of humor at the door. I couldn’t be dryly snide in emails there, and if I can’t be dryly snide, I basically have no reason to live.
     Don’t get me wrong; almost everyone I ever worked with there was nice to me — in a stultified corporate way. But the one person who wasn’t nice at all made everything a sulfurous, gurgling pot of Satan’s pus. Let’s call her Dolly Dagger.
     She wasn’t a bitch on wheels — she was a turbo-psychotic, pin-pulled howitzer, scorched earth, toxic flecks of spittle, cuntasaurus rex bitch on wheels. I’ve never met anyone like her, and I’m going to do my best to never meet another one. If I have to walk out an 8th floor window to keep from meeting one, get the body cast ready, I’ll be right down.
     It had been a bad week. August 2003. I’d spent a night in a mental hospital on Monday, one of only two times I’ve been incarcerated. (The other was jail, which was better because I at least had a good buzz on in jail.) I was out of work, depressed out of my mind, self-medicating, and prone to spontaneous crying jags over the mockery I’d made of my life.
     The week got worse. On Friday at noon, Beth was canned. It was devastating. She was the breadwinner. Two hours later, Vandy Temps called with an offer — office assistant for three weeks or until the position is filled. Sometimes when one door closes, God opens a toilet bowl. And I dove right in. I lasted the three weeks and got the job.
     It was just Dolly and me in a little office. No one else. Dolly didn’t like me one bit, but no one else applied for the job. Her voice dripped with a world-weary shot of invective. She had a face like a bull and was coated with a patina that hissed, “Don’t fuck with me.”
     Now let’s let a cat out of the bag: Dolly was black (still is, I’ll assume), and I was not only very white, I was a mental patient. She’d probably deny it to her dying day, but the racial vibe was there. I got nervous about asking her questions, because she would huff, roll her eyes, and say something like, “You don’t remember?” It wasn’t long before I was scared to death of her. I knew that if I got in her face and it led to an Employee Relations intervention, I was as well as sunk. She was a black, struggling, single parent going to college every night, perpetually tired and at her wit’s end, while I was a white pothead recently released from a laughing academy. The jury wouldn’t be out 10 minutes. I applaud her struggle — but still, I’ve met cops at three in the morning who were serene fucking Buddhist monks compared to her. If I’d only gone with my second option that first day — smoking a big joint and showing up dressed as a wasp — things might have come to a swift merciful end. But I didn’t, and nor did they.
     I had no prospects elsewhere. This was life, from now on. The atmosphere was so toxic I began throwing up on the way into work. Every now and then I’d say or do something and get a, “Tommy, it offends me when you do that” and I’d have no idea what she was talking about. I’m aware that white people tend to do and say things that piss black people off, but a little private upbraiding out of earshot of others would have been nice. She didn’t care if there were others in the room or not.
     One day the copier needed service. Transparencies were jamming in the machine. An appropriately dour serviceman told me we were using the wrong kind of transparencies. Dolly walked in the copier room. I told her, “We’ve been ordering the wrong transparencies.” The rest of the day went on with no incident. The next morning we arrived at the office at the same time. She went to her side, I went to mine. And all of a sudden it came. Before sitting down, she turned toward me. “Let me just tell you!” she shrieked, “WE didn’t order the wrong transparencies! YOU ordered the wrong transparencies!” I hadn’t even taken my coat off. And this was just the beginning of the day. All the day before and all night long, she’d stewed, tossing and turning. I was in The Twilight Zone. Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo!
     I thought I was stuck there for life. I had assurances from friends that this too shall pass. I didn’t believe them. But 13 months after our dance of love began, in September 2004, Dolly sheathed her dagger and transferred to another department.
     About a year after that, Employee Relations called. I answered, and a man asked if anyone there had ever worked with one Dolly Dagger. Well I’ll be, I smiled. She’d found someone else to tussle with, and this time it went all the way to Employee Relations. Did I work with her, he asked. I said (hell) no, and I passed the buck to my department head. I wasn’t getting near that situation with tongs, especially without assurance of an 8th floor window.