Biff America: The miserable minority
Joe Packer was one miserable SOB; everybody said so.
I knew this about Joe years before ever meeting him. In our family, Joe’s “SOBness” was legendary.
My dad operated a small trucking company with his three brothers; a company at which Joe was employed. It would have been difficult to find anyone — worker, management, dock worker or front office — who had much good to say about Joe Packer. According to legend, Joe was a mean, lazy, angry guy who complained incessantly and tried to get others to do his dirty work. But being that it was a union shop, Joe could only be fired if he crossed the line of the most egregious of offenses.
All my siblings and I were employed in some capacity, at some time, by the family business, usually during the summer and holidays. My brothers and I loaded trucks, and my sisters worked in the front office.
This was during the bad, old days when women were expected to shrug off debauched behavior from louts. But even back then Joe’s bad behavior was noticed. He would stare inappropriately and make rude comments at any lady that had cause to go on the loading dock to deliver phone messages.
Even my saintly mother loathed Joe Packer. Her dislike stemmed from the time at a company cookout when he complimented her by saying, “Must be great eating at the boss’s table; you are fattening up nicely, Mrs. Bergeron.”
Anyone who worked with Joe would have to listen to his disgruntled ranting, backstabbing assessment of management and coworkers while at the same time watch him attempt to shift the work burden to the shoulders of whomever his partner was that day.
My brother, Mike, being the oldest, was the first of the “Bergeron boys” to have the pleasure of spending an entire day with Joe. Mike was the nicest one in our family. He had a saint-like patience and to this day is one of the kindest people I have ever met; he drove Joe crazy.
Before his first day my mother cautioned him not to let Joe push him around. Joe was famous for demanding his “helper” fetch him coffee and pay for his snacks. No other driver did that and it was totally out of line, but some of the new guys were initially fooled.
She even suggested if Joe asked Mike to get him coffee he sprinkle something unmentionable into it first.
Mike would display no such foul behavior. Instead, he killed Joe with kindness. He sympathized with his complaints, smiled at his insults and when Joe told him to go get him lunch, Mike explained that he had no money but had packed an extra spam and beet sandwich for him in his lunch pail.
At the end of the second day, Joe went to the dispatcher and demanded another helper.
“I can’t take another @#$%-en day with him.” Joe said, “It is like working with the @##$%^%$%^ Christ child.”
It was only a few years later when my next oldest brother, Mark, was forced to suffer Joe’s company. Mark was the polar opposite of Mike: a big, tough guy with fast hands, a quick temper and little patience. There were no witnesses, but Joe claimed that Mark dangled him over the edge of an eight-foot loading dock by his jacket and suggested Joe not speak another word to him for the rest of the day.
My penance was soon to follow. Lacking Mike’s kindness and Mark’s strength, I did my time.
It was no walk in the park, but I learned a valuable life lesson while working with Joe Packer. Yes, there are a fair amount of miserable SOB’s in this world — seems now more than ever — but I would argue that most of them can’t help it. Be it from nature or nurture, they see the world from angry eyes. I would also argue that the miserable minority seem to get a disproportionate amount of attention.
I also learned that in the case of Joe Packer, and most miserable SOB’s, it is way worse to be them than to spend time around them. We only suffer their anger from the outside, while they are forced to live it. I also learned, after working for two weeks with Joe, that if someone demands you get them coffee and it tastes strange, they won’t ask you again.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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