These two stories refer to two real people I actually met. I’ve changed their names to protect the not-so-innocent.
Of course, They also refer to two other people I haven’t met — ones you might recognize.
Gladys had — somewhat inexplicably — risen to the leadership of human resources at a small corporation. As HR director, she constantly failed. She blamed underlings and peers for her own ignorance and recklessness. Her weaknesses were well-known, but her deep connections let her keep her job. Also, she was protected by a certain undeserved sympathy among those she “led.”
She was still married to a guy who had been CEO back in the 90’s. He left under a hailstorm of lawsuits and shame (sexual improprieties). Somehow, his wife Gladys stayed in the HR department and worked up the ladder, leveraging inside information and influence she had gained from being married to him. They were still married, though most didn’t understand how or why.
Over the years, Gladys had erected multiple corporate firewalls around herself, all through various treacheries. No one dared try to reform or challenge her. To do so was to invite instant dismissal — usually after something prohibited was discovered in a 0nce-forgotten background check or on a computer.
When one chanced to speak with her, HR seemed furthest from her mind. This was because Gladys secretly thought the field of human resources was itself a waste. Her head filled with grand schemes to manipulate the people who controlled funding at the corporation. She sought to further enrich herself and tighten her grip on power. Her mind overflowed with visions of stock options, preferred shares, dividends and special untracked “quality management funds.” She demonstrated her HR power now and then by destroying some promising-though-skeptical underling’s career — just to sharpen her claws and create an example.
The board and the rest of the corporate structure all wished they knew how to get rid of Gladys. The trouble: no one really knew what she did. They didn’t know the true consequences of walking her out. They lived in fear. Gladys liked this, really.
Her greatest support at the company came from unfortunate and ungifted older women in the trenches who were just happy to have jobs. In Gladys, they imagined they saw someone much like themselves. Heartstrings were tugged. Gladys seemed persecuted mainly for being a woman — not cherished in the way women knew women should be. Her supporters imagined Gladys felt empathy for them. They believed she shared their well-founded sense of vulnerability. In response to any criticism, they gathered around her to form a protective human wall. They would mutter and coo and look away at any mention of Gladys’ latest outrage.
Gladys didn’t return their loyalty, of course. That’s never been expected of the great, nor even those who merely think themselves great. She secretly despised those who supported and defended her. She’d fire them with a coldness unrivaled.
In truth, that’s more like what the “great” do: They despise those low enough to worship them.
Most of us with corporate experience have known a Gladys or someone like her. They’re pretty common, really.
Ralph was the scion of a paving company. He was still rich enough to claim he owned a private railroad, though it had really belonged to his grandfather. In the time since its founding, the family paving company had been in and out of receivership so many times that no one really knew who owned those railcars with his name plastered on them.
Those railcars carried gravel and sand, usually. His grandfather had the foresight to grab a good portion of the southwestern corner of North Dakota just as America was on the verge of getting paved. He had turned a few hundred thousand acres of former Indian land into a giant gravel pit. It supplied most of the country with paving materials. The family had turned the nearby town into the sort of place where no one dared differ with any member of the family with their name on the railcars. And the hotel. And the city park.
The grandfather had shown initiative and some of that legendary rough-and-tumble American resolve many still call heroism. It was also known he had been a thief, swindler, and murderer. Decades wash our forebears of these sins, provided the people who committed them are successful enough to be considered “founders” and not just small-time con-men and psychopaths.
Inherited wealth eliminates the need to show any such messy initiative. In some cases, the inheritors become effete and artistic. Liberated from the need to bash and thrash their way to financial prominence, they dedicate themselves to developing beautiful souls.
That’s not the way it worked with Ralph.
By the age of 40, Ralph had lofted his fat gut over one new ski boat and wife after another. The ski boats changed a little more frequently than wives, and usually worked out better for him. Ski boats responded better to being grabbed, slammed, and yelled-at in public. His greatest monetary loss due to mistreating or misunderstanding ski boats had amounted to only a few hundred thousand. His latest divorce was still ongoing, and had already cost millions. He said he missed his kids. He really missed being a father. He hadn’t yet experienced fatherhood in any real way, though he’d bought things for his kids.
Ralph needed a lot of affirmation. This caused him to do things like fly coach and start up conversations with people seated next to him — ones who would have seemed his social inferiors. He would seem quite the hale and hearty fellow as he bought them drinks on the plane, and in the terminal afterwards. He’d suggest they visit a local strip club owned by his brother. He’d hire a limo. Once he had the unsuspecting victim in the limo, his manner would turn cold. He’d accuse the new friend of exploiting him and doubt their intentions. He had a captive audience in the stretch limo, and a immovable target for his rage. This was therapy for Ralph.
Once they got to the strip club, he’d tell the chauffeur to wait for him on pain of death, after spitting a wad of tobacco into the back seat.
He’d pay the way of his newfound “friend” into the club. He’d station himself far away. His acquaintance would glance over to see Ralph getting a lap dance. His acquaintance could see him sneering as he stared at her tits and wonder if Mr. Paving Company Scion was on the verge of biting her nipple and drawing blood, throwing her a crisp hundred for her trouble as he casually walked out and she screamed.
The music slowed. The lights started coming up. The good times were over. Ralph had disappeared. The acquaintance would need to call a cab to get home on his own dime.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ll understand why I can’t support either candidate president this time around.
I am voting for Jill Stein with the full awareness that doing so might help throw the election to Ralph. This would be unfortunate, but not as unfortunate as using one’s vote to affirm either horrid pile of shit who somehow got nominated to run for each major party in 2016.
Voting third party isn’t betrayal. If anything, voting third party is an accurate statement that our politics are finished. They no longer represent us as a people. We no longer have representative politics in the United States.
Vote Jill Stein. It will be ok. I know it will.