Something I learned about narcissistic pathological liars….their schemes don’t ever last very long. Eventually, other people see through the lies and grandiose promises and walk away. Lee’s video business was one such venture. I remember how excited I was when she told me that the instructional video we had shot at a local horse ranch was going to be played on ABC…during the Superbowl, no less! I’m embarrassed remembering sitting in front of the tv during the game, anxiously awaiting my national debut. When it never came, Lee told me, “Oh, Judy (horse ranch owner) called and said ABC called her and said something was wrong with the tape, so they couldn’t use it. Now Judy won’t pay us! What a bitch!” Of course, I believed Lee. And I understood when she couldn’t pay me for the job because, after all, if she never got the money, how could she share it with me?
When the work dried up, I went looking for it elsewhere. There was a small tv station in town that played John Wayne movies in the middle of the night and ran a live tv auction during the evening. I went to work there as a camera-person, a video editor, a switchboard operator, and auction-bid taker. I worked with three other people at the auction. Chuck was my boss. I don’t recall how I met him. Maybe Lee introduced us, as she had dated him in high school. He was loud and outgoing, and we appreciated each other’s sense of humor. I think I worked there for a month before he had to lay me off. Two days later, I was attending a meeting at the cable access station, telling one of my friends about the layoff, and how I must have been “the bad-luck poster child”. It would be a few hours later I’d get the call from Josh’s sister-in-law that he had died.
When I moved back to Oklahoma after nine months recovering in Texas, Chuck rehired me at the tv station. I don’t recall how much time passed before he called me into his office on my day off. “Those sons of bitches stole from me, so I fired them all!” he declared, and suddenly, I was his only employee. I was stunned. How awful for him, I thought, to have three of his four employees stealing from him! He hired some new recruits, and the auction resumed, only now I was in charge of it. I ran the auction, and sometimes even hosted it.
But as time wore on, I became more and more disenchanted with my job. One day, while preparing for the show, I was chatting with the day manager, Steve. He ran the store during the day, when people would come in to pay for the items they’d purchased the night before. He made an off-hand comment about how much Chuck was paying him and I realized, it was far more than I was receiving, and I had worked there longer and had just as much, if not more, responsibility as Steve did. I waited a few days, then approached Chuck about a raise. I didn’t tell him I knew he was paying me less because I was a single woman (versus Steve, the married family man). He agreed that I deserved a raise. I was so proud of myself. I had handled the situation with maturity and professionalism. Only suddenly Chuck expected me to work even longer hours. At one point I did the math, and I was working for about $4 an hour. He gave no bonuses, no benefits….only shallow flattery. And when something went wrong, there was hell to pay, even if it had nothing to do with you.
After the auction had been running for a year, the summertime came, and viewership and sales plummeted. This was, of course, all my fault. It had nothing to do with the fact that all those families that had stayed home to see what torn comforter or broken lamp was going to be sold on the auction for the 30th time were busy attending their children’s little league games, and other fun summer events. He’d call me in the middle of the auction, screaming profanities at me, or, worse, show up at the tv station and humiliate me in front of my crew.
I started looking for another job. In the meantime, I had to bide my time at the auction. My crew was sympathetic, but they were trapped in the job, too. I started to notice that Chuck was having another employee lock up the money from the cash register at night. I thought it odd, up until the day Chuck called me into the office on my day off. He had another employee sit in as a witness. At that time, he accused me of stealing from him, and fired me.
When I went to the unemployment office to file a claim, I sat down to interview about my last job, to see if I qualified for benefits. Chuck didn’t think I did, and said so in a letter to the state. The person conducting the interview read the accusations to me. He had included dates he professed that money went missing from the till. I had been advised to take everything related to my job with me to the interview, and was able to present proof that I was not even at work on some of the days Chuck claimed I had stolen from him. On some of those dates, I was in Texas, visiting with my family, and had proof of it. The interviewer was not impressed. Not by my proof, but by Chuck. In this small town, there was only one person to conduct the interviews at the state unemployment office, and this same person had seen at least three of Chuck’s former employees come through her office, they too having been accused of theft. A pattern had emerged.
I was denied unemployment. Not because the state believed Chuck’s lies of gross misconduct. I simply had not made enough money while working for him to qualify for benefits. My friend, Stacy, introduced me to her father. The former mayor of Enid, he was also an attorney. Free of charge he contacted Chuck and his attorney, threatening him with legal action if he told anyone I had stolen from him, for we had proof it was an intentional lie. Chuck didn’t speak of me again, but by then, I was experiencing panic attacks and major depression.
A month later, Steve was fired for stealing from Chuck. My mother hired Steve to do some work on the house I was living in, and we shared stories of Chuck’s outrageous behavior. A few weeks later, Steve went back to work for Chuck. I warned him not to trust him, but he had a family to support, so he went back. Another month later, he was back on my doorstep, asking me if I’d testify in the civil suit he was going to bring against Chuck who had, again, fired him for stealing.
After I moved away, my family still in Enid informed me that Chuck had been hurt in a serious accident. His leg was badly mangled. By that time, Chuck’s reputation had gotten around town, and it was difficult for him to find people willing to work for him. Though I had not wished him well, I never wanted him physically harmed, nor his children to be without support. Others in the town apparently felt the same way, and some of his former employees returned to work for the tv station, free of charge. Amazingly, he still treated them badly, volunteers who had come together so he could still put food on the table for his six children. The volunteers abandoned him, and he had to sell the tv station.
Oddly enough, when I first went to work for him, it was prior to my realizing the full extent of Lee’s disturbed psyche. After Josh died and I went back to work for Chuck, she and I were no longer friends, so he felt free to tell me how he had really felt about her. She was a liar, and had had a reputation in high school for being easier to ride than a bike with training wheels. After my encounter with Chuck, I realized in retrospect that they had been perfect for each other.
But I still had one more lesson in store for me about people, and whom to trust.