2nd March 2022
Tuesday greeted me with a wave of sickness, forcing me to take a day off. Little did I know the following day would take me on an unexpected journey to Bavaria for a month-long work assignment. I was surprised and stunned by the random selection, as I didn’t believe they would select me. I was given two days to prepare before departing that Friday. Regardless of this, I was happy to be going only because CC was there, otherwise, I would have been fuming over the short notice.
As the clock ticked away, I immersed myself in a whirlwind of preparations, striving to get ready for the assignment in just two days. At this point I didn’t bother to tell CC because it was such short notice as I figured I would tell him the day I was traveling.
In a private briefing, the deputy project manager, manager, and team laid out their expectations, making it clear that I would be working directly for them and not for any of the managers on site. To my surprise, they handed me the keys to a truck loaded with essential supplies and made it abundantly clear that I would be the one behind the wheel, with only one passenger allowed to accompany me on the journey. While the other workers traveling that day would be loaded into the 12 -15 passenger vans.
4th March 2022
Before the break of dawn, I showed up at my workplace, eager to ensure that I had all the necessary preparations completed. Before I departed a one-on-one last-minute briefing with the two individuals responsible for overseeing the critical elements of the movement from my present location to Bavaria, took place.
The particulars of the conversation are rather intricate and involve delving deep into the inner workings of the company. All I can reveal now is that I was furnished with two phone numbers in case of potential issues, followed by a cautionary admonition that was delivered in seriousness.
At that moment my time with the organization had barely exceeded the eight-month mark. Although I was well-versed in my job description and had no trouble carrying out my assigned tasks, my interactions with the rank and file of the workforce were limited at best. The physical laborers, warehouse workers, and other blue-collar positions were a mystery to me. I maintained a rather tenuous connection with anyone from these departments and, to be candid, the way my colleagues talked about this group made it clear that there was a palpable divide between us. Regrettably, they were regarded as an irresponsible lot, but the company seemed to keep them because it was a business that prefers profit over people.
A cautionary message was relayed to me that morning, pertaining to the perils of sexual harassment, inappropriate conduct, substance abuse, and the overall tumultuous nature that seemed to befall the workers during their work-related ventures. Furthermore, it was brought to my attention that the locals who ran the hotels, eateries, and bars in the vicinity had forged a symbiotic alliance with the company. These alliances facilitated the reporting of errant behavior by employees directly to my organization, oftentimes accompanied by video footage of their egregious actions, especially when it occurred at the hotels.
As the discussion ended, I felt compelled to inquire about my own safety, as the accounts relayed to me were so far-fetched that I couldn’t fathom making it out unscathed. They painted a picture of a lawless frontier and given that some of the perpetrators still had jobs, it seemed unlikely that any serious consequences would ever come to fruition. This realization left me in a state of genuine concern for my well-being.
As the time of my departure approached, my traveling companion arrived on the scene, and to my pleasant surprise, she happened to be an administrative assistant enroute to the same work site.
As we hit the open road, my fellow passenger and I struck up a number of conversations, where I gained insight into her personal history. She hailed from the United Kingdom and hadn’t been working for the company that long. This assignment was her inaugural venture away from the central hub of the company’s operations. Her enthusiasm was palpable, primarily due to the fact that her husband was already at the destination, eagerly anticipating her arrival.
During our extensive voyage, I couldn’t help but inquire if she had also been apprised of the warning regarding the conduct of most of the employees. She chuckled and divulged that her husband had forewarned her prior to working for the company. Jay, as I’ll refer to her, regaled me with stories of the various unsavory characters and predicaments she had encountered during her tenure. However, the most humorous anecdote she shared was about how she and her spouse jokingly speculated that the company’s recruiters often scouted for candidates outside seedy pubs, drug dens, and rundown estates during the wee hours of the night. She jestingly recounted how the recruiter would wait for someone to stumble out of one of these establishments, then offer them a job on the spot. While her anecdote made me laugh, it also left me pondering why I had never heard about these issues before.
The reality of my arrival was quite different from what I had envisioned, as I was instructed to check into a hotel and report for work that day. But upon my arrival I was told to stay at the hotel and come to work the following day. Within an hour of settling into my temporary abode, I heard a knock on my door. To my surprise, it was Jay, requesting the keys to the truck that was assigned to me. She claimed that the manager urgently required the vehicle. Though the truck was indeed allocated to a manager, I was hesitant to relinquish the keys to a stranger, but Jay was persistent, insisting that it was imperative. Eventually, I caved and handed over the keys. Little did I know that it was all a fabrication, and Jay only wanted the truck for personal use until it was time to turn it in.
As the morning sun rose and I made my way to work with my colleagues in the passenger van, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being out of place. I couldn’t help but think that if I had driven my own car, I would have felt a little more in control of the situation. But what really bugged me was that I had given Jay and her husband the keys to the truck, which left a bitter taste in my mouth.
As I walked into the workplace, the manager seemed uninterested and was impolite towards me. He did not make any effort to show me where I should set up or provide any information about the issues they were having with the database that I was responsible for managing.
When I met this manager, he was sitting on a makeshift desk, telling stories to a group of workers as if he was the local storyteller. It was an odd sight to behold. When I realized that he was not taking me seriously, I asked to speak to him privately outside. I informed him that if he did not see the value in my presence, he could arrange for me to return to the main hub the next day. I also made it clear that he would need to explain this to the project manager. After our conversation, his attitude changed a little, but he still would make side comments here and there about my presence on the project.
Amidst the pandemonium, CC miraculously found a way to visit me. As soon as he arrived, I felt a rush of unease and self-consciousness wash over me. I was acutely aware that our every move and interaction would be scrutinized by onlookers, causing me to feel a twinge of anxiety for various reasons. I was genuinely so happy to see him, but I hated that I had to see him under those circumstances. I didn’t want the pairing eyes, as I would have much rather, we kept our casual union secret for as long as possible.
During the midday break, CC made an appearance at the office to extend a lunch invitation to me with his group that was heading to lunch. Despite my rumbling stomach from skipping breakfast, I declined the offer. The last thing I wanted was to be spotted fraternizing with him and potentially arousing suspicion and gossip. The workers in the office had a penchant for gossip that bordered on obsession, and I had no intention of becoming a topic of discussion. Besides, “the Mr. F” debacle still haunted me, and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that any connection with CC would dredge up his murky past. I know it had absolutely nothing to do with me, but I was afraid of being publicly embarrassed by this situation. As I knew that because CC was never open about it or explained himself (he didn’t have to), outsiders would be ready to add their two cents under the pretense of informing me or would do it to be mean spirited. I didn’t want this situation for either of us. I know I am an adult who should be able to make up my own mind and never fear the sting of other people’s words; but I just didn’t want to deal with it especially when it was associated with someone I actually liked even if I hardly knew them for that long.
My initial misgivings were soon proven right when CC abruptly left the office, Jay’s husband, who had been standing at the door, shot me a perplexed and suspicious look. It was as if he was silently questioning our connection and demanding an explanation. I couldn’t help but feel infuriated by his disrespectful behavior.
During the first week, I had considered returning to the main hub. Due to the constant disrespect from the main manager and the impending drama that was sure to ensue. This was the start of similar events to come and many of them I would keep to myself because I didn’t want CC to know that many times my feelings were hurt by others. – 6 March 2022
5th – 12th March 2022
The first week was a whirlwind, and one individual, whom I’ll refer to as Lady Ch, stood out. As soon as I laid eyes on her, it was clear that she was drowning in work due to the inadequacies of Fat Cat – that’s what I dubbed the head honcho – and Scaredy Cat, his right-hand man. Lady Ch was juggling a plethora of tasks during my first two days, hardly taking a moment to catch her breath. While other competent individuals idled about the office, Lady Ch was busy extinguishing fires left and right. My heart went out to her, observing her single-handedly tackle an overwhelming workload while her colleagues sat on their hands. As I waited for my managers to update the database back at the main location, I decided to lend a hand and assist Lady Ch in completing her daily tasks. This experience taught me that I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with her, as Lady Ch was a quick learner, adaptive, helpful, and always inquisitive.
Our work schedule was grueling, leaving us with little free time, even on Sundays. Every morning, we had to attend a mandatory meeting with the entire team before commencing work. It had become a daily ritual for me to seek out CC from across the room and revel in his presence. This was the only opportunity I had to be around him since I resided in a hotel that was a good 30-minute drive away. Catching a glimpse of him at the morning meetings, sharing lunch with him, or seeing him during the close-out meetings were the few precious moments that kept me from losing my mind and lifted my spirits. It was nice to see his face and smile, as this became my respite. Despite having to wake up much earlier than him and fight traffic to return to a hotel that didn’t have a restaurant in or around it, seeing him every morning was always the highlight of my day.
In the first few days, Scaredy Cat and Fat Cat made frequent appearances at the main office with voices laced with complaints about various employees they deemed idle. I vividly recall the two of them poring over a lengthy list of names, scratching off those they deemed unnecessary while questioning each other by saying “What does this person do?” According to the Cats, a considerable number of employees needed to be relocated back to the main site as they weren’t contributing anything meaningful.
As they left the office, they left Lady Ch with another burden, the list of names that needed to be actioned. When Lady Ch handed me the list, I noticed that CC’s name was highlighted, and my heart sank. Scaredy Cat had singled CC out, stating that he was one of the workers not required there as he wasn’t sure what he did. I couldn’t express my disappointment when I saw his name on the list. The two Cats repeated this process almost daily, yet they never sent anyone back.
I wasn’t sure what was happening, so I informed CC that his name was highlighted, indicating that he might be sent back to the main site sooner than expected. I advised him to distance himself from the group and try to appear more productive. CC informed me that he wasn’t sure why Scaredy Cat was making those allegations, but he did recall Scaredy Cat asking him to return the van keys earlier. He was ready to confront Scaredy Cat about his name being on the list and the allegations that he was not doing much, but I encouraged CC to not do this since he was already frustrated. As they hadn’t sent anyone back yet, I felt it was best he altered his strategy and appeared busier.
After a week or so, CC approached me and revealed that Scaredy Cat had apologized to him in his own unique way. While I’m convinced that CC’s increased productivity played a significant role in changing Scaredy Cat’s mind, I can’t be entirely certain.
As for Fat-Cat, despite being acquainted with me from the main worksite, he upheld a highly unprofessional demeanor towards me and others. Although I managed to tolerate his behavior, it remained an irksome thorn in my side.
Entering week two, I had developed a keen understanding of Jay and her husband, who appeared to have a superiority complex over their colleagues. Their constant disregard for the rules enabled them to separate themselves from the group at will. My first day at work they took me to lunch and acted like they didn’t want me around. Afterwards they asked me to get on the main van or borrow the truck to go to lunch on my own the next day.
Every day, Fat Cat would saunter into the main office to check his emails and engage us with tasks. Sadly, a substantial portion of his time was spent griping about the employees, particularly those he deemed unworthy of a job. I must note that most of us were handsomely compensated for this assignment, making it quite lucrative. It became clear to me that Fat Cat was relishing the opportunity to threaten workers with being sent back, as he knew it would take a significant toll on their earnings. I came up with that thought once I saw that he kept talking about it but took very little action until something serious happened.
Day in and day out, we were subjected to a never-ending stream of anecdotes from him, detailing the mishaps and misdeeds of their past assignments. I couldn’t help but feel that he loved having a captive audience and that his constant chatter was more for his own benefit than ours. I knew that every time he returned to the office to sign paperwork, check emails, and follow up on various tasks I would get an ear full. Scaredy Cat on the other hand stayed away from the office and only returned if he had to. In doing this I denoted a hint of frustration between the two Cats, as if they weren’t always getting along.
The one thing that Fat Cat had mastered was the art of gossiping about his subordinates. His stories only confirmed what Jay and others had already hinted at, though the recruitment process for a certain subcontractor was so ridiculous that it was almost comical true that they recruited from drug dens and pubs. Indirectly I learned why the company’s demographic was filled with such undesirable characters. The company had a habit of hiring mostly young, working-class males from specific backgrounds, sprinkled with few university graduates, ex-military personnel, and those who were technically trained. Most of them had very little experience in their current field, yet they were paid roughly £500-700 per week for the lowest positions, which was well above the average worker’s wage in the UK. Upon discovering that I was shocked because I assumed it was expensive in the UK which led me to believe their pay would be significantly more than that.
Fat Cat explained that this was the most money many of them had ever made and would probably ever make. He said, “that’s why some of them came to Germany to work, but many ended up losing their fucking minds.” Some were smart enough to invest their money wisely, while others squandered it all on weekend parties, drinking, drugs, or even prostitutes. It seemed like Fat Cat might have had similar tendencies, but he made a lot more money and had a bit more self-control. He talked about the female workers, too, but in a more subtle way. In his own words he professed they were all nasty women desperate for promotion, money, and attention, which wasn’t far from what I had heard before arriving at the assignment.
Although I had heard snippets of these conversations before, this was the first time I was privy to the sordid details of my colleagues’ lives without even asking. It was then that I understood why so many spoke ill of this group of workers.
As the days went by, the stories became a daily routine, but it didn’t stop me from pondering about the human side of it all. I started to wonder about their origins – where they came from, what their families were like, and how their childhoods had shaped them. Were there others amongst them who were as sad and worried about their future as I was?
The strange class system established by the company often left me contemplating how other marginalized groups were quick to look down on their fellow disenfranchised people. Many of these workers were categorized as Caucasians, and even though they came from backgrounds deemed disadvantaged, they would be welcomed with open arms if they walked into a room well-dressed and not uttering a word. On the other hand, if I were to silently enter a room well-dressed, I knew I wouldn’t always be received in the same way, regardless of my education, income, or the unique adventures I’ve experienced. There was always room for racism to rear its ugly head and for society to remind black and brown people how much they hated them and didn’t want them in certain spaces. Knowing this, I was blown away by Fat Cat and other managers’ ability to exude an air of arrogance when addressing these people, despite their own disadvantaged backgrounds.
As time passed, I gradually began to let my guard down and sought solace in CC’s company. I never explicitly admitted it to him, but I felt extremely anxious around the main body of workers and would have much preferred isolation. By the end of the second week, I paid CC a visit at his hotel and ended up staying the night. I vividly remember waking up the next morning and getting ready for work. While CC went off to have breakfast, I stayed put in the hotel room because I didn’t want anyone to see me. Moreover, I wasn’t technically assigned to another hotel, so I didn’t think I was entitled to indulge in their amenities.
When it was close to departing for work, I went downstairs to wait on the bus. I was nervously standing there when Jay’s husband approached me and asked me if I moved hotel. I was so annoyed by his question, because I was sure by now, he knew that something was going on between me and CC. I told him that I wasn’t staying there, then he told me that if I visited (CC) too often the hotel manager might charge him 10Euros per night because I wasn’t registered in the hotel. I remember rolling my eyes as I said “okay.” Shortly after CC met me standing there next to Jay and her husband. We waited there a few more minutes than the bus pulled up. While waiting to get on the bus I saw Fat Cat pull up in his truck.
As the morning sun cast its golden rays on the bustling streets, I found myself standing beside CC when suddenly, I caught the bewildered gaze of a familiar face. Despite knowing that I was residing in another hotel, he seemed puzzled by my unexpected appearance at 6:40 in the morning. Although his countenance remained impassive, our eyes met, and I sensed that he had taken notice of me. CC, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to the keen interest that was being paid to our interaction.
On that day, the Fat Cat graced us with his presence much later in the afternoon, sauntering into the office with a sour expression etched on his face. He immediately launched into a tirade about the male restroom, griping about the scattered tissue paper strewn carelessly on the floor. He demanded that Lady Ch relay a message to the entire office, threatening to withhold paper towels and tissue if the restrooms weren’t kept clean. Frankly, his behavior reeked of immaturity, but it was his next words that truly plumbed the depths of childishness. He began to rant about some of the male workers who didn’t bothering to wash their hands after answering the call of nature. And then, with a sly glance in my direction, he sneered, “Some of the ones y’all like don’t even wash their hands.” It was abundantly clear who he was referring to, and even Lady Ch looked mildly disapproving in his behavior and feline antics.
It was abundantly clear that he was determined to throw shade my way using cheap jokes and snide remarks to belittle me in the wake of what he had seen that morning. But rather than succumb, a silent fury began to simmer within me, fueled by his transparent jealousy. It was apparent to everyone but him that his actions were motivated by narcissism, and a need to elevate himself by looking down on others. In the days that followed, he regaled us with a story about a female lieutenant who had the audacity to date and eventually marry a security guard who wasn’t a manager from our main worksite. The most striking aspect of the tale was his insinuation that she had somehow devalued herself by engaging in such a relationship, as if he couldn’t fathom the concept of people making their own choices without bowing to societal norms. It was clear that his warped worldview was incapable of comprehending anything beyond his narrow, egocentric perspective. Strangely the other American guys who were all in the room during the telling of this story seemed to agree with him as well.