It must really stink to be unfairly fired from a job.
But just remember that in the great karmic balance sheet of life, it means that somewhere on the planet, someone who should have been fired wasn’t. Today we’re going to meet a few of those people.
I recently asked readers to share times they made such boneheaded moves in their jobs that they were certain they’d be shown the door — not to admire it (“Wow. Nice door!”), but to walk through it, never to return.
When Herb Edelstein of Potomac, Md., was a college freshman he worked in the school cafeteria. “One morning, tired and bleary-eyed, I filled a batch of glasses from a metal pitcher of what appeared to be orange juice and set them out,” he wrote. “By the time I realized that the liquid was actually not orange juice but egg batter, several of the glasses had already been picked up. To my amazement, not a single student complained. I guess they were as tired as I was.”
Isn’t raw egg supposed to be an amazing hangover cure?
In high school, Ed Sinclair of Sterling, Va., had a summer job laboring for a roofing company. “We had a tar truck equipped with huge, open-flame propane burners to heat the tar, and a gasoline-powered motor to pump the tar up to the roof,” he wrote.
On one of his first days on the job, Ed was sent to gas up the pump motor. “While fueling up, I glanced over at the burners running full blast, and slowly started remembering something about using gasoline around open flames,” he wrote. “About the time my thoughts were coming together — WHOMPH! — the entire back of the truck gets engulfed in a fire ball.”
Luckily, one of Ed’s co-workers saw what was happening and was able to grab a fire extinguisher and put out the flames.
Ed could have been fired quite literally. Instead, he wrote, “I suffered little more than embarrassment, and a significant chewing out by the foreman.”
A long time ago, Mike Milligan of Columbia, Md., was put on a software project that had been up and running for several years. “It was on a DEC machine with an operating system that was like ones I knew, but not quite,” Mike wrote.
It was the “not quite” that was the problem. About two months in, Mike accidentally deleted all of the source code for the project, thousands of files containing the work of the five other people on the team.
“I can still remember the physical grip of dread I felt at that moment,” Mike wrote. “After a deep breath, I told one of the other guys what I had done.”
Instead of giving him the boot, Mike’s co-worker explained that the operating system backed up every file when it was changed. There was a simple command to restore everything.
“He also said everyone on the project had done this at least once,” Mike said. “Very comforting words to hear that day. And when I did it again a year later, too. I didn’t get fired either time.”
Soon after Karen Sharp of Bowie, Md., started her first real job as a secretary in the Biophysics Department at Johns Hopkins, a professor deposited on her desk a lengthy journal submission concerning the electron microscope. He told her to mail it to a university in England. Karen packaged the article and instructed a student to take it to the local post office for overseas mailing.
“Some time later that day, that same professor appeared in front of my desk, asking for the photocopy of his article,” Karen wrote.
Karen hadn’t made one.
“I called the local post office, talked with the overseas distribution department and learned that the package was still there,” she wrote. She dispatched the student to retrieve it. Crisis averted!
A little more than a year later — in a hurry and juggling a lot of tasks — Karen repeated her blunder. She knew just what to do. She called the post office, explained the situation and said the last time she had made this mistake they’d been able to set the package aside. The conversation went a little like this:
“You did this before?”
“And you’ve done it again?”
“Um . . . yes.”
“And you still have your job?”
She did. Karen wrote: “Rest assured I never made that mistake ever again.”
My column will disappear for a couple of weeks, not because I was fired but because My Lovely Wife and I are going on vacation. I’ll see you back in this space on Aug. 31. Until then, enjoy the tail end of your August.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.