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I used to have a job at an advertising agency, where the CEO was also the Executive Creative Director. This is what we call in the business, "a potentially lethal dose of self-appointed authority." Putting a creative in charge of an entire ad agency can produce a range of working environments, from compassionate and driven cults of personality, to oppressive, nerve-wracking and soul-deadening servitude beneath an increasingly paranoid despot. If I told you this particular CEO was also an obsessive self-tanner, (a well-known) closeted homosexual, and a Fen Phen addict, do you think you'd be able to guess on which end of the working environment spectrum our agency rested?

If you guessed "the end dripping with Mom's Homestyle Krazy Sauce™," you're absolutely right. One of my boss' unconscionable tics – and there were many, I assure you – was his sudden invocation of new company policies based on totally isolated personal incidents. One of my top 100 favorites was when our boss, J.P. McSourcunt (not his real name) – stormed past a copywriter who was eating lunch in her office and, in his hastened huff (cute!), kicked up a little breeze that drew the aroma of the copywriter's lunch out into the hallway.

The writer had been eating a smelly (i.e. Jewish) lunch, consisting of tuna salad and raw onions on an "everything" bagel, with dill pickles and potato chips. Yes, it sounds delicious, but the boss was so offended by the smell that he blanched – as much a man with skin the color of a Spalding basketball can blanch – and stopped in his tracks. Then he whirled around, circled back, and began screaming at the writer while she was in mid-bite.

"This is fucking disgusting!" he told her. "You are a fucking filthy animal, bringing that horrible smell into this building – into my building! (Technically, his two floors of a 28-story building) What is WRONG WITH YOU?"

Before the writer could react, or even swallow her mouthful of tuna, our boss snatched up her wastebasket and demanded she throw the rest of her lunch away, then dispose of it in the bathroom, far away from the shared public company space where "decent" people worked. (We had no kind of cafeteria in the office so, naturally, everyone at at their desks like scared animals.) Then, still holding the wastebasket in one hand, he turned to the rest of the employees who had gathered to witness the ugly scene, and announced, "New company policy! Melissa is not allowed to eat lunch in the office...EVER. In fact, no one is allowed to eat lunch in the office from now on. It's disgusting! I'm going to be sick!!" And that was that. No more lunch for Melissa, and no more lunch for anyone else.

Sometimes, I'll subconsciously order an especially smelly lunch, and then consciously eat it at my desk, as a kind of long-distance tribute to my old boss, and to Melissa, whose sacrifices were so great. It's my own dietary version of The Ellen James Society.

Today is one of those days. In fact, right now I'm eating an Italian tuna salad sandwich on an onion roll, with two dill pickles, a bag of sour cream and cheddar potato chips, and a shit-smeared banana.

WE FIRST MET ON 07.07.2005

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