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March 2, 2000

I think the Boss is onto me. This week the phone has rung every morning at a few minutes past eight. I believe he wants to be sure I'm not sleeping in.

When I first came to work for him in 1986, the Company was much larger. The Boss had a partner, and a staff of project managers and estimators. He himself was rarely in the office, preferring to set himself up in a trailer on a job site, where the distractions were kept to a minimum. His co-workers preferred it that way, too. At that time I worked with him on the job site two days a week, and in the office three days.

The other people in the office were amused that he would call every day at five minutes to five. They couldn't prove he was checking to be sure no one left early, but the calls were so predictable that it was a logical conclusion to draw. He presented the same paradox then as now: The ultimate micromanager, he prefers to leave the details to others. That sounds inconsistent, but in his twisted mind it means that he has someone else to blame whenever something goes wrong.

When he hired me he said, "If you have a problem, I don't want to know about it. I just want you to take care of it." Sounds sweet, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want that much freedom, especially on a new job? Except that he reviews every piece of paper that goes through the office, with the psychotic intensity of the truly paranoid. And nothing, not the tiniest misplaced comma or penny-ante transaction, escapes his notice.

Most of the problems he uncovers are easily explained away. Few of them are worth the time and effort he puts into them. He is so intent on not getting cheated that he will spend a week chasing down a ten-dollar discrepancy in a million-dollar contract. Most often it turns out to be a problem he created, or one that's all in his mind. He's not afraid to take on owners, subcontractors, trades people, architects, anyone he thinks might be trying to get the better of him. As a result there are people all over the state who will never work with him again. They will bow out of money-making situations just because they've decided it's not worth the aggravation to work with him again.

When I started those many years ago, they had a pool in the office over how long I'd last. I'm still standing, and they're long gone. His partner eventually had all he could take, and the rest of the staff went with him when he pulled out. They may be better off, but I have a secret. I know how to get along with him.

There are two steps. The first is to be indispensable. Since all of the accounting programs I use are handwritten, by me, in Excel, no one else can use them. In fact, I'm not sure I could even teach someone to use them, if I were so inclined. I tailored these programs to fit the Boss's mentality, to show the state of the company in exactly the way he wants to see them. No commercial software would do it in the same twisted way his mind works.

As a result, without me: no payroll, no job costing, no profit-and-loss worksheets, no cash reconciliation, no general expense breakdowns, at least not in the form he likes to see them. So, indispensable. That's step one.

Step two is for the Boss to be afraid of me. My temperament could not be more different from his, and I have him convinced that if he raises his voice to me or criticizes me he'll lose me. I'm not sure what he thinks will happen. Maybe he thinks I'll cry, or quit, or have a heart attack and drop dead on the spot. I don't care, and I don't know how it came about, but I'm not questioning it. It works for me. He pretty much leaves me alone to do my job. Every so often he remembers to praise me, but I don't really expect that.

He doesn't really know how good I have it, working at home hundreds of miles away from any direct supervision. I make a point of giving him what he wants, and I'll work overtime if necessary. It's no great hardship, since I'm already home anyway. But sometimes I like to sleep a little later than he needs to know about.

Every day this week I've had to jump out of bed shortly after eight to answer the phone, trying not to use my hoarse, sleep-encumbered voice. This shouldn't be a problem, because I should be up and working by then. But I've been fighting insomnia, and morning is my best sleeping time. I've been making up any time lost by working later into the evening. I'm home, and it does me no harm to enter data into the check register while keeping one eye on the TV news.

So he gives me a lot of slack, and I return the favor (although he doesn't know it). If we wanted to make each other miserable, it would be incredibly easy. But we have a symbiotic relationship and neither of us has anything to gain by rocking the boat. Okay, maybe a little rocking once in a while is not such a bad thing, as long as we keep from rolling over.

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