The Miss Jobless Chronicles: Burning Bridges

Ed. note: “The Miss Jobless Chronicles” is a weekly series written by Caitlin O’Toole. Read the rest in the series here.
When it comes to being professional, everyone always says “don’t burn any bridges.” It’s become a cliche. But I recently learned my lesson. The hard way.
I worked for Matt Vincente at a popular tabloid in 2002. Let’s call the magazine ‘Slime’. He’s hailed as a difficult man, and he is, but I don’t think he’s a bad guy. He’s just an asshole. But kind of a likable asshole. There’s something charming about his office brutality, his total disregard for people’s feelings, and his snarkiness.
Matt liked to make me feel like shit about my copy — and being a Brit, did not understand why I changed his “Britishisms” to words Americans could understand.
Like, in one article, he used the phrase “in a fortnight.”
“Matt,” I said, “what does that mean? I’m not sure our readers will get it.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” he barked. “Fucking Americans. It’s TWO WEEKS.”
“Well, can I change it to that?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, if you must.”
I also had to change minor things like time punctuation — in England, they say 11.30 as opposed to 11:30. They also use Dr, Mr and Mrs — without periods. Which is subtle, but needed to change.
“Jesus, what next? You’ll want me to change my briefs?”
I always brushed his huffiness off as “Oh, that’s just Matt,” but I think after months of working for him it wore on me a bit.
He frequently humiliated me (and others) in front of the rest of the staff.
He’d go, “Oooh — a breaking story — let’s unleash O’Toole.” Which seemed like a compliment — like, as if I was the only one who could cover the story properly. But was really code for “let’s breathe down Caitlin’s neck until she gets the story done.”
And breathe down my neck he would. He’d literally take a megaphone and stand by my desk a minute before my deadline and count backwards from 60 OUTLOUD as I maniacally typed, sweating.

When I made deadline, I was a hero. If I missed by a millisecond, I was the whole reason our circulation was dropping.
Little things that I didn’t see when copyediting my own copy — like commas or apostrophes or periods — would prompt major public humiliation.
“Where the fuck did you go to journalism school, O’Toole? Helen Keller University? There’s only one period after that sentence; you put two. Fix it and get it to me yesterday.”
The key phrase is “copyediting my own copy.” Why the hell was I expected to do that? Isn’t that what magazines have copy editing departments for? Well, truth be told, the magazine was not doing well and people were doubling up on their duties — writers were suddenly expected to copy edit, too, because they didn’t want to hire any more staff.
I laughed off my unpleasant run-ins with Matt — thinking he must feel like shit about himself to treat others so poorly. This theory of mine, even if it was untrue, got me through all of my difficult times with him. I’d just think to myself, “Oh, he’s just really unhappy — and I’m lucky to have a job, anyway.”
And every week, when the issue hit the stands, we’d all go out for drinks and Matt would buy me beers, asking me about my life, acting like an old friend. I know, weird.
Well, I left Slime on good terms — the magazine was sold to Hearst and the staff was completely dismantled. Rather that continue on with such a shitty boss, I took my severance (which was generous) and left quietly.