"Human Resources, Mattie Kurtz speaking," she answered efficiently.
"Oh, good, Mattie, I thought you might be in. It's 9:30 here. I'm out East on vacation, and I need a special favor," the voice on the other end explained.
Mattie put her pen down and made a sour face. "What does the great white business editor want this time?" she speculated. "Remain professional," she reminded herself as she postured her response.
"Yes, Alex, what did you need?"
"Mattie, you know we've been trying to find a reporter to replace Myron Chester. Well, I've found this terrific guy. I interviewed him right before I left for vacation, and I'd like to get him started the first of next week. Now I know you like to do a thorough reference check on all prospective candidates, but could we make an exception this time and waive the formal investigation?" he asked.
"Alex, you know that's risky. Besides, what if . . ."
"Mattie," he interrupted, "I have copies of all his work. The guy has written pieces for the Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times–really fine stuff. I just don't want to take a chance of losing this guy. I want to make him an offer today. Besides, he had several of his former employers call me. They all said they hated to lose him."
"Alex, I don't really like this," Mattie countered.
"I know, Mattie, but I really would appreciate your making an exception this time. My assistant editor, Don Sowald, has all the copies of his portfolio. You can look through the material if you want."
"Okay, Alex," Mattie conceded, "but if there's a problem with this guy, it's on your head. What's his name?"
"Barton Chambers. You're a peach, Mattie. Thanks."
"Oh, yuk," Mattie grimaced. "`You're a peach,'" she mimicked disparagingly. "He's such a chauvinistic jerk."
She hung up the phone and returned to her paperwork.
Mattie wasn't surprised when, two months later, Alex was in her office. "Mattie, we need to fire Barton Chambers."
"Barton Chambers? You mean our `on-the-brink-of-winning-the-Pulitzer-Prize, Barton Chambers?'" she queried sarcastically.
"Mattie, the guy is weird, and he's getting on my nerves. His most recent shenanigan was the last straw. I want him out of here today," Alex insisted.
Mattie was enjoying this. Alex–the pompous, women-hating, know-it-all editor–was asking her to dig him out of a major screw-up that she had warned him could happen. "How delicious!" she relished secretly. Should she stretch this out and make him squirm? No, she would wait until she heard all the facts. Then she'd decide. Maintaining her professional posture, she replied, "Well, Alex, you'll have to give me all the details so we can build a case. What type of documentation do you have?"
* * * *
Alex had been keeping a file on Barton ever since his co-workers started complaining about Barton walking around the office barefoot. Patty Larson, who worked the legislative beat was one of the first to complain.
"Alex, I think something is strange about Barton," Patty began.
"Why, Patty, what exactly do you mean?" Alex patronized.
"Well, Barton is just weird."
"Weird is all encompassing, Patty. Be more specific. Can you give me an example? How can I help him if I don't have specifics?"
"Well, okay," she started to disclose. "Did you know he sometimes walks around the office barefoot? Now that's weird!"
"Yes, I've noticed that," Alex said. "Go on."
"The other day, he asked if he could borrow my brush. Can you believe that, my brush! Who borrows someone else's brush? I don't even like to loan my brush to my sister. So I said to him, `Gee Barton, I don't seem to have a spare one available,' hoping he would get the hint. But, that wasn't enough. He started rifling through my purse, pulled out my brush, and said, `Here's a brush, Patty, this will do fine.'"
Patty took a moment to catch her breath. "Alex, he went through my purse. What person, let alone a man, goes through a woman's purse? And then, there's my privacy. I think something's wrong with him."
Alex found the purse incident very disturbing and the business about walking around barefoot annoying.
"Okay, Patty, I'll talk to him, and see if we can get him to refrain from invading your privacy."
"Thanks, Alex, but you really ought to talk to some of the others. I don't want to carry tales that I can't personally substantiate, but maybe you should talk to Rod or John."
"Okay, I will. Is there anything else I should know," he asked.
"Nope, that's it," Patty said and promptly left Alex's office.
Alex spotted Rod in the newsroom and motioned to him to step in his office. "Rod, give me your opinion of our newest reporter, Barton Chambers. How do you think he's doing?"
"Well, I haven't paid much attention to his stuff. I just think he's odd."
"Could you give me an example, Rod?"
Read Part 2 to get Rod's experience with Barton
Excerpted from Outrageous Conduct: Bizarre Behavior at Work©