Working for a narcissistic paranoid is not fun. It is impossible to accurately predict if a comment, action, or even a look will result in a temper tantrum that will leave weeks of hard work in disorder, a state of dishabille, and just ruined. This was life with Joltin’ Joe, my boss.
After grad school, I was hired by the library system of a midsized city near Boston to run a series of special collections and a cultural center. The cultural center was to provide programming that was to be informed by my background as a cultural anthropologist. This was the theory. And it was supported by the ethnic communities I was working with. But, unfortunately, the theory was not supported by Joltin’ Joe.
The federal grant funding my job and programs gave me a certain amount of freedom and protection from Joe. But, in Joe’s view, this wasn’t good. All things should be under his purview and control. So, subsequently, every meeting with him, as my boss, was full of threats and bluster. He might not be able to strip my funds from my program or quickly fire me, but he could make my life miserable and make me dance on command.
I had a standing invitation every day for lunch at Millie’s home. Our relationship was unique. she was originally from the same neighborhood as my mother in New York City. Building on this, a relationship developed between her and me and her and my mother. My mother heard about it the next day if I did something wrong. It mattered not a wit that I was a thirty-year-old man. “Louis…Millie told me that you…” and so it went. If I appeared aggravated by a meeting with Joltin’ Joe, My mother and Millie would discuss it. So one evening, I received a call from my mother telling me that when I saw Millie the next day, I should follow her instructions strictly.
The next day I walked from my office to Millie’s for lunch; it was Friday, meaning Millie’s homemade pizza was on the menu. After eating, Millie handed me a small gift-wrapped package. Untieing the ribbon and unwrapping the box, I found a gold chain with golden pepperoncini. I remarked on the pepper but was reminded it was a cornicelli and a repellent for the evil eye – malocchio. I knew more than a bit about the evil eye; my Italian aunt had made sure I learned how to make the “horns” to repel it and had a general briefing on how it was cast. But I had never worn the little chains with cornucelli. “Millie, It’s lovely, but you know I don’t wear jewelry…” “Quiet! Your mother and I have discussed this. That awful boss of yours is making you ill!”
I looked at Millie and asked, ” you mean that you think he’s giving me the evil eye?” “No, you fool! Wear the Cornu, and he’ll worry that any evil will reflect on him. People like that are always superstitious fools. He’ll think you are giving him the evil eye because you hate him so much. So he’ll avoid you like you’re the devil himself. Practice looking at him this way…”
About a week later, I had a meeting with Joltin’ Joe. He was his usual abrasive, abusive, and self-centered idiotic self. I wore the gold chain and cornicelli prominently. I also made some hand gestures that were vaguely intimidating whenever he tried to make a point. Eventually, he grew red in the face, started screaming, and told me to leave. I made sure to give the blow-by-blow to both Millie and my mother. From then on, I always wore the gold chain whenever I was likely to meet him; he showed a reluctance to be alone with me.
After this, I was pretty much left alone for several months. Then, Joe got ill and had a stay in the hospital. Word got back to me jokingly that he’d told someone I had cursed him.
Of course, I had not. But I never denied it. I merely slowly closed and opened my right eye while slyly smiling.