Impressions of a Tyrant

Posted: September 9, 2012 in Life, living, truth-telling
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“What the hell are you all doing?”

The assembly line had stopped, and about seven or eight men were standing around in a circle, watching while another man rolled back and forth in pain on the floor.

Mike spoke up:  “Tan, Jerry here just collapsed and we don’t know why.”

Tanner shook his head in disgust and stomped over to the control switch.   Abruptly, the assembly line jerked and then the products resumed their slow maddening journey.  “GET BACK TO WORK” he barked.

The guys all shook their heads in disbelief and scattered to their work areas, leaving Jerry writhing and alone.


I suppose my fascination with Tanner had its roots in the fact that he seemed an awful lot like my dad.  Both had big guts and slick-backed hair; both were angry, abrupt and rude.  They could have been brothers.   The differences were key though:  while dad was constantly drunk, morose and unwilling to engage, Tanner could talk – if you caught him at any other time than when he was doing his job as the assembly line general foreman.  Also, I don’t know if he was an alcoholic.  I doubt it.  If he was, he was a highly functional one.

I didn’t like him.   Tanner, that is.  He exuded a “don’t fuck with me” mien, full of scowling and menace.  His constant angry frown served to provoke diligence in the workplace, which is probably why he stayed in movement.  He knew full well that motivation through brutish fear meant greater productivity.  And the man was all about that.   Once, when we had a plant meeting, he asked “what is the goal of General Foods (*1)?”   I said “to make snacks.”  He shook his head.   “IT’S TO MAKE MONEY” he roared.    I got it.  We all got it.

He brooded over the plant like an angry storm.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason I felt the urge to talk with him whenever he came by my workstation.  At first, his responses (much like my dad’s) took the form of single-syllable grunts.   As the years droned on, they eventually became full sentences.

Then one night, he surprised me by asking for a ride home.  “Don’t have a car right now, and since we’re working overtime, my ride is leaving earlier than me.”    In hindsight, I suppose I was likely the only one there who didn’t fear him as much as the others seemed to.

“Sure” I said.

After the final bell blew at 2:30 a.m. I made my way to his office, and he grunted, turned and locked the door and we left.

Once on the road, Tanner opened up.

“You married?”

At the time I was, and said so.

“I used to be married.”  He stared straight ahead.  I glanced at him, then watched the road ahead of me, as the car zipped through the pools of light cast by the intermittent streetlights.   This was all new, and I had no idea what to say.  Just knew I needed to say something.

“How long ago, Tan?”

“We just split up a few months ago.   I took it pretty hard.  We were close, and I still don’t have any idea why she left.”

“Really?  None at all?”

He glanced over and I was sure he was going to hit me, or yell or something.   His look was one of sadness however.

“No.  None.   I’ve thought about it a lot too.   She was an angel and I adored her.   We used to do everything together.  We used to go out every weekend, dancing, partying, antiquing.  And we laughed a lot too.”

I could not for the life of me picture this guy laughing, ever.   Or going antiquing.  The dichotomous gap between Tanner the inhumane, angry general foreman, and Tanner the loving, laughing broken-hearted guy was too wide for easy comprehension.

“I never never understood it.  I guess maybe I didn’t understand her as much as I thought I did.  I mean, we talked quite a bit about everything.   We discussed our plans for the future, and we talked about politics, and we covered a lot of deep stuff too.”  He shook his head.  “It just doesn’t make sense.”

I cleared my throat.  “Is there any hope at all?  Can you talk to a marriage counsellor or something?  Would she be up for that?”

He shifted in his seat.   “I don’t know if I’ll ever find out.  I’d like to.  After getting over the shock of coming home and not seeing her there, I thought about that.”  He glanced at his watch.  “But I don’t know if it’ll ever happen.  I can’t ask her, because I have no idea where she is.  I don’t even have a phone number for her.”

“Wow” I blurted.

“Yeah.  ‘Wow’.   Unbelievable isn’t it?”

The whole conversation was surreal.  “Yeah, it really is.”

He went quiet.  I wondered:  why was he telling me all of this?  Why was he spilling his thoughts?  I had no idea.

We pulled up beside his apartment building and he got out.  Turned back around and leaned down.   “Listen” he said.   “Thanks a lot for the ride.”

I wanted to tell him how sorry I was. Wanted to say that if he ever wanted to talk again, or get a ride home or whatever, it’d be okay.

“No problem” I said.  “Take care.  See you tomorrow.”

He grunted again and shut the door.


*1 – all names, including that of Tanner and General Foods, have been changed out of respect to him.

  1. Uhm, excuse me…can I have some more please? I’m ready to keep on reading.

    Thank you.


    • wolfshades says:

      Cool! This one’s shorter than usual for me, but…I’m kind of glad because this time it ended right when it was supposed to, without further editorial comment. This time, the ADHD voices had lots to say about it all, but chose to keep silent while I was typing. : )

      I’m following your book progress too, by the way (oh – and hi there, gorgeous). Really fascinated and feeling positive about its outcome.


  2. Jack says:

    Interesting stuff WS but I imagine it’s the rule rather than the exception that a guy is surprised that his partner leaves. We’re just not that good at zeroing in on where they’re at, plus because women are good at it they assume it’s human to be able to sense where a relationship is at. Because we don’t sense it’s in trouble and do nothing they assume we don’t care. One can only live with someone that doesn’t care for so long…


    • wolfshades says:

      All of the votes aren’t in yet but the ones that are seem to agree with your observation Jack. I often notice that women seem to notice more than we do in a lot of ways. It sounds cliché but the sometimes clichés are based on reality: many of us just don’t seem to pick up on a lot of stuff that they do.

      I’ve seen it in other situations too. My daughter once complained about a boy who was pestering her. She wanted to know how to tell him to get lost without hurting his feelings. What hints would work.

      I told her flat out that hints rarely work. We need to be told, point blank, how it is. I said “you need to be brutal with him because it’s the only thing he’ll understand. If you merely hint, he’ll pick up on the vibe but will discount it immediately. After all, you’re still going out with him right? So any vibe must only be in his mind.” She, being the gentle soul that she is, was aghast. It took a long time for me to convince her of the validity of what I was saying.

      By the same token, we are also clueless when it comes to picking up hints from women about their interest in us as well. Or sometimes – we assume they’re all interested, and we act accordingly. : ) My daughter has pointed out so many instances where some girl thought I was cute, and I completely missed it. *rolls eyes*

      On another note: I’m still puzzled by the dichotomy of Tanner’s work persona and his personal one. It makes me think that we – that I – can make a judgement call about someone, based upon historical experience – and have it all wrong. Some things seemed obvious with him: his seeming uncaring about the guy writhing on the floor, and his bombastic approach to employee relations. Hard not to judge that, isn’t it? Yet he had this whole other romantic side with his wife that I would never have guessed was there.


  3. I had a similar experience with a cold, hard supervisor once. She seemed to have the perfect life, perfect husband, perfect children… One day she opened up to me and shared that her marriage was cold, her son had diabetes so bad that it is pretty certain he would die young and her daughter was born deaf. On top of all that, she shared about her 19 year old dog who could no longer stand to do his business any more and how she knew she should have him put down, but her heart wouldn’t let her. I saw her forever after with different eyes and a different heart. I saw her for the truly wonderful person she really was. Her cold, hard demeanor was really her way of protecting her heart from more hurt. We remained close after that. I don’t know why she opened up to me, but I was glad she did. I was also honored that she trusted me with her deepest hurts. I agree…you just never really know about other people. After that, it was ever in the forefront of my brain reminding me to be gentle with people because I never really know what path they are walking through life.

    Great blog, Doug!


    • wolfshades says:

      What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it, Darlene.

      I suppose it’s human nature to adhere to principle of Occam’s Razor, and so we often reach the easiest most accessible conclusion. The theory sort of works when it comes to situations involving money, but perhaps not so much when it’s applied to people and their motivations.

      I’m continually surprised by the blatant yet ignored dichotomy (I’ll be kind here, and avoid use of the word “hypocrisy”) in human relations, where we want others to understand that we ourselves are complex and not so easily defined, yet we’ll often dismiss anyone else easily, ascribing to them the most negative of motivations. As a result of stories like your experience with your boss, and of my experience with Tanner, I find myself questioning my decisions about others. Yet it’s so easy to slip back into old habits – and it’s at those times I’m thankful for a few close friends who don’t shrink from challenging me on them. Result: I’m the most humble man alive – and quite proud of that fact. ;)


  4. I’ve known a few tyrants in my time. Give some oridinary folk a bit of power and there is a fine line between human being and meglomaniac.


    • wolfshades says:

      Show me a tyrant and I’ll show you someone with a problem with self-esteem. Or a psychopath who uses whatever is at hand to ensure his needs are met.

      Never could figure out Tanner though. His evident love for his wife sort of a blew a hole in my theories. On the other hand – I only heard his side of the story. I imagine hers was quite a bit different. The one thing that eludes psycopaths is genuine empathy. A lot of abused women can attest to the myopic nature of their abusers’ viewpoint: they purport to “love” their partner but truthfully just want to control them.


  5. It can be amazing the gap between someone’s working life and their real life.

    There’s a new girl here who always looks so sad. Part of me wants to speak to her about it – to try and get her to see that it’s her choice to be happy…

    I’ve only said about 4 words to her so far. Maybe we’ll chat soeday, and maybe I’ll be able to tell her there is hope. Maybe…


    • wolfshades says:

      I hope she’s able to welcome and absorb your very wise truth. There are some ways in which we are constrained: health, a prison of sorts, or the offer of violence. In most cases though, we have options. Too many of us are unaware of the power of choice.


  6. oceanweed says:

    I think you have to keep it simple. Tanner chose not to help the withering man on the floor. That speaks volumes of his true character. Just because he spoke lovingly about his wife doesn’t mean a whole lot. It’s what “he” felt. How do you know he wasn’t abusive? Not too many people come out and say something like that. He didn’t even have her phone number. She made sure he wasn’t going to find her.


    • wolfshades says:

      That thought – that their split and his pain – was all about him occurred to me too. Psychopaths are able to emote and feel pain: they’re just not able to feel empathy for the pain of others. However, this was by no means a simple thing. Though most – including me – initially concluded that he was a loathsome character when we saw his reaction to the guy twisting in pain on the plant floor, the fact is we had all gone back to our jobs so we have no idea if after turning the assembly line back on, he didn’t immediately render assistance to him. And if he did, again – it doesn’t mean that he actually cared for him: it could have been a matter of him covering his ass.

      There’s a reason he rose to the position of plant general foreman, especially in that entirely adversarial environment.

      I would say that your conclusion makes a lot of sense, really. I know enough about controlling brutes and the way they operate within their relationships to know that they truly think they’re the most loving people in the world. When actually – as you say – it’s all about *them* and not their partners at all. Their partners exist solely as extensions of them. It’s pretty sick. Your point about the phone number is key too.

      I know my own motivation in the whole thing too. As mentioned, my father was a pretty awful guy. In the moments when I wasn’t actively hating him, I was curious. Why was he angry all the time? What drove him? It was the same with Tanner: I had no idea what he was about, plus I knew a lot less back then about human nature than I do now.

      I still wonder about him, and what his life is like now.


  7. oceanweed says:

    I had a hard time with my father too. Abusive, severely depressed alchoholic. I always wondered what made him that way. He was in WWII and the Korean war. Came back somewhat decent. Married, divorced and then married my mother. They were the height of the town. Fast cars, fashion forward etc.. Then I was born. My father had lost his business. My mother cheated on him with the neighbors son. Several years later his family lost the family business. My aunt, who I was living with at the time lost her house as she had invested in the family business. We were poor from then on. Living in trailers and boats. My father never seemed to recover. As the years went by he but stopped bathing except for the occasional time. He just checked out. He’d lost his business to his partner who basically stole it while they were on their honeymoon. Then my mother having the affair just ruined him I guess. We were never spoke about it. He has since passed on years ago. So I can only speculate.

    People often are curious as to how I made it. How was it that my attitude is so great? What pushes me? I really can’t answer as it is just a way of life and my pride perhaps. I always think, why did they give up? How did they end up like that? Why can’t they see beyond the immediate?


    • oceanweed says:

      Wow, not for my spelling and grammar. Hope you can get past it. :)


      • wolfshades says:

        I think the key to everything you said is encapsulated in the very last sentence of your comment. “Why can’t they see beyond the immediate?”

        It’s that observation that brings me up short every time. How do you describe the colour “red” to someone who is blind from birth? There are so many unaware people out there, lost in the mud of the present, unable to see beyond it. So many who don’t know that they have the ability to make choices, to see their circumstance differently. Many are mired in emotion, depression, anger, and (mostly) fear. Life has been “done” to them, and they see themselves as victims.

        It’s such a subjective thing: most aren’t able to visualize anything different for themselves. They envy others who’ve risen above, but they just have no faith that they can do the same. To try and explain it to them, is sort of like telling someone who is clinically depressed to just “buck up”: it’s not logical because it doesn’t fit their paradigm.

        The only difference I’ve seen is when in their misery they actually ask for help. That’s the way it was for me, and it was certainly the way it was for a few other people I know too. I had to go to a very dark place before I realized that my self-destructive thoughts were dangerous. Asking for help made me open to alternative ideas, and the realization that indeed I was not a victim at all, but all too often a willing participant. That awareness changes everything, doesn’t it?


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