Employee of the Year

I was listening to The Nerdist podcast the other day and Chris Hardwick had on actress Hilary Swank. At one point in the conversation they got onto the topic of Academy Awards and it was interesting to hear, what appeared to be, a candid description of being in that moment. Taking the stage and standing at the podium, staring out into a sea of your peers who are outwardly proud but boiling mad inside. It was amazing to hear Hilary describe that she was nervous in that moment, almost on the verge of fainting, and how hard it was for her to say anything.

It made me reflect on the moment where I won employee of the year. For someone who doesn’t act and DOES work for a small cluster of barely listened to radio stations that broadcast atop a small strip mall in Farmingdale, New York it’s still not that big of a deal.

At the time I was working for the Long Island Radio Group as a Sales Assistant and clearly kicking ass and taking names despite my propensity to ignore requests, make fun of people, and show up to work dressed more Phish Concert than Board Meeting – or BORED meeting if you get my

I didn’t really enjoy the work, but it did teach me a lot about what I didn’t want to be stuck doing for the rest of my life.  I still did my best though because in my reaches was the Employee of the Year trophy that everyone in the office didn’t talk about. I remember after winning a co-worker said to me, “they only give those awards away to keep you motivated and not have to give you a raise.”

Working for a small company does have its perks though. I got to learn a lot about the radio industry and what it’s like to work next to a small airport. I also learned how to spend obscene amounts of money on an Audi A4 – probably the love of my life – without actually being able to afford it. I also was afforded the opportunity to work two jobs and live on little sleep for two and a half years. Mostly to pay for my car, my other expenses were going toward my ever-growing mountain of credit card debt I was secretly proud of.

I took my then-girlfriend, now-wife, to Vegas on that debt, thank you very much.

When I saw that I would be paying off my debt, because I ONLY paid the minimum, until I was well into my 80’s that meant it was time to hang up my high-roller lifestyle. Plus I had a little encouragement from my now-wife, then soon-to-be fiance, to change my life, little was heard about the debt when we were living above our means in Vegas though.

I was well liked at L.I.R.G. I had a lot of good friends and one summer I literally did no work and read all the articles, sub-articles, and favorite links on a website called Weird U.S. There was also a week where the sales team – sans associates – went on a retreat and left the office empty. With no work to do I sat around and played online poker – a third job, if you will – because accruing debt was something I enjoyed immensely.

Because of how well-liked I was a little voice in my head was whispering, “you’re going to win Employee of the Year.”

I definitely thought it was a possibility but when looking at my overall body of work I felt like I hadn’t contributed much. Often times I would snarl at the screen when a request would come in – I’m really a delightful person – or say something under my breath when I would get a call from an salesperson asking me to water their plants or make reservations at a local restaurant they were drinking at already.

Then the day came.

The holiday party at L.I.R.G. was that of legend. All the stories you’ve ever heard from anyone about any party where things got “out of hand” happened within those walls. People having sex in closets, people puking in the General Manager’s office – EVEN HIM ONCE – people getting naked and streaking around the office, it COULD all happen that day!

It didn’t that day though, actually it seemed tame, almost like all those stories were just that.

Members of the sales team gifted me presents as a sign of gratitude for my service to them throughout the year and a showing that they understood how much more money they made than me. I left there with a trash bag full of nick-nacks – no paddywacks – that they picked up at the last possible moment or forgot they ordered from Oriental Trading years ago and came across it when cleaning out their child’s room when they left for college.

Our General Manager then made his presence known by doing a very loud clearing of his throat that turned into him coughing uncontrollably for a very uncomfortable 15-seconds.

He then continued on to the award ceremony that featured such “gag” awards as “Most Likely To Sleep in their Car to Make a Sale” and the company favorite “Most People Kissed at the Client Party” and then finally ended with “Employee of the Year.”

I was standing on the far side of my cubicle wall wearing an old Ecko hoodie, torn up jeans, and a pair of Etnies, completely unprepared for the moment that was among us. As the cheering started to wind down from the “The Most Drunk Person to hit on the GM at the Holiday Party” award it was announced that the final award would be the “Employee of the Year.”

As the GM began to do a little speech about, well, me as it turned out, I completely tuned out what was going on. Surely this award would be going to someone who was “hardworking,” a “team player,” a “really good looking redhead,” and that person couldn’t be me.

Suddenly something clicked in my head when I heard the words, “and the Employee of the Year award goes to…”

ME! That’s what I thought. “Robert Peterson” were the exact words that went through my head.

“Robert Peterson!” The GM called out.

Despite my clairvoyant moment I didn’t expect my name to actually be called for this award. The scene hit me like a wave and I found myself in a dizzied state where it felt like I was in a drunk scene in a movie when they take you into a first person shot.

Instinctively I stripped off my hoodie, luckily that morning I decided to wear a button-up shirt underneath it. I thought to myself, “well at least I’m somewhat presentable” as I made my way up to accept the award. I still, to this day, am surprised at how loud the small office of around 50 people applauded my award and somehow connected with Hilary Swank in her description of her acceptance of an Academy Award. I stood there dumbfounded and smiled as my picture was taken holding all the prizes I received. I was also given a certificate printed out on a laser jet printer created using a template in Microsoft Word with no frame, my mom hung it on her fridge with pride and that made me happy.

Someone else was clairvoyant as well, I left there a year later and never did get that raise.

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