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Co-workers from Hell - Part One: Norbert

(The names have been changed to protect the idiots.)

Maybe you’ve read my series in the Herald called “Roommates from Hell”, and although I’m not done with that one, I’m starting a new series called “Co-workers from Hell”. I really had no plans to start a new series, but after I left San Francisco, I joined the army for a few years then became a military contractor, and I just have to tell someone about the people I’ve worked with in the last 10 years.

Some people, when finding out I write for fun, and sometimes write about the people I work with, often ask me if I plan on writing about them. Usually I tell them, “No, I only write about interesting or odd people, the kind that are entertaining in some weird way.” Then they usually get offended that they’re not peculiar enough for me. I’ve worked with one guy now for close to 4 years, at two different jobs, but he is just a good-natured guy that I could describe in one paragraph, so I’ve never written about him. But Norbert……

The first co-worker in my new series, and the most interesting, is Norbert. I’m at a new job now, with a new company, in a different country, so now the story can be told. I’ll start by telling you I was working as a military contractor on an Air Base in Qatar. We lived downtown at some shitty hotel, and had a 1-hour commute every day to the base, where we worked 12-hour shifts.

Norbert is an older guy who looks older than he is. I’m guessing he is about 55, but looks 10 years older. He is a scrawny weasel, 5’6, with greasy greyish hair combed to the side. In short -- a stereotypical old nerd. He is a retired Air Force tech guy, but is in the Guard now. He always looked malnourished, with disheveled, wrinkled clothes. He is really, and I’m not kidding, the “Most Irritating Person in the Wooooooorld!”

When I say he is irritating, you have no idea just how much so. I seriously think he has some kind of mental problem. ADD, hyperactivity, etc. He always had to be messing with something, and it seemed like he was never happy unless he was taking something apart or trying to put something back together. He could never sit and surf the web or watch TV.

He had so many annoying habits that none of us looked forward to working with him. We actually had people threaten to quit if they had to go to day-shift, when Norbert also worked. He had this loud, braying jackass kind of laugh, so loud it hurts your ears. He also had a lower, really creepy “Count Dracula” kind of laugh, which we call his “child molester” laugh, a deep, “Hee, hee, hee”. One of the guys here commented that Norbert could get arrested in 30 states for laughing like that within 50 feet of a minor. One of the funniest things about him was that he considered himself a biker, and he owned a huge Harley Davidson back in the states. I saw a picture of him sitting on it, and I am amazed he could even balance it. Norbert was about 125 pounds and had the muscle strength of a starved chicken.

Norbert laughed at his own jokes, none of which were funny. (He’s his own best audience.) The worst thing is he talked NON-STOP, the entire 12 hours we worked together, PLUS the 2 hour commute. The other workers would try to work or read or even watch TV, some maybe doing homework, and Norbert would go on non-stop about how smart he is, how many people want him to work for them, how good looking his girlfriend is (she isn’t), etc. He was dating some big-nosed gold-digger from Ethiopia, and it was well known among us that she was using him, but if you listened to him, it was a relationship made in heaven.

He was always trying to get people to look at pictures of her on his cell-phone, always bragging about this and that and her… it gets really, really old after awhile. I mean, we would get a new hire, and the first thing he did after introducing himself was try to get him to look at all the pictures of her he kept on his cell phone.

When I first arrived he did the same, but even worse, he fed me a whole bunch of bullshit about how he is really an independent businessman, how he only does this job so he can maintain a visa for Qatar, how he is a genius, how he has a business in Bahrain, how he is friends with the Sheik, how he wired his palace for Internet, on and on and on. Of course I fell for it; I didn’t know who he was.

Norbert HAD to be the center of attention at all times. I remember sitting in the office, and he was sitting over at his computer and everyone was doing their own thing, but HE takes off his headphones and starts laughing (he has a VERY loud annoying laugh, sounds like a sea lion, kind of a “Bark, Bark, Bark”) and tells all of us “we HAVE to listen to this!” and he turns his desktop speakers up and plays some old comedy show from 1945, Fibber McGee and Molly with Dinah Shore or some unfunny, obscure thing that only a nerd would find humorous. So now he takes over the office, and keeps looking at us to see if we are listening, laughing again at the corny old jokes he just laughed at a few minutes ago.

Oh, the radio show is over, and since he now thinks we are all paying attention to him, he keeps the speakers hooked up and starts playing bluegrass. The other guys are trying to work, I’m trying to write a letter, and he keeps going from song to song, all the while looking at us to see if we are listening and more importantly, paying attention to him. Norbert liked to consider himself a professional DJ, and he liked to show us pictures of him in a rec center playing records. His being a DJ was pretty much that; playing records at Air Force get-togethers.

He also did this when we had the TV on, even when HE was watching a show. If there was something funny on, or a car chase, he would keep looking at other people, even turn around in his chair and look at you for a few seconds, and he did this repeatedly, no matter if you were watching the TV or not. I’m telling you, if there was a record for being the most annoying person in the world, as in “everything” he does annoys people in some way, this guy would win it.

Norbert was also an “expert” in everything he (or you) did. He also had to have a better story, or top you somehow. If you say you fell off a 20-story building, he fell off a 21-story building. If you say you fell off the roof, HE fell off the antenna sticking up FROM the roof. If you brought up some question about football, HE was a football coach. If you mentioned your kid played soccer, HE was a soccer coach.

One of the games we played in the office was to get him in some kind of logic trap about his lying. I would say, “I heard someone died because they ate the glue off a strip of fly paper!” Norbert would  start in on how he heard that too, and actually it is a dangerous thing and on and on. He would hijack the conversation and take it to a whole different planet, all while we sat back and snickered at him.

He also had a weird obsession with Ethiopia, because he had dated a few gold-diggers from the place. He would sometimes wear these big ugly Ethiopian shirts that say “I Love Ethiopia”, he would always brag about Ethiopian food, and he cheered for the Ethiopian athletes during the Olympics. He was so obsessed I would wager he thought he WAS Ethiopian, and he never shut up about it. “What kind of coffee do you have? Blue Bottle? Screw that, I have Ethiopian coffee! It is MUCH better than American coffee! Say, have I told you about how Ethiopians discovered coffee? I have? Well, let me tell you again!”

On his off-time he hung out at some dumpy Ethiopian restaurant downtown where his girlfriend worked as a waitress (he said she was the manager, but we all knew she waited tables), and once when I called him for something, he was actually in the kitchen at the restaurant stirring a pot! He hung out there all the time because he was psycho jealous of her, so his free-time was spent keeping an eye on her, even at work. He was there so much they put him to work in the kitchen, and then he lent them money for something, giving him a reason to go around saying he owns a restaurant now. He was always trying to get us to eat at the dump, and after none of would go, he focused on the new employees. The place finally closed down last year.

One year he mentioned he was taking his girlfriend on vacation to the US, and we all started messing with him, how he’d better not take her with him, as she would run off and he’d never see her again! He already applied for the visa and bought the tickets, and we were all surprised when, a few weeks later he mentioned she wasn’t going with him. We asked him what had happened, and he mumbled something about how she couldn’t get any time off. That was BS, we all knew what happened; our kidding him about her running off when she got to America actually affected him, and he decided against bringing her!

As more time went by, we learned more about his reasoning. He was taking 30 days vacation in conjunction with his Air Guard duty, so he would be gone about 6 weeks. He was planning on having her stay with some relatives in Colorado while he did his Air Guard training in San Diego, and he thought that while she was with her relatives she would make a break for it! He knew he couldn’t be there to guard her, so he just canceled her ticket and visa and went alone! This shows you how insecure and naive he was.

He was also a terrible, annoying backseat driver. We all took turns driving the shift-vehicle in to work, and he would be the only one who always had something to say. The funny thing was, HE was the worst driver in the company! He sped, honked and flashed his lights at other drivers… he was totally obnoxious. That’s one of the things that was so bad about this guy; he was a total hypocrite.

We hated driving with him in the SUV, and would sometimes leave without him causing him to take his personal car to work. One time I blew up at him when I was driving, and he was in the passenger seat. We were approaching the exit for the airbase, and like I had for the previous 3 years, was merging right. Of course he HAD to say something: “Hey JD, the exit is coming up, don’t miss it.” I snapped and told him to shut the hell up, I knew it was coming up, I’d been doing this for three years, and he could get out and walk if he didn’t shut up. I wanted to pull over and kick him out of the SUV (the boss wouldn’t have minded, really).

Norbert was also a devious backstabber. He tried to come across as funny and loveable, but he was a real bastard. One of the guys was going on vacation in a few days, and he let it be known he planned to resign at the end of his off-time so he could collect all his vacation pay. Well, Norbert heard about this and emailed the boss back in the states! Of course, the boss contacted our boss, and Human Resources got involved, and the guy admitted that he was planning on resigning, and ended up losing about $4000+ on the whole deal. Norbert never admitted to it, but only a few of us knew about the guy resigning, and we were all friends and no one else would have done it.

I have to tell you, I am 43 now, and in all my life I have never wanted to punch someone in the face so much as I did this guy. All of us had fantasies about beating the crap out of him.  I once mentioned this to a co-worker and he told me that there were quite a few people ahead of me in the Norbert ass-whoopin’ line. This got out of hand a few times, once when I was in the office at the end of shift, and the day shift guys walked in. Norbert, in his childlike fashion, ran over and did a kung fu pose, yelled “Hi-yaw!” and did a karate chop. The guy who walked in first and saw it was Tom, one of the black guys who had a real problem with him. He said, “Oh, you want to fight? You wanna wrestle?” Norbert started to good-naturedly throw his arms around Tom, but Tom had so much pent up anger and hatred for Norbert, things got a little out of hand. Soon Tom had him in a headlock and was banging him against a filing cabinet. I think Norbert soon realized they weren’t playing anymore, and was struggling to breathe. Finally, one of the other guys stepped and in broke it up. Norbert, his face all red, tried to save face by joking that it was all fun and games. But Tom was fired up and ready to kick some ass. I knew exactly how he felt.

I can honestly say that in all my 40+ years, Norbert was the only guy whose mere presence made me clench my fists and think of actually kicking his ass. There was something about him. He was just so damn irritating that even Mother Theresa, Gandhi and Pope John Paul II would tag team, switching between holding him down while another smacked him around. I can’t explain it, it wasn’t anything personal, he just had something about him that made you want to hit him and abuse him, anything to get him to sit still and just do his job instead of running around, talking non-stop, etc.

Speaking of commutes, Norbert was one of those douchebags who always had a Bluetooth stuck to his head, even though he rarely received a telephone call. He had to look important. But look out. When he DID get a call, he would be sure to take it in the office, and especially in the SUV! All 4 of us would be crowded in the SUV on the way to work, and Norbert would make all his personal calls during this time, and not discreetly. He would make a comment, and look around the SUV as if we were all included in the conversation. We had all agreed in advance that there would be no personal calls while we were all in the SUV, but that didn’t stop Norbert! He saw it as an opportunity to grandstand without competition! I suppose the worst part of it was when he would make mushy talk with the big-nosed gold-digger.

Here’s a few annoying things:

He “hums/sings” along with the music, but he goes “Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo” to every song.

He sees a few drops of water on the floor, say from a water bottle, or someone making coffee, and he has to make a big scene; "Oh look, someone peed on the floor! HA HA HA!!" Then he’ll quickly look around to make sure everyone is looking at him.

On the airbase, our office was in a trailer, and we had 4 steps up to the door. When leaving the trailer to go outside, Norbert would ALWAYS make a sound as if he is falling, "AAAAAAAHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhh" fading away to nothing as he closes the door.

Every time he had an empty water bottle, he had to make a big show of trying to make a "basket" by throwing it to the trash bin from a distance. Of course, he would always miss, the empty water bottle would loudly hit the floor and go skipping across the room, while he yelled "Oh, man - I almost made it that time!" while looking at everyone in the room to make sure they saw him do it.

While watching The Simpsons one night, the show made a reference to the movie "From Here to Eternity". So immediately Norbert gets confused and brings up some other movie, "Hell to Eternity", a story about a Mexican-American who spoke Japanese and captured a bunch of Japanese soldiers. Of course I told him that "From Here to Eternity" had nothing to do with Mexican-Americans capturing Jap soldiers, so he had to go online and research it. So now, of course, instead of being able to watchThe Simpsons, we then had to get a 15 minute lecture about the main character in “Hell to Eternity” because he is embarrassed that he got the movies mixed up and now had to "save" his imagined reputation as a brainiac.

One night we were watching a stand-up comedy DVD (the life of a military contractor…) and one of the guys brought up the name of a comedy club in LA where he grew up, and how it is a franchise now. He mentioned something about how the first one was in LA. Right away, Norbert had to jump to his computer and pull up Wikipedia and try to find something to prove him wrong. "Actually, the first location was in Florida, then they put one in LA!"

In the hotel we lived in, we were assigned two to each 2-bedroom apartment. Norbert was a total pack-rack, and he often slept in the living room on the sofa, as his bedroom was crowded with junk. At work on the airbase, the boss was always yelling at him for bringing in stuff we didn’t need -- stuff Norbert would find in the trash, or abandoned. Generator parts, cables, computer parts, etc. When the job ended and we had to clear out the trailer and all our things, we had a big pile of junk that we couldn’t get rid of, all of it stuff Norbert had collected over the years and packed away in storage sheds.

Anyway, as I was saying, Norbert’s room was so packed full of junk he slept in the living room, much to the displeasure of whatever roommate they managed to stick him with. NO ONE wanted to live with the guy, so they usually stuck some new guy in there - until he threatened to quit unless he got a different roommate. One guy who lived with him told me that whenever he arrived home and opened the door to the apartment, Norbert would come out of the room and start talking to him, happy that he was there, like a dog would be. But not a casual, stick your head outside your room and say “Hi.” Norbert would slide across his room to the door and slide out, with his arms out as if presenting himself, ala “Ta-daaa!”

Whenever my friend (Thomas) would leave the apartment, he told me Norbert would always leave the apartment with him, walk down the hallway to the elevator and stand there, talking, until the elevator arrived and departed. It was the same at work; my friend would leave the office and walk to his car, with Norbert tagging along, talking, even as Thomas got into the car and was driving away, Norbert would walk alongside, talking until Thomas took off.

Speaking of cars, this reminds me of one incident that really pissed off a few co-workers. At work, someone posted for sale a used-car… oh, sorry, “pre-owned”. This guy at work was really interested in it, and called the owner and made arrangements to see it. Later that night, Norbert heard him talking about it, and in classic Norbert fashion, decided that he too needed the car, although he already had a company car. The car in question was an old 1982 Mercedes that didn’t even run, but because someone else expressed interest in it, Norbert went behind his back, called the owner up and bought it on the spot. We couldn’t believe it. Well, actually, by this time, we could. The guy who was interested in the car was pissed, but he got his revenge. The car was a total piece of junk, and we found out the registration had lapsed and it would cost Norbert thousands of dollars to get it up to date and running. He had it towed to the parking garage of the hotel, where it sat for two years, covered with dust, until I left.

Norbert went to Ethiopia with his girlfriend one day, and when he came back 2 weeks later, he was all battered and bruised. We asked what happened, and he said he “fell through a glass door” at the girlfriend’s family home. We all looked at each other and rolled our eyes, as we strongly suspected he was lying, because in Ethiopia there are people who can kick his ass and not risk losing their jobs! Later on he was showing us pictures of his vacation, and I think we all noted that it was a pretty cheap, basic looking house with wooden doors. It didn’t look like the kind of place that would have a glass door. There were also quite a few pictures of Norbert, the gold-digger, and her family. None of the men in the family looked happy. Nor were any smiling. Especially the old grandfather with a cane. In every picture he looked like he was irritated and mad about something.

Anyway, the contract for that job ended last year and we all split up and headed off to other jobs. I’m in Afghanistan now, and even though my job isn’t perfect here (mortar attacks, suicide bombers, IED’s) I give thanks to The Almighty that I don’t have to work with Norbert anymore. Life has never been so peaceful.###

All contents © 2011 by Gene Mahoney