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Personnel Best

Claim:   Boss dismisses indolent office boy and pays him off on the spot, only to discover the "fired" employee worked for someone else.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Cerf, 1956]

Zsa Zsa Hornblow, the doughty old maid who had inherited the Hornblow Nut and Bolt Factory from her father, Uriah Hornblow, and ran it with an iron hand, caught sight of a young fellow leaning idly against the wall, whistling and twiddling his thumbs. The outraged Zsa Zsa shrilled, "You there! What's your weekly salary?"

"Thirty bucks," vouchsafed the idler.

"Hmphh!" snorted Zsa Zsa. "Here's thirty dollars. Now scram! Vamoose! You're fired!"

The young man pocketed the thirty and left, exuding good will. Zsa Zsa watched till he was off the premises, then demanded of foreman Al Vidor, "How long was that waster on the payroll of the Hornblow Nut and Bolt Works?"

"He never worked for us, ma'am," said Al patiently. "He was just taking orders for Cokes and sandwiches for the drugstore."
 

[Cobb, 1925]

The owner of a big textile plant hired one of these so-called efficiency sharps to cut down waste, and speed production, and sew up the loose ends, and all the rest of it.

Filled with authority and importance, the expert on a certain morning, entered the factory. He had progressed through only one department when he came upon a spectacle which shocked his efficient being to its very core.

On a bench sat a languid-looking individual in overalls, busily engaged in sitting. Only the jaws of this person moved; he was masticating chewing-tobacco. Presently he bent forward and spat; then resumed his immobile pose.

With mounting indignation the expert watched him. Approaching with a springy tread, he fixed a sternly accusing eye upon the delinquent.

"See here, my man," he began snappily, "what do you think you are doing?"

"Me?" inquired the other. "I ain't doing nothin'."

"Well, what do you expect to do when you get through doing nothing?"

"Nothin'."

"Well, what have you been doing?"

"Nothin'."

"And how long have you been sitting here thus engaged?"

The latter yawned.

"Oh, 'bout an hour — maybe an hour and a half."

"Is that so? How much do you draw a week?"

"Twenty-four dollars."

"Well," said the expert, "we'll stop that part of it right now. When is your week up?"

"Tomorrow."

"You needn't wait until tomorrow — you can go right now. Here!" The efficiency man reached into his pocket, hauled out his own private bank-roll, peeled off four fives and four ones and pressed the total into the hand of the overalled one, outstretched to receive the money. "Now get out of here and don't ever let me see you inside this plant again."

"Yes, sir" said the loafer. He arose, spat a farewell, and slouched out.

"I guess that's inaugurating a little rough and ready reform right at the jump," said the efficiency man to himself. He beckoned to the foreman of the department and the latter approached.

"Who is that fellow walking out of the door?" asked the expert.

"I don't know his name," said the foreman. "He's got some kind of a job at the foundry across the street."
 

[Braude, 1965]

The owner of a store was passing through the packing room and saw a boy lounging against a box and whistling cheerfully. Thinking of all his money being wasted on this type of labor, the employer asked gruffly, "How much do you get a week?"

"Ten dollars," the boy replied.

"Here's your pay for the week," said the man. "Now get out!"

On his way back to the office, the store owner ran into the foreman and asked him, "When did we hire that boy, and who is responsible for hiring him?"

"We never hired him," the foreman said. "He was just delivering a package from another firm."
 

Origins:   This story, which has been around since at least the 1920s, continues to update itself. A 1996 version stars Robert Maxwell, a famous British entrepreneur, as the aggrieved boss. He shares an elevator with a cheeky young man who refuses to extinguish his cigarette despite a company-wide no smoking policy. Upon finding out the kid makes £200 a week, Maxwell peels £400 off his bankroll, hands it to the insolent smoker, and tells him he's fired.
But of course after pocketing the money the kid counters with, "I work for British Telecom, not for you."

Likewise, numerous Australian versions star Frank or Kerry Packer, millionaires from that part of the world, or Rupert Murdoch, another media baron. One common telling has Kerry Packer finding himself in an elevator in the Consolidated Press building along with a shabbily-dressed man. Outraged, Packer tells the man he's a disgrace to the firm, fires him, and hands him $1,000. The fired man just grins — he's actually a freelance photographer who stopped by to visit a friend who worked in the building.

The legend works as well as it does because it holds out hope that every now and then the little guy will win one over the big bad autocratic boss. It also serves to remind those in positions of power that they don't rule everyone; there are limits even they must respect.

Barbara "big shot down" Mikkelson

Last updated:   16 June 2011

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Sources:

    Bishop, Amanda.   The Gucci Kangaroo.
    Hornsby, Aust.: Australasian Publishing, 1988.   ISBN 0-900882-50-6   (pp. 98-100).

    Braude, Jacob.   Human Interest Stories.
    Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965   (p. 44).

    Cerf, Bennett.   The Life of the Party.
    Garden City, NY: Hanover House, 1956   (pp. 43-44).

    Cobb, Irvin S.   Many Laughs for Many Days.
    Garden City, NY: Hanover House, 1925   (pp. 102-103).

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.
    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (p. 146).

    Playboy.   "Party Jokes."
    August 2009.