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The Dumbest Times We Fucked Up at Work

Based on our past history, it’s amazing we haven’t burned MEL to the ground — yet

My pre-digital-media career was defined by a sensational ability to fuck up any simple administrative task. Two weeks into my first publishing internship, one senior editor took 20-year-old me aside after I’d stapled some contracts together all wrong and said, “You’re a cheery guy, but you create more work than you accomplish.” Damn right. A year later, as a young literary agency assistant, I accidentally sent Lemony Snicket three wheels of cheese instead of one. (That might have been my last straw there, looking back on it.)

My favorite fuck-up, though, was when I was a wee baby copyeditor at Us Weekly. It was 2010 or 2011 and I’d just gotten my first iPhone, so naturally I plugged in headphones at my desk and went through every single alarm sound on the device to pick the best one. Some editors started looking at me. The code of the copy pit was dead silence, save for the fumbling of pages — but I had my headphones in! Finally, the deputy copy chief (Jackie, I’m so sorry) came over and said politely, “Um, could you not do that?”

Yep, the headphones weren’t doing a thing. My phone had been blasting that fucking “marimba” jingle — and every other wake-up sound — at full volume to the entire editorial section.

It’s nice to know, though, that my colleagues have fucked up just as bad on the job as I have, if not worse.

The Case of the Disappearing Bread Sticks

Quinn Myers, Contributing Writer: My parents were big proponents of getting a job you hate as a teenager so you work hard to be a soft-handed writer-type when you grow up. This materialized as taking a job as a janitor in my high school — cleaning out classrooms, scrubbing and waxing floors, razoring gum from the bottom of desks, etc. During my third summer as janitor, I’d worked up enough know-how and trust to be left alone (most students were paired with adult janitors), and had just taken on the very big-time task of waxing the floor of the giant cafeteria. This was sweet, because I could duck into the freezer and cool down when no one was looking. That’s when I noticed the freezer was chock-full of the school’s famous chocolate cookies and Bosco Sticks. Slowly, I began to empty them from the freezer by transporting them in a garbage bag, which I would then put into the dumpster outside. Just takin’ out the trash, like a janitor! At the end of the night, I’d come back and fetch the bag from the bottom of the dumpster, taking it home, and enjoying free Bosco Sticks.

I thought I’d gotten away with it, but the next summer I wasn’t “invited back.” I didn’t understand, because I was one of the best janitors they had — the floors I waxed looked like goddamn ice when I was done with them. Eventually I pressed one of the janitors, and he told me the bosses knew everything. It was all on camera: Taking garbage bags into the freezer, bringing them out. Going to the dumpster. Later jumping into the dumpster and pulling the bag of bread sticks out and putting them in my car.

They didn’t say anything because my mom as a teacher, and they were going to throw the food out anyway, but they weren’t super keen on my affinity to spend “hours in the freezer” and “steal from the school.”

The Hooters Girl With the Penmanship of a Medical Professional — And the Chilly Bedside Manner to Match

Magdalene Taylor, Editorial Assistant: I’m the perfect employee so I’ve never fucked up in any capacity. I did, though, once work for a Hooters and was let go after a week. I wasn’t ever explicitly told why, but I think it’s because I have resting bitch face and my handwriting wasn’t flirty enough.

The PA Who Almost Pissed All Over ESPN’s Around the Horn

Ian Lecklitner, Staff Writer: When I was an editorial assistant at the L.A. Times, I was occasionally tasked with acting as a production assistant on Around the Horn, since columnist Bill Plaschke was (and still is) a regular panel member on the show. That job basically consisted of wearing a large pair of headphones and doing whatever the producers asked of me (fixing a tie, applying some makeup and so on). There were also a lot of people from a lot of different places around the country frantically working on the show in the moments before we began filming each segment, meaning it was important for PAs like myself to be prepared to help out at the drop of a hat (lest we hold up the show). But most of the time, we just sat there listening to the producers talk amongst themselves.

Of course, a few days into the job, I was forced to choose between running to the nearby bathroom — and walking away from my headphones for a minute — or hoping that I could hold it for the duration of the show. Well, I decided to run to the nearby bathroom, and of course, the producer just so happened to need me to apply some more makeup (or something like that) to Plaschke in the 60 seconds that I was taking a leak. Needless to say, I proceeded to receive a drawn-out scolding that I could hear clearly before I even put back on my headphones.

I should’ve tried to hold it.

The How I Met Your Mother Episode That Was Really Porn

Hussein Kesvani, U.K./Europe Editor: One of my first media jobs was working at an Islamic TV channel in East London, where I was a producer on some of their religious shows. The job was fairly easy — because they shot during the evening, I had a lot of free time during the day, which I’d spend on the internet. Anyway, I wanted to watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother, which was good at the time, so I went on one of those free TV streaming websites — the ones with loads of pop-ups that you know will probably fuck up your computer, but you use anyway.

I clicked on a link that promised me the latest episode, only to be taken to a website filled with anime girls with giant breasts, pink hair and cat ears. I tried to press the red X, but every time I did, a pop-up would keep telling me to click through to more NSFW content. I was sweating profusely, dreading having to tell my parents — and my religious community — that I was fired from my first job because of hentai.

Eventually, IT had to come and reboot my system, but not until the head of the channel, along with one of London’s most revered Muslim speakers, came to my desk to collect some show notes, only to be confronted by an anime girl on my screen asking if they wanted to see some 18-year-old “real school girls.”

The Technical Difficulty That Led to a Job Half Finished

Miles Klee, Staff Writer: When I lived in New York, I took any extra editorial work I could to make ends meet. I went into the New York Observer office occasionally when they were closing a print edition and needed an extra copy editor on deck. I guess I did well enough that someone gave my name to a women’s beauty magazine whose name is lost to me now, because I’ve forgotten it out of embarrassment. What happened was, they sent me the entire issue digitally to proof at home. But I didn’t have the super-expensive Adobe software to render a lot of it. Not really caring about this job beyond the cool $100 I was making, I just read and corrected the sections I could actually see and sent it all back. A couple weeks later, I got an email from them asking why the name of a well-known New York style writer had been misspelled — on the front cover. In a twist that will shock any freelancer, I got paid anyway. And on time, too!

The Math Error That Nearly Brought Down Hollywood

Eddie Kim, Features Writer: As an intern at the venerable Hollywood trade publication Variety, I was tasked with writing up a summary of the weekend’s box office totals. This was a cruise-control task for Sunday mornings, until one day I decided to just… not add an entire day’s worth of revenue to the equation for one movie. I fucked up a third-grade-level math assignment, described a Sony pic as having an “underwhelming” weekend, and the next morning landed in the office of then-editor Tim Gray, who pinched the bridge of his nose before inquiring whether I knew why a Sony senior exec had called him last night. I didn’t, because I was a moron. Luckily, it was nothing a little profuse apologizing couldn’t smooth over, but still — I always triple-check my journalism math now. (Did I just jinx myself?)

The Busboy Who Didn’t Realize That the Hostess He Was Hitting On Was Also the Boss’ Daughter

Andrew Fiouzi, Staff Writer: Trust me when I tell you that when I went on a date with the hostess of the Italian restaurant that I bussed tables at in college — only to later find out that the girl was the daughter of the owner — I’d not only written my resignation letter, but I also thought I was going to be whacked. (I swear that he looked like Tony Soprano.)

Long story short, the next morning, I showed up to the restaurant completely oblivious to the fact that my Spanish-speaking colleagues, who knew that I’d stepped in a giant pile of elephant shit, were laughing at me out of fear for my life. When I eventually figured out what I’d done, I considered walking out of the restaurant and never looking back. But I needed a job and I sorta had a really good date, so I hung around until the owner showed up.

After a few hours of sweating through my shirt (I’m not a sweaty person), the owner invited me to his table for what I assumed to be a lecture before he either fired me or turned me into a bolognese sauce. Instead, he told me that he didn’t like the idea of any of his employees dating. Therefore, I had to decide between keeping my job or taking his daughter out on a second date. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I kept the job — until our third date.

Stumping for Stolen Valor

Tierney Finster, Contributing Writer: Back in college, as the news editor of my school’s newspaper, I interviewed another student about his military service. Fact-checking didn’t really seem like an essential part of the process behind the basic ass “11 Burning Questions” column, where we interviewed campus personalities in a straightforward way about stuff like driving a pink VW around campus. Plus, this guy wore a military uniform to our meeting in my dorm and everything, detailing his service for me and all the ways he was bringing that experience to his on-campus service organization. I laid out his story in InDesign myself and published it later that week, only to realize he was experiencing massive personal issues and had never served a day in his life. Oops.

The Bar Crawl That Ended in a Gaping Wound

Nick Leftley, Senior Editor: When I was 24, I was a staff writer at Maxim (the original British print edition). Most of my job was pretty dumb: “This week, we want you to go and get dangled under a helicopter.” “Okay.” “Can we set you on fire for the next issue?” “Sure.” “What do you think about getting your foreskin pierced?” “I’ll get my coat.” But probably the dumbest part was the monthly piece where I’d accompany three models on an afternoon bar crawl, get shitfaced drunk with them, then do a brief, silly interview at the end of it. Am I proud of that particular assignment? No. But six months earlier I was working in a radiator factory, so it wasn’t like I was going to say no to the cushiest gig of my entire life.

Anyway, the first one of these crawls, we really did get annihilated. Staggering back toward the office, for some reason it felt vitally important for me to climb this random tree we encountered growing by a spiked iron fence. Not just climb it, mind you: I wanted to jump into the tree from atop the fence. I don’t know why. Tom, the photographer (and only sober person there), tried to talk me out it, but claims my response was, “It’s okay: I’ve seen ninja films.”

One big jump later and I was sprawled on the pavement (that’s the sidewalk to you) at the base of the tree with a large hole in the bottom of my shoe, blood pouring out of a matching hole in my foot, having just impaled it on a fence spike.

The three models very kindly decided to carry me back to my office, just around the corner. It just so happened that my editor-in-chief — who, as the new kid, I was terrified of — was sitting outside the pub opposite the office. He looked up from his pint just in time to see his new hire emerge around the corner: Pissed out of my head, laughing hysterically, three equally hammered, scantily dressed women cheerfully hauling me along between them, leaving a trail of my blood all the way down the street while Tom hopped about, alternately taking pictures and calling me a giant, massive bell-end twat-face. His expression began as a delightful WHAT THE FUCK that quickly gave way to resignation as he buried his head in his hands in despair.

The deputy editor took me to the ER. I got a bandage on my foot and a tetanus shot in my arse. I have climbed relatively few trees since.

The Blackout Drunk Slacks That Were Half Music Criticism, Half Cry for Help

Jeff Gross, Social Editor: I blacked out one night and must have decided it was the perfect time (circa 1 a.m.) to slack the most by-the-book, uptight person on our staff. Someone for whom humor was an abstract concept. I then proceeded to have a rambling, nonsensical one-way shit-talk sesh about a different colleague. I ended the exchange — if you can call it that, I was the only one talking, mainly gibberish — with a critique of Metallica’s entire discography.

I only found out this happened because, about a week later, I was asked to a meeting with someone from HR. I thought it was going to be a discussion regarding work I was putting in for a promotion. Instead, I was given screenshots of my drunken slacks — evidently, my coworker didn’t see the humor in the situation, and immediately reported it. Needless to say, I nervously smoked about a pack of cigarettes immediately afterwards and apologized profusely to the colleague.

Oh, and I never got the promotion.