Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Getty Consternation Institute

Tom the Big Boss, Sort of
Marina del Rey, California, July 1989

In May 1989, when my doctoral dissertation committee rejected my third dissertation prospectus, I walked out of the conference room, drove away from USC and never went back.

I'd been planning on an academic career for four years -- what was I going to do now?  I thought back to Augustana, where I wanted to become an editor or translator, and got a job as an editor at the Getty Conservation Institute (founded by oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, whose grandson, Paul Getty Jr., was the object of some of my junior high fantasies).

It turned out to be the worst job in the world.

The 10 things I hated most about it:

1. There were a lot of heterosexist employees.  I got "Isn't that woman hot?", "What kind of girl do you like?" and "Would you kick that actress out of bed?" as often as in high school.  Tom the Big Boss was particularly obnoxious about it. And of course, no one in the 1980s was out at work.

He was tall, thin, bespectacled, a scholar, not one you would automatically assume to be heterosexist.  Not a bad physique (and yes, once I did get a peek in the men's restroom.  Not bad there, either).

2. Tom also used physical assault as a greeting.  Every time I saw him, he punched me -- hard -- on the shoulder.  I ended up being bruised every day.  And I couldn't say anything, because he was the boss.

The Getty Consternation Institute
3. It was not near the very beautiful Getty Museum, but in a warehouse district on Glencoe Avenue in Marina del Rey, with nothing nearby, no restaurants, no parks, nothing.  I had an hour for lunch, but with no place to go, I had to sit in the lounge eating my sandwich, and they always found me and said "We need this right away!  Your lunch can wait until later!"

4. The Getty Conservation Institute were involved in the preservation of art and archaeology around the world, so I figured I'd be getting around the world to edit articles on rock art in Australia. the Tomb of Nefertari in Egypt, the Mogao Grotto in China, or the Prado in Spain.

No, it was Tom who jetted around the world, having expensive dinners with the Minister of Antiquities of Peru or the Cultural Ambassador of Greece.  I worked for a subsidiary boss, Kathy, editing the abstracts of articles like "Functional Polymers for Chrome Fixation" and "Nitrogen for Biodeterioration Control on Museum Collections."

5. Every editorial change, even correcting typos, required me to fill out a form and get the boss's approval.  By the end of the day, there was a large stack of forms for Kathy and then Tom to approve.

6. Then I had to type the abstracts into an online database, get that approved by the boss, and file everything, abstracts, corrections, and Kathy and Tom's ok, into a vast bank of file cabinets. I was a secretary!

7. Kathy had no qualms about stealing my work.  I wrote a 50-page style manual for the editorial department, and she put her name on it, took it to Tom, and received a note "Great job!"

8. Abstracts could be submitted in Spanish, French, or German as well as English, but I wasn't allowed to touch those, in spite of my graduate work in Comparative Literature.  One day Kathy was running around the office with a question about Spanish.  "I can help!" I exclaimed.  "Oh, no, you wouldn't know about it." "Oh, I know quite a bit about Spanish," I protested, but she wouldn't hear of it.  Eventually she called the Spanish Department at UCLA to find out.

The question was: what do you call the thing on top of the "n" in Spanish?

It's a tilde.

I started bringing Don Quixote or Cien aƱos de soledad, untranslated, to sit prominently on my desk.

Graduate Student Intern, Not Tom
9. With all of the foreign dignitaries and archaeologists wandering in and out all the time, it was like an international airport.  I got sick a lot. 

10. There were a lot of high-strung, crazy employees.  Screaming fits were common.  Probably due to #1-9.

I started looking for a new job immediately.  A year later, I still hadn't found a new job, but I couldn't take it anymore, so:

 I printed out new first pages of the Style Manual, with my name as author, and substituted it on all of the copies.

 I typed up a letter of resignation, in Spanish, and left it on Kathy's desk.  

And on the way out of the office, I stopped by Tom's office and punched him hard on the shoulder.

Next: I teach Gay 101 at Juvenile Hall.


  1. I don't blame you a bit. I had a similar experience where I was given 48 hours to create a 60+ page policy document from scratch -And the person above me submitted it as her own work. Likewise, I am a Spanish speaker since childhood, and attended university in Spain. I had a boss who needed a word in Spanish -but bypassed me in favor of a "native speaker" -the janitor. Not wanting to trust her image to the janitor, she then went to a lady who worked in the cafeteria. Then, in desperation, she came to me. "I have to file a sexual harassment report, and I need to know how to say 'penis' in Spanish. I asked X and Y and got two different answers. Which one is correct?" With great pleasure I told her that the custodian had given her the equivalent of cock, and the cafeteria lady had given her wee-wee... And that next time she should start with the person who had a degree in Spanish language and was a accredited interpreter!

    1. Why did they need to know the Spanish word for "penis"? In Los Angeles, when I wanted to pick up a guy who spoke only Spanish, I used "verga."



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