Not the Sharpest Pencil in the Supply Cabinet

Any frequent reader of the comic strip Dilbert sees a bit of the Pointy-Haired Boss in their own taskmaster. He is the stand-in for all that is stupid in the workplace. He's technologically clueless, socially inept, a personal responsibility shape-shifter, and is Bushonian in his arrogance.

Luckily, most bosses aren't quite so insane - with the possible exception of the Shrub-in-Chief - but some of us have worked with bosses as spectacularly incompetent as old Dances With Dunces.

This is our story of one such captain of American industry.

We called him Dad because he often forced us into his cramped, sweltering office to hold forth on everything from dressing for success to marital relationships. Dad was a legend in his own mind - a rotund man looking remarkably like Dilbert's tormentor (only with slightly more hair). His shirts fit too tightly and his ties were breathtakingly awful. He habitually peeled homegrown, worm-eaten apples with a filthy penknife as he talked. His office was a hazard of teetering stacks of yellowed paper threatening to consume the west wing of the building in a tsunami of incompetent bureaucracy. More than once, he fell asleep in mid-pontification while talking to me. When the narcolepsy overtook him, I always crept away from his office like an Alcatraz inmate headed for the Golden Gate.

He is a virtual font of silly stories of ineptitude, but my favorite is the arrival of desktop PCs (e-mail wasn't widely available yet) in the early 90s.

Dad fancied himself a computer geek by dint of his mechanical engineering degree from Ohio State. He once told me he could understand anything because of that degree, but seemed oblivious to the differences between a mechanical device and one that shifted invisible electrons into streams of data.

He took pride in bringing the computer revolution to our office. He somehow convinced another incompetent nincompoop to allocate money for the PCs he had placed in each cubicle - one for every two people. However, he was so vainglorious about the machines he neglected to order a single printer for the entire floor.

He also forgot that only two out of about 40 people knew how to type and their experience was limited to typewriters. Not surprisingly, the computers became very expensive doorstops.

This enraged Dad. He huffed and puffed and threatened to remove them if we use them immediately. So, we dutifully cranked them up each morning and ignored the sickly green glow of monochrome monitors until it was time to call it a day.

After several months, Dad realized that turning PCs on didn't equal use. This discovery shocked him so badly he conducted a survey on why we weren't using those sexy new machines.

When my turn came, I told him I used it mostly for writing letters to customers and that they were useless to me without a printer. The conversation went something like this:

OP: "I need a printer."

Dad: "Why?"

OP: "Because I use the computer to write letters to customers."

Dad: "But why do you need a printer?"

OP: "Well," I said a bit surprised, "I need a printer so I can print a letter to mail."

Dad: "But why do you need a printer for that?"

OP: "Because the electrons making up the letter are stuck inside the machine."

Dad: "But that still doesn't explain why you need a printer. Why are you being so difficult?"

OP: "Dad, here's how it works. I type a letter using the keyboard. Electrons magically travel from the keyboard via this wire," I said pointing to the keyboard's cord. "And end up inside the PC. Then, they gather together like good little electrons - first forming letters, then sentences, then entire paragraphs. They remain there until I use a printer to transfer them to a sheet of paper which I then mail to the recipient," I said in my best first grade teacher voice.

Dad: "But I don't understand why you need a printer."

I could feel the bile rising in my throat and the blood rushing to my head.

OP: "Dad, how in the hell do you expect me to get the letters to the customers," I said in a barely sub-scream voice. "Put them on a goddamn disk and mail the disk to them."

Dad: "I still don't understand," he said as an attack of narcolepsy began to overcome him. "I use the computer all the time and I don't need a printer."

OP: "Dad, what do use your computer for?"

Dad: "Well, I play games on it. And I keep my diary in there. Oh, and I make lots of spreadsheets. Do you know what spreadsheets are?" he asked.

OP: "You never print any of that stuff do you?"

Dad: "Of course not. I don’t have a printer."

With that, Dad yawned and shuffled off to his office for a quick wormy apple and a nice nap. As he walked away, he said over his shoulder, "If you have any good ideas to help us use the computers, please write me a note. I like to have things in writing."

"Sure Dad. I'll get right on that. Sweet dreams!"

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, March 04, 2006

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