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CITYSCAPES / DAVID FERRELL

Bosses Get Their Day--Only This Time It's Official

October 21, 1995|DAVID FERRELL

Never mind that it has been blared all over the radio, or that it's printed clear as day on every FTD calendar hanging in just about every florist shop in America: Steve Chandler has no idea about Bosses' Day or Bosses' Week or any such thing.

In fact, when he hears about it for the first time, he laughs out loud. Buy his boss a gift? No way. A card? He laughs again. Chandler seems free of even the slightest guilt or concern on this Friday morning.

"My boss is 400 miles away," the IBM computer-network technician says, meaning that his boss works in San Francisco. Chandler grins telling me this, but he must see the envy in my eyes. So he is quick to point out that his situation is not as perfect as it might seem, as he sits here sipping coffee in a Bunker Hill courtyard. There are still nights, he says, when emergency calls come in at 3 in the morning--some big network has gone down. Invariably, the boss is very plain about what to do.

"Basically, what he says is, 'Deal with it.' "

Deal with it: This is my motto for the day. I am out here, listening to one employee after another rattle on about Bosses' Day, because my boss has heard it's Bosses' Day. He thinks this is such a stupendous idea that I should go scour the city, find out how Bosses' Day is catching on--how it fits into the complex sociology of the modern workplace.

Talk to some white-collar types, he tells me. Get the blue-collar viewpoint. Stop by a movie studio, maybe a couple big law firms, and some factories. Hey, maybe try the stock exchange. Then, he says, make some calls--maybe get Eisner on the horn--and write up a breezy, insightful, Joan Didion-esque essay shedding light on the dynamics of professional employment in Los Angeles . . . and, of course, file it by 5 o'clock.

Right, I tell him. You bet.

So I am catching people on the fly--bing, bang, boom--in a hellbent race across the city. The first thing I learn is, Bosses' Day couldn't be more awkward if it were a three-legged horse on stilts. Ignore it and you risk harpooning your career. (We journalists, for example, always fear the unkind cuts that editors make, hacking our favorite quotes and examples out of our stories.) But celebrate the day and you invite the wrath of co-workers--not to mention which, your boss might assume you're only kissing up, anyway.

Would Gary Greene take that chance?

"No, no, no, no, no, no," the Carson chemical technician says hurriedly, shaking his head. The way Greene figures, his boss would surely take offense at any display of largesse. "He just wouldn't appreciate that. He wouldn't understand it, either."

I begin to see that some jobs are better adapted to Bosses' Day than others. In film and the arts, gifts are de rigueur: MOCA employee Shayna Ritenour, 22, new on the job, stopped at a florist to buy her boss both a birthday gift and a Bosses' Day gift, a mug and flowers.

Still, the awkward nature of Bosses' Day has made it a tough sell even in Hollywood. Wally's Liquor, a popular West Los Angeles gourmet shop, sends out expensive gifts every day--usually champagne, caviar and cheeses. Stars, agents and producers take turns sending them to each other, but no one, it seems, has embraced this new tradition.

"Gary, have you seen any signs of anybody celebrating Bosses' Day?" manager Chris Sandin asks. Employee Gary Fishman half-laughs.

"You've got to be joking."

*

Bosses' Day is so obscure that not even the floral industry can keep track of the date. In its yearly calendar, FTD cited Friday as Bosses' Day, but traditionally it has fallen on Oct. 16--which was Monday, pointed out Adam Hsu, owner of a Downtown shop called the Flower Patch.

Quite a few people filled his shop on Monday, buying $15 and $20 flowers, mugs and metallic balloons, Hsu said, but Bosses' Day has never measured up to other important events--Secretaries' Day, for example. And since the late 1980s, when Bosses' Day hit a peak, corporate downsizing have squished the day itself down into maybe half what it used to be.

I realize, as I race through the city's industrial zones, that the real flaw with Bosses' Day is that every day is bosses' day. They always have the power and the perks.

To check out this theory, I stop at the most touchy-feely looking place I can find: a huge factory painted with pastures and high stands of corn--a vast mural. But it turns out this place is about as touchy-feely as a root canal: It's the Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon, where up to 5,000 pigs a day are slaughtered and packed for food.

"No one brought me nothing," security guard Joe Galluzzo says with a grimace.

At a Coca-Cola bottling plant I learn that production employees would "probably faint" if someone dared bring in a gift for the boss. Truck driver Roger Larry is a happy employee--but his boss works in Victorville.

I would like to linger, explore Larry's situation a bit more, but I am running around like mad now, scrambling to get back to the office. There's no time to call Eisner, after all. I get back and 5 o'clock comes and goes.

The boss is on me again.

I am late filing the story I promised for Bosses' Day.

I can almost hear the sound of my career going down the tubes.

So here it is, boss. Sorry. Just please don't cut my great whizbang ending:

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