Metatalktail Hour: Talktail of Shame July 10, 2021 3:26 AM   Subscribe

Phunniemee says, "Inspired by this comment, it would personally amuse me to read through a thread of dumbest / biggest screw up / most embarrassing / lols things that assorted mefite professionals have encountered doing their jobs."

Or just let us know what's happening with you, what you've been thinking about, reading, watching, or whatever you'd like to chat about (except politics, please).
posted by taz (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 3:26 AM (61 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

I screwed up yesterday and woke to find thousands of alert emails this morning when a simple automated process ran overnight! Now that that's unpicked it's breakfast time. Nothing quite like automating stupidity.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 4:11 AM on July 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

Two backstage stories - one was a friend's, and one was my own.

I will tell the friend's first. He was just starting out, running the lights for an indie show or something where they had some nudity. For whatever reason, someone on the crew (after checking with everyone else first) decided he would go naked backstage in solidarity, and then another person on the crew did, and then another and another. (They checked with everyone else in the cast and the crew first to brace them; they didn't tell the director, and the cast and rest of the crew was so amused they went with it.) So by the second week of the show, the entire crew would regularly show up clothed, start the show going, and then all strip, and run the rest of the show naked, then change back into their clothes right after the show ended so they could get going with any public-facing things.

Then came a night when, right before the show ended, someone came scurrying backstage with a warning to the crew that the director was going to be bringing a Very Important Guest backstage immediately after the show ended. My friend remembers only a mad scramble among the crew to run through all the closing-the-show actions while trying to dress at the same time.

....I told my friend's story first, because my own story is one of his favorite Theater Disaster tales - one which he has occasionally requested I tell in mixed company, with a big grin and an excited, "oh, tell everyone The Tequila Story!"


In 2002 I was the stage manager for an off-Broadway revival of Sam Shephard's Fool For Love. There are only four characters in the show; first is Eddie and May, a couple in a toxic on-again/off-again relationship; Eddie has turned up at May's place unexpectedly, trying to kick things back into "on-again". There is Martin, a nebbishy dude who's already made a date to take May to a movie and turns up about halfway through the play to pick her up. And then there is the ghost of Eddie's father, whom only Eddie can see and who just sits to one side commenting on things.

In the play, we don't know who Martin is at first - we only see his car pull up outside (we came up with a neat trick for the lights for that) and Eddie panics and turns out the lights, thinking it's someone who's going to try to break in. When Martin comes in, Eddie jumps him, and they scuffle until May turns on the lights again and sees who it is; she breaks up the fight, introduces Eddie as "my cousin" and suggests the three have a drink before all leave together.

We weren't going to be using real tequila, of course - we'd use instant iced tea diluted to make something an appropriate color. The company even had a tequila bottle in the prop closet. But about two weeks before we opened, the director decided he wanted to have the cast drink a specific brand of tequila - and he bought it himself, decanting the real stuff into another bottle so the cast could enjoy it at the closing night party.

So one night, we were doing the show. The cast was running through their paces onstage, and I was sitting at the back of the room in the tech booth with my assistant stage manager. He was on lights and I was on sound. They had gotten to the lights-out fight scene, I was carefully watching for where May went to tap the spot on the wall which indicated "turning the lights back on" - this was tricky to time, so I had to watch her carefully, and call my ASM to run the cue JUST right - and this particular night I got it right, and sat back, pleased.

But a couple seconds after the lights came back on, suddenly the actor playing the ghost stood up and walked back stage. This was not something he usually did. May and Eddie and Martin were still going through their scene, and both my ASM and I scanned the stage - and then I saw that the prop tequila bottle, which had been sitting on the floor, had gotten knocked over in the fight and smashed.

Oh God.

My ASM and I had a panicked few seconds' conversation about this. The way the theater was laid out, the only way that I could get backstage from where I sat would be to leave the booth - which would put me IN the audience at the back of the theater - run through the lobby, out to the hallway, up a flight of stairs, try to get into the office one flight up, run through the office, and then climb down a fire escape to our own floor and back in through a window. I had only five minutes, we figured, before May was going to need to be pouring tequila for Eddie and Martin - and we discussed whether it was even possible for me to make it. It was likely I wouldn't, but I was still just starting to stand up from my chair and give it a try when the Ghost Father came walking back onstage again, with a full bottle in his hand.

"Oh!" I realized. "Oh, he saw what happened, and got another bottle himself! That's why he left the stage!" I sat back down again, relieved. He timed his walk back to his chair to match with May's crossing over to where she would USUALLY get the tequila - and just handed it to her as he walked back to his chair. It looked pretty cool, actually, and I was even more relieved. The problem had solved, it looked cool, and all was well.

And then my ASM said, "wait...I think that's real tequila."

To which I responded, ".....I'm sorry, what?"

"You remember how they wanted to save that good tequila from that bottle they got for later, so they poured it into another bottle?" My ASM pointed at the stage. "That's the bottle they used to store the good tequila."

Oh God.

Did I mention that the actor playing Martin was allergic to alcohol?

Oh God.

...The next ten minutes or so unfolded like a slow-motion train wreck. Fortunately most of the cast had their wits about them - Martin started lifting his glass to his lips (my ASM and I cringing as he did), but then smelled what was in the glass and quickly lowered it. He just mimed sips for the rest of the show. A moment later, when May went to have a sip, she also smelled what was in the glass and mimed as well. The Ghost Father also gets a glass of tequila, and he too mimed it.

That left Eddie. In our production, there was a long speech Eddie has where he finishes by taking a swig directly from the bottle. And that night, it was Eddie's understudy who was doing the show, for the first time - and so he was a little nervous, and he decided to cope with the nerves by just diving in and doing everything with 110% intensity. And so inevitably, we got to that moment...Eddie launched into his speech, laughing, ranting, and gesturing wildly. The rest of the cast started subtly shaking their heads at him, trying to warn him about what was in the bottle - and me and my ASM were sinking lower and lower in our seats, absolutely unable to stop what was happening. But Eddie was too into the moment, and raced through the speech, finishing with a laugh, and then - as directed - he took a huge pull directly from the bottle.

His eyes got very big.

He froze a second.

He swallowed hard.

He held his breath a second.

....And then he went on.

My ASM and I all but fell off our chairs with relief.

When the show ended and the audience had largely cleared out, I stormed back stage and immediately launched into a tirade about how many times have I told you guys to be careful during the fight, you could have cut yourself.... but I was met with an equally-loud tirade from Martin yelling at me about how could you have let real alcohol onstage you know i can't have it, which touched off another tirade from the Ghost Father who yelled at us both about guys this was an accident and yelling at each other isn't going to help calm down... but it was just the adrenaline draining off us all, and we just yelled at each other for thirty seconds before stopping, blinking, and then all of us dissolving into helpless laughter.

The epilogue - we had an ESL class come see the show the following night, and that included a post-show talk-back where they could ask us questions and talk to us about the show. We let them walk around backstage and showed them a couple of the light effects and how they worked. And then one of the students innocently asked, "Did you ever have something really go wrong?"

We all cracked up and said "oh, boy, have we got a story for you...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:50 AM on July 10, 2021 [40 favorites]

story from a decade ago involving a visiting colleague from a similar department in another country:

working in paint R&D means that you mix paint - a LOT of paint. Some of these formulations you can mix using what looks like an oversized KitchenAid (more like an industrial Hobart...), but others, where you need to ensure pigment dispersal, are shaken like martinis. So, you make 10-15 liters of this, put it in a large paint can, add some ceramic mixing balls, pound the lid shut, insert into the shaker, close the lid and GO.

This colleague, who was not inexperienced in this, but still new-ish, was on a long term visit to our offices. On their first day they go into the lab, kit up, don their goggles, make the formulation, everything in the can, put on the lid, close the machine and......


emergency stop the shaker and open it to see *everything* covered in dark red paint due to the lid being improperly set and having flown off during shaking. It looked like something out of a movie where a zombie or whatever swallowed a grenade and then went *BOOM* from the inside.

So, by their 3rd hour on their very first day, this colleague was cleaning and scrubbing 15 liters of paint out of the shaker.

They made an impression to say the least.
posted by alchemist at 5:03 AM on July 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

I have the honor (?) of being featured on an Ask a Manager "your 10 most cringe-worthy career mistakes" post. I originally posted my story in a comment over there and only found out that it had been included in a fuck-up anthology when a friend was reading it and he actually said "Hey, this sounds like something you would do" and then read it aloud to me. It took a bit of searching but I eventually was able to find my original comment to prove it really was my story.

Anyway, beanbags and puppies.
posted by Gray Duck at 5:44 AM on July 10, 2021 [18 favorites]

My first hourly wage job was at a golf course driving range when I was 15; during one of my very first shifts I was driving the cart which picked up the golf balls back to the shed where we cleaned them and ran into a hydro box (the basket which picked up the balls was wider than the cart I was driving and I forgot to account for that) hard enough that it ripped the hitch off the back of the cart and rendered it unusable. My boss and a few of my coworkers came over and we all stared at the wreckage for a little while. Then once the range closed my coworkers (who were remarkably nice about it) and I had to go out and pick up every one of the hundreds if not thousands of balls out there using shag bags. That was when I realized the working world wasn't going to be for me.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:39 AM on July 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

I think I've shared it before, but a while back I gave the most important job talk of my life to a packed room full of distinguished senior people in my academic field. For the first 30% of the talk, during which I loudly claimed to be a leading world expert on a topic, my brain randomly replaced the six syllable word for what I actually study with a somewhat similar sounding five syllable word that means something very different. Not only was the substitute word something that several people on my hiring committee do study, but it was originally coined by two of the people who were in the room at the time. At some point the chair raised their hand and gently asked if perhaps I meant the other word instead. I had to sit down to recover. It still makes me want to seek out a desk to hide under. I've done far more destructive and stupid things at work. This one didn't require medical staples or destroy hundreds of hours worth of other people's effort. But, I've never done it quite so publicly or with such little excuse. (I was astonished to get the job. My colleagues were very forgiving.)
posted by eotvos at 7:42 AM on July 10, 2021 [25 favorites]

I was temping at a travel agency back in the day when cash was used. It was hella boring. There was a button under the he desk. Apparently, if you push the button, the police come to visit (without lights or sirens).
posted by theora55 at 10:06 AM on July 10, 2021 [19 favorites]

I work in a museum, and am very much behind the scenes by choice. I also have a pretty serious phobia related to being photographed/filmed/recorded. The museum has some really historically significant artifacts from Thailand, which are well known in Thailand. So, some years ago, a Thai film crew came to film them. For some reason the curator who would normally be the "host" for this did not come at the last minute. So my boss (who shares my phobias) tasked me with showing the artifacts to the film crew. We thought they would just do some filming of the artifacts themselves. They show up, and I escort them to where the artifacts are and they do a bit of filming. They then point the camera in my face and want me to start talking for their segment. I instead burst into tears. Fortunately it was not live. My boss makes some quick calls and rounds up someone in the management staff who is of Thai heritage to do the talking part, so things are ultimately smoothed over, but that is the story of how I came to cry for Thai TV.
posted by gudrun at 10:31 AM on July 10, 2021 [10 favorites]

Many years ago when TV only had a few shows running on the overnight, my sister and I were flipping channels and came upon some sordid scene on a Jerry Springer show. A person of limited education and cooth, was bellowing about how they needed VIORITY. Their vociferous need of VIORITY was shouted many times with supportive reasons why VIORITY was essential for them. My sister and I, always on the lookout for new shtick to add to our badinage, added VIORITY to our sillytimes vocabulary.

Image my chagrin when during a meeting with some national co-op representatives, I SAID VIORITY instead of variety. Blew my cred badly and turned bright red. I remain chastened, but my sister and I still say it even though it carries a heavy tinge of shame. I am red right now.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:42 AM on July 10, 2021 [11 favorites]

Maybe we should start a MeConfess subsite for shameful or embarrassing admissions— the RED.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:46 AM on July 10, 2021 [27 favorites]

At my first job out of university, with many friends and friends of friends from said university, my old roommate and I were on a project with friend of his. Roommate was development, Friend was testing, and I was in the field.

One day, while testing a new build, Friend had hopped from one server to another, and wiped /opt on a test box. Friend then looked at the prompt, saw that it showed a much more important, business critical server name than his test box, closed his laptop, and quietly left the office.

Weird hours were nothing out of the ordinary, so the wasn’t much concern until Friend hadn’t been spotted for a few days. We asked around, and no-one had heard from him, and he wasn’t answering either of his phones.

Roommate went to Friend’s house that night, rang the doorbell, and Friend answered, seemingly fine. After a few roundabout questions about how things were at the office, Friend finally asked how the critical server was working, and only levelled with Roommate after being assured that everything was humming along just fine.
posted by Kreiger at 11:45 AM on July 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

Maybe we should start a MeConfess subsite for shameful or embarrassing admissions— the RED.
MeCulpa, surely.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:49 AM on July 10, 2021 [71 favorites]

I taught a 240 person lecture class with the back of my dress tucked in my tights. No, I was not wearing underwear.
posted by Morpeth at 12:27 PM on July 10, 2021 [23 favorites]

humble nudibranch, SecretFilter.
posted by theora55 at 12:31 PM on July 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I transposed the first letters of Huck Finn while teaching an undergrad class.
posted by FencingGal at 12:44 PM on July 10, 2021 [16 favorites]

Oh hey it's my question yay.

I intended it to be everyone tell on other people, but now this thread is full of everyone telling on themselves!

Since I have personally never done anything embarrassing in my whole life, obviously, I'll share the thing I immediately thought of when I read that linked comment.

One of my coworkers wasn't able to register into an account on a site I'm nominally in charge of, and was insisting that it was my team's fault. I offered to get on a screen share with him so I could help him through the login process, and watched him spell his name [changed, but similar] Christapher instead of Christopher. I stopped him and was like "wait! we've got your name spelled wrong in our system, that's why you can't log in!" There was a very, very long silence and then I saw a series of backspaces in that field. He typed Christopher, cleared his throat, and very sheepishly said, "I believe I've been spelling my name wrong on every try."

(And just to add icing on the cake, this guy is on our technical support team.)
posted by phunniemee at 12:53 PM on July 10, 2021 [20 favorites]

I love you all.
posted by clew at 1:19 PM on July 10, 2021 [7 favorites]

I can't think of anything horrifying that I've done on the job (I've repressed those memories, no doubt), but I do have a Greatest Hits of awkward job interview moments:

* You know how Riker from Star Trek TNG sits down, by throwing his leg over the back of the chair? Yeah, I did that.

* I told the hiring committee I was overqualified for the job. I was not.

* Somehow, the conversation turned to the fact that I owned lederhosen. This was at an interview for an office manager position. In Ohio.
posted by sugarbomb at 1:35 PM on July 10, 2021 [11 favorites]

I had a job interview go so badly that the interviewer stopped asking me questions and we just chatted a bit about someone we both knew at my then-current job.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:46 PM on July 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

I have two stories...

Many years ago I was in an operatic production with a very large cast mounted by a medium-sized company. Rather than incurring the significant expense of hiring covers for so many roles, most of the singers had secondary assignments covering a role with which they didn't share any scenes. As you may imagine, everyone got plenty of rehearsal in their main roles and perhaps a single run-through in their secondary roles towards the end of the rehearsal period. I'm guessing you may see where this is headed. Everyone switched to their secondary role for just one performance close to the end of the run. My secondary role was a small one that was mostly dialogue rather than solo singing. Now, I'm not saying I didn't know my lines. Not at all. I knew those lines, man. Specifically, I knew that when someone said X my line after that was Y, and I could do this without fail when everyone around me was familiar with their roles. Which, yeah, in this particular performance they were not because they were in the same boat as I. So I'm on stage during this performance delivering my dialogue, and my counterpart gets confused and skips back to an earlier line. Naturally, I responded to that line with the appropriate line that comes after that. And so on and so on. He skipped back several times and at some point I started thinking, "This scene seems a lot longer than I remember, and I could swear I just said some of these lines." I looked into the eyes of my counterpart and all I saw was fear and confusion. I had to get us out of there. So I made something up, got us the hell off stage and tried to avoid the director as much as possible. It's the only time I've actually wished to be snagged off stage by a giant hook.

Another time I was hired as a last minute replacement for the lead role in an obscure operetta, the name of which escapes me. As an Italianate tenor suited for the lirico-spinto to spinto-dramatico repertoire, the "baritenor" roles in operettas were a congenial fit for my instrument. I got this gig something like two weeks before opening, so I had to think strategically because there were no way I'd be able to learn absolutely everything in time for opening night. Being an operetta there were any number of large concerted numbers and so right off the bat I decided I'd only learn the words to the solo material and dialogue. During the concerted numbers I would half-sing/half-mumble reasonably similar nonsense words to give the impression I was singing along with everyone else. Weeeeeellllll, it turns out that this operetta may have been obscure in the US but was really well known in Germany to people of a certain age. I learned this because the audience was almost entirely Germans of a certain age and they practically sang along with the big numbers. Did I mention the geometries of the venue were such that I was no more than ten feet from some of the audience members? Who could totally tell I was faking some of the words? Yeah, so that happened.
posted by slkinsey at 1:46 PM on July 10, 2021 [10 favorites]

There was that one time I banned myself here just to see what it looked like on the back end but did not realize I would not be able to UNban myself so the site was completely mod-free until mathowie came back.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:42 PM on July 10, 2021 [88 favorites]

I was working at a library in the mid-00s when the Millennium Trilogy was quite popular.

We had a circulation desk, for checking in and checking out books, and a reference desk, which was actually staffed by librarians.

One day, someone came to the circulation desk and asked for the girl with the dragon tattoo. "Oh, you're looking for W.," my coworker said. So she went into the back and got our tattooed coworker W, who didn't recognize the customer, and protested, "I don't have a dragon tattoo, it's a snake!"

This argument carried on for a couple of minutes before one of the librarians overheard it and managed to sort out that the customer was not in fact looking for the girl with the dragon tattoo, but "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."
posted by Jeanne at 2:53 PM on July 10, 2021 [34 favorites]

Shortly after I switched from hospital nursing to clinic nursing I tried out the “deceased” function in the mainframe computer on my own profile. In the hospital that is followed by a series of questions. Time? Coroner’s case? Disposition of body? Family notified? Etc.
Not so in the clinic, apparently. I was instantly killed off, my health insurance cancelled, and a letter of condolence sent to my husband.

I.T. was PISSED at me but restored my life with a simple entry. To this day my insurance record shows a one day gap memorializing the event.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:36 PM on July 10, 2021 [51 favorites]

SLC Mom reminds me of the postcard that arrived addressed to my father after he died informing him of his death and funeral arrangements. It was sent by an organization he belonged to. They should have taken him off the list first.

Fortunately, it provided us with a much-needed laugh, though everyone we told the story to was horrified.
posted by FencingGal at 4:02 PM on July 10, 2021 [10 favorites]

The manager at one of my early office jobs was a loud, friendly, outgoing guy named Mike. We all joked around a lot in the office when there were no customers, and it was a relaxed, fun environment for the most part although we switched into professional behavior immediately whenever a customer approached.

One day he and one of the sales guys spent a good chunk of the morning loudly complaining about a somewhat important customer who was being difficult. And Mike was saying stuff like "that butthead needs to sign these damn papers already" and "did that butthead call back yet?" He referred to the guy as a butthead at least three times over the course of the morning.

So later on I answer the phone and it's the difficult customer, wanting to talk to Mike. So I ring Mike's extension and when he picks up I say VERY professionally "Hi Mike, the butthead is on line two for you." And a second later I hear him answer the phone "HI BUTTHEAD!" My soul very nearly left my body.

He had assumed it was one of his buddies on the line who told me to say that. Sitting there waiting for him to get off the phone I very nearly packed up my shit and left, just show myself out and save him the trouble. Thankfully he was able to smooth it over with the customer, the butthead signed the papers and I did not get fired.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:03 PM on July 10, 2021 [14 favorites]

I hired a bright-eyed young woman as a receptionist who was thrilled to have landed a job at a law firm and was embarrassingly impressed with me in particular and eager to learn as much as possible about the practice of law. First day, I'm walking down the hall holding a cup of water when she unexpectedly pops out of a storage room and, startled, I throw it in my own face.
posted by HotToddy at 4:57 PM on July 10, 2021 [21 favorites]

Many years ago, I had UPS as a customer. I sent then some important papers. Via Fed-Ex. They were not amused.
posted by COD at 5:05 PM on July 10, 2021 [27 favorites]

Many years ago, I had UPS as a customer. I sent then some important papers. Via Fed-Ex. They were not amused.

For a short time, I worked in corporate HQ for a large home improvement store. We basically designed and built our own buildings (stores, distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, offices, etc.) and manufactured quite a few building materials ourselves. A newer guy in a different department was having trouble getting fasteners that we needed and ordered them from a competitor. Management was not amused.

Early in my career, I worked in high-end residential design. We had a project where I laid out the site based on a map from the assessor's office that listed all the metes and bounds of the property, but there was one number that was hard to read. So, we get the house all designed and I take it in to the county building department to submit for permits. At the intake counter, the intake staff pulls out the subdivision map for the area (like an assessor's map, but way more information - I didn't know they existed prior to that point) and notes that the property is ten feet narrower than what I had laid out (I had read a 5 as a 6), which meant that the house as designed was intruding into mandatory setbacks. So, we had to redesign the house and I was mortified. Luckily this was the first project we did in AutoCAD, so at least I didn't have to erase and redraw 20 sheets of drawings. The owners were somehow ok with it - I don't know all the fallout from it, but I assume we probably redesigned it without charging them for the time it took.
posted by LionIndex at 5:37 PM on July 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

20+ years ago, my first week at a summer job at a startup during college, working as cheap programmer labor, I was struggling to find my way around an unfamiliar toolset and having trouble managing some process or another involving my editor. Maybe I was thrown into the deep end with just vi after being an emacs kid for most of school? I don't remember. The main thing is I was locking up the editor somehow, and doing the brute force thing of just murdering the process with a kill -9 at the terminal.

Unfortunately, it being that first week, I also didn't have a permanent workstation yet and had been plopped on one running the room's central UNIX server in root mode for god knows what reason. And so when I went hunting for the editor task to kill and nuked it, I immediately heard WHAT THE HELL from across the room...because I'd killed my friend Dan's editor out from under him, zapping a half hour or so of work.

They stopped putting me on that root box after that.

The bad news is Dan had probably lost an actual half-hour of work because he was the primary person at that job who was a really solid software engineer and designer and probably wrote most of the usable code that company ever flirted with shipping. The good news is because he was who he was, he was able to do it again in twenty minutes better because now he'd had a chance to think about it. So clearly I was helping.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:58 PM on July 10, 2021 [14 favorites]

I'll relate one that happened to a co-worker:

We're installing all the electrical in a big box, two story building with concrete floors. The second floor concrete slab was poured over a corrugated metal material and extends only half way across the building space. The same material was also used to support the roof.

"Bob" is installing conduits on the first floor ceiling using a powder actuated tool (PAT). A PAT basically uses a .22 caliber cartridge to embed a bolt into steel/concrete. All morning "Bob" is climbing a ladder, holding up a stick of EMT, aligning a fastener, and then firing a shot with the PAT to hold it in place. Climb, hold, align, click, bang, all morning long. Bang. Bang. Bang. He finishes up at lunch time and we all truck off to the lunch room. After lunch "Bob" is assigned to do the same thing but on the second floor. So he drags his ladder up there; climbs up; gets a stick of EMT into position; aligns the fastener and click

[I pause at this moment to remind readers that "Bob" is working a two story building. There is nothing above his head but corrugated metal. Unpause.]

*BOOOM*! the sound of what is effectively a gun shot to the head of a 10,000 sq ft steel drum _from the inside_ reverberates around the building. "Bob" nearly falls off the ladder and everyone comes running. When we get there "Bob" is standing there somewhat stunned looking up at the neat hole in the ceiling that sunlight is streaming through.

Luckily for "Bob" the roof insulation and membrane hadn't been installed yet.
posted by Mitheral at 6:44 PM on July 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

Me and several other high-paid Biglaw lawyers once stole a car to go from a trial site to In N Out. To be fair, the valet shouldn't have been away from the stand and we did give it back once we realized...just reeking of In N Out.
posted by praemunire at 7:00 PM on July 10, 2021 [7 favorites]

Perhaps less dramatic than some above, but: twenty-plus years ago I was working front desk in a hostel. In those ancient days, most bookings were done by phone, a few via e-mail, and the idea of dedicated booking software was wobbling along on little faun legs (there were even a few holdouts who sent us letters or faxes). As well, you were obliged to pay a deposit of one night's fee: $22.50 or $26.78 for non-members; 99.7% of reservations paid their deposit by credit card. Upon arrival, you signed the slip and could pay any balance then or could refund and pay by cash or whatever was your pleasure.

I got a call one day for a cancellation for an upcoming booking (as long as you cancelled by at least midnight the night before arrival, you got a full refund). The caller was an Australian guy with a very unremarkable Anglo name -- let's say it was Robert Wilson. I looked in the system and found his booking for a week for Thursday or whatever it was, verified the date and relevant info (one member, three nights) assured him we'd cancel and refund the deposit, and he thanked me. We hung up, I refunded his one night's deposit, cancelled the booking and went on with my life.

A month later we got an aggrieved e-mail from Mr. Wilson asking why we had not refunded his deposit as promised. I looked into it and found that there had in fact been two different bookings for two different Australian guys named Robert Wilson arriving for three-day stays on the same night. I had cancelled the wrong one.

The Robert Wilson who cancelled had not only had his $22.50 Canadian not been refunded, but a faxed photocopy of the slip showed it was signed by a terrible forger (innocently signed by the other Robert Wilson, having no idea he was mixed up in this -- like everyone, he didn't bother to read off the credit card number to match it against the one in his wallet). That took two weeks of e-mails and faxes back and forth with a bank in Melbourne to sort out.

The flip side to the happened a year later when I was working in another hostel across the country. The big city hostels by then had magnetic key cards for the doors; handy because they stopped working at noon the day you left (so if you left it with it, there was no security issue) and if there was some emergency that needed your attention -- like a family crisis and an urgent message to call home in those pre-cellphone days -- the staff could make a new card for your room, go and swipe it through the lock and deactivate your old key card until you came to the front desk.

There was a guy who came to the desk early in my four-to-midnight shift, saying his card had stopped working. I asked his name and rom number and checked his info -- he was staying in a private room, and there was no note that he had an urgent message or anything -- so I figured the card was faulty. I reset his key and sent him on his way.

Maybe an hour later I saw him come back and mention to my co-worker that his key had stopped working. She redid his key again. 45 minutes after that, same problem. I figured the keycard itself was defective, so I tossed it and gave him a new one fresh out of the box. That lasted maybe twenty minutes before the issue recurred. I had even gone to his door with him and swiped it myself to see what was happening. Inevitably, over and over, it would work at first and mysteriously stop soon after.

I had never seen this before, and all the other rooms were fine. I wrote up a note for maintenance to have a look at the door in the morning; in the meantime, we redid his key for him at least a half dozen times.

This remained a puzzler... until towards the end of my shift I saw him walk past the desk, heading out.

With his twin brother.

"Hey! You guys are staying in the same room!" Whoever had checked them in that morning hadn't bothered to change the name on the booking in the second bed. We thought there was one person there whi had paid for both beds, so we had spent hours repeating the process of making a key for B that cancelled the one for A, then making one for A that overrode the one for B, and repeat.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:07 PM on July 10, 2021 [19 favorites]

I had an office job one summer in university where I was tasked with a project that involved going down to the basement storage room a lot to dig up old files. One time when I opened up the storage room and flipped on the light switch, I found one of my coworkers napping on a pile of boxes.

Fortunately, he was a first-rate arrogant asshole. It gave me so much satisfaction to carry his secret shame around the office all summer.
posted by bkpiano at 7:07 PM on July 10, 2021

So I was working at the local crisis centre, and because of the nature of non-profit work, one of the many roles I had was being the guy who liaised with our IT contractors and did some of the immediate on site tasks/troubleshooting. One of those tasks was the daily swapping out of our backup drive in the server room (this was before cloud backups became a big thing).

Due to a family emergency, I had only been in the office infrequently for about a week or so, and I stopped by on a Friday afternoon with my youngest son, about 2 at the time, to check in with some people. While I was there, I realized no one would have changed out the backup drive while I had been away, so I decided I would do it quickly while I was there. I grabbed the one for Friday, went into the server room, and set my son down so I could do the swap.

My son, intrigued by all the lights, immediately reached for, and pressed, the button for the power supply to the rack. Took down the whole network, which included all the phone lines. Thankfully, nobody in an immentiently dangerous situation happened to be on phones at the moment, and I was able to turn everything back on right away, but still really embarrassing to have to explain to all the people who came running.
posted by nubs at 8:31 PM on July 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

sugarbomb, I think we need to hear about the lederhosen.
posted by theora55 at 8:33 PM on July 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

My second ever day of teaching at a conversation school in Japan (I was waiting for my job to start, so was filling in for someone, and hadn't really had any training yet), I was "teaching" a class of three year olds. We'd eventually settled on putting together a big foam ABC puzzle on the table, with the kids very excited to put the letters together in order. One of the girls was holding up the next letter, and I said something vaguely encouraging, and asked her where the letter she was holding went. She was standing on a chair, bent over the table, and looked at me, titled her head, and made a slight whimpering noise, followed by an absolute torrent of urine exploding out across the room. I had absolutely no idea what to do, and yelled out the name of the office manager, who came running in and literally saved the day.

One of the most common things you'll hear from language school teachers in their first year on the job in Japan is how mean and nasty the office managers are. The foreign language school teachers never seem to understand that there are almost always (well, not in the last couple of years) other people just as qualified to teach English (meaning not at all) landing at the airport every day, while somehow the school has managed to find a person (almost always a woman) who is nearly fluent in English, can manage a bunch of people in their early twenties who think they're the center of the universe on a life changing trip to foreign lands, wrangle a bunch of unruly children waiting for their lessons, deal with contracts, and yes, rescue idiots who are in way over their heads. The office managers are worth their weight in gold, yet are never paid like it.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:25 PM on July 10, 2021 [8 favorites]

In high school, I was on the basketball team. I came out of the locker for warm-ups wearing the team warm-up pants and shooting shirt. Right before the start of the game we huddle up and the starters take off our warmup pants. I had forgotten to put on my uniform shorts. I was standing there in my underwear. I had to make a dash for the locker room. It was locked. I had to wait for it to be opened while trying to act cool in front of 300 people while wearing just my tightly whiteys.
posted by AugustWest at 11:13 PM on July 10, 2021 [6 favorites]

I have a lot of good stories from working at the airport when I was in high school/college, including:

-Gear up landing by a flight instructor (pretty good landing all things considered, minus the huge damage bill)
-Near gear-up landing by a local owner (shredded the prop and still managed to get it airborne again)
-Local helicopter pilot running out of fuel (emergency landing at the local air force base, requiring me to drive out there and bring him gas)
-Coworker driving the fuel truck into the airport owner's jet
-Coworker falling off a plane (sprained his ankle and I had to drive him to the hospital)

At my last job, a coworker was tasked with getting a large piece of equipment mounted to the roof of the building. He had to design the mount, make sure all this fancy radar equipment was going to be secure... and then it was only found out after we rented a crane and hoisted it up to the roof that his hole pattern was wrong and it wouldn't fit. He left shortly after. That was at least a six figure mistake.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:40 AM on July 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

Oh right, I remembered something I did.

At my last job, we were doing some work to put some new radios into the B-52. We were at an important meeting at the main depot for the fleet, and as part of the trip we went on a "site survey" of one of the planes so we could make sure we could fit all the hardware where we wanted to put it. The plane they were going to show us was in maintenance, so it was all torn apart.

Our tour guide gave us a safety briefing - watch your head and fingers, lots of pinch points and sharp edges, blah blah. Not five minutes later, I'm at the back of the line to climb up in to the crew compartment. It's an awkward maneuver to get inside, and I launch myself through the hatch straight up into one of the chairs, hitting my head. Hurts like hell, but I scramble to catch up with the rest of the tour group.

I get up to where my coworkers are, and they all turn in unison to look at me. Everyone's looks turn horrified. I sit on the floor with the rest of them and touch my head to see how bruised I am; that's when I realize I am completely covered in blood.

One of the mechanics escorted me to the bathroom where I spent the next twenty minutes cleaning myself up.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:57 AM on July 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

Many years ago, I had UPS as a customer. I sent then some important papers. Via Fed-Ex. They were not amused.

This seems like an entire genre of its own: showing up to the meeting with Ford while driving a Toyota, or working with Hilton but booking your staff to stay at the Holiday Inn.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:59 AM on July 11, 2021

In the early 2000s, when I used to make insulin, I was running the ultrafiltration step in manual due to a problem downstream in the process (the next step wasn't ready to accept the batch I was filtering.) I was recirculating the product in bypass mode, which wouldn't be that interesting in an of itself, but I forgot to turn on the heat exchanger to cool it. When I finished recirculating the product, which was highly refined insulin in solution, it should have been between 2-8º C. It was actually 40º C. Apparently, they were able to save the lot, but I was sure I had ruined $7.5 million worth of medicine. I was sure I was going to get fired, but they didn't even write me up. I did get a talking to from the plant manager about the importance of paying attention and learning from one's mistakes.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:56 AM on July 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

MetaFilter: I think we need to hear about the lederhosen.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:51 AM on July 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

Back when I worked as a lab tech at my college we had a cold room that had a giant tank of sea water for the researchers. One Friday I filled up a beaker, closed the tap, and sealed up the room before going home for the weekend. Except I didn’t do a great job closing the tap. I was told Monday afternoon that the first person to open the door that morning was greeted by a tiny wave of salt water as it rushed down the hall. Luckily no experiments were ruined but it was a giant mess that I proclaimed to be equally mystified as to how it could have happened.

I also melted a lot of equipment in the autoclave, broke glassware, and started a small fire. I frequently say that my college tuition just about balanced out all the damage I did in the two years I held that job.
posted by lepus at 9:57 AM on July 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, I'm really bad at remembering, or I could tell endless amusing tales about my ancient work life in journalism where we always seemed to be dealing with ridiculous emergencies. I do remember a few things, though ... like the time the art director was taking the pasted up pages of the weekly alternative paper I worked for to the printer (yes, pre-digital, y'all). This was, of course, after an all-nighter to get it all put together, which was always the way, and our printer fined us if we were late delivering, and of course we did not have an accommodating budget for stuff like that. So, bleary-eyed, after working probably 24 hours straight (that was not the longest we ever worked!), she took the flat box with the pages in it out to her car, set it down on the roof, unlocked her car, got in and drove off. omfg! Everyone still left in the office joined in a street by street hunt for the lost edition, and we actually recovered it, and I think still managed to get it to the printer by deadline.

Then there was the time we accidentally printed "she" instead of "he" about a prominent politician who was infamously belligerent, and disliked us, in particular. In our errata notice, the editor, male, with an obviously "male" name, wrote something like "Editor John Smith apologizes for mistakenly referring to [name of guy] as "she" in our [date] edition, and promises she will be more careful in the future."

God, I should have so many of these ... every day was a merry-go-round — but i have a very obliging memory that usually manages to forget the horrors. One of mine, though, that was rather terrifying at the time, was when I was in charge of production (I had many jobs over the years), and we were publishing a huge Mardi Gras edition. One writer who had written up the parade routes / crews info sent along maps with his copy ... and, as usual, on the razor's edge of deadline, and working just insane hours to get that baby out the door, I just went ahead with the stuff he provided. Turns out though, the beautifully illustrated maps were not his, and were not public (like city issued or something) — they were created by an artist who sold usage rights to publications, and who was also FED THE FUCK UP with people stealing his work and publishing it without payment. Now, he could have sued us for way more than we could have survived if he had chosen, and threatened to do just that. The editor had a talk with him, and came to some agreement that wasn't about money (which we had almost zero of) and it turned out okay, but whew doggies. That was the time I almost sunk the ship because I was too pressed and tired to double check that those maps were okay to use.

And this last one is just trivial and silly, but for some reason it always gives me the giggles. One of our interns tasked with first-pass copy-editing changed the text of a travel article talking about the "colorful patois" of the locals at ["exotic" place] (yes, absolutely cringey these days!) ... but she changed it to "colorful patios." Ahead of her time for anti-oppression content editing, I'd say!

Thank goodness I don't recall any of my current co-workers making any embarrassing mistakes. Certainly not me clicking reply-all on an email chain when I definitely didn't intend to reply to "all."
posted by taz (staff) at 1:58 PM on July 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

My favorite disaster is actually my father's experience. Many, many years ago, his university (CSU Los Angeles) would spring for grad students from UCLA to act as graders for large classes. One year, my father's grader had a big fight with their roommate and threw them out, right around midterms time. In retribution, the now ex-roommate returned, found the midterms...and set fire to them. Dad spent several days trying desperately to figure out how to explain to his students that their exams had been cooked, gave up, and came to class with a show-and-tell featuring a big bag of ashes. Not coincidentally, that was the last time he had a grader.

He did keep the ashes until he retired, though.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:21 PM on July 11, 2021 [8 favorites]

This seems like an entire genre of its own: showing up to the meeting with Ford while driving a Toyota, or working with Hilton but booking your staff to stay at the Holiday Inn.

I once showed up to a meeting at Wolfsburg (VW HQ) in a Mercedes, and then because I was not a great driver took five minutes to park it properly.

Also have been scolded for walking into a water utility office with bottled water.
posted by atrazine at 5:06 AM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Around 2006/7, I was working Customer Support and it was all through email.

I replied to someone - what the topic was I forget - and I used the word 'count' in that reply.

Only I missed the 'o'

You've reminded me of a story I read elsewhere, about a guy who had a cuckoo clock he was trying to sell. He mentioned it in passing at work and his boss expressed interest and asked the guy to email him more info at his personal email address after work. So the guy got home, took all the measurements and tracked down the info his boss had asked for, and then drafted an email about how "this would be a really great clock for you, it's [size] and [weight]. Let me know how you would like me to deliver this great clock."

Only after sending it did he notice that throughout, for some insane reason, his email had autocorrected every instance of "clock" "cock".

After ten seconds of panic, he took a deep breath, and then drafted another email:

"Dear Boss: Enclosed please find three letter 'l's which went missing from my last email. I believe that once they are installed my last email will make a LOT more sense. Thank you."

His boss later told him that he and his wife couldn't stop laughing about both emails for several hours.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:08 AM on July 12, 2021 [8 favorites]

walking into a water utility office with bottled water

Oh hell, that's a bit like not backing into a parking space when you're visiting a local power utility trying to plead your case that your company has taken all possible safety precautions with zero lost hours and was using a qualified process and installer to do some work on our own substation …

(which I didn't do, but I know someone who did. It got expensive)
posted by scruss at 9:16 AM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

So, this is a story I only witnessed the aftermath of, but I was having dinner at a fancy restaurant with some friends and as we were leaving, there was a lot of scurrying and yelling and general unhappiness at the valet stand.

As it turns out, if two different people valet their silver mercedes SLK convertibles on the same night, you should make absolutely certain that you give each of them back the correct keys and car, because while the first one to go home might not notice, the second one almost certainly will.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:35 AM on July 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

I wish I could remember which thread it was, but I once drafted a comment and then pasted it into a text box in the content management system where I was making updates for the big bank that's curious about the contents of people's wallets. Said comment made it into a QA testing region where I was not the first person to notice it, but I fixed it.

Another time, same employer, I was loaned out to a different team that was working on the site's Canada-specific pages, migrating them to a new platform. I got handed a list of content updates to make on various pages, with the requested changes helpfully noted in red type. It was near the end of my day and I wasn't as alert as I could have been, so I went ahead and made those changes, putting red copy all over the site.
posted by emelenjr at 10:05 AM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

My mind went immediately to ChuraChura's adventures with autocorrect.

Come back, ChuraChura, we miss you.
posted by Mayor West at 11:05 AM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh, I have another one, this one from the day job - although the exact nature of my screw-up was not business-oriented, but the fall-out was.

I was working as a temp in the legal department at a bank for a while and was on pretty good terms with everyone there - my boss was especially sweet, and let me get away with wearing a series of nice-tops-with-khaki-pants as my regular work wardrobe. One day I was dressed exactly thus and eating lunch at my desk - and managed to drop nearly an entire bowl of tomato soup right in my lap, spilling the entire thing all over my pants. I just dripped my way over to the boss' office, coughed slightly so she would look up and see me standing there with big red blotches all over my pants. "I think I may need to duck into the bathroom for a good while," I said simply, and she just nodded, eyes wide. (I did tell her it was tomato soup and she was relieved.)

I ducked into the ladies room, got a whole fistfull of paper towels, retreated to the furthest sink and started scrubbing at each of the patches with paper towels and hand soap. Which was sort of working, but it was really slow going. But then the only two other women who'd been in the room when I got there left, and I was alone in the bathroom. "You know what," I thought, "this would go even easier if I could take my pants off and run the water over each of the spots to really wet them first." So I came up with a plan - while the coast was clear, I was going to take my pants off, wet them down, and then scurry into a stall and do the scrubbing there in case anyone else came in while I was there. Then once the coast was clear again, I'd scoot back out again and rinse the soap off the stained bits, then scoot back into the stall to put the pants back on. I'd have wet patches from the water, but they were going to be wet either way, and at least they would be wet from water and not soup and would soon dry.

I took off my pants, wet the stains and ran into a stall, and scrubbed away - and it was working! I'd managed to rinse away most of the stains, and the scrubbing helped with the worst patches. Someone else had come in while I was working, so I waited until the coast was clear, and ran back out, shoved my pants under the tap and turned on the faucet - which was too loud for me to hear that the door was just starting to open...

....And that's how I ended up mooning the Executive Vice President of Latin American Legal Affairs at UBS's Weehawken branch.

She handled the situation with a good deal of grace, thank God; I stammered out an explanation, and she just nodded, then said "okay, I'll guard the door for you a sec" and turned her back on me, facing the door, and let me finish and put pants back on. I emailed her a profuse apology and she sent me back a good-natured "no worries, looked like you were having a bit of a situation!" in response.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:56 AM on July 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos, you've just reminded me of this tale of accidentally mooning Maya Angelou, which led to 10 minutes where my spouse and I discussed how different contemporary English-language poets would react to being accidentally mooned. (My spouse opined that Larkin would moon you back.)
posted by brainwane at 1:03 PM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

"Dear Boss: Enclosed please find three letter 'l's which went missing from my last email. I believe that once they are installed my last email will make a LOT more sense. Thank you."

Reminds of a story I heard from a co-worker about how she had once emailed her boss to notify him that she was taking a sick day. The next day, her boss and several of her co-workers asked how she and her husband had enjoyed the day with big grins; she was confused until she went back to her sent items and realized she had typed "dick" instead of "sick".
posted by nubs at 3:29 PM on July 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

I used to work for an academic publisher and we once published a festschrift where we misspelled the name of the person being honored in the chapter heads of the entire book. No one noticed except the scholar it was about. Amazing career! What's your name again?
posted by Stanczyk at 3:46 PM on July 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

This seems like an entire genre of its own: showing up to the meeting with Ford while driving a Toyota, or working with Hilton but booking your staff to stay at the Holiday Inn

I was once doing contract work for Sprint (back when they were an actual company) in one of their field offices.
We needed to make an urgent call to get an issue cleared up while moving between buildings.
I was the only person who had service.

On my Verizon phone
posted by madajb at 6:16 PM on July 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh, yeah, I got busted too using my (personal) phone at the client site which was from the company that was suing the client. But, well, the other company's was the cheapest, and was the client going to buy me a new one? No.
posted by praemunire at 7:30 AM on July 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Many years ago, I had UPS as a customer. I sent then some important papers. Via Fed-Ex. They were not amused.

I have whopping hate for UPS and this story delights me. "Hey, I wanted the mail to actually show up, thanks!"

I have a very mild version of the tequila story in which I was supposed to pour the wedding party (in Tony n' Tina's Wedding) drinks, and then on night 2 suddenly everyone was breaking out their flasks and subbing in actual alcohol everywhere. Someone provided actual booze for me to pour and I didn't super think about it much (mostly because the bottle of water didn't look convincing at all) and then forgot that one guy didn't drink. He just smelled it and faked sips, so NBD there.

The worst story I've ever heard was one I heard at a 4th of July party a long time ago and cannot verify the truth of it: someone apparently was downloading porn at work when no one else was there and then decided to wipe the evidence of this. Unfortunately, he accidentally wiped out LITERALLY EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT THE ENTIRE BUSINESS and then continued to download more porn....
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:19 PM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

One crappy job I had in college was waiting tables at Applebee's. They had that Lightning Lunch promo where they would put a stopwatch on your table and if your lunch wasn't out in 14 minutes, it was free. So they had a lot of stopwatches.

One time, I was in the manager's office and there was a large mass of these stopwatches hanging from a hook. There were several different kinds. There was one that was a bit different. It was white and I could not figure out how to open it to show the display. I pushed a few buttons and nothing happened.

A few minutes later while I was cleaning up to go home, around ten cops burst in, guns drawn, screaming, in full panic mode.

The thing I had pushed the button on was the silent alarm.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:36 PM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

This one wasn't TERRIBLY embarrassing, just a bit momentarily awkward (and could have been more so).

So some years back I worked for the International Rescue Committee. Most of my time there I was the temp assistant to the EVP and then was in HR for a couple years, but my very first role there was a couple months as a backup support person for their CEO, David Miliband, who was then fairly new to the position. Because - as I was told on my first day - up until the year previous David had been the UK Foreign Secretary under PM David Brown.

David is a nice and gregarious guy, by the way, and during my later tenure would always say hello when he saw me in the hallway and chat a couple moments. A couple years into my tenure there, we both got on the same elevator on our way in first thing one morning; we said our hellos and made a little small talk, but he seemed a little groggy. "Sorry," he said, after fumbling his words a bit; "I've literally just gotten in from a flight."


"Yes, it was a red-eye from London," he explained. "So I'm a bit...."

He paused, his tired brain trying to find the right words. And to help him out, I did what I instinctively did when any of my friends was in a similar state - nodded in understanding and said, "Fire bad, tree pretty."

He just blinked at me, even more confused. "....I'm sorry, what was that?...."

And that is how I ended up having to explain a Buffy The Vampire Slayer reference to a former member of British Parliament.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:05 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Fun story, EmpressCallipygos.

I had something vaguely the opposite happen. I happened to be seated next to the director of a national science agency for a dinner event. Within a minute of meeting, he said a few word phrase that made absolutely no sense to me. (I'm afraid I don't remember what it was.) Then he looked at me like he'd told a joke. So, I embarrassingly asked him to repeat himself. And I still didn't understand any of it. Then, for several minutes, he had to recount the plot of a Big Bang Theory TV show story arc in order to explain the joke. He chose the worst possible young person to share a hip, insider quip with. I'm sure he got over it. The rest of the evening was fine.
posted by eotvos at 3:04 PM on July 26, 2021

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