Chapter 5: An arch nemesis
Everyone who worked on the Youth Staff was given a “nutty nickname” that we used with the kids. Mine was Z-Man. My arch nemesis’ nutty nickname was Lego. It is a little bit ironic, that one of my favorite toys from my childhood would be the nomenclature for the person who would stop at nothing to bring me down. And that person was Luis Lugo.
For most people who knew Luis, the idea of him being anyone’s arch nemesis would seem very strange. Luis comes across as very quite, polite, and mild-mannered. He is soft spoken and gentle with the children, and he doesn’t stand out. In other words, he just comes across as a really nice guy.
Somebody said something to me once though, that I should have paid closer attention to. I was talking about Luis and what a great guy he seemed like and this Youth Staff who had been with Royal Caribbean for several years, she said: “Yeah, be careful of Lego. He has a dark side.”
This was a comment I completely blew off… I blew it off until I found myself on the receiving end of that dark side. And then I took it very seriously. The truth of it haunted me.
It was the last week of February. The Joco Cuise Crazy 2014 was on board. It was actually one of the best weeks I ever had cruising. Little did I know it would also end up being the worst.
Midway through the cruise, I was working in the Aquanaut room (3-5 year olds) with Luis. A little boy was just dropped off and needed to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, this boy had a problem with his hands that caused him to have difficulty undoing his pants.
Now, Royal Caribbean has some very strict regulations in place about how we handle bathroom incidents, under what circumstances a staff member can enter a bathroom and assist a child, etc. Luis was busy signing kids in at the door (another strictly regulated and stressful part of our job) and I was trying to manage the kids in the room as well as manage the boy in the bathroom and his mother who wanted to enter the room to help him (something that is generally strictly forbidden by policy).
It is in situations like this that you have to think very quickly on your feet with a lot of consideration to balancing written policies and guidelines and being practical. The way the situation played out, I told the mother she could leave and I would take care of her son. When his mother explained what his problem was with his hand, I helped the boy unbutton his pants from the doorway while his mother observed and I sent him to the bathroom assuring her that things would be okay.
Unfortunately, the boy still ended up having a potty accident in the bathroom because, even though he managed to get his pants off, for some reason he tried to use the toilet standing up and ended up just going all over his pants on the floor. His mother was already long gone at this point, and I had to fetch a new pair of shorts for him, and I handled the entire thing while Luis handled sign-ins at the door.
Armed with next to no knowledge about the specifics of what was happening or what I even did in that situation, Luis decided that I had handled it improperly. I would later be vindicated by the Adventure Ocean Manager, Maita, and the HR Manager, as having handled the situation appropriately under the circumstances and told that Luis’s criticism was off base.
However, at that exact moment, with a room full of 3-5 year-olds running around who needed to be supervised and entertained, Luis was suddenly obsessed with admonishing me for handling the incident wrong. I didn’t really argue with him, I simply acknowledged what he was saying to me and tried to move on to running the session. And yet, Luis was adamant in repeating himself over and over about what I had done wrong.
I honestly didn’t understand what he wanted from me at this point. We had a job to do and we could discuss the issue later. He kept making the point that when the boy’s mother came back she was going to be angry with us and he “wasn’t about to be held responsible for my mistake.”
I tried to explain to him that I had been communicating with the boy’s parents during the entire cruise and had a great report with them (we are, in fact, still in touch to this day), I highly doubted she would get angry with us over what happened. Luis at this point didn’t even understand that the boy had the bathroom accident because he wasn’t sitting down on the toilet, he still thought it was because he couldn’t get his pants off and I should have sent him out of the room with his mother.
Regardless, Luis kept dogging me with his admonishments. It was turning into a real problem and distraction from the children. Finally, after repeated attempts to get him to turn his attention back to our duties and just drop the issue until after our session I had to leave the room and get another Youth Staff worker to trade with me so that we could move on and do our jobs. I spent the night working with the Explorers (6-8 year-olds).
When the boy’s mother picked him up, my coworker who switched with me came to get me and I spoke with her to explain what happened. She wasn’t upset in the least and was simply grateful that we let her son stay in the session with us for the evening after having an accident. She was a little bit embarrassed, but I did my best to assure her that we deal with these kind of things all the time, it wasn’t a big deal.
Around 10 p.m. that evening all the 3-5 year-olds had been picked up and the only children remaining were the 6-8 year-olds staying for after hours. While cleaning, I met Lugo at the gate that separated the rooms and I tried to smooth things over with him.
I explained to Luis that while I valued his experience and what he had to say about the previous incident, I did not like the way he was talking to me in that specific moment and I felt like it was something we could have waited to discuss later. Luis used this opportunity to launch into another lecture about why I had handled the situation wrong.
I really had no interest in arguing with him. I knew I was right and that he was arguing from a position of ignorance, and I felt like arguing would just be a waste of time and escalate the situation. So, I just told him that I had already heard everything he had to say he didn’t need to repeat it all over again.
At this point, he began to hurl insults and become verbally abusive about my qualifications as a Youth Staff. I wasn’t really angry at all, I just felt like this was an inappropriate waste of both of our times and inappropriate in our current setting, so I told Luis that his disrespectful manner of addressing me was making me uncomfortable and I needed to walk away. He launched into a defense of how he was talking to me and that no one had ever had a problem with how he talked to them and everyone valued and appreciated everything he had to say.
I simply had to walk away at this point. As I begin to walk away, Luis shouted to me across the room (with several 6-8 year-olds within ear-shot) “You need to grow up!” Recognizing that the situation was now thoroughly out of control, I turned and walk back towards Luis and wispered to him, “Is this how you speak to everyone that they don’t have a problem with?”
He told me there was nothing wrong with how he was talking to me. “You’re being an asshole. We’re done talking,” I said to him, and again I walked away, this time very quickly.
The fact that I used the word “asshole” prompted Mr. Lugo to immediately go and file an HR complaint against me for “losing my temper” and “being verbally abusive to him in the workplace” when he was “trying to coach me” in my job. He painted a picture that I was an individual with a quick temper who would not accept criticism, and that I was verbally abusive to my colleagues.
Of course, this accusation only served to fit into the reputation that I was already earning for myself by complaining about discrimination, the time I mouthed off about my Passport Card, and the previous accusations Holly had made against me the year before. This was really bad.
Later that night, the Adventure Ocean Manager, Maita, and Assistant Manger, Kara, asked Luis and I to meet with them to discuss what had happened. Even in this meeting, as I tried to explain what had happened, Luis interrupted me, yelled at me, and spoke disrespectfully towards me. Maita and Kara didn’t seem to know what to do, except they just advised me to put down my version of events in writing and file it with H.R. so that it would “cancel out” his complaint against me.
The ship’s H.R. Manager, Lynn McGarrity, read both our statements and met with me later the next day after meeting with Luis. She told me that it was apparent from Luis’ written statement and her conversation with him that he was in fact being condescending and overbearing towards me even though he thought he was being helpful and was trying to coach and manage me.
Ms. McGarrity told me that the way I handled the incident was appropriate, given the circumstances, and it was clear that Mr. Lugo was not fully aware of everything that had happened surrounding the incident and was incorrect in his admonishment.
She also went on to tell me that she felt like I was put in a difficult position in my work place because, while I had only been with Royal Caribbean for a short time, my life experiences, my experience in childcare, my experience in professional work environments, and even in some cases, my experience managing people, far exceed that of many of my colleagues, including some own managers. She said that she sympathized with me and that the challenge for me would be to “suffer” in a low level position for which the sum of my experiences made me overqualified.
Finally, she concluded that it was understandable that I would call Mr. Lugo an “asshole” in that circumstance, and she was fairly confident I had not lost my temper or behaved unprofessionally. However, I needed to be careful and not accidentally give “jealous colleagues” ammunition that they could use against me by using offensive words.
This seemed to be a veiled warning that there were people on the ship who were already looking for reasons to fire me. Being the idiot that I am, I didn’t take that warning as seriously as I probably should have. As it turns out, by this point many of my own team members were fed up with me and wanted to get rid of me.
How could this happen? Under my previous contract the Youth Staff was a tight, cohesive team that looked out for and supported one another? How had it devolved into a group of back-stabbers who were constantly infighting? And how was that dynamic going to ultimately seal my fate?
It was pretty simple actually: Lack of leadership under Maita Pangilinan.
During the weeks she was Adventure Ocean Manager, the entire Youth Staff team fell apart and the work environment turned incredibly toxic. And that toxicity eventually poisoned me.