Tales of the Office: Idiots I Worked With

Over the course of 40+ years, I worked with a lot of insufferable morons!

Every time I find myself sliding into the “Retirement Guilt Phenomenon” (I have no required schedule! I have so much free time to read! I have only the responsibilities I determine for myself!)—well, every time that happens, I remind myself not just of the many, many years I worked full-time, but, even more importantly, the incredible number of truly idiot coworkers I dealt with over a career that spanned 44 years.

The “idiots born of morons” coworkers part is especially poignant for me, since for most of that career I functioned as what is now so lightly termed “office support staff” (think: Ms. Dogsbody). Administrative Assistants, lowliest of the low, answer to everyone and take care of everything. It’s a hellacious job and the people performing it deserve, not a bunch of flowers on Admin Professionals Day, but canonization, for they are truly saints.

Some moments of my career still stand out brightly illuminated in a haze of Darwin Awards-style imbecility. I recall the section supervisor who stormed up to my desk, incandescent with rage because, rather than wait until I had a moment to take care of it, she’d changed the toner cartridge in the printer—twice!—and neither cartridge was working. Her handouts had to be printed RIGHT NOW for a meeting that was to begin IMMEDIATELY. (I bit my tongue on the questions of why she’d waited until the last minute to print the paperwork, or why any of this was my fault.) Instead, I hurried to the printer, and in seconds diagnosed the problem: She hadn’t removed the cellophane tag from either of the new cartridges before installing them. One good rrrip, and that printer was functioning once more.

The same supervisor jammed the fax machine while I was on vacation one year. Rather than refer to the “For Emergencies In My Absence” e-mail I’d sent just prior to leaving, and call the appropriate repair tech, she (and everyone else in the office) just left the fax machine hopelessly jammed. When I finally returned two weeks later and had the machine repaired, it whirred away for hours until it had printed hundreds of backlogged faxes.

Standard office machinery seemed to baffle a good many of my coworkers. I still remember with no fondness whatever the employee who hated me like hell’s fire because, during my absence, she changed the toner in the copier, but (much like Ms. Broken Printer), failed to remove the cap from the new toner bottle. The machine not only malfunctioned, but the toner bottle burst and sent clouds of fine black soot sifting like a Pompeian ash cloud throughout the copier. Our copier repair tech, with whom I maintained a consistently friendly and courteous relationship (as if my life depended upon it, as it frequently did), commiserated and spent hours meticulously cleaning the machine. But Ms. Change-the-Toner never forgave me for the general e-mail I that I sent out (carefully naming no names, mind you!) to all staff following this incident, gently reminding them of the proper procedure for changing copier toner. The culprit forever afterwards treated me like something nasty on the bottom of her shoe.

I shrugged it off; she had plenty of company. I was also genuinely hated for reporting a pair of coworkers who skimped their work (sitting in one another’s cubicles, talking and crocheting!) and who refused to read their e-mails until the in-boxes had reached their limit and bounced incoming e-mails, sending them skittering right back to the senders. Another employee despised me eternally when I discovered and reported that she’d found a back door into a boss’s e-mail and was casually perusing every word that was sent to and from him! (I am still bewildered by the fact that she was not fired, but instead hung around for several more years, making my life hell.)

And that was the critical factor: Despite the fact that these people, some of them, at least, despised me—or at least made my job twice as difficult by their ineptitude–I had to continue working with them daily, treating them courteously, even respectfully; doing my best to deal with their requests, solving their problems, fixing the machinery they gummed up…and somehow managed it.

And, as I pointed out in Administrative Professional (or, A Tale of Popularity), I outlasted every one of these boneheads to retire having achieved something which none of them managed to gain: Appreciation. Approval. Friendship. Popularity. Respect.

And that, looking back on the years that I worked, makes it all worthwhile.

You might also like “Administrative Professional (or, A Tale of Popularity)”, which you can find in the Archived posts from April 25, 2018

The Trials and Tribulations of Houseguests

§  A young friend won’t be making her annual trip to stay with me and visit her “Indiana Family” during this difficult year.  But I hope she will get a smile from this essay!  §

Listening to a radio show as I drove one afternoon, I caught part of a discussion on the topic of appropriate behavior by houseguests when making visits.  The subject intrigued me because  it had often been covered by those original Agony Aunt columnists, Dear Abby and Ann Landers, to whose advice I’d been devoted in adolescence.

The interviewee, asked to explain what houseguests should not do during a visit, launched into a total bitchfest about guests who, having risen in the morning before their hosts, proceeded to brew themselves a cup of coffee and (horror of horrors!) use the mug which was sitting out beside the coffeemaker for that morning cup…their host’s favorite coffee mug!

 Now, I rarely have houseguests, and I don’t even own a coffeemaker; anyone unfortunate enough to be lodging with me is going to discover that instant coffee is the best available.  Tea, now, tea is a different matter.  Depending on their preferences, they might get a good quality teabag of regular or flavored tea, or even loose tea brewed properly using a tea ball in a china teapot.  But, those facts aside, the truth is that, as a good hostess, if I was providing for a houseguest who I knew might be waiting for a “cuppa” before I rose in the morning, I would have set out not only a cup, but a spoon and a spoon rest and real sugar and sweeteners and a napkin, all awaiting their use.  I’d have made certain they knew where all the other accoutrements were to be found too: the toaster, the bread, butter, jam, and milk.  And, even though I do, yes, have a favorite mug, I damn sure wouldn’t have gone on public radio making an ass of myself because a guest in my home had availed her or himself of simple accommodations.  To do so would be disrespectful.

Respect, as I learned from those long ago Agony Aunt columns, is what smooths the relationship between host and guest.  Both acknowledge the disruption to their usual lives, and treat one another with courtesy, making an effort to be especially respectful to smooth over any bumps in the road during a visit.

A much younger but extremely wise friend once related to me that her mother, having come to visit, was both very surprised and complimentary when she found the apartment beautifully cleaned prior to her visit.  My young friend, while admitting that her home was rarely in that condition, remarked that it was simply respectful to prepare for a guest’s visit by cleaning her home.

I agreed wholeheartedly.  Having a houseguest means that one looks at one’s home differently.  The worn but still useable bath towels that are perfectly suitable for my own bathtime would be disrespectful if put out for a guest to use. The chipped mug is placed to the back of the cabinet, and the nicer ones, including that favored mug—why wouldn’t I want a friend to have the best?– set forward prominently.  Bedsheets are fresh, TVs are turned down low when a guest has retired for the night, and favorite foods are offered.

But, returning to the memory of those Agony Aunts columns, I recall long, serious deliberations on whether a guest should, on the final day of their visit, make the bed (because that’s simply a nice gesture to one’s hostess) or remove the sheets and pile them on the mattress (since they now have to be washed).  Silly debates such as this enthralled me when I was a mere teenager, years always from having a home of my own, much less a houseguest.  Even more interesting (and often hilarious), were the disputes—many of which flamed into fury—over nosy houseguests, those people who snooped and pried into places they had no business being, and how they should be handled.

Putting a jack-in-the-box into a drawer to pop out and send the prying houseguest shrieking, was often favored. I particularly loved the suggestion by one host who claimed to have hidden notes in each drawer which said, “Too bad you decided to snoop here.  I put poison on the handle, and I have the only antidote.”

But then came the rejoinder from a woman who was obviously suspected by her friend of being one of those very sneaks, a charge which she strenuously denied.  While staying there, she related, she’d needed a thread of dental floss, something which she hadn’t packed.  She opened the medicine cabinet to search for some, and was sent screaming back from the sink as a cascade of glass marbles came tumbling out of the cupboard, pouring like a loud river onto the sink and bouncing across the bathroom floor.  When her host came charging up, ready accusation at her lips, the terrified guest was crouched in a corner, surrounded by marbles, stuttering, “I just wanted dental floss!  Just dental floss!”

I seriously doubted that the friendship between the paranoid host and the shocked houseguest continued following this fracas.  After all, it appeared that, just like that belligerent radio show speaker, someone had forgotten the first rule of having or being a houseguest: Respect.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Agony Aunts”,
to be found in the archives from February 16, 2018.