Saturday, April 16, 2005

My Assistant

W calls me Mr. K. I have told him many times that he can call me Joseph. In fact, I did it again the other day. "You know, you can call me Joseph." He didn't even look up from the video pinball game he was playing. He stuck out his arm, handed me a paper and said, "Sign this travel voucher, Mr. K." I signed it and tried to hand it back to him. He didn't stick his hand out to receive it. I left it on his desk.

I was actually pretty fortunate he'd done my travel prep and voucher. Until recently, he had been on "light duty" on his doctor's orders due to "stress." He's often out at doctor's appointments, at least once or twice a week. And, usually, they are scheduled the day after his band's gigs. When he was on light duty, he was only permitted to pick up phones. Since he doesn't pick up anyone's phone but his own as a matter of general course, he was effectively limited solely to talking to his friends while he was at work.

T, who sits next door to me and works with W too, made the unfortunate mistake of actually probing about the light duty assignment. I barely talk to T, but he has managed to slip in a lot of uncomfortable information about himself in the few conversations we've had over the years. "So, Joseph, a big Virginia fan? I remember the glory days wtih Ralph Sampson. My first wife left me for a plumber and told me when I was watching the Cavs take on Duke. Sampson scored something like 25 and had 11 rebounds that game. It was really something."

T's homelife still sucks. "The cherry blossoms are something, aren't they? I used take my daughter to see them every year. She doesn't talk to me anymore." While he was saying all that, I emailed a friend and asked him to call me. The phone rang just in time; T looked like he was about to cry. "T, I gotta get this."

Exploring the crevices of the bureacracy seems to be therapeutic for T. He actually went to W's supervisor and asked for further information about the light duty. W found out about it, and yelled with an unchecked fury (feeling that T was questioning the legitimacy of the change in duty). T is kind of a mild-mannered guy, but rose to the challenge ("I have a right to know whether this is authorized!" I thought it was kind of cute.). I thought they were going to kill each other. To my disappointment, the argument dissolved into non sequiturs and fizzled out.

The light duty wasn't a huge change from what W normally does. He generally spends most of the day on the phone. Sometimes at his desk, but he's usually on his Nextel pacing the halls. In fact, he's almost as elusive as the mythical yeti. He's so rarely at his desk, that those of us who work with him have to rely on a network of spotters around the office if you need something done immediately. One of us will send out a query that we are looking for W. When he's spotted, someone will say, "Quick, I saw him at the copy room on the north side." Then, you run off with the work you want to give him in hand. Usually, you are too late.

When he's walking around on the cell, he's usually talking to, laughing with, and yelling at Earl. Earl is in the band with W. Often, I feel like I am actually in a "Behind the Music" episode; W likes to pace and talk about band business on the cell right outside my office. The band is fraught with much internal strife and beef. From what I can gather from the conversations I hear, W's bandmates, particularly Earl, aren't too good about rehearsing. "Yeah, that motherfucker Earl was not only late, but was fucking up the notes. What? I can find a keyboard player anywhere, you know what I am saying? I don't need no motherfucking Earl. Hold on, I got someone on my other line. Earl? What the fuck was last night? Your grandmother is always fucking sick. She's old. We gotta think about the band and the future, dog. Listen, Earl, you sitting around with grandmother is not going to make her feel better and is not going to help you hit those notes."

W works for Banality Fair alum Cotton Mather as well. We nicknamed W "the General." Because for six months straight, he ordered General Tsao's every day. He never had a menu. He'd just open the phone book, calling nearby Chinese restaurants (changing it up for variety I suppose), and yell at the people on the other side of the phone. Actual conversation overheard: "No Tsao's? What kind of damn Chinese restaurant is this? What? Tsao's. I don't know. For me, it is Z-O-S, who the fuck knows. And throw in two orange sodas. Hello? Motherfucker." I wasn't completely surprised when I heard the General developed type 2 Diabetes recently.

A few months ago, T came into my office and said, "You heard what happened to W. It's really something." "Listen, T, I'm real busy." I was about to finish up a game of freecell. "I'll make this quick. You notice W hasn't been around." The General had been absent.


"Well, I was at the fax machine the other day, when there was this fax addressed to W. I thought I'd pick it up for him. So, I did, but not before I took a look at it. It was a picture of a baby sleeping surrounded by stuffed toys. With the words 'this is your son' written on the top."

"T, seriously --" Here it goes. His wife gave him syphillis or something.

"Wait. So, I hand it to W and say to him that he has a really cute son. W started tearing up and said the baby had been stillborn a year ago. He says, 'She's still trying to "f" with me.'"

Later that same day, I actually saw W at his desk. I gave a mailing I had to get out to another assistant to do for me.


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