Writer's Cramp Entry, 6/15/11about losing a set of important keys
As I was growing in my profession, I matched specific experiences to required concepts. My co-workers and I developed a common vocabulary around shared experiences we used as shortcuts in communication.
There was the man who sang all the time in a tense tenor voice we called Caruso. We knew that if we referred to anyone as a Caruso, that meant they were nervous and we had to be very calm and supportive in dealing with them. There was Miss P. who always needed a lot of attention. And there was Micky M. who laughed at everything so consistently we had a lot of trouble knowing what he wanted. When one of us was handing over a customer, we would say "we have a Caruso here," or "a real Micky M. is waiting for you."
When someone new was hired, it took a while for them to master the key to our esoteric labeling system. So, when Marla Mae had the accident that damaged her brain and returned to work with no memory of the key, we figured we would just teach her like a new employee. The problem was that Marla Mae had lost the capacity to distinguish between formal and informal language and had lost all judgment about where to use what. This wasn't so bad as long as the labels were reasonably neutral, or even flattering. The supervisor who sang with the local light opera association liked being called a Caruso. The secretary who laughed at everything thought it was fun to be called Micky M. So we all laughed with her and everyone relaxed a little allowing these names to be used more openly in direct conversation. This went along well until someone was promoted from another department.
This new person had an unfortunate habit of sitting in one place and asking people to come to her. It didn't take long for everyone to notice and start referring to her as Jabba the Hut. It also was no time before Marla Mae was called upon to wait for our new employee. She walked up to her, handed her the paperwork that was requested, and said: "there you go, Jabba."
This was an office without walls. Everyone heard. Everyone froze.
"What did you call me?"
Smiling, totally innocent of any ill intent, Marla Mae said "Jabba the Hut."
As it turned out, the new employee, Julianna, was a big fan of science fiction movies and knew very well who Jabba the Hut was. She did not think this was funny. Very unlike Jabba the Hut, she stood up from her chair, pulled herself to her full 5' 1' height, hitched up her saggy pants and stalked over to Marla Mae's supervisor.
"Did you hear what she called me! The insolence! The rudeness! The cheek! What are you going to do about it?'
We were all holding our breaths.
We watched in total astonishment as the supervisor very sweetly asked Julianna to have a seat. She then invited Julianna to tell the entire story beginning with what Marla Mae had been doing at her desk, why she had to deliver the paperwork and Julianna's understanding of Marla Mae's role in the department. She then encouraged Julianna to talk about her perception of Jabba the Hut, how she functioned and what it would mean if she thought of someone as a Jabba the Hut. This was quite a long conversation heard only by those nearest to the supervisor's desk. After Julianna had run out of things to say and had asked what the supervisor was going to do. there was a long pause.
The supervisor, who had been taking notes the whole time Julianna was talking, continued to write. She then stood up and asked the person at the next desk to go get Marla Mae. We all clenched our jaws, expecting the worst. Marla Mae was retrieved, smiling, still appearing totally innocent.
The supervisor then called out to everyone in the department to come over and stand around her desk. Now, we were confused. What in the world was she going to do?
When we had all gathered, the supervisor said "I have called you all together to witness as I commend Marla Mae Stewart for work far above and beyond the requirements of her position. Not only did she complete paperwork that was not hers to complete, and deliver in a timely fashion when it was not her job to deliver it, but she did so smiling and without complaint. She used humor to gently nudge the person asking for this extra effort into recognizing she had stepped over a boundary. Thank you, Marla Mae.
Then, she turned to Julianna. "as for you, Julianna, I want to commend you for coming immediately to me and discussing the situation in detail. I can see that you are grateful for Marla Mae's efforts to go above and beyond to make you feel welcome. We all want you to feel very welcome. Thank you all. You may return to your work." The supervisor smiled at the group, and palm up, made a gentle pushing motion, to prompt us to leave her desk. She then sat down and turned to her computer.
Julianna looked like she could not decide on an emotion to suit the situation.
Marla Mae said "Thank you, very much!" and smiling, returned to her desk.