The Head made it official today. He wants the back door left unlocked at all times. Yeah, whatever.
Next week is National Secretary's week. Do you think it might be too presumptuous of me to nominate myself for secretary of the year?
I can count on one hand the times my secretarial efforts have been acknowledged to me during Secretary's Week. At least the times I can recall. There might have been more.
My first lawyer-boss gave me a box of Fannie Mae Mint Melt-A-Ways. That was 1975. Those were really yummy. You haven't lived until you've devoured an entire pound of Mint Melt-A-Ways in one afternoon all by yourself.
In 1979 the boyfriend of the bookkeeper at a small firm at which I was working gave all the secretaries flowers. He was a florist. The flowers were black carnations. And she was a thief.
In about 1980 a young associate at a large firm at which I worked gave me the then current Annie Lenox album. Or maybe it was the Eurithymics. Can't recall exactly. I can't even recall his name. What I do recall is that I only typed about one letter for this guy. He really liked me though.
Sometime between 1980 and 1998 my then boss's wife sent me flowers. The card said they were from her, him, and their kids, and thanked me for everything I did for their family. That was a very nice acknowledgment.
And then there was last year. While the Head had me in his office totally bitching me out, up one side and down the other, unbeknownst to me, the nice young lawyer who rents space in our building, was putting a secretary's day card on my desk. Inside the card was a check for $25.00. That was one of the most touching things I think a lawyer ever did for me. I never told him how much that meant. I was so upset because of the Head. When I finally got back to my desk after being completely demoralized by the Head, I found the card, and I realized that the nice young lawyer had to have heard everything the Head was saying to me. And I totally broke down and cried. After that day, I'm amazed I still work there, even.
Oh well. I don't really give a hoot about the whole thing. Just get it over with and I'll be fine.
Something about bosses and secretaries. Sometimes they instantaneously bond. Sometimes they don't. There was one boss with whom I bonded immediately. I still haven't bonded with the Head. Bummer, eh? No, just another little piece of my reality.
They were a universe unto themselves. There was some little electrical current that passed between them. Even when they were apart. He was the boss and she was the secretary. He always took the blame when she messed up. And she likewise tried to take the blame when he messed up. They never talked about it. They just did it that way. She always said that he gave her a long leash. He always said she was too aggressive.
They had their ups and downs. But they always got over it in a very short time. Never was there an apology involved. There was never a need for an apology. It was always just understood.
In some ways, it was like they were married, even though they had never even touched each other. They knew each other like a book. Like the back of their hands. She always knew what his reaction would be to any given situation. They didn't always agree. But they did always acknowledge when the other was right.
She prided herself in making his lawyering job a lot easier. He did a lot of family law. One of the things she did was to devise a way to calculate child support. Clients had always complained. Either they were paying too much child support, or they weren't receiving enough child support. So, one day she sat down and read the child support statute. It was black and white. There was one right way to calculate it. And so, she did this thing where each case was calculated the same way. The right way. And the clients still complained, but they were able to show them that this was the only way. Also, opposing counsel would complain about this method. But again, they were able to show that it was the only way to go. Although, sometimes in those cases, the parties agreed to go a different way.
One day something happened. Something that put a major wrinkle in their relationship. A new divorce client from out of county. The lawyer was going to have to go to court on a Tuesday morning on a temporary child support issue. Late Monday afternoon, as the lawyer was walking out the door for the day, he gave her the new file and told her to make a child support calculation. He said he would stop by the office early in the morning, pick up the file, and then go to court with it. She said, no prob, I'll have the file right here on the corner of my desk for you.
So, after he was gone she opened the file. There were no pay stubs with which to figure a proper child support calculation. All that was there was some handwritten notes with some payroll figures for the client. She knew it would be temporary, so she did the best she could with what she had. She made some estimates. It wasn't perfect. But it was something.
The next morning she came to work and the file was gone from her desk. So, she knew her boss had been there to retrieve the file.
Late morning when he gets back from court, he storms up to her and loudly says, for all to hear, "get in my office right now!" Oh boy, now what? She follows him in there, and before he even takes off his coat, he launches into this huge diatribe about how she didn't do her job. About how when he got to court to present his case for his client, he was made a fool of, because he didn't have the proper child support documentation. He was humiliated. And it was all her fault. She just stood, there, mouth agape, and tried to explain why she did what she did. She told him she didn't have the facts; she didn't have the pay stubs. He told her that all the facts were in the file, and that the client had dropped off his pay stubs earlier on Monday. He told her that she screwed up. And he didn't want to hear her defense.
He was gone when she got back from lunch. So, she went into his office, sat down in his chair at his big desk, and started rifling through the papers and files that were there. And, lo and behold, there amidst the mess, were the client's pay stubs. Six of them. More than enough to make a proper child support calculation. They hadn't been get put in the file. She didn't even know they were in the office.
She went to the receptionist, a young skinny tatooed thing, and told her that whenever anyone dropped anything off for her boss, she was to know about it first, before anything was given to her boss. She made it perfectly clear to the receptionist that she was to blame for what had happened to her boss in court this morning. Of course, the young skinny tatooed thing could have cared less.
The secretary took the pay stubs to her desk and put together a proper calculation. When her boss got back, she went into his office and showed him her work. She tried to explain what had happened, but he didn't want anything to do with it. He said it was too late.
The next morning, Wednesday, this entire situation was weighing heavily on her heart and her mind. They had had their riffs before, but none of those had ever lasted this long. As soon as she had the chance, she went into her boss's office, and again tried to explain the situation. He wouldn't listen. He told her that she had screwed up and he wouldn't be able to trust her with this kind of work in the future. She was stunned. He had never treated her like this. She went back to her desk feeling very dejected.
The next day, Thursday, they didn't speak to each other at all. She went home from work that night and told her family what was happening. She told them she was going to have to quit her job. She couldn't continue like this. She was very upset. This entire situation was making her physically sick.
So, Friday morning, she resolved to give her two weeks notice to her boss. When he got to the office, before she could say anything, he told her he wanted to see her in his office. Oh great, she thought, he's going to fire me before I get a chance to quit. She went in his office and stood in front of his desk. He told her to have a seat. She declined. So, he stood up. She was grim. He was smiling. He told her that he realized what had happened. He told her she would have had no way of knowing that those pay stubs were on his desk. He acknowledged that when he gave her the file, he had neglected to put the pay stubs in the file. He apologized. He verbally apologized. And it was like a huge weight had been lifted from her. She said thank you, and that was the end of that. Things were back to normal.
Later that day they conspired together to pull off a major practical joke on the husband of the lady lawyer in the office. Everyone had a good laugh. After lunch she fed him Andy Capp's Hot Fries. And he did his little dance while faking serious mouth injury. Everyone had a really good laugh out of that.
She felt really good. She felt better about her relationship with her boss than she ever had. She wouldn't have to quit. She was certain that they would have a long career together. Life was back to normal.
He left the office about 4:00 that day. He said he was going out for a drink before going to pick up his kids from day care. He wanted to know if she could come in Saturday morning to help him figure out how to get rid of a tiresome case. She told him she could. She didn't mind working Saturday mornings. As a matter of fact, she actually liked it. Things were quiet and she could get a lot done without the usual day-to-day interruptions.
So, Saturday she got to the office about 9:30 a.m. She wanted to grab the file before he got there. She wanted to figure out where they were and what they could do. She knew she would get a good head start since he wouldn't be in until about 10:00 when he dropped his son off for Karate class at the YMCA next door. About five after ten she glanced at the clock and wondered where he was. At 10:15 he still wasn't there. She knew he hadn't parked in back, because he would have walked through the building to get to the Y. So, she looked out the front door for his truck on the street, but it wasn't there. She began to think that he had found something better to do and wouldn't be coming in at all.
At 10:20 the phone rang. As she answered it, she thought it might be him. But it wasn't. It was a girl she knew. Another legal secretary from another firm. Someone who she had worked with. Someone she had trained. She was glad to hear from her. This was someone she liked and they rarely got the chance to talk.
The girl wanted to know what she was doing.
"Working," she replied. She thought maybe the girl was going to ask her out to lunch or something.
But the girl said, "you don't know what happened, do you?"
She felt her heart start to pound a little, as she said, "no, what happened."
The girl said, "are you sitting down?"
She said "no," as she stood up. She demanded, "what happened?"
And then the girl said, "your boss is dead. He died in his sleep last night."
She had a hard time believe it. But it was true. The girl's mother was friends with a neighbor of her boss. That's how she knew. His children found him dead in bed at about 8:30 that morning. They called their mother, who called 911.
That was all about four years ago.
Oh man! Henry Winkler is going to be on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit next Friday night. I hope I don't miss it. I really got to figure out a way to remember these kinds of things.
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© Marie Carnes 2002.
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