Great Moments in Workplace Cowardice

I had no idea there was such a thing as "Receptionist Day" until my boss told me so over lunch at the Tournament Player's Club restaurant. The TPC, incidentally, is where the Phoenix Open is held, which means for the duration of the event the workers in this neighborhood are required to add twenty minutes to their commutes while they are directed through a labyrinth of dusty pro tem parking lots and orange cones by golf groupie Minotaurs who make curt little waves with flashlights. This really doesn't have anything to do with anything, but it annoyed me mightily at the time so I thought I'd share.

So I'm sitting, waiting for my lunch, nervousness having already been expressed in my tripping on the way to the table and knocking over an empty glass, but not as nervous as usual having previously determined I wouldn't be fired. I always think I'm going to be fired. Every time my boss comes to my desk I think, "This is it." I used to sweat these lunches out, waiting for the "you're fired" shoe to drop until I was actually behind my desk working again, but afterwards I would have a big smirk on my face because The Pill who had been covering the phones in my longer-than-usual-because-I'm-out-with-my-boss-so-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it, huh? absence would shoot me a mean look that would send me into paroxysms of snickering. But when she (my boss) invited me that time I asked flat out, "Are you going to fire me?" and when she answered "no" I accepted.

Anyway, before my salad (yes, salad, and I can produce a receipt) arrived, my boss wished me Happy Receptionist's Day. Well, that would explain the lunch and why I hadn't been fired, but not the event itself. Why is there such a thing as Receptionist's Day? I know there is a Secretary's Day, but I'd always assumed that was established by Congressmen with skeletons locked in their assistants' desk drawers who were looking for an excuse to bribe the help without raising eyebrows. Was there some consortium of receptionists in Washington agitating for their (our) rights? If so, is this best they could do? Not that I have many demands, though I suppose I could always do even less work for even more money (twist my arm).

More likely, the good name of my profession was co-opted by the flower and lunch lobby, which is a sad, tacky, capitalist reality I'm willing to tolerate because it directly benefits me. So lunch was relatively stress free, and extra long because my boss left her cel phone on the table and we had to go back for it. I chortled at The Pill's display, settled into my chair, and proceeded to read ghost stories or something on the internet.

An hour or two later, a florist's van stopped in front of the door and I watched an old delivery guy bring a cut glass vase packed with fat long stemmed roses to my desk. I wondered which Cosmo Girl in sales they were intended for, but there wasn't a card. The old guy went back to the van and dug around but returned empty handed. He got into fights with a couple of his co-workers over the lobby phone, but they absolutely refused to disclose identity of the would-be recipient. He marched back to my desk muttering about how stubborn and petty some people can be. I pretended to take a call and gave him a helpless shrug to indicate that although I was sure his diatribe was fascinating and well supported by recent evidence I honestly couldn't listen to it just then. He grabbed the roses and stomped away.

Heh heh heh--well that broke up the afternoon. He came back about forty minutes later, not with the roses but a basket of plants addressed to "Shirley McGovern--Happy Receptionist Day". I nonchalantly signed for them then called my boss and asked if she knew of such a person. She came to my desk and we were having a laugh over the mistake and admiring the arrangement when The Pain came tearing out of the Accounting office block screaming to my boss that she should discipline me for my thoroughgoing rudeness to her family.

Did I forget to mention that one of her scurrilous kin called a few minutes before? I'd forgotten then, too. They are consistently and utterly unpleasant, but in this job those are hardly distinctive traits. And while I can't pretend I'm not affected by the discourteous behavior of callers, and I won't swear that I never suspended a member of The Pain's family in penalty hold limbo; I can honestly state I've never spoken as cruelly to anybody as I've heard her speak to her children on the lobby phone. I've also never insisted a co-worker be fired on a day set aside to honor the job they were doing, however bogus the job, the employee, or the day itself.

You know what it was like? The Hilton clan may already see this coming, but it was like the day Lola Monson (forever after "Lola Monsoon") came storming into PBX yelling at Jana and me because we had given her supervisor truthful answers to questions about big L's bad behavior from a few days before. Jana detonated and Lola backed down. It was like watching a fire being extinguished by an explosion. I observed from the corner of my eye while I answered calls, and Jana still rides me about what a coward I was. Which I still am.

Come to think of it, I didn't even have the nerve to use Jana's recommended response to a particular task I was given recently though it was succinct and apt, and solicited by me especially for the occasion. So I sat still, burning up while The Pain's tirade wore on and finally out, and then she left. I turned to my boss and asked if she wanted the plants back. She didn't want the plants, and she didn't want my offer of resignation either, which is good I suppose.

Also good, I suppose, is that after another similar blowup with The Pain about a week later I could hardly be chastised for putting any pretense of civility aside and shunning her full time. Also, now instead of inviting me to lunch my boss goes with The Pain and brings me carryout. So my work life is serene, but not interesting, and certainly not courageous. But this is July and that portends all sorts of rebellion, so I might just have to draw a line in the vanilla scented Pledge that coats my desk and start standing up for myself. Beginning now.

So, James, the belated answer to "Will you prepare these envelopes for mailing?" is "Lick this."

(Written by Sharon C. McGovern)

From Vol. 9
Get Back to Work!