The Secretary, the Worm, & the water cooler: A morality tale in three acts

You may remember Worm from our post a couple weeks ago: a high school teacher with a reputation as a scavenger. I mentioned there was a shady incident involving him and the water cooler.

Prepare yourself. Here it is in all its gory detail.

Act 1

Scene: Break room of a suburban high school. Near the door is a reverse osmosis water cooler with instant hot and cold spouts. It is nectar of the gods for the 15 staff members who together pay its annual lease. (Their district office would not approve it as a budgetary item, saying the brown water from the tap was–this is a direct quote–“fine.”) The Worm is  filling his mega slurp cup. The Secretary, who pays the monthly invoices and therefore knows exactly who chipped in for the water cooler, enters.

Worm: (greeting her) Hey good buddy.

Secretary: What are you doing?

Worm: Filling my cup. Hey, were you the one who made those cupcakes? They were good. I had three.

Secretary: (conflicted; should she say something?)

water cooler

Worm: Course they were the last three! Haha! You snooze, you lose!

Secretary: (decision made) I don’t remember you paying to use the water cooler.

Worm: (acts flusteredmoves to sink – sloshing water on floor – starts pouring water down drain) Fine… I… I just won’t use it then!

Secretary: Oh come on, you had to know! It says so right there (points to sign on cooler).

Worm: (still pouring water, it’s a helluva big cup) All right, fine. Just tell me this — how much is the lease?

Secretary: What?

Worm: (still pouring) How much do you pay? What’s the total cost?

Secretary: A month or a year?

Worm: (finished dumping water, now filling cup at fridge dispenser) Gimme the annual cost.

Secretary: Three hundred and twenty a year, plus tax.

Worm: And how much does each person pay?

Secretary: (points at sign again) Twenty for the year. You know that—

Worm: Okay, so you need 16 people to cover it. What happens when you get more than that?

Secretary: (pauses; briefly impressed with his math skills) What do you mean?

Worm: What if more than 16 people pay for it? What happens then? What happens with the extra money?

Secretary: (keeps her voice steady) If there’s money left over, it would lower the price for everyone.

Worm: Well, I’m not going to do it.

Secretary: What?

Worm: I’m not going to pay, so I just won’t use it anymore.

Secretary: (sighing) Fine.

Worm: Fine.

Secretary: Fine.

(Worm leaves, from the hallway we hear one last “Fine”)

Scene 2: Secretary reenacts the incident for her coworkers in the front office: the receptionist, the other secretaries and clerks, even a few Administrators. They are universally charmed by her performance and outraged at the audacity of the teacher. The verdict is unanimous. The Worm is the worst.

Act 2 – The following day.

Scene: Secretary is at her desk; Attendance Clerk approaches.

Attendance Clerk: Guess who I just saw using the water cooler?

Secretary: I don’t know, who? … (gasps) … He wouldn’t!

(They pause as Worm walks by, carrying his full mega-slurp cup. They wait until he’s out of view.)

back of worm

Secretary: Why that little–

Attendance Clerk: He’s such a–

Secretary: I’m gonna kick his sorry little–

At this point the dialogue takes on a more profane nature than this blog typically uses. Therefore, we will fast forward to Scene two.

Scene two: Secretary relays information of Worm’s misdeeds to her previous audience. Her acting is top-notch and the judgment against Worm is swift: He’s guilty as hell.

Scene three: Secretary is at her desk composing an email to Worm. It takes several revisions. Finally she decides on a direct approach. Just two lines:

Hello _______,

Since you decided to continue using the water cooler, I'll need you to pay $20 for the year. Please submit it by the end of the day tomorrow.

Thank you,


Scene four: Nighttime.

Secretary is home, telling Husband of her day. He rubs her back, says things like, “He’s the worst,” and “I’m sorry you have to deal with jerks like that,” and so forth.
Flash to Worm at home, watching TV. Wife calls him to dinner. It’s Hamburger Helper, the Stroganoff one. His favorite.
Back to Secretary, now in bed tossing and turning. At 2 a.m. she puts her robe on and sits at a window. She sighs heavily.
Now we see Worm in bed. Sleeping. Undisturbed.

Act 3 – The third day.

Scene oneSecretary is at her desk, completely absorbed in her work, when suddenly she is struck — PLOP — by a wadded piece of…. money?
She looks up in time to see Worm walking away. She looks at the wadded money on her desk: a $20 bill.
She laughs.

Scene twoHer final performance, she makes it a good one. She tells each audience member not to look at her, just pretend they are working. Then she walks by and tosses the wadded money at them.
Does it hit them a little harder than the original? Perhaps.
Does she stomp away a little more childishly? Definitely.
Yet all are astonished, outraged on her behalf, and immensely entertained.
Could we ask for a better ending? No. We could not.

Moral of the Story

Let us consider: In this Water Cooler saga, who behaved best?

On the one hand, we have Worm. He knowingly used something that other people were paying for, with no intention of paying himself. When confronted, he grew defensive and went so far as to hint Secretary was using the money to fund her lavish lifestyle. He then lied by promising he wouldn’t use the water cooler, then turned right around and used it again. Eventually he paid, but he did so childishly. Never once apologizing or admitting any wrongdoing.

What a Worm.

On the other hand, what did our Secretary do? (You know it was me, right?)

It’s true that Worm mistreated me, but he only mistreated me. Whereas I abused him to everyone in the front office. I gleefully told of his misdeeds and every time I told the story, it grew in detail. I tore the little man to shreds. Sure, I withheld broadcasting it to his fellow teachers, but — oh, hey there! — I’m now splashing it on the internet.

Truth is, I kinda hate myself a little bit over this. For one thing, I hate that I let it bother me so much. It’s a flippin’ water cooler, for crying out loud! No one was being harmed. Not really, anyway.

For another, I know that if I had the chance for a do-over? Um… yeah… I’d probably behave the exact same way. I mean, how could I not?! It was funny, and I’m all about funny.

But the thing that bothers me most? He was the one who made the first attempt to make amends. (The encounter I described in the other post actually came after the Water Cooler Incident.)

All this means is that… *gulp*… *gritsteeth*… Worm comes out ahead. He behaved better.


worm victorious


39 thoughts on “The Secretary, the Worm, & the water cooler: A morality tale in three acts

  1. Love this! At my old office, it was not uncommon for one to place their lunch in the shared refrigerator only to find it gone come lunchtime. It never happened to me, but it’s probably because I never had anything too terribly interesting to eat. We never figured out who it was.

    1. Oh, I hadn’t thought of that! Even so, the affect would have been the same had I not told others and kept it to myself. Of course, I would have missed out on having fun and writing this post, so either way I’m screwed. 😉

  2. Love the drawings. Been there with such a character coworker. I had lost a LOT of sleep, due to replaying words and actions of myself and the other person. Dont feel bad. It really is incredibly tough to get over a person like Wirm, whom u hv to bear with for days on end. Even if had not been in ur shoes (the Secretary), I too, would hv been highly bugged to hv paid my portion of the water cooler use, when Worm didnt. Someone had to tell him n make it fair for all whi had dished out their hard earned money.

    1. Yeah, I agree. I felt I had to say something on behalf of the others, and I’m sure the way he bugged me every single day, multiple times a day, fed into how I reacted. It’s so much easier to be good when everyone around you is good too.
      Glad you liked the drawings!

  3. While in some respects I can see that maybe it wasn’t okay to make fun of the man, he DID do some bad things. I sure wouldn’t consider it libelous and at the same time, you amused your co-workers (and us, but we don’t know this person, so that’s fair), and you let off some steam to save your sanity. All to the good in my book. It’s not like you made an announcement over the PA system!

    1. Ah yes, I did hold off on the PA system! Good point!
      But seriously, thank you for seeing my point of view. I figure I have to be harder on myself than other people, because it’s only my behavior I can control.

  4. I am glad you exposed him to the office world and to us. I am fine with it. As to whether our religion is ok with it, that is another story. I hope he subscribes to your blog and has read the two stories too but probably he is too thick skinned to realise the instances mentioned were about him.
    I can understand the sleepless nights going over conversations with him in your mind and what better you could have told him and how he might have been brought to judgment sooner.
    I am glad you got the 20$ off him. He needed to be reported to the Teachers’ council or something like that.
    I think you are the winner here. I still contend that he was fond of you, CJ.

    1. We’re gonna have to agree to disagree about whether he was fond of me, but I’m glad we see eye to eye on the rehashing of personal behavior and such. Sometimes I think life would be easier if I didn’t analyze my actions so much, but then I think, nah, better to live with awareness and shoot for kindness, always.
      Thanks, Susie!

  5. I have stories about him, too. Calling him the Worm is entirely too generous. Too high on the evolutionary ladder.

    1. Okay, you’re the third English teacher who said they had run-ins with him. Apparently I’m not spilling any secrets here. The guy has made a name for himself and now I know I’m insulting worms by labeling him such. Mea culpa.

  6. Wonderful story. Cool drawings. And an interesting tale. You’re clearly a better person than me. Given the situation, for me, remorse is a dish best left off the menu — what’s-his-name got less than half what he deserved. cheers

    1. If we were to set up a tribunal made up of everyone who read this, it would be interesting to see what sentence would be handed down on poor old Worm.
      Question: do you own an executioner mask?

  7. (Said in deepest empathy) I hate it when I’m wrong, especially by my personal standards, and I can’t blame another soul for my malfeasance. Double damnet. The story however is expertly delivered.

      1. I intentionally avoid talking with you on the phone, lest repentance for excessive become mandatory (however good-natured). Especially with you working with the Sisters now…

  8. Esmeralda, cast member on “CSI: Phoenix”: “I’m here to discuss The Worm Incident.”

    Christi de Baudelaire von Trapp, cast member on “Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Phoenix Satellite”: “I feel quite wretched about my behavior in said incident. Cuff me if you must, I don’t mind.”

    Esmeralda: “Wretched? Oh, honey, there will be no cuffing. I’m here to hire you for our team. Would you like to discuss our benefits package?”

    1. I love how you so deftly get me out of my head and giggling.
      Also, love how you brought in character names from “Bewitched,” “Series of Unfortunate Events,” AND “Sound of Music.” That takes talent, man. True talent. 😉

  9. What a hoot! Now I understand why you had to delay this post a week to complete the artwork. I applaud you for standing up to that worm. All the other teachers in Building D have probably now been warned not to mess with you.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s