Singing the Birthday Blues… and no, it’s not my birthday

I have a fantasy that one day I will work among adults who do not celebrate their birthdays.

It’s not that I deny I’m getting older (still alive at 55). It’s just that I’m an adult now and frankly, it seems a little silly. Living one more year isn’t that big of an accomplishment. Most people manage it.

But more than that, there’s something else about birthdays that I really hate. Like, really really really hate. And people who know me are aware and act accordingly.

Last year for my birthday, Daughter drew a picture for me that highlights my feelings exactly. I will share it with you now when it is not my birthday because… Hello? Have you been listening?

Birthday blues (1)
That’s me in the Groucho Marx glasses.

I hate the attention. Can’t stand it. During any party my primary thought is, “if I leave, will anyone notice?” So when I’m the guest of honor, the answer is usually “No.”

Not always, but usually.

I’m aware that my dislike of parties can be an issue for my friends and family. Most of whom are very generous and loving and effusive with their emotions. Which is annoying as hell.

Honestly. I need to find new friends.

But work? Work should be free of birthday celebrations because, you know, it’s work. Yet at every place I’ve been, birthdays are all the rage.

At my last job, I had to tell my boss to please stop giving me flowers. She usually did it at the beginning and end of the school year, on Admin Assistant Day, my birthday, and all major holidays. I think she once did it on National Eat a Pickle Day. Not sure.

The thing is, Husband knows not to send me flowers at work and it never occurred to me to tell anyone else. If I’m in the hospital? Sure. Bring it on. If I’m home? Better yet. But at work? Nuh-uh. No way, no how.

Reason being:

“Oh how pretty – what’s the occasion?!”
“Is it your birthday? Oh my gosh! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!”
“Ooooh, how beautiful! Lucky you!”
“Are those from your husband or do you have a secret admirer? Haha!”

People who normally never talk to me — and honestly, it’s my favorite thing about them — are suddenly talking to me!

My God!!!

As I mentioned before, I now work at a convent. I have also stated that I am enjoying this job very much. It seems to have all the criteria for happy employment: meaningful work, pleasant coworkers, peaceful environment. I feel quite lucky.

Sadly, it has a downside. I became aware of it just two short days into the job, during lunchtime. I was in the dining hall enjoying a lovely bowl of tomato basil soup with croutons on top.

Have you ever put croutons in your soup? It’s quite good. You should try it.

Suddenly someone starts singing that damned birthday song. I look around and there by the dessert tray stands the poor slob to whom the entire dining hall is now singing.

But wait, it’s not just one verse! Because they’re Franciscan Sisters, they have to give it their own special flair.

Here’s the verse they add: “God’s blessings on you, God’s blessings on you,” etc. With their hands stretched out for the blessing.

Beings how it was only my second day, and beings how I didn’t know the person to whom they were singing, I figured it was a fluke. Sadly, it was not.

When it was repeated a couple weeks later, I knew it was their custom. An insane, diabolical custom in an otherwise sane environment.

At the time I was sitting next to Mr. and Mrs. Boss. Once the song was over, I turned to them and said, “By the way, I’ll be taking my birthday off this year.”

“Oh really? Do you have something fun planned?”

“No. I just won’t be here.”

Fast forward a few months and… well, two things are at play here. For one, I tend to forget things. Birthdays among them, including my own.

I would have missed last year’s completely had it not been for Husband. No kidding.

The other thing? The particular department I work for has a custom of taking the birthday person out for lunch, usually the week after. The birthday person chooses the location and everyone else chips in. In other words, it’s a free lunch of your choosing.

Yeah.

Mr. Boss asked if I’d like to do the celebration on my actual birthday, rather than the week after. I thought, hey, I’ll miss the dining hall sing-a-long!  “Um… sure!”

I chose a local joint called Sanchez Burritos. It’s a little like Chipotle – you go through the line and choose your toppings for a burrito, taco salad, rice bowl, quesadilla, etc. Only in this case, the place is run by three cousins from Honduras and all their sauces and meats are prepared on site.

You should get a whiff of this place. *swoon*

As can be expected, eating with four Sisters and a man who attended seminary (though chose marriage over priesthood), they all prayed as soon as they sat down. I waited patiently.

Then Mr. Boss pulls a surprise. He has us all hold hands while he says a blessing – for Me! Giving thanks I was born, moved to Minnesota, took this job, yada-yada.

Never had THAT happen before!

My face

Anyway. We wound up having a discussion regarding birthdays. It shouldn’t have surprised me – Mr. Boss remembered what I said at that lunch several months ago and planned accordingly.

This is what happens when people live their lives focused outward. They not only remember someone’s preferences, they act on them. Amazing.

Two of the Sisters admitted they avoid the dining hall on their birthdays for the same reason I did. “I eat in my room” one told me. The other said, “I just deal with it.”

Sister LaVonne said, “I think the celebration should reflect the person being celebrated. If they don’t like attention, you should respect that.”

I had a similar conversation once with Daughter, who is as much an introvert as I am. Her feeling was that if people care about you so much as to say, “Hey, glad you’re still alive bucko,” then you should be thankful there are such people in the world and just suck it up. Besides, you might get cake.

My thinking more closely aligned with Sister LaVonne: “Please go away.”

You know, I’d really like to hear your opinions on this subject and since I’ve never done a poll before, it’s time we start. We’ll make it multiple choice and we’ll even include a write-in option for you creative types.

Next week I’ll be out of town and in all likelihood not posting – unless I pull one out of the vaults. Haven’t decided yet.

In any case, I’ll give you the results of our birthday poll the week after that.
Please choose wisely. The fate of adult birthday parties is in your hands.

Not really, but let’s pretend.

When Reception isn’t very perceptive

*ring* … *ring* …

Franciscan Life and Associate’s Office, this is Christi. May I help you?

I’m trying to get a hold of Sister Angie.

Oh… uh… Let me transfer you to the reception desk… one moment… (finally locates transfer button, dials 0)

*ring* … *ring* …

Hello, Franciscan Sisters of —

Hi Renee, this is Christi.

Hi, Christi! How are you?

Fine. I have someone on the line who wants Sister Angie but I’m not sure how to transfer the call to you. If I just hang up will you have them?

Who are they trying to reach?

Sister Angie.

She doesn’t live here.

Yeah, I know.

She’s in Mexico.

Yeah. So I hit transfer and then your number, do I have to hit transfer again or do I just hang up?

I wonder what they’re calling about?

I don’t know. Let me give you the call and you can ask them.

I suppose I can give you her cell phone number.

I’m just transferring the call, I don’t need her—

I’ll look it up.

But —

She puts me on hold; I’m now listening to Sister Carol’s invitation to last month’s soup supper… only $6 each… chicken noodle, wild rice, cream of potato…

Okay, I found her cell phone number.

All right, so how do I—

Are you ready? It’s 555—

What?

Did you get that?

No.  I don’t know how to transfer calls. I wouldn’t know how to give her the call even if I had her number.

Okay, well, what you do is hit transfer.

Yeah, I know that part.

So first hit transfer, and then dial eight and then her number.

I think they hung up.

You have to dial 8 first because she’s off campus.

Yeah but…

Wait until you hear it ringing, then hang up.

I don’t hit transfer again?

No, you just hang up.

Okay, but they hung up.

Oh they did? Oh dear. Hopefully they’ll call back.

Yeah.

Do you need anything else?

No.

It was nice talking to you. Have a great day!

Sigh.

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,
Secretary

*send*

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.

Damnit.

worm victorious

The Secretary and the Worm: A True Story in One Act

Get this guys: when I was driving home from church the wind was blowing really hard and making the snow swirl and dance on top of the road. It looked a little hazy and super cool, like you were about to have a dream sequence.

And if we’re really lucky, it’ll be the one where Gilligan thinks he’s a vampire.

Gilligan

But I’m not here to talk about Gilligan’s Island or the weather. Instead, I’m going to tell you about something that happened right before I left my old job at the school. It was a small incident and normally I’d never remember it, but this time my memory was razor sharp, and …

Okay, fine, I didn’t remember it. Fact is, I was cleaning through my closet and going through my stack of notebooks.

I have a serious notebook problem. Problem being, I keep losing them so I wind up buying new ones. So all these notebooks are half-filled or in some cases, two or three pages filled. It’s pathetic.

In any case, it was in one of these notebooks that I found this conversation I had with a teacher.

First, some background: the teacher and I, we have a history. He had a pathological need to be liked, and I didn’t like him.

I should have been more patient with the guy and I think I could have been, had he not been so damn annoying. Every morning he’d walk through the front office — most teachers don’t, you need to understand that. If their class was in the main building, they might, but even then they usually entered by a side door as it was closer to the parking lot.

This guy didn’t work in the main building; his class was in the “D” building, just outside. So coming through the front office didn’t make sense. Unless, of course, you wanted to go to the break room and see if anyone brought in donuts or muffins or homemade cookies.

After scarfing down several, he’d then make the rounds and say, “Hey good buddy,” to every secretary in the office. After they responded, he say, “Have a good one.”

If you didn’t respond — and this is the key point here — if you didn’t respond, he’s back up and repeat it. And he’d keep this up until he got your attention. Even if you were on the phone, you had to wave or acknowledge him in some manner.

You had to greet him. You had to.

secretaryHe’d also come to the front office at the beginning of lunch and during his prep period. Sometimes during passing periods too. And every time he’d check out the break room.

One time someone bought two pizzas for the front office staff. They wrote on the boxes in big bold letters, “FOR THE FRONT OFFICE.”

Not five minutes after the pizza was put in the break room, he was seen leaving with not one, not two, but three slices. When one of the attendance clerks pointed out to him what was written, he claimed he thought it said “From the front office.”

Yeah. That makes total sense.

worm

Anyway, before you say “Oh, those poor teachers. They don’t make enough and he’s forced to be a worm,” that would be a no. This guy was the wormiest of the worms. He was a Super Worm.

He was also a bit of a dope, and that’s where this exchange comes from. I enjoyed it so much, I shared it with every co-worker I could find.

Fortunately I also wrote it down because my memory is crap.

Scene: Break room of a large suburban high school. I’m sitting at the table eating my lunch, no doubt a homemade tomato/basil soup with freshly grated Parmesan. Just then, Worm arrives to fill his water bottle. (Oh! There’s a story with the Worm and the water cooler too! Damn, I don’t have time to go into it. We’ll save it for another time.)

Enter Worm

Worm: (facing water cooler) Have a good life in Iowa.

Me: (doesn’t say anything; I thought he was talking to the water cooler)

Worm: (turns to face me) I said have a good life in Iowa.

Me: What?

Worm: Aren’t you moving to Iowa?

Me: No.

Worm: I thought you were moving to Iowa.

Me: No. Minnesota.

Worm: Oh, right right right. Minnesota.

Me: Yeah.

Worm: (thinking hard) That’s where Lincoln was from, right?

Me: No. You’re thinking of Illinois.

Worm: Right right right, Illinois… oh, I know, the Packers!

Me: No. Packers are Wisconsin.

Worm: Right right right, Wisconsin… (snaps fingers) Cheese!

Me: Wisconsin.

Worm: Right right right…. You know, I didn’t study geography.

Me: Neither did I.

Worm: Don’t worry, I’ll get it. Before you leave, I’ll get it. I’m not giving up!

Me: *pleasegiveup*

For the record, he never got it.