Once upon a time, in a far away land, the Boss assigned me a secretary. Not part of a pool, but a whole person. With a master’s degree from Mt. Holyoke. Pretty daunting. I’d never had a secretary or even been one. So I asked the Boss:
“What is she supposed to do?”
“You write, she does the typing.”
He apparently thought I wrote in longhand. On paper. So I had a secretary who was supposed to type for me? I was supposed to write longhand? I can barely write a shopping list by hand. I can’t think without a keyboard. Nonetheless, I had a secretary. American, like me. Thin. Tall. Blonde. (Unlike me.) Very nervous. Twitchy.
We discovered a shared passion for horses and went riding together. She rode a lot better than me. She had her own helmet, crop, jacket … the whole regalia. I had jeans and a pair of battered boots. I’d never worn a helmet.
About the same time, I had a less heartwarming revelation. I discovered my secretary was a dedicated nose picker — and she ate it. She was fast and sneaky, but when you spend every working day with someone, it would have been impossible to not realize she had a long, nervous finger up her nose all the time. I suppose everyone probably picks their nose sometimes — but this was different. She couldn’t stop. She admitted eventually she’d caused permanent damage to the lining of her nose from constantly attacking it with her fingernails.
Our offices were located on the fourth floor of a warehouse. No elevator, so you got exercise. You didn’t have to go out for lunch. It was catered, delivered daily and we all ate at a long table amidst many prayers. The boss was an orthodox Jew from Belgium. Other than Judaism, he believed in feeding his employees and giving everyone lots of vacation time. It was a good job. He was one of the kindest, most decent men for whom I ever worked.
Two floors below us was a chocolate factory. They made all kinds very dark chocolate-covered citrus fruits. My favorite was grapefruit. If you were Kosher, you could eat them with meat or dairy. And oh my, they were so good. Around two in the afternoon, they fired up the chocolate vats and the smell would start drifting upward. I sent my secretary to get me chocolate. I didn’t know what else to do with her and watching her ream out her nose was getting to me. By mid afternoon, I not only needed chocolate. I needed a break.
She was such a nice woman. Smart. Well-educated. She objected to being sent on errands. I sighed. I didn’t really have much else for her to do. The nose-picking was wearing me down. I found myself trying to not look at her lest I catch her digging with a finger up to a second knuckle. One day I was sure she’d hit brain matter.
Finally, she refused to get me chocolate and I had no work for her. Moreover, she was unable to keep her fingers where they belonged. I went to the boss. I said I felt my secretary needed to move on, perhaps to someone else in the company who needed her services more than I. He looked at me.
“What is the real problem?”
“She picks her nose. And eats it.”
That was the end of the story. In reality, not only did I not need a secretary, no one did. It was a computer development company. We all worked on keyboards. Her departure was inevitable. I just sped it up by a few weeks. I didn’t mention the picking thing, but she knew. She also had to know she was underemployed. I’ve been in that position. You know when you’re redundant. No one will pay you indefinitely if you aren’t doing enough work to earn your paycheck — unless your mom or dad owns the company.
Still, if it hadn’t been for the nose picking and her refusal to go downstairs to get me chocolate, she’d have had a little more time.