Three Envelopes

This morning at 11:30, I sauntered into our office cafeteria like a gunslinger in a Technicolor Western walks into a saloon: hot and dusty, spurs jangling, a band of sweat around my cowboy hat. I wasn’t kidding when I ordered my bourbon and Coke, but Miss Lucy thought I was and looked over her readers and teased, “Girl, do I need to call HR, or are you ok?”  

If Miss Lucy had slid my 20oz. bottled cherry Coke down the counter, I’d have caught it one-handed.  It had already been a long day. The kind of day that makes you start second guessing major life choices. The kind of day that allows that mean voice in your head to start hissing ugliness. The kind of day that makes you order bourbon and Coke at the workplace cafeteria.     

At 9:20 am my boss started our day by mansplaining how to address an envelope. That’s right. You heard me. Address an envelope.

“Elizabeth, I need you to send these three letters to three different people.  (He holds up the letters in his right hand and indicates with his left pointy finger there are in fact three distinct letters.)  Each of the letters needs to go in their own envelope because they’re going to different people. I don’t want the letters to be folded, so they need to be placed in a big envelope with a label on the outside of the envelope on which you have typed each person’s individual name and address.  Please don’t write directly on the envelope. “

Although I try desperately to keep a poker face, I am quite positive I was unable to do so at that moment.  Pretty sure my face was twisted into a question mark. I kept waiting for him to actually start explaining the part that would make the conversation necessary.  Were the letters to be sent internationally? Maybe the letters needed to be FedEx’d instead of sent by USPS? There had to be a punchline.  He continued.

“Now, what I’d like for you to do is go back to your desk with these three letters and these three envelopes.  Please apply a label in the center of the envelope (He indicates said center.) But not before you’ve used your computer to print the label.”   

It was at this moment, I felt my brow furrow.  I’m fairly certain my mouth was agape.

I accepted the envelopes and letters.  I turned slowly to walk out the door, but turned back into his office and asked, “Did you need something else?”  To which he responded, “No. Just wanted to be sure you understood the envelopes.”

At 9:28 am he called me at my desk from the phone in his office (literally located three steps away) to let me know that I would be receiving an email with an attachment.  I had to hold the receiver away from my ear because we are situated close enough there was a reverb squelch on my end.  He asked me to print the attachment, scan it into the computer and email it to someone within the company.   As he was explaining this to me, I received the email that had typed within it the exact instructions he was telling me ON THE PHONE.  I didn’t dare offer to explain how email attachments work.  “Yes, sir. No problem,” I said with a smile in my voice.

My boss doesn’t have many meetings on his calendar today.  This could go on for a while.

To make things interesting, Jamie has been out of town this week on business.  So far, he has sent me two pictures from fancy restaurants. Last night, he sent a picture of a beautiful china plate on which delicately seared scallops were situated on a nest of buttery pasta so rich I could smell the white wine through the tempered glass of my cell phone.  I received his text just as I was throwing away the Dixie brand paper plates off of which the boys and I had just eaten our supper: Oscar Mayer, bun length, hot dogs with Lays’ Sour Cream and Onion chips on the side.  The plates weren’t even Chinet, y’all.

I don’t begrudge my husband a fancy dinner.  If I’d been out of town on business, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d be eating at a fancy restaurant and sending pictures.

It was the video he sent later in the evening of the moment when individually packaged coconut macaroons were parachuted into the venue that made me want to claw my eyes out. Who does that??  And, where can I get one??  

Instead of parachuted macaroons, I treated us to brownies made from a boxed mix.  I served them warm with shoot-it-out-of-the-can whipped cream on top.  The boys were very impressed.  At that point, I was feeling so devil-may-care that before I put the whipped cream back into the fridge, I squirted some straight from the can directly into my mouth.  The nozzle made it’s incredibly satisfactory schleerp noise as I stood alone in the light of the open refrigerator door, mouth full of whipped cream, and held my fist high in the air, a mom in full rebellion.     

At this point in our lives, the boys are old enough that single-parenting, while Jamie is out of town, is really not that big a deal.  For the sake of full disclosure though, I’m not totally alone either. When Jamie is out of town (and sometimes when he isn’t) my folks pick the boys up from school.  If we didn’t have them pitching in with pickups, I’d probably lose my job.

On the days Mama picks up the boys, by the time I get home from work, Jack and Colin have done all their chores and started homework. Supper is simmering on the stove, and Mama is usually at the kitchen table matching socks.  

Every time she is left unattended at my house for any amount of time, Mama tackles the sock basket.  I have to admit, this particular day she was pretty proud of all the matches she’d been able to make. She says the natural light coming in through the kitchen window really helps with the dark colors.  She had also done a load or two of laundry which meant that I had wet clothes hanging all over the laundry room and hanging on hangers above every door in the kitchen. My dryer works really well, but Mama doesn’t like my dryer.  She says it runs too hot, and she’d rather give the clothes an opportunity to air dry every now and then.  “It’s good for the fabric,” she says. 

If she is thoughtful enough to do a load of laundry for me, she can hang clothes from every door in the house.  She can run a clothesline from the kitchen to my master bedroom if she wants to. See if I complain.

That was Tuesday.

Today is Thursday and the socks are still spread out all over the kitchen table, a never-ending Memory game that I’m sure I’ll be playing in purgatory.  Jack’s not helping. He wears mismatched socks on purpose. He says “everyone is doing it,” but this new fad just keeps socks from ever finding their mates.  Clearly, “everyone” didn’t discuss this trend with Mama first. 

I fear that if I throw away a sock, I will find its mate the day after.  So, I don’t throw socks away at all. I keep all socks in a laundry hamper specifically set aside for socks only.  I match the ones I can on Sunday afternoons before church while watching “Forensic Files” on Netflix.

I know enough about mitochondrial DNA testing to join a task force.  I’ve also told everyone I know that if they are attacked, they should fight back with all the strength they can muster:  scratch, spit and tear as much hair as possible so that DNA evidence is ALL OVER EVERYTHING.

Clearly, my boss doesn’t know how well versed I am on covering up crime scenes, for it was only a little while later he came to my cube holding a four-page Word document he’d asked me to type from an original hard-copy.  Although I am situated close enough to hear him stand up from his desk chair, collect the papers off his desk, and walk toward my cubicle, he knocked loudly, as is his custom, on the metal facing of my cubicle.  

As I spun around in my desk chair to face him, I could tell something about the document I’d typed wasn’t right.  He was smiling at me the way you smile at a child giving you a necklace made out of still-wet-with-paint macaroni. He put the papers on my desk and whisper-talked in a tone I’m sure he thought was a super-supportive, yet was totally and completely condescending, “Hey, this is great.  It really is. Thank you. You did a great job. Really.” He leaned over and put both hands on top of the papers like he was about to start CPR.  

I must’ve looked skeptical because he said, “I’m sure you did it this way because I didn’t communicate what I wanted very well.”  I could feel my eyes narrow. My Mama didn’t raise a fool. I know that tone. “What I should’ve asked you to do was use our business template and just drop the words you typed into the template.  Does that make sense?”

Never mind the condescending tone or the fact that he kept saying the word template and pronouncing it tem-PLATE (emphasis on the second syllable,) I’d never heard of a business tem-PLATE. I answered, “Of course. I’m sure I can find it.”

After an hour of chasing that rabbit, it turns out there is no such thing as a business tem-PLATE.  According to the powers-that-be, my boss wants something he can’t have unless the company plans to adopt the document in question as an official office policy, which they most certainly aren’t.

That was fun.  

At 10:45 am, Mr. Math from a department down the hall, asked that I join him in my boss’s office to review a spreadsheet that I’d been working on for some time.  I made three copies of the spreadsheet, sharpened three pencils and walked into the office with confidence. I knew this report inside and out. I had been formatting and applying formulas and cutting and pasting like an Excel mastermind.  

Within two minutes, it was clear I was not there to answer questions about the spreadsheet.  I was there to reformat the spreadsheet.

Elizabeth, what we have here is an Excel spreadsheet. (He held up the copy I had just handed him, so I could see it.)  In looking through the report, I see some line items that we should probably delete.  Would you agree, Mr. Math? Yes, I thought so. So, what you need to do is put a check by all the numbers that should be deleted.  I will begin by calling out those numbers.

Somewhere in the far reaches of my mind, I heard a needle scratch a record.  It all happened so fast.  I was astounded. There I sat, a 42 year old college graduate, former assistant to a United States Senator, former office manager for a relatively important lobbying firm in Washington, DC, former high school English and composition teacher, and he was calling the numbers on the spreadsheet out loud to me like I was in third grade.  

My heart was beating fast.  The tip of my nose started to get hot and turn red.  I felt the tell-tale catch in the back of my throat.  I wasn’t sad.  I was mad. I refused to cry.  

No way sister, you just sit here and put check marks by the numbers.  You are punching a clock and being rewarded for your silence with group health insurance, a relatively low deductible, and a bi-weekly paycheck.  Just sit still. Dry it up. Your job doesn’t define you. Your job doesn’t define you. Your job doesn’t define you.

Ok.  I think those are the only rows that need to be deleted.  Let me explain what that will mean Elizabeth, and I’ll start at the top of the page.  When you delete number five, that means number six will become number five. Number seven will become number six.  Number eight will become number seven.

I couldn’t take my eyes off him.  What must he think of me? Does he not think I know how to delete numbers on a spreadsheet?  Does he think I can’t address an envelope?  Does he know that he doesn’t have to call me on the phone when I’m only three steps away? Does he care?  What is happening? WHAT AM I DOING HERE? 

“Sir,” I stopped him.  “I know how to delete a row on the spreadsheet.  I will ensure the rows are correctly numbered once I have deleted each of them.  Actually, the computer program numbers the rows automatically, but I will double check to be sure.”  

Oh.  Ok. Good.  Did you catch that last one?  Number 34?  It needs to be deleted, too.  

“Yes, sir,” I answered with a smile.  “I believe I’ve got it.” 

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