Don't worry about the sidearm

Yesterday one of the people at my office who is on the “lifeboat”, which is what they call it when you’ll probably be laid off in 2 weeks, but maybe not and nobody’s giving you any information, came into my cubicle. 

“Have you heard of ________,” he asks.  He’s in typical form:  talking in a low mutter, leaning in close, using a rapid mumble so that words tumble out of his mouth as if they’re anxious to get out and need to hurry before he catches on.  It wouldn’t require too much acting for him to be in a mafia movie.

“Nope,” I reply.

“Well, you’ll be getting that project.  When you see the comments about needing a sheriff accompaniment to visit the site, ignore it.  He’s threatened County employees with a sidearm, but you’ll be fine.”

“Um, okay.”  In addition to the people who have already lost their jobs, which is especially sad because these jobs are not coming back anytime soon, and people have spent their career developing a freaky little specialty that doesn’t apply anywhere else, there are those who remain, with their own set of problems.  Missing people they’ve worked with for years, taking on more work, and, more complicatedly (is that a word?), trying to unravel the back-stories of each project in an efficient yet heartful way.

We spend a lot of time looking in file drawers in empty cubicles, trying not to get too irritated.  Picture that someone started knitting a complicated sweater from a pattern they made up from their head, taking few notes, and then left it for you to finish up.   It’s exactly like that, without the sweater. 

This guy continues, “I really don’t think he’ll bring out the sidearm with you.  The thing you gotta help him with, though, is that thing, what’s it called when you can’t throw stuff out?  See, his wife died a year ago, and the house is full of clutter.  He’s got that thing where you’re really messy but worried about cleanliness.  You’re gonna have to help him with that.”

On the one hand, I’m thinking, um, really?  Is there a wetland involved?  But I’m actually sad, because that’s what’s going out the door.  Freaky people, granted, who may never work again because, well, you can imagine.  And yet, this guy knows that the man in question is grieving a wife, and has OCD, and he stops by to visit and try to talk him into getting rid of the sewing machine and the hundreds of dress patterns that clutter up the house.

“When you go over there, go in through the garage and take your shoes off.  I understand what he’s going through.  We want immortality through our things.  He needs a daughter to take that sewing machine.”

“Does he have a daughter?”

“Nope, two sons.  I was over there having a coke the other day… Hey, he’s looking for super soft cloths to dust with that won’t cause scratching.  Do you know where to buy those?"

I was having opposing thoughts:  on the one hand, shit, now I have do deal with the OCD whack-job who makes threats with guns, and on the other hand, I was reminded once again that sometimes the stuff we measure in the workplace isn’t the right stuff.  Sometimes a weird side effect of land use regulation is that it takes random lonely people and requires that they engage with the giant bureaucracy, which gives them an outlet for their anger about the way their lives are going down, and also, if they’re lucky, a chance to connect with someone who bothers to figure them out just a little bit.

“See, I’ve got sons, right?   And I have 27 screwdrivers.  When I go, if they only choose three to keep, and get rid of the rest, well, there goes my immortality.  Each of those screwdrivers meant something to me, and I need them to want all 27 or my life has been a bit of a waste, you see?”

I didn’t really see, but I was glad it all made sense to him.

This story is continued here


  1. And I'm glad you put it in writing. It makes a certain sense and an important sense.

  2. That's really a poignant and sweet story, Betsy. Are the lay-offs continuing at the County?

  3. Wait, what about the part where there's a complicated sweater someone who loves you is making that you're unable to takeover yourself....but you still kind of want the sweater? That sounds like something that is going on in my life...


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