So today I was at the City of Waukesha Farmers Market, signing and selling all NINE (yes, NINE) of my books. And someone came up to me and told I should publish bits of my books on Facebook.
She's new to my Facebook feed, so I explained to her about Sneak Peak Saturdays and Sundays, and I'm really hoping she sees this post because she was eyeing up my first Elsie W. book and I'd really like her to read it because she, like many of us, work with people and I think she'd enjoy it. I haven't posted a bit of Elsie W. recently, so hey, I thought, why not dedicate this weekend to that mammoth disaster of a coworker, Elsie W?
So, enjoy this small section of the first Elsie W. book, NOT WHILE I'M CHEWING!!
If a tree falls on Elsie’s house, will anyone hear the beginning of a brilliant book?
The day I started work at Stuff, Installed, a tree fell on Elsie’s house. Looking back, I should have taken that as a sign of things to come. This was a woman who, in the course of the seven and a half months I worked with her, managed to create as much chaos, disaster, mishap, and unintentional hilarity as any normal person might in a lifetime.
I was nervous about working in an office like Stuff, Installed. It was part of a large corporation, one that had a human resources department and hosted their own conferences and training forums. I’d never worked in an office life that, but I needed health insurance and a steady paycheck. Stuff, Installed seemed to fit the bill.
My job description was fairly ambiguous. “Customer Service” is always a euphemism for “person who takes the angry calls.” That didn’t bother me. The idea of working in an office with other people bothered me. See, prior to this job, I’d worked, for nearly twenty years, either from home or in an office. My job longevity was a selling point to NBM who managed to miss the part where I hadn’t worked with actual people in a very, very long time.
Being on the phone was the number one duty of everyone at Stuff, Installed, except for the actual installers. Those guys were lucky because they got to go and install the Stuff, and rarely had to be on the phone. Everyone else was expected to make and take several phone calls a day. Elsie’s job, I was told, was to make one hundred outgoing calls a day.
“She’s only been here a month,” the Bookkeeper said. “She’s not quite up to speed.”
Truer words were never spoken. The Bookkeeper quit and left the company a week after I started, so she never got to live through the months of Elsie NEVER getting up to speed.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
That first day, July 11th, when the tree fell on her house, I felt sorry for Elsie. I mean, who has a tree fall on their house, and comes in to work anyway? I was fairly certain that a tree falling on your house should be a good excuse to not come in to work. She seemed so afraid that if she hadn’t come in to work, she’d lose her job. I’d been on the job three hours…and I was thinking I’d made a huge mistake taking the job.
Turns out, working in an office run by NBM was sort of like working in a circus where the ring leader can’t make up his mind where the elephants should poop. You’re constantly stepping in it when you didn’t even know it was there. It only took me three hours to figure that out, and I hadn’t met the cotton-candy haired clown makeup wearing disaster of a human being that was Elsie W.
The Bookkeeper, the woman who was supposed to train me, hated everyone. Well, not everyone, but she hated NBM and PM, and all the Installers, and the Sales Guys, and...well, everyone. As part of my training, I got to spend three days sitting with her, and mostly what I learned was that she KNEW I would never be able to do the job for which I was training. She knew no one but she could possibly do the job she did, because NBM was a horrible human being and she was the most unappreciated person ever to work for Stuff, Installed. It was no surprise when she walked out five days later, never to return.
I was already questioning my sanity for taking the job, when Elsie walked in. We’d met a couple times before while I was going through the interview process, but I didn’t really know her well. “Good morning Elsie. How are you this morning?”
“Oh not so good.” She brushed a shock of cotton candy hair out of her eyes, parked her rolling cooler next to her desk, set down three of her four purses, and pulled out her cell phone. Elsie, I figured out later, not only looked like a clown with her makeup, she was a walking, talking circus tent of a woman who always looked like she was moving in because of all the purses and bags she dragged with her everywhere. Inside most of them were the components of her lunch. “A tree just fell on my house.”
“A tree just did what?” I was, as most people would be, shocked.
“Fell on my house. It’s storming, you know.” Elsie had this way of talking that really made me feel like an idiot. Since I was almost twenty years younger than she, she always acted like I was a child who had never been anywhere ever, and couldn’t see, hear, taste, read, or find the front door for myself.
“I know…but…are you okay? I mean, is your house okay?” Now, I was trying, TRYING to be nice. Polite. But all I could think was, “Why on earth would you come to work when a TREE fell on your HOUSE?”
“I really don’t know. It fell right on my house and I think it broke a window. I’m not sure if the roof caved in or not. I was pulling out of my driveway when it fell.” She dialed a number. I would later learn that the number for Information was truly the only phone number that Elsie knew. All phone calls, for her, started with a call to Information.
I will explain that little hobby of hers in a later chapter.
Elsie spent about an hour trying to reach neighbors and friends who lived nearby to check on her house. When she finally reached someone, she did not ask them to check her house for damage. No, this was her big worry:
“Can you just make sure that my potted plants aren’t dumped over?”
I sat at the desk next to her, as I did for more than two months, before I convinced NBM to move her into a private office, and I was in shock (as I have been every day I work with her). Who comes in to work five minutes after a tree falls on their house? Who makes frantic calls to make sure that the potted plants are okay when there could be a gaping hole in her roof?
Now, after working with her for a while, I realize that on that day, my first at Stuff, Installed, I should have run. A normal person would have run very far from that disaster of a cotton candy haired clown makeup wearer in the next workstation. But, as some of you already know, I am not a normal person. I am a writer who enjoys making people laugh. So I sat and gleaned comedic gold from a one woman wrecking crew.
True, I may have damaged my own sanity in the process. I’ve come close to sticking pointy things in my ears to shut out the glass-cutting grate of her voice, or the endless sound of chewing as she worked endless cuds of food down her gullet. But I ignored the warning signs of that first day, and I have this book to show for it.
I just need to sell enough copies to pay my therapy bills.