June 29, 2000
Friendly Franz


I don't scare easily.

There are certain things I find moderately frightening. I'm not crazy about heights, for instance: I hate that sick twitchy feeling I get in the back of my legs, as I stand at the top of the Coit Tower looking down at teeny-tiny San Francisco, far below me. Big barking dogs -- especially German Shepherds or Dobermans -- send a shiver straight up my spine. So do dark, cobwebby attics. So do tent caterpillars.

(So do wooden popsicle sticks. But that's another story for another day.)

But if there is one thing that will turn the blood to ice water in my veins quicker than you can say "Look out! Celine Dion is multiplying!" ...

... it is Franz in a *happy* mood.

Especially on days like today, when I am not feeling 100% up to snuff.

I snuck through the back door this morning, with my big bottle of juice and my bag of Halls Mentho-Lyptus ... expecting/hoping/praying for a semi-quiet day of catching up on paperwork and not much else. Preferably with me using (what's left of) my voice as little as humanly possible.  I was hoping to sneak in and lock myself into the Isolation Booth ... listen to voicemail ... peel an orange ...  ease into the morning gradually. But suddenly there was Franz, waving and baring the BIG TEETH at me before I even had my key in the door.

"Howdy!" he said. "Welcome back to the Land of the Living!" And he clapped me on the shoulder.

It was going to be a Friendly Franz Day.

Friendly Franz likes to hug you, and to pat you on the back, and to wrap his arm around your shoulders as he's walking down the hallway with you; he likes to breathe Old Fisherman Cough Drop fumes into your face, and to ruffle your hair, and to generally invade your personal space lots more than I am strictly comfortable with. (Once he reached out and held my hand as we walked down the hallway to the elevator. Gack.)  I'm told that it's a European thing, and not at all sexual, and that I shouldn't be offended, and that he does this to everybody, male or female, and that it's just the way he is.

I don't care. It's icky.

Friendly Franz is inordinately interested in absolutely everything I do. We spent ten minutes this morning discussing my new paper clips: the fact that they are made of plastic, not metal ... the fact that they are slightly LARGER than normal paper clips ... the fact that they come in assorted colors: pink, yellow, blue, green ... how sturdy they are, compared to regular paper clips, and whether they will hold fewer sheets of paper together or more sheets of paper together ... whether or not we should consider making them the "company standard" paper clip ... and on and on and on and ON.

I'm not even going to let him SEE my new stapler.

The other thing about Friendly Franz is that he's sneaky. Whereas you always know where Frantic Franz is, at any given moment -- just follow the sound of doors slamming and people shrieking -- Friendly Franz pads around on whisper-quiet feet of *good will* and *corporate unity* and stuff.  He likes to float up and down the hallways a lot, spreading sunshine and migraines. You turn around ... and there he is.  (I have just finished delicately hacking up a phlegmball the size of a tangerine. As I turn to deposit the sodden Kleenex into the trash ... there he is, standing in my doorway, smiling at me. "Your voice sounds a lot better today!" he says. Translation: I'm going to pretend that you're not sick anymore, and I expect you to wipe the snot off your chin and do the same.)

Friendly Franz is so busy being friendly that he loses ALL touch with reality. ("Wow! 4:45 already? Time for lunch!")

At least with Frantic Franz, you know precisely where you stand. With normal, grouchy, Frantic Franz, at least you know that you are a dim, barely-competent, miserable excuse for an Executive Ass, and that it's a miracle you can even tie your shoes in the morning without his help, and that he would replace you in a millisecond if he had the budget for a newspaper ad ... and by the way, have you seen his Squeeze Ball anywhere?  With Friendly Franz, you never know WHAT is going on in his head, from one minute to the next ... or when he might suddenly revert to Frantic Franz without warning. It's like working for Sybil.

Fortunately, I have a foolproof method of dealing with Friendly Franz on days like today. That's because I know HIS secret fear.  Franz -- Friendly, Frantic or otherwise -- is deathly afraid of ...

... germs.

As in: cold germs, influenza germs, staphylococcus germs, streptococcus germs, E. Coli germs, salmonella germs, girl germs. Any kind of germs. He is a maniac about germs. He washes his hands more than anybody I've ever known. I once saw him antibacterialize an apple. (True story!)

So while he stood in the hallway a little while ago, schmoozing and glad-handing with the senior engineers, I made a huge elaborate show of spraying my doorknob, inside and out, with the pump-spray bottle of Lysol Disinfectant. While it was still dripping wet, I wiped it down with a big wad of paper towels until it gleamed. Then I went through the whole process all over again.

I could feel Franz watching my every move.

I made sure that the entire time I was disinfecting and wiping, I kept up a steady stream of wet, hacking, phlegmy cough-cough-coughing ... all over the newly-antibacterialized doorknob. When I was done, I went back inside my office.

And I closed the door.

I didn't see him for the rest of the day.

happy second birthday, *footnotes!*

throw a rock