March 8, 2001
Who Would *You* Kill For A Day Off?


Danny was out sick again yesterday.

His fragile, wobbly voicemail message was waiting when I got into the office in the morning. "I won't be coming in today," he whispered. "I think it's food poisoning." And he asked me to pass the message along to Jim, adding that he "hoped to be back in the office tomorrow."

Ahhhh, yes. "Food poisoning."

That used to be one of my favorites, too. That, and the equally ambiguous "stomach flu." Tummy trouble of any kind is good, actually: inarguably debilitating, conveniently vague, virtually impossible to prove or disprove. A guaranteed no-questions-asked day off.

As long as you don't overdo it, that is.

Danny was hired originally last year as Jim's Executive Ass: a recruiting move that raised a lot of eyebrows, at the time, not only because of Danny's gender (very male), or because of his tender age (I would guess 21 or 22, tops), but also because there aren't a lot of Executive Admins here who come to work dressed in head-to-toe black leather, sporting an eyebrow ring and a Fu Manchu.

(Although I've often wondered if it might be a good look for *me* ... )

I like Danny. He has a youthfully earnest quality that I find endearing ... like a puppy tethered to the meter outside the corner 7-11, wagging his tail at passersby, hoping for a scratch behind the ears. Everybody around here likes Danny. So when Jim suddenly offered me the Executive Ass job in January -- saying that they were going to move Danny into a more "free-floating" position, supporting various departments on an as-needed basis (read this: they decided they wanted a skirt in the SecraTerri position) -- I approached Danny directly to find out how he felt about the change. I'm not about stealing another person's job out from under them.

(Their Pilot Easy Touch Medium-Point? Yeahmaybe. But not their job.)

Mostly Danny just seemed relieved. "I suck at all of this secretary stuff," he said. (Which was completely obvious, the minute I took over the helm in Jim's office and got a good close look at how things were filed/organized/arranged/distributed in there. Or -- rather -- how things WEREN'T filed/organized/arranged/distributed. It was a lot like moving into a big messy bachelor apartment and finding all of the income tax records "filed" in the oven.) Now that I'm officially *living* upstairs on the fourth floor, I've had a chance to observe Danny up close and personal. His office -- my old Isolation Booth -- is right across the hall and down a couple of doors. We work together occasionally on miscellaneous projects. I still consult him whenever I can't find something in Jim's office, or when I have an Outlook question, or when I just want to shoot the shidt. And one thing I've noticed about Danny, now that we're working in closer proximity ... is that he's not actually HERE a lot of the time.

And that's got me wondering. About a couple of things, actually.

The first thing I wonder, of course, is if he's using. Mind you, I'm not trying to project my old Drunk Dysfunctional Secra behavior on other people. I don't look at everybody who slouches into the office four hours late, looking pasty and dehydrated and clutching a bottle of 7-Up, and automatically think "hangover." Maybe Danny really does have his teeth cleaned every week. Maybe his car really does routinely break down in the middle of the Bay Bridge. Maybe the wind really does knock his power out on Monday mornings. 

And maybe he really did have food poisoning yesterday.
It could happen.

But when I see a supposedly healthy young person who is missing, on average, one full day of work every single week -- a person who, when he IS here in the office, looks like a likely candidate for a full-body *molecule transplant* -- I've gotta wonder what's really going on here.

The other thing I wonder is ... was *I* that obvious?

My Grandma must have died a thousand deaths in the years between 1978 and 1998. Once in a while I killed my Grandpa off instead, just for novelty, but mostly it was Grandma who was felled by the sudden heart attack/overcome by the rare undiagnosed blood disease/hit by the bus as she crossed the street on her way to choir rehearsal. For some reason, Grandma's death always generated the most sympathy ...AND the most paid bereavement leave. I'm sure that if I were still drinking today  --  now that I'm approaching middle-age, and my grandparents really are gone --  it would probably be my parents who were tragically kicking off, every couple of months or so.

(Sorry, Mom & Dad.)

During those sick, silly years, I regularly cited *car problems* and *babysitter problems* and *female problems.* Our imaginary basement flooded. My imaginary tonsils became infected. I often had to stay home to wait for the electrician/sign for the important legal documents/supervise the bug extermination. My son accidentally fell off the jungle gym at school a lot. My daughters had chicken pox four or five times apiece, I think. My husband went in for a biopsy at least once every other month. One time I fabricated an entire family of out-of-town visitors, the DelVecchios, and spent the whole five-day work week "showing them around town." For special effect I even had Mrs. DelVecchio call the office and ask for me once in a while. The temp wouldn't recognize my voice, after all.

And I had a lot of *food poisoning.* In fact,  I had so much food poisoning, over the years, it's a fudking miracle I managed to get as FAT as I did.

Was anyone paying attention while all of this was going on? That's what I have to wonder. Did anybody -- a co-worker, a supervisor, a UPS delivery guy, anybody at all, at any of the bazillions of places I worked during those years -- look at my crappy attendance record and my bizarre collection of excuses and put two and two together? Did they watch me surreptitiously, on the days when I was in the office, and wonder about my pallid complexion and my frequent trips to the bathroom and the big dark circles under my eyes ... the way my hands trembled when I answered the phone ... the big bottle of 7-Up sitting next to my phone at 9:25 a.m., two or three mornings a week?

Did they ever say to themselves, I wonder if Secra has a problem?

If they did ... I wonder if they ever thought about saying something to me about it? Or did they decide it was none of their business? And if they did say something to me about it, I wonder if I would I have died of embarrassment ... or told them to go to hell?

(Or both?)

That's the sort of stuff I'm wondering about today.

throw a rock