During the summer months of my college years, I worked at a place that helped companies fight paying unemployment benefits to former employees. My job as a claims representative involved things like calling the manager of Denny’s to find out why Todd Greenhorn was no longer employed. Many of the calls were easily coded as Poor Performance/No Misconduct. BUT, sometimes they were a little more hairy. “He peed on the floor in the break room and then told me to go to hell before walking off the job in the middle of his shift.” “I caught her having sex in the bathroom. She had already received a verbal warning and a written warning for having sex in the bathroom.”
Although it paid fairly well, I knew that the job wasn’t a good fit for me.
During my first week there, one of the managers called me into her office.
Manager: So, how are you liking it here so far?
Me (feeling cocky and wondering if she was going to promote me during my very first week): Things are going great!
Manager: Have you had time to read the dress code?
Me (not so sure I knew there was a dress code): I’m sorry. I didn’t realize there was a dress code.
Manager: I have a copy right here of the form you signed stating that you read the company handbook. The dress code is in that handbook, and it clearly says that you are required to wear socks or nylons every day. No bare ankles.
Me (wearing khaki pants and flats with no socks or nylons): Oh. I’m really sorry.
Manager: Be sure you’re wearing socks or nylons tomorrow.
I walked back to my desk feeling deflated and silly. Luckily, a co-worker named Joan had heard the whole thing.
Joan: I heard the whole thing.
Me: I feel pretty stupid.
Joan: Don’t. It’s bullshit. Let’s go get Chinese food.
That was how my friendship with Joan started, and from that day forward I had lunch with her every single day during the summer months. When I went back to school we corresponded with letters, and when I came home for the summer we would make a not-so-great job bearable by turning everything into a joke in the cafeteria. She introduced me to Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. She has a son my age who liked the same music as me, so we would occasionally exchange mix tapes. On the night before my wedding, she decorated the site of our rehearsal dinner with crazy fun gourds that were filled with flowers and candles.
She could take a dozen bandannas and turn them into amazing curtains. She could find a piece of junk at a garage sale and transform it into a treasure. She once spilled a huge pot of chili in her car on Chili Cook-Off Day. As I sat at my desk getting ready to sort through my calls, she walked up covered in sauce and said, “I just dumped my fucking chili.” We spent the next thirty minutes sopping up chili in her car and laughing until we could barely speak. (When I told her that I brought in white chicken chili, she asked what I named it. She later removed the index card that said “White Chicken Chili” and replaced it with one on which she had written “Mr. Magic’s Albino Chili”.)
She once called to tell me that I had to get a copy of Le Nozze di Figaro because she just heard the most beautiful song and she needed me to hear it, too.
A few years back, she called me out of the blue to talk politics.
Joan: Well, I just heard from a few friends that if Obama is elected, he’s going to make me kill myself.
Me: You’re right. How will you handle that?
Joan: I have no idea. I’ll think about it next week. Right now I need to worry about losing 80 pounds for the Halloween party I’m going to on Saturday.
Me: Are you dressing up?
Joan: I’m going as Suze Orman. How much do you want to bet that nobody understands why I’m wearing a suit and talking about money?
I last spoke to Joan on May 15th. She sent an e-mail to let me know that her mom had died, that they were having coffee when it happened, and that she was now crying every hour instead of every ten minutes. I expressed my condolences and asked if we could have sushi when we returned from our vacation. We both got busy and we never scheduled that sushi dinner, and this afternoon I picked up a message from Joan’s son. As soon as I heard his voice on the answering machine, I knew. When I returned his call, he verified the terrible news. It was her heart.
There is a new member of the Vicious Circle today. I feel fully confident that Joan is kicking back with Dorothy Parker (Her favorite short story was Big Blonde.), and it’s only a matter of time before Robert Benchley has some quirky bandanna curtains.