Tuesday, April 19, 2005

...maybe I'll grab some Jell-O on my way out, just in case..

March 25, 9:00pm

Steph and I come back to the ballroom. She takes a seat at the table, and I walk to the front of the room, next to a small stage. Rod from marketing is there, adjusting the microphone and clearing his throat.

Rod is a handsome black man of about 30. He stands six-foot-two or more, with a shiny bald head and blindingly white teeth. He wears expensive-looking suits to work every day, complete with tie bars and cuff links.

He grips the sides of the lectern firmly, seemingly engulfing it with his big hands. "May I have your attention please?" he says, in a smooth baritone voice, not unlike Billy Dee Williams.

The room falls silent. "Ruthann, before I start, I just want to say that, on a personal level, I appreciate all the guidance that you've given me in my career. Each time I've asked you for advice, you've taken the time to help me."

Ruthann is sitting at the first table near the stage. She's a thin, bespectacled woman in her late 60's. Her hair is short and brown, with flecks of grey. She smiles brightly as Rod speaks.

"You've been married for 40 years now, so I also ask you for relationship advice, but you always tell me I'm a lost cause," Rod says. There's a low rumble of laughter.

"My real reason for being here is to let you know that Steve has a few words for you, which I am sure is not a surprise, since, much like me, Steve always has something to say when there's an audience around. In fact, when he goes into Burger King, they hide the microphones!"

Laughter and applause.

"Steve?" Rod steps away from the lectern and motions to it with his hands, like a prize girl from The Price is Right.

I nod smilingly to him and take my place behind the microphone. I'm actually getting a loud ovation, and I wait patiently for the room to quiet.

"Thank you. By the way, Rod doesn't know it yet, but HIS retirement party is next week." More laughter. I damn well wasn't gonna let him get away with that Burger King comment, was I?

"Ruthann, I spent a lot of time earlier this week trying to figure out what I was going to say up here, and at one point while I was thinking about it, I got up from my desk and I walked down the hall to the cafeteria, and as I turned the corner into the main hallway, I saw you at your desk. It's the first desk you see when you turn that corner."

I pause. The room is completely silent.

"You were on the telephone, I think, and when I saw you there, I realized what I had to say tonight.

"You're always there, at your desk, working. We can count on it. We don't have to wonder if Ruthann is going to show up today, or if Ruthann is going to be late. We know you won't be. You haven't missed a day of work in the last TEN YEARS. That amazes me.

"An old boss of mine used to say, 'If you want a list of your most dedicated employees, take attendance the day of a snowstorm.' And I remember a blizzard we had a few years back where we got 28 inches of snow in 24 hours. I called Ruthann's extension at 7:00AM to leave her a voice mail about a report I needed later that day. She ANSWERED her phone."

A murmur fills the room.

"And not only that, but she knew what I was calling for! She said, 'Oh, you're probably calling about the report! It's already on your desk'.

"That's the level of work we've come to expect from you, Ruthann. And for someone in my position, that's very valuable. This transition hasn't always been an easy one for me, but one thing I've never had to worry about is the work being done in your department. I've never had to think about that twice. You've left some very big shoes to fill."

There's some applause. Ruthann is wiping her eyes with a cloth napkin. She's having trouble keeping it together.

"Dan Johnson is travelling on business tonight, and he's very sorry he couldn't be here. But he wants me to pass along his congratulations on a great career, and to thank you for all your years of service to the company. And he also gave me a personal message for you; I think I have it here somewhere." I pat the sides of my jacket, then reach into an inner pocket, pulling out a small slip of paper folded in half. "Ah! Here it is!"

I unfold the paper and read the words slowly, in my best Dan Johnson impersonation. "Ruthann. WHAT have you learned today?"

The room erupts with laughter.

As I'm closing out my remarks, I glance over at my table. Tim is leaning over Steph's shoulder and is saying something in her ear. Steph turns to face her for a second, then nods her head. They both stand up and head for the door.

What the fuck? Are they going outside to scrap?

"Speech! Speech!" The crowd is yelling. Ruthann stands sheepishly up and walks to the stage to a standing ovation.

She is bawling now, dabbing at one eye, then the other with her napkin. She hugs Rod, then me, so tightly that she might have been Luca Brasi from The Godfather instead of a 60-something grandmother.

Dom is glancing back and forth between the door and the stage. He's probably thinking the same thing I am: Those two girls could be ripping each other's hair out by the roots as we speak.

"I have no idea what to say," Ruthann says into the microphone, her voice small and shaky. "I feel like I don't deserve all this fuss. I just came to work every day and tried to do a good job.

"You people are like....family....to me......" she breaks down again. Rod steps up and pats her shoulder. He's at least a foot taller; the scene almost resembles a father comforting his young daughter.

She sniffles, adjusting her glasses. "You're just like family, and on Monday morning, I'm not going to have my family anymore."

"Awwww," say a few people.

"It's been wonderful...."

Dom is staring at the ballroom door now, no longer even trying to make it look like he's paying attention to Ruthann.

Does he know what happened between Tim and me? Is he angry? He would have to be, wouldn't he? But then again, would his anger be justified, after what happened with him and Lila, even though Lila is an ex, and Tim is not?

".... made me feel at home every single day. Being with the company for this long is really like a marriage......"

What the fuck could those two be talking about? Did Tim want to say she was sorry? If so, what's taking so long? How long does it take to apologize? Besides, Tim wasn't looking very repentant when I spoke to her earlier tonight. Does that mean she asked Steph outside so she could get in her grill, Jerry Springer-style? It's possible, but what beef would she have with Steph? Steph didn't do anything to her. Not that I know of, anyway.

Dom looks at the stage, then back at the door.

I look at Dom, then at Ruthann, then at the door.

"I'm gonna miss all of you so much. Thank you!," Ruthann says, and walks back to her seat.

Dom gets up and hurries to the door. I do too.