Monday, December 31, 2007

Educating Ellen

(Based on the old folk-tale, "Clever Elsie")

Ellen’s mother and father taught her how to be a very clever woman and educated her for a lifetime of success in business. She dressed perfectly and learned her lessons well. Then, after college graduation she went to interview at VIC—a very important company. During the interview the Boss, who wanted the cleverest secretary he could find, sent Ellen downstairs for coffee.

Ellen was a hard worker and happy to comply. She took the stairs because the elevator was too slow and then she got into a very long line at Starbucks. She waited and waited and began to daydream. If she got this job she could earn 60K in the first year (on the low end, she had researched the salaries)—certainly enough money to buy a condo within 2 years. Then, at the current rate of appreciation in her favorite suburb, she should be able to sell it at a handsome profit and buy a house. Ellen smiled. She’d get a huge yard and adopt a Golden Retriever from the local humane society. She’d name it Bubkus—and Ellen would hire a dog sitter to walk him during her long work day. Ellen would make sure that the dog sitter had all the contact info so that if anything ever happened to her while she was at work, if she had an accident, or (God forbid) got hit by a train or something, the sitter could take Bubkas to her sister Dana’s, where he’d be well cared for and could play with the little ones. If the sitter didn’t have that contact info, she wouldn’t know what to do and would just take Bubkus to the shelter and he’d be stuck in a cage all over again. Which would be horrible! Yes, a dog sitter is a must and contact info in place.

How long the line was! What if her potential new Boss blames her for this lost time? Then she won’t get the house and perhaps he’d tell all of the other CEOs of the important companies, and then she’d never get a good job and she’d have to live with her parents for the rest of her life. No guy would want to be with a woman who couldn’t find a job and lived with her parents so she’d be an old maid too. And her family wouldn’t allow her to adopt Bubkus so he’d still be in the cage at the shelter! How horrible.

Finally, she placed her coffee orders and hurried to the elevator. It was full and she had many floors to visit before getting to her Boss at the penthouse. She tried to focus back on the interview and thought about good questions and answers. Then, she had a clever idea.

Upon arriving at his office, the Boss did seem annoyed.

“You’re back.”

“Sorry. There was a very long line at the Starbucks.”

“Yes, that’s why I sent you. I hate that line.”

“You don’t want to make coffee here in the office?”

“Certainly not. Why should I if there’s a Starbucks downstairs!”

“I was thinking….”

“Yes, well, let’s finish this interview, I’m running late now and—“

Ellen took a deep breath. “I was thinking that if you sent your secretary (me) everyday to Starbucks, depending on the length of the line and when you’d send me, that could take, according to my calculations, anywhere from 5.8 minutes if there is no line to 14.7 minutes for a long line. If you average these times out to be 10.25 minutes a day that would make—if taking a week off (roughly) for holidays and a week off for vacation, then, counting 50 working weeks you would have lost 2,562 minutes in a year. Since I plan on staying at this firm for a long time you could extrapolate that to 12,812 minutes in 5 years and 25,620 minutes in 10 years and 51,240 minutes lost after 20 years. Since there are 420 minutes in a 7 hour day then in 20 years I would have wasted 122 full days of work!”

The Boss was smiling even though his eyes were glazing over. Ellen continued. “Now you want coffee and someone needs to get it. What I could do is bring work with me. I am able to read in the elevator, I could go through company emails on the ipod while I wait in line or read over your notes for the week.”

Of course, after this, the Boss hired Ellen on the spot. They worked well together for a long time. Then one day the Boss said to Ellen, “I need to go to a meeting, can you write me up an introduction and some anecdotes for the conference next week?”

“Of course.”

Ellen loved this kind of creative work but she wasn’t feeling very well. She had a headache. Maybe I should eat? Yes, food might help. She ordered some takeout and had it delivered while she brainstormed some ideas for her Boss. She ate the food but was still feeling sick. What do I need? Some vitamins? She had some in her purse and took them and continued with her notes but she still felt ill What should I do? Maybe a little nap would help me? She thought about it and it seemed like a good idea.
She grabbed a cushion from the lobby, laid it on the desk and put her head down. Soon she was in a deep sleep.

The Boss was anxious to see what Ellen had come up with so after his long meeting he rushed to his mailbox but nothing was there. He looked for Ellen in the copy room but she wasn’t there. Finally, he walked down to her office and found her asleep, snoring, and even drooling on her desk.

“I see,” said the Boss. He went to is office and came back with a video camera. He turned it on Ellen, plugged it into the corporate-wide video system and left.

As the next workday started, Ellen awoke to the sound of loud snoring. She was stiff and disheveled and it took her a long moment to realize where she was, or even who she was. Gradually her vision cleared and on the tv monitor above her desk she saw the image of a woman sleeping, snoring, and drooling. It appeared to be a tape on a loop that repeated itself every 15 minutes. Who was that? Who? What? Is that me? Ellen saw the video camera, now stopped, sitting in front of her desk. The sound of snoring was horrible. Ellen tried to turn off the monitor but the tv was too high and only her Boss had access to the controls.

Ellen awkwardly got up and tried to straighten up. She moved slowly down the hall and saw that all the monitors above all the desks in all the offices were showing the same horrible tape. Sounds of snoring filled the hallways. Ellen ran to her Boss’ office. What are you doing?

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said.

“But you--?”

“I don’t know what you’re babbling about and I’m busy. Get out.”

Ellen ran from the office and was never seen again.

At least, that is the original version of the story. The other secretaries at work heard that poor Ellen had gone crazy and was institutionalized. But perhaps that’s just the story the Boss wanted them to hear.

I heard a different ending from Ellen when I met her and her lawyer in the Bahamas.

--Laura Lewis-Barr is a writer, speaker, and trainer. She has taught and consulted at colleges in California and Illinois since 1991. Need a presentation, day of storytelling, or communications training? Contact info for Laura can be found at or using lauralewisbarr at Yahoo address.

No comments: