5:54 arrives, I cheerily shut down my computer, pack myself into my winter gear and remind myself to go grab the stuff I bought for dinner out of the fridge in the lunchroom before catching the elevator. But something happens as I turn into the corridor to the kitchen. I run into a guy I know from another department, and I’m not going to lie, the guy makes me a little nervous. You know, he’s just one of those people you expect to do something nuts. Immediately, I forget everything about my dinner.
"Oh hi Fred*" I say, "How are you?" It should be noted that in terms of co-workers, unless I’m speaking to a co-worker whomI eat lunch with (ie. a friend) or a co-worker from my department, I really don’t care how anyone is. In fact, I don’t know why I insist on repeating these two sentences over and over, hundreds of times every day. But I do! Fortunately, most people seem to be aware I’m just trying to maintain a sense of civility in the office, and just say what I want them to say. And that is, "I’m fine, thanks!"
Predictably, Fred does not say that. Fred says, "Not good." But I don’t really hear him because an elevator arrives with a perky "Ding Ding!" and there’s a flurry of click-clacking high-heels as several women rush into it – and I’m going for it too! Ahhhh, but alas I miss it and now I’m alone with him at the bank of elevators. Trapped, as it were, between the locking doors on either side.
"NOT GOOD," Fred repeats.
"Holy fuck," I think, "I don’t want to know!" but I say, "Oh why, what’s up?"
"I just got fired."
Ooohhh. Hmm. I blink a few times, because apparently blinking assists information processing. I’m a bit confused too. What the hell is he doing at the elevator bank? Firees are usually escorted directly to the lobby. WHY DIDN’T SOMEONE TAKE HIM TO THE LOBBY?! What should I do? Should I give him a hug? No, no, I can’t hug a guy that scares the shit out of me. Should I ask him what happened? Do I really want to know? Finally, I sputter:
"Are you okay? I mean, do you … need me to … do anything? Heh heh heh?" I am nothing if not smooth. I jab the "down" button a few times even though it is clearly already lit up.
He twists his face up a bit but doesn’t say anything. He flips his cell phone open and starts dialling, then slaps it shut. He goes over to the security box on the wall and makes like he’s going to try to get back in. The whole time I’m trying to think of something appropriate to say and when the elevator comes, I say, with a bit more edge than is necessary, "Hey, are you coming?" He said he was so I ran in, the doors closed, and when I turned around he wasn’t in there with me. He had seen some other folks from the next floor up and opted out at the last second.
I felt sick about it the whole way home and well into the night. Or maybe it was the influx of carbs after the protein diet. Later, I recounted the story to Kev, who had met this guy at a conference and had got the same "slightly off" vibe from him.
"Did you tell him ‘good luck’ or anything?"
"No, I was going to when we got to the ground, but I turned around and he wasn’t in the elevator."
"Good one Les. You’re totally dead now."
* Name changed.