I met my wife at work. Over about half a year, a comfortable working relationship began to evolve into an even more comfortable partnership. Not long following that, I conceded that it was much more. She had made it to that finish line before me, but considering my rocky past, that was not surprising. What took me by surprise was the suggestion from the assistant director of the system I was working for that she “might want to look around for something else.”
Margery had not been a great intermediary between Joltin’ Joe and myself. Life with him as a boss was like a trench warfare, and when the big guns were shooting, you hid in the trench. Margery hid well and could be someplace else whenever Joe was about to explode. Typically, at his right hand, you could tell that something nasty was in the offing when she was absent.
So when she offered grandmotherly advice over a surprise lunch, I was taken aback. She explained that couples did not fare well with Joltin’ Joe. While we had been exceptionally discrete, she knew it was only a matter of time before Joe found out and exploited the budding relationship. At that point, there were no guidelines in the personnel handbook forbidding my girlfriend and me from dating. I pointed this out to Margery. She smiled and said, ” When has the handbook ever stopped him from doing whatever he wanted?” the conversation then glided effortlessly from my personal life to our current program initiatives.
I knew that Margery’s advice was on target. Joe could flip out at a misplaced pen on a desk. He wandered the corridors and offices shrouded in a haze of Lucky Strike smoke bringing chaos wherever he entered. One hapless coworker had his desk flipped during a full-fledged Joe harangue. You might lawyer up these days and bring suit for his creating a hostile workplace; then, you worked as hard at staying out of his way as you did in trying to get your work done. Just getting through a week was a triumph.
It took time to arrange an exit, but my now fiance was in nursing school within a year. At the end of that year, we decided to attend a staff Christmas party. We hadn’t been there long before in walked Santa. Joe made his entry in full Santa regalia, a bag of presents over his left shoulder and Lucky Strike smoking from the right hand’s fingers. Sort of a tough guy Santa. Behind him to the right came Margery, dressed as an elf. Most of the attendees stood there, stunned. Knowing Joe, we wondered what sort of presents could be in the sack. Cartons of Luckies’ for his few favorites, and coal for the rest? A prolonged smokers cough succeeded the Ho-Ho-Ho that pealed out. “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!!”
Margery then began to lead Santa around to spread Christmas cheer to all. Eventually, Santa arrived at the little knot of people that included my fiance and me. I introduced her to Joe using her full first name, not the shortened version she had used at work. If you hadn’t known her at work, you might not have recognized the elegantly attired, perfectly coiffed young woman at my side that evening. Josh, a coworker started talking to her about work only to be interrupted by Margery who gently, but firmly took his elbow and guided him away. “Josh? Have you met my husband?”
After a moment, Joe moved on but kept looking back at us. He knew that he had missed something but couldn’t quite place what it was.
Margery soon came back to attend to Santa, leading him to his throne at one side of the room. He glanced our way several times, speaking intently to Margery, whose body language and facial expressions implied that she had no idea of what he was going on about.
The staff began to enjoy the event. We all made an effort to ignore the smoke-shrouded grim Grinch dressed as Santa that sat in the corner. Periodically Santa sent questioning glares my way. To the right of the grim Santa stood Margery. Margery gave me a broad grin, patted Santa, and seemed to enjoy having put one over on Joltin’ Joe.
For more on Joe see: Joltin’ Joe