Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Experiment

Leroy was never my favorite person at work. In fact, for a long time, he was my least favorite. But, in the end, he taught me an important lesson, and I will always be grateful.

The mini-man, missing only the hand-in-the-front-of-the-jacket portion of a Napoleonic pose, flung open the glass entry door of the NCR branch office at 2116 Madison Avenue and passed the front office staff without a word or glance. We ignored him, too, because we had learned that as often as not, an encounter with Leroy could suck the sunshine right out of one’s day.

Leroy was a senior cash register salesman, with his own territory and expense account, and from time-to-time, a junior salesman working under his supervision. In his 50’s, he was several inches under six feet tall, somewhat stout though not fat, with graying sandy-colored hair. His wife, Jane, was perhaps a little taller than he, a pleasant woman, a necessary recipient of my pity. They had no children, but Jane was a stay at home wife, and she occasionally shared recipes with us office girls.

I was in my early 20’s, young, holding my first real job, burdened with the mistaken notion that we respect those older than us or in positions superior to ours simply “because”. Leroy displayed no compunction claiming that counterfeit respect. The truth was, I was afraid of him. Better to be ignored by him than engaged by him. More than once he had reduced one of us in our office to tears by bullying over some unimportant matter. I had succumbed to one of his tirades myself. Although Irma, the branch manager’s secretary and big sister figure to us younger girls, armed me with protection (don’t cry, get mad!), I found that my best defense was simply to look through Leroy as if he didn’t exist.

I ignored his self-important entry that day as I did most. But once again, after he had passed by, I felt a niggling, uncomfortable feeling that as unpleasant as he was, I didn’t enjoy disliking him. Our worst encounter was at least months, maybe more, behind us. The emotional pain he had inflicted was now not even a dull ache, but just a subconscious bad memory. Still, the sight of him reminded me that I was not on good terms with all people. A thought came to me, I wonder what he would do if I was nice to him. I decided to experiment.

The next day he again blasted through the front door and marched over to the cabinet at the counter where we filed salesmen’s mail and messages. He snatched a handful of small pink telephone slips from his folder, put on his reading glasses and began shuffling through them.

Mustering up courage with a silent deep breath and my best casual voice, I ventured, “How was your day, Leroy?” He went on reading for a few seconds, then looked up at me, tilted his head down and glared at me suspiciously over his glasses. “Why do you ask?”

I shrugged. “No reason, just wondering how it went. You were in Port Clinton today, right?”

He hesitated, seeming to weigh the possibility that I had ulterior motives. Evidently convinced that was not likely, he replied, and we momentarily engaged in casual conversation about the customers he had called on. And then he walked down the hallway to his office.

Well, that was interesting, I thought. He was almost pleasant.

Each time I repeated the experiment, it became easier. There were no further brow-beating, humiliation-inducing outbursts directed at me or at anyone else amongst our office staff. Leroy had been disarmed by kind words. My feigned interest in him became genuine after awhile, and when he passed away suddenly a few years later, I was truly saddened. He had become my friend.


Annette said...

Thank you for that story. It was so beautifully written that I could visualize it all in my mind. I've had similar experiences, and it is always a lesson to me.

I've missed seeing you and reading your blog, so sitting next to you on Tuesday was extra nice. I always feel better after connecting with you. After all, we are soul-sisters!

Pam's Place said...

Annette, visiting with you Tuesday was the highlight of the evening for me. Thanks for your kind words. You are dear to me.