Back years ago before I retired, I, like everyone else had a job, a place of employment, and if you’ve looked at my profile you see I worked for the government. I was a “manager.” At one time I had a staff of 13 people working with me, and collectively we awarded 100’s of millions of dollars in technology contracts. We supported the end-user. We were responsible for the last mile. In many cases we were responsible for the last 300 feet. We had in place, and we created the contracts that would be used to provide this service. It was a great job, very rewarding, and very stimulating. The contracts that my staff created and managed, saved taxpayers almost a billion dollars during their contractual lives. Because of the requirements of the job, I and my staff travelled extensively. We were constantly meeting with our counterparts at the local level, refining requirements, determined technical specifications, and a whole host of other aspects to ensure that the awarded contract met the needs of the specific locale.
This is a story about one of the folks on my staff. She was an individual that I inherited from my manager. I had no part in her selection for the position, I had never met her, I did not know her technical expertise, but was told she was a computer genius, in that she knew the inside and outside of every computer program we used, and could help us in the creation of manageable spreadsheets and word documents that we would need to complete our task. The timeframe for this story is the mid to late 80’s. This was before excel and word, before windows, we are talking ancient. Anyway this person was a gift, but I was told that I needed to treat her with kid gloves. You’ll don’t know me, you have never met me, you have never seen me work, kid glove’s was not one of my strong suits. But to have someone with that skill set, at that time, on my staff was a gift from the gods. So I accepted her onto my staff with open arms.
But SSSSS (to protect the guilty) was anything but a gift. She was anything but a computer genius, and she was anything but helpful. As Paul Harvey would say, “now for the rest of the story.” SSSSS was in her early 30’s at the time she stool approximately 5’1”, but I could not attest to that because she stood so short. She had a grandmotherly way about her, walking stooped over, with her ratty little black sweater (even in the 100 degree summer days) she wore black thick-soled shoes, with large square heels, that tied up, and SSSSS was quite mousey. She worked for me for over 4 years; I spent 18 months of that period trying to fire her. I have several stories about our relationship, but I am going to try to just keep this to how I came to call her “Thumper,” never to her face, but it was a nickname she earned.
To set the stage it is needed to be understood that SSSSS did not participate in normal office goings on. She did not joke or tease, she didn’t share her weekend activities, she was not social, and she didn’t perform her duties in such a manner to garner support from other staff members. She was an 80-year-old woman in a 30somethings body. She didn’t respond well to training (claiming she didn’t need it), that we should change our system to something she was similar with, and did not like any type or level of criticism. SSSSS she was a mousey lady. She was never loud, she didn’t cuss, and she rarely gave even the hint of a dirty look. And yet she had an ability to drive a person insane.
Now that I have painted this picture, I will relate the story. One day at lunch SSSSS came to my office to talk, she asked why I didn’t include her in the teasing and joking, why I didn’t give her more work she could do. I quietly spoke to her, I told her of the failed attempts in the past to include her in staff activities, from the lunches she avoided, to the evening after work when she refused to join the staff, her not partaking in celebrating birthdays and so on. I said she had shown no signs of a willingness to participate, and I went on to say that she might want to work on her social skills if she really wanted to be accepted by the staff. SSSSS was visibly upset but asked me to continue. I told SSSSS that we really had discussed this enough for this day. But she asked again me to continue, and what would I suggest. I looked at her and said something to the effect that she needed to lighten up, and be more accepting of the staff, and that she needed to try harder at her work to lessen the burden on the other staff. At this point she looked me dead in the eye and screamed at the top of her lungs, she screamed she wasn’t crazy, that she didn’t need to change or be more accepting of others, that I made her feel like committing suicide, and several other things. Still screaming at the top of her lungs, she pushed away from my desk (she was still sitting) reared her head back and slammed her forehead on my desk. Then she sat back up, took off her glasses and again thumped her head on my desk, she continued to thump her head on my desk a total of 4 times, at which point I raced from the office, grabbed a co-worker and had the co-worker go into my office and give aid to SSSSS. SSSSS was not injured; she did have a red mark on her forehead. After I got SSSSS out of my office, I had to spend an hour explaining to my management, FPS, and some of the folks in the offices close by what had happened. It would appear that a couple may have felt I had provoked SSSSS into this action. Trust me I did not provoke her. Her later actions would prove to everyone that SSSSS needed help, help she refused to get. She even refused to get help when directed.
Over the next two years I had 3 other episodes with SSSSS, one where she tore a letter up where I was directing her to counseling, and 2 other head thumping events. Throughout this period she worked for me, I was in a tough position.
It was after this incident that SSSSS earned the nickname “thumper.”
If you would like to hear more tails of “thumper” let me know, I dealt with her for over 4 years I can say in all honesty I did not enjoy a single minute of the experience.
As always your comments and thoughts are appreciated. Please take care, Bill.