Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Earnestness of Being Important

How important are you to your company? A while ago I would have ranked myself somewhere between the guy who blows the leaves out of our parking lot twice a year and the woman who empties our trash and recycling containers twice a week. But then I remembered a lesson I learned as a teenager. My cousin, Karen, and I watched the original version of The Nutty Professor. In that movie, Jerry Lewis drinks a potion and changes from the nerdy professor to a handsome heart-throb. When the movie was over we reasoned that the only difference between the absentminded, dweeby professor and the suave, sophisticated Buddy Love was attitude. Buddy Love personified self-confidence. Who doesn’t want to be around someone with self-confidence? When the plane is going to crash, I want to be next to the individual I think will be able to get us out alive. I want to be strapped in beside someone calm, confident and not likely to panic in a crisis.

For a week after seeing the movie, Karen and I strutted about, kissing mirrors and saying things like, “I’m not saying I’m perfect; it is just that I’ve never met anyone better." At the end of the week, we were still the same girls, but now we had attitude. We were awesome.

As I mentioned in the last post, I work in a closet. Besides the filing cabinets, printer and fire extinguisher, there used to be a shredder squeezed between my chair and the wall. Important people from all over the company would swagger in and stand behind me to shred their crucial documents. It became distracting, not only because it is eerie to have someone stand behind me, but because I wasn’t important enough to use the shredder myself. Nothing I did was all that essential. When left alone with the machine it would jeer at me, pointing out my insignificance.

And then I remembered Buddy Love.

I sat up straight. Who is to decide how important a piece of paper is? Me. I decided. My dang papers were fabulously influential. I stooped over and dug out all the papers from my recycling bin, mostly duplicate bills, shrunkled (yes, I’m important enough to make up my own words) paper I’d pulled from the jammed copier and empty envelopes previously housing invoices. These were all very important. I shredded them. Then, throughout the day, I’d shred the cover sheets to faxes and any inter-office memo with my name on it. Even sticky notes became exceedingly critical.

“Melanie, what the heck are you shredding in there?” my boss finally shouted one day. “I hear the shredder going all the time.”

“Just some important documents,” I yelled over the din of the devilish device.

One day I fired up the machine and stuck the end of my important document into the shredder. My boss walked in. Over the racket of the motor and the snarling teeth chomping proprietary information into indiscernible fragments of confetti, she yelled, “What are you shredding?”

I jumped and whirled around, my eyes widening. There was nothing for it. I had to tell her the truth.

“My adding machine tape,” I said.

Her mouth dropped open.

“We wouldn’t want our competition to see our numbers, would we?” I explained.

A week later they took the shredder out of the closet and put it in the front of the office area where the rest of the accounting staff sits to “allow easier access for everyone in the company.”

I miss the shredder. I’ve gone back to throwing the empty envelopes into the recycling bin and I rarely shred my fax cover sheets. Maybe what I miss most is the weighty feeling of consequence. But I have to admit, I don’t seem to miss the "important" people hovering behind me.


  1. I do not remember ever kissing a mirror. That was your other cousin.
    (You could always buy your own shredder and bring it in. How fun would that be?! I can just hear your boss!)

  2. They took your shredder away??

    That was a beautiful vignette, very evocative and funny! I could just see the look on your face when you decided your documents were just as inmportant as everyone elses.

    I'm looking forward to reading your novel. I hope your edits are going well. Your captain sounds a lot like my MC's love interest/antagonist: handsome, didactic and belligerent :)

  3. Karen,

    We did too. We slathered on lipstick and kissed the mirror, muttering how wonderful we were the whole time. My mother wondered why there were suddenly lip prints all over the glass. I had to clean it after you left.


    Thanks bunches. I'm looking forward to reading your book too. Your blog is very good.

  4. I wonder how it feels to kiss a mirror...

    Myself, I am not important at all, but I like to believe that if I'd just took down the servers and went sailing, it would probably take them at least a month to recover and be able to work again at all. But then again, nobody does anything of importance here anyway...

  5. Okay, that was hysterical. Thanks again.

  6. Jens,
    My advice is to approach the mirror while giving yourself a barrage of compliments. If I remember correctly (and Karen says I don't), by the end of the week we swaggered with the best of 'em.

  7. Dale,

    Thanks. Hope it made your day brighter.

  8. Well, dear Melanie, being all for trying things I've never done before I can now reveal that it feels nothing but cold. I will put the experience down for the record in case I'll ever write a vampire novel in future as I am now sure this is exactly what it would feel kissing one of least before the bite...

  9. Mahaha. That is truly wonderful, and I think everyone feels that pain. Well done.

  10. Misadventures,

    Thanks so much for the compliment. I'm hoping I can get a "Carol" award like you did. No, no, not that I'm hinting or anything like that.

  11. BTW I love your title - you have such a sharp mind.

    Too bad you're such a fabricateur'.

    Jenku...I like the vampire comparison! As a reader of 3 different vampire series (LK Hamilton's Anita Blake series, Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, and (my personal favorite) Nancy Haddock's St. Augustine series....I would concur. Not that I've ever kissed a mirror.

  12. Karen

    But you have kissed a vampire?


  13. Ah, I've read some Anita Blakes and the first Stackhouse. Blake's vampires don't seem cold to kiss though, only useless in bed until fed. I think the twilight-ones were coldest...
    I have always been a trifle annoyed about all the writers not being able to agree on what a vampire really can and cannot do. But I guess they just aren't like ships... Seriously I do enjoy the genre as well, but I have some difficulties with the classic fantasy-way-out-thing. You know put the protagonist in a completely impossible situation, then save it by giving her a new magical power she didn't know she had...that's cheating isn't it?

    Then again I find the Sookie/Blake/Gentry-theme very intriguing, you know, creating an alternative world which is just like ours, but vampires, werewolved and fey do exist and live amongst us like any other "immigrant". That's kind of nice as a political statement, actually...We can all live together, like, see?

    Nuff said, sorry about the comment drift, Melanie!

  14. Your comments are always welcome, Jens. Yours too, Karen.

    Editor's note: Comments are subject to moderation.

  15. Oh, I'm sure yo' award is coming. In the meantime, I've added you to mah blog roll. I mean, it's not a cool picture of a fat little man, but it'll have to do.

  16. misadventures

    I'm thrilled to be on your is LIKE an award, for sure!

  17. Wonderfully funny! Thanks Mel!
    And thanks for the reminder to stay confident, to have 'attitude,' despite how we truly feel about ourselves (most of the time). (=

  18. PLA Anderson,

    Thanks. I've got all sorts of attitude. You do too. (As evidenced by the picture of you holding the sabre against the gentleman's chest in my "Lunge and Thrust" blog in November.)

  19. Ha ha ha ha! Adding machine tape!


  20. Nina,

    Who knows what important information could be obtained by an adding machine tape? Better safe than sorry, I always say.

  21. Made me run for the closet, get out the shredder, and get to work on the journals from my single years. Wouldn't want our mutual friend Carol to get hold of those and tweet them out to the immediate universe.

  22. That paper shredder shown in that photo looks professional! Is it a strip cut shredder or cross cut shredder? Paper shredders are a good way to properly dispose of papers. That way, they’ll be able to recycle it easier. Doing this will surely save a lot of trees!


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