February 5, 2001
Flying Under The Radar


Last year, after Jen had been out of the office for a couple of weeks with pneumonia, we threw an impromptu party for her at the Totem Pole Company, upon her return.

It wasn't any big deal: just cookies and punch in the break room, a 'Welcome Back' card signed by everyone in the admin department, a couple of supermarket balloons and a new basket of African Violets for her desk. But I still remember how surprised and touched she was by the gesture. For a day or two, everyone treated Jen like a queen.

(Of course, it didn't take long for things to go right back to normal. Pretty soon she was sobbing in the ladies' room at lunchtime right along with the rest of us.)

While I wasn't looking for balloons or bouquets this morning  ...  my first day back to work after a semi-extended illness  ...  I must confess that I was sort of expecting a teeny tiny amount of fuss. After all, I'd been gone for almost a full week. I'd been laying on death's door, practically. I'm this incredibly important, vital member of the Totem Pole Company *team.*

(Well ... OK. Maybe not so much that last part. Although it does seem as though every time I try to quit the place, they give me more money to get me to stay.)

If nothing else, I expected to be talking about nasal congestion and body aches a whole bunch, all day long. So it was odd coming back to work this morning, prepared for what I thought was the inevitable barrage of Wow!/You're back!/How are you feeling? ...

... and having everyone totally, completely ignore me!

Ned the Receptionist Guy barely looked up from his bagel when I walked through the front door. My co-workers on the fourth floor, as I walked down the hallway toward my office, were too engrossed in coffee and and calendars and closed-door conversations to return my smile. The janitor wouldn't even make eye contact.

My office was exactly the way I'd left it: dark, quiet, neat as a pin ... smelling vaguely of oranges and new plastic floor mats.

No balloons, though.

I checked around for the piles of work that had surely accumulated in my absence, but my mailbox was empty. So was my "In" basket. There were no Post-It notes stuck to my chair ... no faxes piled up next to the fax machine ... no memos or "To Do" lists, tacked to the bulletin board. I had exactly one voicemail message, and it was from me -- a little reminder to myself, from week-before-last. ("Hiya Secra!" it said. "This is Secra. Don't forget to change your voicemail greeting.")

Jim is out of town for a few days. His airline reservations, in fact, were the last job-related thing I managed to accomplish before I collapsed last week. Naturally I checked in with him every day while I was sick, updating him on my progress ("I'm still horizontal") and basically reassuring him that I hadn't run off and taken the job with the Party Hat Company. I sort of expected there to be at least a modest amount of stuff waiting for me in my brand-new "In" basket when I got back today ... maybe a brief Hihowareya voicemail message from my brand-new boss ... but there was nothing.

Later in the day he called. "Cool," he said. "You're back. I'll talk to you on Friday." And that was it.

I spent most of the day tucked away in my quiet little office, drinking Calistoga and rearranging the icons on my Windows desktop. No calls. No e-mails. No faxes. No co-workers appearing in my doorway, anxious to discuss the merits of TheraFlu versus Comtrex.

This is weird, I thought.

Maybe I'm still not 100% restored to health -- or maybe I still have some residual Benadryl swimming around in my system, making me stoopider than usual -- but it wasn't until right about the moment I realized my phone hadn't rung once all morning that it finally dawned on me:

Nobody was making a fuss about my return because
nobody knew I'd been gone.

I mean ... think about it for a minute. It makes sense. I'm still technically in the middle of a *transition period* here at the TPC, morphing from Franz' Executive Ass into Jim's Whutever-The-Hell-It-Is-I-Am. While I was out for those sick days last week, most of the people on the fourth floor probably assumed that I was downstairs, taking care of Franz-related stuff. (Training 'Size 2,' maybe ... or telephoning all eighteen of Franz' personal physicians to say 'goodbye.')  And everyone on the first floor undoubtedly figured I was UPSTAIRS, moving into the groovy new office. Either way, no one bothered to come looking for me. Nobody said, "Hey, I wonder where Secra has disappeared to?" No one had me paged or issued a memo about me or sent out a search party to find me.

No one missed me, in other words.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not at all miffed about the lack of attention today: as a matter of fact, I'm thrilled to pieces by it. Flying under the radar is a professional luxury  --  not unlike two weeks' paid vacation, or  having an office with a door that opens and closes  --  that Hungover Dysfunctional *I'll-Be-A-Receptionist Until-I-Die* Secra, three or four years back, could not even imagine enjoying. To me, this is measurable proof of my career success: the fact that I can be gone for a few days andnot return to swirling chaos, endless questions, mountains of unfinished paperwork, and the uncomfortable and unpleasant scrutiny of a suspicious boss.

How do you know when you've 'arrived'?

When you arrive ... and nobody notices.

throw a rock