Trouble With the Line

Posted: March 14, 2013 in Life, Mom, Russ
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From my Grandmother‘s days as a mover and shaker in the courthouse, she learned a lot of things about how to “get ahead”. One of the things that stuck with me the most is one of her pet phrases:

Grandma: Always be nice to the secretary.

The big boss may be who you want in to see, but the secretary can make that a lot easier – or a lot more difficult. I remember watching an episode of a show (I think it might have been Mad Men, but I’m not sure) where the ladies in the phone room didn’t patch through calls of people they didn’t like. I remember thinking to myself “If only he had thought to drop off chocolates.

But, basically, that was her big secret – be nice to everybody. Chat with them. Bring them a home made pie or cake or chocolate or something. It worked wonders for her, because everyone adored her – from the secretaries on up. I remember her telling me a story once where a convict walked into her office and started getting vulgar. He sang her a dirty song about Dr. Pepper (for the record, she couldn’t remember it but I would have given a great deal to hear it – it sounds hilarious), and a judge threw the guy up against the wall and made him apologize. Such is the power of confectionery sugar and a winning personality.

Anyway, I try to apply Grandma’s philosophy in my own life and have had some success. Long story short, it pays to be nice to everyone – not just “important” people. But I tell you the story about secretaries to tell you about one secretary in particular. Russ had a lady named Nancy working for him. She was nice enough, I suppose, but her and Mom did not get along whatsoever. I’m not sure how it started, exactly, but Mom started insisting that Nancy wasn’t putting her through to Russ when she called his studio. She probably directly confronted Nancy about this, and Nancy (not surprisingly) took umbrage at this slur on her character. Whatever the cause, bad blood roiled between them. Mom insisted Nancy said stuff (and let’s be real – there’s a good chance Nancy didn’t actually say it since Mom heard things), Nancy got pissed, Mom complained to Russ, Russ would get irritated. As a kid, I didn’t doubt for one second that Nancy was a snake in the grass – Mom thought she was, and that was the end of it. Mom would insist she would threaten us on a regular basis.

Nancy: I’ll put a stop to you. You’ll never be successful as long as I can help it.

Truly, why would she care? And even if she did, who says she had any power to carry out her threats? Nonetheless, Mom believed Nancy was the fox in the proverbial hen house. If we needed a last minute appointment for a lesson, and we called Nancy, Russ “didn’t have any openings” (a claim which may or may not have been legitimate). Sometimes he wouldn’t show up for lessons, and Mom would insist Nancy had told him we cancelled and didn’t tell us so we would get mad at Russ and stop taking lessons (yes, that was her exact wording). Truthfully, he probably went to the race track and forgot. Although I suppose it is possible Nancy maliciously forgot to tell us when he cancelled.

Although she may not have been the master manipulator Mom insisted she was, she wasn’t exactly someone I was prone to like. She wore very tight (and very short) skirts, lots and lots of makeup, bleached her hair, chewed gum, and was very very snarky. Add in the fact that she was about 15 years too old to dress like she did…and you have a pretty complete picture of her. Mom used to complain to Russ that she dressed like a hooker. Russ didn’t seem to mind very much.

Russ once told us directly that Nancy doesn’t do anything but what she’s told to do.

Russ: She schedules who I tell her to and doesn’t schedule who I tell her not to. You know?

Assuming he could be taken at his word (which is a rather large assumption – Russ ran his mouth pretty much all the time and often said conflicting things), one can see that it’s possible that none of this was Nancy’s fault. Russ may have been telling her that he had this nut whose son was taking lessons and he needed her to never put her messages through or never schedule us for a lesson. Regardless, difficult secretaries are no match for the willpower of a crazy person (I’m convinced that not much is, actually) – Mom got the lessons by hook or by crook. She would call Russ directly, and if he didn’t get back to us she would drop by unannounced and extract a lesson time from him. These trips usually involved getting to Russ’s studio long before he was there and waiting outside for hours. I was quite annoyed with Nancy for the fact that we had to do this. Sometimes, she’d come driving up and see us already there waiting for Russ. She’d roll her eyes, walk in, and sit behind her desk (as an adult, I completely understand this reaction. As a kid, it pissed me off). Mom would inevitably follow her in, and Nancy would tell her that Russ wasn’t coming in today. Mom would not believe her, of course, and we would leave – usually just to go around the block until Nancy left.

It didn’t take long for Nancy to be involved in a wider conspiracy. There were certain other students that Russ had that Mom insisted were “competition”. She picked them apart, analyzed everything about them, and usually decided they were out to get us. She usually determined Nancy was involved with them somehow and they were getting our lesson slots because Nancy favored them. No doubt she was filling Russ’s ears with venom about us and telling him that I wasn’t talented, and that these other students were more worthy of his time (and, ostensibly, his “mafia” connections). Although such situations are few and far between, some things can’t be solved with a box of donuts.

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