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Bob the wasp cleaver
Life-changing leadership from the least likely source
As I mentioned in my post, "In the beginning," I was often bored at my job with the Library of Congress. This tedium occurred because I had optimized my work to the point that it took half a day or less to finish, which left me with nothing to do for the other half of the day.
To fill the time, I read a lot and studied computer programming, but my eyes would get tired after a while, and I'd long for something else to do.
My boss at the Library of Congress was a nice and simple man, devoid of the guile you find in the typical broccoli-haired nose honkers that tend to pile en masse into the Volkswagen Bug of middle management. So let's call him "Bob" to represent his austere, well-roundedness.
Technically speaking, Bob could have been a better manager, but the basics of business sense often escaped him. For example, I asked him for something extra to do during one of my fits of library blahs, and he invited me to write the department's annual report.
When I handed him the completed ten-page document of facts, figures, diagrams, and charts, he said. "Put some flavor in it, son! I like western themes, so fix it up with some of that."
I didn't know what he meant, so I asked his secretary. She smiled knowingly and said, "I'll take care of it for you." When I got my report back, she had littered it with clip art of cartoon cowboys, western hats, and smiling horses. Bob was happy, but I felt embarrassed and removed my name from the document. I'd rather be listless than mortified.
About two weeks later, the higher-ups made him strip out all the clip art and resubmit "something professional looking." I added my name back to the original document and sent it in. This offering placated the federal illuminati. So, we were allowed to continue our high-stress jobs of cataloging the number of seconds between now, whenever that was, and 4:00 p.m., when we could go home.
What Bob lacked in business acumen, he made up for in cleanliness. His clothes were natty, his hair trimmed, his desk an ode to tidiness, and his library section was immaculate.
We didn't have a janitor like other sections of the library did. Instead, Bob would sweep the floors and dust the shelves daily. As a result, you could lick the hallways in our area and not taste a hint of dust, not that I ever tried it; much.
One day, while walking along the dim corridor between the shipping area and my office, I saw a mud dauber wasp crawling on the polished, baby-blue cement floor. They would get in the building during the fall and build nests in the bookshelves. I didn't want it to escape and sting someone, like me, for instance, so I drowned it in Elmer's Glue, which I had been using to fix a binding on an old braille book.
Later that day, I went back to clean up the wasp and found that the glue had become transparent as it dried, so unless you looked at the wasp closely, it looked like it was standing there on its own with its wings raised. I should have cleaned it up, but I liked the wasp's frozen pose, so I left it there to show my friend Nate, which I forgot to do.
When I got to work the following day, I heard Bob muttering "derns" and "dagnabits" on the other side of the door between the offices and the library. I opened the door and saw him violently scrubbing at the wasp with a push broom. The wasp didn't budge.
Before I could say anything, Bob turned the push broom over and started whacking at the wasp with the wooden side of the broom. After a few smacks, the top part of the wasp chipped off, leaving six little wasp legs standing on the floor as if waiting for the top of the wasp to return.
"Who in tarnation glued a wasp to the floor?" Bob asked as he noticed me.
I tried to shrug to deflect blame, but the wasp legs reminded me of the Monty Python song, Eric the Half a Bee. Combined with Bob's Yosemite Sam impression, I couldn't help laughing. Bob was not amused.
"Clean this up!" he commanded as he shouldered his push broom and somehow slammed the air in the corridor shut behind him as he stormed away.
While the wasp incident was unintentional, it provided me with some much-needed entertainment, both in the actual event and later in its multiple retellings.
Had I found my cure for boredom?
Whenever I got tired of studying, I wandered around the library for the next few weeks pulling pranks. On one occasion, I recorded a guitar solo off the radio and then shared it with my friend Nate. Of course, being a guitarist, he seemed into the solo until the chorus started again. Nate groaned at the realization that I had tricked him into listening to Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf. Worst song ever recorded.
The prank payoffs weren't on the same level as the wasp incident, though. So, after scheming with my friend Nate, we snuck into Bob's office while he was away at a meeting, took everything off his desk, flipped it the other way around, and then used a ruler, compass, and sextant to replace the items on the reversed desk in the exact compulsive locations Bob had initially had them. Then, we entered the library and waited for Bob to return from his meeting.
As Bob walked down the corridor toward his office, Nate and I strolled over and engaged him in conversation by asking a question neither of us had.
"So, Bob, we were wondering..."
Bob continued to walk to his office with us in tow.
"...how many years..."
Bob entered his office and sat in his chair.
"...we're supposed to keep braille magazines...
Bob pulled on the top edge of his desk to wheel his chair forward and dock his legs in the leg hanger, now on the opposite side of the desk from where he was sitting.
Bob's knees hit the solid metal back of his desk, which rang like a gong.
"...on the shelf before we can discard..."
Bob gave the edge of his desk another yank and launched his back into the effort, but again, his knees plowed into the solid back of the desk.
I couldn't hold it in any longer. Laughter exploded from my gut, which caused Nate to lose his composure too. That's when Bob realized what we had done. We tried to act innocent, but it was the wasp experience again. My laughter exposed our guilt.
Bob utterly failed to see the entertainment value of the situation. Instead, he forced us to spend the next ten minutes fixing his office while he stewed and then simmered from righteous indignation to apathy.
"Get back to work," Bob said once we finished restoring his office.
Bob was a good guy. We never pulled pranks on him again, but he seemed to recognize the mind-numbing nature of our work after the desk incident and provided us with outlets to ease the stress of having little to do. He made the job bearable, occasionally at his own expense.
Since Nate and I were interested in computers, Bob adjusted our job descriptions to include computer-related tasks. As a result, both Nate and I ended up in technology, me writing code and Nate running networks.
Bob came to my grandpa's funeral twenty-five years later, and I got to talk to him and his wife. Unfortunately, he was struggling with his health, and his memory wasn't all there, but he remembered both the wasp and desk incidents, laughed about them, and gave me a grandfatherly, "You rapscallions!"
While at the Library of Congress, I thought Bob could have been a stronger manager; however, I have reflected upon Bob's leadership more than any other manager in my thirty-three-year career. I wouldn't be where I am today without him, so perhaps he had the job down pat after all.
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