Thursday, January 20, 2011

Farewell to the Boss

When I was 17, I graduated from high school and began a job as a GS-4 Clerk-Typist-Stenographer at the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). I had been recruited by my high school shorthand teacher's husband who worked there also, and I was pretty excited. It meant taking two buses into downtown Washington, DC from our house in the Maryland suburbs and I thought I was pretty hot stuff with my four-figure salary! (Yes, that would be one digit, then a comma, then three zeros, per year!)

I, of course, had no real idea where I was going or what I would be doing.

Turned out that OEO was the poverty program, a brainchild of Sargent Shriver who had also founded the Peace Corps, and was launched as part of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. The idea was to attack poverty in our own country, by helping states and counties and towns to help themselves. I was assigned to  the community action group that worked with North Carolina, and later to the West Virginia/Kentucky group. In the meantime, I was handed over to the Regional Director of the whole shooting match, to churn out typed grant letters.

That's another story in itself, involving inch-high stacks of two-piece carbon paper in various rainbow colors (all of which had to be PERFECTLY typed) and my first encounter with an electric typewriter. Suffice it to say that I'm terribly grateful for the incredible patience shown to me by everyone involved.

But this is about Sargent Shriver, who passed away this week. He died at 95 but the picture above is pretty close to what he looked like in those days. I have to admit to a little shiver even today when I think of how he looked in those expensively tailored suits he wore. I think I was imprinted right at that point toward a man in a nice suit.

Of course, we all knew he was a Kennedy brother-in-law, which was a big deal even to a city used to seeing political celebrities around town. As a child, I remember being in the Senate Office Building and looking down on the Senate from the balcony. One of my friends' fathers was an aide to a senator from Michigan (after whom an office building would be named later!) and I had stared down onto a wrinkly, baggy-suited Lyndon Johnson and a chunky bald Sam Rayburn. Neither of them impressed me in the least, but Sargent Shriver did.

I have to say that Shriver was my first "CEO" and the one who set the standard for all the CEOs I'd work for over the years. He was unfailingly courteous, and knew each staffer's name and a little about them. I'd pass him in the hall and get a "Hello, Diana, how are you liking your job these days?" or "Boy, did you get caught in that big traffic jam at Friendship Heights this morning?" He knew the mentally challenged Xerox operator and was always willing to listen patiently to a long explanation of what might have caused a paper jam yesterday. Each one of us was a person to him and he made us all happy to be at work.  I've heard that he could be a taskmaster but I'm willing to bet that most of the people who worked with him, either closely or peripherally the way I did, will remember him as a fair, kind individual--the kind they'd like to work for again.

So, using the whole Kevin Bacon Seven Degrees of Separation, really that puts me pretty close to Jackie Kennedy, doesn't it? And Maria, and the GuberNator. And let's not talk about Teddy. But I bet none of them were as nice as Sarge. He was definitely a man who motivated us all to do good things.

Goodbye, Boss!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Getting It Together

Once a year or so, usually toward the end of a year or right at the beginning of a new year, I have a fleeting sense of being organized. That's the day I go to Office Depot or Staples and buy new innards for my planner and start trying to get a sense of having it together for the coming year. 

Yes, Jake, I know that a paper planner is "old school." Did you think I needed you to mention that to make me feel old? But I guess I AM old school. I have numerous electronic organizers including my IPOD, my Blackberry, my Outlook calendar, my computer at work and the one at home, but there's something about writing the coming year's birthdays and circling paydays on the little boxes on that paper calendar that gives me a sense of old-fashioned "readiness" and my place in the world. 

Somehow when you're looking at the week's tasks on your Outlook you don't get that "big picture" understanding of what we're all a part of. This year January brings my sister Debbie's and my friend Cathy's and my friend David's birthdays. I see my other sister's upcoming surgery and my hair appointment and the guild meeting and dinners with friends. I see planning meetings and business commitments and the day the mortgage payment is due. There are notes about sad events, too, dates that I move from one year's calendar to another as if there's any danger I'll ever forget them. There are dates that mean something important to me and to no one else. 

I still make lists on paper in the section I've named, with a great creative spirit, "Lists." Lists of groceries to be bought, projects to be knit, books to be read, gift ideas for birthdays and anniversaries and holidays in the future. Couldn't they be on my Blackberry? Sure. But there's something about being able to run my fingers down the paper and check them off as they're completed or as a decision is made to abandon one.

There's a section called "Writing." Here's the place that I jot down a plot idea or a character description or an idea for a blog post. These are the thoughts that flit through my mind as I drive the long route to work in the morning. Most of these notes never ever result in anything but they're there if I need them.

I have moved along in a few ways. I've stopped using the address directory pages that the planner folks keep giving us. All the important numbers are in one of the two cell phones I schlep around with me 24/7 (or "31" as the kid on Two and a Half Men says). If I want a snail mail address for some inconceivable reason, it's in one of the computers or on a memory stick somewhere.(There are even two or three stamps tucked into one of the pockets of the planner should I want to mail something--I think they've been there for several years and I only use them for the occasional birthday or sympathy card.)  And my planner can't hold the audiobooks I listen to on the IPOD or the books I read on the Kindle. 

Anyway, that day of feeling in control of my life isn't today. This year I think it was December 14. Now I'm still carrying around that big red leather binder with all those calendars and lists but I've already lost control of the year. It's only the 2nd and I already feel lost. Oh, well. Maybe next year.