A STICKY SITUATION©
Hilda was permanently attached to the processing unit. She'd been there for twelve years and hoped to stay the next ten until she retired. Hilda was from a small farm community and had moved to Des Moines to go to vocational school. She loved her job and had no interest in promotions. Her perfect attendance certificates, suspended by colorful fruit magnets, sang from the side of her desk. She had received a certificate for every year except one. In her eighth year, she missed a day for an emergency root canal. Joyce, her supervisor, often remarked that she had never seen such a dedicated employee. Hilda preferred to work through coffee breaks and left the area no more than twice a day to use the restroom. Because of her top performance and tenure, most everyone overlooked Hilda's peculiarities. New employees were usually appalled by Hilda's appearance when first meeting her. Hilda's anklets and loafers, coupled with her frumpy sleeveless cotton house dresses and unshaven arms and legs, raised a few eyebrows. Her oversized white cardigan sweater, pilled with wear, draped the back of her chair for nearly nine years. It almost seemed a part of the furniture. She reserved her sweater for days when the temperature dropped. The new clerks would muffle their giggles as Hilda would throw the sweater over her shoulders and secure it with two little alligator clips connected with a makeshift chain of safety pins.
That was just Hilda. She was basically a loner and didn't bother anyone. She'd greet everyone in the morning, work steadily all day, and wave good-bye at night. Hilda wasn't much for socializing. She grabbed a soft drink from the vending machine and spent lunch at her desk while everyone else escaped to the cafeteria.
Hilda's desk was an arsenal of supplies. She happily entertained herself during lunch. She kept her cross-stitch, newspapers, and all her sundries in her desk. If someone needed anything–an aspirin, a cough drop–they knew Hilda had a supply.
One day the unit supervisor was surprised by a group of eleven clerks crammed in her office.
Martha stepped forward as the spokesperson. "Joyce, we've got a problem."
Joyce couldn't imagine what could be wrong. She made it a habit of talking with the staff regularly to solicit feedback and concerns. Having all of them in there except Hilda had her totally baffled.
"Well, please, tell me what's bothering you," Joyce responded.
"It's Hilda," Martha replied.
"What about Hilda?"
"It's . . . it's embarrassing, Joyce."
"Tell her," Susie urged Martha.
Joyce sat patiently eyeing the group. They were fidgeting and looking very strange.
"Well it all started when we found this gooey, yucky stuff on the file drawer handles," Martha began.
"Gooey, yucky stuff? Like what?" Joyce asked.
"Well, it was this glob of stuff. It wasn't sticky like honey or greasy like vaseline exactly; it was just clear. Then it dried and flaked off."
"Like children's glue?"
"Well, do you have a sample?"
"Not with me. I didn't want to touch the stuff," she said, wrinkling her nose and making a sour face.
"Well, where is it?"
"We'll show you, but first we want to tell you something."
Joyce's curiosity was piqued. Just what were they driving at? "So tell me. I'm waiting."
"We think Hilda is using some kind of ointment and not washing her hands after using it. Then she goes to the files and leaves her globs. We also found some on the vending machine."
"What makes you think it's Hilda?"
"Well, we've all been watching her very carefully lately. Four of us have seen the same thing. It all starts when she gets this weird, tense look on her face–almost like a grimace. When that happens, she immediately goes in her right-hand top drawer. Then she pulls out this tube of stuff and squeezes this clear glob onto two or three of her fingers of her right hand. Then she sticks both hands under her desk, squirms around in her chair, and gets an intense look on her face. In a few moments, the tension drains from her face, she smiles, caps the tube, and puts it back in the drawer. Sometimes she stays at her desk. Other times she dashes off to the files. This happens three or four times a day."
"So, you really aren't sure what she's doing then?"
"Well, we think we are."
"What do you mean?"
"Well–and I'm sorry, Joyce–but we had to . . ."
"Had to what?"
"One of us stayed late last night and opened up her drawer to find out what the stuff was."
Joyce was dying to know, but she had to act upset. "You went in her desk!?"
To find out was in Hilda's desk, read Part 2
Excerpted from Outrageous Conduct: Bizarre Behavior at Work©