The Goethe-to Guy

by Vincent Borgese

It was hump day like any other Wednesday, or should I say, like every other Wednesday. No, actually, like every Wednesday when a dark cloud formed inside our office. I mean, literally, a dark cloud found its way past the reception desk, past the kitchenette, and into our work area as we were discussing an old episode of Portlandia. So there we were, interacting as officemates often do in a desperate attempt to quash the boredom, when an actual climate event was forming over Rick’s desk. Maya thought she felt a drop, but that could have been Drew’s seltzer effervescing. We call him the Carbonator, because ever since he brought that damn soda-making machine into the office, he’s been putting bubbles in everything. And to make matters worse, he belches every hour, on the hour. But getting back to the cloud, I mean, what the fuck!

You see, Rick was just let go, as in terminated, fired, released of all duties. And we all felt the loss. When our manager gave us shit, when we got a call from corporate in New York telling us to get our act together and start putting up numbers like the Cincinnati office, we would turn to Rick. At some point, he would rise and ask, “What would Jesus do?” And for that moment, you were transported out of your body to another place. He would then offer a parable about a shepherd or a fisherman and you would pause, reflect, and somehow, you felt better. But Human Resources thought he was bad for morale, and they particularly didn’t like his casual mode of dress. Chinos were OK, but sandals a no-no. We all watched as he was directed to the HR office on the fifth floor to get his final papers. No stairs, no elevator, he literally ascended through the dropped ceiling, past the emergency sprinklers, and hasn’t been seen since lunch. Tough stuff, but TGIF, and Monday’s another week.

Well, Monday came and no sign of Rick. We all felt the loss, and you could sense the stress building throughout the office. We were like lost sheep, wandering aimlessly looking for direction. Tell us what to do, Rick. Show us the way. But nothing. We all looked within, hoping to inspire his wisdom and advice. Instead, we got ball scores and a retelling of old SNL skits. And then he appeared. His name was Jon, Jon Wolf, and he was transferred from our European division. Maya was on the welcoming committee, so as Jon was directed to Rick’s desk by our manager, Maya introduced herself and pointed to our crew. We all nodded, some shrugged, then got back to the business of business. At that point, Jon rose from his desk, looked around the room, and declared, “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” Wow! And it’s only Monday, I thought, as many remained with mouths wide open. If that’s the first thing out of this guy’s mouth, good luck getting his lunch order right. But you know, there was truth in what he said. It didn’t make me feel any better, but he had a point.

Over the next several weeks, Jon took Rick’s place as our go-to guy. When our manager set an unrealistic sales goal for the month, Jon would smile and say, “I love those who yearn for the impossible.” Some team player, I thought at first, he’s sucking up to the boss. But when our manager was out of sight, he would turn and say, “Precaution is better than cure.” Interesting, he’s playing him. He is a team player. Once, when I had a particularly rough week and was all down on myself, he came to me and said, “He who does not think much of himself is much more esteemed than he imagines.” Interesting. I guess that makes me feel a bit better. But I did screw up, and probably lost a few sales because of it. I wasn’t really looking for a pat on the back. So he followed with, “Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” This guy’s like having Buddha in the office, I thought. He knows just the right thing to say.

In less than a month, Jon captured the respect of the entire office, except for Maya. Every time he would offer another witticism, Maya would roll her eyes. “What’s up?” I asked, “How come you’re not warming up to Jon?” “I was an English major with a minor in humanities,” she replied. “This idiot’s quoting Goethe word for word. Watch this. Hey Jon,” she shouted, “are you getting homesick for Germany?” She then turned towards me, and as Jon responded, she mouthed in unison, Go to foreign countries and you will get to know the good things one possesses at home. Amazing; word for word! “That’s a very wise thing you said there, Jon.” Again, she turned towards me and mouthed, Wisdom is found only in truth. I can’t believe it. Again, she knew exactly how he would respond. My bubble was burst. He’s nothing but a fraud! Now that I knew, I wished there were a way to get him to stop. As if hearing my thoughts, Jon rose, and looking straight at me, calmly replied, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” All of a sudden, as if struck by lightning, I channeled a voice deep from within and bellowed, “Shut the fuck up, Jon, and sit the fuck down!” And with that, I felt better. Much, much better.