“This is it,” a former co-worker said approaching my desk. He was so close when he said that, he startled me. He was a close talker, but he narrowed his customary gap in this particular instance. “My final farewell to you, my friend,” he added. “I’m leaving the company. I’m on my way out the door.”
“Oh shoot,” I said to the man that was a close associate. The term friends would a bit extreme to describe our relationship, but we always talked about the stupid stuff that people that like each other, from a distance, talk about. “It was great working with you buddy.”
This “Final Farewell” had been in its gestation period for about two weeks, two weeks prior to this moment. I went to his going away party, we discussed his future at length, and we engaged in some final farewells. I thought that those final farewells, and all the ones prior to it, were the final farewells, but his presence at my desk told me that that was premature. I told him it wouldn’t be the same here without him, as I had in all of the previous final farewells, but I felt compelled to add original material to this one. Therefore, I added some sentimental junk that I didn’t mean. I was being nice, and I was trying to make him feel important in my life. In truth, I liked the guy, but he sort of bothered me, in insignificant ways, at the same time.
I asked him if he was excited about his future prospects, and I told him that I was jealous that he was doing something so important with his life. I wasn’t all that jealous, and I didn’t think he was doing anything important, or anything that I would want to do, but it seemed like an original addition to this version of our final farewell.
I told him that I thought he was a swell fella, and a nice guy, and I meant that.
I asked him if he was a little scared about the prospect of leaving the comfy confines our company offered to venture out into the mean, cruel world where the prospect of failure was greater. He said yes to all of the above. Then he launched.
He spelled it out for me, in explicit detail, this new venture of his life. He did so with magnificence and aplomb. He was also magnanimous. He spoke about how he thought that I was delightful, and the type that would succeed, and that if I stuck to it, all my dreams would come true. It was sappy and weird. I hid my revulsion for his word choices. He tried to be multisyllabic, and he used as many –ly words as he had in his vocabulary. He tried to instill a sense of timeless profundity to this version of his “Final Farewell”. If it were a speech, it would have caused emotion. The audience would have been applauding at the end, some may have cried, and others may have even stood to applaud. The over the top farewell was one that often elicits near-compulsory emotion. He lit up in moments where ‘dreams can come true’ lines poured out of him. When the line “If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone” brought him to crescendo, I may have placed two fingers on a handkerchief if I had one within reach.
It was so over-the-top brilliant, coupled with subtle attempts at self-deprecating humor, that I wondered if he hadn’t plagiarized some of his material from the “Going to War” letters that Ken Burns had collected and displayed from soldiers for his The Civil War documentary. If it wasn’t, I felt safe in my assumption that he practiced and rehearsed this speech that day, before a mirror. Whatever the case was, I felt compelled to inform him that I thought this version of the final farewell was an “Experience for anyone lucky enough to hear it,” “Your best, final farewell since final farewell number four,” and a “Tour de Force!” I didn’t say any of this, but I felt he engineered his speech in a manner that warranted superlative reactions.
We were fellow office workers, and we were associates, as I said. We got along on those levels, so receiving the invitation to his going away party wasn’t a great shock to me. When I arrived at that party, we said our hellos, and he gave me a final farewell, but we didn’t talk much beyond that. The lack of attention didn’t wound me. The guy gave me as much attention, at that party, as I felt our association had warranted.
This Casablanca-style parting was just way beyond protocol as far as I was concerned though. I wished him well and all that, and he again went into the same speech he have given me at the party. He told me that he thought I was one of the good ones, that I was going to make it, and that he wanted me to keep him updated on my life. He then concluded with some talk about the trepidation he felt, stepping into a new frontier, but he explained that he was just as excited by the prospects of it.
By the time he began to step away, he was all but yelling good wishes to me. My mouth wasn’t open, but the display did set me back a pace. Then it happened …
He entered into a serious case of the leans with my desk neighbor. He was exiting the aisle my cubicle was in, and my desk neighbor was entering into it. He dodged to the left. She dodged left. He dodged right, she dodged right, and they were ensconced in that awkward dodging about to get past the other person that resulted in four separate and distinct leans.
Had my friend been extracting himself from a casual conversation, and exiting the aisle in a more routine manner, they would have been able to avoid much of what followed. I think he would’ve been able to avoid the spectacle that ended up occurring between these two, if he had felt no need to execute a departure to be marked in the annals of time for all of those “that were there” to witness his ride into the sunset. I think he would’ve been the gentleman he was, and he would’ve simply stepped left to allow my female desk mate to pass if the moment involved a more routine departure. At worst, the two of them may have engaged in two leans, if he hadn’t hoped that this version of “The Final Farewell” would include tears, or women waving handkerchiefs, or someone, somewhere to saying: “You know what, there goes one hell of a good feller.” I assume that he pictured the rest of as side characters in his story that characterize the attributes of the main character in a movie scene, he deemed “The Final Farewell” scene.
Whatever images this man had in his head, before approaching my desk, I doubt he prepared for what would follow
I don’t keep a ledger on such things, but I do believe that this friend v. desk neighbor case of the leans to be the most intense I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve been a witness to a number of severe cases in my day, and I’ve ever been a party to a few, but I don’t think I’ve witnessed four separate and distinct leans before.
I’ve witnessed two separate leans on so many occasions it’s not worth cataloging, and I’ve witnessed more than my fair share of three. The one thing we do know about cases like these is that no one escapes them unscathed, for as the cliché illustrates “it takes two to tango.” The only person I’ve ever witnessed maintain a modicum of dignity following such an episode was a nondescript, middle-aged, paunchy restaurant hostess named Susan.
“Shall we dance?” is what she said.
She said that in the second of what would be a reported, and corroborated, three leans. She said it in the midst of what should have been her humiliation. Witnesses to this episode would later swear that they saw a glint in Susan’s eye as she said those words. The glint was faint, they reported, and it was a little insecure, but it suggested to those observers that Susan knew exactly what she was doing.
What she was doing was susceptible to interpretation, as this woman named Susan has maintained a degree of humility that prevents her from addressing the full import of her purported casual salvo. Those that witnessed Susan issue this phrase will swear, to their dying day, that something prompted Susan to set the rest of us free from the ridicule that often follows such an episode. We can only assume that Susan had experienced similar ridicule for much of her life, and that it bothered her so much that she sought to put an end to it. If that wasn’t the case, it might have had something to do with Susan witnessing so many other subjects of public scorn that had no remedy. Her hope might be that we spread the word and put an end to this scale of human suffering. Whatever the case was, this unassuming restaurant hostess provided those of us that were lucky enough to be there that day, a shield against public scorn that some of us would use the rest of our lives. We may never have carried it off with the grace Susan had that day, but we would always think of her, and silently thank her, for freeing us from this ever-present spectacle in our lives.
Had my former co-worker, friend learned of this antidote prior to his own case of the leans, he may have been spared the humiliation this case caused. I doubted this at the time, and I still do, for I considered Susan’s humorous quip an antidote to two, and in her case three, separate and distinct leans, but I wasn’t sure that even this phrase would shield one from everything that would follow four.
Four separate and distinct leans was so unprecedented, to my mind, that I doubt there is a sufficient antidote. Couple that with the fact that a Gone with the Wind-style, dramatic exit preceded what my friend hoped to execute and I doubt that any clever quip would’ve allowed him to save face. His only recourse was to walk away and just hope that any that witnessed it would forget it soon after it happened.
We all want to be remembered, and perhaps that’s all my former co-worker was doing, delivering final farewells to so many people that he accidentally said goodbye to the same people more than twice. I don’t know how much preparation my former co-worker put into his final farewells, but I’m sure he did it so that he could let each of us know how important we were to him, and to have the sentiment returned. This is not to suggest that my former co-worker’s actions were, in any sense, self-serving, but everyone wants those around them to remember that we were here. It is possible that had he escaped unencumbered by my desk neighbor, his final farewell may have had the lasting effect he hoped for, but the lasting memory I now have of him consists of him shucking and jiving with my desk neighbor, trying to get past her for a dramatic ride off into the sunset.