I used to work graveyard in the switch deparment for the phone company. It was our job to monitor the equipment and do repairs when needed. Three of us were scheduled to be on duty one night and I knew Linda Grey would be reporting in from the switch in the south valley exchanges, she was our rover tonight. George was late and I was getting worried. It was the third time this week and I might have to call the supervisor. Jim Zimmer was my boss, he covered the second and third shifts. Jim was known as a straight shooter and good guy. He never bought into the higher management bull shit and always gave you a straight and honest answer. You got into trouble, he’d stand up for you in public and kick your ass in private. Not many supervisors do that these days. He wanted our best and was willing to cut us some slack when need be. But George had gone beyond slack.
Just when I was about to pick up the phone and call Jim, George stumbled in, and I do mean stumbled. He was drunk, unsteady on his feet, red in the eyes and looked ever so much the sloven boozer. George tried to find his chair but it kept rolling away from him. Finally it stopped against the wall and George flung himself at the seat. He almost missed. Now I was really worried. This was a fireable offense and George was in his fifties, not likely to find employment, at least in the telecommunications field. I sat at my desk and knew I should call Jim. Perhaps ten minutes passed before I decided to rat George out. Then Jim cam into the room. He took one look at George, who by now was snoring loud enough to hide the noise of a freight train. “We got trouble. A couple of big wigs from the city are headed this way. Word is they’re scalp hunting. Take George to number twelve exchange, I’ll cover. You got any work out there for the next couple of hours?”
I was stunned. I’d never seen Jim this lenient. I started to stammer, “Er, ah, yes, there are a few circuit packs the need replacement. But what about George?”
“There’s a couch in the break room, put him to bed. The do the work but stay close enough to the phone. Got it? I’ll send them out Linda’s way.”
So I, with Jim’s help, loaded George into the company car. I made sure his seatbelt was fastened, didn’t want to get stopped by the cops. And I drove out the exchange twelve. I was going to try and walk him in but his body was just too loose for that. So I parked as close to the door as I could get and found an armchair on rollers. It was a struggle to place George on that chair but once there it was a breeze to get him over to the couch and sprawl him out on it. Then I called reported in. A strange voice answered, “Zimmer’s on another line, can you hold?” Tell Mr Zimmer that Bill has found the problem and is working on it.” Then I hung up.
About three hours later the phone rang. I was surprised to hear linda’s voice. “Bill, jim is on his way to see you. What’s going on over there?” My reply was simple but brief. I didn’t know. “Yeah, thanks a lot, asshole!” She hung up quite hard.
A little while later Jim appeared. “Get much work done?”
“Yeah, only one more circuit pack to go. Whats going on with George”
Jim gave me a stern look. “Look, this is very confidential, Bill. I know I can trust you to keep quiet about tonight.” I followed him to the office and we sat down as if in private conference. “Bill, I don’t normally mix into my people’s lives, you know. It’s not my business. You know how I run things. You got personal troubles, I’ll listen. A good boss will do that unless it becomes too often.”
“Well, yeah, you’ve heard me out a couple of times. Rescued me off that crew of Bob’s. And I’m grateful. I owe you.”
“George has marriage problems. It’s no big secret. He’s told you a few times abut his troubles, right?”
“Yeah, well, he has said a few things. I don’t know for sure, but I get the feeling his wife is having an affair. But it’s not my call.”
“Did he tell you directly?” I saw the look of concern in Jim’s eyes.
“No, I just figured it that way. Why, am I right?”
Jim just sighed. He took his time in answering. Yes, Bill, you’re right. Just keep it to yourself, would you? George needs some time right now and his drinking is not helping his case. So keep it to yourself. Why don’t you go and relieve Linda. Just tell her there was problem finding the right circuit packs and George and I had to go find the right ones.”
The next night when I came to work Jim was there, waiting. “George is taking a couple of days off. He’s staying at my place so you will be by yourself most of the night. Just hold down the fort for a few days and George will be back Monday. Means you got a couple of days overtime for the weekend.”
“How is George? You getting him sobered up?”
“Not quite but I did slow him down. I hope to get him off the booze by Monday.” Jim took a seat next to mine as a gesture of good will. “You know, those brown shoes didn’t find anything to carp about. Ms Jackson was pleased. Of course she rarely comes down our way to do much of anything. I swear, these regional managers are like tits on a bull, just as ugly as they are useless.”
We both had a good laugh at that thought. Not since the old days of the ‘Billy Goat Gruff’, of which I was writer, editor, and publisher of the unofficial company news letter, the one that almost got me fired, had I had such a good laugh. Jim would never make second level management but he would never have any real problems with his people. George was the exception but that would not last. Of course Linda made her inquires but I held my cards close to the vest. I figured Jim might say something to her eventually. She took the hint and waited. At least we were back on good terms.
Monday I found George at his desk. I think he had put in a few unofficial hours as partial payback to Jim. Linda was still our rover, an assignment she liked. And we had no major problems that would send one of us out to the switch offices. George was a little nervous at first. “I’m sorry I put you and jim in a difficult position. Just things at home haven’t been going well, you know?”
“Hey, no problem, man. You’d do it for me.” That was true, George would help the people on Jim’s crews. We passed the time as we usually did, surveillance of the switches, software upgrades, and routine filing. In between those events I did my usual reading, usually on technical advancements in communications. I had some idea that I could get into advance technological positions within the company. George tried to keep his mind on anything but home.
About four AM george finally opened up a little. He knew I’d listen without judgment. I always did. “Bill, Jim tells me you guessed my wife is having an affair. Well, she is. She want a divorce so bad that she started bring home younger men and having them stay all night. You know me, I don’t believe in divorce but I think we are going to have to separate soon. Looks like I’ll have to move out. She wants the house.”
“Sounds bad, George. Any help I can give?”
“Oh thanks, but no, I’ll manage. Jim is helping me find a furnish studio, should have a place to go by next week.” More silence. “I owe you an explanation about my drinking. the man my wife has been bringing home never leaves before nine AM. So for the last few weeks I have sat in the bar over on Fifth Street. did you know they open at six AM?”
“No, I had no idea.”
“Yeah, really. I’ve been over there every day for the last three weeks. I don’t want to sit at Denny’s stuffing my face to keep a booth. So I was going there. I sort of became fond of their Tequila Sunrises. You know, sit and have a couple to kill the time while the sun comes up and I can go home again.”