Background: I work for a newsletter publisher. We publish about thirty different newsletters with relatively small circulations. I’m one of three people whose job is to sort the mail by the person or publication it’s directed to. Then, twice a week (Monday and Thursday), we go through the mail for each publication, get the checks ready for deposit and make sure all the new orders, payments, renewals and cancellations are entered in our database. We also handle any customer service issues that come in through the mail. It’s an easy job, overall. One of the people I work with has three kids and a live-in-boyfriend, had her first kid when she was sixteen and still finished high school and put herself through college. She’s smart as a whip, a hard worker and a smart person, and I really admire her. The other cow-orker, ehhh . . . not so much. She’s very friendly and nice, but she’s slow to pick up on things - any new skill we have to learn has to be explained to her in very simple language, several times - and sometimes I just get the sense that her synapses aren’t quite working right; her brain just doesn’t make connections very well. Nonetheless, like I said, it’s an easy job and we’ve always gotten along fine. Until two or three weeks ago, when she suddenly morphed into Total Airhead. This is a summary of some of the main points:
Smart Coworker was out sick on Monday, so Airhead and I were sorting the mail. Each publication has its own box, and the postage-paid business reply envelopes we send out with renewal notices, invoices, etc. are color-coded so that when they come back we know which publication they’re meant for and can quickly sort them out. Airhead is usually very fast at this, but that day she seemed to lose track of which publication went where. “That’s odd,” I thought, “Maybe she had a bit too much to drink last night.” She seemed a little out of it all day, but as I’ve occasionally mistaken Wednesday for Thursday myself, I didn’t put any stock in it. Until she didn’t come in to work the next day, without calling. I said something to Smart Coworker about her odd behavior the day before, and Smart Coworker told me, “She’s done this before. When did you start working here?”
“Last August, around the 17th, I think.”
“Uh-huh, she did the same thing last year around this time. She didn’t show up for work, she was acting really weird, she wouldn’t tell us what was going on. Finally, Superisor pulled her into her office, they had a meeting, and she got a week off for medical reasons. The girl who worked here before you kept trying to find out what was going on - she was really nosy - but we never found out. Then, suddenly, Airhead was back to normal, and she’s been fine until now.”
When Airhead finally came in, she claimed that she hadn’t heard her alarm go off. I have to say, I’ve never seen a worse liar.
At the same time, she suddenly started taking long and frequent cigarette breaks, and spending a lot of time staring off into the distance. She had been driving me nuts with her constant talk, but now she hardly speaks out loud, though I do hear her muttering quietly to herself.
A lot of the mail we get doesn’t come back in the business-reply envelopes, so those have to be opened and sorted through seperately. We split the “look-ups,” and it might take half an hour if there’s a LOT of mail. Last week, it took Airhead nearly an hour to finish her lookups, even after I’d finished and taken half of what she had left. She got a new calculator last week, too. She asked me twice to show her how to put the paper in.
"You just slip it in through the slot in the back . . . "
“Wait, what? I don’t understand.”
“The little slot in the back of the calculator. Just like your old one.”
“I don’t get it. Can you show me?”
So I showed her. “You slip the paper in here, see? Just put it in as far as it’ll go, then press the FEED button, see? And it comes right through.”
A minute later, it was the same thing. God knows why she’d taken the paper out, or what part of “Put in in the slot, press the button,” she didn’t understand.
"You put the paper in the slot . . . " I began again.
“No, here, can you do it for me?” she held out the calculator and roll of paper, pleadingly.
“Why don’t you do it, and I’ll tell you how.”
So I talked and pointed and she did it, almost giving up in despair before the calculator grabbed the paper and fed it through.
As I said, we publish about thirty newsletters, and we split the work up fairly evenly. The same day that she had trouble with her new calculator, Airhead managed to work through a grand total of two newsletters by the end of the day. Smart Coworker and I did the rest. Our supervisor had to re-total all her checks, though, because she’d screwed them up.
Last Thursday and Friday she wasn’t in because she had jury duty, and thank Og it seemed to’ve done her some good. She was almost back to normal come Monday. Then, Tuesday, she didn’t show up again. Our supervisor had a long talk with her in her (the supervisor’s) office, while Smart Coworker and I complained about her and said, “I don’t know what Supervisor is saying to her, but I hope it does some good.” It didn’t. Yesterday, she pulled my thinking-Wednesday-is-Thursday stunt and worked through the mail for two newsletters before Smart Coworker saw what she was doing and corrected her. Today, oh today, oh, oh, oh . . .
Our supervisor is out sick. She’s having back surgery at the end of next week, so she’ll be out for at least two months, which creates a certain urgency to making sure Airhead is at least functional by the time it’s just the three of us. Today Airhead failed entirely to help sort out the mail. That was fine with me, though; there wasn’t much and it was certainly faster for Smart Coworker and I to do it ourselves. She and I got to work on the newsletters. This afternoon the shit hit the fan.
She hadn’t. even. started working on a newsletter. The mail that came in today for the work she’d (accidently) done yesterday was still in the boxes. She finally picked up one of them along with (apparently) another newsletter’s mail. By the time Smart Coworker and I had finished everything except for the two newsletters she’d done yesterday, plus one other newsletter she does every week, she hadn’t finished a single thing. Smart Coworker and I agreed that we were done picking up her slack. Then, she said one of the newsletters she’d done yesterday was done.
Smart Coworker: “These are the checks you did yesterday. Where are the checks from today?”
A: “I don’t know. There weren’t any checks.”
SC: “Yes, there were. There were check in today’s mail.”
A: “Well, I don’t know where they were.”
SC: “They were in the box, where they always are.”
A: “There isn’t any mail in the box.”
Me: “You took that mail, remember?”
A: "Oh, yeah . . . " drifts off
SC: “So where did you put it?”
A: “I don’t . . . I have no idea. There aren’t any checks back there.”
SC: “You took the checks; where are they?”
I had gotten up to go get another batch of mail and was standing next to Airhead’s file drawer. “What’s this?” I asked, indicating a pile of mail on top of the drawer. It was, of course, the “missing” mail.
By 3:30 pm, when we have to be done so that the checks can be deposited, she was still only halfway through the last newsletter. She didn’t finish until at least 4 o’clock. Smart Coworker, who totals all the deposits, found several errors she’d made - she didn’t stamp these checks, that total is off by $3,500, etc. We didn’t make a deposit today. The manager who makes deposits when Supervisor is out is seriously pissed. He, Smart Coworker and I will all be talking to Supervisor tomorrow about Airhead’s behavior. This is fucking ridiculous.