Sheila’s fingers were clacking across her 1998 HP keyboard, making sure everyone in the office knew she was accomplishing something. The company had offered to replace her keyboard, told her they were going to replace her keyboard, and when she dug it out of the dumpster two alleys away from the office had even begged her to let them replace her keyboard. She had turned them down every time. It was a good thing that the other workers could hear her, she told her boss, so that they knew that they weren’t the only ones getting work done.
Whether or not there was work to be done, Sheila would be doing it. Today the first order of business was writing the script for the new intern day. Almost four years ago Barry had put her in charge of putting the fear of God into the young applicants, and Sheila had sunk her teeth into the position. Now, once a year, the building would echo with Sheila’s best attempts at making sure half of the interns would never show up again.
“You are not here to have fun,” she started, every year. “You are here to gain experience. You are here to learn about how a national company functions. You are here to assist employees with their daily tasks, and if you’re lucky you’re here to learn something.
“Vaudein Incorporated does not give a rat’s ass about any of that. If you’ve ever looked at people on the ground as you take off in a plane, or at an anthill from a tree house, that’s a lot like how Vaudein sees you. Until you have managed to cause it some large amount of trouble, you will be as noticed as an insect on the ground.
“And trust me - that’s a good way for things to be. Because if you ever catch Vaudein’s eye, it will look closer. It will take a magnifying glass to every little detail of your time with the company. And you know what happens to insects when you look at them through a magnifying glass?
Sheila’s speech goes on for another five minutes before she starts getting to the role the interns will actually play in the company. Every year she gives the exact same speech, and every year roughly half of the new recruits go home swearing to never come back.
But something interesting happens with the ones who do return. The interns who do come back the next day are the ones who make private bets with themselves, who look around the room and tell themselves that they will be better than everyone they can see. These are the interns that Vaudein does notice, from the corner of its eye - but it doesn't bother getting a closer look. And, when it comes time for these interns to enter the job market, the few who did manage to rise to the top of the pack find a job offer floating in their mailbox on their last day.
And this is why Sheila is allowed to keep her old keyboard. Sheila still has her old keyboard because she is the sort of woman who memorized her new intern speech three weeks before she ever gave it, but still types out a new copy every year.
Sheila still has her old keyboard because she is the sort of woman who hides a dark carapace somewhere underneath her office manager exterior.
Sheila still has her keyboard because she is the sort of woman who, when put to the magnifying glass, refused to burn.
An America Story