If you couldn’t arrange a solar eclipse to darken your day, there was always Henry. He sat two cubicles over in our smallish office area. We had a smaller team than some of the others so there were only 8 of us and we all went out for drinks at least one night a week. Except for Henry. He always had an excuse for why he couldn’t go, and secretly we were glad, as we’d have enough of his booming strident voice during the day.
No matter what the situation Henry could be counted on to contribute a dour note. In meetings he’d always be the first to nay say any suggestions, pointing out all the reasons why an idea wouldn’t work. “It’s just not protocol,” he’d screech. Or he’d say it was too much work. “Do you know how many extra hours it would take to make that change?” he’d frown. Henry did the IT for the group and he never let us forget how important a role he had. “You guys would be toast without me!” he’d chortle. “Good luck getting anything done!”
I am not sure who started it, but somehow it became part of our happy hour beers to poke a little fun at absent Henry, by imitating his voice and saying some of the annoying comments he’d make over and over. Josh or someone would raise their voice to almost a falsetto and screech “Kiddies, that’s NOT how we do things!” Then we’d all laugh. It became a thing. We’d talk about some random subject and someone would say, “What would Henry say?” Then someone else would answer something snide in Henry’s voice and we’d laugh and laugh. It progressed to us sending little messages to each other during the day, after hearing him bark at someone on the phone….
HS – Burn in hell mofo before you call me again!
When you’d hear laughter in another cubicle you’d know they read your HS- Henry Says message. It was all harmless fun, just blowing off steam. After all, we had to put up with him. But there’s always someone in a group who will take a joke too far. Randy started putting sexual innuendos in his HS messages–
HS- It may not be protocol, but I have a woody!
HS- We do things by the rules here…and I have a ruler in my pants!
HS- It’s not porn, it’s artistic photographs of children!
It made me uncomfortable so finally I said something. “Guys, I LOVE all the WWHS jokes, but let’s lay off the risque stuff, okay?” There was silence at the table and then they started laughing at me. Saying that I was a prude. Saying that maybe I had a crush on Henry. Saying all kinds of rotten things. I left and after that I didn’t go out for drinks with them any more. They excluded me from all the jokes, but I knew they were still doing them because of the stifled laughter in the office from time to time.
Then Henry’s wife got cancer and Henry became very subdued. There was no more loud talking coming from his cubicle. There were times you wouldn’t even know he was there. The jokes stopped too, thankfully. It was so quiet those days. I actually missed hearing his voice. So funny to say that, right? His wife went into hospice and Henry took unpaid leave to spend the remaining of her days with her. And he was right. The office was a complete mess without him. I went to visit them one day and brought flowers and Henry was so grateful. I swear he almost cried. It wasn’t something I ever imagined I would see.
After she passed he came back to work but he wasn’t the same. No more bluster or posturing. It was like the stuffing had been knocked out of him. It just goes to show…be careful what you wish for. I wish more than anything that he’d been able to stay the old irritable annoying Henry, with the doting wife at home. Instead of this new hangdog Henry, with nobody to go home to. I hope he heals in time. I hope he starts saying things again.
Say something Henry. Say anything Henry. Please.