"Lee, who's Paula?"
"Who? I don't know any Paula, Harry."
I had stopped at his work-station to show him, once again, how to format a spread-sheet, when Harry suddenly blurted out this odd question.
"Could she be someone working in another department, then?" How can I get a list of everyone who works for the firm? I mean, is there some way I could put it up on my screen?"
Harry looked distraught. I mean even more distraught than usual. Short, balding, overweight, nervous, Harry had come to the company as a temp just learning computers, and seemed so desperately eager to learn he worked into permanent employment. Trouble was, though he learned quickly, he seemed to forget quickly too. Fine with routine work, every time he was jolted out of his rut he seemed to have to re-learn the new process all over again ---- even if, like the spread-sheet format, he had needed it and mastered it three times already, once only two months before. But this Paula thing just erupted out of the blue, and he was seriously eager to find out more about her.
"Well,"I said, leaning over his keyboard to rattle off a few commands, "how about pulling out the directory of phone listings...like that! But I don't think we have a program for culling out FIRST names."
"Oh, that's okay. That's okay! Just show me how to do it, and I'll just go through it in my spare time."
I showed him what I had typed, and he meticulously wrote everything down in his incomprehensible scrawl. Obviously he was a member of the Print Generation grappling with the electronic revolution.
"But there are hundreds of 'em, Harry! It could take hours."
"That's okay, Lee. I just have to find out who she is." He glanced up damply into my face. "Thanks for the help."
"Harry," I insisted, sitting down and scooting the swivel- chair close to his, "what the hell is this all about?"
"Well," he ran a hand through his thinning hair, "she's been leaving messages for me."
He nodded, smiling. "First in Email, every day or so. Little notes, compliments on how I was dressed, or little jokes, bits of poetry. Not work stuff; more personal stuff."
He paused, embarrassed. "So?" I encouraged.
"I didn't know where they were coming from, but they made me feel, well, good. I mean, someone my age and all, it's nice to be noticed, y"know?"
I grinned. "It's your 'aging roue' image, killer!"
He flushed and grinned, giggled a little, dismissing me with a wave. "Well, I wondered who it was, but there wasn't a clue. And no one I've ever met is named Paula. Then I thought maybe one of the women I know was using it as, like a pen-name or something. I started trying to drop hinds about the messages around the lunch- tables or drinking-fountains, but all I got wa strange looks, so I sure stopped that!"
He scowled. "Then I got convinced it was some joke, somebody playing a hoax on me. There was never any return address, just these notes in my mailbox when I turned the machine on every morning. Some of the guys in the Art Department are great kidders, and I thought maybe...
"But then," he continued in an enthusiastic rush, "she started leaving them by Voice mail! In this soft, subtle, intimate voice. And she.... She said now she was speaking just to me alone, she could.... well, she could reveal her true feelings openly for the first time."
He glanced at me with a look of innocent, embarrassed awe.
"She loves me, Lee."
I grinned and shook my head, and pounded his knee with my fist. "Harry, you Goddamned closet Lothario, you!"
"But I don't know who she is! It's driving me crazy!"
I put on a stern look for a moment. "Harry, are you sure you're not misinterpreting something innocent, exaggerating perhaps?"
"No! I mean it, Lee, she.... Well, here. Damn it, if you don't believe me, here..... " He snatched up his phone and punched in half a dozen digits. "Here, listen yourself and tell me I'm misinterpreting! I saved all her messages."
I listened a moment to a soft, subtle, intimate voice telling Harry what he meant in her life, how difficult it was seeing him from afar, and what she wished they could do together some sweet day, what she hoped he would put where, and how she would react. Then it was my turn to flush and look embarrassed. It was a very faintly familiar voice, somehow, but I hadn't a clue who she was.
I handed back the phone, and stared at him a moment, wondering how any woman would single out this lump of nothing to set off such storms of passion. Well, de gustibus!
"That's why I've got to find her! It's the chance of a lifetime! I can't let it slip through my fingers! I'm not getting any younger, you know."
I knew. My God how I knew! "Well, good hunting, old buddy! When you find her, send ME a Voice mail!"
"Thanks for all your help, Lee! I'm so far behind on this projectI'll probably have to stay late to finish. And maybe I'll get started on the search before I go home. Paula's not such a common name, you know."
"Keep me informed," I said, slapping his shoulder as I moved off to shoot another trouble. "I just Love happy endings!"
As I moved through the afternoon, Harry's luck and his problem tickled the back of my mind. I thought there must be a way of searching that names-file for first names. Maybe a modified spell-check routine! I was coming back through his room a bit before quitting time, and spotted Harry down the rows of stations, plugging tiredly away at the number-crunching.
But before I got very close, I could see his hands begin to falter at the keys, his head droop forward nearly bumping the VDT. It was obvious he was blanking out. It's a common occurrence. The numbing monotony and ritual motion of the continual streams of numbers can hypnotize people until they literally fall asleep at their keyboards.
But just as he was about to fall, Harry pulled himself erect, eyes alert. Seeing he had recovered I started toward him again, but paused when I saw him smile, and reach for his phone. He punched in a dozen or so digits and then, his fist cupped around the mouthpiece, said a few sentences, punched some more buttons, cradled the phone, then glancing down at his hands picked up where they left off. He typed furiously for a few moments, came to the end of a page and, glancing at his watch he once again picked up the phone, punched in a code and listened, a beatific smile on his face, and let out a short, quick giggle once or twice.
I came up to him calling, "Say, Harry! I just had an idea that might save you some..... "
"Oh, hiya, Lee!" he smiled, smugly. "I just checked my phone again, and there's a new one! Mostly she does it right around quitting time every day. Here!" He chortled conspiratorially, punching numbers into his phone. "Listen to this!"
I listened, this time not to the suggestive words, nor the tone, but listened carefully to the sound of that voice.
"Isn't she somethin?" He beamed. "I gotta find her, that's all!"
"Yeah, Harry." I handed him back his phone. "Good luck on
your search." And I walked away and went home.
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