Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sharing is Scaring

Many people like to say "sharing is caring." I would like to qualify that statement, because as anyone who's been caught in the middle of a nasty couples' spat can tell you, there is most definitely something as too much sharing. Sharing some things, such as chocolate, wine or money is certainly very caring, while sharing other things such as unsolicited opinions, herpes or religion...not so much. Not every situation is as clear-cut at brownies and STDs, but I for one would really appreciate it if everyone at the work place took a "less is more" stance.

A few weeks ago, it came to my attention that a co-worker had lost her husband. Let's just surge past that uncomfortable moment and get down to specifics: while I have worked in the same hotel as this woman for over three years now, we are in separate departments. Contact is minimal, and the odd conversation usually has a forced congeniality to it, largely because the woman in question is the kind of person who will corner you somewhere to tell you the story of her latest pap smear. So when I heard of her loss, I calmly waited until our path crossed, and expressed my sympathy and hoped against hope that that would be the end of it. Well. It wasn't.

It seems like this poor woman had simply been bursting with the need to unload some gory details about her late spouse on someone, and my innocent offer of condolences was all the permission she needed. A few minutes after we first spoke, I received a phone call, asking if I could help fax some papers for her. I agreed and she appeared in the office in a trice, complaining that the fax machine in her department was malfunctioning. One look at those papers explained the technological issue: they looked like they had been crumpled into a tiny ball and sat on for the last decade. My colleague Melissa helpfully grabbed the papers, and started the extremely long process of trying to make them fax machine workable, which left me to converse with the bereaved.

It took only a moment for the widow to launch into her story. First up was the explanation of what we were faxing: turns out that her stepdaughters had filed an injunction against her two hours after the passing of their father, attempting to keep her from receiving any money. Usually the start of a story like this would be like cat-nip to me, but sitting at work trying to do some very important loafing, it just wasn't striking my fancy. I mumbled some half-interested platitudes, trying to send the loudest "I'm REALLY busy" vibes I could. She was having none of it, and plunged forward. I glanced at Melissa and saw that, at this point, she had only managed to force through the first page of the fax, and was attempting to smooth out another for feeding.

The next little tidbit to be revealed involved the gentleman's ex-wife, who it turns out was a racist who routinely referred to his Jewish second wife as a "k*ke." She decided that after his untimely demise, she wanted his ashes. Racist First Wife offered to take Jewish Second Wife over to the Diamond District and buy her any necklace she wanted with a locket at the end. Then she could put a few of her husband's ashes in that receptacle and Racist First Wife would take the rest. This would be the time for a joke about dangling the Diamond District as the carrot for a Jew, but I think it actually just writes itself. At this point, I could no longer maintain my facade of ennui, and Melissa could no longer act as if nothing of note was going on while she struggled with our ancient fax machine. Hence, we were both fully tuned in for the final act.

It seems that the Evil Stepdaughters swooped in and took over the funeral planning, despite the widow's protestations. Made to feel like a guest at her own husband's funeral, not given the chance to eulogize him, she went home to discover that her stepdaughters had actually claimed that their father wasn't even married to the banks in order to freeze his accounts. This was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back...despite being the height of awkwardness, I couldn't look away. I fervently wished for a popcorn and a fountain soda (can we all just agree that fountain soda is AWESOME??), because as far as I was concerned this was better than a movie.

Fed up with the treatment she was receiving, our widow decided to play the trump card. Having sat on some information for the past 15 years of marriage, she decided that turnabout was fair play, called up Racist First Wife and calmly informed her that while in his first marriage their mutual husband had maintained a relationship with a black woman, with whom he had produced two sons. A few moments of silence passed. Then pandemonium.

This is the kind of shit that networks save for May sweeps. It's the kind of plot twist that intelligent viewers roll their eyes at, and say "No one actually HAS a second family! That is RIDICULOUS! Jump the shark much?" Only in this case, it's real, and it was happening in front of my face at work. I couldn't even enjoy it anymore, it was just too weird and awkward that I was finding out about it at all. Luckily, Melissa managed to wrestle the final page through the fax machine at that moment, and hurriedly handed over the confirmation. One quick showing of the death certificate later (yes, I've officially seen my first death certificate), and our storyteller was gone as quickly as she arrived, with this final bon mot:

"I've started a Facebook group with his other family, so people can hear! Check it out!"

This is most definitely in the category of sharing too much. It's just a little example, but I think it's safe to say that if your story involves the distribution of a spouse's ashes, the freezing of bank accounts or the revelation of a second family you should probably just keep that to your A-list friends. That way your family secrets won't be splattered all over the internet on a co-worker's blog...unless, of course, you choose to start a Facebook group detailing them.

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