A Piece of Work

Our story today is about strange coworkers. Not mine, although I have worked with my share of weirdos, jerks, and assholes. No, this is the tale of the coworker of a friend who was so bizarre that she became a celebrity among my group. We begged my friend for current news of her, and texted each other when there were “sightings.” When she finally vanished, we mourned her going with genuine sorrow. But I mustn’t get ahead of my story.
I first became aware of this woman in a hamburger place near my office. My friend and her peculiar colleague worked about a block away from where my building is located. One morning I stopped in at the hamburger place that was across the street from us for a sausage breakfast sandwich, to find a well-dressed, middle aged, African American woman in line ahead of me. She wore a fabric rain coat, and had with her an oversized suitcase. I gave her little consideration—my office is downtown, not far from where the train boards for the airport. I assumed she was taking an early morning flight, and had stopped for something to eat. She was quite heavily packed, with not only the suitcase, but a backpack, tote bag, and purse.
But I continued to see her from time to time. Always with the same burden, always in the same raincoat, always looking extremely well put together. After a half a dozen sightings, I chanced to mention her to my friend.
Friend: “Oh, that’s Luggage Linda,”
Me: “Luggage Linda? Do you know her?”
Friend: “She works in my office.”
My friend at that time worked for a government-run utility.
Me: “And she brings that stuff with her every day?”
Friend: “Oh it’s worse than that. She takes it with her everywhere she goes. Bathroom. File room. Lunch. Everywhere.”
Me: “What’s in it?”
Friend: “No idea. No one has ever seen.”  
It turned out that Luggage Linda (and yes, Linda is her real name) was the receptionist for this government office. No one was ever clear why she brought all this stuff with her every day, nor why she kept it with her at all times. Linda, it transpired, was probably not too tightly wrapped. (I’m guessing you didn’t need to be told that.)
She constantly accused people of messing with her stuff while she was away from her desk. My friend assured me that, to the best of her knowledge, no one actually touched her belongings, but she was constantly railing at no one for rearranging things, or resetting the preset dial buttons on her phone. I’ve always thought it’s a really good thing she didn’t work in my office, because I wouldn’t have been able to resist the urge to actually do that sort of thing.

She was also terrified of a guy named Brian who worked for the same organization in a different group. She wouldn’t get on the elevator if he was on it (he worked on a slightly higher floor). She was sure, she said, that Brian left the office during the day and went to her apartment, where he would “go through her aprons.” (Yes, aprons. No, no idea why aprons.) Also, one time he’d “spilled salad oil on the floor.” It had to have been him, she insisted. Who else would have done it? It’s worth noting that, by all the accounts I heard, Brian was a very nice man who never did anything to threaten her, or arouse her fears. She was simply irrationally afraid of him.

She was a religious woman, and went to church regularly. I don’t know which church, but at some point, they grew weary of whatever peculiarities she displayed regarding organized religion (one assumes she was similarly paranoid about someone in the congregation, or within the ministry, as she was with Brian, or otherwise exhibited bizarre behavior commensurate with that in her professional life). They asked her to leave the church. I can only assume they told her, “Jesus loves you, but we’re over you.” It’s pretty bad when your church asks you not to come anymore.
On a somewhat sad note, she evidently had a daughter who lived somewhere in California. By her own account, the daughter was a PhD, and would have nothing to do with her. One doesn’t have to spend much time pondering that choice. However, it has occurred to me in later years that it’s possible said daughter (and/or her educational achievements) were fabrications. We have no real way of knowing, and it doesn’t really matter, but if it is true, I think it’s unfortunate.

The story of Luggage Linda has an unhappy ending, and a happy ending (there are two) depending, I suppose, on your point of view.

Linda began arriving for work late (half an hour or an hour), with the reason stated being an unexplained fear. Brian? Someone else? It was never disclosed. Her manager insisted she would need to take vacation to account for the time. She wanted to take sick time. The manager was adamant that it be vacation. HR got involved. As with many government agencies, the HR department of this particular organization was not in the same building. The HR rep came down to meet with Linda and her manager. Since this was the first time the HR rep had met Linda, it was the first time s/he realized to just what degree Linda’s grip on reality was questionable.

The HR rep decreed that Linda would need to undergo an evaluation in order to continue her employment. She was placed on leave until such time as she would agree to this condition. The grape vine information immediately following that announcement was that she had declared she would undergo no such procedure, and there the matter appeared to end. Linda no longer had a job there.

However, in doing research for this, I texted my friend to find out just what the fear was that ultimately resulted in Linda’s termination. I was informed that, lo and behold, Linda is back. In the same job. In the same office. (My friend has moved on to a different position in another building.) She is, it seems, limited to a single suit case now, with all the other paraphernalia being deemed disruptive and inappropriate for the workplace, but she is back as the receptionist for the government run utility down the street from my office. How she managed to pass the evaluation that was required for her clearance to return is uncertain. I’m sure Brian greeted her return with open arms, from which she no doubt fled in terror.
This is Linda. She goes through a suitcase about every six months. Shortly after these pictures were taken, she got an animal print one.


Michelle said...

Wow. Just wow.

I thought I worked with crazy people...

Tracy said...

I know--she's incredible. I just love Luggage Linda.

Gigi said...

That is truly bizarre. And incredibly sad.

Tracy said...

She's a case all right. A little sad, a little strange, and a little funny. Which in some ways sort of describes all of us, I guess. :)

Unknown said...

So freakin' funny, I'm so glad you tweeted me to let me know you'd written about it! Luggage Linda probably needs an entire book written about her.

Tracy said...

Thanks for checking it out! There's doubtless more because I know I've forgotten some stories, so there probably could be a whole book written about her. Two, actually, with one being a psychology textbook!!