Saturday, March 8, 2008

AIR: Appearances that Matter

Yet another adventure back when I worked for the Archdiocese involved a role-reversal.

My boss at the time (who I consider to be a mentor and one of the best bosses that I have ever had the privilege to work for) had the remarkable ability to morph himself into a variety of personas. He came of age in the late '60's and retained a beard and long-ish hair. He grew up in the Bronx and could turn a tough guy persona on and off.

Anyway... we're fully into the mode of "If it's Tuesday, it must be St. Sassafras." We had a very lengthy schedule of stops that Spring. Generally, my boss sent me and our records technician out to make most of the pickups, although he would substitute himself from time to time. The night before a particular parish run, he told me not to wear jeans. I should wear my usual office attire (Dockers and a dress shirt), but add a tie. He'd explain later.

So next morning, I show up at the office, somewhat more dressed up than usual and see my boss. He's wearing a bandana, carpenter shorts and a ratty t-shirt. "Trust me on this one. I'll drive." So we set off. He explains to me that he is going to do the heavy lifting and that he wants me to provide him with direction and do the inventories. In other words, I was in charge. Sounded good to me. The day was looking to be hot and most of these places tended to have lots of stairs.

We arrive, I go to the front door and introduce myself. My boss is outside unloading the empty boxes and handcart. I go in and I'm shown (very coldly) where the records are. My boss comes in and asks me where I want things set up. I tell him and he brings in all the supplies. I notice that he's carrying stuff like his back hurts and I ask him if he's ok. He winks and says, "Just go with it." I'm liking the arrangement, but the back of my head is trying to figure out the game. So I start scribbling and tagging and he starts filling boxes. I notice that he is also chatting up the office staff. They are very unhappy about the closure of the parish and I overhear some of their comments. They are seriously unhappy and have much to disparage about the heritage of the people "Downtown". They are also very concerned about where their bingo program will go (that perked my ears -- the church is closing -- why in the world are you concerned about the bingo games?). So we clean the place out. I notice that my boss seems to have the staff very open and honest in their rants about the Archdiocese. If I walk into the room where they are talking, the conversation shifts and my boss gets back to work. I can tell he's working something.

We finally finish loading the van and my boss walks up to me. He asks me for a couple of his cards (he would always conveniently "forget" his business cards when talking to vendors and make me give out one of mine, so I started carrying a few of his cards). At the time, he was an Assistant Chancellor for the Archdiocese and had been granted Canonical faculties by the Archbishop -- that's a pretty big deal. I hand him a card, he winks and I follow him back in. He walks into the office, takes off his bandana, and hands a card to each of the people working in the parish office. He visibly straightens up and says, "I am so sorry. I forgot to properly introduce myself. I am the Assistant Chancellor for Archives and Records. The entire conversation that we had today is something that will be of interest to the Chancellor and Cardinal. I'll be meeting with them later today. I'd suggest that you take your personal belongings home with you." His tone and the look in his eyes made *me* take a step back. The looks on their faces were something to behold. I had to bite my tongue to keep from smiling. He didn't wait for a response. We at least had the courtesy to get off the property before we busted out laughing. Unfortunately, on the serious side, there were some very unfortunate things going on in that parish. There was a reason that they were concerned about where bingo would be held.

I've never forgotten that day. Part of it was the role reversal and the willingness of my boss to step in and do the work that we were doing. Sometimes it is just what had to be done; sometimes it was for a purpose that we didn't necessarily understand at the time. But more than anything else, it was a lesson that appearances don't always make the measure of the man.


jay m said...

ok, I don't get all of it- The office types were in trouble for what?
lousy attitude/disloyalty?

Patrick Cunningham, CRM said...

There were a number of things that they said that indicated that there were things going on there that were beyond sour grapes. The snotty remarks were the tip of the iceberg.