My first job after college was, inexplicably, being the financial coordinator for a cancer research lab at Boston University. Seeing how my degree was in English and I had passed every science class since 7th grade by the skin of my teeth, I still have no idea how I wound up managing the finances for a bunch of scientists. Fortunately, most of my coworkers were pretty nice, if slightly socially awkward, people who cared passionately about their various projects and little else, making life pretty easy for the admin staff.
And then there was Newman. Grossly overweight with questionable personal hygiene habits, rude and condescending to all, lazy with a habitually filthy workstation, he embodied every stereotype one would imagine when thinking about a nerdy science lab type with poor social skills; I don’t know where he lived at the time, but if someone had told me it was his mother’s basement, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Imagine if Comic Book Guy and Sheldon Cooper minus the drive for excellence had a baby. That baby would eventually grow up to be Newman.
To paint an even clearer picture, rather than working on whatever he was meant to be working on, Newman would often spend hours out of the day on the phone with someone who apparently specialized in making and selling DVDs of movies that had yet to become legally available on DVD (this was the early 2000s). On one particular day during my various treks back and forth through the lab I overheard him having a heated argument with his connection about obtaining a DVD of the movie Excalibur.
Needless to say, Newman wasn’t exactly a fan favorite among his fellow lab workers. Oftentimes when they would cruise through my office to pick up paychecks or drop of expense reports they would vent about something rude he’d said to them, recount something he was supposed to have completed but hadn’t, or simply comment on how many food wrappers were littering his area that day. Thankfully, my interactions with him were minimal due to his distaste for getting off his lab stool.
Then one day Newman got fired. Not just a warning or a polite “we’ll call it a layoff,” but an out-and-out “pack up your personal belongings and you’ll be escorted off the premises by security” firing. I didn’t know it was coming, but apparently all the lab employees--who had repeatedly complained about him to the department chairman--did, and when Newman saw their lack of surprise at him being let go, he went into a tirade, accusing everyone of being evil backstabbers. Then he stormed into my office.
“Did you know I was going to get fired?!” he demanded. And luckily, I could honestly tell him that no, I had no idea.
“Huh…well, then were you one of the evil backstabbers who complained about me?!” And, again luckily, I could honestly tell him no, I never filed a complaint against him, omitting the fact that we barely ever had direct interactions, but I did know that his cohorts couldn’t stand working with him.
“Huh…well, then would you like to go out some time?”
I believe my elegant response was something along the lines of, “Uh…what?”
“Well, I always thought you were pretty and you didn’t talk about me behind my back, and now I guess I’ll never be allowed back here, so do you want to go out some time?” he clarified.
At the time I was in the midst of one of my bullshit early-20s non-committed relationships, so I politely informed him that I was already seeing someone, leaving out that seeing other people was allowed.
“Huh…well good for you!” Newman huffed, and stormed out of my office to be (presumably) escorted out of the lab, never to be seen or heard from again.
Later that afternoon the lab manager stopped by and asked if Newman accused me of being an “evil backstabber,” as he had with all of them.
“No,” I replied, “but he did ask me out on a date.”
The lab manager paused, letting this sink in, then wrinkled his nose in disgust. “I think I’d prefer to have been called an ‘evil backstabber.’”
Had I been given the choice, that probably would have been my preference, too. Or maybe I missed out on a golden opportunity to enjoy a romantic Excalibur movie night in Newman’s mom’s basement.