Friday, September 6, 2013

The apple story

It's almost three o'clock. Sarah is in a panic. She's scrambling around her office, muttering and worrying about things she didn't finish. This is her last day at the company. She has a flight to catch in 45 minutes. She's fretting. What if those last files on her desktop are important? Should she move them to the exchange? What about these papers - what if someone needs them?

"And this!" she says, picking up an apple. "Maeve, do you want an apple?" And then we both freeze, stare at each other, and start laughing. "Like the beginning," she says, and delivers the apple to me with a hug. "My God," I say. "I may have to resurrect my blog for this story."

A few minutes later, with Darren and me heckling her to drop everything and get the hell out the door to the airport already, she flees the building and climbs into her car. "I'll be looking for the apple story," she calls out as she drives off.

So here it is.

Twenty-three years ago, the twenty-year-old Maeve was sitting in the Michigan Union, doubtless wearing a long, paisley skirt and some sort of vest, and I was regretting that I had left my apartment without bringing any money with me. I stared hungrily at the offerings at Dagwood's, a busy sandwich counter manned by several undergraduates in blue polo shirts and matching caps. What if I asked one of them for an apple? Apples were less than a dollar. Surely it wouldn't be a big deal. I scanned the employees behind the counter. That one looked mean. That one looked too law-abiding. That one might be okay: an affable-looking blond girl with a genuine smile. I waited until the counter was free of customers and approached her.

"Do I look like the kind of person you would give a free apple to?" I asked.

She didn't hesitate. "Red or green?"

That was Sarah. We became friends immediately. As it turned out, we had taken one of those huge University of Michigan lecture-hall classes together the year before, and the class used a computerized system called Versaterm, where you could send messages to other students listed in the class roster: I don't think this process was called "e-mail" yet. I had sent a message to someone named Sarah Doolittle, saying, "I like your name!" and Sarah Doolittle had responded cheerfully. Once we started hanging out, we realized that we had had this exchange. But the apple was our first face-to-face contact.

I worked at an establishment in the Union that had the distinction of being the smallest Kinko's in the United States. The manager was a certain fellow named Andy, who managed to be a responsible supervisor, a fascinating and eclectic individual, and a sharp dresser all at once. He impressed me enormously. As I was chatting over the Dagwood's counter to Sarah on my break one day, she said, "This place is bogue!" (Well, maybe she didn't say "bogue," but she could have, and it's one of our favorite words, so let's say she did.) "Put in a good word for me at Kinko's so I can get out of here, would you?"

I did, and Andy hired her (though I suspect that Andy had already been paying attention to the cute Dagwood's girl who was obviously sharp as a tack, so I can't really take full credit), and we worked at Kinko's. Sarah and I made copies of our faces and posted them all over the shop one night, and then she came over and met my four housemates, chain-smoking guys who were instantly thrilled with her. And then Sarah and Andy got a little more closely acquainted. And then they moved in together.
Oh, but the story only starts there. I eventually ended up at an American Speedy Printing on Main Street, where my boyfriend Scott worked as a printer. Sarah had graduated and needed employment, so I sang her praises to my boss, Bill, who hired her. Once again, Sarah and I puttered around behind a copy shop counter, machines whirring and orders piling up. The girls from the Heidelberg next door sometimes brought pitchers of beer over for us, which caused a few creases in Bill's forehead, but Sarah and I always shouted him down and he eventually joined us in making short work of the beer - discreetly and in the back room, of course. We cranked They Might Be Giants and the B-52s on the boom box, which we had bought ourselves through the entrepreneurial effort of taking small stacks of paper stock left over from large orders and selling them for two or three dollars each until we had enough. Bill got a kick out of some of our terminology and adopted it with enthusiasm, for example frequently calling out as midday approached, "What's for lunch, trollops?"
A few years passed. Sarah and Andy got married. She and I both continued working in various locations and offices of the print shop business, now called Allegra, although I was only working evenings since I had gone back to school. After I finished, I got an administrative gig at Legal Services in downtown Ann Arbor. For maybe two brief years or so, we did not work at the same company.  Then, in early 1999, I saw an ad for some sort of music and movie database company that had just moved into offices in downtown Ann Arbor. This sounded exciting to me. I pelted their e-mail inbox with my resumé once a week, assuring them in my cover letter that they desperately needed me. Eventually, perhaps just to shut me up, they gave me an interview with the director of classical content. As it turned out, this was because I had listed classical music in my "interests." Take note, job seekers: the "Interests" section matters!

I was hired at the All Media Guide as a "classical link editor," as we were called in May of 1999. I was surrounded by goofballs and eccentrics who knew everything about everything and were eager to talk about it. I loved it. I also suddenly had good health insurance, which led to Scott and me getting married at the mayor's office in August - with Sarah and Andy witnessing. At some point, as I prattled enthusiastically to Sarah about my new job, I saw the wistful look in her eye and said, "You should work there, too! You would be perfect!" She was working herself to death at Allegra, having moved upward into the stressful world of customer service, and she was ready for a change. We were hiring crazily, and the non-fiction video department (yes, such a thing once existed!) needed an assistant editor. Sarah interviewed for it, drastic pay cut be damned, and by August we were working together once again. It was a fledgling company with a grand vision and creative participants, and we were both excited to be a part of it.

The rest of the story, which spans thirteen years, is merely the story of a company transitioning. Suffice it to say that Sarah and our colleagues and I got older; people left; new people arrived; there were good times; there were challenging times; you know how it goes. The company moved out of downtown. It got bought. We both got promoted. We learned new things. Years passed. And here we are. Sarah's last day.

So Sarah handed me an apple before she left today, just as she once did in the Michigan Union. I didn't have to decide on red or green this time, though. It was both. Well, red and yellow. 

And, like its long-ago predecessor, it was delicious - and deeply appreciated.