This morning I put in extra effort to get to work on time. And by on time, I mean 8:35, because today is birthday-cake-singing day at the office. A time when we all stand in a dark room with a crusty tile floor and “celebrate” office birthdays. I missed the last two, which earned me a double frowny face. So, like I said, I’m putting in the extra effort not to miss this one.
Our office is built in two sections — the upstairs staff works on internet marketing, the downstairs staff is direct mail. And never the two shall meet except on birthday-cake-singing days or when passing in the hall. Knowing I was going to be downstairs where someone might have a camera, I made it a point to wear nicer jewelry. I don’t know why jewelry matters when you’re singing happy birthday in the dark, but today it seemed to. A dab of perfume, a click of my watch band, a quick run through in my mind of everyone’s names. Jane, Mary, Dean, Joe.
Oh, Joe. Joe is our truck driver. Joe has been driving the direct mail truck for 20-something years. Joe is a stout man who’s bald except for some whispy white hairs on the sides of his head. Joe has most of his teeth, but not all. When he smiles, his eyes twinkle, but mostly you just notice the teeth he’s missing and the kindness in his smile despite being four teeth shy of a full set. When I first began working here, Roger asked me, “How old do you think Joe is?” I said, “Mmmm maybe early- to mid-60s?” Roger laughed. “No, he’s 47.” Joe is not married, and recently his father, whom he shared a house with and supported, passed away. It’s the only time Joe hasn’t smiled much, and I missed it.
As I thought about seeing Joe downstairs, I briefly grimaced at the inevitable awkward encounter. “Good morning, Joe!” I’d say. And he’d look at the ground and then back at me and smile — that big sorta-teethy smile. “Hi … hi Amanda! How are things going upstairs?” This smile has always confused me. Why do you smile so much, so big, so strangely when we pass in the hallway? Maybe this is how Joe smiles around women. He smiles happily because he can’t help himself? It makes me wonder why Joe is single. How a sweet, kind man—even a simple delivery truck driver—didn’t find a way to capture the heart of a quiet gal at church many years ago when he still had all his hair and teeth.
Maybe he gave himself away too quickly in that big smile and scared the quiet church girl away. Maybe he was one of those guys who never learned how to play it cool around girls. Whatever the reason, Joe likes it when we talk. And for today, maybe the best thing I can do is put on some shiny earrings and let him smile while staring at the ground.