When my youngest child started kindergarten, I began looking for a part-time job and soon started working in Oakland as a secretary for a retired businessman. Mr. Henry Bigge (prounounced Biggie) had started a hauling business with his father and built it into a large crane and heavy equipment company. You can still see Bigge cranes around town, and there’s a street named Bigge by the airport. My children loved the name Bigge, a employer out of a fairytale, and were delighted to catch an occasional glimpse of one of the Bigge cranes.
And it was a fairytale job, complete with what was then a state-of-the art IBM Selectric typewriter with correcting ribbon. Mr. Bigge had recently turned over management of the company to his son-in-law, but was used to going into an office every day. He had rented a two room office in downtown Oakland, and wanted a part-time secretary. I worked from 9-12 every weekday morning while my son was in school.
As for the work itself, there was almost nothing to do. By the end of the first week, I had organized all the files, and my duties consisted of typing an occasional letter, answering the usually quiet phone, and arranging lunch dates for Mr. Bigge and his buddies. But Mr. Bigge liked to hear me sitting and typing in the outer office–it was what he was used to.
At the time, I was trying to start a career as a journalist, and so I would go into work, bring Mr. Bigge the paper and coffee, and get to work on my articles. I would be happily typing away, and Mr. Bigge would be happily reading the paper. If I needed time off, I could take it. The good fairy herself couldn’t have found me a better job. During that period I wrote reviews for the Radcliffe Quarterly, had an article on recycling published by the East Bay Express, and did a review of Momix, the dance group that later became Pilobolus, among other things. I genuinely enjoyed my interactions with Mr. Bigge and his wife–more about that another time.
I worked for Mr. Bigge for over a year. After I left to take a full time job as a technical writer (I never did become a journalist), Mrs. Bigge called me and asked if I couldn’t come back. They couldn’t keep a secretary; they were all bored and wouldn’t stay. Apparently this fictional job only fit a fictional employee. But in our household, the Bigges are fondly remembered though not often mentioned.
Johnny goes to investigate a man at his office. The office seems flimsy, very minimal, and the secretary says he’s out. When pressed, she says he won’t be back that day. Johnny says he’ll come back tomorrow and finally gets the secretary to confess that the man is working on an extended offsite project, and hasn’t been in the office for six months.
Larry turned to me and said, “I wonder if she came on the recommendation of Mr. Bigge.”
It’s just kind of remark out of the blue and rich with shared history that is my favorite kind of one-liner from Larry.