The Office Vigilante
Caption: James Grover Thurber (1894 – 1961)
James Thurber’s 1942 humorous crime short story, The Catbird Seat, is among my favorites. I thought about using it as a discussion reading in my Democratic Workplace class in Riga, but because of several instances of American baseball slang – “Are you tearing up the pea patch? Are you hollering down the rain barrel? Are you scraping around the bottom of the pickle barrel? Are you sitting in the catbird seat?" – I decided to make it an optional item.
Mr. Martin, the hero of the story, has taken an intense dislike to Mrs. Ulgine Barrows and her “quacking voice and braying laugh” and “willful, blatant, and persistent attempts to destroy the efficiency and system” of the company. As a self-appointed efficiency expert she is wreaking havoc on the company by firing long-term employees. And, Mr. Martin understands that more changes are in the pipeline. Yet, she appears immune to criticism as the newly appointed special adviser to the president of the firm, a Mr. Fitweiler. When she begins to poke around Mr. Martin’s bailiwick, the mild mannered Mr. Martin uncharacteristically goes vigilante and plots ways to “rub her out.”
I enjoy the story for its masterful humor, of course, but also because Mr. Martin is a follower who takes action. If a criminal, and a bit of a priss, he is still an effective follower. His actions save the firm – in spite of Mr. Fitweiler’s flawed leadership - and Mr. Martin’s records department and life work survives for another day.