The buzz of fifty voices and telephones ringing reverberated off the glass enclosed offices surrounding the fish bowl of sales people. Someone rang the bell at the back of the office. The sound of cheering filled the room.
Each of us clapped Ted’s back as he returned to his desk waiving a ten thousand dollar order above his head. Silhouettes appeared in the windows at the front of the room nodding approval.
“Hey Fannie, look, the Green Branch is at it again,” said Ted pointing to the other side of the room as he returned to his desk.
The Branch Administrative Manager, his head crowned by short waves of steel-gray hair complete with a receding hairline and a small balding patch on the top of his head. He offset his hairline with a mustache and beard, which arrived at a point on his chin. A slender man, wearing a fitted green vest, he walked like Charlie Chaplin the length of the office behind the receptionist. She never noticed.
He stopped next to Carl’s desk.
“Look man, why not make it an even fifty, then you won’t have to pay any surcharges for partial packages,” said Carl to the caller on the phone. Pausing to listen, he looked up at the Green Branch. “Thanks man, you won’t regret it. We’ll get in on tomorrow’s truck.”
Carl hung up the phone.
“Carl, why do we have to have this conversation every month?” asked the Green Branch scratching his beard. “Everyone else can get their expense reports in on time except you. I would like your expense report on my desk before you leave today.”
“Hey look man, I’ve been really busy,” said Carl shifting in his seat, his telephone ringing. “Can I get it to you on Fri. . .”
The Green Branch leaped into the air, over Carl, landing with precision on the far side of Carl’s desk.
Walking back to his office he said, “Before you leave today.”
The six people standing in line at the Green Branch’s office door applauded.
Two days later the memo announcing a major computer upgrade glowed like the midday sun from our mail boxes.
Later that morning the Green Branch walked to the back of the office. He rang the bell. The cheers died on our lips. We could hear our own breathing as he walked to the front of the office, even the phones quieted.
In a calm voice he said, “May I have your attention please. I have an announcement to make and it is very important to all of you that you hear this. As you know, I will be tied up with the computer upgrade and will need to work without interruption at various times before the conversion as dictated by the IT department at corporate.”
He lifted a oversized sombrero from the desk in front of him. Intricate silver scroll work surrounding colorful jewels glittered from the black felt.
The Green Branch continued, “What I hold before you is the Sombrero of Invisibility. When I am wearing this hat, you cannot see me or speak to me, I am invisible. Is that clear?” He placed the sombrero on his head and walked back into his office.
At random intervals over the next three weeks, the Sombrero floated through the office.
The next Monday new computers adorned each of our desks.
Arriving before anyone else, I sat at my desk admiring the new computer. Turning it on, the welcome screen scrolled across the monitor followed by the login prompt. Entering my password, I held my breath. The upgraded software appeared on the monitor in half the normal time. I breathed out.
The Green Branch entered the office. His shoulders hunched and dark circles under his eyes.
“So Fannie, I see you are here early,” he said walking over to my desk. “So how does it look?”
“Wow,” I said, “I can’t imagine what you went through to get us here, but this is great.”
The rest of the sales staff filtered into the office. The phones rang and the buzz of fifty voices filled the room.
The sombrero hung like a wreath on the door of the Green Branch’s office.
Several years later, I followed in the Green Branch’s footsteps at a smaller company.
“Richard, I don’t know how I am going to manage the computer upgrade at the office without pulling my hair out,” I said over dinner.
“Fannie, why don’t you use the Sombrero of Invisibility.”
“Richard, that’s brilliant. I forgot all about it.”
The next day after work I walked in to the local costume and display shop.
“May I help you?” asked the clerk.
“Yes, I am looking for the most outrageous sombrero you have,” I said explaining the history of the Sombrero.
“I love it,” said the clerk. “None of our sombreros will fit the bill, but if you can give us a couple of days, we have a few very creative people on staff, we can put something together for you.”
Two days later, I returned for the Sombrero.
The clerk brought a red, orange and yellow hat box to the check stand. Someone wrote “Sombrero of Invisibility” in calligraphy across the top of the box in silver ink. She removed the lid and the tissue paper. Inside sat a black felt sombrero with silver scroll work and glass jewels. They affixed a bright green twig to the left side of the hat in homage to the originator of the Sombrero.
At the Monday morning staff meeting I told the story of the Sombrero.
“Fannie, that is too funny. We’re with you,” said one of the staff.
A few weeks later the Corporate IT staff arrived two days ahead of the conversion.
“Fannie, what’s with the sombrero?” asked Tony, one of the IT technicians.
“It’s the Sombrero of Invisibility. I borrowed the idea from a former employer, and it’s worked great.”
The IT staff stared at me.
“I don’t get it,” said Tony, trying to judge my sanity.
After explaining the history of the sombrero to them, Tony said, “Oh, we need that for the other offices, can we borrow it when we’re done here?”
The Sombrero traveled like a garden gnome after our conversion. Pictures appeared in my e-mail over the next several weeks, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Charlotte, New York and Honolulu.
The Sombrero gained fame as it traveled to most of the offices in the company. At the end of the conversion, it did not return to Seattle. I heard through the grapevine, one of the IT staff put it in a glass case near the employee entrance with a note, “Do not break in case of emergency, the key is available upon request at reception.”
I have no idea what the Green Branch is up to these days, but if he ever heard the story, I believe he would laugh.
To all the Green Branches out there, thank you for your inspiration.