Benneeshore is hunched over a travel reimbursement claim (something like an expense report), muttering to himself, pulling his collar, rubbing his eyebrow, scratching behind his ear, all those things he does when life, the universe and everything don't quite happen as he expects it and he doesn't know what to do. I've come to recognize the signs.
Now he's looking around at me, then back to his own desk, then back at me, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. He's trying to decide whether to come to me with his little problem, whatever it is. Should I help him? Should I initiate the conversation? Well, why not, he IS here to learn and this could be a good opportunity to teach him something.
He's so relieved. "Oh yes, Marilyn."
"Bring it over here, then."
He scoops up a pile of papers and shifts over to my desk. We sit side by side, so the distance is not far.
"I'm doing this travel claim for the Director of Finance, Mr. von der Shulenburg."
"He's actually a baron. But we don't count those things anymore, of course."
This little tidbit of information seems to make his more upset for some reason.
"Well, I have his travel claim for his trip to New York to consult with the Secretary General of the United Nations."
"Yes, he does that quite a lot, they know each other."
"And I have all the documents, his plane tickets, his hotel bills, taxi receipts, they're all here, but . . . "
"But?" I suspect where this going. Everybody who learns to do travel claims seems to run into one particular problem when doing the travel claims of important people. Let's see if I'm right about this.
"He didn't mark the place where he's supposed to say if the hotel room price included breakfast."
I'm right. This is always fun.
"And that's a problem because . . .?"
"Because now I have to email him and ask him if he got breakfast at the hotel or not." Poor Benneeshore is clearly distressed.
"So how can I call such an important man and ask him something like that? Oh my God, I feel so silly, but we need it for the calculation of his Daily Subsistence Allowance, but it's just so ludicrous!"
"The rules apply to everyone, Benneeshore. But if it makes you feel any better, you can ask his secretary to ask him instead. She's used to it."
Now he's a little bit relieved. He turns back to his own desk.
The conversation reminds me of a song from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. I start singing it to myself. The staff in the big room are used to it; they ignore it.
"Duty, duty, must be done
The rule applies to everyone
And painful though the duty be . . ."
From behind me, Benneeshore's tenor voice supplies the last line.
"To shirk the task were fiddle-dee-dee."
We sing the tag line together.
"To shirk the taaaaaaaaaask, were fiddle-dee-dee."
"You know Ruddigore?," I ask him, quite pleased. "It's one of the more obscure shows. I'm surprised."
"I was forced to perform in most of them when I was young in the north. Mrs. Murgatroyd, the minister's wife, used to like to put on Gilbert and Sullivan but there weren't many people available to play the parts. I've done just about all the tenors. Some of the baritones, too."
"You did the Mikado, of course."
He sighs. "Several times."
"Then I guess I'll have to start calling you Nankipoo."
Irena, a young Russian girl whose English is fairly good but not perfect, turns around in her chair to face us. "Marilyn, I always don't understand what you say. Why you are going to call him Nankipoo? I shall now be Irena-poo?"
Benneeshore and I laugh together again. He has a nice laugh.