Yesterday a newly hired clerk/page for the substitute pool was being quietly trained in on the computers. I met her only in passing and whether she one day gets real, regular hours at my library or I barely ever see her again remains to be seen. But unbidden, when I saw her, I thought "Who are you this time?"
People, amazingly, all manage to be discrete individuals. You'd think after a hundred or so of them they'd just start repeating themselves. "Oh, that one." You'd say. "You mean I have to use a new name for them?" But even though that is not true and people unfold in infinite variety, everything unfolds in infinite variety, there is some weird place where it is true. There is, for instance, some quality of role fulfillment in a work place, over many years, to the people who have been there long enough, where even if a new person isn't some bizarre clone of some previous employee, they do echo them. There is some slot, some battle suit, some role that they step into. The commonality might be made up of a hodgepodge of often superficial similarities and the more that role, in the work community, hungers for a fresh representative, the fewer commonalities are required for a new employee to become the new "Mike" or "Betty" or "Vicki". Do we need a new butterfly, a workhorse, a socially isolated manager's friend? Do we need a rabble rouser, a gung-ho type, a miss sleepy, a grumbler, a rule-hound? How about someone who gets into everything, or a screw-up, or an affable up to no good? You could be that person. It just takes anywhere from seven to fifteen shared traits and an open slot. Do you know how many traits you have? Thousands! Hundreds of thousands if we're willing to go into detail, and just nine medium small ones can make you the new Belinda. Maybe you care for your parents, work Belinda's old hours, have the same hairdo, have a similar sense of humor, are in your 50s, have an accent, can't work fast, are friendly, dress up, are always on the phone. Social cultures are like living organisms. They will eat you and try and assign you a role. If all goes well you'll be mostly happy with the one you get. Over the years you can put your own polish on it, reinvent it a little, even redefine a section or two, make it your own. And after five or 40 years, when you leave, there will be a giant venus flytrap in the place where you once stood, eager to devour any new hire that can vaguely fit all the social culture needs you left behind.