Eulogy for a co-worker and, at last, a friend

The old proverbs and axioms have lasted for centuries because they contain big bites of truth.

Most of the best axiomatic motherwit I've seen in our language stems from that great African-American musical art form, the blues.

I couldn't help thinking about blues wisdom last week when I heard that a 47-year-old former female co-worker had died of cancer.

Her life seems to me to be summed up by the old blues saw: If it wasn't for bad luck, she wouldn't have no luck at all.

I've been working 20 of the past 24 months at a small market research firm based in Seattle.

We call folks and conduct scripted surveys for corporations, municipalities and the United States government, among others.

We aren't selling anything and so we don't have to feel the shame and irritation of those benighted people who call you out of the blue and try to sell you carpet cleaner, or light bulbs for the blind, or The Seattle Times.

The job's two worst features are low pay and boredom. The powers that be frown on conversing with folks, even during a 20-minute health survey sponsored by the state department of health. "Read verbatim," the bosses are always reminding the interviewers.

This leads to almost terminal boredom. I've done the job simply because the hours are flexible, leaving me writing time, and because I need the extra money.

But being an oft-published writer has greatly eased my time on the phones for the research folk. I often wonder at the people who did that job and that job only, barely managing to eke out a precarious living.

Nancy was one of those people. She'd come to the phones almost 20 years ago and worked there until she was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. She was a nice person, albeit a bit odd. Never married, never even dated from what I could gather, lived in a tiny studio apartment after losing her berth at a group house she'd been at for more than a decade.

She filled her booth at work with pictures of Hugh Jackman.

Her conversation never revolved around real life but was always scenes from movies and TV shows. For whatever reason, her life seemed, to me, incredibly lonely, narrow and almost second-hand. I didn't peg her as a happy person.

She started coughing incessantly at the office in 2005. A dry rasping cough. A supervisor and I decided, with no medical degree between us, that her cough was psychosomatic. "She wants to quit but doesn't have the courage," Dr. Wilken pontificated.

This made the news of her cancer doubly hard for me to take. She was barely 40 and I had mocked her suffering.

I was very nice to her after that, instigated and then forced myself to listen to her terminally boring discussions of Star Trek, Hugh Jackman and such.

Maybe I'm missing something, but her life seemed so circumscribed. Another co-worker, a man she had a crush on, told me he'd heard she was mildly autistic. The routines of her life kept her on the path, however narrow it seemed to me. But I couldn't stop thinking of how full of life and joy and other people my life had been at 47.

Me, a guy who by rights shouldn't have even made it that far-I was a wild youth, not brag just fact.

I grew to like Nancy, pity leavened with affection.

It seems to me that if she didn't have bad luck, she would have had no luck at all.

I feel very sorry for her and I will miss her. She deserved a lot better than she got. And that happens to a lot more people than we, the relatively lucky, would like to think about. I hope she is at peace somewhere. Or maybe watching the Star Trek reruns she liked so damn much.[[In-content Ad]]