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On the 29th floor of a skyscraper, in a city that wasn't Chicago, I'd started a new job. And Mary Tyler Moore worked there in the Human Resources department.
I'd been a fan since her eponymous show and was in awe of her. After her success on television, it was hard to believe that she'd ended up in this no-name company. But fortunes change so quickly in entertainment and there she was, sitting behind a desk piled high with papers and forms, smiling her famous Mary Tyler Moore smile.
Of course she was popular with all my coworkers, and it was clear she had her favorites. I wanted desperately to be among them.
So I began making excuses to drop by HR. To clear up a minor matter in person that could have been resolved by email. To ask a question about something I should have known. To find excuses just to say hello.
I knew I was trying to ingratiate myself with her. And I could tell Mary knew it, too. Yet she never let her irritation show. Not much, at least.
One Friday afternoon, after just such a visit, I went to the restroom before returning to my desk. Before I could finish, Mary walked in.
She walked past me as I stood at the sink without saying a word, went into the last stall, and closed the door behind her.
This wasn't an interaction I intended or even wanted. It was too personal, too intrusive, too embarrassing for both her and me. My attempts to get to know her had taken me to a place beyond politeness and propriety. I'd gone one step too far.
Now, Mary Tyler Moore was going to the bathroom just a few feet away. And I could tell, based on the sounds coming from the stall, that she was impatiently waiting for me to leave.
I left the restroom, my face burning. I got into the elevator, praying that no one else had seen. I went down to lobby and walked out of the building into the cold dark afternoon of a Friday in winter, without my coat or bag.
How could I return to work on Monday, I wondered, and face her the next time we met? Maybe, I thought, it would be best if I didn't go back at all.