two large stacks of file papers messy

When Organizing Paperwork Gets Downright Ugly

I had a client a few years ago who was a referral from another long-time client of mine.  She didn’t want house cleaning, but help with organizing her paperwork, which was bursting at the seams in all corners of her house. Easy, I thought, as this was the part of the job I love to do.  Organizing is an art, cleaning is a skill.

So I accepted the job and went to meet her.  She was a 70-something New York City native who had recently moved to my neck of the woods to soak up some sun and relish in the joys of small-town living.  On the surface, she seemed confident, worldly and outspoken.  I would soon learn that these personality traits were code for brash, rude and in-your-face.

She was basically one of the vilest creatures I’ve met on the planet, although I’ve never met a honey badger but can only assume it would be delightful in comparison.  And it wasn’t the New York thing either. I’ve spent a lot of time in the The Big Apple and understand that the normal conversational tone for New Yorkers is machine-gun-like: loud and rapid-fire.  They could be telling you how nice you look but it comes out sounding like “You need to fix your face and your mother is a hamster.”  This was much more insidious.

So, at first, she was nice enough and was very grateful for the help.  She had stacks and stacks of bills and financial statements and random paperwork all over her small apartment speckling the floor like little anthills.  I went to work setting up a filing system for her and getting an organizational framework in place.

Then we embarked on the laborious task of tackling the mounds.  And those of you reading this probably appreciate how tedious this is—picking up each paper, reading it, and deciding if it gets tossed or filed.  If it gets filed, then which file does it go in?  I actually don’t mind this, being completely OCD.  But if you look up Attention Deficit Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, this lady’s picture would be front and center.  On top of that she had scary rage issues.

Each piece of paper we picked up would send her down the rabbit hole of anger and indignation.  She was completely furious at the phone company for charging her so much money and at her portfolio managers for her stocks not doing better.

So, each piece of paper resulted in an hour-long phone call to said institutions, berating and screaming at the poor service rep on the other end and probably resulting in more than a few of these unwitting victims quitting their jobs.  And she always had it on speaker phone so I had no choice but to sit there and listen to it all, wondering how this woman could possible think that just because she used to be an Ad Exec in New York that they should take $10 off her water bill.  I just kept my head down and wondered what noxious contempt the next piece of paper would hold.

It got so bad that in the few months that I worked for her, she had three different portfolio managers, each one apologizing, usually after a particularly venomous exchange, that they would no longer be able to assist her and one of their colleagues would be in touch.  Of course this would result in a tirade of all tirades about the ineptitude of the entire financial services industry and how she could do their job ten times better.

I pictured a whole floor of portfolio managers drawing straws to see who went next, with the hapless loser threatening to jump out the window if they didn’t redraw.  I guess after the third, they all threatened to jump because they dropped her as a client. They actually told her to find another company and transfer all her stocks there.  Like, in what universe does that ever happen?

As she slammed down the phone, I tried to contain my shared gratification with those managers, picturing them jumping up on desks, popping bottles of champagne and chanting, “The witch is dead, the witch is dead!”  Then I got a little concerned, as her face was slowly changing colors from a pale ivory to various shades of purple.  I saw veins pop out where I didn’t think there were any and I literately thought her head would explode right in front of me.

“We’ll work it out,” I squeaked and felt my fight or flight instincts welling up inside of me.  She looked at me with little squinty rage-eyes and opened her mouth like she was going to speak, or char my body with fire breath.  Oh oh, I thought.  But then she got up and went into the bathroom.  After a few minutes she came out much more composed and her head didn’t look like an eggplant.  I wondered what kind of anti-head-exploding drugs she had in there.

But this incident made me realize that it was only a matter of time before the Ragening would be focused on me. And it wasn’t long.  A few weeks after Financialpocalypse, her printer was acting up and she decided to buy a new one.  I helped her look through different models online and we picked one with good reviews from a reputable brand.  She would pick it up from the store and I would help her hook it up on my next visit.  Piece of cake, I thought.

Well I guess she got impatient and decided to set it up herself.  When she couldn’t do that she called the company, and when the company hung up on her she called me.  At 6 a.m., on a Saturday.  I woke up to the worst castigation I have ever had in my life.  The only words I could make out through the screaming was “idiot,” “moron,” and “incompetent.”  I tried to get her to explain to me what the problem was but she just kept going.  She couldn’t hear my pleas to calm down over her shrieks of wrongdoing and misrepresentation.

I had to put the phone down because my coffee-starved brain was not comprehending this onslaught.  Finally, when I sensed her rage was petering out a bit, I picked up the phone and screamed her name into it.  “WHAT!” she screeched back.  I calmly said, “I’m sorry, I will no longer be able to assist you.  You will have to find someone else.”  CLICK!  I hung up the phone just as the first letter of an expletive pierced the air.

“WHOOOO HOOOOO” I shouted as I jumped up and down on my bed, wondering if it was too early to pop a bottle of champagne.

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