Not everybody who can work the postage meter is a Great Secretary, no; but all fortunate people have known two or three great ones in their day, such as Miss P. Gussin who works for Caryl P. Haskins in downtown Washington.
She is an Investigative Secretary who finds out a good bit about everyone who phones her boss. She once asked me if I would be bathing my dogs on Saturday and I said no, I was going to Princeton but had to get cracking since the inn up there was booked solid. She said good luck and we went on with our official business.
Ten minutes later the phone rang. "I thought I could do it easier than you so I have two places in Princeton. There is this club you might like, then there is the Peacock Inn."
Ten minutes and I was set.
I once asked a question about some colored carp from Japan that I knew her boss raised. The next mail brought 14 issues of Rinko, a Japanese magazine about the carp.
Everyone who has ever dealt with her small office reports such things. Anyone who has such a secretary soon is spoiled, of course.
Credibility would snap at any full account of Miss G.'s amazing missions on behalf of the boss, but a recent one may serve to illustrate:
She got a phone call to pick up a package at the airport. It was from Paris. Ah, yes, she knew about that. A French scientist had told her he was sending a box of little glass jars with plaster of Paris in the bottom, ideal for collecting ants (which her boss was about to do in Australia). Out she went to get the jars.
The customs people had had time to get very suspicious. This white dusty stuff in the bottom. It looked like drugs.
Miss G. is experienced at explaining odd shipments. When your boss slops about in Trinidad searching for guppies with tracer genes and fetches rare endangered ants from Australia, and is moreover almost totally dependent on you to keep him out of quarantine, prison and Mad magazine, you learn to handle challenges effectively and with tact.
But in this case, time dragged on, and a phone call to Connecticut and various other efforts to indicate Dr. Haskins takes no drug stronger than Earl Grey tea did nothing to convince the customs people. They were not born yesterday, you know, and if there's one thing they can spot it's a hundred bottles of heroin.
Time continued to pass. Miss Gussin continued to charm, continued to explain, continued to sketch in the background. No dice. Finally they said she could have the jars once they were tested by the narcotics squad which would take a certain amount of time, naturally, and--
"I have been here forever," said Miss G. "I have done every reasonable thing I can think of to satisfy your doubts. I have had you talk to my boss. Nothing convinces you. Now you want to send the stuff off somewhere to be tested and no telling how long that will take, and I am not going to wait any longer, and you can take those jars and --well, you can just take those jars and OH."
For the first time, possibly, in a career of years she marched out. Angry. Mission unfulfilled. It's the talk of Washington. "Miss G. failed," people say. Such a thing was never heard of before.