Margaret Harris didn't lard up her question with pleasantries. She aimed it right between my eyes.
"Why do people think secretaries are stupid?" she wants to know.
Margaret has the battle scars and background to wonder. She now serves as the only secretary at the Arlington Mill High School Continuation Program. Previously, she worked as a secretary in the Arlington County public schools for "close to 12 years."
Before that, she held the same job for a congressman. On the side, she received a bachelor's degree from George Mason University and has done course work toward a master's.
But all too often, someone will call the principal's office at her school and ask a question. Margaret will supply the answer. Even so, "the person insists that the principal call them back because I'm just a secretary and obviously don't know or don't understand their question," she says.
Subspecies of the same problem: people who say Margaret isn't doing her job correctly "although they've never been a secretary."
"I love being a secretary but I'm getting fed up," Margaret writes. "Your insight into this problem would be welcomed."
Here it comes, with engines roaring:
This is pure, unadulterated sexism.
It never happens to men.
It seldom happens to male secretaries.
It's the way the world treats women in "helper" positions -- and as Margaret knows only too well, women mistreat female secretaries just as often as men do.
Of course, there are times that only the boss's word or judgment will fill the bill. That's what being in authority is all about.
But Margaret gets "dissed" over everyday questions and concerns. She's sick of being pushed around by ego cases who think they're too important to deal with an "underling."
What callers often forget is that part of a secretary's job is to help her boss use time well. If a secretary simply passes along every two-bit call, that secretary is a revolving door, not an effective assistant.
Besides, if a secretary makes it her business to know answers, she's saving time for herself, for her boss and for the caller.
Secretary-disdainers miss another key point. They think they can browbeat a secretary and not have it come back to haunt them. Very, very wrong.
What do you think happens the second a bully-caller finishes his business? A secretary will alert the boss to the bullying. That will never help the caller cultivate a long-term relationship with the boss.
In my own business, Rule One is to handle secretaries with great care, both face-to-face and on the phone. They can stop us dead -- if we let that happen.
I hope secretaries all over Beltwaydom will discuss this column with their bosses. Maybe some day we'll hear this exchange:
Obnoxious caller to boss: "The secretary told me XYZ, but I wanted to hear it from you."
Boss to obnoxious caller: "When you hear it from my secretary, that's the same as hearing it from me."
From a mole deep inside the Defense Threat Reduction Agency comes a delicious irony -- in the form of a memo.
It was issued to the DTRA staff on May 7 by chief of staff Richard L. Towner. The memo trumpets the virtues of e-mail. It's "convenient and efficient." It "promotes dialogue." It's the "critical link to breaking down barriers and forging a true DTRA team."
Only one problem.
The memo was issued on paper.
SEND A KID TO CAMP
Do you have a taste for popcorn rock shrimp or barbecued chicken today? If so, you can help us raise mega-funds for our annual drive to send needy children to summer camp.
Each Wednesday throughout the summer, McCormick and Schmick's seafood restaurants designate one menu item as the "camp special." Every cent that's spent on that item goes directly into our camping till.
Today's camp items are the popcorn rock shrimp appetizer at McCormick and Schmick's (17th and K streets NW and Reston Town Center) and the barbecued chicken sandwich at M&S Grill (13th and F streets NW).
Many thanks to the McCormick and Schmick's family for their support. Same to all who munch on behalf of a needy child today, or any Wednesday for the rest of the month.
goal by July 30: $550,000.
In hand as of July 1: $169,970.01.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.