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The Guy at the Front Desk

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

The older I get, the more I am convinced my brain is run by an analog system in a digital age.

I suppose it makes sense. I was born before computers were “a thing”, when library books were searched using a card catalog and the Dewey decimal system.

Mr. Dewey’s system bridged the digital gap. Mine did not.

The way I see it, my brain works like a pre-computer filing system. Every bit of data I own is kept in a file inside a manilla envelope. There are rows upon rows of tall black filing cabinets in my brain, all in alphabetical order, situated by topic.

The only way to access these files, and thus the information they contain, is to go through Brian.

I’ve imagined Brian for years, but he was properly named a few years back when a friend texted me something about her brain, but her phone autocorrected it to “my Brian”. That sealed the deal.

The name of the guy at the front desk of my brain is Brian.

Brian and I have a love-hate relationship. He is reliable … most of the time.

Brian doesn’t always put things back where he got them. I will need a bit of information, often just one word, and he will dutifully grab the file, providing me with the word, no fuss.

The problem comes the next time I need the word. I’m trucking along with my sentence when I am stopped dead in my tracks. Brian can’t find the word. He’s running around, frantically searching cabinets. Sometimes he finds it, having placed it in the wrong cabinet or perhaps having misalphabetized it in the correct filing cabinet.

More and more, I am finding that Brian gets lazy. He thinks it is efficient; I beg to differ.

Brian will notice that I have used a piece of information with some level of frequency. Instead of having to run back to the same filing cabinet over and over, he figures he can just keep the file on his desk. A stack starts to form.

Every so often, Brian goes through the stack and pulls the files I’m no longer accessing regularly. When he has some downtime, he returns the files to their homes. Unfortunately, this is not a fool-proof system.

On more than one occasion, Brian has dropped the stack of files, typically out of sheer clumsiness. No judgment. The files go flying. Some may even slip under a nearby cabinet, never to be seen again. In his embarrassment, Brian hastily picks up the mess of strewn files and shoves them into the nearest filing cabinet. He rushes back to his desk and acts as if nothing has happened.

Unfortunately, the next time I need information from one of those files, Brian has no clue where he put it!

Having been born in the late 1970s, Brian picked up the nasty habit of smoking. He knows I hate it, so he tries to slip out, when I’m not looking, for a quick smoke break. More frequently than I’d like to admit, Brian has been out for a smoke, or out to lunch, when I desperately needed him.

Often I can cover for his mistakes. Sometimes I’m left with egg on my face. I simply don’t have the word or information I need. I know it’s in my files … somewhere.

And then there are those times when Brian doesn’t realize the timeline of a request for information. An hour or so later, he presents me with the much-needed-at-the-time information. Too little, too late.

As he’s getting older, Brian has also increased his coffee consumption. He often has multiple coffee mugs on his desk at a time. With coffee mugs comes that familiar coffee ring on the paperwork left on his desk.

When I need a file that I recently accessed with no problems, Brian will hand it to me, now with a coffee stain. As I strain to read the information, it is blurry. I find myself squinting. I can almost make it out. Occasionally I am able to decipher the information after a few seconds of straining. Other times, I’m left to admit defeat.

A friend once asked me if I had considered firing Brian and replacing him. It’s complicated. He’s been with me my whole life. We grew up together. No one knows my system better than Brian. I also know what to expect with Brian.

And I don’t want to tick him off. I am almost scared to even think about replacing him. How would I even go about keeping that from him? If he caught wind of being replaced, he could ruin me. He could burn my files. Or worse: he could move them all around to places they don’t belong.

He’s not perfect, but no one is. He gets my jokes and sometimes even helps me write them. He’s 90% reliable. And, the 10% where he’s not, reminds me that we all make mistakes.

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