Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"The brownies are ready!"

Back in the mid-20th century, I worked 15 years for The Christian Science Monitor, an international daily newspaper published in Boston, Massachusetts. At first, while finishing college at Boston State, I was a night watchman. We were not "hosts." We simply watched. One of my jobs was to sit in my car and watch the grass in the church park from midnight until 7 a.m. On summer evenings, couples from nearby universities sometimes used the park's privacy for canoodling. When this happened, our instructions were clear. We simply activated the remote-control underground sprinkler system.

After college, I worked in the Monitor reference library. Here we had 15 minutes to answer questions from editors. "How do you correctly spell the name of this Palestinian refugee camp?" "What did President Reagan really mean last night when he said......".  I learned telephone extensions at the White House which skirted the unresponsive press office, and became phone pals with a lady named Rhonda at the PLO Mission to the UN. She could spell all the refugee camp names.

This demand for accuracy was more than academic. It was based on love for Monitor readers around the world. When Mary Baker Eddy founded the newspaper in 1908, she insisted it should "injure no man, but bless all mankind." The editors I worked for were dedicated to problem-solving journalism. "Never leave the reader feeling helpless," was a newsroom motto. This love came back to us each June when the church held its Annual Meeting. Open to members only, thousands waited in line to attend the event, and later toured Monitor offices, expressing gratitude for our work.

For me, the love of the Monitor was best expressed in the cafeteria. For 50 years, it was on the 9th floor, and when I worked there, the cooks all appeared to be grandmothers, possibly widows, who were devoting their lives to service. Even though we had 1,600 employees, the cafeteria ladies seemed to know most of us by name! Each department -- accounting, advertising, circulation, and even the newsroom, had a "cafeteria contact." On frigid winter mornings, before making lunch, the cafeteria ladies prepared tray-upon-tray of delicious brownies. Around 10 a.m. they called each department contact and spoke only four words, "The brownies are ready." Contacts then visited the desk of fellow workers, collecting nickels from anyone who wanted a warm brownie. They took their change to the 9th floor and returned minutes later with a plate of fresh brownies and napkins. We all knew why the brownies tasted so good.  The cafeteria ladies' secret ingredient was love.

Times have changed since then. The cafeteria is gone now. But some say that if you go to the 9th floor and stand just outside the elevator doors on a cold winter morning, you can still smell the brownies, and feel the love that baked them.

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