It was unfortunate that Falstaff, the corporation's resident computer genius assigned to my branch office, regarded office memos as a target for his sense of humor. At one time or another, we have all suffered evidence of this. When Perlmutter arrived in August, with his reputation for perfect memo writing (referred to as the ''Beethoven'' of office memo writers), Falstaff seemed to rise to the apex of his infamous career.
In all fairness to Falstaff, Perlmutter was too diagrammatic in his memo writing. Sometimes his memos were so concise that we could only guess what he was trying to say. And he avoided corporation jargon so totally we would have relished some. But, in fairness to Perlmutter, Falstaff went too far in his mimicry. We finally resorted to the blocker of office memos, Gummidge, to try to slow Falstaff a little.
When Falstaff started intercepting Perlmutter's memos and fooling with his diagrams - making funny faces out of them - few of us thought it was amusing, although Harris did and I chided him for it. I summoned Falstaff to my office and spoke severely. He was repentant for a week. But on Wednesday, some of us began to get memos over Perlmutter's signature that were jargonized to the extreme.
How Falstaff intercepted the memos and performed the roguish deeds is less important than that he did so. Perlmutter complained and demanded I fire Falstaff; but you can count on the fingers of one hand the computer geniuses in the world; we didn't want to lose Falstaff. I did, however, call him in and read the riot act.
''Look, Arnold, it would be nice if you would refrain from antagonizing Perlmutter,'' I told him. ''Yes, a few of us chuckled over the memos - especially Heinze and Rapaport, but all this is causing me problems with the home office.''
It was not that he meant any harm, Falstaff maintained, it was just that Perlmutter's memos were too perfect, like lumps of ice, and he was adding a little humanity. I emphasized to Falstaff that while I appreciated his point, the efficiency and productivity of the office were involved. I exploited our long friendship.
Two weeks passed with blessed routine. But on Tuesday we got tiny parodies of Perlmutter's memos that were impossible to read even with a magnifying glass. ''What Perlmutter writes can be said on the head of a pin,'' Falstaff argued in defense.
I felt something drastic must be done. I had the obligatory talk with Falstaff and repeated what I had said before. He was more penitent than usual, it seemed to me. Nevertheless, I took away his memo pads, ordered him to eschew the copiers, and commanded Supply to issue him pencils only. I also instructed Gummidge to make his No. 1 priority the employment of his considerable talent in blocking further efforts by Falstaff to mimic Perlmutter's memos.
It was no good. Falstaff thrived on this sort of challenge. He easily circumvented the supply department, and with a modest extension of his intellect , Gummidge, although Gummidge put up a scrap. Falstaff developed a system of memos in time-released disappearing ink, so that all Gummidge ever discovered for his trouble were pieces of paper in various stages of blankness, while the actual Perlmutter parodies got through. It was nice when Perlmutter was assigned to another office and things got back to normal.