NEW BRITAIN, CT—Paula Mooney, 29, a not particularly popular Sentinel Savings & Loan mortgage underwriter, was the recipient of awkward goodbyes from coworkers Monday, her last day with the company.
Mooney, who in two and a half years with Sentinel "never quite hit it off with the gang," was given a polite but emotionless going-away party near her workspace. Featuring an Entenmann's chocolate cake, Hi-C fruit punch, and a good-luck card signed by whomever happened to be at their desks when it was passed around, the 15-minute gathering met the minimum standards for a farewell fete.
"I never had any deep, personal grudge against Paula," said Barb Ridnak, 48, one of the nine Sentinel employees who chipped in to buy Mooney a $13 picture frame as a going-away gift. "But there was just something about her that rubbed me the wrong way. I don't know, there was a certain coldness about her. And a phoniness. When you talked to her, she always came off kind of, well, surface-y."
After avoiding eye contact with Mooney for the entire party, Ridnak encountered her in the women's rest room shortly before quitting time. Despite her distaste for the departing Mooney, Ridnak forced a grin and gave her an awkward goodbye.
"I said something like, 'It's going to be different not having you around.' Which I guess, technically, is true," Ridnak said. "Then, she gave a little nervous laugh and shrugged slightly. She didn't really say much, Miss Personality that she is. I guess she felt just as uncomfortable as I did."
Added Ridnak: "I'm not even exactly sure why she's leaving here. I think somebody said she's moving to Texas to be with her boyfriend, but I'm not positive."
Another employee who exchanged banal pleasantries with Mooney was receptionist Alana Hodge, 22. According to Hodge, Mooney was "her usual strange self."
"She asked me if her old phone extension was going to be retired," Hodge said. "I said we'd probably just give it to whoever takes her place. Then I asked her why she was asking. After this awkward silence, she explained that she was joking, saying she was such a legend, her extension would be retired. I was like, 'Oh.'"
In addition to criticizing Mooney's personality, coworkers used her departure as an opportunity to surreptitiously snipe about her work habits.
"At least we won't have anyone at Sentinel who thinks lunch hour is 70 minutes long," said personal-lending representative Eric Martel, 36. "I loved how she was always the last person back from lunch but the first person out the door at quitting time."
Mary Hoeving, 41, another personal-lending representative, said that when she saw Mooney's cleaned-out workspace, it was the first time she'd seen it clean since her March 1999 hiring.
"She was so disorganized," Hoeving said. "I think she kept her desk messy to look like she was working hard, but most people around here knew otherwise."
While a majority of employees were glad to see Mooney go, some were merely indifferent.
"She seemed okay enough to me," said Steve Melville, 40, a computer-network consultant. "Then again, we worked in different parts of the office, so I didn't see her all that often."
The most dreaded portion of the day was quitting time, when the staff was forced to say its final goodbyes. Afraid that she would have to hug Mooney on her way out of the office, Hodge took an elaborate, circuitous route to avoid passing Mooney's desk, slipping away undetected. Others shared her fear but nevertheless mustered limp waves and wan smiles. Ridnak urged Mooney not to be a stranger, telling her that if she ever "happen[s] to be in the neighborhood, [she] should swing by the office."
"I really don't know why I said that," Ridnak said. "After all, if she ever dropped by, I'd make myself plenty scarce. Not that she'd ever drop by, but still."