OMAHA, NE—A casual greeting, delivered offhandedly by operations consultant Adam Harding, 27, triggered a 45-minute response from 32-year-old executive assistant Peter Sullivan on Monday.
According to Harding, his five-word pleasantry, reportedly "Hey man, how's it going?" was merely intended to acknowledge the physical presence of his colleague. Yet Harding, who has been employed by Morgan Consulting Partners since November, quickly found himself in an overly personal, seemingly unending one-sided conversation with Sullivan in a narrow hallway.
"I remember him answering 'Not so good, man, not so good, it's one thing after another,' and I almost kept walking by him, but then I realized he was continuing to speak," Harding said.
Sullivan embarked on a detailed account of the events of his weekend, highlighted by an incident Sunday in which his 2002 Toyota Corolla broke down when he was on the way to a veterinary clinic with his sick cat.
"I guess his cat swallowed something or had distemper or whatever," Harding said. "Then he talked about some warranty issue with the car, like the warranty had lapsed but he still had some sort of claim because some part was defective, and then he told this really long story about getting to the vet."
After several further cat-related anecdotes, Sullivan somehow arrived at the subject of the minor lower-back pain that has plagued him throughout the winter.
"I gotta " said Harding, gesturing in the direction of his cubicle as Sullivan cited various possible causes for the back pain, including his workload, the company's "shitty chairs," and stress brought on by a recent telephone conversation with his mother.
"Uh-huh," Harding added after six minutes of quiet nodding.
Harding's several attempts to extricate himself from the monologue, including checking his cell phone every 30 to 40 seconds and shooting wide-eyed looks of exasperation at any coworker who walked past, either went unnoticed or were disregarded by Sullivan. As the monologue continued, Harding increasingly felt the need to urinate.
"I thought things were finally winding down when he said 'Anyway,' but then he began mentioning problems he's been having with his girlfriend," Harding said. "When he looked right at me and put his hand on my shoulder, I knew I was in it for the long haul."
Harding admitted that he "botched" a chance to escape when Sullivan paused briefly as he recalled the last time he and his girlfriend had "really gone out and had a good time together." Harding said that he did manage to wordlessly open and close his mouth a couple times in the brief interim.
A mournful sigh seven minutes later allowed Harding the opportunity to say he was going to get a glass of water, prompting Sullivan to invite himself along to "stretch [his] legs." To Harding's dismay, the hydration only served to further stimulate Sullivan's thought processes.
"He called me into a nearby stairwell, and started in on this whole new thing about work itself, how everybody's always playing politics, and 'witch hunts' and 'backstabbing' and that sort of stuff," Harding said. "He said he was only saying these things because I was the only one who really seemed to 'get' him, and that no one talks to him anymore, probably because he's 'on to them.'"
As Sullivan said that he was "convinced" that the office web-page blocking policy was directly due to his supervisor walking in on him while he was reading an online gossip blog, a blocked ID call came in on Harding's cell phone. Characterizing the call as one he "absolutely needed to get," Harding quickly excused himself, even finding a bathroom on another floor of the building to lessen the chance of encountering Sullivan again.
The salutation and resulting litany marked the second time the two had ever spoken.
According to office sources, later that afternoon Sullivan engaged a front-office receptionist with an hour-long recollection of the tribulations he faced during middle school.