FAIRFAX, VA–Bob Veblen, data technician and longtime office pariah at Integrated Systems Management, was deliberately excluded last Friday from a Chi-Chi's happy-hour get-together.
According to tech-support supervisor Marty Sowell, the 41-year-old Veblen was the only Integrated Systems Management employee not informed of the festive Mexican-themed gathering, held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Plymouth Road Chi-Chi's in Fairfax.
"I personally don't have anything against Bob, but I know that a lot of people around the office find him hard to take," said Sowell, who enjoyed a Super Cinco Sampler and two Chi-Chi's Margarita Grandes at the after-work "Salsabration." "[Receptionist] Marianne [Arbus] thinks Bob may have been trying to ask her out once."
Veblen, who is only tenuously aware of his outcast status, learned of the Chi-Chi's get-together upon arriving at work Monday. Entering the break room to put his Tupperware lunch container in the refrigerator, he walked in on a group of Client Services supervisors recounting highlights of the outing.
"Just as I walked in, I heard Pam [Grosvenor] talking about how some waitress was so ditzy she could barely count," Veblen said. "Everyone laughed and agreed with her. That's when I first suspected something."
As with most Integrated Systems Management employee outings, the Chi-Chi's get-together was orchestrated by a core group of Marketing Department secretaries. Sheila Kopecke, Tami Wetteland and Judith Shea were in charge of determining where the group would go and secretly informing their co-workers without Veblen's knowledge, either by stopping them at the water cooler or sticking Post-It notes to their computer monitors.
"We have to be really careful about how we spread word of these get-togethers," said Wetteland, who shared a plate of Chi-Chi's world-famous Sizzling BBQ Chimichangas with Kopecke at the latest gathering. "One slip-up and Bob finds out, and the whole thing is ruined. I can just imagine it: the strained conversation, the awkward silences–the whole anything-goes atmosphere of the Chi-Chi's Salsabration would be blown."
Looking back, Veblen said he recalled several colleagues behaving in a somewhat suspicious manner Friday afternoon.
"Now that I think about it, when I went into [supervising comptroller] Dick Schuman's office to drop off an expense-account report, he and Bill Budig suddenly stopped talking," Veblen said. "At the time, I didn't think much about it, but once I found out that both Dick and Bill were at Chi-Chi's, it sort of made sense."
"Then again," Veblen added, "maybe in all the commotion Friday, the gang just forgot to tell me about the get-together. I'm probably just being paranoid."
The Chi-Chi's outing is by no means the first from which Veblen has been deliberately excluded. In the past 18 months, he has been left out of two trips to T.G.I. Friday's, an evening of country line-dancing at Boomerang's and a trip to the Funny Bone comedy club.
Veblen added that he is also "increasingly suspicious" that the high number of Integrated Systems Management employees at June's Billy Joel/Elton John concert was more than a coincidence.
"A whole heck of a lot of the ISM gang went to the concert," Veblen said. "But, again, I don't want to jump to any crazy conclusions about some secret group outing everyone was invited to except me. After all, Billy Joel and Elton John are extremely popular, and it makes sense that a lot of people would all individually decide to drive to D.C. to see them."
Observers say Veblen is unlikely to shake his outcast status any time soon. Already, plans are underway for office manager Barb Gilchrist's going-away party in January, and steps are being taken to keep Veblen from finding out.
"A lot of people at the office are worried that Bob is catching on," said Wetteland, who is coordinating the farewell bash, to be held at a Fairfax-area karaoke bar. "Then again, even if he does catch on, I'm sure he'd never have the guts to confront us about it, so everything will be fine."
Veblen has worked at Integrated Systems Management for the past four years. He is unmarried and lives alone with his two parakeets, Jim-Jim and Ace.