This is a very sad tale of PC. That’s not PC as in Personal Computer. I’m talking about PC as in Politically Correct.
I landed in Oklahoma City in 1993 working the B-1 Bomber program, it was a fledgling program, supporting the bomber for sustainment software development. The program was set up in Oklahoma City, and our offices were located on Tinker AFB.
The great thing about working a new program and setting up a new site, is that everyone comes from somewhere else. Most of us were relocated from other Boeing locations: Huntsville, Alabama, Wichita, Kansas, and Edwards AFB, California, to name a few. Those sites’ programs were winding down and as happens in the STEM world, my new co-workers and I moved and congregated in Oklahoma for our next chapter.
We were men, women, couples, singles, divorced, married, Caucasian, Asian, tall, short, thin, not so thin, adulterers, victims, cute, not so cute; you get the idea. Most of us were in our thirties.
Our B-1 family started to take shape and soon we were dating each other (my first beau was from Seattle), eating lunch together, sharing after work happy hours, and soon we got to know each others’ families, kids, spouses, ex-spouses and the like.
When one of my co-workers was about to turn forty, I bought a piñata in the shape of a vulture to put over her desk. Being a few years younger, forty still had that mystery of being ‘over the hill’ and at death’s door. The vulture seemed a fitting purchase for the big 4-0. I hung it from the ceiling over her desk as a surprise.
The vulture was a big hit and it remained in place. Then a few months later another co-worker turned forty. I don’t remember who had the idea, but the vulture moved to perch over that person’s desk and a tradition was born.
The vulture eventually hung over each of our desks at least once. Rules grew from our use of the piñata. The bird was reserved only for fortieth, fiftieth and sixtieth year celebrations. It stayed hanging over a desk until another decade birthday rolled around and then it was moved to the next birthday victim.
I proudly left it over my desk for my fortieth birthday and sadly had to let it go only a few weeks later relinquishing it to a co-worker, born the same year as me. Others had the bird for months before another decade birthday hit. It was all in good fun.
Thirteen years the vulture made its rounds. It traveled with us as we moved from building to building around the base. We were reminded of our own aging as we moved from celebrating fortieth birthdays to the fifties and finally our oldest member turned sixty.
Along the way, someone made a green felt tie and put it around the vulture’s neck. He never was damaged and years later, looked almost as good as the day I purchased him.
Then PC hit. A friend of mine kept records of birthdates including the birth year, so we wouldn’t miss the big Any-0. All of a sudden no one had a birth year. At least that anyone was supposed to be privy to. And if one found out one had a birth year, one had to turn the other way and ignore that fact.
The vulture continued to make its rounds. Then one of our co-workers turned forty. Let’s call him The Jerk.
The Jerk complained to Human Resources about the fact that his birth year was common knowledge and tied to the vulture. Human Resources charged with being the guardian of all that is PC, ordered the vulture to an execution. The vulture was given its own going away party, complete with cake and ice cream. He ended up where he started, with the first birthday girl.
How dare we publicize someone’s age? Forget the morale that was built up among the hundred or so people that celebrated under the vulture’s watch. Forget that we had a tradition for over thirteen years.
Feelings are getting in the way. A proper response would have been to just say that you don’t want the vulture, thank you. We had a rule for that. The vulture goes back to the last birthday person. Situation solved. I’m not saying that there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed, but a birthday celebration that has years of legacy shouldn’t fall victim to one person who took offense that we all knew he was turning forty.
Can you just picture this guy? I’m sure he cringed at having to potentially answer any of these questions:
“You really look fifty, so you are only forty?”
“Hey good looking, you must not be a day over 30.”
What an ego. He lost his job a few years later. Word was he had a bad attitude. Really? I’d have never known! Can we bring the vulture back?