15 August 2012

human resources.

Just like any good American, I am exceptionally lazy. I haven't really developed this failing into a full-blown life strategy, but I think it's safe to say that I try to accomplish as few work-related tasks as possible during any given workday. In some ways, my lack of personal industry is a challenge in its own right—because I must consistently maintain the illusion of productivity and usefulness while at the same time frittering away hours of the workday chatting on the phone, shopping online, running personal errands, staring out the window, eating lunch, doodling, contemplating the abyss, and—of course—posting to this blog.

When I used to have a U-shaped desk, one of my habits was to sit at the section of the desk that faced the back wall of my office (away from the door), to arrange several important-looking reports at various analytic angles in front of me, to place a pen (cap removed) in my right hand—as if on the very brink of inscription, and then to prop my head up on my left hand and close my eyes for fifteen to thirty minutes at a time. I used to picture myself riding a large billowy cloud, white as Miracle Whip, at exhilarating speeds through the sky until I arrived someplace unfathomable like Botswana or Papua New Guinea. It's not that I particularly wanted to go to these godforsaken shitholes, but if x is here (this city, this building, this desk)—then Botswana must be -x, right? Instead of vendor reports and G/L distributions, I can look forward to strange bacterial infections and the struggle for mere subsistence—I can experience the hardscrabble, priority-changing life at the flip side of the self-actualization triangle. 

The days of the half-assed workplace siesta came to an abrupt end a few years ago when a taxi, trying to avoid a head-on collision with another driver, careened off the nearby road and drove into the building's waiting area and then, unable to wait, into my office. Sections of the desk were crumpled and splintered. A broken water main saturated the speckled commercial-grade carpeting. The tranquil workday idyll I enjoyed in my sparsely trafficked wing of the building had been interrupted by a renegade Dodge Caravan and three toppled filing cabinets. And as they say, you can't go home again.

I write to you today from the other side of the building, where I was promptly installed during the clean-up and reconstruction. My current office is small and blindingly-illuminated by four banks of overhead fluorescent lights. There is a window, yes, but it looks out onto a bland courtyard where you'd expect to find prisoners playing basketball or shivving each other. Worst of all, I am in a bustling, noisy part of building. As I look out my door, I can see the postage meter, the copier, and a small paper supply area—all of which function as a water cooler of sorts, around which people inevitably gather and insipid conversations occur. 

My office neighbor—I'll call her Sandy, for the sake of discretion—is a loud-mouthed southern Michigan woman (and if you're acquainted with that region, you'll know how descriptive of her character that geographical information truly is). I'm sure it's an existential crisis she is incapable of putting into words, but I'm fairly convinced that the only way she is certain of her own existence is when she's talking. Consequently, Sandy has never met a gentle, restorative silence she didn't want to fill with her glass-shattering voice. It's the kind of harsh, bludgeoning voice which, at normal volume, can be heard at almost any location in the building—but, as you might imagine, being separated from her by only a cheaply paneled wall allows her violent pitches to bore through my skull at all times as though I were being trepanned. I can clearly and without any effort hear all of her telephone conversations, whether work-related or personal; you might suppose that this would gratify a voyeuristic personality, and you'd probably be right—if she weren't one of the most boring people on earth. 

Whenever I'm on Facebook and I see some obnoxious 'friend' reporting the mundane details of her life in a status update, I reflexively blame Facebook for inflicting this kind of narcissism on society. But then I remember Sandy. She's been polluting the airspace with the minutiae of her unambitious, humdrum, Midwestern life for decades without the aid of modern technology. No matter how busy I might be (during those few hours when I'm actually productive), she will think nothing of standing outside my office, slurping her too-hot coffee (which makes me want to murder her with my bare hands), and telling me some screamingly boring story about what her cat did last night or how she and her (poor) husband went bike riding last night and got ice cream. I'm never quite sure how to respond when I am told uninteresting things like these. There's nothing funny about them, so laughing is out of the question. They aren't really remarkable in any way, so an expression of surprise or delight doesn't seem appropriate either. When I stare at her animated face telling me this non-stories, I feel as though my face must look like Droopy Dog's. I am too exhausted by other people to even feign an active response; this sort of 'dead air' reaction usually serves as a signal to attentive conversationalists that their company is not appreciated, but not to Sandy of course. She merely needs someone there, filling the space, so that she isn't a crazy person talking to herself. When she talks, it's as though her mouth is shitting—nothing more. She's not endeavoring to communicate something to you so much as she is trying to bask in her own selfness.

But enough about Sandy for now. Next to her office is Roger's, whom I disparagingly refer to as The Giggler, for the self-explanatory reason that his only function in the office seems to be to giggle (loudly) on the phone all day. (Do I even need to tell you he's a salesman?) I am very intentionally employing the verb giggle here rather than laugh or any other synonym because his giggling is very much of the teenage girl variety.

I guess I should tell you this right away so that it fleshes out the character study a little better: Roger is apparently a gay man who has little or no idea that he's gay. For the longest time, his cellphone text message notification was the sound of Samantha's magical nose twitch on the TV series Bewitched. Need I say more? Okay, then I will. He is a bald, overweight, goateed man in his upper forties who also fake bakes regularly and rides a motorcycle while wearing leather chaps. And he giggles—continuously—like Heather and Amber discussing cute boys at a sleepover. There's certainly nothing wrong with being gay, but the unfortunate thing is that he has a wife and two sons—none of whom apparently have any suspicion that their patriarch is a textbook example, in the gay fetish community, of a bear. 

Occasionally, it has been my fate to go to lunch with Roger—and nothing embarrasses me more than when he tries to pretend that he's lusting after some 'hottie' standing in line at the Subway. Sometimes I almost expect him to pull out index cards from his pocket so that he can get his lines right. It's as if a casting director hired Rickie from My So-Called Life to play Tucker Max.

All day long, sitting in my cramped, always uncomfortably warm office I am bombarded by the conversations of Sandy and the giggling of Roger. (There's also Paul, a new guy in the office, but I'll save him for another blog entry. He probably deserves more in-depth psychological analysis than I am capable of providing.) My blood pressure is like a pot of macaroni boiling over on the stove. The halcyon days of staring off into space have forever been replaced by imbeciles standing outside my office complaining that they don't know how to use the postage meter (we've only had it for four years now), Sandy in the office next door speaking extra-loudly to her mentally challenged (for real) brother, telling him that he should buy the store-brand bottled water rather than the expensive Dasani, and Roger, further on, firing off a machine-gun-like fusillade of giggling.

My desk no longer has a section that faces the back wall, so I can't really turn my chair away from this bleak, maddening world without arousing suspicions. My resultant frustration with this office location fast forwards in my mind to scenes of Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Sure, writing this blog entry provides a release valve of some sort, but I really can't make any promises that one day I won't suddenly—seemingly without any warning—unleash a primal scream that tears the fabric of the frivolous world to shreds and walk out of the building in my underpants, across the ocean, all the way to Botswana where I will spend the remainder of my days muttering to myself about the proper operation of the postage meter.

19 comments:

  1. David! I actually LOL'd a few times!
    "I'm sure it's an existential crisis she is incapable of putting into words, but I'm fairly convinced that the only way she is certain of her own existence is when she's talking. "
    and
    "It's as if a casting director hired Rickie from My So-Called Life to play Tucker Max."

    Great stuff!

    And I couldn't help but think of this George Costanza moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd9ma2UVLHM

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    1. Thanks, Janice! I'm glad my pain at least provides laughter for others. It has to have some purpose.

      It's interesting you should post a George Costanza clip because I have SERIOUSLY thought about taking a nap under my desk (like he does). There is a very small chance I would ever be caught--but if I did... that wouldn't be very pleasant.

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    2. there's a hidden link there, under "office cleaning lady"—it appears only when you hover over it, though.

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    3. I won't follow his example with that one.

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    4. "I'm glad my pain at least provides laughter for others. It has to have some purpose."

      At least you have a stable job! I wish I could bitch about co-workers or the general misery of working! The legal job market is in the toilet, and I am both under-qualified and overqualified for most available positions. No one will hire me! WAHH!!! :(

      And here is your next blog post: "It's Not a Lie, If You Believe It" - The Practical Application of George Costanza's Timeless Aphorisms. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vn_PSJsl0LQ

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    5. I take it your co-workers are avid readers of your blog?

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    6. No............

      I hope not..........................

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  2. Wait, have we talked about this before? I work with Sandy, too!

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    1. Sandy is everywhere*. Just like god.

      * Or at least her voice is.

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  3. "firing off a machine-gun-like fusillade of giggling"

    I love this image. In fact, it made me fire off my own machine-gun-like fusillade of giggling. Maybe I'm the Roger of my office?

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    1. If the leather chaps fit, Wilson...

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    2. In case you weren't sure, David, I'm Chris Wilson from Goodreads. The guy with three sons and a wife who have no idea that I'm totally gay and that I giggle a lot when I'm at work.

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    3. Don't worry. I knew who you were. I heard your Bewitched text notifications from here.

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    4. That Bewitched notification killed me. Hang on to this job - it is a wealth of material for your writing career.

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    5. I mean, you couldn't even make this shit up.

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  4. Sandy sounds like my mother.

    I wish I had the descriptive powers to capture my co-workers and work environment. My "gay" co-worker is a devout evangelical who never came across a man on a ladder whose ass he didn't position his face next to; another one, a woman that smokes like a chimney and looks like Keith Richards, is apparently intent on dying on the job; there's another who had the courage to divorce her abusive husband but then parlayed her alimony into a boob job and set out to land another abusive mate.

    When the opportunity presented itself a few years ago, I leapt at the chance to work the swing shift. I only have to see them for about thirty minutes at the beginning of my day and am all by my lonesome the rest of the time. But sometimes I miss them. I drive a lot for my job and our endlessly barren landscapes, particularly when juxtaposed with drawn-out summer dusks and NPR pledge drives, magnifies the squishy malaise of my work-a-day life. Better the fires of hell than the ennui of purgatory, perhaps.

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    1. there's another who had the courage to divorce her abusive husband but then parlayed her alimony into a boob job and set out to land another abusive mate

      I had a bitchy, obese coworker--she's since been laid off--whose daughter used her disability payments to pay for a boob job. She's also the one who came into work one day and said to me, 'Did you see the news story this morning about the guy who's wanted by the police? That's my brother.'

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  5. This was one of your best blog posts yet! It's times like these I relish working from home.

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