Oddly Office – Part One

Bloody mid-week meetings. Most meetings were a royal pain, but there was something about the halting presentation of this Wednesday morning meeting that got under my skin. It could’ve been the anemic coffee, caramel-colored water with a slight aftertaste of the real thing. If you took a firehose and aimed it at some coffee beans under the noonday sun, you’d get a stronger result than this.

It might have been the blasting light fixtures. Seriously, who needs that much light to shuffle paper around or type on a computer? Nearly blind monks? Assisted-living residents? I imagined the entire meeting room populated with elderly astronauts, each rhythmically raising and lowering their gold-tinted helmet visors to take sips of weak coffee before shielding their eyes again.

The meeting ritual was nearly complete, I could sense by the shifting of everyone in their seats that a concluding point had been made. Snapping back to the present, I smoothed my tie and hefted my ever-present organizer. Faded simulated leather with a small monogram, a gift after ten years of service.

Released, we all shuffled out of the room, glad to be somewhat trusted to navigate to our desks without having to fill out forms in triplicate. I had some notes that I needed to make a copy of, otherwise I was going to sit at my desk and space out for a while. I considered it part of my paid work/life balance program. One that I made myself, thank you very much.

Like most offices, our machines bore the brunt of our combined frustrations.

Bad day? Kick the copier in the paper tray, pretending the broken lock lever had been like that all along. Unfavorable review? Smash down on the three-ring punch, until the ill-fitting cover popped off, showering the carpet with circular confetti.

The result of such torture meant that what did survive managed to do so with a whisper of maintenance and nearly zero cleaning. My interim destination was the DocuMax 4000, a hulking machine that not only took the abuse, but growled and spit out collated copy jobs with the attitude of a caged jaguar.

Technicians, when they rarely were called, never turned their backs on this machine. I refused to either. Taking out a few notes, slapping them down on the still-warm glass, I brutally punched in the number of copies, < 3 > and hit the oversized green < START > button.

The DocuMax cranked and gurgled as electrostatics and shifting charges seared images into virgin paper stock, emerging from the slot, toaster-warm. In winter sometimes I made a few extra copies, just to hold them in my hands and let the heat soak into my aching joints. The small luxuries of office living.

I plopped down in my desk chair, glad to be in the semi-privacy of my cubicle. There were calls to be made, and emails to be sent. But you know what? This was my time. I had carved it out from the formless void of responsibilities with my own two hands, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t get my post-meeting “meditation” in.

“You coming to the Learning Lunch?”

I popped out of my pleasant dream, involving a few female co-workers and a bottle of champagne. Oh damn it all, I must’ve nodded off.

“Yeah, sure. Just have to get things sorted here.”

Satisfied, my co-worker popped back into the shuffling flow of office traffic. You’d think he was keeping tabs on me, but it was a ritual, this “learning” thing. God forbid we were left to our own devices during lunch hour. We had to sit around munching on sterile sandwiches, while feigning interest in some obscure business-related presentation. What a waste of time.

I rounded the corner a few minutes later, expecting pre-learning shop talk and casual conversation echoing down the hallway, but was met with only muted whispering. Odd. Even on Mondays people didn’t bother whispering anything here. Which was why I knew Sally had a bad date, Brad was going to punch his roommate, and Leslie was furious with her recent birthday gift.

I sat in a free chair, one of the oldest in the room, made back in a time when employees had a future and benefits meant something more than just being out of the weather. A few turned and nodded, but the rest were focusing on an indeterminate point in space, somewhere in the middle of the room.

That was odd, to say the least. I didn’t say much during the presentation, letting the words flow over me like water. I haven’t lasted this long by sweating needless details. Still, the lack of conversational banter bothered me like an untied shoelace.

The learning concluded, with crumpled sandwich wrappers and stray crumbs littering the meeting room desk. I had some more work to do since my pre-lunch nap had disrupted my schedule. Arriving in my favorite cubicle I saw a neon-orange note stuck to my monitor.

“Plz 10 copies, dept heads asap”

This shorthand meant I was to make ten copies of the clipped set of papers on my chair, and distribute them to the department heads, implying that it was an urgent job. I looked over my partition, trying to get a glance of who had copy-bombed me. Wasn’t this the admin assistant’s job? Never mind. It didn’t pay to make noise about random tasks. You just accepted and got on with it.

More copies. What a bother. Gathering up my assignment, I stomped off in the direction of the DocuMax, scowling.

(To be continued…)

Next — Part Two

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