Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Office pet

At ten minutes after seven I park on the first floor of the parking garage, as opposed to the sixth where everyone else gets shifted. I stroll past the guard booth, sunglasses covering the worst of a face devoid of makeup. The girl in the booth waves and smiles and I return her greeting, just like every other morning. She likes me, thinks I’m funny. “Girl, you are just too much”, she always says. And I am, of course, but not exactly in the way she means.

I unlock the backdoor, walk through the kitchen and around the corner. My office is the second door on the right; the first is a storage room full of gadgets I’m glad I know nothing about. I unlock it, flip the switch and throw my handbag on the desk. Light floods the tiny room from the single florescent panel and it looks exceptionally bright after the damp shadows of the parking garage.

Three walls are papered in pale blue and the back wall is papered in white with small blue flowers. It was a doctor’s exam room when this suite belonged to a medical practice years ago – the mirror and paper towel dispenser are still on the wall over where the sink used to be. I often wonder, when work is slow and concentration is slippery, exactly how many people have been naked in my office. It just so happens that work is often slow and concentration is, more often than not, slippery.

The desk is a hand-me-down from assistants past – an old, unattractive brown affair with chips missing from corners and pieces of sticky tape that would require too much effort to remove. When I returned here (after a two year absence) it was against a side wall, leaving the computer visible to whoever decided to stand in the doorway. The woman they’d joyously gotten rid of in order to have me back was denied the privilege of moving the furniture, told that it would take the IT department sending someone to redo wires and such.

After two weeks back in the saddle I’d said to my boss, “I want to move my office around.”

“Ok”, she’d replied, then immediately pitched in with the rearranging of furniture. The manager in the office across from mine bundled up wires and reattached lines for me in record time. Then, I decided my walls were far too empty and they requested that someone from engineering build me a large set of shelves to hang. And a few weeks later, just like that, there were two men in uniform attaching a beautiful set of off-while shelves high upon the wall behind my head. I’ve always had a “thing” for storage.

This morning I notice that the big plant on my pretty white shelves is flowering. I usually can’t manage to keep a cactus alive. Indeed, the current resident of the blue bowl isn’t the original. I killed it almost immediately.

“You’re not going to water it”, the boss had said, sounding simultaneously amused and exasperated, after I picked it up at a farmer’s market on one of our famously long lunch breaks.

But I was in love with the bowl and imagining how the spidery vines would trail attractively down the front of my barren new shelves, so of course I bought it anyway. And for awhile it was perfect. But as predicted it was never watered and soon died, the dirt clumping together and the dead leaves crinkling up and curling in on themselves. It stayed like that for months before a fairly new employee from up the hall offered to repot it for me.

“I’ve got a plant that will look just lovely in it. Would you like me to take it home and fix it up?”

“Sure”, I’d said with a shrug. “Why not?” She was the same woman that had left a coffee cup (with my initials on it) on my desk at Christmas, along with a candy cane and a pack of cocoa arranged inside with red tissue paper.

And so this morning, the tiny pink blooms sticking up in the air make me smile – because they’re pretty, because they were free, and most importantly...because they came with their own watering lady.

I head back toward the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee. There’s a cup, two packets of creamer, three packets of Splenda, and a stirrer already waiting for me by the pot.

I amble down the hall, stirring the contents of my cup long after the packets have dissolved. It’s habit; I’ll stir it continuously after each sip. Stopping in the boss’s doorway, I lean against the frame and cross my ankles. I’m wearing leggings, a long shirt, and flats – the sort of outfit she’s repeatedly told me she hates. She looks up from a stack of paperwork and frowns at me, but before she can complain about my tardiness or my attire I say, “So guess what”, and launch into a dramatic story about someone I know.

Most arguments or complaints can be avoided if I have a decent story to share. She gets distracted easily and once I’ve given her something “juicy”, she always feels the need to one up me. It works even better if I ask her for “advice”. And so begins our 30 minute to an hour morning “visit”. By the time it’s over, she’s forgotten to be angry and it’s time to get to work.

It’s 8 o’clock when I log into my computer and kick my shoes off under the desk. Plugging in my little space heater, generously donated by another employee because my little office gets chilly, I warm my toes while I check email. A steady stream of people, from the larger, all female department we share the suite with, keeps the walkway in front of my office ringing with noise. Dragging their bags and their lunches, removing their coats and saying good morning to each other and to me – but I wish they wouldn’t. I wish they’d go through the front door instead; it’s closer to their area anyway.

I grumble good morning in response to their chirps and they smile at me indulgently as if to say, “That Alyson. She’s not a morning person, but we just love her to bits anyway.” None of them ever get angry with me, no matter how rude I am. They treat me like a combination of court jester and adorable, destructive puppy.

When the big boss comes breezing by, it’s another matter entirely. “Good morning Sunshine”, he says to me, not pausing at all in his race for sanctuary. He always calls me Sunshine, never uses my real name, a fact the entire office never fails to find amusing. He likes people even less than I do and trying to catch him in the hallway is about as easy as nailing Jell-O to a tree. He’s always afraid he’ll get stuck talking to someone so he keeps his head down and his feet pumping like pistons. An enormous key ring jingles on his belt loop, alerting everyone that he’s on the move.

I am just the opposite. I pad through the corridors in my bare feet, scarlet toenails vivid in the florescent lighting, the four leaf clover tattoo on my left foot defiantly uncovered. Quietly I pull the stack of mail out of the slot by the front door and leaf through it as I walk. I’ve long thought that my stealthy hallway approach was more satisfactory than the big boss’s loud sprint – the cheek pinchers, as I like to call them, never even know I’m there.

I manage to avoid everyone until early afternoon when the boss pokes her head around my door. “Are you coming with us to lunch today”, she asks.

I tilt my head and pretend to consider it, though I really have no intention of going anywhere. “What are they having”, I reply. She quotes the menu and sighs when I make a sour face. “No”, I say, “I don’t think so.”

“Fine, be that way”, she says without heat. It’s the same thing she says every time I decline to join them and, for the past few months, that’s been quite often. I used to go every day, but the truth is that I usually desperately need the alone time. As long as I make an appearance once a week, she’s kept mostly happy.

When they return an hour later, she hands me a packet of chocolate chip cookies. “Here, you ungrateful little shit”, she says grinning. She’s forever bringing me things.

The afternoon drags by. Sometimes I think its worse, being on the bottom floor and on the side of the parking garage, because there aren’t any windows. I once had a nightmare about being locked in the suite, with the entire lot of them, and all the clocks had stopped working. I wandered around jerking on doors and screaming that it was time for me to be let out, while they stared at me with creepy smiles on their faces. It was very Girl Interrupted esque. Thank god I only had it the once – though now that I’ve mentioned it, it will probably happen again. That’s how those things work with me.

At four thirty the boss prepares to leave. Stopping in front of my office, she says the same thing she says every afternoon. “I’m glad you got to see me today.”

“So am I.”

“You’re such a liar”, she says, and we both laugh...just like we always do. But then a terrible thing happens. She deviates from the script.

“We’ve hired someone to fill that position I told you they might make. Some young girl. We might have to move offices.”

“Where would we move to”, I ask.

“I’m not sure yet, but there’s a possibility we could get cubicles or have to share an office.”

Her face is smooth, resigned. Mine, on the other hand, is incredulous – jaw hanging open and eyes wide. “Give up my office?! Move?!”

She shrugs. “We don’t know what’s going to happen yet.”

Immediately after she’s gone, I’m lost in thought:

If I lose my office, I lose my freedom. If we move suites, who will water my plant? For that matter, where would I put a plant? What about my lovely shelves? What about the...wait a minute. Did she say ‘young girl’? Surely not.

The possibility of another young woman being in the office doesn’t sit well with me. And I’m surprised by that because I’ve always moaned about being the youngest in a sea of old people, with no one to relate to. Now that it’s a certainty, that she’ll be here, I’m just not sure it’s in my best interests.

Right now I’m the only one that walks around barefoot, the only one that wears leggings, the only one that comes in looking like she’s just rolled out of bed, the only one allowed to make off color jokes at the department lunches. I’m the only one that leaves rude notes on the refrigerator and the only one that has to listen to my boss talk about her vagina. I’m the youngest, funniest, cutest, grumpiest...I’m lots of “ists”. And there’s a possibility that this new girl could knock things off balance.

The big boss walks by my door while I’m staring into space, imagining a bleak future sitting in a cubicle next to some perky girl that everyone likes more than me.

“Goodnight, Sunshine”, he says, pausing briefly. “Will you be here much longer?”

“No sir, I’m almost finished. Did you need anything else?”

“No, Sunshine. I’m fine. Have a go...”

“I heard ya’ll filled that new position”, I blurt out.

“Yeah...sure did.” He looks at me expectantly.

“Um, just out of old is she?”

“Oh”, he thinks for a moment, looking toward the ceiling, “I’d say she’s about 45, but I’m not exactly sure. Why?”

I narrow my eyes, then remember who I’m talking to, and smile. “Just wondering.”

“Ok”, he says, looking confused. That’s how he always looks when talking to me – confused or amused.

We say goodnight again, he walks away and I gather my things. I wonder if my boss told me she was “young” to scare me, knowing I wouldn’t like it, or if she really is young to her...because she’s in her 60’s.

Then, as I’m walking through the kitchen, intent on the back door, something on the counter catches my eye. And I smile because, obviously, I was being silly. It doesn’t matter if that woman is 25 or 45 – I’ve got this shit on lock.

There are two packets of creamer, three packets of Splenda, a stirrer, and a cup with a big note on it that says “HA HA HA” already sitting by the pot. Apparently she knows how to work me, just as well as I know how to work her.

*Unrelated note: The videos will be posted by Friday.


Toni said...

I always complain about being the youngest person at my work too. But I think I'd really hate it if someone else young came to work here. Most of the people I work with treat me like I'm their kid/grandkid. I'd hate to have to share that. I don't share. : )

Nari said...

Great post. I used to always be the youngest person at work and now, well, not so much. I loved being the office kid. Once, I really noticed the role being passed on to someone was like someone punched me in the vagina.

etoile said...

It sounds like you have a pretty awesome gig there!

The Simple Dude said...

I am one of the older people where I work, and it's definitely weird. I wouldn't have thought that would happen in my 30's.

Sometimes when our happy hours turn into late nights I think they look at me and think "wow, this old dude can really keep up".

Or maybe they are thinking "damn, when will this old dude go HOME!"


Didactic Pirate said...

I gotta say, I think I like these people you work with. They definitely seem to be on the side of good, not evil. Plus they like you.

I used to be the wunderkind at every place I worked when I was in my 20s. The youngest teacher, the youngest radio producer, the youngest copywriter. I liked it. Now I'm 40, and teaching is my only gig -- age-wise, I'm right in the middle in my department: not too young, not too old.

Which means I'm invisible.

I can't decide how I feel about that.

Sarah P said...

That bitch! That's fantastic.

Rachel said...

I have to say, I anticipate your every post. When I see a new post from you pop up in my feed I can't click it until I know I can take my time and enjoy every word.


Ms. Salti said...

I'm always the youngest one (even at 31) and I hate it! Great post... I love how you draw your readers in!

theTsaritsa said...

Sounds like you definitely have it made at your job! Oh to have my own office with my own office plant watering lady!

Anonymous said...

what a classic...if it only it were that easy to catch a fish....

Mollie said...

Trolled. Nice.

Bth said...

Blimmin' marvellous post. I so enjoyed this, because our jobs aren't too dissimilar! I'm also the little one, whom everyone feeds, and I kill my orchids. I loved how you walked us through your day,allowing us to connect with all the little things you're used to doing. I loved peeking into your work day. Brilliant.

Danger Boy said...

Fantastic! I certainly enjoyed today's offering. I can relate...we all have those interesting personalities we have to deal with at work. ;)

Kev D. said...

Being the youngest is ok, so long as no one calls you 'tiger' or constantly asks if you were 'partying' on the weekend.

Honestly, I do feel like if someone else is there to share the load, it's good for you.

dys·func·tion said...

Fantastic! What a great way to brighten my morning. I'm looking forward to forming those relationships once I get out of my house. :P

BugginWord said...

I could swim in that post, doll. But I'd really like to swim in a vat of ranch dressing.

invagrantly said...

i always think that calling people sunshine in the workplace is unprofessional. my opinion, of course.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

I'm happy I'm not the only one who has trouble keeping plants alive. Mine all used to actively defy me by dying spectacularly once in my hands in my office. Even if I talked to them and watered them and tried really hard to ensure they had long healthy lives, they'd just seem to wither and give up in my presence. I try not to be offended...

Nice post, office sweetheart!

Bella said...

i was the young chick at my office and hired right out of school until just the last few weeks... we hired a new girl, young and now just right out of school. I wonder that she will take my place and people will stop being amazed with my awesomeness :)

Sara said...

I feel like I could have written this!

I'm the youngest at my office, too, by at LEAST ten years. Sometimes when people talk to me, I just stare at them like they're fucking morons.... AND NO ONE EVER GETS MAD AT ME.

I'm thinking that it's the whole young person thing that gives me this perk. Like people think, "Oh, poor Sara is only 21! She was probably out getting drunk last night, so it's no wonder she's grouchy. Bless her soul!" and then I WIN.

Becca said...

This was a great post! I am the youngest at my office too-hate it sometimes because as my sort-of boss puts it, "S*** flows south" so that's always nice to hear. Like Sara said, I get the sympathetic looks a like like, "Of poor you because you're so young and silly."

(Side note, I also wear leggings to work even though I'm not technically supposed to and I love it!)

Lou said...

This had me smiling all the way through. You've got everyone wrapped around your little finger, don't you?! Great post. :)

Paige said...

I kinda want to move out to your neck of the woods and apply for a job. How fucking fun are they?? Good stuff, pretty lady.

mylittlebecky said...

two things: you're MY sunshine and ugh, i hate change, especially at work.

Sharon Longworth said...

Lovely lovely writing. So much in there I want to pick up & chew over. It's no surprise at all to me that everyone loves you at work - I love you all the way from over here!

light208 said...

A great post. I do enjoy your writing.

Stocker said...

I feel a bit depressed because I don't have your job which is odd because I want to be a social worker haha.

caterpillar said...

Hahahaha! Your boss does know how to get you worked up!