When I answered the phone, she said, “You’re hired.” A stack of forms and a clean drug test later, I was submerged back into the working world. The glorious world of Dockers, PTO, and cubicles. Ahh, cubicles.
That was seven weeks ago. She might have said, “We’ve decided to hire you,” or “We’d like to offer you the position.” Whatever the phrasing, it was 10:30 am and the phone had awoken me from a late slumber. I answered in a sort of falsetto to hide the sleepy frog lodged in my throat. That was a Tuesday. I went in on Wednesday for training, and was working on Thursday.
I felt nervous like it was the night before the first day of school. Only I didn’t have a new outfit laid out or a backpack with my Trapper Keeper and Lisa Frank pencils. Instead, I was armed with a blank yellow legal pad, a pen that wouldn’t write, and a nagging fear that I was in over my head. Rather than wondering where my locker was, my fears were more of the “How do I work the copy machine?” sort.
My official title is technical writer, though I do more editing than writing (which I prefer, anyway). It’s good to have money again. A purpose in life is also good. In fact, my noose is safely packed back into storage. The best part of it all, though, is that I work in an office. A for-real office. Cubicles. Coffee machines. Memos. Offices are hilarious. There’s a reason that when advertisers want to make a funny commercial, it takes place in an office. Or when television producers want to create a hit show, they center it around the bizarre-o world of an office. Offices are entirely unnatural, yet once you find yourself in a that setting, it all seems normal, and you take it all very seriously. Yes, it is a big deal that Rhonda didn’t recycle the boxes last night. The end of the world is indeed upon us when the server goes down. And let’s not even bring up the issue of paper messes left in the copy room.
Cubicle life is a first for me and I sometimes feel like I need to leave the room to get my giggles out. There’s just something so odd and silly about stuffing dozens of people into a room, separating them into tiny little boxes with removable walls. We think it’s okay. We bring photos of our families. We print out comics about silly work situations and stick them into the gray cubicle walls with thumb tacks. It works. We all think we have our own little space in the company—our own little private world. So when Chris’s wife calls about perpetual vomiting, he talks her through it loudly and openly. He then calls the doctor. He then calls the pharmacist. He then calls the wife back. He then complains about the entire situation to a nearby coworker. And the rest of us listen intently. When the receptionist hangs up the phone after a conversation with her lawyer and whispers, “Shithead” under her breath, we all start laughing. When someone sneaks a candy bar out of their filing cabinet and tries to quietly open the wrapper, everyone knows.
Staff meetings leave plenty of room for hilarity. A particular staff meeting comes to mind.
First topic of interest: Dirty coffee mugs in the sink.
“They’re in the cupboard,” says Susan.
“Oh, fine. Okay.”
“No, they’re still dirty. They’re just in the cupboard now. Brian was sick of dirty mugs in the sink, so he put the dirty mugs in the cupboard,” Susan says. “So don’t use the mugs in the cupboard. They’re dirty.”
Second topic of discussion: Appearance. It would seem that an office conversation about appearance would simply include a reminder about closed-toe shoes. Apparently my co-workers and I need a pre-school level explanation of appropriate work appearance.
“Well, we should make it seem like we practice at least some base level of hygiene,” Adam says.
(It’s a good thing this came up before my greasy hair made its debut at this office. The debut has since come to pass, and its presence is a common occurrence. Had this topic come up, say, this week, a bit more emphasis might have been placed on the importance of showering at least once a week.)
We then discussed each and every clothing item in existence, spelling out each situation in which it would be appropriate and each situation in which it would not. We came to the following conclusions:
Ripped pants? Bad.
Short skirts? Bad.
Long shorts for girls? Good.
Any shorts for guys? Bad.
Flip flops? Bad.
Any sandal that flips and flops? Bad.
Birkenstocks in the confines of your own cubicle? Good.
“Well,” pipes in Adam again, “They were definitely more socially acceptable for men in the early 1900s. Pork pies, fedoras, bowlers. However, they don’t seem to hold the same social context, so I think they’re generally less acceptable.”
“What’s a pork pie?”
“You know, the hats with the brims. People used to wear them…”
Hats in the confines of your own cubicle? Good.
Hats when meeting with clients? Bad.
Wife beaters? Bad.
Hot pants? Bad.
Aloha shirts on Fridays? Good.
Our conversation then went on to include any and all forms of business etiquette you could possibly imagine.
Offering your client a drink? Good.
Filling your client’s glass with vodka? Bad. (Though I think I said that depends on the situation.)
Fanning yourself in a stuffy meeting while remaining attentive? Good.
Fanning yourself like you’re hot and bothered? Bad.
Offering to also fan your client in a stuffy meeting? Good. Maybe.
Sneezing in meetings? Bad.
Snivvling? Bad. (Not just sniffling, which we also discussed, but snivvling.)
I was tempted to ask about yellow sweaters on Tuesdays and polyester blends on Thursdays, but we were in a time crunch at that point.
Needless to say…
Silly stories about coworkers? Very good.