Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I’m just going to go ahead and keep talking about work today, because there’s more to talk about and because Tuesday’s one of my more free-form blogging days anyway. I’ve made it known previously that I don’t (and in no way want to) define myself in terms of my job, so it sometimes surprises me just how much room the whole working thing can take up in my head and my life. I think sometimes I just ignore it for as long as I possibly can, claiming that there’s nothing going on at work, same old same old, and then every so often it finally reaches critical mass and the floodgates burst open and here we are.

So I have two new co-workers who started maybe a month ago, maybe a little longer, which is approximately the right amount of time for me to decide that they really aren’t going anywhere, they’ve decided to stick it out with these new positions and not quit for a better offer before the ink is dry on their building pass applications, and so on. I have them as co-workers in the sense that they are both sub-contractors to my contract, which means I was tasked once again with helping get them up to speed around the office, although of course neither of them has the same day-to-day duties and responsibilities as me, so I remain a team of one. This might sound a little bit familiar but this is actually a completely separate pair of new hires from the previous pair, who are also still around. The first pair was a man and a woman, both approximately my parents’ age, both white; the second pair is also a man and a woman but both closer to my age, maybe a little older, and the man is vaguely Middle Eastern ethnic and the woman is black. At the risk of protesting too much, I swear I never get hung up on skin color or accents and racism’s only function in my life is an easy target to be mocked and derided (racism itself, that is, not other races) BUT I might as well throw it all out there now because it actually is going to factor into things as I go along here.

So the newest guy has been assigned the last remaining workstation here in the converted closet (which you may recall I used to have all to myself). The new gal somehow managed to get a cubicle all to herself out in the main open floor of the office, which I think happened purely by luck of the draw as other people retired, left, and switched seats. But the new gal comes into our closet to ask questions or get things she needs to do her job and whatnot, so I see her a lot and all in all this bit of space I call my own has become a little bit of a claustrophobic cloister, with much potential for awkwardness.

Example the First: as it turns out, the new gal knows Mr. Garrulous from a previous gig they both were a part of. For any normal human being that would probably mean that interactions between the two of them would be pretty smooth, and for the most part they have been. But a week or so ago the new gal was standing at Mr. Garrulous’s desk talking to him (remember, this is about four feet away from me) and the subject came around to how Mr. G used to live in South Africa for a while when he worked for the State Department, and then Mr. G started telling a story about how his office tried one time to get some musician to come play a concert there, but the musician declined. And Mr. G’s stance toward that disappointment was discomfitingly earnest, as he said, “And you would think that he’d be all about it, with the Africa connection and all!” To which new gal, with no small amount of opprobrium, snapped back, “Why, because he’s black? Not all black people automatically feel a connection with Africa, you know! I certainly don’t!” AWKWARD. I know that Mr. G somehow defused the situation without it escalating much further but I have no idea exactly how because I was cringing so hard that the blood pounding in my ears was deafening. (In all likelihood, now that I think about it, the new gal probably talked herself down as she realized and/or was reminded that Mr. G is a total boob who says dumbass things as a simple matter of course all the time.)

Like this but minus the merchandisability and the punchlines
Example the Second: so meanwhile on a completely different day, the new guy was talking to … I hesitate to say “frigid” because that’s a loaded, sexist kind of word so let’s call the woman who’s been my area-mate for several months Ms. Unpersonable. (Again, this conversation is occurring in acute proximity to me, four feet south as opposed to four feet west.) New guy was trying to get himself signed up for some kind of training or orientation and the whole process involved approximately nineteen more hoops to be jumped through than it probably absolutely needed, just in terms of getting a form from one persona nd having it countersigned by another and sending it in to another, all just to get access to the website where you could sign up for the training if they had any openings, and so on. New guy was somewhere in the middle of that convoluted process and was asking Ms. U what he was supposed to do next, or if he wasn’t supposed to do anything, what he could expect next. Ms. U basically blew him off with a curt “I don’t know” and suggestion that he go ask someone higher up the chain of command. Me, personally? I would have taken the hint. Not so the new guy, though. I teetered on the brink of unconsciousness from holding my breath while the new guy came at Ms. U again and again and AGAIN with the same questions varied ever so slightly, as if in hopes of getting her to divulge some crucial information. His position was that she should know the answers she was claiming to be ignorant of, because she had already been through the training and therefore should be able to walk him through it, and no matter how many times she said “well I’m sure it’s different for everyone” or “I don’t remember exactly, it was a while ago” he kept trying to pin her down. I think my favorite (read: oh kill me now) was when he said, “So if I go talk to our mutual boss, and ask what happens next, and the boss says ‘Go ask Ms. U’ … should I just tell our boss ‘Ms. U doesn’t know’?” Seriously??? Between the two of them there was enough passive-aggression to inspire the furniture to rise up and start wailing on people. (Salient Question: Does any of this have anything to do with new guy being from a Middle Eastern culture that quite possibly thinks women should always give men what they want or at the very least make men’s lives easier? Or is that me being way more prejudiced than I want to be?)

You’ll note, of course, that in both stories above I am staying out of things, because that is a code of conduct I am pretty hardcore committed to. Of course there’s always the potential for me to inadvertently cause awkwardness on my own dumb behalf. Last week I was trying desperately to sort out some hosting issues with one of our secure applications, and of course I can’t directly do anything myself except formulate requests that get all the technical background details correct (more or less) and nag people about them until they get fulfilled. Late on Friday a request actually got fulfilled, and as I was looking over the results I belatedly realized that my request should have been a two-parter. So I quickly shot off the second half of the requirements but shortly thereafter the day and the workweek were over and I went home, and loathe as I am to admit it, the situation was irritating me in the back of my brain all weekend. I came in Monday morning, checked where things stood, and was pleasantly surprised to find the second half had been fulfilled and things were more or less restored to normal. I was more than pleasantly surprised, actually, I was elated. So very elated that I executed a mortifyingly unironic double fist pump to celebrate this mundane victory, accompanied by a quiet “Woohoo!” Of course, at a range of four feet, anybody could have heard that “Woohoo!” and that might very well have been awkward. But fortunately I was alone in the mini-office at the time. Small favors and all that.

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