Tuesday, February 8, 2011


The writer in me can’t pass up the opportunity to tie together two disparate elements of my life under one theme, so I’m going to touch, however briefly, on the office awkwardness I mentioned yesterday.

To sum up, for those of you coming in late, my three workspace mates are Mr. Voluble, Ms. Antisocial, and Normal-ish Dude. At various points both Mr. V and N.D. have approached me and asked me if I knew what exactly they had done to earn the eternal wrath of Ms. A. And in each case I explained to them that they were simply experiencing her as she is, and she was pretty much the same way with me, and I knew for a fact I didn’t do anything to merit her scorn. This way to which I refer consists mainly of ignoring people, even when (perhaps specifically because of) sharing very cramped working quarters with them. Ms. A. not only doesn’t ever contribute anything to the quotidian small talk and joshing around that the rest of us engage in, she pointedly never says hello when she enters the room, and never says a thing in response if anyone says hello to her. It is beyond stand-offish. It is confounding. But what can you do? She does her job and there’s no rule that says she has to be especially friendly, or even particularly collegial.

Except, when you are collegial, then it smoothes over a lot of other potentially rough stuff. If you make a request of someone with whom you usually enjoy normal interaction, they are that much more inclined to honor said request. Whereas if you never speak to someone and in fact ignore them when they attempt a normal level of human interaction, and then one day aim a complaint at them, that complaint is going to automatically be magnified in unpleasantness. This is in fact exactly what happened last week, when N.D. hit the speaker phone button in advance of dialing into a conference call and Ms. A. demanded, “Can you pick up your handset?” No “Would you mind…?”, no “please”, and I’ve already copped to the fact that prior history unavoidably colors perception, but to me it sounded a lot like she used the most irritated tone of voice she could muster. N.D. must have heard it the same way because he proceeded to go OFF on her, informing her that he needed to use the phone to do his job and wondering if she would like him to stop breathing next and suggesting that she get a life and expressing general bafflement at how any one person could be so miserable. Nominally I was on N.D.’s side, because Ms. A. had created a lot of tension with her constant silent treatment and N.D.’s tirade was simply the end result of a lot of repressed WTF-ism, but he probably took it a little too far, and ended up sounding a bit like a petulant adolescent himself. As soon as he blew a fuse, he more or less lost the moral high ground. Weirdly, Ms. A. had no response to any of this, going right back into her default mode of pretending she can’t hear anyone who addresses her. So that was awkward.

Then sometime the following day Ms. A. sent an e-mail to her superiors and HR reps at the subcontracting firm where she works, which also happens to be the same firm that employs N.D., and she cc’ed my boss (who coordinates the main contract) and also cc’ed N.D. himself. Of course when she was out of the workspace N.D. was not shy about sharing the contents of the e-mail with me and Mr. V. The e-mail made some arguably valid points about how N.D. had verbally harassed Ms. A. after she made a simple request … but then she went on to detail how difficult it was to have to work next to him at all because of certain incredibly petty gripes including not only his preference for speaker phone over handset but also how loudly he slurps his coffee. (YES, SERIOUSLY.) So that was more awkward.

And since then there haven’t been any more open hostilities but Ms. A., whose work duties primarily consist of researching and editing written policies, has been working away from her desk, lugging a folder full of papers to an open conference room and camping out there so that she doesn’t have to sit near N.D. It has become something of a joke here in the workspace, albeit an excruciatingly uncomfortable one, a sensation which is heightened in me by my fear that Mr. V. will get on a roll making his own inappropriate observations and Ms. A. will walk in for one of her twice-daily e-mail checks and catch him mid-rant. Matter of time, really.

Waiting for the kaboom
The silver lining in this is that it may all be officially moot sooner than later. The long-rumored relocation of our agency office is apparently going down in March. No one knows exactly when, beginning or end of the month or what, but March seems like a fairly fixed target, and that is coming up soon. So the Work(Formerly Storage)space Four will be broken up and given proper separate cubicles and those of us who do not care to interact on any level will not have to sit and stew in the end result of such decisions, let alone the mess of other people’s decisions.

So those are the work hostilities. There aren’t any interpersonal hostilities on the home front, but if it is possible to assign such an attribute to inanimate things, believe me, I have been so assigning.

For the past three days I’ve been working on the nursery by attempting to prime the walls, which I believe I have mentioned are dark green with gold sponge-roller accents. I did one wall Saturday afternoon, another wall and a half Sunday, and the last wall and a half late last night. I used a very reputable brand of color-negating primer. I am going to have to do a second coat on the entire room. And the word hostile just kept occurring to me with each swipe of the paint roller. The colors on the walls when we occupied the house are just hostile: hostile toward good taste, and hostile toward being covered over. The green and gold is all but laughing right through the first coat of primer.

And part of me really wants to get hostile, too, and hurl all kinds of karmic invective in the general direction of the couple from whom we bought the house. But I just can’t bring myself to commit. I think there’s a lot to be said for making your living space your own, and I always have (and I only half-ruefully look forward to the little guy testing the limits of that aesthetic stance when he’s a teenager looking to decorate his own room). So if the former owners loved the idea of multiple shades of orange on the walls of the den, and green and gold in the spare room and blue with white rag-smears in the guest bath, good for them for fearlessly embracing such bold choices. Of course it would be easy for me to fall into the mindset of “What kind of idiots paint all the walls such loud, dark, gaudy, ugly colors and then try to sell the house?” but aside from the obvious counter-argument (i.e. “What kind of idiot buys that house?”) there’s the fact that I really think the former owners planned on living out their golden years in that house, but the husband’s job was transferred and suddenly they had to relocate in a big hurry. Before that upheaval, thoughts of selling the house never crossed their mind as they considered all the paint samples at the screamingest end of the palette. So I can’t fault their reasoning. And their aggressive interior design choices probably account for the fact that their house was priced as it was and yet still unbid upon so that my wife and I could swoop in and make an offer. So really, I should be lauding the holy green hell out of the nursery walls which four hours of paintslinging have transformed from “blaring green” to “somewhat muted green”.

Yeah. Maybe in a few months I’ll do that.

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