|Adventures in the Big Empty
by Geek Jane
Jane Goes To War, or, Coffee Creamer in the Trenches
I am hired by very large companies, most of which have heads that don't have any idea what the tail is doing. You would think that everyone working for a company would be like a huge team, like a family. This is not at all the case. Within a company each department or division stakes out its own territory, guards its borders and snarls at outsiders. Outsiders can be someone who works on the other side of the floor, or even the person in the cube next to them. The corporate workplace is very territorial, I almost expect to see men in three-piece suits peeing on doorframes and women in short starched skirts rubbing their faces all over their monitors..
For instance, kitchen and food preparation areas are a huge point of contention between warring departments. Who uses up all the paper towels, who is hogging the sugar, who left that sandwich in the refrigerator for three weeks - all of it is silently noted by all sides, grudges are formed, covert action is taken. Things disappear. I have had an incredibly difficult time keeping people out of my milk - I like to drink milk, but buying individual cartons every day gets to be costly. I would prefer to buy a half gallon carton to keep at work, which I could consume happily over the course of the week. If it is open, if it is closed, it doesn't matter - it does not deter people - each day I would find the carton lighter and lighter, as if they thought I wouldn't notice. I tried many things, writing my initials on the carton in permanent marker, putting the carton in a paper bag, taping the bag shut, taping the carton, leaving notes on it saying, "Stop drinking my milk!" - obvious signs that I was duly noting the decreasing milk level and not liking it. Nothing worked. I even binder clipped a piece of paper over the spout, with a skull and crossbones drawn on it. That kept the scavengers away for a couple of weeks, but they soon lost their fear of my warning icon and the former milk-pilfering boldness returned. Finally I got some white Ex-Lax tablets and dissolved them in the carton, then left it in the fridge for the thieves to consume a little more than they bargained for. It serves them right, selfishly taking something they know is not theirs. I never saw any evidence of gastronomical distress amongst my coworkers, but I also don't keep milk in the fridge any more. I came to the realization that as easy as it was to spike the milk they were stealing, it would be just as easy for someone else to add something undesirible to the milk I was drinking. I guess I've seen too many of those hidden-camera specials and after envisioning twelve angry programmers spitting in my milk carton, then running off to the WC with intestinal cramps I went back to buying the individual cartons and not letting them out of my sight.
There are two "kitchens" on my floor - I call them kitchens lightly as they are simply rooms with a sink, a fridge, a microwave, and a coffeemaker, but for about six months I was located near the "A" kitchen. This kitchen was always stocked, plenty of sugar, tea bags, dish soap, on occasion packets of hot cocoa mix, it was heaven. Then I moved with my department to the east side of the floor, which had not been occupied for some time. Our closest kitchen was now the "B" kitchen. Having gone so long without frequenters, there was nothing in this kitchen. No one knew who to ask to stock it - it never has paper towels, no dish soap, nothing. Having once been a welcome sight in the "A" kitchen, I went there one morning to hunt out some non-dairy creamer. I found two unopened cans in the cabinet, and took one to stock the "B" kitchen for my compatriots. I was stopped before my foot could cross the threshold - a formerly friendly co-habitator demanded to know where I was going with the pilfered booty. I explained my mission, and was sternly rebuffed with a statement that generally said, "That's ours - get out." We still have no coffee creamer, or sugar...for some reason there are boxes upon boxes of plastic swizzle sticks, but not much else. Both kitchens have photocopiers, as well, and for some reason "B" has stacks and stacks of 8 1/2" x 14" paper, which no one uses. I think our kitchen is where useless office supplies go to die.
Here is a story I wrote about a year ago, which I found languishing on my hard drive. It is time to share it with the world:
Today I came to the realization that I need a three-hole punch. My manager wants me to keep a binder with department results in it, and for this I need a three-hole punch, wouldn't you think? To take regular sheets of paper and put them into a three-ring binder, one needs a tool with which to punch three holes in the paper that fit the rings in the binder. Otherwise the papers fall out.
So, okay. I need a three-hole punch. I check the "supply drawers", which turn out to be filing cabinets filled with the same junk our group had at our old location before we moved, lots of legal-sized file folders and interdepartmental envelopes no one used - no three-hole punches there. I then send an email to my manager's manager - she tells me that someone else in the department has already ordered one, and we can share once it arrives. This is all well and good, except the person who ordered it is on the other side of the floor (two rows of cubicles away) and I don't want to have to go over and ask for the three-hole punch every time I want to use it, because I anticipate my usage of the three-hole punch to be quite frequent. Not to mention it was only ordered and hadn't actually arrived, yet.
Today I am told that there is a supply room for the floor, located, joy of joys, right near my desk, I can't miss it. I make my way over there, visions of three-hole punching in my head, and speak to a nice girl sitting inside working on some files. "Is this the supply room?" I ask. "Yes," she says, and to be sure I'm not intruding, I reply, "My department just moved here from another building, is it all right if I take something from here? All I need is a three-hole punch." She smiles and says, "Sure, come on in, take whatever you need." I make my way into the room, which is scattered with file boxes and other assorted officey-stuff, and look on the racks for a three-hole punch. I find no punch, but I do find another binder, which is something I need. Binder in hand, I prepare to make my way back out when another woman pokes her head in and says, "Uh, you can't be in here. This supply room is only for (other department), and no one is really supposed to be in here because we keep everyone's personal files in here." She illustrates this fact for me by pulling open a file drawer so I can see that yes, indeed, there are files in there. I, confused, say, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know. Our department just moved here and all I need is a three-hole punch, and this binder," holding up the binder so she can see that I am otherwise harmless and don't have something valuable like a SparcStation stuffed in my back pocket. She repeats, curtly, "Well, no one is supposed to be in here, we normally keep the door closed. I guess you can keep the binder." I, feeling rather like the thief by this point, say, "Oh um okay, thanks," and make my way out of the room, abashed. The woman sitting near the door shrugs and says, "Sorry, I didn't think it was a problem." I repeat, as if to reassure myself that I'm not an Evil Office Supply Thief, "I'm just looking for a three-hole punch." I retreat to my desk, squandered booty hot in my hand. I feel as if the binder is forbidden fruit that I just finished begging for.
I wonder to myself at this point, "Aren't we all working for the same company?" It annoys me that we were moved to a new building, a new floor, and everyone in my department was sprinkled amongst existing personnel so we dont even know the other people we work near, and are told nothing about policy or floor etiquette. I wasn't told where the bathroom was, where the supply room was, how to dial out on my phone, how to get voicemail set up, how to log in from a new location, new server names, names of printers on the floor, nothing. Our department has been treated like lepers running about a nudist colony. We're expected to figure everything out ourselves, and are roundly admonished when we guess incorrectly. I worry that the coffee I've been drinking is being frowned upon behind my back and I don't even know it.
Tomorrow I bring in my own coffee maker, pencil sharpener, paper towels, and pens - and tonight I am making a trip to the store and buying my very own three-hole punch. Sure, after a few months of acquiring my own office supplies my bag will weigh a ton, but at least I'll be able to stick notes on things, get high on caffeine, write, sharpen pencils, and punch holes without shame.
Sure, people look at me strangely, now, with my coffee maker percolating away merrily in the corner of my cube, of the stacks of freshly-sharpened pencils piled neatly beside my pencil sharpener. But everyone, and I mean everyone, in my group loves my three-hole punch. It is shiny and silver, it has a curved handle with a round chrome lever - I've even put it in a public area amongst our group so everyone may partake of its greatness. It is coveted and it is revered.
Have some coffee, say the mantra with me...Three Hole Punch...Three Hole Punch...
Peace, love, and T-connections for all,
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