Welcome to my workplace*

This week, since we’ve all been required to work a bunch more hours and there’s even less to do, I remembered that the bosses used to ask me to do stuff.  I went to The Baron.

“Hey, remember when everyone cared about what we were doing around here, and you’d give me special little side projects?  Research and stuff?  Let’s do that again.”

“Uh, what did you want to do, exactly?”

“Oh, you know. Something involving an excel spreadsheet.  You’ve got all this underutilized talent, right here!”

”Betsy, I think you’re working right at your capacity.”

“Baron, I’m making photocopies and printing off maps.”

“As I said…” and he gave that wry little Lutheran look.

I went back to my desk, and a little while later he appeared to talk to B. and I.

“Gentle-people, I have a project for one of you.”

In mid-sentence, though, B’s cell phone rang, he answered it, and walked away, clearly having a personal call with his gf, leaving the boss looking a little dismayed.

“What’s the project?” I asked.

“A culvert replacement sort of in your neighborhood.”  But then he names the actual neighborhood.

“Wait, you mean where that meth-related shooting was a few months ago?”

“Yeah, right across the street.”

My cell phone started ringing, but I ignored it, which I think is the right thing to do, don’t you?  But the person calling persisted and called my desk phone.

“Uh, I think B. is your person on that one.  I’m already working at my full capacity,” I say, before answering the phone.

I wandered off to ask the Great Sandini if he has a project for me.

“Even if it’s just a towel wrapped around a wire armature, Sandini.  Give me something I can care about, at least for a little bit.”

“I have just the thing.  Let me run it by a few people first, though.”  Accompanied by that smirk, making me a little nervous, because if I had to sum it up, he’d be much better at the wire armature than the towel.

When I return to my desk, I see that I’ve gotten a reply to this, a long e-mail full of corporate double-speak blah blah blah, but if I were to sum it up, it said something like, “We really value all the hard work you do but you all give very poor customer service, and the remedy is that you all work on Fridays, and we aren’t particularly interested in how the schedule affects anyone or the planet.  And by the way, requiring 20 percent more commuting days doesn’t necessarily increase your carbon footprint, depending on what you do on your days off. “ 

That last bit reminded me a lot of an argument that I once heard an eight year-old meat eater give to an eight year old vegetarian who didn’t want to eat at McDonalds. 

“Look,” she said, “these cows are already dead.  They’re already formed into little patties, stacked up in there.  One little girl not eating a hamburger is not gonna make a bit of difference to that dead cow.”

Does that seem like the same thing to anyone else? 

I was feeling a little bitter for a minute, which is so not a good direction to go that I stare at my full spectrum light for a minute, and then head back into The Baron’s office.  “I got a reply finally.  I’m feeling disgruntled and disenfranchised.  What have you got for me?”

The Baron laughs heartily.  “Why would you be disappointed?”

“Because.  I got a dismissive e-mail that was basically like getting the finger in a very polite, condescending form.”

“Oh Betsy. Sending that e-mail was like buying a lottery ticket.  The anticipation is where the good part is.  You know nothing good will happen.  Think of how long it took him to get back to you! That was awesome!”

Wait, I was thinking, why didn't anyone tell me that nothing good will ever happen? What happened to, as R. says, the power of the letter?

I see J., a.k.a., “I’ve Never Been Trained In That” coming, so I try to make a quick exit, but the boss also sees him coming and calls me back in.

“Betsy, you’ve been looking for a special project.  How would you like to train our section in MS Word?”

I’ve Never Been Trained In That gets an angry look.  “No, Baron, I want REAL training.”

I interrupt.  “Train our section?  All we do with Word is write letters.  Everyone who works here now has worked here for at least a decade.  What kind of training could anyone possibly need?”

“Oh, some people need  assistance with the Track Changes feature.  Maybe you could do a presentation at a staff meeting.”

I’m standing there thinking, um, yep, this looks like a super fun assignment, and I can totally see why, of the 14,000 employees in this County, I’m your person.

“Sure, I’ll do it,” I say, which is a tribute to the depths of my curiosity and boredom, because I can’t think of anything that sounds less appealing than sitting in a conference room without computers,  explaining the track changes feature to angry people who want to hear it from a Real Trainer.

Someone suggested I do the training as a participatory interpretive dance, which seems like a pretty good idea. 

A friend said recently, “On the bright side, if you don’t have many permits coming in, you can probably do a really good job with each one, right?  Give good customer service?”

Which would be logical, and made me realize just how complicated it is to explain this workplace.  Because the weird thing is that with the poorly thought-out layoffs is that its nearly impossible for anything to happen. If our organization were a human body, imagine that 75 percent of it were amputated, leaving only a few unattached fingers, an appendix, a pancreas, a neck, two bad knees, and a nose with acne.  Then take that body, and go in a triathlon. 

But, to make it even harder, the nose doesn’t know what other body parts remain, because, and I imagine this sounds a little strange too, but a lot of the people who were laid off as of the first of the year are still showing up, and a lot of the people who weren’t laid off are so demoralized that they aren’t showing up, so it’s difficult to tell who works there anymore. 

But, back to the triathlon – imagine, now, that the nose, which was pretty good at smelling, has been asked to take on the other functions of the area from the neck up, but so has the neck, but neither knows about the other.   In fact, the nose thinks it has to do the work of the neck too, which pisses the neck off, because that’s union work, by god.

All in all, it makes for tons of material, and if I weren’t so irritable about the whole thing, I’d be trying to find the humor in the fact that someone drives in from 15 miles away now each day to sort the mail and drop it in the mailbox 100 yards from our building, and how the former secretary who became head of HR is now also in charge of the HVAC system, copy machines, and vehicle fleet.  If only I had time.


  1. 1) Did the little vegetarian girl cave and enjoy the McDonalds hamburger?
    2) {light bulb!} You *are* the perfect person for this - you should volunteer to run the department's Office Applications training. Use the classroom on the 1st floor - 16 computers and a projector. *note* this will insure you have a job for life as the staff is basically un-trainable.

  2. Well said Betsy. BTW, what part part runs the workplace?

  3. Table 32, that's, um, a grand idea. But if I have anything to do with the first floor, I want that corner office and the whole grow light thing. (What is that anyway? What are we growing?)

    And Anonymous, I'm not sure. Any ideas?

  4. hmmm, brain, ....gone. Heart,... gone. Guts,...gone. A-hole,....?

  5. WOW. I LOVE your blog. Hope you don't mind but I mentioned it in mine. You are such a great writer... do you have anything you are publishing?

  6. Oh, that is so sweet of you, Cartoon Characters! I haven't ever gotten anything together to publish, but I keep thinking about it.... Thanks so much for your kind words!


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