Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Reluctant Doorman

I love my new job, I really do. It’s challenging without being overwhelming. I like the people I work with and they pretty much leave me alone.
When I first started here I was located with my five immediate co workers, in a small, secluded office area with twenty desks. Only about half of the desks in that office were occupied. The desks were vintage 1970’s wooden office desks with typewriter trays intact. (remember those?) One of the trays still held a typewritten 1975 office directory held on by cracked, yellowing cellophane tape. We think everyone on that list has since passed away.
The desks were scratched, stained, missing hardware, and I suspected, somewhat moldy. For the two months I sat in that office every time someone rifled through a drawer my sinuses would launch a red alert. This was followed by an immediate and violent evacuation of all head fluids. I sneezed at least a couple times per day. Not cute little wheezy sneezes either, these were supersonic, geyser-like neck snappers. Within a few minutes of leaving the office each evening my sinuses would clear and would be just fine until about eight fifteen the next day. So when we were told that we would be moving to a more modern area closer to our cousin-teams, I was quite relieved.
Last week they moved us to ‘temporary’ desks/cubicles in the newer area. The cubes / desks were nowhere near each other; they simply had us fill whatever empty accommodations there were. There are two distinct cubicle areas sharing one large, L-shaped open office space. In the middle, at the intersection of the two areas is the main entry door. There are other exits, but this central one is the only one leading to the elevators and restrooms. As we are on the third floor and are by far mostly over the age of forty, the elevators and restrooms are crucial and busy.
The door is card-activated. Everyone has a key card and has to swipe it in a finicky card reader to get into the area. (All card readers are finicky in my opinion.)
At this narrow intersection are two cubicles all by themselves. They are arranged so that whoever is unlucky enough to inherit one of these cubes has their back to both the door and the voluminous foot traffic. The two large sections are home to perhaps seventy five people and one shared break room which is also nearby.
So in the course of a normal day, whoever is so richly blessed to have one of these two orphan cubicles gets walked behind by everyone, often several times a day. So forget about napping, web surfing, staring off into space, belching, or discreetly scratching one’s self.
Of course with these less than ideal seating arrangements, those lucky two are interrupted several times per day to answer the timid knocking on the door of those poor souls that forgot, lost, or are having trouble swiping their key cards.
You guessed it; I inherited one of these two prime cubicles. I was told it would be temporary, but in a nearly two hundred year old company time has its own, slightly different perspective. My previous desk you may recall, was thirty five years old. What do you have in constant use around where you work or live that’s thirty five years old? So I don’t have a lot of comfort with the company’s concept of ‘temporary.’
As far as the foot traffic, that’s just a minor annoyance that I can often tune out. (Ask my former co-workers about my uncanny ability to tune things out, including them!) Having my back to everything is much worse. I hear the footsteps and feel the breeze but I don’t know if the person behind me at any point in time is the vending machine guy, the boss, HIS boss, or just one of my fellow worker bees. Often there are footsteps, a breeze, and then the footsteps suddenly stop right behind me. About once per week it’s someone coming to talk to me, the other ten thousand times it’s just someone pausing at the door. This morning some guy paused long enough to noisily throw his pop can into the garbage bin under my desk… while I was sitting there, without uttering a word, as if it were a public park receptacle and I was just another bum sleeping on a bench.
The lady in the adjoining cube is a programmer. She doesn’t talk much, doesn’t get a lot of visitors and seems to work shorter hours than I do. She’s not a problem at all. I’ve been working on improving her sense of humor though. I need someone nearby to laugh at something I’ve said at least a couple of times per day or I just don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, after all I politely pretend to not eavesdrop the ten times per day she’s on the phone with her family members. (Her teen-aged daughter is home with pinkeye, the medicine seems to be working better now, but they are now out of pudding cups, so yogurt will have to suffice till after work.)
Tap, tap.. Someone else forgot their key card. That’s okay, I’ll get it. I just hope they don’t explain in more than enough detail WHY they don’t have their badge. As the reluctant, de-facto doorman, I can assure you that I really don’t care. I already know it’s a simple mistake to make, and everyone does it once in a while. I really just don’t care to listen to feeble, forgettable and irrelevant excuses, it’s simply unnecessary. I sit by the door, I answer the door, that’s just fine by me, and it all pays the same.
Which is the only cool part; whether I’m troubleshooting a German language error message on a massive business-critical database, or simply answering the door, I get paid as if I’m troubleshooting a German language error message on a massive, business-critical database. So go ahead, be my guest. Those ships, trains and barges at the grain mills in the Ukraine can surely wait to be loaded or unloaded.
“Okay Comrade Grohenikivovski, I’ve just about got the problem solved, we should be able to start reprocessing your offloading documents again in just a moment or two I just need to clear up one more…. Oh, sorry about that, someone’s at the door, I’m going to put you on hold. . . So you’ll be listening to some decadent, capitalist, country-gospel music by a group called ‘Heavenly Banjos. ’ ” . . .while I take care of this more pressing matter.” (Long pause). “I’m back, who is this again please? Oh yeah that’s right comrade, and what were we talking about?” Those Ukrainians can be so impatient. “Oh, of course, sorry for the very expensive delay and I certainly hope it does all get offloaded before it starts rotting, but Janie from desktop support didn’t have her key card since she left her adorable brown jacket, the one with the belt, in her husband’s car and he left for work before she did, but she’ll be sure to have it tomorrow. She’s been just so darn forgetful since her mother’s been in that horrible new nursing home and calls like ten times a day, ALWAYS at the worst possible time.”
Then there’s the other thing; visitors to the area looking for someone specific. Now recall that I’ve only been working for this company for three months, and I just moved into this new office area last week. There are about seventy five people in this area and I know about eight of then by name or job. But since I sit right inside the door I am always the first person that a visitor sees and that absolutely MUST mean I know where David Johnson sits. Well lady, today is simply not your lucky day, ‘cause I’ve never heard of David Johnson, I don’t know what he does or who he sits near or who you might talk to from his team since I don’t even know what the 'GTR Team’ is, and in fact I don’t even know who WOULD know.
The visitor’s reaction to my sincere apologies and understandable ignorance? Disgust, anger, fury.
My neighbor, the programmer, and I discussed this during one of the three actual conversations we’ve had. (Since I moved in she’s been wearing a noise cancelling IPod thingy and no longer hears the knocks at the door. She claims de facto seniority.) I told her I should get a couple of little ‘go away’ signs made up that say “NOT a Receptionist” or “These desks reserved for people that are currently under criminal investigation for heinous violent acts.” or “We apologize for the inconvenience, but just because you don’t know where you are or where you are going does not mean that we are required to either know or care.” or “My third grader is selling wrapping paper!”
But it’s all okay, it’s just petty work stuff, and in this economy a good job is a very precious thing. And if there is one, even more valuable thing that I’ve learned recently it’s that. . . . hang on, someone’s at the door.