I’m With Them

I have accumulated quite the work history.  In the past ten years alone I have worked at four different jobs.  I blame it on my social anxiety that I aim so low and become bored quickly.  However, because of my numerous jobs in a variety of fields (I’m still waiting for my niche to become apparent) I have had the opportunity to work with a cast of characters.  Seriously.  This blog was almost entitled, “I Once Worked with Michael Scott.”  Let me explain.

I had just moved back to Wyoming after bumping around for about ten years. The newspaper was hiring for an Ad Setter with no experience necessary.  That’s the exact kind of qualification I have.  The first thing that bugged me about the work area when I started working was there was no privacy.  All the desks for the department were in one big room and no cubicles.  How I longed for a cubicle!  Any phone call I made could be overheard by the sales rep sitting next to me.  My boss, GG, however, loved the set up.  The sales rep and ad setter desks’ all faced the stairs so that we could greet customers as they walked in.  GG’s desk was by the stairs and faced our desks.

GG was an old-time newspaper guy.  Retirement eluded him by only a few years and he was counting down.  He had the stature of Pumba but the mannerisms of Timon.  His work day was filled with stories of his adventures growing up in New York, going to school in Colorado, and his experiences at the paper.  I could never prove it but my theory is he performed his actual work after the ad staff left at 5:00 and before he left at 6:00.  He spent his work day regaling us with stories he found amusing.  I learned very quickly not to make eye contact.  Making eye contact with GG was like signing a formal agreement stating that you would not only listen to his story but also make appropriate comments.   His eyes would beam if he got a “You’re kidding,” response.

With his neck stretched he resembled a meerkat anxiously scanning the room waiting for someone, anyone, to look up and make eye contact.  I think he purposely said absurd statements trying to bait us.  He hooked me on occasion.  I’d look up because I thought I had heard something wrong.  We’d make eye contact.  His bait worked and he’d launch into a story about Rochester, New York and I’d silently scold myself, “Dang me!”

One time, SR and I were at her desk working on a particular problem.  GG walked by and noticed what we were doing.  He asked a question about it and SR answered him.  Something in her response reminded him of a story and he launched into a retelling.  By this time, I had learned to tune him out but SR was a rookie and still learning.  He got to the fish or cut bait part of his story and waited to see if he had hooked either of us. His net caught SR.  “What?” she asked and looked at him.

I won’t go into particulars of his story because I found it disturbing and to this day I wish I didn’t know any details.  Let me put it this way, if this experience had happened to anyone else, it wouldn’t have seen the light of day.  But GG told his subordinates as if it was a badge of honor and we wanted to know.  I didn’t want to know and SR was very sorry she fell for his bait.

Disclosure is a sensitive issue at work.  How much should a person share?  What makes a person friendly and where’s the line that crosses over into creepy?

I had an officemate one time that struggled with this just a little bit.  A promotion for me at one job  meant a new office and a new officemate.  At first appearance, GF seemed friendly enough.  And then we started talking.  I found out I was the last in a line of roomies.  She had what she called, “an anger management problem.”  When she found out I was to share her office, she gave her approval.  “Corina’s okay,” she told our boss.

Hmm, she had good taste, what could go wrong?

A few days into our new arrangement, she asked if she could close the door.  “Sure,” I said.  Our office was right next to the front desk which would sometimes get very noisy.  She closed the door and sat at her desk.  We started a conversation and I can’t remember how we got there but suddenly she was telling me she went to jail for attempted murder.  Oh yeah, you read that right.  Let me recap, I found myself alone with somebody who served time for attempted murder and the door was closed. No witnesses, just the two of us.   She explained she was engaged and came home to surprise her fiancé instead she received a big ol’ surprise and found him with somebody else.  And then, the fiancé and his fling got a whole lot of Angry G on them.  This is something I would never want on me.  I don’t remember too many details because while she talked I quickly came up with an escape plan.  She was further away from the door but my back was to it.  So, I’d lose precious seconds having to turn around.  If needed, I decided the best strategy was to spin and push my chair back into her in one fluid motion and run.  Of course, I thought it best to look like I was still listening to her and I nodded my head and said a few appropriate “Oh” comments here and there but I was practicing my escape plan in my head.

GF quit after only a couple of months together.  People stopped  by my office and ask if I was lonely.  “Uh, no.  Not really,” and in an attempt to sound stoic, I’d add “I’ll adapt.”

Another coworker who kept things interesting with too much information was CJ.  I worked with CJ in a mailroom during my time in Salt Lake.  The first day on the job was only my second week in the city so I was adjusting to a lot of new situations all at once.  CJ wanted to make sure everyone felt welcomed.  I think.

After I was shown my work area and I was left alone to start working, she made her way to me.  “Hello,” she said with a nervous smile.  “And what’s your name?”

“Corina,” I responded.

She nodded and I knew she didn’t quite catch my name but she moved on.  “Well, welcome.  How old are you?”

My hearing sometimes plays tricks on me.  “Excuse me?” I asked.

“How old are you?” she said unaware of the fact this question usually came up a bit later in a conversation.

“Twenty-six,” I answered.

“How old do you think I am?” she asked quickly which led me to believe that was the purpose of the first question.  She wanted me to guess how old she was.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching us.  Nobody was.  “I don’t know,” this was a tricky question to answer.  If I guessed too old, I had a feeling CJ would be offended.

“Go ahead,” she pressed and her face had a smile like she was on the verge of a great joke.

I took a deep breath.  I wanted to say early forties but thought it would be best to subtract a few years.  “Thirty,” I said slowly, “something?”

She laughed.  “No, I’m forty-two.”

I forced a nervous laugh.  “Oh, you don’t say.”

She excused herself and went back to her area to work.  I felt like I had just been given a test but I wasn’t sure if I passed.  Maybe she thought we could be friends?  Maybe she saw me as an ally in a midst of older women?

Nope.  The next week another new hire started.  I laughed when I overheard the same conversation taking place between the two of them.  That’s just how CJ welcomed people.

This world is an assortment of many wonderfully odd people.  I wonder how many blogs like this I made it into?  Because, of course, I am the leading character in my story but just another supporting character in another’s story.

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