When my stay at home work began due to the Coronavirus, I have to admit I was pretty jazzed. I quickly renovated (read moved stacks around) my office space to accommodate my computer and supplies (read bag of Hershey’s miniatures and a box of those yellow mechanical pencils), and went straight to work.
I dutifully downloaded Zoom, brushed up on Google Meet, and tackled task after mundane task. But a few days in, I realized I was missing something: my co-workers. I have seen all the funny memes about the husband, kids, and pets as co-workers, and I have plenty of those, too.
But I miss the people I interact with daily. In fairness, they may not be missing me with the same fervor.
I started thinking about how lucky I have been in the co-worker department, and for the most part, I have enjoyed being around all of them. I have loved their hearts and their good intentions, have been touched by their gifts and help, and laughed so hard with some of them, that I think they should have their own comedy shows.
But a few from my past jobs came to my mind that were very memorable, and maybe in not such a positive way.
I had a co-worker who made me feel very lazy every day, because she literally narrated her entire day as she went. We were in a cubicle type situation, where we could hear one another pretty well, and while I became adept at blocking out much of the surrounding conversation and noise, Amaryllis (name changed to protect the guilty) was pretty hard to block.
Starting early in the morning, she narrated her trip to the staff kitchen to make her coffee.
“Let me get that cup out of here and rinse it. Well, that looks clean, now let me get this dry. I guess I will start with just a half cup since I have been making so many trips to the bathroom. Now let’s see. Where is that creamer? Right where I left it. Well, that’s good. Okay, got that cup of coffee going, let me get back to my desk and get started on sorting those files.”
Back at her desk, she sorted through the files, and her line of thinking was clear, as she told us all about it.
“Wonder if the best way to sort these for Trevor would be alphabetically or by date? I think I will call him on his cell and see if he has an idea about what would be best. Now let me see if I can find that number. Right here it is. Hmmmm. I thought his number started with a 6. Sandy, do you know if Trevor’s cell is right in this directory? Let me walk over to you with it to let you see.”
By around 11:00, we knew that she had sorted the files, the five phone calls to agencies she would be making, how cold the water in the bathroom sink was when she went to wash her hands, and how many more tasks she would tackle before she broke for lunch, when she would narrate how many seconds she would need to heat her meal, and what magazine she was reading that day.
We also knew not only whether the new sandals she had purchased were pinching her bunion, and how much cyan and magenta toners were left in the copier, but also how it was going with her boss that particular day.
“Okay, if he can get those papers signed, I can bring him the file to review and maybe he can get that phone call done before my afternoon break so that I can get those mailings done and get to the post office before four. But if he doesn’t…”
It was endless and it was exhausting. I felt like a slug for just sitting quietly at my desk and plodding away. There were two breaking points with dear Amaryllis.
The first was when she shifted to stopping on her way back to her desk from the break room and recapping for us, even though we were quite aware of what she had done.
“I was working on those files today and just couldn’t decide whether to do that alphabetically or by date, but I went ahead and called Trevor, and…”
People started timing their bathroom trips for her break times, so that when she peered in the cubicle we weren’t there. That didn’t stop her.
“Anybody know where Cathy went? I was gonna’ tell her if she was copying anything in color that the magenta and cyan were low.”
The second breaking point is perhaps what drove another co-worker to request an intervention with Amaryllis’ supervisor.
The copy machine jammed. And it was a major glitch to our day. Amaryllis was about the only one who could make it behave. And she did. But only after narrating all the rollers she turned, and the doors she shut and reset, and counted each piece of paper she unjammed out loud.
“Forty six, forty seven, forty eight…”
After the supervisor’s intervention, Amaryllis was wary of the rest of us, unsure who had reported her daily narration. Wish I could say it stopped her, but all it did was shift the approach slightly.
“Guess I better not report this coffee break out loud. I will just step back here as quiet as I can and then get right back to work on those files,” she said in a stage whisper.
The Copy Cat
I might not have noticed the Copy Cat’s behavior if a friendly co-worker had not pointed it out to me.
“Have you noticed that Joyce is wearing almost the exact same outfit you wore yesterday? Seriously, she is. Right down to the shoes. I think she is copying you.”
Flattered that anyone thought an outfit I put together in the dark of the early morning, with a still sleeping husband, whose entire morning routine took about seven minutes, I pondered this new information. Dressing in the dark had produced some dazzling results and now someone liked how I looked?
Should I branch out into something a little different than black pants, white blouse and a cardigan and see if Joyce followed? I did it.
I broke out a dress, tights, and cowboy boots and scooted right into work. It was a look. Perhaps not a good one, but it was a look. A couple of other co-workers commented on the boots, and Joyce keenly observed.
I was disappointed the next day when she did not come to work looking like Calamity Jane. But I had not been patient enough. By week’s end, she had adopted my look.
Some of you are mentally scolding me right now, thinking I should have just let it go, but others of you know me better, and are sure I behaved not so nicely.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I wore turquoise jewelry mixed with gold (gasp) and a new shade of bright red lipstick, with Joyce in hot pursuit. I shifted the part in my hair to the opposite side, and she mirrored. I parked in the sun instead of the shade, and she pulled in right next to me. I went from drinking tea to drinking coffee and she caffeinated accordingly.
At some point, my co-worker and original conspirator suggested something drastic, like piercings or a tattoo to see if she would follow, and when I considered it, that is when I knew maybe I was the one with the obsession instead of Joyce.
Case in point. We had a torrential rainstorm, and my already frizzy hair had taken on a life of its own. I dug around in the depths of my purse for a brush or something to fix it. First I found a Zero bar left over from Halloween and ate it immediately. So good.
Wait. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, my hair. Candy bars often interrupt my thinking. Back to my hair.
I found a claw clip and whipped into the bathroom to contain the mess. I ended up with a sort of Cyndi Lauperesque hairdo that would have to suffice. I rushed into the meeting, and the only seat was directly across from Joyce.
She very carefully observed my new do. And I was keenly aware of several snickering co-workers watching that interaction as well. I began to think they assumed my clip was a set up to tempt Joyce.
At the first break in the meeting, I watched her head to the bathroom. Guilt finally got to me, and instinct told me she might come out of the bathroom with a clip, and I just couldn’t let her.
“Joyce! How are you?”
“Good! Hey, I want to tell you something.”
I was sure that Joyce was going to confess to having copied me for weeks, but instead she looked at me with the same look I give my daughter when I have to give her bad news.
“I know it is rainy and all today—but that clip is just a bad look. I noticed everyone watching us, and I think they were hoping I would say something to you. Sorry.”
The Butt Kisser
Do I really have to spell this one out? You all have had a butt kisser co-worker unless you are self-employed, and then it is probably you. I don’t want you to see yourself in this narrative and quit reading. End of story.
The Shady Lady
I was absent for a couple of days for a work conference, and during that time, a co-worker borrowed my laptop. We were for sure not good enough work friends for her to do that without permission, but what comes next is the real horror story.
When I returned from the trip I noticed many of my settings were changed, but I attributed it to updates tech had pushed through while I was gone.
The following day, my immediate supervisor requested an early morning meeting and when I arrived, she was waiting for me with a Human Resources rep. There is little that strikes fear in even the most innocent than an unexpected HR visit. They questioned me about my trip and asked if I traveled with my computer. I left it here, I told them, figuring I should have taken it along for some reason.
Then they asked me to get my computer and boot it up. Next they asked if they could look at it. Several minutes passed while I sat across the desk and they looked at the computer and took notes on a legal pad. Both very professional ladies and nice people, their shocked, distasteful looks as they perused the computer had me sweating.
Before the suspense kills you, just let me start by saying the co-worker who had borrowed my computer had some curious web surfing habits which had come to light with online monitoring. And let me finish by saying I will never look at bearded Amish men in the same way again.
The Post-It Note Queen
I once walked into an office where Post-It notes were everywhere. They covered the computer monitor, were stuck to the desktop phone receiver, and marked random places in books and on documents.
Some of them contained one word reminders, some had phone numbers, some had cryptic codes or lists. The system of Post-It notes was either sheer genius, as they could be thrown away with each accomplished task, or sheer madness, in that they displayed just how much had to be done and the occupant’s random thinking.
It was me. I was the Post-It Note Queen. And it was a Post-It note that reminded me to finish this column today, so the system is working pretty darn well.
Here’s to all my fabulous and not so fabulous co-workers through the years! May you “office” with people who give you all the respect you deserve.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.