Saturday, January 13, 2007

"Join us..."

Things started to go badly almost as soon as I left my house for my first day of daylight and working on-site.

Apparently, other people were trying to get somewhere on the roads as well, and oftentimes they seemed to have the impression that if they were occupying the same physical space as my vehicle, that this would solve their problems. The other cars had horns, and were swervy. They stopped for no reason and parked even in places where there were signs telling them not to, along parts of streets where parking eliminates an entire lane of traffic. Many of them seemed inordinately angry.

Still, I knew I had to cover six whole miles, so I persevered, gripping the steering wheel tightly and attempting to navigate through the river of dangerous lunatics.

I made it through the gauntlet and to the building unscathed, parking my car in the lot and walking to the entrance. This walk was longer than the distance from my apartment to the Puerto-Rican market on the corner. It felt like it was longer than the distance from my apartment to the building I was to work in.

I entered at the building at ten, placing my bag on the floor and hanging my jacket on a nearby hook. I called out greetings to some of the workers I saw passing by, but they largely ignored me. I can understand that. I am sometimes less attentive of my cat while I am working. Some of them looked as though they had already been at work for an hour or more. I wondered aloud if they were trying to catch up on some stuff or leave early, and was icily informed that most of them start working each day between eight and nine. In the morning! Can you imagine? I shrugged this information aside. People always haze the new guy, tell stories to test gullibility.

The break room had coffee ready. I selected a pristine cup from a stack of styrofoam, licking my lips with anticipation. Then I was informed that they had apparently run out of cream (no doubt due to all the workers coming in early that morning) and that I would have to use a powdered substitute. It had the consistency of very fine sand, and roughly the same ability to dissolve into coffee. I stirred and stirred until it had either evaporated or fled to the bottom of the cup. I added a bit of sugar and took a sip.

It would have been rude to spit it out, Blogreader, but this is exactly what I wanted to do. It tasted awful. My first thought was that it had been brewed by people who had seen pictures of coffee but never tasted it. Alas, I was running on frightfully little sleep, so I had no choice but to consume it.

I returned to my workstation, where I learned that attempting to light the lamp situated on the desk had only two possible results: nothing at all, or the bulb would illuminate at the cost of a severe electric shock. I left it alone.

Having forgotten to bring my spare trackball, I woke up the screen on the computer they provided with a standard mouse. It felt awkward in my hand. Navigating the screen was like trying to do calligraphy with a pen clasped in your fist. And the computer was Not Mine. The settings were strange. The keyboard was elderly, and from a different generation than the computer itself.

After installing some system software updates and rebooting the system, the machine emitted a hissing sound like an untuned AM radio. I rolled my uncomfortable chair away from it, fearing an explosion. Thankfully, it was a false alarm. My guess is that the noise is produced because the computer appears to be steam-powered.

I was relieved to find 90GB of music on the hard drive, left there by none other than myself last May. Things were looking up. And after the first cup of "coffee," my tastebuds were deadened enough that I found I could drink another cup without wincing.

After a while, I found myself in a conference room. This was the "meeting" which I had been asked to attend. People sat around a table reading to each other from handouts we all had in front of us. I was not asked to read, which hurt a little, but I guessed it was because I had not prepared any of the handouts. Next time I'll prepare something, I thought. I have always liked reading aloud. When someone finished reading, we would then all discuss the passage. It was a little like eighth grade English.

At one point, many people in the meeting were talking about some work which it turned out was merely hypothetical. They were debating workflow and problem-solving for a project that it seemed none of us might ever be involved with. The novelty of the meeting atmosphere was wearing off.

A voice broke through from the speaker in the phone, announcing that there was cake in the break room. I looked around at my fellows excitedly. At last! Here was the free food I had in mind when I agreed to leave my house in the first place. And it was cake! To get such a perk in my usual setting requires me to buy or bake a cake myself.

But nobody acknowledged the announcement. They continued the meeting as though nothing had happened. I was about to speak up and see if they had not heard that there was cake for free not fifty feet away, when the voice broke through and repeated the announcement. The worker nearest the phone reached out and flipped a switch to mute further announcements.

These people seriously intended to continue the meeting. They had weighed meeting versus cake in their minds and meeting won. My mouth was hanging open as I looked around the room. Who were these people? What kind of values do they have?

A couple more people read things aloud and then the meeting was adjourned. Since the speaker had been silenced after the second announcement of cake, I have no way of knowing if the other workers also got fajitas, were entertained by a professional magician, or experiences some other free wonders denied to those of us trapped in the meeting. A couple of them had balloon animals, though, so I know I missed out on something.

For the most part, the people I saw shuffling from task to task today seemed tired and dispirited. When I caught a gleam in on of their eyes, it never seemed to be joy. And after what I saw today, I'm not surprised. They kept me there for nearly seven hours. And they are expecting me to return for perhaps as many as four days next week, presumably for the same amount of time each day (I even heard someone say that eight is what is normally expected of a worker, unless they are busy, when ten or twelve hours is not considered uncommon). Now I have no problem working that many hours at home. I do it all the time, on my machine, in my chair. Nobody distracts me or puts me in meetings. I do not travel six miles. The coffee is hot and fresh and the cream is plentiful if I haven't forgotten to buy it.

The drive home was much the same as the drive in, except there were even more cars everywhere, and it was dark outside. And raining.

I wondered several times today how these people could live these lives and not go mad. Eventually, it dawned on me that they couldn't. Suddenly the driving and the listlessness and even the indifference to cake came into focus. These people are slowly going insane. And essentially, they've asked me to join them. I am being indoctrinated in a cult of madness, bound to keep returning day after day until I inevitably join them in their despair. Soon I will be oblivious to cake, driving like a maniac, and unable to taste the difference between coffee whatever they had in those carafes in the break room.

Still, the money's pretty good.


Julia Buckley said...


Are you sure the indifference was not due to them getting free cake every day? That is the only possible explanation surely?

Unless of course they are robots. That is more common than you think, you know.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

They will steal your soul if you let them. This is even worse than stealing your cake, unless the cake is chocolate.

And you might consider taking in your own coffee. That's what thermoses are for.

The trick is to find a way to reap the benefits (good pay) while not undergoing a corporate lobotomy. Since you are aware of the pitfalls, I am sure you'll succeed.

Pants said...

Hello Mr Topples

This reminds me of why I stopped working. Thank you. Although there was occasionally cake. I miss the cake.

nmj said...

I can taste how bad that coffee is.

Ms Melancholy said...

It's enough to drive anyone insane. Keeps me in business, though...

Erin said...

thank you for reminding me why i am now working from home. ahhhh. i think i'll make me some cake!

Liz Dwyer said...

Beware when they start letting you out for cake and telling you that the cake is their way of appreciating your 80 hour work weeks.

Suzan Abrams, email: said...

Hi Moon,
Enjoyed this post that showed up real life in all its 'colour'. :-)
Sorry that this is so irrelevant to your piece but wanted to say thank you very much for linking me.
I do feel a little honoured.
Have done the same for you.
Speak soon. :-)

Caroline said...

Just heard you sing via Marie's myspace. Wow. Wow. Wow.
I think that I'm in love ;-0

The Moon Topples said...

Julia: That would explain the Worker I saw who bumped into a table and just kept moving his legs as though he were walking.

HeartinSF: I plan to start bringing my own coffee.

TSP: It certainly reminded me of why I no longer work on-site much.

NMJ: I'm so terribly sorry if something in my blog caused you to taste that horrendous stuff in your mind. No one deserves that.

Ms. M: Do you have a Tuesday afternoon slot?

Liz: I get paid by the hour, so I'm not that worried. But cake is a good way to thank someone.

Susan: Your welcome, and thanks.

Caroline: How terribly sweet of you.

Cinnamon Girl said...

Oh where I work, if there is free food, there is a stampede. Meeting over cake? As if!

CC2383 said...

hahahahaha, nice post. I remember back when you and I had to sit in weekly meetings, but those were always interesting... ok no they weren't.

He Who Does Not Subscribe said...

Someone decent should have saved a piece of cake for you, perhaps put it on your desk. That would have been nice.

Hmmm, I bet your cat would have done that for you.