I Wrote This At Work

Worth noting, in case an employer sees, that this is just an inflammatory title. What I mean is that I wrote it in like my lunch breaks and stuff, a stolen sentence here and there, a turn of phrase scribbled on a post-it note while waiting for things to print. It just creeps through the cracks, you know? 

Four desks from mine is a big box of communal chocolates. I am there… often. You might say I’m a regular. A local. I’ll sidle up to the box and it’s keeper will say to me, ‘Ah hello again, Angus. Just the usual, mate?’

What I find so irresistible about the box is not the actual chocolate, which is too rich and gooey, and it’s kind of nauseating under the fluorescent office lights, and it’s just empty calories when you really get down to it. No. I am hypnotically attracted to the chocolate box for the simple reason that it is free

I’ve come to believe that there is no greater rush in all of Corporate Life than getting something, anything, for free. 

Today I sent three different emails, asking the people that I was emailing for the email addresses of other people. 

We had some new hires come in this morning. They were brought around the office and introduced to everyone.

Things I should have done to haze and befuddle them: Demand they give me their lunch money; Do that handshake thing where you tickle their palm with your index finger; Leave a post-it note on their computer that reads “Whatever you do, don’t trust John”; Punch the bigger of the two in the face, like I’ve heard they do on the first day of prison; Lean in real close and ominous and whisper “Run”.

What I actually did: Made an unsuccessful joke about no longer being the new kid then asked them if they had any trouble parking. 

On the Thursday of my third week here I had a problem. I was sat at my desk, hunched, breathing deep and serious, somewhat feverish, alternately reading appendicitis symptoms on Web MD and wishing I was dead. 

All I did that afternoon was open and close different applications. There were almost no consequences for this, which was a very dangerous revelation. 

As I sat there, doubled over, sweating lightly from my brow, texting my brother who had his appendix urgently operated on in 2012 to ask him at what point he knew he “had a real problem”, too debilitatingly shy to make a big deal about a false alarm, I thought about how this would have been so fine two Thursdays ago. Actually, at any other time in my life, self-diagnosing myself with extremely early stage appendicitis wouldn’t be a big deal at all. Especially in the wait-and-see phase of the illness, the only change to my regular routine would be to watch slightly more TV than normal. But now it’s a whole thing. Now I have to work out how to lodge a leave request. Now I have to choose to either suffer silently at my desk or have a frank and open conversation with my supervisor about the very real danger of shitting myself on the train home. 

And yet, I felt strangely lucky to have that hot ball of lead in my abdomen. At literally no other time in my life have I been paid to stifle tortured groans at a state-of-the-art sit-stand desk. Even a couple of weeks ago, getting paid to poop was unthinkable. 

The job hunt was long and scary and uniquely demoralising — a harrowing period of high-volume, low-explanation, life-altering rejections. Failure lurked around every refresh of my inbox. I over-analysed the formatting of my resume to the point of insanity (i.e. I started using serif fonts). To this day I can’t look at the words “Unfortunately, we’ve decided to go in a different direction,” without Vietnam-style flashbacks to the Horrors of Before. The whole process was kind of like being dumped because of my answers to a buzzfeed personality quiz that I’d filled out before a first date. Which is a totally fake scenario I just made up. Definitely not anything that has happened to me personally in real life.

A lot of the jobs I applied for were entry-level positions seeking candidates with five plus years of extremely specific work experience. One of them was hoping to pay me in something called “exposure and life credits”, which as far as I can tell is not a real currency. And then there was the bespoke digital marketing firm that, as part of the pre-interview screening, required me to fill out a 200 question “personality test” that turned out to be the Church of Scientology’s administration exam. That actually happened to me.

So yeah. Silently tolerating (potential) appendicitis for two business hours seemed like a pretty small price to pay to be employed at all. 

I got a promotion today. I am now the Fire Warden. This is because the guy before me was the Fire Warden and no one else wants to do it because it’s a shit job. 

I pledged my allegiance to the Fire Nation, swore on my life never to make another sparkler bomb, and promised to sacrifice mind and body to protect important company documents. Or at least I think that’s what I agreed to? Didn’t take in much of the soulless 1000 page guide, if I’m honest. 

It’s weird that reading the policy document for this position made me want to set myself on fire.

Anyway, I am now the Fire Warden. And there’s going to be some big changes around here. No more birthday candles, for starters. I will not respond unless specifically addressed as the ‘Blaze Boss’ or ‘Keeper of Flames’. I’m going to wear the indestructible red Fire Warden helmet at all times, for protection and clout. And it will be my first noble decree that, from now on, if (and, let’s face it, when) there’s a fire, the first people out the door will be the Marketing Department. 

Who else could tell the story of the blaze, you know? 

Every morning I run across all six lanes of Pennant Hills Road, in increasingly narrow windows, just to remind myself that I am alive. 

Yesterday, on the bus on my way home, I heard a woman say the following into what I’m pretty sure was a flip-phone: 

“Yeah I don’t know what the fuck Damian’s deal is. He said he had to work from home today because his kid lost their tuba… Yes! That’s exactly what I said to Kate, like, fuck, how hard is it to keep track of a tuba?”

I didn’t have appendicitis, by the way.

A rare miss from Web MD. 

Whenever I go to the bathroom, I get two bits of paper towel together, roll them into a damp ball, and shoot at the bin from downtown (between five and seven metres away). My success rate has a discernible and unironic influence on my mood. If I’m on a real hot streak, I tend to go to the bathroom very frequently. 

Problem 1: Emotional control, paper wastage, corporate efficiency, etc. 

Problem 2: Sometimes, as the paper ball floats through the air, time and space seem to slow and collapse and there’s a wide, terrifying moment where the only thing I can think about is how truly meaningless shooting a paper ball at the bin is. And how meaningless this job and the economy and sit-stand desks and money generally are. I think about how many of these shots I will take in a week, in a month, in my whole working life. I am afraid of and for myself. I am afraid to miss. I am afraid I’ll keep missing and afraid that I will die having left the world worse and more full of paper towels than when I found it. 

Problem 3: On more than one occasion a colleague has walked into the bathroom and found me fist pumping euphorically. 

Problem 4: Some days I feel like what I used to be has been torn apart. I am now something else. What I was can only seep through the cracks, leaking out in diluted form as these fragments, as bathroom breaks, as sentences scribbled on post-it notes while waiting for stuff to print. 

Problem 5: The quality of my day is now directly, tangibly connected to my attitude, more so than at any other time in my emotionally turbulent arts-student life. If I’m curious and calm and up for a bit of horseplay, my day is good. If I want to go home, my day is mainly entirely focused on wanting to go home. I’m getting better at controlling this, but it’s hard when I keep missing this fucking bin shot.

Problem 6: Saying, ‘Sorry, I’ve got to go to the shitter, I’m just on a real hot streak,’ is not a very professional reason to excuse myself from a meeting.

Today I was demoted. The Fire Warden title and helmet and special (self-appointed) parking privileges were taken from me. Apparently the new guy who started today trained with some kind of elite unit within the RFS, if you can believe that such a thing exists. Personally I do not.

There is but one solution to expose him as a fraud and win back my red crown.

Yes, it’s maybe a little extreme.

But, remember, where there is fire there is also, in time, rebirth.

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