Sunday, November 19, 2006

Workplace Shenanigans

A few days ago I went to the bi-annual regional meeting for my company. The first day was spent in a hotel conference room, discussing financials and standards and all that stuff. A day full of customer-is-always-right reminders and strategies meant not for "solving problems," but for "addressing challenges" and "capitalizing on opportunities." Oh jeez. But the next day was more interactive and fun, because we went to another bookstore to learn about what they're doing and how. This store is by far the biggest in the region, serving a school with a huge enrollment. The text manager and store manager of this store have about 20 years experience between them, and for this reason the store serves as a pilot for all the new service programs and accompanying software the company rolls out (how's that for corporate speak?).

For one part of the day, the meeting's attendees were split into groups and set up to travel through 8 different stations in this other bookstore, listening to mini-presentations given by employees of this other store and watching demonstrations on how to use software .

So, introduction over...

The first station my group went to was in the receiving area, and we were to listen to the store's Receiving Manager as he explained new methods for receiving product. From the outset, things were a little strange because our receiving guy wasn't there yet; we'd arrived earlier than he was told we would, so he had to come off a break to come talk to us.

I put myself in this guy's shoes (we'll call him Tim), and imagined how much he was hating all of us in that moment. If you've never worked in retail, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Nobody is busy at all times. Nobody. But when people come to visit from another store, particularly managers and their bosses, you have to be on your best behavior, cleaning things you've never even looked at before, moving shit from one useful place that makes sense to some other place that isn't useful and doesn't make sense just to look busy, censoring your comments, smiling, you know, all the stuff you would never do on a normal day.

This is especially true in the receiving department. I know because I spent a lot of time working in a receiving department, and it was fun as long as nobody in a suit was around. The people who work there work there for a reason. They want to wear jeans to work, they don't want to deal with customers, and they want to listen to music that would never make it onto the sales floor. Basically, it's hard physical work, but few headaches and even less ass-kissing. The receiving department is also the place where other employees go to escape the sales floor and the customers that come with it. It's the place where they can go to be themselves.

So here's this guy trying to enjoy his break, and along comes a group of corporate monkeys, there to rain on his parade. He seemed to be making the best of it, and when he got over his initial annoyance, he was friendly and helpful.

Here's the scene: he's standing facing us in front of a waist-high counter, on which sits a computer screen. We're all looking between him and the computer screen, watching what he's doing and asking questions. At one point, about 8 minutes into the demo, and about 2 minutes before we were to move on to another station, I happened to glance behind him at a shelf with many little post-its and scraps of paper taped to it. The first one that caught my eye had nothing but the word "iPoo'd" written on it. This store sells iPods, so I guessed that was some little inside play-on-words joke. I smiled and then looked back at him.

After a little bit, I looked to the other side of him, to the scraps of paper hanging behind him on the left. One of them was from a pad of company letterhead paper (not my company, but one of the vendors). A part of the company name had been whited out and changed, so instead of saying "Barcharts," it said "Barfarts." I smiled again.

The doozy was a scrap of paper next to the "Barfarts"; it had a hand-drawn picture of a big, circular lump with little lines floating up from it. Written next to the drawing were the words "Big, Steaming Pile o' Poo." I made a little choking sound, trying not to laugh. I couldn't completely tell if "Tim" was aware of my observation, but I sensed he was, saw the tiniest trace of smile on his face, and I wondered how he felt trying to give this serious demonstration to a bunch of people in suits having just realized he left all his poo-reference evidence lying around. I had to look down and cover my mouth...I was laughing at the drawing but also picturing myself in his place, which was making me laugh even more.

I can be very immature in this area...this area of stifling laughter at the stupidest things in the most inopportune times. Once in Humanities class in high school, this elderly classical piano player from Germany was a guest speaker in our class. A kid raised his hand and asked the man to "compare the pianists in Germany and in the United States." The man looked confused and asked "what?!" in this way that made it obvious he thought the kid was asking him to compare the penises of his countrymen to those of American men. When he realized what had been asked, he answered the question, but I swear I could not stop smirking and choking down laughs for about 10 minutes, and not despite of the fact, but because of the fact that I was sitting front and center. I kept re-living the moment and imagining the face he made in his first second of confusion, and also imagining how funny it would be if the kid really had asked this old man to make such a comparison for our educational benefit. Classic.

Anyway, this moment was just like that. Now, if it were just me standing there, I would have told Tim I liked his drawing (or whosever drawing it was), but I couldn't say anything and couldn't stop smiling, so I had to excuse myself and the group, saying that it was time to move to the next station.

The thing is, we have done this sort of thing in every place I've ever worked. Doesn't everyone? You have to do what you can to amuse yourself and your coworkers, de-stress, pass the time, let all your sillyhearted sillyness flourish, just to keep yourself sane. You write things and draw things and tape things to walls that would never seem worth your time or funny if it weren't for the fact that they represent tiny little acts of rebellion. Tiny things you can do to say, "you can suck my time and my energy and--at least for the next 8 hours--my will to live. But you can not have my SOUL!"

I give a shout-out to Tim and his Pile o' Poo for adding a little sanity to my day.


Woocraft said...

hehee, I love it, and boy am I glad it isn't just me. Architects are really anal-which I didn't know before arch. school. Anyway once I was specifying hardware (door knobs, etc) for a project, and going through the catalog came upon the selection guide that included the section, "Duty Selector". So here I am laughing my ass off in the office, my bosses giving me the look, muttering 'doodee selector' to myself. So mature. But I did get my boss to laugh when I proposed a new slogan for our office, which I swore I've heard somewhere: (Insert company name here), "we put the anal in analysis".

Kisa said...

That's so funny. There's a coach at my school with the last name "Doody." Imagine the scene the first time he introduced himself to me. Poor guy...probably gets it all the time. Or maybe it's not just me, but just you and me, Woo :)

Kelsi said...

thanks Kis for a good laugh as I sit at work and act like I have something to do. The German pianist thing... so funny.. I'm trying to picture Ms. Kamm's face when he said that.