a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

shop talk

Remember back in May when I talked about how my workload was increasing in the run-up to the end of the fiscal year, and that June would be a month of garbage? Well, something like that is happening again this month. For the rest of October, one of my co-workers will be on vacation, and with two other co-workers departing to new positions in recent months, that just leaves me and one other person to handle the bulk of operations in my immediate workplace. As such, my workload will be intensifying by something-three percent. It's not difficult work, it's just time-consuming. As such, writing time will be at a premium. So don't expect a lot of long posts until after Halloween.

Then again, the last time I said that, I ended up writing some of my longest and most interesting (I won't say best) posts, so who can truly know what the future will bring? Maybe I took the limited time as some sort of challenge. Or maybe spirits were just higher in general then. Who's to say.

the shop

I don't write about work a lot, because it's dreadfully boring. I have much more to say about the podcasts I listen to than anything that actually happens there. But for the sake of future brevity (to avoid awkward constructions like "one of my coworkers", "two other coworkers", "myself and one other person", etc.) I suppose I could come up with a framing device to allow me to talk about work in an anonymous sort of way. People often come up with little metaphors to describe their working environment and co-workers, like "the zoo" or "the asylum". Bryan Quinby of Street Fight Radio was recently a guest on Citations Needed, and he brought up the term he uses for people in my line of work: spreadsheet farmers. The kind of easy but menial just-above-minimum-wage jobs that involve sitting in an office and manipulating spreadsheets.

I like it, but even jokingly comparing myself to farmers seems unfair to them, because they actually do something that helps people, and the people doing the actual work are paid poorly and treated badly for grueling labor that everyone depends on. So I'll call it the spreadsheet shop.1 My office is where you bring your spreadsheet when the numbers look out of whack. I stare at it, cartoonishly large spanner in my ink-stained hands, and make noises like "hm" and "ah". Eventually, I give it the ol' Done stamp and put it in a banker's box, where it sits for six months until, long forgotten, it is sent to be shredded.2

So anyway, it used to be me, Kevin, Judith, Doris, and Paula.3 Kevin and Doris were the only ones who officially outranked me; I have the same job title as Judith and Paula, but of course, as the newest addition to the shop and a contract worker, I'm the de facto intern. I was given a desk shoved between two other desks with some hastily-assembled partitions. Kevin had his own little office, back near the restrooms, and was content to keep his door closed and working in quiet solitude. I was jealous of Kevin.

Doris had the central desk, where she was approached by customers to assist with their immediate spreadsheet needs. Judith and Paula were on opposite ends of the main office area, stamping and stapling and filing away, and I was stuck at my little unofficial station between Judith and Doris's desk, shining and polishing the spreadsheets until they gleam like a silver penny.

Kevin left to take another job elsewhere in the organization. Doris got a job in the same building on the second floor. Seniority-wise, that left Paula to call dibs on Kevin's old office, even though she's not the sort to sit quietly with the door closed; she spends most of the day wandering the shop floor, hovering and striking up conversation with whoever happens to be available to listen. (not me; I have my headphones.) It seems like a waste of a good office that would be much better used by me or Judith, the introverts who like it quiet, but I heard those grapes were sour anyway. The upshot is that I got to inherit Paula's old desk, which is off in a corner. Once Doris left, I had the most centrally-located desk, which put me in the unfortunate position of having to repeatedly apologize and explain that I'm a temp who does not have access to the spreadsheet vault, and one of my colleagues would need to assist them.

Paula's vacation started today, so that leaves just me and Judith.

Judith is a nice lady in her 50s or 60s who reminds me of myself. She strikes me as someone who may have been called a hippie at various points in her life. She sometimes gives me extra vegetables from her garden. She's quiet and scatter-brained, introverted, and I suspect secretly resents Paula hovering by her desk and talking at her for hours, but I may just be projecting.

Paula is a New Yorker. To listen to her is to struggle to resist the application of big city stereotypes, because she's apparently from upstate. She has the kind of voice and personality that would inspire me to buy a pair of headphones, if I didn't already have them. I'm not trying to be mean, but her energy is so diametrically opposed to mine that her presence stresses me out, even though she's never been anything but nice to me. You ever know someone like that? You get along terrifically on paper, but by the end of any interaction you wipe sweat from your brow and are started to discover that your heart is racing. Life is full of these little social puzzles.

Anyway, Paula is on a cruise, because she's the sort of person who would still go on a cruise after all of the recent events. I'm somewhat amazed there are any cruise lines left.

So that just leaves me and Judith running the shop, helping all the customers, keeping the sheet-spreaders oiled and running properly, and while it's not in the same universe of stress as an actual service industry job—we get maybe one "customer" an hour, and the extra paperwork we need to do is not taxing in the least—it's still two quiet scatterbrained introverts who suddenly have a lot less leisurely desk time than they were once accustomed to. It's still not a bad gig.

Other ancillary characters at the shop are Hank, the boss who is actually nice to me; Greta, the boss I actually report to; and Susie, the character who does appear in this story. Perhaps some night I will tell their stories. Tonight is not that night. Tonight, I rest. But future shop-related stories will be tagged #shop, for ease of... for your shopping convenience 🦝

  1. not that I think shop work deserves to be disrespected, it's just somewhat of a less vulnerable occupation

  2. dramatic comedization

  3. names have been changed

#personal #shop