The View from the Cubicle: Part I (The First Hour)
Of course, you have the parking-space system first and foremost, and parking in a reserved spot results in banishment to the nether regions of the Lucky Seven Deli across the street. Two rows, separated by an island of grass, line the south side of the building. The front row is strictly for visitors and executives (as well as their assistants). The back is for…everyone else. The center sections of both rows are for the highest in command, as they provide the most direct route to the front door. The further out you get, the lower on the totem pole you are.
It should be noted right now, that these rules are simple how it is done. It isn’t like they’re in the handbooks or anything. They just…are.
It goes without saying that the corner is my spot. I am the lowly intern, the serf, the proletariat on whose back the company rests.
But even more telling than the parking spot is the parked car itself. The lowest-ranked have the crappiest cars, which makes sense, as the lowest-ranked are the lowest-paid. My old beater of a vehicle (affectionately named The Puma) is also the only car in the entire lot with bumper stickers (‘Practice Compassion’ and ‘Crazy Cat Lady’). Bumper stickers must be undignified.
The best cars, though, are not belonging to the executives or their assistants, but the ‘young professionals’ who answer the phones in human resources. The execs have nice, small, conservative cars, or family-mobiles like Station Wagons. The ‘young pros’ are still cocky enough to want something flashy, but make just enough to be able to afford them, not to mention they have no children to cart around.
The walk from the lot to the front door is perilous in winter, to say the least. At least here in New York State. This is why the center spots are so coveted. With women in their black heels and men in their dress shoes, an icy parking lot is more dangerous than licking a light socket. Well, ok, maybe not more dangerous than licking a light socket. More like doing a shot of Tide. Ok, maybe not that either…
…it’s still dangerous.
Between trying to stay balanced while walking on ice in four-inch stilettos, while looking out for skidding cars trying to nab the centermost parking space available to their caste, hopefully it’s a little easier to imagine why the parking system is so anal and uptight. The adventure, which would take about forty or fifty seconds from my parking spot at the edge of the lot on a clear summer’s morning, takes nothing short of two minutes on a day like this. Of course, on this particular day I was lucky. No ice, just a light dusting of snow, enough to be slippery but not enough to freeze your toes inside your shoes.
Through wind and ice and snow I walk, holding onto my lunchbox and purse, finally making it step-by-step to the front door, where I am greeted by a blast of warmth and a beacon of hope coming from the front desk. The receptionist, Kathy *, is the unsung heroine of my story here at The Corp. Ever cheerful, ever endearing, and always ready with a greeting and a bowl of spearmint Lifesavers, Kathy is my first reminder in the morning that life in a cubicle or behind a desk doesn’t have to rob you of your pride or happiness. But more on her later.
From the way things are locked and hidden away within the building, you’d think The Corp was hiding the Hope Diamond somewhere within its walls. As a temp, I have no ID badge, and an ID badge is what one needs to scan into the system in order to access entrance to any of the suites. I, being in Customer Service/Human Resources, have my setup in that wing. Kathy can let me in from her desk. All suites are connected through a hallway in the back, so logically, once you’re in one wing, you have access to anywhere in the building for all of business hours. But often as I sit covering for Kathy during her breaks, I notice people taking the time to cross in front of the front desk, and dig out their ID badge to re-scan themselves into the other side merely to relay a message or deliver a file.
Maybe it makes them feel important. At least it must make them feel superior to me.
The Corp’s business hours are 8-5 Monday through Friday. One hour longer than your standard. However, even arriving ten minutes late, you see that not one person in the HR Wing is working. No phone calls. No typing checks into the system. It’s as if the more standard 9-5 mentality pulses through the cubicles, sucking all the early-morning motivation out of the room. The employees take the first hour as a pre-work break.
They can all be found hovering around the pool of liquid ambrosia known as the Keurig Coffeemaker. It should be noted that if you don’t drink, coffee, tea, cocoa, or some sort of hot beverage at this time and yet insist on staying in the break room, you might as well be wearing a chinchilla on your head.
The conversation waxes and wanes as all conversations between groups do, and oftentimes there is no one discernable conversation. This is one of the few times good acquaintances can talk, so many times four or five conversations may be going on at once in the break room at this hour. No one sits. They need to be ready for a quick getaway should the boss-man come walking in and accuse the nearest person of laziness.
There are only two topics of conversation whether there is one group or fifteen: weather and sports.
If you attempt to bring up a topic that is in any way personal, like home life, children, what you did last night, or your plans for the weekend, you are suitably ignored, and the rest of your party will more than likely switch the topic. Sports and weather are safe, general topics. At 8:15 in the morning, no one gives a hell about anything personal about anyone. Even themselves. This unspoken rule is vital if you don’t want to be shunned by your co-workers and subsequently gossiped about during lunch.
A typical conversation around the Keurig in the first hour may go as thusly (an actual example I’ve overheard):
Man: So, did you see the Giants’ game last night?
Woman: Yeah, can’t believe the Eagles pulled it off. They were behind and everything!
Man: Michael Vick’s back, man. Eli should not have let that go.
Woman: Shame. He looked so good in September.
Man: I know.
Vague. Short. A monkey could contribute. Very typical. It’s all most of their brains are willing to cope with until they can get a rhythm of sorts going and get blood pumping to their social perception centers.
And with this, another day working for The Corp begins.
One last note: no executives are to be seen until their standard entrance time of 10:20AM. No one argues or thinks twice.
*Names throughout this mini-series will be changed for the sake of anonymity.