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GLINT


How was work?


It is the categorical response to, “Hi, Honey. I’m home.” A daily dose of Americana that has begun to catch in my throat, and I have only been a full-time member of the workforce—and by that I mean the 5-o’clock world, man in a gray flannel suit, take this job and shove it, workforce—for 10 years or so. Already though, I am tired of work. It is not with bright eyes and bushy tail I join the ranks of office workers every weekday morning to file in and perform my job description. I think I’ve learned that work is just that: work. It is not to be confused with your calling or your life’s work or, even more remotely, your life.


What is the real meaning of work? Actually, it’s all Greek to me. You see, the Greek word “ponos” means pain. Masters of efficiency that they were, the Greeks also used the same word to mean work. Work = Pain. It is a tried and true correlation.


Let’s begin by clearing up a common misconception, working 9-5. That is an anachronism, as foreign to today’s workplace as the three-martini lunch. The workday, as I have been informed by every Human Resources department under which I have labored, is actually 9 to 5:30. The hour lunch is in fact a gift. To make the 40-hour workweek add up on our timesheet, we should actually be taking but half of that.


All told though, I have agreed to adopt any definition of the workday under duress. To me, the time clock should start ticking when you actually wake up to go to work. Now I know, in a sort of Richard Scary type way, that there are lots of different ways to get work. The lucky ones walk. Some of us take trains, some take buses, some even fly. Many of us drive, like I do. Sometimes, when I am not required to go to work, on a sick day perhaps, I turn on the radio and listen to the traffic report anyway. Just for kicks, to gloat. Naturally morning rush-hour is always such a mess. What else is going to happen when you put hordes of slightly surly, not fully awake commuters behind the wheel? The commute does not count as work, but it should.


Every morning and evening, a fleet of SUV’s bump and jostle over the parking garage’s speed bumps, climbing the concrete ramps with the ferocity intended for mountain passes and riverbeds. Being held captive in the traffic that leads up to this early morning assault at least gives me the chance to wonder at the latest motoring styles and trends. Aside from the burgeoning enormity of the vehicles themselves, perhaps most striking is the muted palette of various metallic sheens that is often arrayed down the exit lane before me. Silver, gold, copper—these are the colors that appear most frequently. I cannot understand this fad, which actually succeeds in contributing to the monotony that is commuting. Is it an approximation of the futuristic transport modules we were all supposed to be zipping around in by this late date?


Look, metallic shades offer greater promise than they do satisfaction. Metal rusts, it tarnishes, it loses its luster over time. Did someone ever stop and think that we wouldn’t want a lot of green statues dominating public squares and frolicking in the middle of fountains? To bring this critique down to scale, need I remind you of elite grouping of three dazzling crayons that crowned your Crayola box? The silver, gold, and copper, crayons were an elegant addition to any collection, and often remained the best preserved from infrequent use.


Yet, when the effect was called for, you would spend precious minutes bearing down hard with one of them, trying to transfer their shimmering effervescence to your meticulous rendering of a space suit or a unicorn’s horn. For a moment, it looked as if you had succeeded. Your creation shone in front of you, glittering like a gilded Raphael, and you rushed to show it off to someone. But in the course of picking up the paper and holding it up for reaction, somehow the effect had diminished. You had a spaceman clad in a flat, grey suit that may have well been from Brooks Brothers, or your unicorn looked like a horse that had a gnarled branch protruding painfully from its forehead.


It is funny, that in our quest for modern sleekness in our cars, we seem to have reverted to the oldest automotive truism credited to the maven himself, Henry Ford: You can have any color you like, so long as it’s black. So, my eyes rove the roadway thirsting for the glimpse of a gleeful flash of red or yellow. When it rains and snows, the shine of these metallic shades fades to its natural state. On those days, it is positively a dreary experience to join up behind the parade of grays and lackluster golds, all those washed-out hopes, once shining now drab, plodding the black asphalt toward the office.

But I digress.


Luckily, I not only work in an office, I work in an office park, an oxymoron whose perfection is matched only by military intelligence. The landscape architects of the modern suburban work complex have outdone themselves in envisioning off-putting stark buildings surrounded by vibrant moats of color-coordinated bedding plants. The office park is certainly more ‘office’ than ‘park’. With the exception of some sad, abandoned picnic tables or benches scattered along walkways snaking between bland glass and concrete buildings, the notion of the “park” is entirely lost.


Inside these buildings are labyrinths of corridors pockmarked by small clusters of office equipment usually deposited around a hapless secretary’s totally exposed and public desk. In my case, I am thankful at least for my small room. It is, quite literally, head and shoulders above the less desirable cubicle workspace, and it comes equipped with the most necessary workplace convenience, the door. The trade-off is, of course, that it is windowless. There is a Frank O’Hara poem that states, “Neon in the daylight is beautiful,” an effect not shared by florescent light in my estimation. In an effort to reduce the overpowering glare, I light my space with a desk lamp and another slight table lamp. The ambience is soothing, particularly when the room is basked in the blue glow of the computer monitor. Think of your living room at dusk when the TV is on.


However, upon my arrival here each day, I do not allow myself to settle in immediately. Already, I am on task for the day. I am alert and efficient as I’ll ever be as I grab my coffee mug and hit the kitchen. The objective here is clear: get coffee and get out.


The kitchen has really very little to do with food, but everything to do with coffee. At my job, the coffee is disgusting. It is a vile swill that, were I not placed in these compromised conditions, I would never touch. Worse, it packs very little of a caffeinated punch. It is weak. It is weak, but it is free. And so I drink it.


More symbolically, this has become shorthand for my own professional creed: Weak, but free. That is me. Sure this commute sucks, this job is dull, the people are not that fabulous, so I can always put out feelers, send out some resumes even, and move on. But I never do. I put it off.

Payday rolls by and another round of paying bills and I am reminded why I am doing this, and that it is just for now and I am young enough. If push really comes to shove and I feel totally soulless and sold out and mired in my post-modern Babbitry, I can look for the real job, the meaningful job, the job I am meant to have. I am free to find a better job. But I am weak.


The kitchen, also cozily equipped with a refrigerator, microwave, and electric can opener, is not an inviting space. It is actually fraught with peril because it is the native habitat of the most irksome, and potentially fatal, office pest—the Small Talker. He is indigenous to this region, however sometimes strays to hover in hallways outside actual offices. This is when my door becomes particularly useful.


The Small Talker communicates solely with short phrases that in essence mean nothing and are followed usually by a short, insincere bark of laughter. These phrases tend to touch upon one or more of the following topics: the weather, the day of the week, national holidays, looking forward to/ regretting the recent ending of the weekend. Topping the list of unpardonable subjects of small talk is work itself, usually that there is so much work to get done, and when will the work ever end.


Luckily, for the average office worker, actual work is very easily avoided. The perfect thing about work is that I start every day there with an activity that can only be defined as pure leisure: I surf. On the internet, of course. And the surfing done really is the stuff of leisure. After grimacing painfully at the Small Talker for two-minutes of witty banter, I sit with my weak-but-free coffee and begin the descent down my Favorites file, all the bookmarked sites that combine to create a daily routine so necessary, it’s like brushing my teeth.

First, like any civilized person sitting down to their first cup of coffee of the day, I open the paper. The New York Times, then the Washington Post. Sometimes I consider reversing this, feeling the pang of “but you don’t even live there” pretension, but never seem to. Then it’s on to The Guardian, sometimes the SF Chronicle, and more sporadic checks on favorite periodicals. If I got them all delivered at home, the front door wouldn’t be able to open.


By far though, such personal time is preferable to the forced social interactions that are a daily part of work. There are lunchtime groups to join and small talk with, gaggles of co-workers clustered around the copier chatting with the Small Talker, yet by far the strangest time at the workplace is the work “party.” Baby shower, bridal shower, new job, new house, divorce, impending hospitalization.—I’ve celebrated them all.

Why people enjoy marking life’s milestones with a roomful of people whose company you enjoy only with the promise of compensation and sick leave, I will never understand. Sometimes I loose track of what the party’s theme is if I am just popping in for a quick sugar rush and a break from work. Many times, I’ve had to double check by reading the inscription on the sheet cake, before it is sliced meticulously by the hostesses into identical, palm-sized pieces for distribution.


I enjoy getting out of the office and getting away from it all for my lunch hour, particularly in the spring and summer. And this is how I discovered the strangest work phenomenon yet—the office park power walkers. For an hour each day, weather permitting, the sidewalks around the research park compound become crowded with women who are “walking”—purposefully and unabashedly walking through their one corporately allotted hour of leisure time per workday, with ankle socks and tennis shoes pulled on over their panty hose, usually in small groups of three or four.


They circle the research park once or twice like they are rounding the parade ground, striding in unison without a called cadence. It looks like a secretarial regiment in earnest training, heeding the call to arms, to stand and fight against the spread of - what? Certainly not against the tyranny of being boxed up day after day after day behind their monitors within their cubes pumping out memos, charts, and tables like the setting hens of some primitive paper farm.


These small bands of our comrades that circle us, performing their daily rotations as part of some boot camp routine, are out there in the fight against one thing—the spread of their buttocks and thighs. This one hour a day, five days per week might be enough to push back, shove the expanding flesh back into the native boundaries of its support hose control top domain. So for that one hour a day, it looks as if the office park is in fact a small encampment, training hard, toning for the fight. Sadly, it is only a fight against ourselves.


The summer months also give rise to another unsettling aspect of work—children in the office. I have seen corridors become raceways, computers become play stations, and the electronic paper towel dispenser in the bathroom become the source of endless fun. I can’t complain too much though. This is how it happens—this is where the indoctrination, the desensitization if you will, of the workplace begins.


I remember my own dad taking me and my little sister to work with him. We would run down the halls, giggling if a general who knew my dad would pause to mock salute us. We wasted reams of paper making Xerox copies of our hands, and looked forward to noon when we would go down to the cafeteria and select our own individual serving of pudding topped with a tiny swirled dollop of whipped cream.

Thinking back now, this garnish bore a striking resemblance to the stately dome of the U.S. Capitol just down the street, however that was neither as invigorating nor pleasing to me as the whipped cream. Already the purpose of work was completely dissociated from the work itself. I can clearly remember sitting behind my father’s desk, playing at working. I would stare down at his desk calendar—the green grid surrounded by a brown leather frame resembled small garden plots, each field a fallow, blank square of white. It was a premonition of work itself. Each day would be like the next, a perfect Xerox copy. Just like it is now.


It’s that monotony and drag of the familiar that really takes the wind out of my sails for work. Office work in particular is simply drudgery, the paper factory, the daily grind. Yes, yes, I’m glad I have a job! No, of course I don’t relish the conditions in the Chinese pants factory over my own! But look—that doesn’t change the fact I am tired of work. Wouldn’t it be a treat to simply push your chair out from your desk and walk away? Walk out the door into something new and different (and hopefully well-paid)? Maybe someday I’ll do that—just dust off my wings and stretch them beyond the office, leaving my computer monitor and desk behind, feathered like an exotic bird with the vibrant neons and pale pastels of a thousand post-it notes, reminding me of what needs to get done.


reflect - reinvent ....rayclaire@gmail.com... what i used to think... what i hear... what i see... where i'd like to be...


the black apple... the girl who... sarah brown... thunderpie... evany... jenny b harris... posie... claude le monde... artsy... fartsy... jeff... random person in texas... another rachel... smitten kitchen... more of me... still more of me... even more of me...and yet still more of me...more of me but not for free...


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