Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Diverse Nuns

I went to Catholic school. There was a rectory on one side of the schoolyard where several nuns (who were also teachers) lived. They were a diverse bunch. One was a “modern” nun. She wore regular people clothes and had long, hippy hair. Another wore a modified habit. It was basically a tea-length grey skirt with a white blouse, and a little nun hat. 

My favorite was a huge nun who wore the classic habit that covered every inch of her except for her face and hands. I don’t know how she survived wearing all that heavy black fabric during the summers in Bakersfield. She was very tall, towering over the kids and most of the adults. She had a deep voice, almost like a man’s. Imagine Darth Vader in a habit and you’ll be close. On top of that, she called everyone by their full first name. There was no overly familiar “Cindy” or “Bobby” crap going on in her class, you were “Cynthia” or “Robert” so get used to it.

She was my homeroom teacher in 5th grade. It was the most orderly class I’ve ever been in. Initially we were all terrified, but as time wore on, it became clear that she was not at all mean. She kept order through sheer force of personality. She didn’t smile unless you had done something truly exemplary. Or you needed her to. 

At Christmas I had given her a pocket calendar my mother had picked up for free at a Hallmark store. I had agonized over the gift. This nun really had turned away from worldly possessions. Of all the nuns and priests, she walked the walk most convincingly. Rather hard to shop for.

By this time, I was a terrible Catholic. I didn’t go to church on Sundays, hadn’t been to confession in ages and didn’t take communion anymore (because I hadn’t been to confession in ages). So I was beyond happy when I saw her reach deep into a pocket as she walked past my desk one day and pull out the little calendar. She stopped walking as she consulted its pages, then looked over at me and smiled briefly. It makes me choke up a little just remembering that.

Monday, July 29, 2013

You Have to Go to Church (Unless You Don’t Want to)

My mom took us to church every Sunday. I don’t recall my dad ever going, or my grandmother. I never wanted to go. You had to dress nice and behave yourself. We sat in the small section of the church reserved for families with children who weren’t yet reliably respectful. It was separated by a wall that was glass two-thirds of the way down so you could see what was going on in the big section. 

My brothers were both altar boys. They had to wear altar boy vestments over their clothes and hang out with the priests. One priest was incredibly old. He was a monsignor. He pulled my oldest brother’s hair once and told him to get a haircut. 

The masses were so long. I would try to keep track of how many times I had stood, kneeled and sat for clues as to when it would end. After mass, we got donuts. This was the highlight of the whole affair.

The church was affiliated with our school, so we saw the same priests, nuns, parents and kids there that we saw at school during the week. We also attended mass at school sometimes, for special holy days and whatnot. It got really out of hand around Lent and Christmas. Then they’d start adding in rosaries and the stations of the cross. 

They’d clear all the tables out of the cafeteria and set up the chairs in rows, just like at church. A few days prior they would have offered confession. Confession was optional, but most everyone went. I had a stock set of sins that I would recite because you couldn’t just go in there and say nothing.

One day, not long after my dad died (I think I was in the 3rd grade), my mother sat me and my brothers down for a talk. This never happened for anything good and we were all a bit wary. Then she asked if we wanted to keep going to mass on Sundays. She explained that if we didn’t want to go anymore, we didn’t have to. So we stopped going to church. Just like that.

I wish I had asked why we had ever gone. Or exactly what else was optional that I hadn’t been told about. I would never have chosen church over cartoons or lying around in my pajamas, and yet I had been made to go. Along with many other reluctant children as evidenced by the large glass wall necessary to contain their displeasure.

But I was a little kid and was happy to just accept this new arrangement. I added “missed mass” to my list of regularly reported sins. Things went along just fine for a while. No one said anything. It didn’t seem to matter one bit. Then one day I went to confession at school and the priest was the same very old monsignor who had pulled my brother’s hair. 

The screen set up between me and the monsignor was a length of black fabric about the size of a bath towel. When I got to, “I missed mass,” that scary old fuck whipped the curtain open and slapped my hand. I was so stunned I just shook for a second. I don’t remember stumbling through the Act of Contrition (a prayer I never quite managed to commit to memory), but I do remember fighting tears when I returned to class. I haven’t been to confession since.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Squeaky Toy

I have a very smart dog. She’s a mutt we got from a shelter in New Mexico when she was so young she weighed less than one of our cats. She went to puppy-training classes and then did a couple of runs through basic obedience when she was older. She knows a handful of commands and lots of words. I swear she can even figure out words she doesn’t know by their context. Anyway, she likes toys. We have taken to naming her toys so we can say, “Go get ‘blah’!” and she will.

We aren’t real elaborate or creative with the naming. It’s usually fairly literal like “squeaky ball” or “froggy.” So when she gets anything new, when we give it to her, we say something along the lines of “Want squeaky ball?” which of course she does. And then we give it to her, and now she knows its name.

Anyway, I bought several new squeaky toys. One was a pig, one was a frog, and the last was a beaver. So I unwrap the beaver and say to the dog, while making the toy squeak loudly, “I’ve got a squeaky beaver!”

I’ve tried renaming it just plain “squeaky toy,” but every time I say it, my husband starts grinning and the dog looks slightly confused. I’m going to have to throw it away when no one’s looking. The other problem is that I kind of don’t want to (throw it out) because, well, it’s a really good squeaky beaver.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Christmas Extortion

Every year as the holidays neared, the first of countless emails would go out about a particular charity drive. The first announced the impending arrival of a glossy pamphlet containing a list of charities. You were supposed to select one and then turn the list in to a designated coordinator on your floor with your donation to that charity. You could give as little as a dollar.

The emails would get more frequent and more urgent as the drive progressed, until they approached near-hysteria as it drew to a close. Every available email flag and alert was employed. It was an astonishing amount of energy. I’m just grateful for the limitations of technology otherwise I am certain those pushy little emails would have just crawled right into my purse and helped themselves. It would have been completely justified. It was for charity.

How much you gave did not matter (as long as it was at least a dollar), but it was critical that you gave. Because then you could be counted towards the participation level of the office as a whole. I first began to comprehend the gravity of the situation when I was working in the staple pit

A woman I’d never met came to talk to me about the fact that I had not donated yet. She assured me that everything was still ok, because people understood I no longer had access to email and probably just forgot. I thanked her for the extra pamphlet and said I would look at it later. This answer was not good enough.

She recited the participation levels for several other departments. One of them got 99% every year. They didn’t get 100% because of one heartless person who refused to give every year. This woman was just a really horrible person. She refused to give, every single year. Could I imagine someone being that mean? I mean, who can’t come up with a dollar for charity?

She didn’t name names, which was a relief or I would have felt obligated to go speak to that evil bitch myself.

Yes, I caved.

It wasn’t a dollar for charity. It was a dollar to make them leave me alone. By the third year, I was probably one of the first people in line to produce my dollar, because then you could ask to be taken off the harassment, I mean email, list.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An Arvind’s Work is Never Done. Really, Not Ever.

I ran into Arvind. His project had wrapped up a week or so before, culminating in a lunch social that he’d presided over as if he’d just launched a new product at Apple. He asked if I could come to his cube for a minute because he needed to talk to me. Reluctantly, I went. 

It turned out he had done something else wrong related to his project. The whole thing had to be done over, again. This would be the second complete do-over of a simple project under Arvind’s leadership. This time Arvind would have to do all of it himself because I had been given another assignment and Emma had returned to her regular duties. 

I think Arvind was trying to make me feel bad so I would go to my supervisor and maybe make the case that I really needed to help him for a few more weeks. After all, he pointed out, had done things wrong (under his direction) too, so now he was redoing my work as well as his own. 

One of the myriad problems with this guy was that I was certain that he wanted to suck up huge amounts of my time (again) and then announce we’d done it all wrong (again). Working with him was like stepping into an episode of the Twilight Zone: color and air would drain out of the room as time slowed to a hair-pulling crawl. Decades of life threatened to disappear under the fluorescent light with Arvind. 

What’s worse is that he had given me something I wanted, so I felt like I owed him. There was a position I had decided to pursue. I had taken the test for it once already and logged an abysmal 72%. It turned out he had been trying for the same position and could lend me some study materials that might be useful. I should have factored in that he had not managed to attain the position and declined this favor, but I did not. 

But I couldn’t bring myself to volunteer to work with him anymore. Just the thought of it made me feel like a trapped animal just before it chews off a limb. I wished him luck with the project, assured him that it couldn’t take long given that we’d done most of the work already, and left his cube believing I was free of him. I was not.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Maria had the best phone voice I’ve ever heard. You know how some people just have great voices, like Trace Adkins. I could listen to Trace Adkins read a phone book and be sad when he reached the end. 

It turned out that Maria had once worked for the phone company and had cultivated her phone voice while in their employ. She didn’t sound particularly special normally, but when she picked up a phone her voice completely changed. It got deeper, well-modulated and calm. A bit like Anne Bancroft in The Graduate. She sounded like no matter what your question was, she had the answer. There was something both authoritative and utterly competent, and also completely soothing about her phone voice. I wish I came across like that when I answered the phone, but I suspect my efforts translated roughly to “Oh my God, what is it?!” 

Maria had been an operator for years, eventually retired, and then acquired her current clerical position (the same job as mine). I couldn’t really tell how old she was because she was one of those energetic older people who don’t seem to be as subject to gravity as the rest of us. She had a whole slew of kids and grandkids. I got the impression she supported a lot of them.

Maria was kind of an ass. She played solitaire at her desk until she heard anyone in management coming. Then she’d be up like lightning to the nearest counter where she’d position herself to be seen staring intently at the contents of a file as though in the middle of solving some very prickly problem. I wanted to yank the file out of her hands and whack her with it.

She also never missed a walk with our supervisor, Barbara. Barbara took a walk around the block on her morning breaks. There was a small group of regular attendees, including Maria. The walks would get a little longer every day until someone in upper management commented, and then they’d go back to being about 20 minutes. If I’d had any sense, I would have joined them. No one who walked with Barbara ever got assigned to the staple pit.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Flying Petri Dishes

I have a cold. This is a huge improvement from two days ago when I was suffering from chronic exposure to toxic mold. I’m almost certain I haven’t actually been exposed to toxic mold. I just tend to find the most horrific explanation I can dream up for anything I don’t know for sure.

I’m usually wrong. Not about everything, just explanations of the toxic variety. Like now when my toxic mold symptoms have morphed into a cold. I’m right about loads of other stuff. Like when I woke up today and thought I probably wouldn’t work out this morning. Nailed it.

Today the headache, sinus and chest pressure turned into sneezing. It just so happens that I also spent several hours in a plane recently. This, along with the symptom evolution, point to “cold” more than “toxic mold.”

There aren’t enough hand wipes in the world to protect you from plane germs. The stewards might as well hand you a nice slice of toxic mold with your peanuts.

I am not a large person, but I feel like I barely fit in a plane seat. It makes it very hard to not touch semi-avoidable, plane-centric things that are likely covered in all manner of generic filth. Like armrests, walls, facing seat backs, window shades and other passengers. There’s no avoiding the tray table if you plan to drink (and yes, I do), or the little air nozzle (unless the last flying Petri dish left it in exactly the right position).

I have an incredible eye for (some) detail. I’ll miss that there is a Mighty Ducks mascot in the seat next to mine until he says “Hi!” and scares the crap out of me, but I can tell you that the lady two rows over just licked every finger on her right hand (all the way up to the second knuckle) and then wrapped them around the armrest to her right.

So I probably just have a cold.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Scroll Down to Get to the Threat

When I was working in clerical, until I was assigned to the staple pit, I had a desk and a computer. I would get a dozen or so emails a day, some work-related. The rest was an assortment of the fairly-frequent potluck announcement, the slightly less-frequent baby shower invitation, and the threatening-friend email.

The threatening-friend email was usually a pretty picture, or several pretty pictures, along with some Hallmark-ish text in a loopy script. There was often a lot of scrolling to get to the point, which was invariably some variation of the following:

I’m sending you this pretty picture of puppies/roses/a sunrise/a beach/other flowers/misty mountains/a forest in dappled light/kittens to brighten your day and let you know that I am your friend. Please forward it to (insert whatever number is greater than the number of friends you have) people and also back to me. If I don’t get this email back, don’t worry, I’ll get the message...

I’m not kidding. I forwarded the first one to my husband and asked him if he had ever received an email like it. He said he thought someone had sent him something similar once, but that that person had probably been severely corrected because it hadn’t happened a second time. 

The email put me in a terrible position. Due to the stringent forwarding requirements, it was a near certainty that everyone in clerical had already received it. The fact that I got it meant people were already scraping the barrel (I was new, and knew almost no one yet). I couldn’t forward the email to anyone I knew from the private sector without getting a slew of responses telling me my computer had a virus and it was time to set it on fire.

Then I realized, if I forwarded the email to anyone, I would just get more like it. The thought of spending half an hour every morning deciding who to burden with my friendship was too much. I decided I couldn’t do it. I had to just accept that I was going to die friendless and woefully bereft of pretty pictures.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Recognition of... Pretty Much Anything

Lots of people in the office had a certificate or two displayed at their desks. On closer inspection, most were condescending little head-pats for attending something like a two-hour lecture on time management. Honestly, some of them were roughly as impressive as awards (given to otherwise healthy people) for not drooling on your shoes. 

I had received a small stack of certificates as a result of Derek’s computer training classes. I added them to a file I kept for useless things I was afraid to throw out. Not that the classes were useless, they weren’t. They were great. But the certificates translated to me as roughly, “I was presented with an opportunity and was bright enough to take it. Yay, me.” 

It’s like a certificate for making it through your 20s without contracting an STD. You’d like to just assume everyone made it, and don’t want to know if they didn’t. You sure as shit don’t want to be told one way or the other via a certificate.

But not everyone thinks the way I do. Caroline, for example, had a very different relationship with certificates. She had several displayed at her desk. One day she came over to my cube to borrow something. While I was digging through a drawer, I opened my file of certificates. Her eyes got all bulgy and dilated when she saw the small stack I had accumulated. She got very quiet for a minute.

When one of my cats was a kitten, he had this little bear toy he used to carry around. We’d put the little bear behind something and then lift it up to “peek” out at the cat. The cat’s ears would flatten and his eyes would go completely black, like he was channeling some distant ancestor preparing to take down a zebra. Then he would pounce on the little bear. It was actually a little scary, and you had to move your hand quickly or you’d end up with some nasty scratches. 

Caroline looked at my certificate file the way my cat looked at his little bear, except it wasn’t nearly as fun or cute.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

What Was That?!

I can’t sing, at all. I mean, I can produce a recognizable “Happy Birthday” but that mostly gets a pass because you can usually count on getting drowned out in a group. I sometimes sing when I’m listening to a song I like a lot, but I really shouldn’t. 

I hear the song in my head and start making what my brain indicates is the same sound that I’m hearing. Except it’s not even close. It’s like opening your mouth to say something in English and then hearing it come out in French. Except hearing someone speak French has never made me stop what I’m doing to make an “ew, what’s that smell?” face and say, “Good God, what was that?!”

My singing is so distractingly bad that it distracts me. I’m happily listening to a song, start singing, and then get all irritated because something is ruining my song: that would be me.

Friday, July 12, 2013


I had only met Derek once before. I was working on a project at the time that involved a massive amount of printing. I went through box after box of paper, oddly all part of making the office paperless. Derek had been upgrading the office’s printers and copiers. Our department was using a shiny new printer as a result of his efforts. He and my boss’s boss arrived at my cube to inquire as to its awesomeness. I assured them that the machine was fabulous. 

Derek mentioned that the new machine had four paper trays. I corrected him (it had three). He chuckled and pointed out that he had personally ordered all the machines and he should know what he bought. I led them both around the corner to the machine and showed them it had three trays. The conversation moved on.

This new project was signing up people for computer-skills classes. The office was switching over to a new version of Microsoft Office and was offering classes in the updated versions of Excel, Word and Outlook. Each class had several sections and was offered multiple times over the course of a couple of weeks. I was really excited. 

I’d heard about the wonderful opportunities for self-improvement in the form of classes that would be available to me in my government job, but in the year I’d been there all I’d heard about was one on stretching and another on ergonomics. I take that back. There had been a series of classes on something useful (can’t remember what) but they had awarded the two open slots via a random drawing and I had not won. 

Higher-ups were offered their pick of computer classes first, then the classes were opened up to other groups in order of perceived importance. I was in charge of signing up the various groups in my department. Derek sent me a spreadsheet showing a number of available slots and then I went about signing people up. It should have been simple: Here’s an empty box that holds ten things. Put ten things in it. Stop. 

Except the box wasn’t really empty, and wasn’t even necessarily limited to ten things. Because Derek wasn’t giving me all the information. He was adding and deleting people all the time in his personal copy of the spreadsheet, and not updating me until later. So I would sign someone up, only to have him call me a day later to tell me that that class was full. I would consult the spreadsheet and argue that there were still several open seats. Then he would send me a new spreadsheet.

At some point, we settled on him sending me a “locked-down” version of the spreadsheet in the morning that I could work with, except it wasn’t really locked-down because he would call me throughout the day to tell me he’d made changes. I made the case that this really was a one-person job and that he should just direct inquiries from his department (which was supposed to be all signed-up already) to me, but he insisted we do it his way.

It would have been better to put a sheet of paper on the wall and tack a string/pencil to it.

On the bright side, I got into almost every class I wanted, and they were very good and useful classes. I learned about using graphics, charts, pivot tables and mail filters (take that potluck announcements!). I even got some really useful reference materials to keep.

After the project was over, I saw Derek from time to time but never had to dodge the pleasure of working with him again. I saw him in the elevator once in a large group of people. He said hi and then commented loudly about how hard it was scheduling the entire office for all those classes. The conversation went something like this: 

me: “Oh my God, that was awful.”
Derek: “Well, come on now, it wasn’t that bad.”
me: “No, it really was a mess.”
Derek: silence.
me: “But the classes were great.”

Then it got a little quiet and uncomfortable.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I only saw Cindy maybe three times in five years. She was always out on maternity leave. She held a highly-coveted, upper-level clerk position but rarely actually worked. Her desk was dusty and looked abandoned except for a little area where her work would be deposited and then picked up by whoever was covering for her at the time.

Covering for Cindy was quite lucrative because you would earn Cindy’s rate of pay for the duration of her absence.

Cindy stands out in my memory for two reasons. The first was her smile. She had a slow, wan smile. Like someone who was just waking up and maybe smelled coffee brewing. Except it was 10 AM in a busy office. It was just odd.

The second thing that absolutely blew me away was the way she dressed. I have put together more office-appropriate outfits to do yard work. The first time I saw her I thought she was a homeless person who had wandered in off the street.

She wore actual slippers, and not just at her desk - she arrived in them. She wore large baggy t-shirts with holes worn through them paired with sweatpants in the same condition. She looked like the nice neighbor lady on an episode of Cops who answers the door at 3 AM in her housecoat and directs the police to the complex across the street.

If it weren’t for the fact that she looked oddly happy and made way more money than I did, my impulse would have been to wrap her in a blanket and bring her soup.

Monday, July 8, 2013

I Now Have the Plague

I started working on Arvind’s project. I had to wear white semi-disposable filing gloves to do the work because the files made my hands break out in painful little red bumps. I don’t know if the bumps were psychosomatic or what. It’s possible, given that I watched Arvind pick his nose all the time. But, given he had theoretically worked with these very files, it could also have been some exotic booger-related virus.

After a week of working with Arvind’s files, he and Emma came to my desk to inform me that the three of us had to start over from the beginning because he had been wrong about several types of documents that we had kept but should have tossed.

He didn’t seem bothered. Neither did Emma. I wanted to step in front of a bus. I made a comment about how much time we had wasted. In response, Emma said, “It’s really no big deal, I mean, what else would we be doing?”

I wasn’t able to articulate the thought at the time since I had the plague, but the answer was, “Doing something productive and useful so I can eventually get a better job and then maybe God will stop punishing me with Arvind.”

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Unrented Bugs

The house we rent has been a rental for more than a decade. As is the case with many rentals, it has not been well cared for. Also, it was the victim of a very cosmetic remodel, I’m guessing just prior to it’s last sale about ten years ago. 

The house makes a fairly good first impression. Many fixtures are new-looking, as is the flooring. But if you look a little closer at most anything, you’ll find yourself stepping back and saying, “Oh.”

Faucets must be turned on gently, or the handle may come off in your hand. Some exposed pipes are new, but where they meet the wall some are so corroded and rusted I’m afraid to touch them. This isn’t just me being uptight either, there is a precedent for pipe-touching gone bad.

When we first moved in, I was cleaning the floors. I bumped an exposed pipe under a sink and it started to leak. I inspected the pipe and discovered it was so old/corroded that I could put my thumb through it with very little pressure. I try very hard not to think about all the pipe I can’t see because we need a place to live and moving is hard.

One of the more impressive WTFs about this house is that many of the heating ducts under the house are not attached to the subfloor. If you lift off the registers you’ll see the square tube of the duct, in some cases just floating loose, with one-half to one-inch gaps at some or all edges. One duct is not only not attached to the floor, it doesn’t even come up all the way -- you can actually see sunlight from a nearby under-house vent through the gaps. 

Two ducts on one side of the house are attached on all four sides and come all the way up. I assume they fired whoever installed those for making everyone else feel bad.

Last weekend, my husband and I attempted to seal all the gaps around the ducts as part of the ongoing effort to defeat the silverfish. I think we successfully sealed most of the gaps. I’m too afraid to actually lift up the registers and look because I don’t want to accidentally dislodge any foam sealant.

It’s too soon to tell if the sealant has made a difference, because we’ve been in a kind of artificial silverfish remission (a couple of days of cool weather). Construction has just resumed on the house next door though, which I suspect will drive their bugs (which we DID NOT rent) toward our house to challenge our sealant.

I have a girlfriend who lives in Phoenix. A shopping center went up near her house a few years back. During construction, her house was overrun with scorpions fleeing the work site. So, with regard to perspective, things could be worse.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Bad Stairwell

The building had two stairwells. The one I used for my morning break workout (the same one many people used to leave at the end of the day due to its proximity to the parking lot), and the bad stairwell (the one full of giant loogies).

The bad stairwell had been given over to smokers long before my arrival. I don’t object to this. I used to smoke. I used to love smoking. It was awesome. A friend once asked me what it was people liked about smoking. He said he didn’t get it. Was it an upper? Do they give you energy? Or a downer. Do they relax you? I answered, “It’s whatever you want it to be.”

But life messes with you, and now I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes. But, as I said, I didn’t object to the smokers having a place to hang out. 

I seldom used the bad stairwell, and when I did I wasn’t in it long enough to matter. It was when I only needed to go up or down one flight and it was just plain faster than hiking to the other side of the floor where the elevators and the other stairwell were. So everything was fine.

Until somebody started leaving giant loogies in the bad stairwell. Someone was going out there to chew tobacco and spit spectacular loogies all over the place. It was a challenge to avoid stepping in one.

Now, it wasn’t hard to figure out who it was. What’s hard is telling someone else that their personal habits are so repugnant that I would rather just skip the conversation and instead track down and slap his mother. 

Long story short, the spitting stopped, and nobody’s mother got slapped.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


The first thing to notice about Lydia is that she looked lovely. She was in her late thirties and always wore nice outfits, usually a skirt and blouse, and sometimes even a blazer. She clearly combed her hair and put on a little make-up before she came in. She was not overweight. She sometimes smiled. In short, she didn’t quite fit in. Lydia held the same position I did and we were often thrown together on projects. I was desperately ambitious and approached every task as another potential knot in the rope I would climb out of there. Lydia liked to be busy too, so we got along great even though she was hard to talk to. Not because she wasn’t kind or friendly, it was that English was not her first language, so she often completely missed any kind of conversational nuance. The only time this really messed her up was when anyone was explaining anything new. Whether she understood the instructions or not, Lydia always said she did. I could never figure out if she genuinely believed she understood what was being asked of her, or if she just wasn’t willing to risk being the only one who didn’t. Whatever the case, the result was that occasionally Lydia did things wrong. And because she was actually a very enthusiastic worker, when she messed up it was sometimes on a fairly grand scale. Twice during the time I knew her, Lydia was taken into a conference room by a superior and spoken to. Shortly after, Lydia would cry quietly at her desk, and several of us would be assigned to redo some significant volume of Lydia’s work. It was all sort of painful and quiet. Now, people in this office, in general, did not like work. They were especially averse to work that had been assigned to someone else. As a result, Lydia did not have a very impressive desk display. This fact did not stop Lydia from contributing to everyone else’s desk displays. Occasionally she brought in small gifts for everyone in the department. Once it was little hair clips with butterflies on them. Many of the women in the office walked around with butterflies in their hair for a day. Another time, just before the 4th of July, she brought in little 4” by 6” American flags. I took that little flag with me to each of the seven different desks/stations I occupied during my time in that office. I actually still have it. It’s one of a very few things I kept.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Angela was usually at her desk frosting cupcakes. Each cupcake took a very long time. It was almost as if she were working in slow motion, secretly dreading ever being done.

Angela was a young, pretty girl in her twenties. She moved to another city to become a paralegal shortly after I was hired. Before she left, she became a massive contributor to desk displays. Desk displays are, in this particular office environment, the grown-up version of the popularity badges many of us did or didn’t get in grade school and high school. In school, they took the form of friendship bracelets or valentines on Valentine’s Day; whoever has the most wins. 

In this office, at least among the women of clerical, it was little things on your desk that someone else had given you. It was the “someone else had given you” part that was critical. If you just brought in a bunch of your own stuff, it didn’t count. 

If you were really savvy, you had a thing you collected. Then everyone knew what your particular brand of crack was. A couple of women collected keychains. The bulletin boards that some of us wasted on work-related gibberish were, in their cubicles, covered with keychains. It reminded me of collections displayed at a county fair.

Anyway, before Angela left, she put aside her cupcakes for several days to make elaborately decorated little poster-board signs for favored individuals. The signs said things like, “I’ll miss you! Love, Angela,” or “You’re the best ever! Love, Angela.” 

As the currency of desk displays goes, the little signs were absolute genius. You never had to say, “Oh, yeah, Angela gave me that,” because it was right there in bold, flower-decorated print. (No, sadly, I did not receive one.)

What baffled me about Angela was not that she seemed to have nothing work-related to do, ever, but that I never saw anyone eating the cupcakes. I honestly don’t know where they went. I’d see her in the morning, frosting cupcakes, and then again later in the day, cupcakes gone. I have no freakin’ idea what happened to the cupcakes.