Monday, August 19, 2013


Eddie was not ambitious, but his mother was on his behalf. She worked in another division but had managed to get her son a job in the staple pit. Eddie had gone from lowly staple person to king of the staple people in what I think was just a few months. By the time I joined the staple people, he was acting manager and had his own desk and computer completely removed from the staple pit.

Neither Eddie nor the rest of the staple people had adjusted well to his promotion. Eddie was being pulled in every direction at once. The people who promoted him expected him to effectively manage twenty-odd people when the job he had been originally hired for only required him to pull out staples. 

The woman who had originally managed the staple people had been pulled off the project for reasons that were never made clear. I only saw her a few times, then she went on leave. The first time, when I had just joined the staple pit, I was working at my station when the hair on my neck started to stand on end. I looked around and was startled to see a woman standing halfway up a nearby set of stairs watching the staple people work. She left when she realized she’d been seen. The girl next to me caught my eye and motioned over to where the lady had been. She leaned toward me and whispered the warning, “She yells.” 

The staple people existed because the office was in the process of becoming paperless. The goal was to take all the paper files and scan them so they could be accessed via computer. The physical process was fairly simple. The staple people would go take a stack of sequentially-numbered files from whatever file room we were currently working on, discard the file folders, and reduce the file’s contents to single sheets of paper stacked neatly in a box. This involved removing all staples and paper clips, taping up any tears, and taking any odd-sized things and taping them to a blank sheet of paper. The idea was to eliminate/fix anything that might get hung up in a big industrial scanner. 

The boxes of files (now prepped for scanning) would be delivered to the basement where a group of people with jobs as awesome as my own would scan them.

But before you started yanking out staples, you had to request the barcode sheets. The barcode sheets acted as dividers. Each barcode sheet had the account number of the relevant file and a category indicating the content to follow. So, if a particular file had three different types of content, there would be three different barcode sheets associated with that file (corresponding to its account number). This made it possible to differentiate the different sections of the file electronically so that the information would be user-friendly when accessed via computer. 

What you did was go pick up a stack of files, take them back to your station, and then write down the first and last account numbers in the series. You took the numbers to Eddie. Eddie would locate the series you wanted in an enormous Excel spreadsheet and then print it out for you. Now you had everything you needed to prep the files. At least that’s how it was supposed to work.

In reality, Eddie was rarely at his desk, and when he was he was often busy doing something more important than printing barcode sheets. The staple people developed little work-arounds (post-its marking where the barcode sheets needed to go), but it was far from ideal. At some point, without the barcode sheets, work came to a standstill.

The first time I went to Eddie with a list of barcode sheets I needed, I was surprised when he acted as though he was doing me a favor by giving them to me. He was clearly very busy and I did feel a little sorry for him, but twenty-odd people were frequently twiddling their thumbs because he wasn’t available, or sometimes even willing, to print the barcode sheets.

The higher-ups were making Eddie compile statistics, draw graphs and do God-knows what else in an effort to understand why his project was stalling, while Eddie, in failing to produce the barcode sheets, frequently forced the project to stall. The project lurched along in this pattern for months.

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