Monday, November 22, 2010
Hey Kid, Get Off My Lawn! - Grumpy Thoughts from a Cubicle Dweller
As I approach the start of my 24th year with the same employer, it’s hard not to reflect on how dramatically the workplace environment has been transformed, primarily for the better, in that relatively short period of time. Surely to some of the younger blog readers, 24 years would seen akin to a time travel jaunt and a pleasant visit with Aristotle (I would thank him for “Poetics.“ written in 350 BC and still an indispensable tome for those learning the skills of dramatic writing.) On the other hand, considering the topics covered on this webpage, it’s highly likely that my younger readers may have actually studied with Aristotle. When I speak of said changes and differences with youthful co-workers (to quote Jean Shepherd’s, “A Christmas Story,“ soon to be seen on TBS, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) they look at me as if I have “lobsters crawling out of my ears” and I commuted in to work that morn via horse and buggy. Well, juvenile jobbers, there were, in fact, periods of recorded human history, prior to your very essential existence, when events and changes of actual consequence did occur. And so in the great tradition of older, crankier people lecturing younger, more naïve people about how much harder we perceive we used to have it - listen well, take heed and believe - or perhaps, instead, gather that this is all but a weak set-up for a litany of office-place related jibes - your choice.
In the early days of my current employment, ashtrays were given out as corporate swag, company logo proudly displayed - and make no mistake about it, they were put to use in cubicle after cubicle. Great, grey clouds of cigarette smoke billowed from office to office, down winding corridors, seeping into conference rooms and air ducts, infiltrating entire buildings. Choking, coughing, red-eyed and ashen-faced, we met our daily duties. Smokers had not yet been forced to become nicotine-addicted postmen - neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these smokers from the swift completion of their appointed tokes - huddled together against the elements and the harsh environs, leaning against building exteriors, sheltering under eaves, bodies pressed tightly, one against the other, like Survivor contestants, desperate for the warmth projected by a co-workers body heat. Such is the embarrassment, the shame, the degradation that has befallen these once proud people, despondently clinging to their back of the bus high school days and their mythology of cool.
On each and every desk one would find a large, bulky, weighty typewriter - and we loved them. If you were fortunate enough to have one with a correction ribbon you awoke each morning with a smile on your face, a song in your heart and animated blue birds on either shoulder. What computers there were, were the size of the highest-compensated executive’s offices. Massive, “Colossus: The Forbin Project” monstrosities, they excreted millions of cardboard punch hole cards which were meticulously ordered, numbered, filed by hand, only to be disposed of; while large tape reels were continuously being spooled, un-spooled and then pointlessly exchanged by silent drones in white lab coats. Happily, these primitive computers have all been replaced, as movie depictions teach us that they were planning the eventual take-over and destruction of all mankind.
Office conversation consisted of phrases like, “say, what’s the big idea?” “so’s your Aunt Tillie,” and “well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” If a female co-worker proved exemplary, corporate policy was to reward her with a pat on the posterior as a sign of approval. Not only was interoffice fraternization not discouraged, it was actually required. There were more “accidents” from office parties than from a Bristol Palin abstinence lecture (sorry, mess with the purity of America’s most sacred reality program and one has no choice but to bristle, Bristol.) Monthly expenses were calculated on abacuses, and when lengthy memos needed composing, we would read into dictaphones. Unfortunately, since I have previously pledged to never work blue (although, I may occasionally slip into periwinkle, for as Aristotle tells us on page 56 of Poetics, “polysyllabic ‘p’ words are always amusing” ) I must regrettably pass on this logical opportunity to share the ancient dictaphone joke that concludes with the punch line, “no, I use my finger.”
In conclusion, and with that last proud gag (although I defy you to find any other blog that references Aristotle three times, and a genitalia joke in the same posting) I actually thank you younger co-toilers for patiently listening to the repetitive prattling and exaggerated eccentricities of days of yore - and can you show me, just one more time, how this new software works again? I hold down “control” and then what? Which is control?
And now, for no particular reason but that I’m in a Kinks mood and I love the wit and intelligence of Ray Davies' writing, “Sunny Afternoon.”