Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It's Spring! Stupidity is in the air!

I think they got the full moon wrong. It was supposedly last Friday, but this afternoon everyone around me seems to have gone crazy. Either that or there's a conspiracy afoot to drive me out of my mind. And really, I'm already close enough to walk.

Because I'm at this company to do a project, and not filling in for a regular employee, my desk is in a little cluster of cubicles reserved for "consultants." There are a few regulars, and a few cubicles that are empty 90% of the time except when someone's visiting for a day or two, and the whole thing is removed from the rest of the floor in a way that leaves me relatively free of supervision, and generally very quiet. I like this very much.

But today my fortress of temp solitude was invaded, not once but several times, each remarkably stupid and more annoying than the last.

First, the very nice, older, orthodox Jew from across the way, with whom I've exchanged pleasantries but don't actually know, asked me if the guy I replaced here still worked for my temp agency. This wouldn't be such a ridiculous question if he hadn't already asked it my first week. "I don't know," I said again, "I've never met him."

"Oh? Really? Oh. Well, I just wondered where he went."

What, do you have a crush on him or something? "I just know he got another job and left, on rather short notice. I assume not with the agency because they wouldn't do that." In fact, I know a great deal more than this – that it was definitely not through the agency, that his wife works for the agency, and that my manager will never hire him for an assignment here again – but none of that is really any of my business (my manager likes to gossip with those of us she likes), so it certainly isn't this strange little man's, and anyway he seemed to want an even more specific answer. Also, as he himself noted, "One day he was here and the next day you were," so I'm confused by his insistence that we must know each other. As if our international agency of hundreds of part-time, freelance workers has regular drink nights or something. I've told him before that I never met him, having started after he left, but his befuddled response was still "Oh. I thought you might know."

A little while later, this same man was talking to a female colleague in the next cube over. I wasn't listening so I don't know how it started, but they got to talking about 9/11 and then I found it impossible not to listen. Now, while this isn't exactly a pleasant topic, I'm usually pretty okay with it, and working just a few blocks from the Trade Center site I've gotten used to it sort of being in the air. But this guy was telling his story of the day, which was highly mundane, as those stories go, and making odd observations that would make me cringe, such as, "I couldn't get on a Staten Island Ferry because they were saving them to use for casualties or bodies. Of course there weren't many; no one expected people to just dissolve like that," and my favorite, "My boss' husband was killed. They found an arm and a torso." Along with speculation about how many other buildings, including ours, the towers might have hit if they'd fallen differently, I found it all highly distasteful and disrespectful. Mostly, I cringed at the educational tone in his voice, as if he was saying things everyone didn't already know. Had he been more emotional, or perhaps had the monotone of someone who's spoken about tragedy so much as to be numbed to his own story, it wouldn't have bothered me. But instead it was like, "An arm and a torso, isn't that fascinating?! I mean, wow, it's like an episode of CSI!"

The woman, though, sounded like she might not already know it, apparently living in a cave (an inappropriate metaphor, perhaps) for the past 3-and-a-half years. I wondered if she was dumb or extremely good at feigning interest, until she added to the conversation that this company moved to this building after 2001 (which isn't true at all, as I worked here in 1999) from "...oh, I forget the name of the know, where the bull is?" Um, you forgot the name of Broadway???

Soon after that, thankfully, they stopped, but just a few minutes later two other men decided to have a long conference outside my cube, leaning on the file cabinets where the printers are. Now, as is clear from the length of this post, I'm not overly interested in doing my work, but this is just rude, especially since they both have desks just feet away. Conversation from over there is just background static, but from 2 feet from my head it's a serious distraction. And I was working on something that required concentration at the time (whether it was the work for which I'm being paid is neither here nor there). I kept glaring at them but they were oblivious. And since I spend much of my day on the phone (as quietly as I can manage, but who knows how sensitive people are) I didn't want to say anything and risk opening a can of double-standard-loving worms. But as their agitated talk continued, and one of them quoted Glengarry Glen Ross (I shit you not) the urge to throw something became too great, so I got up and headed to the lobby for a Diet Pepsi (there are vending machines on the floor, but then I can't cheat).

The elevators in this building don't stay open for very long, which is intensely irritating because it’s a big building with many elevators, and the ding comes from a central speaker, so often by the time you figure out which car has opened and get to it, the doors are already closed or closing. It's like a traffic light that's only green long enough for an average pedestrian to get halfway across the street. And the bays are narrow so you're almost always approaching a car from the side, so you can't even really blame other passengers for not holding the Door Open button for you since they can't see you, and anyway half the time the thing is empty and closing for no reason.

I usually try not to let this bug me since I have no particular fear of elevators and more trust than I should in whatever magic it is that makes the door open when it encounters an obstacle. I can usually get there in time to throw my arm between the doors, wait patiently for them to close gently on me, then reopen. So I did this just now coming back from the cafeteria with my Diet Pepsi (and free iTunes song), and when I stepped into the elevator the woman inside, with bad hair dye, an ugly coat, and a nasal Lawn Gyland whine that made Edith Bunker sound like Judi Dench, said "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see you – but be careful with these elevators."

Trying to be cordial, but not wanting to have a conversation, I said, "Well, they close quickly, but they're pretty gentle."

"No they're not," she said emphatically. "I was... on the other side... wait, which one was it? ...Yeah, it was over there..." (not so emphatic) "I stepped in and the doors just closed on me, right on my shoulders. It didn't hurt at the time, but the next day – muscle spasms!"

I didn't know what to say. The woman looked – how should I put it? – sturdy, and in my life as a temp I've worked all over the building and have never seen an elevator close chomp down on a worker with the intent to maim. And yet here I was, trapped in a small box with Debbie Downer. Fortunately, I didn't need to respond, because she kept on talking – "I guess something was wrong with the eye maybe..." – and then we were at my floor. It seemed rude not to say anything as I left, so as the doors closed behind me with merciful swiftness I called out, "You should sue!"

Then I came back to my desk and ate a mocklate bar in an attempt to suppress my desire to go on a killing spree through the building.

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