Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some thoughts on walls. With bonus reference to masturbation.

I work as a hired gun writer in the corporate world, and like everyone in office life, walls are very important to me. Increasingly, due to space constraints, money troubles, or sadism, many companies in recent years have moved employees into cubicles. I call them veal pens. I know from past experience that cube life is awful. Cubicles are designed in part to buffer noise, but they’re typically very ineffective. For six months at previous job I worked one cube away from a woman whose adolescent-Britney-Spears-attired daughter was tethered to her by the virtual umbilical of her cell phone. Apparently the girl had gotten caught smoking pot with one of the school bad boys and this was as close to affixing a Lo-Jack to her child as she could come without Social Services getting involved. She would call several times a day when she knew her daughter was between classes or at lunch, and especially every day after school. I heard half of the conversation about every bit of domestic family minutiae particularly that the girl was NOT TO HAVE BOYS OVER and NO she could not wear a lingerie top to school.

A current coworker told me about one cube-neighbor who had a habit of nervously rocking back and forth in her chair most of the day. "The chair creaked and squeaked. I tried to oil it, but it didn't work. I would complain sometimes but she was a transplanted New Yorker. She’d just say, 'Put on your fuckin' headphones!' I finally swapped chairs with her, but a couple of weeks later that one started squeaking. She was a chair killer."

Maybe worse than sound is smell. In cube life, if your coworker wears too much perfume or passes gas all day, you’re pretty much bathing in their odors. Another cube neighbor in my past was phobic about germs and had a hard-on for Lysol aerosol, spraying it all over his workspace at the beginning of the day and before returning to work after lunch, presumably in case someone had spread anthrax across his keyboard in his absence. Clouds of pine scent would waft over the partition and rain down on me like Agent Orange.

Everyone who's worked in a cubicle has one of these stories. In all of them it seems to me there is an underlying yearning for some solitude and space to yourself, a need which is increasingly disallowed in the modern office, the ethos of which typically prizes surveillance over privacy.

In my current job, there is both more and less privacy than in my cube life days. More privacy in that everyone in my group works in offices rather than cubicles, but less in that since I'm a contractor, I'm roomed with two other members of my team in an office smaller than ones occupied by one full-time employee. I don't mind much at this point because I like my coworkers and they're both women. In prior contracts I've roomed with men: typically tech geeks who were so invested in the virtual world that they neglect almost everything real-world, including and especially hygiene and housekeeping. During these times, I've worked in near darkness (primarily nocturnal creatures, tech geek eyes can only bear the illumination provided by their dim monitors) and a funky blend of B.O. and the aromas of old pizza and coffee. One guy was so gung-ho to get hired full-time that he would sleep in the office to show his dedication to pulling the long hours. With the poor ventilation it filled up overnight with the odors of his nocturnal gas emissions fueled by eating burritos and vending machine fare.

Certainly, offices represent status in the workplace. They indicate the inhabitant is important and valued and trusted enough to have privacy. The really important people have locks on their doors, a fact that is excruciatingly titillating to the rest of us, because, while it's never talked about, everyone knows that locks on doors mean office sex, either accompanied or solo. When such privacy is not provided, I tend to find it. Whereas some people are drawn to the furnishings or fine decor of a house or office, my eye naturally gravitates to closets, alcoves, and other secluded areas. I’m always wondering, “could I fit in there?” I adopted this practice as a child when I used to hide from schoolyard predators in one of the overturned tractor tires at the periphery of the schoolyard.

Since my jobs for much of my life have been menial and/or clerical, I've often had the luxury of having keys to storage rooms or other lightly trafficked places where I could hide from the Man, read a book, have a little nap, or perhaps indulge in a little stress-and-boredom-relieving office onanism. And let’s face it, sex is sweet, but sex on company time is sublime.

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