I work in an office with a three-shift operation, which means I share a desk with two employees who work nights. We all try to be considerate of each other, cleaning the desktop before we leave, wiping down the keyboard to remove any sticky soda stains, being judicious about which trash goes in the desk-side receptacle (candy wrappers, empty water bottles) and which has to go in the bin outside (animal flesh, blood-stained clothing).
Minor comforts and conveniences that need adjustment from one person to the next are left for the incoming person to deal with. The short-statured lady who follows me on second shift pulls out a footstool so her legs don’t dangle like a baby in a high chair. The guy on third shift adjusts the chair back so he can recline easily and sleep during the wee dark hours of late night.
Some of us like the gel-filled wrist rests (I stick mine in the microwave for 30 seconds because, when warmed, it feels like my sleeping wife) and some of us don’t. Some of us like the extra desk lamp turned on, while I prefer not to have a clear view of the pages I’m reading, in case it makes me legally culpable some day down the road. I like the wind-blown ambience of a fan (it makes me feel like I’m out on the open prairie) while others would rather not chase their proofs down the hall. All of us recognize we can customize these features for ourselves.
We share a small easel to prop up certain papers we need to reference frequently during our work. It’s a simple black rectangle of metal, unadorned except for the “Fellowes” logo at the top right. Though fully utilitarian as it is, the guy on third shift has felt the need to tape a single sheet of paper to it. On the paper is one word, shouting in bold, 240-point type — “JOY”.
I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. I assume he uses it as a reminder to be happy, despite his dismal circumstances of working in a modern American office, a wage slave pushing paper. You’d think he needs a verb in there somewhere. “Joy,” a noun, can’t just sit there by itself. More appropriate, you’d imagine, would be something like “EXPERIENCE JOY” or “BE HAPPY”. Just knowing there’s joy out there somewhere, and not knowing what to do with it, seems worse than nothing at all. It’s a tantalizing but inaccessible prospect that I wouldn’t care to be reminded about in the middle of my Excel spreadsheet.
Maybe it’s the name of his wife or significant other. Maybe just seeing her name every time he removes a work order from the easel lifts his spirits. Personally, I’d rather have a picture of a loved one instead of the letterforms that make up their name, but maybe that’s something he doesn’t care to share with his coworkers. Or maybe she’s ugly.
My other theory is that he’s a religious person who manages to find joy in the spiritual world. I don’t get to talk to him much, just a passing word or two as I arrive and he leaves, so I can’t know this for a fact. I did ask him once “how are you doing?” and he answered “I’m blessed,” which seemed a little odd. So maybe he’s just weird enough to think the bliss and ecstasy of the supernatural world can be summoned onto the production floor of a financial printer by keying three simple letters into a Word file and hitting “command P.”
Whatever the case, I’m tolerating this intrusion of optimism without making any big fuss about it. Though it has crossed my mind to freak him out one day by replacing his sign with one that says “DESPAIR.”
My efforts on the job are managed by a person we call the production coordinator. He’s responsible for bringing in the work and making sure it’s started promptly and finished by its deadline. In such a role, he needs to keep tabs on the people he works with, knowing whether they’ve stepped away from their desk for just a moment or will instead be away for an extended period.
I have a good relationship with my coordinator, and would probably go so far as to call him a friend. So we’ve worked together to come up with a system that allows me to notify him with just a glance of how long I might be away. This way, I don’t have to interrupt him if he’s on the phone or talking with someone else.
If I flash Aaron a “one,” holding my pointer finger skyward, it means I will be gone for the length of time it takes to void my bladder. That’s not necessarily what I’m going to do as I head down the hall; it’s merely an indication that he can expect me to be gone for between two and four minutes, about the duration of the average pee.
If I show a “two,” in a rough approximation of a peace sign, it means I’ll be away for the time it takes to tend to the other excretory function. This would be about five to ten minutes, unless we split an order of spam musubi from the Hawaiian restaurant that just opened around the corner, in which case it may be as much as 15 minutes.
We’re also working on developing two other hand signals. I flashed him a “three” the other day and he gave me a quizzical look. I stopped to explain that simple arithmetic should tell him this meant I’d be gone for up to 20 minutes, the time it would take to address number one and number two consecutively. He countered that “three” should mean no more than ten minutes, since most people can handle the two functions simultaneously. So we still have some work to do hammering out an understanding on that one.
The other signal I’ve tried looks like this:
It’s meant to indicate “one half”. This does not mean, I explain, that I’ll be away between one and two minutes. It means instead that, because of recently diagnosed prostate problems, I may be gone as much as a half-hour and, even then, I’ll only be half empty.
I like to think of these as our gang signs, though I’m sure you’ll agree it would be one of the least fearsome crews on the streets today.