Storytelling

Cubicle Farm

I was once in my cubicle, settling down to enjoy an iced tea, when something bad happened. Like most cubicles, it was cramped, and to make up for the lack of space, I had taped project documents all over the walls and shelves surrounding my computer monitor. It’s one of those principles to help you remember things by keeping them in your periphery sight. So I had papers everywhere.

So I was drinking iced tea at the time. I go in streaks; sometimes it’s coffee, other times hot tea, and others still it’s iced tea. So I lean back to take a chug of tea, iced tea, sweet, cold, and I’m bored and bothered at my tiny cubicle with paper all over the place, and so I tip the cup to my lips, and the ice tea goes down my wind pipe. I spit this huge gulp out, spraying half of my cubicle and my computer. The sound is like a sharp roll on a snare drum.

This being a cubicle farm, all of my neighbors come to see what has happened. When they arrive, tea is now dripping from every sheet of paper onto my desk, my monitor is soaked, and puddles have formed in between the keys of my keyboard.

So I gave everyone something to talk about that day.

I’m going to explain to you a few of the things that are wrong with living in a cubicle:

![[Cubicle Farm]]* too small
* not enough desk space
* no amenities for cleaning
* no running water
* too noisy
* neighbors too close
* no privacy
* no escape

My cubicle is six feet by seven feet, smaller than a normal issue. I can’t stretch my arms without scraping my knuckles. In prison, your cell is eight feet by ten feet, and you get to nap on a bunk, and you have full bathroom facilities right there. I know there are drawbacks to being in prison, but at least the guards will open doors for you. At work, you have to open doors for yourself.

Not only are the cubicles small, but your neighbors are so close that they become like family. You don’t get to choose your family, and you don’t really choose your coworkers either. But you have to learn to get along. Sound carries in a cubicle farm, so you quickly learn a lot about your coworkers if you care to pay attention. There are some things you simply have discuss on the phone at work.

Um, I’d like to make an appointment.
Well, I’d rather not say, can I just get an appointment.
I have this thing.
Yes, a thing.
It kind of hurts.
No, not all the time, just when I touch it.
I don’t touch it like that, but it itches.
Yes, it itches, so I scratch it.
I’d rather not say where the thing is.

Heaven forbid if you need a second opinion about your thing. So the people around me know about that problem, but it’s okay, I know the social security number and credit card numbers of all my neighbors.

The worst part of phone conversations in a cubicle farm are speaker phones, because both your neighbor, and their guest, speak louder to be heard across the phone circuit.

If you will refer to page seventeen, there is a typo.
Page seventeen?
Yes, seventeen, third paragraph.
Which paragraph?
The third.
Okay, what about it.
No, wait. it’s the fourth paragraph.
Mine doesn’t have four paragraphs.
Why not?
I don’t know.
Hold it, did I send you the latest?
I don’t know.

Nobody in the row can get anything done until those two get on the same page.

You just hear too many sounds in a cubicle farm. You hear the chairs creak and bump into the edge of the desk. You hear people arguing with their wife, or trying to talk reason to their son (at least my neighbors hear that). The one sound that bothers me the most, though, is the sound of someone clipping their nails. I know it’s a simple, common sound, and something we all must do, but when I hear it, I’m never sure if they’re clipping their finger nails or their toe nails. It bugs me.

People eat at their desk, so you begin to smell things. There’s maple flavored oatmeal in the morning, and then a horrible succession of lean quisine: salisbury steak, quesadias, chili con carne. Then the leftovers come out, and you get spaghetti, beef stew, and chicken stir fry. I sit next to the microwave, so I get every smell and learn to identify the cook by the odor. I can also set my clock by the popcorn schedule: Teri at two, Thurston at Three, and Fred at Four. I’m not complaining, because I could be sitting next to the men’s room, and you do not want to set your clock by that schedule.

After you eat at your desk, it’s time to nap at your desk. It’s something that no amount of coffee can prevent. But I’ve learned to sleep with my head up, and keep my hand moving unconsciously on the mouse so that the screen saver doesn’t kick in and give me away.

I worked in one place, a State Agency that will remain nameless, where people would bring yoga mats to spread out under their desk, and they would nap there. I always thought it was cute, so I’d make sure they had milk and cookies waiting for them on their desk when they woke up.

Because a cubicle reminds me of being in a public bathroom without a door on the stall, I feel very exposed. I also sit with my back to the door, so I have a rear view mirror set up so I can see who is there. I think we all know that the real real reason for that is to know whether or not you should hide the web page you have displayed when someone enters. But, to be honest, I’ve gotten over that. If you close the web page quickly, you’re just admitting guilt. I leave it open, and stare at the person to see if they look at my monitor. Especially when I’m shopping at Victoria’s Secret. I’m just daring them to ask me what I need to buy from there.

Another reason I shouldn’t complain is because I have a window. It’s a small sliver, but it’s something, and most people would kill to have that little bitty bit. Warner Brothers had a cartoon about a naughty little boy named Ralph that stared out the window all the time, and then lost himself in an adventurous day dream. I’m the same way, so when I see the parking lot gate malfunction across the street, I think, I’ll save the day. Let me get my trusty jackman tool, and I’ll fix that right up. Or if someone has trouble lighting their cigarette, I want to run right over and strike a flint for them.

Let’s face it: anything is better than work.

We people are animals that like to stay in herds, and cubicles are slightly better than standing around next to each other while trying to earn a living. And we’re not quite as bad as veal farms, where the animals are chained to their stall. But at least then food is brought in, and waste shoveled out for you.

If I could use a yoga mat for my naps, I might just apply for a job there.