The break room

There were several orders last time I visited the maildrop, so I went to work early, and ran twenty more copies of the September issue. Then I put the piping-hot zines in my backpack, and napped in what used to be the break room, until it was time to punch in.

The break room … Let me tell you about what used to be the break room. 

When I started working at this department store I'll never name, the break room was a quiet alcove off the employees’ cafeteria. It was nothing fancy, but it was a quiet retreat from the office, with an easy chair, a comfy couch that had been there probably longer than I’ve been alive, a candy machine, a table, and a few more mismatched chairs. There was also a TV, but you could turn it off if you needed a few minutes of sanity.

Then the company — while in bankruptcy, remember — spent over $300,000 remodeling the cafeteria and break room. The comfortable chairs and couch were replaced by metal seats and benches, without a stitch of padding. I'm a fat guy and those metal chairs hurt my butt; they must have been worse for skinny people. The TV multiplied itself like loaves and fishes at the Sermon on the Mount — big screens were hung near the ceiling all over the cafeteria and break room, so always it’s Oprah or a soap opera, and not in a corner for those who are interested, but everywhere — and mounted higher than any human can reach, to change the channel or turn it off.

About a year after the remodeling, when almost everyone had stopped using the now-unbearable break room, it became another executive meeting room. So now there’s no break room. Everyone takes their breaks in the cafeteria, or at their desks, or in the empty offices of the many, many workers who’ve been laid off. I spend most of my breaks on the toilet in the men’s room, where you can hear yourself poop but you can also hear yourself think.

They don’t lock the former break room overnight, so that’s where I napped, with no TV, with the door closed, tilted back in an overstuffed leather recliner that usually holds an executive's ass and probably cost $1,000. 

♦ ♦ ♦

My first post-Marcia Monday at the store was odd. There were plenty of new things to do, maybe more than I can keep up with — my regular work, plus all the things Marcia used to do.

Or actually, about half the things Marcia used to do. I’ve trimmed the list substantially, beginning by eliminating all the computer-queries she was running for junior executives. They're adults, they have fingers, so they can run their own queries. Or ask me and I’ll run them for them, but I’m not going to be an administrative assistant for every junior exec in the building unless someone at least asks.

I'm also not checking the status of a dozen things Marcia checked every day. Just, no. Her list includes instructions on what to do if the status isn't what it's supposed to be, and OK, I'll fix things if the status is "red." But I'm not spending half an hour every morning clicking through eleven different software systems just to ensure everything is status "green," not when the boss doesn't even know I'm checking. Screw that. I have real work to do, work my boss expects me to do.

Another of my Marcia duties is that every morning, I’m supposed to log the volume of incoming work in about 222 different categories, using the company’s elaborate waste-of-time keep-track-of-everything filing system. I couldn’t do it this morning, though, because it’s a physical ledger book, there's only one copy, and Darla had it propped open on her desk. I asked for the book so I could make the morning entries, and she scowled at me like the insignificant interruption I am, so when she looks at the book tomorrow, today’s entries will be blank.

In the afternoon, I flagged Darla down to ask a management question: I’d made a short list of what seems to be my major new responsibilities, and asked her to help me prioritize. “When I’m swamped like today, which of these are the most important?”

She looked at the list, then at me, then looked again at the list, and said, “They’re all important,” and she walked away. Got it, thanks. I will do whatever I have time to do, and the rest won’t get done.

♦ ♦ ♦

Mom called again, and left the same message for the fourth time on my machine: “Please call me.” I didn’t call her.

♦ ♦ ♦

The fleet of fire trucks that woke me early Sunday morning? Seems they were on their way to an old building a block away from my office. I happened to walk by there on my lunch today, and there’d always been a little drug store on the verge of bankruptcy that never had what I needed, but now that store is boarded up. Black char from the flames climb up from all the first and second floor windows. 

The newspaper says nobody died, nobody was injured. I’ll bet that crappy little shop was insured for more than it was worth. Where was its proprietor at about 3:30 yesterday morning?

From Pathetic Life #3
Monday, October 17, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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  1. Are you THE Doug Holland I sent a box of vitamins to ?

    1. I remember vitamins, yup, but I don't remember who sent 'em — sorry. I've never been good with names. I'll say THANK YOU now, if I didn't say it then.


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