Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I am a Dingo

Sometimes it takes the perspective of a seven year-old. Monday night Kristen and I dropped her car in the driveway of the people I babysit for and their girl talked to me from the front porch.
"Why are you parking in our driveway?"
"We have to drive all the way to Connecticut tomorrow for our company party," I replied, with disgust in my voice.
"That sounds cool."
"Eh," I said, "it's not great. Some of our coworkers aren't much fun."
"Yeah, well," she said, "hanging out and eating food all day sounds better than work."
Theoretically, it is. Don't get me wrong-- given the choice of proofchecking all day or being handed a free Sam Adams on a sunny day near the ocean, I'll always take the beer and ocean. I just hate having to be nice to so many people at once. Usually during the day I have to schmooze only at the soda cooler. Our department has its own floor, so we're fairly self-contained. During the holiday party and CO, we need to be nice to everyone we seldom see. It's trying for us bookish types.

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Welcome to hell.
Kristen, KCee and I drove to Connecticut in Kristen's Soccer Mom Mobile armed with coffee, painkillers and croissants. We listened to the Black Eyed Peas and reviewed the office gossip. It's odd how much adult life mirrors high school. The cliques are still there, and it's disappointing because we've all been told it gets better after high school, that it's all relationship communism and we're all equals. Bullshit. In my office, there's the Mothers, the Bitter Singles, the Happily Marrieds/Relationshipped, the Young Professional Hipsters, the Elder Statespeople. There's some overlap, but it's pretty clear boundaries.
It was disappointing to see that the beer hadn't been set out when we arrived. Granted, it was 10am, but we'd been in Connecticut for hours at that point and needed to break up the monotony. Our carload found our usual posse-- the Seventh Floor. We sat on the stone wall, watching our coworkers attempt to toss a softball around. Two women who I never met could not connect the ball with the glove. Either they threw the ball about twenty feet above the other person, or they didn't understand that the glove must be closed around the ball to keep it from hitting the ground with a thud. Kristen and I wished we'd brought gloves so we could school them.
Some of our coworkers played the annual softball game, but the Bitter Singles broke off from the Seventh Floor clique and sat on the rocks that jut into the ocean. The weather was excellent-- the breeze was chilly, but the sun was warm. I sat in the sun with goosebumps trying to get some sun on my pasty skin. I succeeded-- my coworker told me she could actually see my skin change color before her eyes.
The best thing about my office is the free food. The pay isn't great (really bad if you're paying for the degree that got you the job) but the handouts are frequent. Leftovers from meetings, company affairs and, should worse come to worse, free ramen noodles are usually available. CO is no exception. Our office manager is a crack party coordinator. If party planners were government officials, she'd have a code name. When it was time for lunch, the beer was cold and people were prompt to wait in line for their food.
Some people, however, did not wait in line for food. I will preface my tirade with this-- I do not doubt that these women are good mothers. The kids in tow were happy, healthy and fairly nonplussed by the entire affair. But I was a hungry Bitter Single who'd been in a car for two hours. All I'd had since breakfast was the beer I chugged after coming in from the sun. I was crankier than a kid in church. Mother One cut in front of me, baby in her grasp.
"God, I'm so hungry," she said. "I'm always hungry after nursing."
I shot her a look, knowing that I wasn't making friends with someone I may well have to work with. But she was in my way. Hamburgers and salmon awaited, and she felt that bringing her child into the line was her pass to the front. I waited my turn. I'm hungry too. The end of the line was possibly fifteen people behind me. Bring some Triscuts with you if you know you'll be hungry after nursing and wait. I felt like an angry preschooler on the verge of a tantrum. "Sesame Street taught me to wait my turn and I HAVE WAITED AND YOU ARE NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES BIG BIRD SET FORTH."
Once Mother One got her food and scampered away, Mother Two dragged her preschool aged daughter to the front of the line, grabbed a plate and didn't excuse herself at all. I may have been a little more patient had she prefaced her cutting with, "Hey, I'm really sorry, but we were in the bathroom and she's diabetic and about to slip into shock" or something. But she just hopped in line, showing her daughter that cutting is acceptable and waiting for your hot dog like a normal person is not.
"Next year I'm bringing a kid," I said to KCee, who nodded.
I consulted with Another Mother this morning, who said that she'd have brought snacks to sate her kid's hunger until the line got shorter. She didn't seem as outraged as the Bitter Singles did. When I babysit, I don't use the kids to skip the line. Maybe if a bathroom emergency is at hand I'd ask, but for food? They can wait. If I'd tried to cut a line for food when I was a kid, my mother would hiss out of the corner of her mouth to wait my turn.
Once I got my plate of food and returned to the Seventh Floor table (minus a few people) I ate my lunch and sat through the office manager snapping pictures when I wasn't looking, undoubtably a collection of freeze frames of my mouth wide open, the hambuger being raised to my mouth will be on display when the film's developed. The President welcomed the newbies and thanked the Elder Statespeople for all their help. "We've all been through a lot," she yelled over the din of a passing train. "We stopped drinking, stopped smoking, stopped stressing so much, stopped doing drugs..." to which my Young Professional Hipster coworker and I laughed, imagining our senior editor blowing a line off the page proof of a college textbook.
We loitered for a while longer after the lunch and speeches were over, but hustled as quickly as we could out of the state of Connecticut. After recounting the tribulations of the day, the ex-WHW opined, "We have weekends for a reason. If you like your coworkers so much, you can see them then. The forced togetherness is horrible."
But at least it wasn't proofchecking.

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