I work in a cubicle farm. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. My cube is larger than most I’ve seen on television. That’s a plus, I suppose. Although the way my computer is situated in the corner, I cannot see people walk up behind me. Others in the farm have mounted mirrors to the left and right of their computer screens, so they are alerted when someone is behind them. It’s a little long-distance truck driver for me, but it must work. They are never caught by surprise. Last week, I carried on an entire conversation with a co-worker while she looked at me in her rear-view mirror. It was a little off-putting.
Working in a cubicle makes me feel like a little girl who has been put in the corner for punishment. Being sentenced to standing in the corner was a big deal when I was little, it was a space I wanted to escape quickly! As a grown up with a family that needs relatively affordable group health insurance, you learn to sit in the corner. With a smile. All. Day. Long.
My 8 x 8 cube has grey panels with light-blue stitching in a pattern reminiscent of the 1980s, not quite splatter-paint, but close. The panels fit together at the sides with beige metal lock-in tabs, life-sized erector-set pieces. The big, beige, four-drawer file cabinet right behind me takes up most of my cubicle space. I have two overhead storage bins on both the right and left sides of my cubicle wall, too. So, my cube, in particular, has a rather cavernous feel. Someone told me not long ago that the standard cubicle length is approximately the same size as an adult coffin. Lovely.
You can tell how long someone has worked at the farm by how their cube is decorated – or not. Some cubes are nests for humans with tiny bits of treasure tucked into nooks and crannies: yellowed certificates of one type of recognition or another, cartoon clippings, a plant or two, a candy dish, pictures of family. Long ago, a co-worker advised not to bring anything to the office that I couldn’t gather it all up to leave within three minutes. It’s worth thinking about.
While perfectly positioned in relationship to my boss’s office, my cube is the first in a bank of cubes belonging to the IT department. Therefore, I am privy to lots and lots of computer-speak, jokes I don’t understand at all, terminology that sounds like we work at NASA, and the occasional pieces of personal information which are the most interesting and, consequently, my favorite things to overhear. It’s a fascinating window into the lives of complete strangers.
Sir Jingle-Jangle has his own office, directly across from my cube opening. He is some sort of technology-fixer because I hear him on the phone saying phrases like: “Have you rebooted?” or “I keep telling you there is no way we can manage all these tickets. I’ve told management this many times. Obviously, no one is listening. If you can fix by re-booting, then you don’t need to call me.” Jingle-Jangle has a set of keys clipped to his belt loop with a stainless steel carabiner. Every time he leaves his office, which is often, he locks his door.
All the door locking increases my intrigue. I know a substantial amount of computer equipment is housed in his office, but honestly, I don’t know that anyone would be interested in taking it. We don’t get a whole lot of foot traffic in the farm.
The constant locking and unlocking of the door is a personality indicator: He is a rule follower. He trusts no one. He is either really important or he has a false sense of importance, what with all the keys. Either way, the keys on the carabiner alone are a not-so-subtle implication that he’s kind of a big deal.
Sitting directly across and sharing a cubicle wall with me is Mr. Whiskers. On my very first day, my co-worker walked me around the farm in the proverbial, awkward first-day meet-and-greet. When she introduced me to Mr. Whiskers, I extended my hand and said, “Pleased to meet you.” He spun around in his swivel chair, looked at me over the top of thick, dark-metal framed glasses, did not extend his hand and responded instead, “I know you are.”
I have since learned he does this same shtick when meeting anyone new. He’s also a fan of responding to “Have a good day!” with “Don’t tell me what to do.” Once, when the office secretary asked, “How are you today?” he answered with, “None of your damn business.”
I never engage Mr. Whiskers. He is not that kind of cube-neighbor. What I know about him, I’ve picked up from eavesdropping (it is literally IMPOSSIBLE not to) and keen observation. I often fantasize about fashioning a tiny dental mirror on the end of an antenna that I can use to look over the top edge of my cube wall.
Although he has multiple cats, he only speaks specifically about one. Mephistopheles, clearly his favorite, hates the rain and is terrified of thunder. Anytime dark clouds begin to form, Mr. Whiskers gets super anxious about his cat. He will begin saying to no one in particular in a phlegmy voice, prone to a nervous cough, “OOOOh, I know someone who is not going to like this. I bet he is already under the bed. <cough, snort> It’ll take me forever to get him out tonight.” As the storm worsens, Mr. Whiskers gets more anxious. “I hope my wife remembers to give him his anxiety meds,” he whisper-frets while standing at our only office window (which I cannot see from my desk.)
Once, I overheard him complaining to one of his co-workers about the frequency with which we