April 22, 2003
Just Say No


I have, by my calculations, exactly eleven and a half minutes to get this groundwater monitoring report out the door.

At least the report has already been proofread and formatted this time. All I have to do is print out a clean master copy, get all three of the project leaders to sign it, photocopy four report copies onto fancy-pants Dirt Company letterhead (and another three in-house copies onto everyday regular paper), hole-punch and bind the report copies. stuff the whole mess into an envelope, type an address label and fill out a shipping manifest ... all of this, hopefully, by the time the hunky California Overnight Pick-Up Guy gets here at 4:30. Fortunately, it's a small report. Eleven-and-a-half minutes should be more than enough time,  provided I stay focused, provided I move quickly, provided I don't wander away from the copier and forfeit my turn.

And -- of course -- provided I'm not bombarded by stoopid interruptions.

So far, I'm cooking right along. I've just sent the report to the printer -- a couple of the footers needed minor tweakage, as it turns out -- and now I'm dashing to the production room with an armload of report appendices for copying. It is at that precise moment that The New Girl suddenly comes stomping down the hallway towards me, looking agitated. 

"My printer is flashing a 'low toner' message," she says flatly. And then she just stands there for a moment, looking at me expectantly.

Office scuttlebutt has it that The New Girl is having a Very Bad Day. I've been hearing rumors of missed deadlines, last-minute proposal changes, tense closed-door sessions with angry managers. If anyone can empathize with how she must be feeling right now, it's yours truly. Unfortunately, I'm too under the gun myself to offer more than token assistance. I nod towards the pile of fresh toner cartridges, stacked on the floor of the production room right behind her. 

"We just got a ton of new cartridges delivered today," I tell her. "Help yourself."

But this clearly isn't what she had in mind. "I actually don't have time to change it myself," she says with regal snootiness. "I'm on deadline."

And she stands there and looks at me some more.

The implication is clear. It's in her tone, her demeanor, her expression. Whatever I may be in the middle of right now -- whatever silly, trivial, inconsequential little front-desk busywork I may be attending to -- couldn't possibly be as important as her Incredibly Urgent Toner Emergency.

In other words: she's ordering me to report for Toner Cartridge Duty.

For one long moment I'm actually unsure how I want to handle this. On the one hand, I understand that she's racing against the clock. She's spent most of her day being fitted for a new excretory system by management, and now she's scrambling to effect a little damage control. God knows we've all been there. I understand that when you're feeling as stressed as she is right now, things like courtesy and consideration for your co-workers can easily take second place to blind gibbering panic. If she were even the slightest bit polite or respectful or pathetic about this -- if she said God, Secra, I am so screwed unless you help me out here -- I would probably be inclined to help her. It would be easy, actually: I could drop my report appendices into the copier and hit autofeed, and then while the copies were cooking I could walk down the hall to her cubicle and change her printer toner for her. It would take all of about two minutes.

On the other hand ... she didn't even bother to say 'Please.'

"I'm sorry," I say to her evenly. "I'm on a deadline, too." And I walk away, with my report appendices in my arms, leaving her standing there in the doorway hating me. By my calculations, I've now got five minutes to get this groundwater monitoring report out the door.

Barring any further interruptions, I'm probably going to make it.



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