I hear her footsteps in the office hallway, coming closer and closer to my door, and my heart sinks.
She has a very distinctive walk: a brisk and busy clippity cloppity clippity cloppity. When I hear that sound, there is no mistaking who is heading directly for my office ... or why.
It's The Office Gossip, coming to poop on me again.
She seeks me out once or twice a week, usually first thing in the morning when I'm overcaffeinated and uncharacteristically verbose ... or else late in the afternoons, when the office is quiet and I'm feeling sleepy and vulnerable. If I'm not sitting at my desk, she'll roam the building, looking for me. "Can I see you for a few minutes?" she says, when she eventually tracks me down. The sense of urgency in her voice -- the rabid, expectant expression on her face -- are unmistakeable.
It says Yo! Secra! Have I got some juicy office poop for YOU!
The first couple of times this happened, I'll admit, I was intrigued and responsive and sort of flattered that she'd sought me out. I obediently followed her down the hallway to my office and closed the door, and I *met* with her for fifteen minutes or an hour or however long it took her to unload her latest buttload of juicy office poop. And it's true -- she does seem to have an endless supply of amazingly juicy office poop. She must spend an awful lot of time skulking around doorways and hiding behind potted dwarf schlefferas.
But more and more often, lately, I've been dodging her.
"I'm sorry," I'll say, when I emerge from the bathroom stall and find her standing there, waiting for me. "I'm already late for my emergency acupuncture appointment!" And then I'll go hang out in the supply closet all afternoon ... or I'll plead *headache* and leave the office early and go to Sears and buy clothes ... or I'll take the elevator and use the fudking TENTH FLOOR Ladies Room for the rest of the day, if I have to.
Anything to avoid being dragged into another poopfest.
A lot of the time this strategy works. The only time it doesn't work is when I'm helplessly trapped in my little end-of-the-hallway office with nowhere to run. Which is what happened this morning.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the occasional juicy morsel of office poop as much as the next guy. I've got a keen (borderline-obsessive) interest in the details of other people's daily lives. I want to know what books you've got piled on your bedside table! What kind of magnets you have on your refrigerator! Where you keep your high school yearbooks! (Were you a cheerleader? Or a Quiet Loner Chick, like me?) The difference, though -- at least, the difference as *I* see it -- is that MY interest isn't particularly malicious. I'm not peeking into your medicine cabinet looking for blackmail material: I just want to know what brand of shampoo you use.
But The Office Gossip is clearly operating under a different agenda.
Her scoop today is an especially venal bit of business about Merrilee the New Corporate Communications Facilitator. I'm not a huge Merrilee fan myself -- I think it was the vulva-high miniskirt that ruined Merrilee for me -- but even *I* find this latest story disturbing. If it's true, it's not only a dismissable offense, it's against the law. (And if it isn't true, then it's even more disturbing.) I am careful to betray absolutely no emotion whatsoever as The O.G. spins her yarn about suspiciously frequent bathroom visits ... suspiciously noisy sniffling noises, coming from the Corporate Communications cubicle ... suspiciously manic energy levels, followed by suspiciously comatose energy crashes.
(Basically she's just described me after two cups of coffee and a decongestant. But I don't tell her that.)
"Isn't that what it sounds like to you?" she asks me pointedly. I shrug, in what I hope is a vague and disaffected fashion.
When it becomes clear that I'm not going to offer up commentary -- either to support or to attack her suspicions -- she takes an entirely different tack. She hates being downstairs on the first floor, she says. They moved her there without any advance warning, and she doesn't like it at all. It's dark, and the ventilation is bad, and everything smells funny. She doesn't have as much desk space as she used to, and she misses her old file cabinets and her old computer (did I know that the MIS Guy can't read English?) ... and the people on the first floor are snotty and rude to her, especially Merrilee and a couple of the women in the Accounting Department (did I know that Rita is pregnant again? what is that, three times in two years?) ... and she's having nothing but problems with her boss, who gives her all the shidt jobs and micromanages everything she does and watches her like a hawk, now that their offices are on the same floor. She is soooo unhappy here at the Totem Pole Company, she says, but right now she just can't afford to leave.
"But when I do," she cackles, "you'd better believe I'm going to give them HELL first." I take that to mean she's going to be one of those people who leaves the exit interview in a blaze of glory and implied litigation.
While I can identify with 99.9999% of her gripes -- for me it's BTDT time, all over the place -- it is the sheer unrelenting nastiness of her complaints that makes it tough for me to be more than superficially sympathetic. I nod a lot, and I furrow my brow occasionally, and once in a while I offer up a vague noncommittal comment like "Wow" or "Gosh" or "That sucks" ... but other than that I offer nothing in the way of support or encouragement. Why she has chosen me for this uneasy and lopsided alliance is beyond me.
"By the way," she says, as she's preparing to leave. "Has *he* said anything to you yet?" And she grins conspiratorily.
The 'he' she refers to is my boss ... and the 'anything' is the fact that he is reportedly planning to move his base of operations to our Fairfield office before the end of the summer. I've known about this for a month now -- and yes, The Office Gossip was the one who broke the news to me in the first place -- but my boss still hasn't mentioned it to me himself. (A fact I find more puzzling than distressing. And no, I haven't approached him about it ... mainly because I'm curious to see how long he holds out.)
"Nope," I reply. "He hasn't said a word."
If it were anybody but The Office Gossip standing in front of me -- with that scary/hungry/tell me everything look on her face -- I would probably say more. I might say, for instance, that my Executive Ass' Intuition tells me my boss is waiting until I come back from my honeymoon to drop the bomb on me. I might admit to her that I'm pretty much beginning to consider working for Jim a failed experiment ... and that I'm already thinking in terms of "when" I leave, rather than "if" I'll leave. I might confess to her that I wouldn't transfer with him to the Fairfield office, even if I were asked -- which I'm fairly certain I wouldn't be -- and that I probably wouldn't consider staying at the Totem Pole Company to work for anyone but Jim, even if I were asked -- which I'm fairly certain I would be. I might point out to her that this is still an unsubstantiated rumor, ANYWAY ... and that until it is either confirmed or denied, I'm going to simply continue to do my job, as quietly and as efficiently as possible ... preferably without being drawn into any more ridiculous Totem Pole politics and mud-slinging than is absolutely necessary ... Because, I might say to her, unlike you, I want to leave this place with my professional references (and my dignity) intact.
But I don't tell her any of this. If my twenty-plus years of accumulated admin experience -- not to mention three hellish years of junior high school -- have taught me anything at all, it is this: If she's talking trash about everybody else in the office ... who's to say she isn't talking trash about ME?
Instead, I tell her that it's been "fun" visiting with her, but that I only have fifteen minutes to finish these expense reports. She takes the hint, thankfully, and thirty seconds later I hear the clippity cloppity clippity cloppity noises moving off down the hallway. One of these days I'm going to work up the nerve to tell her I'm not interested in flinging the poop with her ... I swear I will.
But in the meantime I get up and lock the door behind her.