March 30, 1999
Snooping


Greetings, Dear Reader, from the luxurious private office of the Senior Coordinator of Regional Operating Development! (Or, as I affectionately refer to him, "The SCROD.")

My daily quest for a private place to read and eat and avoid the dreaded lunchtime lake walk has led me to hide out here today. The SCROD is out of town this week, leaving his office  --  and his sweeping view of the parking garage next to our building  --  tantalizingly available. So I've ducked in here for an hour, with my new Computer Currents magazine and my steno pad and my little Tupperware container of leftover Chicken Marsala. As long as I don't do anything to draw attention to myself  --  like setting off an alarm, for instance, or falling asleep ("Anyone seen Terri this afternoon?")  --  I'm as good as invisible for the next forty-one and a half minutes.

Plenty of time to enjoy a quiet lunch and gather my thoughts and outline a journal entry ...

... and snoop.

I freely admit it: I have a nosy streak in me, eleven miles wide. Leave me alone in your car, and by the time you get back I'll know what CD's you listened to on your way to work this morning, where you keep your Tic Tacs and when you had your last oil change. (Plus -- if I like you -- I'll have adjusted your rearview mirror, changed your air freshener and refolded all your roadmaps.)

Leave me alone in your kitchen, and within minutes I'll know where you stand on the issue of mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip.

Leave me alone in your apartment, and within a week I will have tried on all your clothes, thrown out photos of all your ex-girlfriends and called to have your utilities turned on. But that's another story for another day.

I don't snoop indiscriminately. I don't snoop maliciously. I'm not interested in stealing anything, or vandalizing property, or gathering information for profit. I know where to draw the line: I don't steam open personal mail, for instance. I almost never resort to lock-picking anymore. And I'm certainly not going to poke around in the private belongings of someone who signs my Employee Performance Review Form.

I'm just filled with curiosity about people, and about the way they live their lives. The curiousity that nudges me to innocently peek inside a glove compartment is the same curiousity that pulls me into the Autobiography section of Barnes & Noble (or to read every Internet journal I can find). I consider people endlessly, wonderfully, ridiculously, thrillingly fascinating  ...  not only because they provide a bottomless source of stuff to write about, but also because the occasional sneaky glimpse into someone else's life reassures me that I am doing things correctly. ("Toothpaste in the medicine cabinet, not the freezer? OK. Got it.")

So what can I learn about The SCROD by sitting here dribbling Marsala sauce on his pristine desk blotter? Obviously I'm not going to browse through his hanging files, or download the contents of his C:/ drive to a floppy disk. Going through his trash is out, too. But it's amazing how much you can learn about someone by simply looking around their workspace:

* He appears to be very fond of his dogs, his boat, obscenely sharp pencils, silk plants and Little Debbie snack cakes. (OK. So I glanced into his wastebasket.)

* Green stuff is growing in both of his coffee cups. It looks like a seventh grade science experiment.

* There is no computer in his office. He has, instead, a well-used IBM Wheelwriter 10, sitting on a rickety metal stand next to the window. The keys are covered in dust, and the date on the half-finished invoice, rolled into the carriage return, is "10-23-98." (The good news? He probably doesn't give a shit about The Melissa Virus.)

* His contraband radio is tuned to a Bay Area talk radio station, and he has ten copies of the Jan. 1999 issue of North American Management Professional stacked on the bottom shelf of his bookcase.

* There is a pair of fur-lined leather moccasins on the floor under his desk.

See? None of this information is particularly revealing, or useful, or hazardous to my career health ... and yet I find it wildly interesting. And it makes me feel like I know The SCROD just that much better. I know to check his office for dirty coffee cups at the end of the week, for one thing. I'm gonna quit waiting for him to reply to my e-mail, for another thing.

Plus I know where to find a really REALLY sharp pencil, if I need one.

Time to get back to work.  My co-worker Andrea is watching the front desk for me today, and I know she hates answering phones almost as much as she hates smiling.

Plus she's probably rummaging through my Dayrunner, even as we speak.



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