May 2, 2000
Second Day Back


The first day back to work, after a lengthy illness/extended vacation/prolonged *mental health break,* is a no-brainer. At least, that's what did you bring us?usually been my experience. Your co-workers are either so pathetically relieved to see you return (because they were saddled with all of YOUR shidt-jobs while you were out) or so unspeakably pissed-off at you (because they were saddled with all of YOUR shidt-jobs while you were out)that they pretty much leave you alone that first day.

Besides: nobody wants to look at your vacation photos. (Or your ultrasounds.)

Your boss is probably never more vulnerable than he is your first day back after sick leave. He knows that if he inquires politely about your health, he's as much as acknowledging that you were actually sick ... and acknowledging that you were actually sick means that he is required by law to treat you with courtesy and consideration for your entire first day back. (Read this: he walks across the street and buys his own tuna salad.) Conversely, he knows that if he doesn't inquire about your health, that makes him a rotten insensitive rat bastard who deserves it if you spit in his coffee when he isn't looking.

He's damned if he does, and he's damned if he doesn't. Either way, you're in control.

You probably don't even have to worry about doing any real work the first day back. If your *In Basket* looks anything like mine did yesterday -- like somebody stood in your doorway and pointed a leaf-blowerat your desktop -- all you have to do is sit there, looking frail and glazed, and sort your mail into neat meaningless little piles all day long. Everyone will assume you're "catching up on paperwork." Or else you can clamp your phone to your ear and dial your home phone number, letting it ring 43,897,621 times, while you stare off into the distance, looking frail and glazed some more. Everyone will assume you're "catching up on voicemail."

(Or you can just lay your little head down on your desk and drool on your mousepad for the entire afternoon. Everyone will assume you're "catching up on your sleep." They might even turn down your radio, quietly close your door and hang a *Do Not Disturb* sign on your doorknob.)

Nope. The first day back is a walk in Lake Merritt Park. It's a day at Crown Beach. It's a piece of Chocolate Chip Cheesecake. Etc. etc. etc. It's the second day back that all hell breaks loose.

On the second day back, accountability begins to rear its annoying head. The old "It was sitting right here on my desk when I left on Wednesday" excuse doesn't fly anymore. Nobody wants to hear about how "tired" you are, or how "slowly" you're moving, or how it's taking you a while to "get back into the swing of things." Deadlines aren't extended any further. And something I call the "window of blame-deferral" starts to close: "I'm not the one who took the message" begins to sound less like an explanation, and more like passing the buck.

On the second day back, your co-workers are infinitely less tolerant of unanswered e-mail, closed doors, ninety-minute bathroom breaks, and whiney pleas for "help" changing the fax toner. They expect you to snap out of it already.

On the second day back, your boss begins to regain some of his authority (and his testosterone). The next thing you know, you're on the phone with his refrigerator repairman. ("He says to tell you that there were ice crystals in his Mocha Mix.")

Worst of all ... on your second day back, you begin to realize that the only way you're going to dig yourself out of the landfill that was once your office is to pick up a shovel and do some actual digging. Regardless of whether or not you actually feel up to it yet.

(But don't look for any help from your co-workers: they've all called in sick today.)

throw a rock