November 15, 2001
On The Clock


I lied to you, Sascha.

Remember last spring, when they fired Ned the Receptionist Guy after the Accounting Manager walked into the lobby and caught him looking at porn on the Internet, right there at the front desk? (Poor old Ned was booted off the Totem Pole faster than you can say "Rump L. Svelteskin.") After I wrote about that incident on my website, you sent me a thoughtful, courteously-worried e-mail, cautioning me to be careful of *my* Internet usage at the office. "I would hate it if you got in trouble for writing *FootNotes* at work," you said. Or words to that effect.

Remember that?

And do you remember how I responded? I wrote back to you, right there on the spot: a faintly snooty response, all about how I never ever composed *FootNotes* on the office computer, how I brought my laptop into the office with me, every single day, and wrote *FootNotes* in bits and pieces, but ONLY during sanctioned coffee breaks and lunch hours, and blah blah blah blah. In the evenings after work, I told you, I transferred the entry from a floppy disk to our home computer, giving it a final tweak-and-polish before hurling it out into cyberspace.

"Don't worry," I sniffed, primly virtuous. "I would never jeopardize my job by writing my journal at work."

This was, of course, complete and utter horseshidt.

I suspect you knew that it was complete and utter horseshidt, too, but you were too kind and too tactful to call me on it. As I recall, you wrote back one more time, just to say that you were 'glad' to hear that I was being so careful, and to apologize for having doubted me in the first place, and to wish me well with my upcoming wedding. That was basically the end of the discussion. I don't think I've heard from you since.

I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lied to you. Would it help if I tell you that I had my fingers crossed while I was writing to you?

The truth is that the Totem Pole Company was the greatest thing that ever happened to *FootNotes* ... besides sobriety, ginko biloba and Paint Shop Pro, I mean. Not only was the TPC an endless and ready source of material -- all I had to do was listen to thirty seconds' worth of Franz hacking up a lung into my voicemailbox, every morning, and there was my day's topic, right there -- but it also provided me with a lot of the OTHER stuff every Internet journaler craves: privacy, inspiration, opportunity, a decent computer, a fast Internet connection, a window view, endless black coffee, limitless KFOG-FM, plus a door that conveniently closes and locks. (Although I learned a long time ago that the best way to be sneaky about something is to be sneaky right out in the open. Which is why I usually wrote with my computer monitor clearly visible to everyone and my door wide open.)

First thing every morning I would open up a Notepad window on my desktop -- minimizing it down to a teeny-tiny one-inch square block of monitor real estate, camouflaged in the middle of a busy Excel spreadsheet -- and there I would write my *FootNotes* entry, in hand-coded HTML, hidden right there in plain sight. I didn't write the entry all at once. I wrote it in chunks throughout the work day ... while I waited on hold, while I waited for meetings to start, while I waited for Franz to call from Australia or Germany or the parking garage. A sentence here. A couple of edits there. A paragraph or eleven, every couple of hours or so. I wrote fast and furiously, fueled by caffeine and paranoia, and by 5 p.m. I would not only have that day's entry in the can, ready for upload, I would usually also have a cartoon, an updated archives page and an outline for the next day. When I was done writing, I would slap the whole mess onto a floppy and toss the disk into my purse, to be uploaded to the Internet when I got home that evening. I finished by going back and carefully scraping all traces of my handiwork from the Totem Pole computer. (I'm sure I didn't get everything -- there are probably still *FootNotes molecules* floating around in the TPC network -- but we had no IT Department to speak of, and nobody ever bothered to check.)

Through it all I strived never to lose sight of the reason I was there: namely, the care and feeding of my lunatic boss. My productivity at The Totem Pole never felt compromised by the fact that I was writing *FootNotes* on the side. Neither did my conscience. If anything, it seemed as though the busier I was with Totem Pole stuff, the better I wrote ... and the better I wrote, the better I seemed to handle the TPC stuff. It's as though the two different kinds of energy -- creative energy and executive assitude energy -- fed on each other, turning me into this Super SecraTerri. That's what I told myself, anyway. I also told myself that it was OK because I wasn't doing anything grossly inappropriate on the computer. I wasn't looking at gay porn. I wasn't playing Mahjong Solitaire all day. I wasn't forwarding nude .jpgs of my girlfriend to all the other Testosterone Units in the office. I didn't even write personal e-mail or read other Internet journals or check my horoscope more than a couple of times an hour if I could possibly help it.

All *I* was doing was writing journal entries about engagement rings and incontinence.

Looking back now, do I feel guilty about writing so much of my journal on Totem Pole Company time? Am I ashamed of myself for abusing the trust (and the electronic equipment) of my previous employer? If I could go back and do it all over again, would I do things differently?

Yes and no.

I will admit I do still feel some residual guilt about the trust issues involved -- especially since *I'm* the one who is always yammering on and on about being honest and being straight-forward and doing the right thing and not tempting karma by doing stuff you know in your heart is wrong.

And of course I feel bad about lying to you, Sascha.

But I must admit there was something weirdly exhilarating about writing on the sly that way. The thrill of the forbidden, I guess. The danger. The edge. The possibility of getting caught. Blah blah blah. It's sorta like having sex in an empty International airport terminal ... except that you smell better afterwards.

All of this sneaky, underhanded, tiptoeing around in front of the boss's back, of course, came to a screeching halt as soon as I signed on with The Dirt Company last month.

For the first time in years -- hell, possibly for the first time EVER -- I have a job that I actually like, and am glad to show up for in the mornings, and hope to keep for a while. I want to become a member of The Dirt Company team! I want to grow with the company! I want to eventually evolve into one of those indispensable employees that they absolutely cannot live without! (Or at least I want to stick around long enough for my 401K to kick in.)

And I want to NOT get fired for doing something stoopid ... like getting caught writing about waterproof mascara on company time.

So from the very first day I showed up for work at the new job  --  right off the bat  --  I've played it straight and honest with my new employer. I brought my laptop into the office with me on that first day  --  the little Toshiba, which I refer to as the *auxiliary* laptop -- and I immediately established a precedent: during my lunch hour I sit in the empty cubicle, next to the file room, and I write for an hour. People walk past me for that hour and see me sitting there, with my bag of baby carrots and my can of Slim Fast, hunched over the laptop typing away, and they know that means I'm not to be disturbed. It took about a week for them to 'get it,' I think  --  for them to understand that this is what I want to be doing during my lunch, that I'm not there because I couldn't get a lunch date, that it's important to me, that no, I don't want to go to Kentucky Fried with the rest of the gang  --  but I think it's finally beginning to sink in, and they respect it and accept it and they mostly leave me alone for those precious sixty minutes. (Nobody has come right out and asked me what I'm writing, yet, but when they do, I plan to say "I'm writing my column" and leave it at that. No sense getting into the whole Internet journal discussion just yet. Let's wait till I get to that "indispensable" stage.)

So far, so good.

Not that there aren't problems with the new "system." I still haven't quite gotten the hang of laptop-journal-writing, for one thing. It's klunky and cumbersome and I can't type as fast as I like and the screen resolution sucks and it takes me three days to write one journal entry and a single hour never, EVER seems like enough time. My journal entries the past month or so have been everything I hate: brief, random, rambling, forced, sans cartoon (or -- worse -- sporting a recycled cartoon from two years ago), filled with HTML errors and broken links. Plus I seem to be talking about my JOURNAL in my JOURNAL entirely too much lately. That's something I try to avoid, generally ... not only because it's boring, especially to the non-Journalers in the audience, but also because it's sort of illusion-shattering. I want you to know that I keep an Internet journal, of course. I just don't want you to see all the crap that goes wrong behind-the-scenes. I want you to believe that it's effortless on my part ... that I simply come home every day and hit a couple of buttons and vóila! Instant journal entry!

But I've been plugging away at writing-during-lunch anyway ... mainly because it's important to me, and because it's important to a handful of other people, including people with whom I share DNA and/or a toothbrush holder, and because if I wasn't writing *FootNotes* I might not be writing anything at all. And not writing anything at all isn't an option. So every day at 12:30 p.m. I haul the Toshiba out of my bottom desk drawer, and I hole up in the abandoned cubicle, and I type like a madwoman for sixty minutes, praying that when I'm done there will be a journal entry sitting on my screen, ready for upload that evening. Sometimes there is.

But sometimes there isn't. A LOT of the time lately there isn't.

In fact, I was beginning to feel ever-so-slightly despairing about the whole writing-the-journal-at-work situation ... until yesterday.

Like any office, The Dirt Company has its share of frenetic non-stop Crazy Days, and a nearly equal share of Coma Days. Yesterday was a Coma Day, start to finish. The phones weren't ringing. All of the geotechs were out in the field, collecting dirt samples or something. My *In* basket was empty. So was my *Out* basket. The office kitchen was so clean you could have eaten off the floor (or -- even more astonishingly -- straight out of the refrigerator). Desperate for something to do, I picked up the tub of antibacterial wipes and started polishing my telephone receiver for the 1,387th time that day.

At that moment JoAnne happened to wander by.

"Y'know," she said, "when things are quiet like this, it's OK if you do your writing, here at your desk."

Whoa.

Hold the phone(s).

Sanctioned journal writing, on the clock? The equivalent of a papal blessing from my boss, authorizing me to write *FootNotes* on company time? No sneaking around? No hiding in plain sight? No keeping one eye on the doorway and one hand on the mouse?

I'm not sure if my puny little journaler's brain can wrap itself around the idea, frankly.

"Well," I said, very calmly -- not allowing so much as a single solitary *joy molecule* to show on my face -- "I suppose that might be better than just sitting here, doing nothing." And I continued polishing my phone. When I was finished cleaning the phone, I went around the whole office and cleaned everybody else's phone. Then I did the doorknobs, and the buttons on the fax machine, and the handles on the push-cart. I didn't immediately fire up a Notepad window. I didn't divebomb for the floppy disk with today's half-written journal entry on it.

I didn't write anything at all, in fact.

But I will. Maybe. Someday, when the office is quiet and the phones are slow and there's nothing else to do, I may very well take JoAnne up on her offer and get some of my "typing" done at my work computer. I'll have to be careful about subject matter, of course. No boss-bashing or orgasm chat while I'm writing at work. I won't be doing it very often, either: only when I'm in a real pinch. I'll have to make sure I'm working directly to/from a floppy disk. (In fact, I'm thinking that what I would really rather do is just use my laptop, sitting right there at my desk. No Internet connection ... no touching the network ... no URLs left carelessly laying about.) But it still might be kind of nice, knowing that if I need to, I can compose your daily dose of ridiculously self-indulgent cyber-blather without fear of reprisal.

It might not be as much fun as sneaking around. But it won't get me fired.

And I won't have to lie to nice people like Sascha anymore.



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