October 26, 2001
Acing The Test
show up for my second day on the job and find a Post-It note stuck to
my computer monitor.
Secra!" the note says. It's written in a scribbly feminine
hand I don't recognize. "JoAnne is out sick this morning.
She'll try to come in sometime this afternoon." In the meantime,
according to the note, I am to sit at my desk, answer the phones, and
not worry about anything too 'complicated.' "If you need help
with anything, just let me know, K??" the note concludes. It
is signed by someone named Dawn, who ends her note with a smiley face.
I'm not 100% sure who Dawn is -- all of the young environmental techs
sort of blur together at the moment -- but I think she might be the
young ponytailed one. The one who reminds me of my daughter.
OK. No boss today. Guess we know what THIS means, don't we?
Time to fire up a pot of coffee ... crank up the KFOG-FM ... kick off
the stoopid uncomfortable shoes ... and settle in for a nice long
morning of web surfing and Internet journal-reading! Right??
been in the admin business long enough to know a set-up when I smell
one. And this one smells very familiar indeed: it's the old 'Leave
'Em On Their Own The Second Day & See How Well They Manage By
Themselves!' routine. I've been on both the giving and the
receiving end of this particular test, and I understand exactly how it
works. You thrust a brand-spanking-new employee into an unnerving
situation -- in this case, leaving them to their own devices a lot
sooner than they had anticipated -- and then you sit back and see what
they do. Do they empty the lard vats, or do they sneak a twenty out of
the cash register? Do they find something to file/something to
date-stamp/something to dust, or do they sit and look out the window?
they quietly review their Employee Handbook when the phones aren't
ringing, or do they compose long sneaky *FootNotes* entries?)
key to the success of this test, of course, is having a
failsafe yet completely undetectable method of monitoring the
unsuspecting employee: tiny microphones in the philodendron ... tiny
video cameras in the bookcase ... sophisticated Internet-useage devices
implanted within the company network.
-- if all else fails -- you recruit a spy.
OK here?" asks Dawn, as she cruises past my desk on her way to the
ladies room ...
and then again, ten minutes later ("Any questions about anything?") as
she stops to rearrange the magazines in the reception area next to my
and again, another ten minutes later, as she rummages through the
office supplies in my top desk drawer looking for "an eraser." ("Is
there anything I can help you with?")
really sort of cute. Of course, if I WERE actually sitting there
fudking around -- doing my Christmas shopping on Amazon.com, for
instance, or waiting for Domino's to deliver my large double-pepperoni
-- I would probably find the whole thing annoying. Plus I would
probably be filled with all sorts of wrongheaded, inappropriately huffy
self-righteousness: How dare they infringe on my privacy this
way! How dare they violate my personal space!
dare they not TRUST me?!
it is, though, I'm sitting there doing the stuff I was told to do, plus
a little extra. I'm answering the phones. But I'm also making copies of
meeting notices and distributing them to other people in the office.
I'm updating the company calendar. (It's on Outlook, so at least I
sorta know what I'm doing.) I'm typing up a new phone list,
mostly to help me memorize names and extension numbers. I'm organizing
my desk drawers. (Goodbye, ratty old hairbrush and leftover bottle of
Curél!) When I run out of things to keep me busy, I pick up
a roll of paper towels and start dusting everything that isn't nailed
down. Dull quiet classical music plays on the radio. Both of my shoes
are on my feet, where they belong. The only 'journal' on my computer
screen is the Outlook journal.
other words: my nose is clean. And so are my Internet cache files.
Dawn's "visits" to the front desk area become fewer and
further-between. By the middle of the morning, they've pretty much
stopped completely. (How interesting can it be to spy on a middle-aged
woman Windexing her computer keyboard?) When JoAnne finally
shows up, just before 1:00 -- she's carrying a box
of Kleenex and a bottle of Sunny Delight -- I expect her to
head directly down the hall to Dawn's cubicle to get the "test
not worried. I know I'm going to get a glowing report. ("All she
did was dust stuff all morning. And once she cleaned her ear with a
instead my new boss goes directly to her office and shuts the door. For
the rest of the day we hear her barking painfully, like a tubercular
elephant seal. I tiptoe in and out of her office, bringing her water
... Tylenol ... tea ... sympathy. By the end of the afternoon she is
face-down at her desk, grimly waiting for her husband to come pick her
OK. Maybe she really IS sick. Maybe there wasn't any "test." Maybe I'm
imagining the whole stoopid thing.
everything isn't about ME, after all.)
even so, it's a relief to know that if there had
been a test ... I would have aced it this time.
a great weekend, everybody.