September 27, 2002
Just Because

miles to go: 594.92

The New Girl and I are the only two people in the office so far this morning.

I saw her when I was letting myself through the door a few minutes ago: she's sitting alone in her cubicle, at the very end of the hallway. Frankly, I'm amazed to see her here so early: she's never in the office before eight o'clock. As a matter of fact, most days -- depending on the excuse du jour ("I missed my bus/I disabled my alarm clock/I think I've got food poisoning/edema/toothache/stomach flu") -- we don't see her until the middle of the morning.

(If we're lucky.)

Ordinarily I would probably be annoyed to find her here in the office already. Then again,  I would probably be annoyed to find ANY of my co-workers here already. Coming in to the office early, before anybody else arrives, is one of the chief pleasures of my professional life. It gives me a bit of rare, precious, increasingly-difficult-to-come-by *Alone Time.* It gives me a chance to upload a little caffeine into my system before the phones start ringing. It clears my head and empties my "In" Basket and allows me to gear up for the day ahead. The mere presence of another human being here in the Dirt Company office -- even if that other human being is all the way down the hall, sitting in her cubicle with her headphones on, ignoring me completely -- upsets the delicate balance of *Alone Time* energy.

But here's the amazing thing. I'm not annoyed.

As a matter of fact, I'm actually glad that she's here. I've been waiting for an opportunity like this one ever since our last Stoopidly Unpleasant Encounter, earlier this week. I feel like I handled the whole thing very badly, as usual. Instead of getting all snippy and defensive, I should have either explained to her in a calm, rational manner that I am not her personal assistant, placed here on earth in order to lick her envelopes/unjam her faxes/rinse out her coffee cups/facilitate her late arrivals and early departures ... or else I should have just told her to go to hell and been done with it.

Now's my chance.

I hang up my coat and march down the hallway toward the Marketing Department, prepared to tell The New Girl how I really feel.

Once and for all.



There's always somebody on my *Just Because* List.

From The Aluminum Company to The Knife Factory ... from The Tuna Label Manufacturer to The Doomed Newspaper ... from The Auto Body Shop to The Fitness Club to The Totem Pole Company ... there has always been at least one co-worker, every place I've ever worked, towards whom I've felt an immediate, illogical, profoundly visceral dislike, for no reason whatsoever.

Basically I've disliked them 'just because.'

This is not to be confused with *The Person I Don't Like Because They're A Big Pompous Gasbag* (Redneck Jerry; Jesus of TicTac; The VP of BFD) ... or *The Person I Don't Like Because They Have An Annoying Personal Habit That Drives Me Out Of My Mind* (The Main Marketing Guy and his stoopid whistling) ... or *The Person I Don't Like Because They're Really, Really Icky* (Droopy; Buttcrack Steve; The Constipated Little Accounting Manager).

That's a whole different kind of 'dislike.'

*The Person I Don't Like (Just Because)* rarely does anything to actively merit my disfavor. Most of the time they're perfectly nice, perfectly normal people. Most of the time, everybody else in the office likes them just fine. As far as I can tell, it's purely a chemical reaction on my part ... one of those weird, oil-and-water things you just can't explain. Keep your oil molecules as far away from my water molecules as possible, and we'll probably get along just fine.

Put your oil molecules in the same vicinity as my water molecules ... and the universe explodes.

That's how it's been with The New Girl and me.

You may not believe this, but I was actually planning to be friends with The New Girl, when she was first hired to be Jane's assistant. I really like Jane, for one thing. I saw how overworked she was, day after day. I tried to step in and pick up some of the slack until she hired an assistant, by pitching in and doing as many of the Marketing Department shidt jobs as I could -- typing her correspondence, babysitting her faxes, running her copies, making her lunch reservations. But I had my own towering pile of shidt jobs to take care of every day, of course, and I couldn't be of as much help to her as I wanted to be. Jane needed an assistant of her very own. I helped her sort through résumés and send out 'no-thank-you' letters. I felt her disappointment when the first couple of candidates didn't work out. I genuinely shared her joy the day The New Girl signed the job offer.

What I hadn't counted on, I guess, was taking one look at The New Girl and having that instantaneous *Just Because* thing happen.

I hadn't counted on pretty much loathing her on sight, for no reason I could ever pinpoint. I hadn't counted on feeling vaguely irritated by everything about her: her voice, her clothes, her pigtails, her facial expressions, the way she stomps up and down the hallway all day long ... the way she eats everything that isn't nailed down and never gains a pound ... the way you can hear her laughter from all the way down the hall, morning, noon and night.

And I certainly hadn't counted on turning into a cold, crabby, hateful bitch every time her oil molecules come within a four-foot radius of my water molecules.




My heart is banging against my larynx as I walk down the hallway toward The New Girl's cubicle.

I may look cool and calm and professional on the outside, but on the inside I am a nineteen-year old Assistant Manager on her way to deliver her first attendance violation warning. Part of me wants to turn around and head back to the front desk and just leave things the way they are, with neither one of us speaking to each other unless absolutely necessary. Maybe uneasy silence IS better than confrontation. Who knows? But I don't turn around. I keep going. I've been stewing about this all week: knowing that the situation is just going to continue to deteriorate unless I take control ... unless I grab The New Girl by the pigtails, as it were, and shake her as hard as I can. And I'm never going to have a better opportunity than right now, while the two of us are alone in the office, and the caffeine in my bloodstream is still fresh, and there's nobody around to hear either one of us scream.

Quickly, I remind myself of all the things I want to say.

I was a 'receptionist' in 1978, I could begin by saying. Back when you were still eating crayons and toddling around in your training pants. I could inform her that I've got twenty-five years' worth of admin experience, including a couple of years as the Executive Ass to the CEO of a major engineering company, so treating me as though I'm vaguely incompetent all the time is incredibly insulting. I could point out that technically I am JoAnne's assistant -- a member of the admin staff -- and therefore I should not be coming into the office every day and finding my "In Basket" filled with all of the Marketing Department shidt jobs that she didn't get around to doing. I could further point out that unlike some of our larger Dirt Company affiliate offices, our tiny group prides itself on its self-sufficiency and spirit of cooperation. In this office, I could say to her, we ALL try to carry our own weight. We don't shove a 35-page fax into the machine and then walk away from it for the rest of the morning, expecting that Someone Else will make sure it goes through. We don't accumulate eleven days' worth of dirty coffee cups in our cubicle and then dump them all at once into the lunchroom sink, assuming that Someone Else will come along and sandblast them clean at the end of the day. We don't use the very last hanging file folder/drink the very last Coke/run the very last twenty dollars' worth of postage on the meter without mentioning it to Someone ... preferably the Someone who does the supply ordering. (Namely: me.) This is a place of business, I could remind her sternly. Not a playground or a fitness club or a singles bar. If you want to flirt with The Main Nerdy Geoscience Guy, do it on your own time ... and don't do it in the middle of the front lobby while I'm trying to answer the phones. Don't "borrow" stuff from my desk without asking. Don't refer to me as "the receptionist" when you're talking to people on the phone. Don't spell my name with a 'y,' goddammit.

They offered me your job before they gave it to you, I could say to her. But I couldn't afford the cut in salary.

As I storm into her cubicle, The New Girl looks up at me, all Gwyneth Paltrow sincerity and wide, unblinking blue eyes. (She really doesn't wear any makeup, does she? mutters the Bad Angel, sitting on my left shoulder. God, we hate her.

"Hi," she says, pulling her headphones off and smiling at me tentatively.

"I think I owe you an apology," I say, swallowing hard. "Can we start all over again?"

And I hold out my hand to her.



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i'm NOT making up with buttcrack steve, though.