On The Light Side: Cubicle conditions can give you a whole new take on life

May 17, 2004|EMILY BURTON

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" asks Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from a hospital-green Post-it that is stuck above my computer.

On another, Sigmund Freud pauses in mid-smoke to remind me, "One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful."

Below his slipping perch, the dust bunnies have formed a union. Their intermediary tells me they're on strike for better living conditions.

But hey, I can handle a dusty revolt and a philosophic stiff. The cubicle may resemble a tan prison, but it is my space. Less than a year ago, I was a college kid who wore a name badge and had to clock out for a half-hour lunch. Now I have a coffee pot to nurse, a stapler to jam and a real honest-to-God Rolodex.


Ahh. Success, thy name is cubicle life.

People really shouldn't make fun of cubicle junkies. Sure, some guys may have an office, but who needs their own window? I like the rolling hills and squirrels I can almost see from my neighbor's window through the crack in my padded wall.

I feel secure in knowing that, should my mother call, everyone in the office can breath easier when they hear that Rover's bowels are moving better this week. Privacy is only good for people who have something to hide, anyway.

After years in the trenches of minimum-wage, I feel spoiled to call such amenities my own. Like the roller chair with optional swivel package. Or the phone, a tan standard with gray accents and Cuban-rolled cord. I have little matching business cards so people can call me on it and I can look important with it clenched against my ear.

People see you in your cubicle with a pen in your teeth and a phone on your ear and you look like you deserve a raise. You look like John Wayne with his horse saddled and cattle waiting. Roundin' up clients, shootin' down hostels, just waitin' to clinch the deal and shout 'Rawhide!' You are master of the cubicle plains and have the muscle spasms to prove it.

Our office is lucky enough to have a diverse cubicle ecosystem. My desk stands under the florescent sun like a South Dakota farm, full of fake sunflowers and maps to the middle of God's country and back. My neighbor's cubicle is a desert, way too clean, with a small oasis of notes on one wall. Rumor is my dust bunny army can fix that for him real fast.

Two seats down, a temperate jungle has emerged from the last beige square of heaven. A file-eating succulent clings to its water-stained spot and fends off our best efforts at its demise. I hear that after several doses of boiling hot coffee and flat soda it is doing better than ever. Who said cubicle life wasn't exciting?

Life in my row is always heart-pounding. We've had two heart attacks and one case of high blood pressure in the last two years in our alley alone. I thought when I moved into "Heart Attack Row" they were joking.

I've named my defibrillator Sparky.

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