Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cubicle Culture

During my last trip to Wisconsin, my team was moved to a different building.  My old office used to be a Sears and had about as much charm as a package of shoe inserts.  My new one was once a bar and the only remaining elements of its history are a pressed-tin ceiling and saloon doors in the ladies' room.  Tendrils of ivy are growing around the cracks in the conference room door as if the ivy has secret plans to wrench the door off its hinges and strangle us all.  Because of these features, the new building is marginally more architecturally interesting than the old one.  My "office" is that workplace joke, the cubicle.  We are all in cubicles in my new building.  Some are bare of all but basic work necessities, others are so stuffed with trinkets and home comforts they remind me of the magical tents in the Harry Potter series:  houseplants, pictures, shelves, books, teapots, afghans, half-finished knitting, bedroom slippers, pet toys. (Every Friday is Bring Your Dog to Work Day.)  One person has erected a black nylon shield over his cubicle as if he fears toxic rays from the tin ceiling.

My own cubicle is still bare.  Since I was out of town during the move, the new occupants of my old office packed up everything in the vicinity of my desk, except, curiously, my training manuals from Epic (the only items of importance) which they dumped on the floor in a back room along with 800 other training manuals which I had to sift through in order to find my own.  But I digress.  The point is, they threw out my training manuals, but carefully preserved a cardboard box of assorted tchotchkes that doesn't even belong to me.  I would like to throw it away, but OF COURSE the minute I do that, my predecessor will show up and say, "Hey, I really need my maroon picture frame and ghastly pink mirror that sports an imitation BRATZ doll saying, 'You go gurrlll' out of a cartoon balloon and the token from the UVA pro shop and the green plastic coin with a shamrock embossed on it."

I do not have time to decorate my cubicle because I am obsessed with finding ways to provide myself with stimulating drinks.  I had been going out for a daily coffee, but when I added up the monthly cost of those daily lattes, the total was so appalling I began casting about for a way to have coffee in.  There's a "coffee club" at the office for the use of the coffee maker, but at home I only drink espresso and when you are used to espresso, brewed coffee is weak, anemic, feeble, insipid, nasty.   The Starbucks "via" instant coffee is better, but still not quite what I wanted.  I brought in some Irish Breakfast.  A 10:00am cup of tea is very nice but I still wanted coffee.  I bought a Bodum travel French press and stocked my cubicle with ground coffee.   I have used it once, so far.  French press is not espresso but it's superior to drip coffee only I  had great difficulty with the clean up because I couldn't get the grounds out of the bottom of the press without banging it on the side of the trash can.  Then I tried to dig the grounds out with my fingers and--I wish this wasn't true, but it is--I got my hand stuck in the cup and when I finally extricated my hand, there were embarrassing coffee grounds under my fingernails.  Clearly, this process needs perfecting.

If I follow this cubicle dweller's example, I can bring an Italian coffee pot to work and have espresso whenever I want.


  1. I say, toss the box of your predecessor's crap. If she actually shows up to get her stuff, tell it got lost in the move. You'd be doing her a favor to separate her from her knick-knacks. Think of it as a taste intervention.

  2. French press at work is brilliant, cubicle world needs a kitchen though.

  3. Shelve that box of crap behind the Xerox machine and forgetaboutit.
    Your descriptions just CRACK ME UP.
    Next time you're stuck in Wisconsin, I desperately hope you give me a shout.

    Coffee--what a total bummer about your situation. I'd be frustrated--those french presses are horrible to clean out.

  4. Tuna-can stove + moka pot. Do it. Carbon monoxide, schmonixide. The guys at the Corner Cup will happily sell you ground espresso roast in small amounts.

  5. I always find that 4 heaped teaspoons of Nescafe in a mug has enough of a kick to keep me going. If perchance a little Scotch is added, it's quite drinkable.
    Why not a small microwave under the desk, and bring in pre-brewed coffee from home. A quick "nuke" and it'd be piping hot. Also useful for "nuking" croissants and Danishes.

    DON"T FORGET the obligatory Dilbert cartoons, clearly displayed, just to show you're not really one of the herd.

  6. They just shrank the cubes at my husband's work. JUST LIKE DILBERT. Eerie.

  7. That guy has a PRESSURE COOKER on the STOVE in his cube. WTF? Workplaces have changed since I was a cube dweller....

    Doesn't everyone just wash the French Press coffee grinds down the sink....or is that just lil' ol' anti-social me?