October 26, 2001
Acing The Test

I show up for my second day on the job and find a Post-It note stuck to my computer monitor.

"Hi 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.

Well. 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??


I've 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?

(Do they quietly review their Employee Handbook when the phones aren't ringing, or do they compose long sneaky *FootNotes* entries?)

The 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.

Or -- if all else fails -- you recruit a spy.

"Everything 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 desk ...

... 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?")

It's 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!

How dare they not TRUST me?!

As 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.

In other words: my nose is clean. And so are my Internet cache files.

Eventually 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 results."

I'm 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 paper clip.")

But 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 up.

So OK. Maybe she really IS sick. Maybe there wasn't any "test." Maybe I'm imagining the whole stoopid thing.

(Maybe everything isn't about ME, after all.)

But even so, it's a relief to know that if there had been a test ... I would have aced it this time.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

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