Just Another Day at the Cubie

7 Jan

by Roger White

Remember “Blondie”? My Sunday comics doesn’t carry “Blondie” anymore, and it’s only recently that I’ve discovered how much I really miss Dagwood Bumstead. And only recently, too, have I come to terms with the notion that I downright envied Dagwood.

Not because he got to nap on the couch every weekend, not because he could manufacture the most magnificently constructed midnight sandwiches this side of Jason’s Deli, and not even because his wife (with her girlish figure still intact going on half a century now) opened up a successful catering business.

No, I envied Dagwood because he was employed in that wonderful, old ’50s working milieu. You know, before the advent of prefabricated space dividers, semi-annual company pep rallies, corporate aerobics, coworker sensitivity training, and the like.

OK, I’ll get right to the point. Dagwood had an office, a real office with a real door. There, I said it.

I’m not sure why it’s just now hitting me that I have office envy; it could be just me getting older. My professional background surely doesn’t warrant this emotion. Before my current office job at a little nonprofit association, I worked for a quasi-large daily newspaper. And the stuff you may have seen in the movies is true. You’ve got one giant room, like a Wal-Mart with desks and computers, and a couple of hundred chain-smoking, coffee-gulping neurotics gabbing incessantly into a couple of hundred telephones or screaming for a photographer. (At least, everyone chain-smoked in those days. This may not be correct newspaper protocol these days—see coworker sensitivity training. I’m dating myself here, and you know how painful that is.)

And yes, in a quasi-large daily newspaper building, someone is usually sitting at his or her desk, crying like a baby. Don’t ask me why. Calming it ain’t.

Before that, I was, believe it or not, an air traffic controller, at the Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center (FAA code ZFW, for you technical types). And the stuff you may have seen in the movies is true there, too. You’ve got one giant room, like a Wal-Mart with the lights off and packed with a couple of hundred radar screens, and a couple of hundred chain-smoking, coffee-gulping neurotics gabbing incessantly into headsets or falling over with coronaries. (At least, everyone chain-smoked in those – ah, never mind.)

But in this scenario, someone is usually sitting at his or her screen, laughing like a loon, pointing to his or her radar scope. Don’t ask me why on this one, either, because you may never fly again.


Why do I want walls and a door? Well . . . I know the personal lives of every worker around me, for one thing. And they know mine. Cubie living is a unique—and uncomfortably familiar—way to go about one’s daily activities. You can’t help but hear when your over-the-divider colleague is frantically refilling her Prozac prescription or telling off her spouse for leaving the toilet seat up again.

And sans a door, I always get scared out of my seat by my coworkers, who are usually pretending to have business but are only snooping into my space to see if I’m surfing the web again—or they’re trying to find out where that horrible smell is coming from. And yes, it’s usually from me. I’m surrounded by females, and their olfactory abilities are astoundingly acute. (And their sense of office etiquette is drastically different from mine and that of my old sportswriting buddies.) I got a less-than-subtle hint when I received two Glade Plug-ins and a bottle of Beano tablets as Christmas presents from my dear colleagues. Yeah.

Anyway, I can be editing, writing, working up a storm all day, and, without fail, the only time someone comes in to see me is when I am propped up with a Coke and a Slim Jim, watching some viral video about Charlie the Unicorn or some such.

I had a cowbell installed just outside my space, but it’s not the same. I’m thinking of putting tape on the floor where my door should be, a la Les Nesman in “WKRP in Cincinnati.”

“I didn’t hear you knock!”

The hardest thing about cubie living? And this may be a guy thing. But when I’m about to get off the phone from my wife, and she ends the conversation with those three little words, I feel compelled to duck my head down and lower my voice to a whisper. You know how difficult those three little words are for men, especially when you can feel a phalanx of ears tuned in all around you.

“Yes, dear, . . . toilet seat down.”

Oh, to work in the days of Mr. Dithers.

[Published in the Leander Ledger January 7, 2011]


10 Responses to “Just Another Day at the Cubie”

  1. phd in yogurtry January 7, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Your cube envy is entirely understandable. All those years of doorlessness. Tragic. PTCD is my diagnosis. Post Traumatic Cube Disorder.

    • oldspouse January 7, 2011 at 9:52 am #

      yeah, I know. If Orwell was still around, he would have changed it to “Cube Farm”

  2. pm January 7, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    your situation is common enough to have attracted a supposed commercial solution – I give you the cube door:


    and…wait for it…they’re sold out on all models, but will be able to take orders again soon.

    no kidding – and only 352 more days till xmas

    • oldspouse January 7, 2011 at 10:05 am #

      I tried my version of that. Bought a Japanese partition at Pier One (big bucks, mind you), sawed it down, and placed it where my cube door should be. My boss made me remove it. Something about submission and crushing one’s will and spirit, I believe.

  3. leila January 7, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    At least your cube has a window. Mine opens up to the HALLWAY. Zero privacy. And constant neck pain from always swiveling my head to see who is creeping up on me from behind.

    • oldspouse January 7, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

      Yeah, I guess even among the Farm, there is a hierarchy of cubedom.

  4. MLR January 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    Well, I’m just so disappointed. I thought you loved being surrounded by women. You mean you don’t WANT to hear about crushes on George Clooney, where you can get the best deals on shoes, or the other bits of priceless information we girls have to offer?

    If it weren’t for women, how would men ever know that toilet seats should not be left in the upright position? Sheesh.

    • oldspouse January 7, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Well, it means I must face up to … fears.

  5. Michelle January 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    I never noticed a smell. 🙂

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