Friday, January 04, 2013

How to Be a Small Fish in a Big Pond

Sometimes when people come by my office at work, they do a double-take as they realize I have this crammed in my office:

Most of them say, "Wait.  Is that a couch?"

I say, "Yup, sure is." And most of the time, that's all they say.  But the others, they don't say anything and just ignore it as they try to find a spot to sit in my office and talk to me.

I've been dragging this couch around with me since....thinking....probably coming on 10 years now from office move to office move.

Just a handful of people, who have a little bit more curiosity, take the time to ask how I got my hands on a couch at the Mega-lo-corp.

This couch actually is symbolic of how I can be starting my 24th year at the Mega-lo-corp this year.  Let's go back to the days of yesteryear, back to when I went to StateU.

First, you have to remember I'm a weird magnet for trivia.  Most of it does me no good, unless it's playing a game of trivial pursuit (wow, I have not played that game in years).  As a result of just wanting to know obscure things, I read a lot of stuff, big and small, and always tuck it away in a useless corner of my memory.

When I was a freshman at StateU, which was a Mega-lo-University, I read one of the quarterly magazines put out by the Journalism school.  This magazine was a very tongue-in-cheek glossy mag about university life.  One article I remember was about "tricks to get by".

Two tricks, from that whole article I still remember to this day (I actually enacted one of them):
  • To get extra beer money, sign up for the barely maximum legal number of hours (courses) your college allows to you sign up for.  And then buy all the books you can for all your classes.  Have your parents pay for them while they are still on campus seeing you off for college.  Once they leave, drop the "extra" classes.  Get refunds for the dropped classes and the returned (new, not used) books and pocket the extra money for beer!
  • If you really, really want to get a certain class and it's going to affect which semester you graduate if you don't get that hard-to-get class, then work for the "Adds-and-Drops" department.
I enacted the second idea.  It dawned on me that it was a brilliant idea.  At that time I first joined them, my sophmore year, I was till a few semester from requiring key classes to graduate on time.  But, the work was only at the beginning of each semester and didn't interfere with the semester itself.

Okay, back up a little more here.  Back in the (finger quotes) olden days (finger quotes), before there was this "internet", you had to pick up and drop classes at the two story sports arena.  Each department on campus was there.  For four days, before the semester started, you had a time slot where you could enter by your last name. And it was randomized each semester.  So those with last names beginning with Ha-Ke could enter starting at 8:00 on Monday.  And those with Sa-Tu could arrive starting at 9:00 on Monday and so on.  So, to pick up and drop classes, you went round-and-round-and-round the arena visiting various departments manned by students (like me!).

The beauty of this suggestion to work adds-and-drops was that you were guaranteed to be one of the first people in that building.  Randomness didn't matter.  You would just ask your neighbor, "Hey can you watch my booth for me for 10 minutes while I run to the the Aerospace department to see if that class has an open slot?"  And, you covered for them as well.  And, you got paid some good beer money.

The next Spring semester, they liked me and asked if I would like to help out in a semi-supervisor position.  Sure!  It allowed me to go anywhere in the building (and visit all the departments) rather than needing someone to watch my booth.  And then the next year, they made me a supervisor (for all of 4 days) of the other workers (this enabled me to pick up a very hard to get elective history class, which I'll write about one day).

Okay, what does this have to do with a couch?

What the job at the Mega-lo-University taught me was that there are always cracks or freebies in the system.  In order to run a big university or a big company, the have to have about a bazillion rules.  This is what drives people crazy about working for large companies.

So, the story about the couch.

When I started working for my Guardian Angel manager, her boss (2nd tier) was a bit of an oddball.  She was brought in from outside the company by her buddy who was our Director (a very rare move).  The manager's name was Stephanie.  I just fondly called her Crazy Stephanie.  She wasn't crazy as in mean, but crazy as in she would just ask you to do odd things.  She might come into your office (and in a very sweet voice) ask you to spend 2 hours down at the loading dock counting how many people left or entered the building from the back entrance. She wouldn't explain why she needed this information or the purpose of it.  Just just nodded your head and said, "Ummm, sure!".

When Stephanie arrived to the Mega-lo-corp from the dot-com world, she was shocked to find out we didn't have a break or a play area like they do for dot-coms.  So, she found the money (I don't know how she ever did this) and mowed down 8 offices in the corner (literally had to have construction crews come into the building and saw away hard structures), and put in a.....I guess what could be described as a living room.  She had a TV with a Wii installed.  She had some stools and tables installed for a break area.  And she had these two black lounging "couches" placed there.

It was great!


No one would use any of it.  A few younger hires would sometimes take naps or breaks in the break area, but most of us would look at these toys and say, "Oooohhh, I'm not going to have other managers catch me goofing off there."  What that means is that while your manager might tell you that it was certainly okay to take a brain break in the break area, when it came time for arguing about employee rankings (all the first line managers in the 2nd line area get together and debate where all the employees should be rated relative to each other for promotions and pay raises), you didn't want a manager who was fighting for their employee say, "Well, I've been seeing a lot of Johnny taking breaks whereas my employee works her fingers to the bone!"

And Stephanie didn't care that nobody used it.  She was on to the next thing on her list.  Employee well being?  Checked off!  On to the next thing!

A few years later, Stephanie took a new job at the Mega-lo-corp and spent a few years working from an office in San Francisco.  The new second line manager looked at all these toys, shook his head, and had them put away in storage.

About a year after everything was in storage, I was needing a new chair.  So, they don't buy you new chairs here.  You have to go scrounging for the least-broken chair you can find.  A friendly manager, Michael, said he had some chairs in a locked room I could look at.  I found a nice one that Stephanie had bought to outfit the conference room in better style.  And then, saw two of the recliner couches stacked up against the wall.

Hey, hey, hey.........

Me: Hey Michael.  Hey man, can I get one of these?
Michael: Well, they're Stephanie's.
Me: Well, not Stephanie's right?  She's gone.
Michael:  Okay right.  They're our second line area's couches.
Me: Unused in a locked room.
Michael: Yeah.....
Me:  I'm not asking you to give one to me.  I just want to borrow it.  I mean this is all Mega-lo-corp's stuff.  I'm not asking to take it home!
Michael: Well.....
Me: C'mon, it's sitting in a locked office doing nothing.
Michael:  Okay.  Man I'm going to be sorry about this, but okay you can BORROW it.  But if at any time this second line area is needing this back, you need to return it.
Me: Oh, of course.
Michael: [giving me a look with a raised eyebrow, but smiling]

About 2 years later Michael got fed up with the Mega-lo-corp and left the company.  And I heard through the grapevine that Stephanie has left the company as well.  And as they say, possession (and the memory of it) is nine tenth's of the law.

Over the various years I've had these conversations:
Person: Hey, you have a couch in your office!
Me: Yup!
Person: You're not taking naps it are you?
Me: Of course!
Person: Oh..........wish I had one.

Person: Hey, I know this black couch.
Me: Yeah, it's kinda has a long story behind it.
Person:  Yeah, we have another couch that looks like it.  We heard there was a pair that went with ours, but we can't find it.
Me: Weird, hunh?
Person: Yeah, weird.  Oh well.

Person: A couch!  Are you allowed to have one?
Me: Sure, why not?
Person: Well, I mean.  I couch in your office!
Me: Yeah?  Is there some Mega-lo-corp rule against this?
Person: Well.....well, no can't be bringing your own stuff to work.
Me: First, why not?  For example, this is my coffee maker.  Am I not allowed to bring a coffee maker from home to work?
Person: Well, I didn't mean that.
Me: Besides, this couch belongs to Mega-lo-corp.
Person: Well, are you going to take it home?
Me: What?  That would be stealing.  What the hell are you talking about?
Person: Ummm, never mind.

And so, that's why I've thrived at the Mega-lo-corp all these years.  People get depressed, angry, resigned to working at the Mega-lo-corp with all it's crazy rules and regulations.  I believe the bigger the company the more holes it has.  No one (still working here) can remember how I got the couch and yet, there is no rule that says, "Thou shalt not have a  piece of furniture in your office" (although some jealous people wish there was rule that they could snag me with).

Glass is half full, baby.  Half full.

1 comment:

  1. And some people always wanna spill the contents of that half full glass all over your or Mega-lo-corps, fancy little couch.