Friday, October 08, 2004

Lessons from the Animal Kingdom, Part II 

One morning I was lying in bed gazing out my window and noticed some activity outside. Some flying insects were colonizing the cavity between my bedroom window and storm window. I was dismayed to discover that the insects were wasps, but I couldn't help watching them fly back and forth. I became fascinated with their impressive industry – I could practically see their nest going up before my eyes. Even though the painful moth lesson was fresh in my mind I decided that since the wasps weren’t technically trespassing inside my house that it would be fun and safe to watch the construction process. I would have my own personal ant farm-like window into the inner workings of a wasp’s nest. Instead of being sensible and calling maintenance, I decided instead to keep and watch the wasps behind my protective glass. My view was so close-up that I could even see the objects they carried in their tiny mouths. Fancying myself a Jane Goodall of the poisonous insect world, I observed their activities closely and made a note of each new hexagonal cell added to the nest.

At night they would sleep in a layer around the surface of the nest, slowly beating their wings. One night I was checking on the sleeping wasps and had my face right up next to the glass. One of the wasps suddenly raised its head and stared at me with such malevolent, alien, hostile hatred that I actually drew back. The wasp must have communicated to his brethren in some instantaneous way either by pheromone or telepathy because all of the sudden all of the wasps were awake and staring at me in unison. It was as if they had just become aware of my presence at that instant and did not like what they saw one bit. From their hostile, evil glares I could tell that they were not in any way interested in peaceful coexistence. Completely creeped out, I went to bed. In the middle of the night I was awoken by a tiny scratching on my face and hands. I turned on my lamp and there were about 5 wasps crawling all over me and my bed - sentinels, I assume, on a reconnaissance and/or seek and destroy mission. To this day I still don’t know how they managed to get in through the window. I squealed in terror and ran out of my bedroom and slammed the door. I had to spend the rest of the night on the couch downstairs. The next morning I called maintenance and had the wasp nest taken care of like I should have done in the first place.

While the wasp drama was unfolding I began having problems with a coworker. I was employed by the corporate library of a power company in Alabama. At that time the power business was slowly lurching toward deregulation. Work at the power company had an almost civil service pace, with redundancies and lots of dead weight. As the company began gearing up for competition they finally began to pay attention to their bottom line. One of the cost savings measures enacted was to cut their real estate overhead. The library was in a prime location and had to consolidate its collection and weed heavily. Cubicles replaced many of the bookshelves. A small department completely unrelated to the library – I think they had something to do with graphics - moved in. This was there third move in the year and something about their Joad like existence, and the fact that they all knew deep down that their make work jobs were doomed, caused their point person, whom we’ll call Tracie, to snap.

Tracie was a newly wed and had cut all of her hair into a very unflattering short style, which is what a certain variety of pink collar Southern woman does to give notice that her ass is about to spread to gargantuan portions. Her most unattractive feature, however, was the sound of her voice. The Southern accent can be one of the most beautiful on earth, but she did not have that particular kind. Her twang was strident and she pronounced her name Trayayaycie with grating epenthesis. We shared the same last name and I was terrified that people would think we were related.

She would visit me in my cubicle and waste unconsciable amounts of my time complaining about the many ways she had been victimized by the company. Her tales of injustice were always baroque, conspiratorial and tedious. The sagas would always end with her somehow being cheated out of her annual bonus and the money she felt was rightfully hers going to someone less worthy. As she would drone on I found her hideous twang increasingly difficult to tune out. During one deadline I was less than receptive and she took umbrage and decided that I had turned from a sympathetic ear into an enemy.

She started her campaign subtly and pettily. She would ask sweetly if her department could have the backside of a bookshelf I had emptied during the massive weeding, and I would say, sure. I would come in the next day and she would have taken 2 entire rows of bookshelves. When I asked her why she had taken so much more than I had given she would looked at my like I was crazy and replied, “Oh, no. You say-aid I could hay-ave both.” She stated it with such sincerity that for a moment I thought maybe I was mistaken. I actually began to doubt myself a little, even though I knew that I would never have given her those shelves. I let her have them anyway, which was a tactical error on my part. She was very Hitler in '38 - my concession emboldened her.

Several similar incidents followed, and each time she would deny that she had overstepped her bounds or done anything without permission. Then she got greedy. She wanted to forward all of her department calls to the library. Aside from office space our departments were not connected in any way, so I thought this was a terrible and presumptuous idea. She basically was asking me to be her receptionist. My boss said absolutely not, anyway. Well, she went ahead and did it. I discovered she had done this with the phones on the same morning as the wasps had invaded my bedroom. I decided that the wasps were a metaphor from nature for this crazy fucking bitch. Like a wasp, she was a creature with whom I could not reason nor peacefully coexist. I reported her unauthorized phone forwarding to my boss and she was officially reprimanded. Well, that was it. She left me alone afterwards but froze me out, jerking her chin away from me whenever we would cross paths. I thought, “Fine with me, you child.”

Sadly, I couldn’t call someone to remove her like the I did the wasps so we still had to share close quarters. She needed a new target for her petty aggression and she got one when her department began using temporary labor. I watched her toy with and systematically fire 4 temps, who had no recourse and could be dismissed for any reason. Not content with just sacking them, she would invent preposterous but reputation destroying cases against them. She would report that they had stolen a ream of fax paper or had spent all day on the phone on personal calls. I knew for sure that the latter was an outright lie because my cubicle was right next to the one the temps used.

But, justice was finally served. It turns out that the last temp she tried to fire had worked in the company before and had many connections, including a close friendship to Tracie’s boss’ boss, a relationship of which Trayayaycie was unaware. She got herself into real hot water. The entire drama was reaching a crescendo when I got a job that moved me out of the city and across the country, so I never did find out what happened to her. I’m sure her job has been eliminated, but, unfortunately, like the fulsome kittens that populated her cubicle on posters and in photographs, that kind usually ends up landing on their feet.

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