“I was told that I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven, I told Bill that if Sandra is going to listen to her headphones while she’s filing then I should be able to listen to the radio while I’m collating so I don’t see why I should have to turn down the radio because I enjoy listening at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.” -Milton
For many of my friends and I, the past few months has offered an introduction to cubicle life. This summer was my first personal experience working in a cubicle. I’ve heard the legend and lore of cubicle life, but I never really believed any of the rumors – or saw the comedy – of it until I experienced eight hour work days in a grey box first hand.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a spacious area to myself with a window view – pretty good for an intern. But after only a few hours on my first day, I found my office “walls” were no more than a few strings of yarn held together that wouldn’t keep a yawn private.
I’m sure the cause of most office drama on this Earth can be traced to cubicle eavesdropping. Forget wiretapping, if the government made cubicles a national standard for every office, the Patriot Act would be child’s play. Cubicles are the ideal location for knowing too much. And even if you lack interest in the personal or professional life of the inhabitants of the surrounding cubicles, it is inevitable you’ll find out more than you ever wanted to know about anyone sitting within a radius of 100 feet.
But what was funny to me was that people didn’t realize that their “walls” were actually wire tapped microphone loudspeakers to the rest of the office. Case in point – the Fran Drescher loud talkers of the world who were born with voice volume on high. These are the people that simply tell too much and necessitate what Alyssa, the Creative Manager where I was an intern, dubbed “I-pod days” – as in the only way to try to think was to blast Journey. She warned me, “But wait until you meet Tony.”
I also had the privilege of making cubicle friends. I couldn’t tell you what they look like if my life depended on it. However, I would recognize their voice like that of my own Mother. These are the folks you hear talking all day, but you never see their face. They are polite, following your sneezes with a “Bless you” or, “Hope you feel better soon.” You might strike up a conversation with your cubicle friend, “Great weather today,” and “Yeah, I heard it’ll be sunny all week!” But you’re never really sure if they see the sun.
And then, one day, there was a different voice. I hoped for a new cubicle friend, and I guess that is what I received . . . in a way. This new person sounded friendly, and I could tell because he had the loudest voice had I ever heard. And not only that, he answered ever call, “Hi, hello, this is Tony,” and if it was an important phone call, “Hi, hello, this is Tony (person responds). Hi, hellllooo, how are you doing?” Wow, I thought, now there is a friendly salutation. I never knew a person could fit that many greetings into one phone call.
I asked Alyssa later that day, “Is that Tony?” She laughed and nodded yes. I wondered what Tony looked like – he had a voice that sounded bigger than Yao Ming. However, I knew an NBA Star could never fit behind those furry five foot walls. For days, I waited. And finally, one day, I heard him move from out of his cubicle. I raced around the corner of my desk to find out the true identity of Mr. Cubicle Mystery Man.
I was greeted more by a tiny Muggsy Bogues type who smiled and said, “Hi, I’m Tony.”
“Hello, I’m Nikki, one of the interns.”
Throughout my remaining weeks at work, Tony was one of the nicest and friendliest people to me. Tony was a social worker, and I knew through my non “I-pod days” his job with mentally handicapped and disabled individuals was not an easy one. Nevertheless, he always greeted me with a warm “Hi, hello!” This, in turn, always made me smile.
I think the old euphemism should be changed for cubicles from, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” to, “Don’t judge Fran Drescher by her voice.” Because, after all, cubicle friends may even become real friends.