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Today I was reminded why I quit my office job. I was on a freelance job at the shiny-on-the-outside, beige on-the-inside corporate offices of a large media company (large media companies can often be identified by the strict front desk security and the wall of televisions in the lobby playing all types of exciting "media"). Aside from all of the slightly annoying trappings of freelancing in a new building -- no computer, no desktop coke mirrors, and a chair that has adjustable height controls that confuse me into the sort of violence history books record -- this office was filled with "office workers."

There are some people who are built for offices. They appreciate the finer points of life, such as new mousepads and holiday cookies at reception ("dear office staff: please thank Kathy for the wonderful blondie bars"). They fill their bellies with Cremora and they fill their pockets with corporate swag (pens, keychains, sunglasses straps, etc.) procured from trade shows and unexplained open cardboard boxes left in the middle of the office.

Not every individual falls neatly into this (cardboard) box. To rage against the machine would be hypocritical, exhausting and short-sighted. Some of my best friends work for huge anonymous companies! This i know. But there is a quiet, underground office subculture, particularly in the 500+ employees variety of companies. People who were forgotten somehow, whose names only surface during monthly "employee birthdays" emails, etc. These are the people for whom MINESWEEPER was developed. (Microsoft's prescience is often marvelous.) They pretty much hide under their desks, come out occasionally to fiddle around with the Xerox machine or collect a paycheck, and then retire without fanfare. Or kill everyone in the office. (with some fanfare, understandably.)

Today I was enjoying a nice long pee (i spent a very long time thinking about another word to use there. urination seemed too formalized and long. everything else seemed too vulgar. i'm sorry if pee seems too insipid. secretion? that sounds like a venereal disease. see what i mean?) in the men's bathroom on the 10th floor of this media company. It was nice to use a "urinal", as they called it. While I was peeing, i heard someone step out of a bathroom stall, and head over to a sink (all of this was occurring behind my back, mind you). The sink begins running. it runs for a while, much longer than a standard post-evacuation scrubbing. It runs for the length of my pee -- a pee which was fortified by three 16 oz. bottles of water and an Orangina -- and begins to make me uncomfortable. Since my back is to the sink, I can't figure out if I'm being made uncomfortable by a second party -- if there is a sort of purposeful distraction in this running water -- or if, as usual, I am simply making myself uncomfortable with my own supercharged anxiety. Eventually I decide someone must have left the water running -- animal! -- because it was the only way I could explain the continuously running water.

After the long pee (elapsed time 2 hours, 13 minutes), I notice that the water is running because Stall Man is still washing his soft paws. In fact, he's hunched over the sink, his tie flipped up over his shoulder (a gesture of intelligence and experience which must have a pathetic story attached), and his hands appear to be two giant lather hives. He is washing each finger, one knuckle joint at a time, in rich, pink corporate soft-soap. I give my hands the once-over and actually spend less time than usual doing so, hoping to inspire a lesson or at least express, through physical demonstration, my curiosity and disgust for Stall Man. He continues to wash, his passion for hygiene unabated by my presence or example. Each knuckle lovingly bathed in rich foam, then rinsed free of residue and germs. I left Stall Man there. He made me feel incredibly conflicted emotionally. I was sad for him, but I wanted to relieve my sadness (and, hopefully, his) by beating him to death with the hand dryer.

So, today I was reminded why I quit my office job. Not to avoid creeps like Stall Man; but because in just a couple of days freelancing at this media company, with my unrelenting obsessing over the personal habits of my co-workers, I was already becoming Stall Man.

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2001 todd levin
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