The First Rule of Office Life is as follows: Once an employee moves on to a new job, it is permissible for his colleagues to ransack his office. Everything left behind is up for grabs.
This explains the state of my office when I started my new job. On my first day, I was led into a room that had been picked clean. Inside was nothing but a desk too large to steal and a desk chair no one could ever want.
Seriously, that chair would’ve looked at home on the front lawn of a Paterson crack house.
Those vultures even took my phone and computer!
This violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the The First Rule of Office Life. The officious, German part of my personality (the part of my personality that makes people say, “You remind me of your mother,”) could not abide by it. At a time when I was supposed to be making a good impression with my bosses and colleagues, I was running around crabbily saying things like: “Jesus! I don’t even have a garbage can?”
It took three days to get my computer and another three days to get it to work. (The Second Rule of Office Life is as follows: A computer must never work properly on the day it is installed.) My phone didn’t arrive for two weeks because the phone guy had the flu. Once the phone was installed, the speaker phone button didn’t work.
Slowly and surely, however, things were put in order. I found a garbage can, ordered a Swingline stapler (the Rolls Royce of staplers) and when I spotted an unattended office chair without suspicious stains, I snatched it like a lioness taking down a wounded gazelle.
All the while I waited for someone to quit so I could raid his office.
I shared my office suite with a Vice President. For purposes of privacy, I will call him Vice President Man. Vice President Man was friendly and courteous when we spoke, which was pretty much never.
The only time he did speak to me was when he found me in the men’s room. Vice President Man would sidle up to the urinal next to mine (a violation of the First Rule of Men’s Room Etiquette) and make small talk while he peed (a violation of the Second Rule of Men’s Room Etiquette).
Remember Men: There should always be a one-urinal buffer between two pee-ers! Conversations may only take place at the sinks! If you do not respect these rules, you are a lout and a Trump voter.
So I pretty much hated talking to Vice President Man. During one of his urinal monologues, however, I learned an important bit of news: Vice President Man was leaving for another job.
Vice President Man had a nice office. Really nice. And I wanted every damn thing in it.
But there was a problem. The Third Rule of Office Life is as follows: When you take something from an abandoned office, you must have plausible deniability. In other words, you should be able to convincing say, “Oh, yes! This [stolen] thing is totally mine.”
In the office hierarchy, Vice Presidents (him) and Administrators (me) do not have the same kinds of office things. A VPs desk chair, for example, it much too nice for a plebe like me to own; I can’t steal it and convincingly claim it was mine all along.
That restricted the scope of my grabbiness to whatever I could find on Vice President Man’s shelves. So on the day he said goodbye, I went shopping and set my sights on the book pictured at the top of this post.
I had always wanted to read The Innovators. I loved Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and was eager to read his other stuff. I did a silent “woo hoo!” and plucked the volume from the shelf.
That’s when I discovered this.
This is not the way hardcover book should behave. This is what it looked like when I placed it flat on my desk:
Vice President Man had completely mangled the binding!
I cannot even begin to tell you just how long I gawked at this thing. I tried to comprehend why someone would do this. Then my thoughts shifted to how. It’s not easy to snap the spine of a new hardcover. It requires effort.
I tried to give Vice President Man the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe he left the book open on a chair (a violation of The First Rule of Book Care) and sat on it. Maybe he folded the cover over, mistakenly assuming he was perusing a People magazine. Maybe he left it on the sill of an open window and it fell six stories onto the pavement below.
I knew none of this was likely. But the truth was almost too much to bear. I had shared an office suite with a Book Abuser. A Book Abuser who doesn’t know the rules for peeing.
So a psycho, basically.
What kind of university would hire a man who treats the written word with such disrespect? Was Vice President Man an anomaly, or was he part of a systemic University-wide personnel problem?
Then I wondered: What could my other colleagues be hiding?
As soon as another office goes empty, I’ll find out. In the meantime, I will leave The Innovators on my desk, unread, to serve as a reminder that this place may harbor more casual evil than I could have ever possibly imagined.