I can hear her choking five cubicles away. I'm not alarmed. One of my co-workers gets a little zealous with her sunflower seeds every couple of weeks. We had a CPR class at work recently and apparently if you can hear them coughing, they're not choking. We always ask, though. It's the decent thing to do.
When you spend 40 hours a week — for years — with 20 other people, it's not much different than a marriage. I'm drawing purely from memory because it's been 25 years since I abandoned the institution. But I remember that there were a lot of little things that annoyed me as much as the sunflower seed choking I'm listening to right now.
I wish these people were horses on which I could place a bet. I'd be rich.
I'll ask Tammy how she's doing and she'll say she's hanging in, hanging on and hanging out. Fran will bluster past me and compliment what I'm wearing, which has been worn so many times it has safety pins and mismatched thread holding it together. Just like in a tired marriage, I'm not going for glamor. I'm going for whatever I can fish out of the hamper and spray with Febreze. But she'll tell me I look fabulous and lament that she's too short for long skirts. She'll compliment something because only saying hello, or saying nothing, is too darned uncomfortable for her.
Angie is the funniest of the bunch, but she has a fragile attention span. It doesn't take much to distract her from her work. I've got to hand it to her, she's an excellent conversationalist. She also monitors the coffee pots to make sure they're always full. She brings special coffee from home so we don't always have to choke down the office stuff. A conservative estimate of Angie's intake would be around five cups a day, which may explain the ebullient conversations.
There's a woman who asks me to list her faults so she can improve herself. I'm serious. I expect this request about once a month. She appears at my desk with pen and paper in hand to ask me — a person who frequently has to have her meds adjusted — how to be a more likable person. My advice to her is always, "Stop asking me to write this ridiculous list. I'd start there. Now go away before I slap you."
The woman who sits across from me has long giggling episodes four or five times a week. Apparently, the person she speaks to on the phone is phenomenally funny. Even David Sedaris doesn't make me laugh that much, or Modern Family.
I eat lunch with a woman who has five dogs. Two are the size of Shetland ponies. The money she racks up on vet bills could buy me a small bungalow on the beach, but I'm not as cute and loyal. We have learned that when she begins to tell us about another trip to the vet it will invariably involve pus, tendons or oozing wounds. We have begged her not to impart these details to us. Now when she begins a story with "We had to take (insert name here) to the vet yesterday," we yell, "NO!" We give the universal sign for shut up, the slashing movement across the neck. Then she proceeds to tell us that both of the Shetland ponies had diarrhea at the same time.
When Blanche can't take it anymore she calls her shrink and loses herself in her Kindle for a few days. This reminds me, I need to make an appointment.
Just like any marriage, there are all kinds of people with which to contend. There are cranky people, perpetual victims, tightwads and spendthrifts. There are those that leave messes in the bathroom. One person has an unbelievably messy desk. She doesn't have dust bunnies, she has dust wolves.
Almost everyone is married. It seems as if 90 percent of the sentences I overhear begin with "My husband did this, or my hubby did that, or that was my husband on the phone and he wants to know blah blah blah." I refer to it as Noah's Ark Syndrome. Perhaps I'm jealous because no one leaves the toilet seat up or makes a mess in my house unless it's ME. No one accuses me of hiding things that are in plain view. No one expects me to be responsible for his keys, wallet or memory. No one questions where the money goes. No one is offended if I take a book and a bowl of cereal to bed at 7:30 and call it dinner.
I have 20 spouses whom I see every day, all day. I don't speak to some of them for weeks, just like when I was married! But they're always there to offer a shoulder to cry on, or lend an ear when I need to vent. I get useful advice, solicited or not. They support me, or slap me back into reality. They tolerate all the strange things I do and say. They don't mind that I'm a fashion risk. And if they do, they only discuss it when I can't hear them. If I say something insulting, they forgive me. Eventually. So it's all good.
Deborah Klein lives in Safety Harbor.