Open Letter To A Cubicle Worker Under Siege

Corporate Druid

I received a cry for help in my Gmail the other day from one of my readers. From what I can tell, this person is a cubicle worker under siege and that he or she had surmised from my bio that I would be somehow qualified to help. Feeling duty-bound to the believers of my mythology, I present both sides of the correspondence, in hopes that in helping this reader, I may also help all my readers (love you both!).

Dear Gaytheist—

Some strange things have been happening at my place of work and your perspective is direly needed. This all started about 8 months ago. Sounds, random, loud, unbridled began emanating from behind soft, fuzzy, fabric walls of my cubicle. One could be described as uncomfortable laughter – like in a Krusty the Clown sort of way.  It’s up then down then up then down.  It’s a laugh that says “Yes I’m a little crazy and I’ll laugh at anything”.  The laughing eventually graduated into fist pumping. Who, what, why…I thought fist pumping only manifested itself at the Jersey Shore? Really, there’s no techno music and our manger certainly isn’t the type to foot the bill for a rave. Finally goodies, treats began to disappear. It seems the fist pumping clown like personality that lurks on the other side of our protective fabric walls has lurked out and over only to help themselves to special treats brought in by me and others. Please help.

Desperately Seeking Sanity,


Dear Anonymous—

First of all, I’d like to thank you for putting me in the awkward position of being accountable for your personal wellbeing.  Do you not have a real person with whom you can share your concerns and/or seek consolation?  I’m touched by your confidence in my ability to provide you with that consolation, but I can assure you I am not a real person.  Like the blurb says, I am an alter-ego. But I happen to be the alter-ego of someone who works in a cubicle, just like you, so I understand your emotional torment.  I came up from the cubicle like a rap artist comes up from the streets and a mushroom comes up from a compost pile.   As the wretched products of despair, desire, and the debris of this modern age, we like to pretend that we’re big stars or that consuming us with peanut butter and a side of Phish will somehow make us palatable.  “Going back” is something we’d prefer not to do.  But for you, Anonymous, go back I will.

As you know, here in Cubicle America, we work shoulder-to-shoulder, elbows to assholes with our comrades (okay, okay–let’s just stop pretending I’m not a pinko commie), within work spaces brought to you by a secret corporate partnership with Nabisco Wheat Thins.  The gussied-up plywood that separates us from one another affords us all the sham privacy of a lattice within a Catholic confessional with none of the sham redemption.

Talking Shit in The God Box

Make no mistake, Anonymous: you and I inhabit one of the most unnatural work settings since the advent of the Mir Space Station.  I know you’re probably wondering, “Wait a minute– what about pole-dancing establishments?  Those seem pretty unnatural.  Not to mention nasty as all get out.  What about them?”  Well, what about them?  Do you want to talk dirty or do you want to get better?

Returning to topic, you pervert: eight hours a day, five days a week, you and I work within a vast and rickety labyrinth teeming with squirming humanity.    The blueprint for this unnatural work environment was in fact, perversely cribbed from nature: the beehive.   The tiny, fragile work stations, the noise, the crowded conditions…all a beehive needs to complete the comparison is a casual Friday and a filthy break room with a bitchy sign about keeping it clean.

The O.C. (Original Cubicles)

The beehive works for honeybees, but does it work for us?  Sure, worker bees are famously short-lived, but at least they are allowed to get out and smell the flowers.  Here in our Corporate Moneycomb, we worker bees only get to smell the new guy’s Axe cologne and occasionally burnt popcorn wafting from the filthy break room.  And this pisses us the fuck off.  In fact, nothing ratchets up the rage in Cubicle America like a distracting odor.  We’re expected to pretend we’re wingless worker bees, sure, and we accept that,  but do not expect us to not lose our shit if some bitch burns some motherfuckin’ popcorn.

Why are we so touchy?  Let’s break it down, shall we?

I don’t know about the actual work you do, Anonymous, but the actual work I do is talking.  I don’t crunch numbers or create code; I make sounds out of my mouth for a living.  But the thing is, the thing is, (and this is crucial, Anonymous), THE THING IS:  I’m not just expected to talk; I’m expected to LISTEN, too.  Yes.  That headset I yoke myself into every morning has a mouth piece AND an earpiece.  My particular earpiece is one of those black plastic jobbies framed with a black foam donut, reminiscent of a Walkman headset from the 80’s.  Unlike a Walkman headset from the 80’s, however, it does not issue forth New Order’s greatest hits or Love And Rockets’ classic Earth Sun Moon but rather the sometimes unhappy, sometimes needy, sometimes terrifyingly unbalanced voices of men and women across the country.  It came as quite a shock to me when I first started this job that these men and women did not call with the express intent of basking in the enlightenment and joy of my mouth sounds.  In many cases, quite the contrary.  They call to make mouth sounds of their own—sometimes unhappy, sometimes needy, sometimes terrifyingly unbalanced mouth sounds.

Again, I don’t know about you, Anonymous, but for me, keeping my job isn’t just a matter of making mouth sounds; it’s knowing the right mouth sounds to make.  That means having to listen carefully to whatever is pumped into my ear, regardless of how unfavorably it compares to the danceable 80’s classics of New Order and Love And Rockets.   This is not a complaint.  This is what I get paid to do.  I thank the Great Flattering Conceit Of Human Worth In The Sky every day for the privilege of listening to unhappy, needy, terrifyingly unbalanced people.  The problem is, everyone seated around me is doing the exact same thing. And the problem with that is built right into the gussied-up plywood that comprises our Moneycomb.  Let me put it this way:  if the sounds made by my coworkers were sharks and my cubicle were a cage, I would be reduced to a floating red cloud and maybe a thumb ring within 10 minutes of the standard work day.  I hear everything.  Not just the ordinary mouth sounds we need to make for our livelihood, either; I mean I hear everything.

An Itemized  (but admittedly not exhaustive)

List of Everything

  • Remote parenting phone calls in which children named Demetrius are fervently promised “whuppin’s” and those named Braden are PRN’ed their sister’s amoxicillin.
  • Sports Talk.  For many people, it’s important for there to be clear-cut winners and losers in life.  In Cubicle America (where we are not so much players in the game as we are as the game that is played), it’s more than important, it’s of pants-pissing urgency.  I understand the psychological necessity of Sports Talk, but let me say it’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise having to listen to one of my neighboring comrades hum “We Are The Champions” after gloating loudly about her March Madness brackets.  Particularly the “I consider it a challenge before the whole human race/And I ain’t gonna loooooooose!!!!!” part.
  • “That’s what she said!”  Every ten minutes, like freaking clockwork.  Thank you so much, NBC’s “The Office”!
  • Corporate Kennel Cough Chain Reactions.  If one person coughs on the east side of the first floor of the building at 7:05 AM, it is a fact that by 12:52 PM, that same cough will have worked its way cubicle by cubicle to the west side of the second floor.  By close of business, it will make its way back again.  It’s true.  Just ask the CDC.
  • Garden Variety BS.  I’m still trying to get over the time I was party to a lengthy monologue justifying the purchase of a 3D television with a dissertation on the enriching importance of “depth”.  I felt we were all the more shallow for it.
  • Breast cancer scare calls to my doctor.  I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to my comrades for having to hear those horrifying, disgusting conversations.  In case you’re wondering, I’m okay and will live to discuss my needle aspiration biopsies another day!
  • Burnt Popcorn Outrage.  The BPO is a loud and lengthy mass monologue in which cubicle workers of all creeds and colors join together to bitch as one.  Woe betide the “idiot” who burnt the “motherfucking popcorn”, for he is the “asshole” who subliminally reminds us all of our lot in life as flightless worker bees hopelessly locked within the corporate moneycomb.

    Which one of you bitches burnt the motherfucking popcorn???

And within this maelstrom of noise, we are expected to function in our cubicles as if they are deluxe office suites.  I’ve said that cubicles are made of Wheat Thins and gussied-up particle board, but what holds them together is a giant lie, that lie being Your Cubicle Exists On Its Own Plane Of Reality.  It’s the same kind of purposeful, self-willed delusion that has empowered people to walk on hot coals or break boards with their heads or eat the brains of a monkey.  “I am a cutting edge culinary adventurer,” the monkey brain eater tells himself.  “I am brilliant”, the board breaker tells himself.  “I am walking on sunshine”, the hot coal walker tells herself.

Affirmations are much more powerful than mere denials in extreme circumstances like fire-walking and cubicle-working because the act of denial is in itself an acknowledgement.  To think “This bazillion degree fire is not hot,” or “I am not a dolt,” or “This gelantinous monkey brain is not disgusting” is to allow the idea of heat or stupidity or grossness to enter into the consciousness where it can mingle dangerously with alarming sensory data and the corroborating counsel of common sense.  A denial is therefore a losing maneuver in the Mind Game Playbook.  The battle of the mind is won with delusion.   Therefore, to work successfully within your workspace, you must accept that Your Cubicle Is Its Own Plane of Reality.

Anonymous, my friend, this means you are a citizen of a three-walled universe.  At your back horribly yawns the abyss.  Your Cubicle Is Its Own Plane of Reality, is, as far as delusions go, admittedly a pretty elaborate one.  To sustain anything elaborate, you need extensive back-up.  The cubicle delusion is not unlike Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” in this way.  A wily shyster as well as a gifted artist, Botticelli wisely surmised that no one’s going to buy that a spectacular, nude Uma Thurman prototype would just drop in out of nowhere (on a clam shell, no less!) so he augmented this inspired poppycock with even more glorious nonsense: a sexy pair of swinging angels, blowing up a bracing gale explains how she got here, a handmaiden on James Brown stand-by robe-replacement duty assures us her nudity is only a temporary lapse in decorum.   If you want it to, this painting almost makes sense, because these pleasing “if this, then that” suppositions top one another in a empirical pyramid beautiful bullshit.  In short, Botticelli clearly understood that buying into a whole worldview is much more satisfying than swallowing down one unadorned lie.

The (Beautiful Bullshit) Birth Of Venus

SO!  Your Cubicle Is Its Own Plane Of Reality when you accept that your headset is your one and only physiological connection to the outside world.  In accepting this, you must also accept that the outside world itself is drifting somewhere in a dimension all its own like a Pepsi can in the icy North Atlantic.  But most importantly, Your Cubicle Is Its Own Plane Of Reality when you accept that while you are seated within it, no one else exists but you.

You can get a lot of work done if you’re the only person in the universe.  I daresay that this is how God managed to accomplish so freaking much in 7 days, if the fable is to be believed.  I myself have on past occasions attained such a state of perfect singularity and productivity that my entire being seemed to be condensed into its functioning agents alone.  To wit: I was nothing more than 2 typing hands, 1 listening ear, and 1 talking mouth.  But to say I was nothing more than that is actually to say those elements were all that there were to be.  Within this state, the tiny voices piped into my right ear become all I hear.  The voices of America’s unhappiest, neediest,  and most terrifyingly unbalanced people become the silent voice of my consciousness.  It is in this fugue state that worker becomes the work.  And shit gets done.

But if no one other than you exists, it begs the question: who’s to say that you exist?  Lacking a frame of reference (and a mind and body, as well, for that matter), how can you convincingly state your existential case?

Enter The Cackler.  I haven’t forgotten your Cackler, Anonymous.  It may have seemed as if I had spiraled into a digressive K hole of no return, but I assure you, everything I have to say has everything to do with you, even if it seems to have nothing to do with no one but myself.  This is what 4 years in a cubicle has reduced me to.   Work with me here.

Your Cackler has reached a state of existential ambiguity so complete she has literally lost track of herself.  She may have become so good at tuning out her outer and inner worlds that she has tuned herself into no world at all.  Perhaps she fears that she no longer has a center, that she has flown apart in the yawning abyss.  What may sound for all the world like the cackle of insanity to you and the entire clinical psychological community, is actually a sonic beacon of reassurance.  Your Cackler is a modern miner lost in the void of his vocation, keeping the terror of negation at bay by whistling in the dark.  When your Cackler cackles, she is engaged in the act of actualization: she is here, here, here, hee, hee, hee, HEEEEERRRREEEE!

You find this annoying, Anonymous, because when the Cackler cackles, she overspills the physical and psychological boundaries of her cubicle with that horrible sound, and in so doing, reminds you that you are still captive within yours.

Not content to merely add the sound of her laughter to the List of Everything that you have to tune out, she has gone on to inflict her existence upon your snack dish.  She is clearly on a rampage.  What’s the point of having these pretend walls between us if they do nothing to help us pretend?  I will concede to you, Anonymous, it is quite upsetting.  You are by no means alone in your resentment of the border-jumper, the interloper, whatever form she takes.  For instance,  when I recently noticed that a carrot coin had somehow escaped its designated compartment and took asylum in another, completely incorrect one in a frozen dinner  I’d brought for my lunch, I nearly lost my proverbial shit.  There it was, that carrot coin, just lounging obscenely and arrogantly in the hot goo of my “apple crisp,” like an uninvited Ron Jeremy smirking and soaking in my bath tub.  At the time, I was consumed with a rage so acute, I almost couldn’t control it, let alone understand where it was coming from.

At first, I thought I was upset at Healthy Choice’s poor packaging or its lame quality control, but even then in the red haze of my rage, I was vaguely aware of the disproportionate relationship between its innocuous cause and the bewildering effect it had on me.  I almost had to go home, such was the magnitude of my outrage.

Everything in its own place.

It was only after several days of meditation and drinking that I was able to come to terms with the fact that I was actually upset because that asshole carrot coin had the nerve to demonstrate the futility of ALL artificial, arbitrary boundaries, right there in the imaginary sanctity of my own cubicle.  It is for also for this reason the smell of burnt popcorn is the official aroma of Cubicle Rage.  It is an olfactory reminder of how our lives compare unfavorably to that of an insect who works itself to death within a lifespan of 1-4 months.

Anonymous, when I saw how quickly the logic of your email’s rhetoric unraveled and then disintegrated into screaming atoms of pure unadulterated freakout, I recognized that working in Cubicle America has certainly taken its toll on you as well.  I wish I could tell you that the solution would be to somehow re-envision the American Workspace in such a way that would permit optimal performance while respecting basic human rights.  I wish I could say that my earnest account of these mind-warping working conditions would somehow make its way onto the desk and into the heart of someone who matters, but whenever I imagine this essay in the hands of some corporate power-that-be, I can’t help but see the “take-away point” being a ban on microwave popcorn.

As the pretend personality borne of this fetid environment, I can assure you that madness is the only sane response to our circumstances. I can also assure you that you really do exist, unlike me.  So laugh it up!  Help yourself to somebody else’s snacks!  Write a blog!

My cubicle not only exists on its own plane of reality, it also happens to have its own currency. And I am the richest woman in my whole cubicle!

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8 Responses to “Open Letter To A Cubicle Worker Under Siege”

  1. Laura Says:

    I would like to be an apostle for the AntiChurch of Melinda T.

  2. Kelly Says:

    ‘There it was, that carrot coin, just lounging obscenely and arrogantly in the hot goo of my “apple crisp,” like an uninvited Ron Jeremy smirking and soaking in my bath tub.’

    That is one of the funniest sentences you have ever written. Jesus Christ, Bo Diddley, etc.

    You’ve made me ask myself the question: which is worse, teaching or working in a cubicle? They share many similarities. This will give me something to think about today as I toil over a hot stove cooking chicken tetrazzini and may result in an answer blog/companion piece. You have inspired me!

    I’m proud of your Botticelli inclusion and would like to add that he is beloved by painters for his amazing negative spaces, i.e. the beautiful curvy shapes created between his paintings’ main players, such as the one between Venus and her James Brown cape draper. (The JBCD comparison is brilliant, and had I thought of it myself I would have shared it with my 4,000 students, none of whom would have known what I was talking about or who James Brown even was. As of 2000, only a small percentage of them could name all four Beatles, and after that I gave up asking.)

    Anyway: negative space is a place where nothing ever happens. And as David Byrne–to name another figure the youth of America do not recognize–would tell you, that is what heaven is. Maybe that is why classrooms and cubicles, with their absolute absence of negative spaces, can be so hellish.

    Pretension, ahoy! I apologize. Your blog is the greatest.

    • Hellraisin Says:

      Pretension? Poppycock! You taught me about The Birth of Venus once upon a time, and if you’re as taken with that ridiculous statement aligning an errant carrot with Ron Jeremy as you indicate, then please accept it as a token as my love and gratitude.

  3. Evan Oakley Says:

    This is brilliant. Or, as we say in academia, this is fucking brilliant. I fear, however, that with too many more peeps-into-the-abyss as this, our Gaytheist may become the Bartleby of the cubicle nation, posting forevermore, nothing but the wretched, “I prefer not.”

    Until then, perhaps you could do some more explication of Renaissance masterpieces? The School of Athens is dieing for the Gaytheist treatment.

    • Hellraisin Says:

      I have a Bartleby World Tour t-shirt. On the back, the dates/venues are listed “Never and Nowhere”. Or there ought to be except for the fact that I made it all up. Anyway: thank you, Evan, for your words of encouragement. Or, in the vernacular of the ivory tower: Fuckin’ A!

      • Evan Says:

        I would pay actual money for a t-shirt of that kind. Maybe you could contract with Scott Regalado for a production of the same? He’s handy with knocking off the odd curiousity, or two. In fact, he might even put into production a whole line of Gaytheist artifacts to sell to the over-educated/under-employed anarcho-absurdists of the world, which is to say, anyone with a soul/brain. They don’t have money, but what money they do have, they spend on impotent outcries against the machine.

  4. Renaissance Faire 2015! | The Gaytheist Gospel Hour Says:

    […] is singular now.  I no longer report to the hive in Cubicle America. I work from home these days, for a fledgling element of the same company that is so new, I only […]

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