Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Suck Factor -- office life & too much Crazy

Careerbuilder cranked out a list of 10 Annoying Workplace Habits. It hit the mark of things that make your daily slog irritating, but still came in fairly tame on the workplace suck-o-meter. That office couldn't have been a daily newspaper.

The list captured some of my own co-worker peeves of days gone by: playing music/talking on the phone, stanky food, excessive cigarette breaks (and I do mean excessive -- how about several hours a day?), and gossiping as though Springer's calling any minute for a hot tip.

But I could add a few additional quibbles with co-workers. Such as humming and bopping to your headphones. That bobbing head in my peripheral vision for hours on end made me mentally practice how I'd have to pretend to act sad if you ever got hit by a bus. Which I fervently hoped you would.

Then there's blasting Christian rock on a boom box while others are working, constantly drumming your fingers on your desk, and treating the newsroom to a song. Not just a line of it that got stuck in your head that one time, but singing the whole thing. Thoughtful, no?

Or how about colleagues throwing chairs at (surprisingly tough and bouncy) windows and flinging exacto knives at walls? Life on daily deadline is not conducive to sanity. (I should point out this was in the States, so it's probably a different kind of madness to UK newspapers.)

And I can't forget the co-worker who wore the same sandals every day all summer, sharing a stank-feet waft so foul it immediately gave me a headache. Do you know how gross a smelly foot headache is? Do you?! I'd rather have a poo-flinging monkey in the room. At least that I could dodge, maybe wear a blast helmet and poncho. When your desk is right next to someone with funky BO, there's not much you can do, no way to tell him without inspiring his hatred forever -- and it probably wouldn't fix the problem, anyway. He'd just sprinkle a little powder in the nasty sandals rather than burning the foul things, and my stank-headaches would continue.

Then there's the Snark Queen, full of nasty comments about everyone behind their backs (and right to your face if you were the unlucky wench seated next to her). She's only too happy to brag inappropriately about her husband's penis size and her stint working at Hooters (obviously intended as proof of an attractiveness she mistakenly thinks she still possesses).

But it's not just the co-workers who crap up your day -- it's the public. When first starting out, I worked at a small-town newspaper office designed by someone who either had zero idea of the challenges of a journalist's job or was extremely sadistic. It was designed open plan -- anyone could walk in off the street and not only see the newsroom, but round a corner and walk back to us unencumbered (and uninvited).

That's right, they could accost us any time, deadline or deep concentration be damned, with demands to know when a story would run, why a photo from their family reunion was omitted or what kind of moron could fail to follow up that hot tip on the dancing Chihuahua (which was the kind of story we'd never run even at a small paper -- unless everything else fell through, in which case we'd gladly place a funny hat on the mutt and make it a four-column front-page photo). Most newsrooms are designed with limited access for a reason -- newspapers attract the disgruntled, the unbalanced and the self-promoting like George Clooney attracts the ladies.

The layout screwed us over every day, not least when Crazy came a callin'. I didn't give her that moniker -- she was known as that long before I worked there and probably is to this day. We could hear her loud voice crackling with frantic energy carried back to us from the reception desk as soon as she entered. Our hands would freeze over our keyboards as it hit us: she's off her meds.

I'd call a newsroom meeting (really more a get-out-of-the-line-of-fire meeting) and we'd rush into the conference room, locking the door and closing the blinds on the floor-length glass windows facing the newsroom.

We'd discuss whether the windows were bulletproof. (We hoped they were given the tossed-chair incident wherein a rather severely under-qualified editor had a hissy when he couldn't handle the job yet again and hurled a chair at the surprisingly sturdy windows currently between us and Crazy. The chair bounced back and just missed him, making that story far less awesome than it might've been). However, we also wondered if we could break the outside windows with a chair to make an escape if need be, since they only opened a few inches. Given the aforementioned example, we thought the chances slim.

Crazy never made threats nor seemed violent, but her ability to detect sinister hidden meanings in innocuous articles, mixed with her wild-eyed intensity, put our nerves on edge and freed our imaginations to concoct worst-case scenarios. I once checked the employee restroom for homemade bombs after she'd used it (without asking) because she'd stomped back there purposefully and with an air of frenzied intensity whilst also carrying a giftbag.

Crazy was infamous in the small town. She'd been banned from City Hall and in fact from our own newsroom, but no one on our end had the balls to face her down and make her leave, unlike City Hall which had the Police Department on site.

She was actually a sad case, but there was nothing we could do about it other than try to get our work done without too much incident. Besides, insanity was a normal part of our day, something to take in stride, sidestep or submit to as the case required.

And all of that was just what happened in the office, nevermind what took place once I grabbed my notepad and hit my beats. But there are many stories in the Naked City (or Primly Dressed Small Town, as the case may be), and I'll save the rest for another day.

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