A Tale of Three Cubicles, Part III

Part I

Part II

The opening details are mostly unimportant. The hiring process was convoluted and indirect. I quit my job at Target to work closer to where we lived, working on an IT project for Medtronic Corporation, as a consultant for another middle-man corporation. I had to get hired by both of them. Still an hourly employee, but making ten dollars more per hour. My official title, which I only learned after a week or two on the job, was something along the lines of a “coordinator.” Most of the employees were subcontracted from IBM, many of them from India. I was in charge of getting them on- and off-board. It was entirely different from Target. There was no job description or training; I was simply to figure out my job and do it as I saw fit and report to my supervisor and manager. Surveillance was very low, too. The person who had my job previously was hired as an official Medtronic employee, supporting the project manager. She was helpful and positive, but had left the position in shambles, largely because the person before her was incompetent. It was chaotic but liberating, at first. There was room to make some stuff up. Room to live a little. I never entirely understood what I was supposed to be doing and, honestly, I don’t think anyone else knew either. My manager was a wonderful man: a Spaniard from Asturias. A slender and tall widower, a cultured man with a thick Spanish accent and also a practicing Catholic. A rosary hung from his computer screen. He played bass at his parish. I was the only Spanish speaker in the building so we soon became friends. The only part of the job I understood was that I was to eat lunch with my manager and talk to him in Spanish about interesting things: books, feminism, music, guitars and songwriting, religion, and more. We would lunch for at least one hour almost daily and talk until we got back to his office. My cubicle was just outside his door. This relationship infuriated my supervisor, and she eventually tried to undermine me. My manager would hear nothing of it. He was convinced that my skills were being wasted and he didn’t seem to care what I was doing or not doing. He wanted me to be moved into a more serious, dignified position, where I could write and think about conceptual things the project was working on. I was not doing a lot and I was almost always faking it. All I did well was to correspond with our main contact from IBM — a French woman who never came on-site — and look important. I also liked to eat popcorn every day around three in the afternoon with the Indian IBM-ers. They all thought I was Indian, too, until one day I revealed that I wasn’t. They liked me enough anyhow to let me join them for popcorn whenever I pleased. The project itself was interesting: it was about trying to standardize corporate language and processes across three or four global headquarters. “Centerpoint” — that was the title. It was a centralizing operation, a Tower of Babel problem. I understood it quite well, actually, and think I could have helped, but not in my current position. The purpose behind the piles of money and workers was to increase communication through language and some procedures in carefully planned phases. As interesting as it was in theory, my day-to-day was becoming more and more tedious and my supervisor was out to get me. I was, of course, cutting lots of corners. There were whole assignments I was not doing. Like keeping a current map of everyone’s cubicle assignments and making sure that everyone who left the project didn’t have an active remote-access password. I built a huge spreadsheet and color-coded it. It was as absurd as Borges’ famous taxonomy in “The Analytic Language of John Wilkins.” As Ivan Illich would later put it (in Deschooling Society), my spreadsheet was irrationally consistent. I could explain it in meetings or in professional conversations because (a) no one listened or cared and (b) the color-codes and the Excel data gave it a sense of order and fake rigor. “Great work, Sam; keep it up.” By the end of my time there I was going on walks around the building, under the guise of checking-up on things (like my much neglected floor map). I think I first felt serious anxiety while working there. I don’t know why, but it made me feel like I was going to explode inside. Suffocating. Ohio State was recruiting me into their Ph.D. program at the time and I was also accepted at Syracuse, but, in my heart, I was still unsure whether I wanted to work here or not. I confided in my manager one day and he gave me his blessing. A classmate told me I should take the security and money and stay at Medtronic. “Take the money and run!” That was what he told me. But graduation and doctoral studies were still a few months away and I now hated my job. The doctor told me I was clinically depressed which depressed the shit out of me, clinically, I suppose. I couldn’t enjoy my lunch or popcorn anymore because my supervisor was oppressively vigilant and I was running out of fake jobs to pretend to do. Doing fake work is very taxing on the nerves. I began looking for other work that I could do as an independent consultant — some music, some translating, some other things here and there — to get us to the time when we’d move to Columbus. I never said goodbye, I just picked up my things and left. They could fire me on the spot any day, so I didn’t see why I should give them two weeks. I still don’t understand that. Plus, I wouldn’t need the references: I was making a clean break from corporate cubicles. I was going to the academy: back to the craftwork I so dearly missed. Not steel and dancing, this would be books and teaching.

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