Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The McDonald’s Syndrome

I drink a lot of water at work. It’s a health thing, on top of which my body heat is way up when I rush to the office every morning. A cup of hot tea? I don’t know how people do it. Even on the coldest days of winter, I feel my body running hot when I get into work. Need water. Will drink two or three 20-oz. cups at work, along with a can of soda after lunch.

I like ice with my water. Not a lot, a cube or two. Some places I’ve worked have had ice machines, the one I’m at now doesn’t. We depend on ice trays in the freezer, and the mercy of fellow coworkers filling them up when necessary. I care about the issue enough that I went out to Bed, Bath and Beyond one weekend and bought two solid Rubbermaid ice trays, as the ones we had at work were cracked and leaking. I like ice!

It’s recently come to my attention, via the ice-tray issue, that I have to deal with another crackpot coworker. Every place I’ve ever worked has had crackpot coworkers. People who aren’t necessarily bad or evil; they’re just crazy. No other way to put it. Something wrong with them. Those graceless peasants in the Transylvania night, the ones with pitchforks and torches chasing down a werewolf or Frankenstein monster? They’ve been my coworkers in so many NYC offices. Not very intelligent, easily misled, fearful … but ultimately not evil people. Wandering around the woods at two in the morning in lederhosen and straw hats, under a full moon, with faces as blank as the orb they gaze up at.

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but New York City has some of the best tap water in the world. I can vouch for this. One of the few under-rated and genuine things about living here. This is obviously because the water flows down an intricate pipeline system from much more pure reservoirs 100 miles upstate. It’s clean and tastes great. Read this report if you need any convincing.

I’m a good guy with filling up ice trays – obviously, I use a lot of ice, therefore it’s only fair that I should fill the trays when I see them empty. I’ll do this in the morning if I see a tray running low, and at night before I leave, I’ll go to the lunch room and fill up trays on my way out of the office to ensure that there’ll be fresh ice when I get in the next morning.

But lately, something weird has been happening. I’ll go into the lunch room in the morning, and the trays will be relatively full. Fine. After lunch, when I go back with my water cup, looking to get a few cubes for my daily can of soda, each of the three trays will be filled with water and nowhere near frozen: not once ice cube to be had for anyone for the rest of the work day. (Sidenote: let’s not get into the nutcases who leave bags of food in the refrigerator for weeks, sometimes to the point where the rotting stink of whatever they have in there permeates the taste of the ice cubes. Sometimes it seems like they’re leaving rotten, maggot-ridden goat’s heads in brown paper bags.)

For weeks, I was perplexed: were people really using this much ice? How could they … 36 ice cubes, gone in two hours? It didn’t make any sense. From what I’ve seen, only a handful of people use the ice trays in this place – and the state of the two trays they had was awful before I went out and bought two new ones.

This was a mystery until earlier this week. There’s a group of women who sit at the main table in the lunch room every day around 1:00 in the afternoon. Like clockwork: they’re always there, all from the same department (not mine, thankfully), usually carping and gossiping about coworkers in a way I find depressingly familiar. The vibe they put out is like head bulls in a maximum security women’s prison. It’s THEIR table and they’re going to SIT THERE and TALK SHIT on their LUNCH HOUR. All that’s missing are orange jumpsuits and a big butch girl with a mullet and spider web tattoo on her neck.

Well, the other day, I went back in shortly after 1:00 to get ice for my soda. When I did, I noticed something odd. One of the women from that group had two ice trays out on the counter. One was in the freezer, and it was full, so I cracked out two cubes, dropped them in my cup, got my soda and left. As I was leaving, I noticed this woman was cracking out the ice cubes into the sink, and then walking over to the drinking fountain on the other side of the lunch room to refill the tray with that water.

I didn’t confront her, but mystery solved. This crackpot was/is under the impression that the water from the drinking fountain is somehow better than the water coming from the tap. (Again, refer to that handy PDF file I provided above re: NYC tap water. There are actually people selling this stuff for $1.50 a bottle!) I’m wondering how she could even tell the difference! (Of course, she can’t: she’s insane.) I have noticed one difference, because I’ve had to re-fill the trays a few times from the drinking fountain when the sink was clogged. The water from the fountain tends to make for more brittle/crackable ice cubes, possibly because of whatever filter is installed on it? I don’t know, but it really makes no difference to me. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the ice cubes created from the tap. (I’ll use water from the fountain to drink only because it comes out so cold – tap never gets near as cold. They even have a water cooler next to the fountain – I guess to assuage the next level of neurotic nutcases who can’t drink from a public fountain.)

Such a minor thing, but when you’re having a ragged day at work, is it too much to ask that some mental patient doesn’t spend her time cracking out trays of perfectly good ice cubes into a sink, thus fucking over her coworkers for the rest of the day (and when it’s 90 degrees and humid in NYC …), thus ensuring that no one has ice because she has some weird, unfounded and completely idiotic phobia about NYC tap water? Lord help me if this woman ever sees me using tap water for ice cubes and makes an issue out of it – I’ll try to be civil. Some conversations in New York, the best way to end them would be to slam a butterfly net down over the other person’s head and break out the straight jacket: this is such a case.

The kicker to all this: this is an employee of the month! That’s another oddity about the work place that a few of us have noticed. The committee that chooses the employee of the month, who is honored in the monthly email newsletter, almost always chooses the most prickly, annoying, pompous, hard-to-deal-with workers as the winner. Not just that … the motherfuckers often choose themselves! Nearly each person on that committee has been employee of the month at one time or another. They nominate each other, slap each other on the back, and their strange little world spins on its crooked axis.

I’ve never had to deal with this woman directly, but the few times I have indirectly, I’ve caught vague whiffs of self importance and bad manners (both of which run rampant in my work place). The people I’ve noticed winning employee of the month the past few months, dear lord, getting help from them, in my experience, has been like pulling teeth. Granted, a lot of them have awful jobs (Accounting Dept. staff, legal assistants, I.T. drones, etc.), and they’re suffering from what I call The McDonald’s Syndrome. Simply stated, the McDonald’s Syndrome, named after the fast-food chain and its teenage employees, is when a worker who deals with awful and abusive people all day then becomes awful and abusive himself. I’d never thought of it, but the Stockholm Syndrome referred to with terrorists and their kidnapped prisoners often comes into play at work, too. Many people I’ve worked with suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome, substituting upper management for terrorists and themselves for the prisoners. Sooner or later, they start thinking the same warped way, even though it in no way benefits them and they are, in fact, wage slaves afraid to leave a given position, lest they never find another. They're like Patty Hearst packing a machine gun in a bank.

But I think I need to be more concerned with McDonald’s Syndrome because, truth be told, I can see that I, too, will be suffering from it if I keep letting people like the queen of the ice-cube trays get under my skin. There are a lot of bad workers where I work. Newsflash: there always have been wherever I’ve worked! There must be some well-run, fair-minded companies out there, but I gather they must also be very small and not advertising their enlightened state of being. As with terrorist cells, you’d need numerous federal agencies working in tandem to track down these companies. Or, you could just fall into them by chance. But I’m convinced it’s virtually impossible to have a sane, well-run, fair company with anything more than 20 employees, and even then, you’re more than likely to have a few bad eggs throw in the mix to keep things interesting. This is what happens with money. When there are opportunities to make it, and lots of it, you will always attract unsavory characters, in whatever role they’re cast. It’s a given, and simple common sense to recognize as much.

You know what they didn’t tell you in high school? And surely didn’t tell you in college? That the rest of your adult work life will be exactly like high school! You don’t like high school? Bad news … most companies I’ve worked for have been just like high school. Cliques, big men on campus, weirdoes, people who pick on and humiliate others for no clear reason, geeks, jocks, cheerleaders, counterfeit authority figures … motherfucker, they’re in every place I work! College was like an oasis in comparison, and not indicative of how adult life would go in terms of working for any company. That was a highly idealized view of the world, that cost money to visualize, and I strongly suspect actually working at a college would represent an endless sea of red tape, bullshit politics and head games just as bad as you’d find in any major corporation. Still, it was nice to be pampered like that for a few years, on our little Mount Olympuses, thinking the world would spin around our philosophical musings and whimsical delights of the mind.

That shit doesn’t work in the real world. I wish it did. But just like high school, you have to figure out how you’re going to deal with ice-cube tray queens. They’re not responsible for your sense of well being, and you know if they were, they’d be pissing on it like a cow on a flat rock.

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