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A Cubicle Dweller’s Field Guide

Veena Thomas

Have you become a cubicle-dweller, a creature straight out of Dilbert? Do you write code for hours on end, except when they throw a doughnut your way during break once a week? Do you have a Hotmail account that you check on the sly? Would you stand a chance of getting something done at work, except that all of your time goes towards sending e-mail to your friends stuck across the country in their cubicles?

Or perhaps you work in a lab, suffering from a permanent case of goggle-head from your safety glasses. Have you stopped caring what you wear to work, realizing that no one will see it anyway under your lab coat? Is your idea of being rebellious wearing open-toed shoes and leaving biological specimens in the lab refrigerator?

Fret not. You’ve become a summer intern, one of millions across the country who have traded in their school books for a 9-5 job. It’s certainly a far cry from the term. Forget staying up until four a.m., rolling out of bed three minutes before your 12 noon class starts and running across campus in your pajamas only to arrive ten minutes late. An internship usually entails a dress code of some sort (“business casual” still doesn’t include flannel pants) and a long commute through traffic-clogged highways, only to arrive at your office bleary eyed and ten minutes late. At least some things remain the same.

Do you spend your days longing to be outside, perhaps observing wildlife? Unbeknownst to many, there exists a unique species found in offices all across America, providing hours of entertainment through observation. The organism Homo Coworkerus exhibits slight regional differences, but specimens can be found regardless of which high-profile corporation has you whipped this summer. Waste away your highly-paid time watching for these office types:

* The Boss. She’s the person who signs your time sheet and who stops in once in a while to make sure that you’re doing okay and that you haven’t blown up the lab yet. While very friendly, and officially your supervisor, the boss is constantly in meetings and basically has much more important things to do than to chase around after such a young and foolish summer intern as yourself. Which brings us to:

* The Sidekick. He also works for your boss, which might erroneously lead you to think that the two of you are on the same level. But in reality, the sidekick is the one who takes care of you, makes sure that you don’t play solitaire too often, answers your millions of questions, and sweeps up when you break something so you don’t cut yourself on the glass. Surprisingly, he doesn’t appear to mind any of this. It’s probably far more entertaining to hang out with witty young you than it is to actually do his usual work. Sometimes, if he’s sneaky, and it’s the end of the summer, he might get you to do his work for him. Be wary of this. He’s also known as The Sort-of Boss.

* The Family Man. This guy has at least two young children, as you can tell from the many framed photos on his desk. He constantly talks about his wife and kids, and spends the weekends attending Little League games. He’ll take at least a week off sometime during the summer to take his family to Cape Cod. He calls his wife before he leaves work for the day to see if she needs him to pick up milk on the way home. Such a devoted dad. He’s quite the opposite of:

* The Drunk. Regaling you with stories of his college days, he makes you wonder how he manages to remember any of them. He shows up to work late on Monday, and goes to the bar “with the guys” after work on Friday, or, if it’s a rough week, on Tuesday. Ask how his weekend was only if you want to hear “I had one too many Long Island ice teas and one too many beers and one too many wine coolers ...”

* The Weird Guy. All of your coworkers make fun of him. And what’s not to make fun of? He dresses strangely, often in the same shirt, day after day. He has some kind of unusual hobby that he loves to talk about. Actually, he loves to talk about anything, spewing out monologues for hours on end. You name it, it’s happened to him. You watch the late-night movie, and the next day, he tells you about his friend’s cousin whose life eerily resembles the film’s plot. The weird guy will prove especially lethal to you because, as the newbie, he knows you haven’t heard all of his stories yet. He’ll corner you in your cubicle with a friendly “How’s it going?” If you ask him any questions back, you’re a goner. If you meet him in the hallway, and you break stride, you’re sunk. Your best bet: hope that a sympathetic coworker of yours takes pity on you and rescues you. Pray that your phone rings. Whether it’s that nice coworker or some guy trying to sell you a long distance phone plan, be sure to thank him profusely.

* The Gossip. Wonder who that cute guy you saw in the hallway was? Want to know the real scoop about your boss? And who’s hooking up with who after working hours? Just ask the gossip. She knows everything about everyone, like whether or not that guy really did get fired for e-mailing pornography. She can even give you a diagram of where each office clique sits in the cafeteria. Just be careful what you say around her.

* The Sports Nut. He’ll come into the office early in the morning to ask “Did you see the game last night?” If anyone did, he’ll follow with a play-by-play analysis of the game, and he’ll wonder how his favorite team could have been so stupid to throw away the game like they did, because they could have won it easily, you know, if (insert player’s name here) hadn’t been injured/the ref hadn’t made that bad call/the other team hadn’t had that one lucky play. He’ll follow with the team’s statistics for the season, and walk away, shaking his head. If he’s one of the extreme varieties, he’ll play hooky after lunch at a restaurant to watch the game.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many species of Homo Coworkerus found in the workplace. Overlap between these descriptions is also possible. For instance, The Sidekick could be The Family Man, or The Boss could be The Weird Guy. Hopefully The Weird Guy isn’t The Family Man, or The Boss isn’t also The Drunk, or it could be an interesting summer.

Remember, summer jobs are only temporary, so if you’re still bored after people-watching, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, a little dry ice in an Eppendorf tube placed in The Weird Guy’s desk drawer will startle him and provide something for The Gossip to talk about, while keeping you entertained. Or if all else fails, there’s always solitaire. Careful, though, The Sidekick is watching you.