My first job out of college was doing newspaper advertising for a regional department store. The very first day, fresh faced and eager, I was plopped into my tiny cubicle and told to go ahead and clean up from the previous employee. My new boss disappeared. Always obedient, I dumped the folders, the notebooks and the post-its in the garbage. I love weeding through crap and it felt good.
Next, it was on to the computer. It was filled with unfamiliar icons– networks, drives, folders. I had no idea what any of them were. So, like anyone told to clean up, I dragged every last one into the trash and emptied it. Are you sure you want to trash all 987,092 items, the screen asked incredulously? I confirmed and watched as the images disappeared. It didn’t seem right, but I was told to clean up and clean up I would, dammit.
Hours went by and the trash was still emptying. I flipped through old newspapers and perfected my voice mail recording. My boss had yet to make another appearance so I went to lunch. When I returned, the office was a commotion. Someone, apparently, had gone and trashed all of the network files, thus erasing week’s worth of work. The system was only backed up monthly so every single thing anyone had worked on for weeks was gone. Layouts, photographs, text. G.O.N.E.
Who would do such a thing? Who was disgruntled enough to bring down the whole department? And why? My stomach sank. I knew that it was me, but the damage was done. What good would fessing up to at that point? It was my first job and the last thing I wanted to do was make an office full of enemies on my first day. The tension in the office was tangible and everyone was a suspect. Everyone, but the earnest new girl who had no reason to do such a thing.
It took months for the office to catch up, and I was guilt ridden every day. Every presentation was introduced with a reference to the bad employee who erased what should have been presented. People were cranky and worked through lunch to catch up. It was awful.
I’d like to say that that was the low point of my work behavior, but it wasn’t. I managed to get a days worth of work done in a few hours, and refused to sit wasting away at my desk. I took 3 hour lunch breaks daily. I drove to outlet malls and saw movies at the nearby theater. I went to the gym at lunch and took 20 minute showers. I shopped at the supermarket and waltzed in with weeks worth of groceries. I planned my wedding and started a graphic design business using the offices supplies. I was shameless.
The job lasted four long years. On my last day of work, my boss took me out for drinks. I wish you weren’t leaving, he said. You do your job really well. But, I do have to know, what were you doing every day for 3 hours at lunch? I felt my face turning beet red and told him that he really didn’t want to know.
I did fess up to bringing down the computer system years ago, an incident that was well remembered and constantly referenced. He laughed. Good luck, he said, as he hugged me goodbye. I’ll miss you.
And with that, my days in a cubicle were over. Amazingly, every once in a while I miss them. At least the long lunches and free office supplies.