I Would Prefer Not To


“Can you stop by?”

This was the Skype message I recently received from my supervisor. Those of us Bartlebys who have worked in an office environment and have been unlucky recipients of such a message from the boss (aka “The Big Cheese”) know that, no matter how cool and self-assured one might be in other situations, there’s always a quickening of the pulse when such a message is received.

It used to be a phone call, or a head appearing in one’s office doorway. Then it was email. Now it’s Skype.

I was half-tempted to type back “I would prefer not to.”  But I sold out and typed “OK.”

As I walked toward his office, I wondered if this would be one of those “Shut the door” type conversations. Sure enough, it was.

“Shut the door,” he said abruptly. “Have a seat.” How polite of him. My heartrate had by now increased dramatically.

“Don’t get excited,” the big cheese assured me, unsuccessfully.

In addition to words and voice tone, body language is also very revealing in these encounters. And at this moment, his body language indicated that, yes, this would be yet another session of existential revelation, explanation, justification, and eventual atonement.

My body language indicated that my heart was now pumping enough blood to cause the front of my shirt to vibrate like the skins on a drumhead at a Hottentot wedding celebration. So it was kind of difficult to instruct my involuntary cardiac muscle not to “get excited.”

He leaned over his desk, folded his arms, and looked at me with solemnity over the top of his wire glasses.

“Just answer me…”

He paused for dramatic effect. I waited with bated breath to see if I would be granted or denied admittance through the Gates of Heaven.

“…did you or did you not forget to flush the urinal yesterday?”

I was busted. Oh, God. I’ve always had a feeling that one day I might slip up.

Indeed, I had made a visit to the bathroom yesterday. And after doing my “business,” I followed the same ritual I always did. I walked to the sink, washed my hands in lukewarm water (for some odd reason, this one bathroom doesn’t provide hot water), dried my hands with a small paper towel…then walked across the tile, grasped the door handle with said paper and opened the door, then flipped the used paper in the nearby waste can.

However…on this one occasion…I forgot to use said paper to push handle on said urinal before exiting said bathroom. And I remembered that an anonymous gentleman was, at that moment, conducting his own business in a parallel urinal. He must have narc’ed (squealed) on me.

(You ladies might be interested to know that men’s public bathrooms are perhaps the most unsociable places on earth. Sinks are acceptable locations for idle conversation, although men being men, conversation is infrequent. Urinals are definitely off-limits. Conversation occasionally occurs, but eye contact is forbidden, unless there’s loud rock ‘n’ roll or football going on, and the men are drunk.)

“Uh…yes,” I stammered. “I mean…I did forget. Is that a big deal?”

The cheesy one sat back in his swivel chair and, with a doleful expression not unlike an elderly basset hound, stared at his hands, now folded in his lap.

“Always…” he began, “always flush the urinal. This incident has reached Rosemary.”

Rosemary is the Human Resources Director. She’s a petite, attractive woman about 30 years old. Half my age. Her nickname is “Rottweiler.” I’m assuming she earned this nickname because, not only does she have a pet Rottweiler (a dog with a reputation for “territorial aggressiveness”), but every time an employee leaves the company, she sends out a company-wide email with the employee’s photo stating “John Doe is no longer employed at (the company). Should he visit our facility, he must be treated as a visitor.” This cold declaration is followed by various security requirements that employees must follow—and John Doe must adhere to—if John Doe visits former facility.

I can understand taking away an employee’s electronic badge before he leaves. But I’ve never understood either the necessity or the effectiveness of these company-wide emails.

Rosemary not only hires people, handles their benefits (paid time off, 401K, health, and life itself), processes their resignations, delivers news of their layoffs and firings, but after employee has vanished, she alerts the workforce that former employee is, essentially, persona non grata. The only analogy to this last action that I can think of is someone who might desecrate a gravesite.

Rosemary may be petite and attractive, but she has more power and influence than the company president. Think a smaller version of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

But getting back to our little drama…I expressed atonement to Herr Limburger for my thoughtless action the previous day. Then, with trepidation, I asked him if I needed to visit Rosemary.

“No, that won’t be necessary,” he said, just as solemn as when I first sat down. “Just make sure it doesn’t happen again. There will, of course, be mention of this incident in your next performance appraisal. But your employment situation is still secure.”

Whew. I staved off a company-wide email from Rosemary.

Cheesy one apologized for, as he termed it, the “brouhaha.” I told him “That’s okay, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.”

“Hey, don’t apologize,” he said. “This is my job.” Indeed, it is.

I left his office. I felt a strong urge to visit the scene of the crime and flush all the urinals, as a sort of psychological purging.

I also felt a strong urge to determine who the asshole was who narc’ed on me.  Then decided “screw it…I would prefer not to.”  And, then, a revelatory moment:

I pinpointed the reason for Rosemary’s high-security emails.



(Bill Bragg, 2012/foliosociety.com)


22 thoughts on “I Would Prefer Not To

    • I appreciate your concern, Cindy. Truthfully, I changed the “scene of the crime” scenario for humor purposes. But in all other respects, the pettiness is real, including the HR emails and much of the dialog in my boss’s office.

      I’m not sure which will happen first: “I would prefer not to,” or retirement.

  1. Loved the story Peter, but if this doesn’t get you another a Skype within a day I can only guess that Rosemary has left the company herself…in which case you would not get the ritual email.
    As a matter of habit, I hit the flush if there is no auto flush, and then ponder over the sink’s unresponsive auto faucets and auto soapers whose motion sensors never work. In the happy event that they do I will wash hands, and in an attempt to virtue signal any neighbors will also towel down the entire sink area. Your blog post inspires me to consider a once over on the urinals too.

    • Kudos to you, Phil, for attending to the entire sink area, but please don’t go near those urinals. I’ve received feedback from my better half about my discussion of the “scene of the crime.” Let’s just say, she gave me a negative performance appraisal. This entire post has gone down the drain, as it were, in addition to being, as the British say, a “bit of a sticky wicket.” Oh well.

      • Peter, the “sticky wicket” refers to the game of cricket, and to the suspicious possibility that the two bales resting on the three wickets on the pitch may actually be glued into place to foil the bowler’s attempt to knock them flying. I can only think that this post raises the possibility that you did in fact flush at the urinal, but due to a malfeasance, perhaps gorilla glue, that the switch was jammed. Personally, I think you should have denied the whole charge. Of course, that would have led to a consequential “cover up” accusation. Which might be appropriate.

      • Phil, I just got my morning coffee, and it suddenly struck me that perhaps I should have placed my scene of the crime at the coffee machine. Hindsight is 20-20.

    • Do you mean what happened at work, or what I wrote? Frankly, I’m indifferent to Rosemary and Herr Limburger. It’s my wife’s reaction to my choice of scenario and words that bothers me (a little). Been beating myself up. Haha!

      • Right. The intent of this post is to show some of the ludicrousness that goes on in the workplace (and, in turn, everywhere). I’m actually on pretty good terms with my bosses and my HR rep. You probably already know this, Neil, but I use satire a lot for comic effect (just in case someone from my company reads this, or doesn’t understand satire. Satire can be dangerous!).

  2. you have a great audience. loved the comments.

    And the Melville story is one of my favorites, both because it’s a perfect piece of fiction (every word developing the theme/emotions) and because, for me, it’s one of those stories that has totally changed since I first read it (without changing a word). When I was a sophomore in college, I was all in with Bartleby, the rebel who won’t stoop to be a part of anything out there because it’s all a blank a wall, a mess of hypocrisy and greed. Now though, I think the narrators just as important as a main character and the moral mess at the center of everything. He catches just a glimpse of the horror that Bartleby sees (the white whale, the mysterious nothing at the center of everything), but then tries every mental and spiritual trick he can come up with to avoid actually connecting with this broken, hurting man and offering anything real of himself (Bartleby needs real sustenance–the narrator give him stale cookies). In the end, after trying a few sad attempts to help things, he calls the police and stays (a little less) comfortably inside his own walls. He too prefers not to in his own way, a way as sad and horrible as Bartleby’s. The narrator of Moby Dick is the only Melville character I know of who is willing to sleep with the cannibal, who is willing to tie himself to the monkey ropes with all the strange characters in that book and really try to connect.

    With that, this pathetic English major will turn the podium back to the sane people.

    Thanks for a great story, Pete.

    • Hi David. Your comment is a really succinct and eye-opening review of a timeless story. (I wondered if there might be other Melville “scholars” out there, and happy to see there are.) After your appraisal, I’ll have to read “Bartleby” again…I just read it about 6 months ago, for maybe the fifth time. Excellent point about the narrator. Have you had a chance to read The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel? There’s a real parallel here between the Bartleby narrator and author Finkel. Christopher Knight (the “stranger” in the title) seems to hold mysterious sway over Finkel, who at the end of the book becomes almost a stalker. I mentioned this on Finkel’s blog, and he was nice enough to send a reply, stating that he’s familiar with the Melville story and would re-read it.

      “Sane people” indeed! Thanks for your enlightening touch of insanity.

  3. Last time i was in a work place environment messages and memos were placed in a locked, glass encased bulletin board. The last bulletin I read from the “Big Cheese”, he asked the employees “To please shower before they came to work seeing as he had to kiss ass to get anyone to do any work”.
    “Lift the seat” also made the bulletin board. Good one Pete.

  4. Almost all of us who are not trust fund babies have suffered the indignities of the workplace honeycomb,

    Relieve yourself on them: all of those with b&w corridor minds and ALL of the inhuman resource departments.

    I worked for a company in Ohio which had a Ph.D. psychologist in charge of the I.R. Department. We were instructed to call her “Doctor.”

    I am retired now, and I can now spend my time with Internet bloggers whom I like and respect.

    • Well, glad you’re spending time on “longitudes”! I was recently “retired” by that company, but I’m not exactly crying about it, as we seemed to be at cross purposes. Yep…”corridor minds” about sums it up. Those minds are everywhere these days, both in and out of the workplace. When you’re a child, you’re taught to respect older people. But these days, I’ll take a child’s innocence over most adults’ so-called “wisdom.” My granddaughters’ thinking lacks the base alloy of hypocrisy.

      • Feel free to steal it, Phil. I stole it from Abraham Lincoln after hearing it quoted in Ken Burns’ “Civil War” years ago (including the hypocrisy part). It’s always stuck with me.

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