“Now that you’ve been working for the state for almost a year,” one of my coworkers asked me, “which bureaucracy do you think is more mixed-up, the military or the state?”

“The state, no question,” I said, without having to think about it at all. When he laughed and asked me why, I explained, “The military’s got bombs. When a bomb goes off, that leaves results you can point to and say, ‘I did that!’ The state doesn’t have bombs. Results are a lot harder to produce here.”


Yesterday was my first day back at the office after our week-long vacation. I expected it to find a hellish amount of paperwork piled on my desk and too many e-mails to read in a single day. I’m happy to say my expectations were not met.

There were lots and lots of files, applications, and other paperwork on my desk, but I wouldn’t be able to describe the amount as hellish with a clear conscience. I’ve faced worse. I didn’t get my desk cleared off by the end of the day, but I got the most urgent requests answered, and the rest will get done today, unless the world explodes. I never take “unless the world explodes” out of the equation. That’s the universal qualifier.

I was sorely disappointed by my e-mail inbox, which had only 121 new messages. Before I left, I set up the out of office wizard to let people know I would be gone all week, but that’s never kept anybody from leaving messages before. I thought I’d come back to hundreds of new messages, most of them duplicates, and more than a few that were spam. No such thing. The ones I got were brief, necessary and almost none of them required my immediate reply. It was really weird.

Most of the piled-up work got done because there weren’t any meetings I was required to attend. I could hunker down at my desk and plow through the work without stopping. When I got my lunch hour pop-up on my computer (my brain cell has to be reminded to get up from my desk and eat lunch) I grabbed my lunch out of the fridge and munched on it while I graded papers. I don’t ordinarily skip lunch. In fact, I usually make sure to disappear myself completely from the office during my lunch so I don’t get cornered by anybody popping in to ask me a “quick” question, but I really wanted those papers off my desk.

I won’t have that kind of flexibility today. If memory serves, I have three meetings on my calendar today. Meetings are never less than a half-hour, because there’s a physical law that requires at least one person to arrive ten minutes late, and they’re usually at least an hour long because no matter what’s on the agenda, somebody has to ask “just one more question” that adds fifteen or twenty minutes of discussion to the meeting.

That’s enough talk about work, but tune in again later when I have the time to tell you all about the new printer system we’re going to have installed. Fun stuff.


I had to ask someone in the renewal office a question but I hate to bother them because they’re always so busy. TJ’s usually pretty friendly, and she sat in the cube that was kiddycorner from mine, so I tapped meekly on the plastic edging around the opening and asked her if I could bother her. “Sure,” she said right away. I shot off my dumb question, she answered it, I went back to my cube, end of day.

The next day I had another dumb question, and since TJ was so accommodating the day before, I went straight back to her and tapped on the edge of her cube again. “Can I bother you?” I began. “Sure,” she said right away. Dumb question, answer, done.

And lo on the third day, while I sat in my cubicle tapping away at my keyboard, a tapping somewhere behind me made me turn around to find TJ standing at the opening to my cube. “Can I bother you?” she asked.

“Sure,” I answered.

She stuck her thumbs in her ears and gave me a Bronx cheer, laughed, and left.

I believe I bothered her next by shooting rubber bands at her. She returned fire and that was the bothering of the fourth day.

Several days went by when I didn’t bother her, until she tapped at my door and said, with a very sad face, “You haven’t bothered me at all lately.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” I said, and I picked my nose and flicked a booger at her. No, I didn’t, I just thought of that. I’ll have to do that next Monday. But I did something then that bothered her and she went back to her desk serensified.

And so the cycle went. Today she came to my door, asked the question, rolled her eyes and went “Blooolahlooolahlooolah!” I hope you can feel assured that your tax dollars are well-spent paying the salaries of public servants to do just this day in, day out.


“When do you usually take lunch?” Judy asked me as she stopped at the printer just outside the door of my office at around noon to pick up a batch of documents. It’s been a long time since I’ve known anybody named Judy. I’m pretty sure I haven’t run into any Judies since high school. It’s good to know there are still some around.

“Oh, sometimes I go to lunch at eleven-thirty, sometimes at twelve, and sometimes –” and here I waved a hand at the half-eaten baloney sandwich on my desk, “– when I’ve got a lot to catch up on, I work through lunch.”

She frowned at me. “Nobody should have to work through lunch,” she scolded.

I smiled as she wandered away and kept pecking at my keyboard for about sixty seconds after she was gone, just long enough for her last comment to sink in, take root and make my fingers stop almost of their own volition.

What the heck do you think you’re doing? my brain asked my fingers, and my fingers answered, Didn’t you hear the lady? It’s not time to work!

I wolfed down the rest of my baloney sandwich, pushed back from my desk, grabed my jacket from the hook over my door, pulled it on and headed for the door. Came to a dead stop about ten steps from it when I saw drizzling rain coming down, soaking everything. Went back to my office to get a folding brolly out of my tote bag, then hit the street to take a long walk. A long walk in the rain, sure, but nobody should work through lunch.


As one of my coworkers passed me in the hallway yesterday, she grinned a knowing grin and asked, “Are you ready for next week?” Next Monday being, of course, the day after Jan retires, leaving me on my own as the supervisor of the business credentialing division.

I’m not exactly sure what my coworkers expect will happen to me. I get the idea that they think I’m that guy you see in war movies who ends up lying in a pile of guts on the beach head screaming, “Momma!”

I don’t get it. It’s just a job.

“Don’t tell them that,” My Darling B warned me. “Go ahead and let them think it’s an impossibly hard job.” Ah, B. You could’ve been such a good supervisor.


And, once again, life takes me a little further down a road I didn’t think I’d find myself on in the first place …

About a month ago, one of the supervisors in our office announced her plans to retire. They posted the announcement that her job was available on the bulletin board in the break room, and while I read it over I thought, Y’know, I could do that job. But I held back because I’d been working there only a little bit more than six months and I’ve got what is probably a stupid rule about sticking with a job for at least a year. I feel like bolting the office any sooner than that makes me some kind of an ingrate toward the person who hired me.

Then the weirdest thing happened: My supervisor took me aside and pointed out that she thought I’d be good for the job, which made the thing about feeling like an ingrate go poof. So I asked around about the job and, when I felt good about what I heard, I wrote up an application and submitted it. I was called for an interview about a week later.

The interview could’ve gone better, or so I thought. I’ve never felt comfortable being in the spotlight like that. Everything that comes out of my mouth sounds barely more sophisticated than grunts and moaning. I don’t know what to do with my hands. Every bit of my scalp itches but if I scratch, I’ll only feel more self-conscious. Have you ever been walking past a crowd of people and, when you realize they’re watching you, you suddenly feel as though you’re walking wrong and, try as you might to be nonchalant, every step you take only feels more wrong until you can turn the corner and get out of sight? It was like that.

Well, I thought, I took my shot. It was worth the experience.

Tuesday morning, they offered me the job. I was surprised. Really. They interviewed about a dozen people for it, and I figured the competition would be fierce, so my first reaction when they offered it to me was to sputter semi-intelligently, “Me? You want me?” And then lapse into stunned silence. I’m just that sophisticated.

When I got past that, and got the answers to a few questions about particulars such as wages, I accepted their offer, feeling well-chuffed. “When do you want me to start?” I asked.

“Monday,” she said.

“Oh. Well, okay. See you Monday, then.”

So, effective Monday, I will no longer be a continuing education specialist in the office of education and examinations, and will instead become a program assistant supervisor in the division of credentialing. Beer me.


I had an urgent need to talk to a supervisor this morning, and because my supervisor wasn’t in the office I went to see Kris, the next supervisor I knew.

Just as I stepped up to her open door to knock I stopped dead in my tracks. Kris was seated at her desk with a Magic Eight Ball in her hand, and she and Domingo, the division administrator, were crouched over it, trying to make out the words in the glass.

“So!” I said, “Now I know how the big management decisions are made!”


Aaron and Ryan were having a conversation just outside my cubicle. I wasn’t paying any attention to what they were saying until I heard Ryan stop Aaron with, “Let’s ask Dave, he’ll know.”

“Hey, Dave,” Ryan called over the top of my cubicle wall, “What’s the capital of Kentucky?”

“Frankfort,” I answered.

Then Aaron explained: “We were just talking about how irrelevant it is to know stuff like that, now that we have the internet,” he said. “Congratulations; you’re faster than Google.”

Faster than Google is going to be my personal motto from now on.


And now, for your viewing pleasure, a clipping from this month’s office newsletter:

image of me

Secretary Ross: Congratulations!

Me: Who are you? What are you doing here? What is this thing?

The cameraman took more than one photo of us while we were talking, and one more of us shaking hands and looking into the camera. And somehow this turned out to be his best shot. Damn.


My boss, the secretary of the department, dropped by my desk today with the rest of his staff in tow to present me with a certificate of appreciation, because I’m basically just awesome and pretty much know everything. As he was presenting me with the certificate, he asked me a question I can’t recall hearing in years: “Are you any relation to Alvin O’Konski, the Wisconsin state congressman?” I couldn’t stop at telling him I was; I had to try to remember a few stories about him, too. It turns out the secretary is Alvin’s biggest fan, wrote letters to him and told me all about the time he met Alvin with the enthusiasm you would typically see only in the face of a sports fan talking about his favorite big-league baseball star. The guy was a sports fan, but for politicians. He knew all about Alvin, where he served, how long and how he eventually lost his seat after redistricting and the election to Dave Obey.

I’m pretty sure the last time anybody asked me about Alvin was more than twenty years ago. Certainly nobody’s asked me since I came back to Wisconsin, and I wasn’t sure anybody even remembered him any more, but at least I know now that one person does.