Chaos All the Time
Curtis turned on the blue LED lights that were hidden under the transaction counter of his desk at the same time he does every morning. The lights were left behind from the office’s Winter Wonderland themed holiday party four months ago, and Curtis thought it would give the office a little pizzazz — especially since mentioning Christmas in the workplace became insensitive. But it indicated the unofficial opening of business — at least for him. Of course, it never stopped people from instant messaging him as soon as he logged in or walking up to his desk to detail some problem.
“Curtis, I sent an email to the travel office about an upcoming trip for one of our colleagues, but they still haven’t responded,” asked the new contracted travel coordinator.
“Well…” Curtis sighed. “Did you call them?”
“I’ll…” Curtis shrugged his shoulders. “…get to it” He released another sigh, reluctant to help someone who bragged about having 15 years of previous experience working for American Express.
The thing was, as soon as Curtis walked into the office, his first order of business was laid out. He checked his email for last minute meetings, updated management’s calendars, printed index card schedules for each of the office’s five deputy senior managers and one senior manager, tossed out the old newspapers, set out a new Washington Post and New York Times, and picked-up and distributed the office mail. By the time his morning routine was complete, an hour into the eight-hour workday vanished — often causing Curtis to miss his morning cup of coffee.
This day was no different. “What a joke,” he thought — feeling amused by the box of Dunkin’ Donuts left on his counter when he returned from the mailroom. The Sticky Note attached to the box was from the senior manager.
Curtis, thanks for all you do!
When Curtis walked around to his seat after reading the message, he saw an email from the boss reminding people to stop by Curtis’s desk to show their gratitude in honor of Administrative Professional’s Day and enjoy a delicious, weight-bearing treat. Now he had people coming from out of the woodwork to thank him for a job he always figured was why they hired him.
Before he sat down, Curtis reached over his monitors to grab a donut. The last thing he wanted to do was let good food just sit there.
“Curtis, we’re so happy you’re here. I don’t know what this office would be without you. Thanks for everything,” said Dorothy Elliot before snatching a donut and walking away. Her heels gave her a boost.
Curtis was about to bite into a Boston Crème when his phone rang. It was Vicki, the Executive Officer.
“Office of Enterprise Services, this is Curtis. How may I help you?”
“Good Morning Curtis, we need to make sure that the senior manager’s calendar is a little more updated,” said Vicki.
“Um,” Curtis cleared his throat. “Okay, what’s missing?”
“We just need to make sure we know where he is at all times?”
“So, nothing’s missing?”
“Can you add that meeting with the Deputy Assistant Principal Director to his calendar?”
“You mean the one that just came through about a minute ago and not until next week?”
“Yes, that one.”
“Right. I was about to — “
“Don’t get snippy.”
“I’m not getting snippy.”
“Well, you know, now that Bernie has been elevated to senior manager we need to be more mindful of his every move.”
“Thank you, Curtis. That’s going to be a huge help. Happy Admin Day!”
“Yes. You’re welcome. Okay. Bye.”
The monitors on Curtis’s desk went into screen saver mode. He logged back in and was about to add the meeting to Bernie’s calendar when Landon spilled his coffee on his way into the office.
“Curtis! Sorry, man, but I spilled my coffee on the carpet. Can you get someone to clean it up?”
“Yes, let me run and get some paper towels from the men’s room.”
“Thanks, man. I need to prepare for this briefing at 8:30.
The men’s room was adjacent to the office. You could hear the toilets flush through the hallowed walls.
Curtis returned and began wiping the door when Stacey MacDonald tried to squeeze her way into the office.
“I’m sorry, Curtis. Would you mind if I get by?” She asked, trying to fit through the small opening of the propped door.
“I wish you didn’t have to do that,” she continued to say after releasing her gut.
“Well, someone’s got to do it,” Curtis sighed.
“I know. But I don’t want it to be me, and I don’t want it to be you,” she shook her head. “Thank you, Curtis. Really, thank you for being so good to us.”
“Well, it’s nothing.”
Stacey nodded her head in disagreement and walked away.
After wiping the door with disinfectant wipes, Curtis walked back to his desk. He glanced at his watch and thought now would be a good time to grab a coffee before working through some of the requests that came in overnight. Vicki wanted him to update the phone directory and create new phone cards after all the recent personnel changes and seating rearrangements. His colleagues were always playing musical chairs. It was a never-ending song. The office was a revolving door with high turnover. She even gave him an arbitrary deadline of noon. He figured it could wait, sending an instant message to Lindsey instead.
“Want to grab coffee?”
“Sure, meet you in the C corridor?”
Curtis locked his computer and was about to get up from his desk to meet Lindsey when Bernie appeared before him.
“Hey, Curtis. I see you haven’t eaten all the donuts.”
“Ha. No, but thank you for them, “Curtis smiled. He was always smiling.
“No. Thank you. It was a pleasure,” Bernie said — adjusting his trousers.
“Anyway, listen, can you reserve a car for my meeting downtown this afternoon?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Good. Thank you. I appreciate that.”
“Alright. See ya. Oh, and Happy Admin day!” He turned back, firing two rounds from the fake guns that he gestured with his hands before walking away.
Curtis smiled and rushed off to meet Lindsey. She was waiting in the C corridor when he arrived.
“Hey, how’d you know I’d want coffee?” She asked.
“We’ve been coworkers for almost ten years.”
“Ha, that’s right,” she laughed. “So, how’s it going.”
“Eh. My office is going through a bunch of changes.”
“Yeah, but I’m growing restless.”
“I hear ya. Did you ever take that personality test?”
“You should take it. It’s so good. I mean it’s helped me learn more about myself.”
“Doesn’t that test just tell you what you want to hear? Kind of like how astrology tells you your fortune?”
“Uh. No. No, Curtis.” She chuckled. “Take the test. You’ll see. It’ll help you understand more about who you are and what you like to do.”
“Do it,” she smiled at him.
“Okay,” he smiled back — shrugging his shoulders.
They arrived at the Blind Man Stand and filled up on coffee. Lindsey showed him how to mix medium roast with a little vanilla flavor. But it was mostly black. He didn’t want to be the only one to grab sugar. They walked up to the counter to pay.
“Here,” she said — handing him a stamped card. “Now you’re all set. After six stamps, you get the seventh coffee free.
“Happy Admin Day!”
“Seriously, not you too.”
“I know, right? My office has been peppering me with flowers and edible arrangements all morning.”
“My boss bought me donuts to share.”
“What?” She laughed. “And you didn’t tell me?”
“I’m sure there’s still some left.”
“Nah, I’m going to the Admin Day Open House later.”
“Yeah, mostly for the free food. Are you?”
“I wasn’t planning on it, but I guess I should go for the free food too.”
“Yes. You should go.”
“It’s at 11.”
“Who eats lunch at 11?”
“We do,” She laughed. “Because we’re dumb enough to be here at the ass crack of dawn.”
“Alright. I’ll see you later.” Lindsey waved goodbye to him after they made it back to the C corridor.
Back in the office, Curtis decided to take the personality test that Lindsey had recommended. The results revealed that he might be an INFJ. His interest was further piqued when he discovered that INFJ’s were a rare type. Curtis began reading his personality profile when the Chief of Staff (another useless position), Becca Garrix, interrupted him.
“Curtis, please get in here!” She summoned.
“Yes, Becca,” Curtis ran to her office. She had piles of paper stacked on her desk and boxes all over the floor. It was difficult to move or sit anywhere.
“Curtis, thank you for stopping by. Please have a seat,” she tried to make room in her cramped office for him to sit on the chair that was hidden under all the junk. He sat, holding onto one of the boxes — feeling uncomfortable. Becca’s office smelled of corn chips and stale coffee.
“Thank you,” he said — adjusting himself. “So, is there a problem?”
“Hmm… Curtis, what are you doing today?” She asked as if he was slow to understand.
“Uh, I’m working on a few onboarding packets this morning and have a few meetings to arrange this afternoon.”
“Good. Good. The thing is, the briefing book you prepared for Bernie yesterday had a bunch of Sticky Notes that didn’t’ seem appropriate for the meeting he was going to attend.”
“Seriously, did Bernie mention this to you?”
“Curtis, those should have been tabs.”
“Uh. Okay, but — “
“We needed someone to swap out those Sticky Notes, but you weren’t here.”
“I’m sorry, but I passed the book to Vicki before I left. I figured she could handle it.
“No, Curtis. Vicki is the Executive Officer.”
“Really? We’re supposed to be a team. Besides her previous role was as an Office Manager.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“But to create a tab for every page is ridiculous. There were three main tabs and the Sticky Notes were only used to further indicate what was on each specific page. It was all reference material anyway.”
“You’re the Office Manager. That’s your job! I should know. I used to be one too.”
“Well, I’m going to talk to Bernie!” Curtis rose to his feet, shoving the box back on the chair and walking out of the meeting — careful not to trip.
He paced back and forth at his desk, furious that someone could complain about the use of Sticky Notes. There were more pressing issues at hand — like whether the Office’s stakeholders were going to shut down their program because they weren’t producing the expected results three years in. And why couldn’t Vicki fix the book? After all, Curtis did pass the figurative baton to her. He always believed that titles inhibited productivity, limited creativity, and the kind of outside-the-box thinking that made organizations and companies go from good to great.
Bernie waved Curtis into his office and directed him to sit down as he leaned back in his chair while on the phone.
“Yes, we’re going to have those metrics to you,” Bernie was saying.
Curtis decided to take advantage of Bernie’s open door policy. He didn’t want to waste the senior manager’s time by asking about the stupid Sticky Notes but wanted to make it clear that he couldn’t fix what he didn’t know was a problem and appreciated being told directly about any issues. “Cut out the middleman,” he thought to himself. Curtis also wanted to share an idea that he thought might help the Office.
“Sorry about that, Curtis. What can I do for you?” Bernie said, putting the phone back on the hook.
“I…I…” Curtis felt nervous.
“Well, com’on. I have another appointment.”
“I just wanted to ask if there were any issues with last night’s briefing book?”
“No. It was very helpful. Thank you for putting it together. There was a moment when I thought that maybe the Sticky Notes might fall off, but Becca was able to help me replace them.”
“Oh. Good. My bottom line is to ensure you have what you need to be most effective at your job. If I fail at that, I fail at the most important part of my role.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it.”
“Okay,” Curtis smiled — feeling better about having gotten the Sticky Notes issue resolved.
“Is there anything else?”
“Um. Well, yes, I wanted to share an idea that I think will impro — “
Curtis was cut off by the ringer on Bernie’s cell phone. It was the ringtone for Bruno Mars’s latest song: Versace on the Floor.
“One sec,” Bernie put his index finger up to silence him.
“I’m going to have to take this call. Go ahead and leave the binder,” Bernie whispered to Curtis with his hand covering the receiver on the phone.
Curtis tossed the binder into Bernie’s wooden inbox sure the boss wouldn’t have time to look at it. He glanced at the clock above the towering cubicle walls as he stepped out of Bernie’s office. It was a quarter to 11. He still hadn’t had a chance to drink his coffee.
Curtis stood in the corner of the conference room — sipping Prosecco and waiting for Lindsey to arrive. The women in attendance were still setting up food, which seemed to be mostly prepackaged desserts. He didn’t recognize any of the ladies in the room, although he might have interacted with some of them over email. One of the ladies was hanging the decorative banner for the Admin Day Open House. He rarely attended these events because they made him feel awkward. There weren’t many men in the administrative cadre to begin with, but it was the only job he could get out of the Marine Corps with no college degree — unless he became a police officer, which was a no-go. Curtis wanted to do something different. The regimented lifestyle clashed with his personality — although the Office of Enterprise Services was run like a military operation. Everyone was in charge, barking orders, and no one knew what the hell was going on.
“So, where do you work?” Joan Fisher tried to spark a conversation.
“The Office of Enterprise Services,” Curtis responded, staring straight-faced beyond the woman at the door. He brought the plastic cup to his mouth for another sip, hoping she would go away.
“Ah, that’s where my friend Jay works.”
“Yeah, do you know him?” She asked.
“Jay and I started he — ”
“I’m sorry; you’ll have to excuse me,” Curtis cut her off and walked towards the door.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said.
“No, it’s fine. Some lady was trying to chat me up.”
“Oh, watch out. Cougar on the prowl.”
“You can’t say that.”
“She didn’t hear me.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of loud in here for no music.”
“Do you want some food?”
“Yes, I’ve been waiting for you.”
“You have to try my dish.”
“You made something?”
“Well, yeah, I baked something healthy.”
“It all looked like sweet mini heart attacks.”
“Stop. Now, you can’t say that.”
“Yes, I can.”
“Oh, really? What did you bring?”
“Um, well, nothing.”
“Exactly. Now try this — ,” Lindsey suggested, shoving a spoon in his mouth before he could say anything more incriminating.
“This is really good,” Curtis complemented, following her around the table as she started to fill a small plate.
“I know; I made it.”
“What’s in it?”
“Oats, berries, and a little honey.”
“It sounds like breakfast.”
“Well, it’s still before noon.”
They laughed, moving to a corner of the room not occupied where the chairs were stacked to make space.
“This is quite the spread.”
“I know; I’m surprised they were able to pull this off.”
“Don’t be so critical, Curtis.”
“I’m not, but you know how our cadre can be.”
“Yes, we hire the best and brightest.”
“Well, they did bring you on board.”
“They did, and you too,” Lindsey fired back.
“I think we’re having too much fun.”
“We are, but I’m going to have to head back soon.”
“No you don’t; just hang out here like those people who have ‘working’ coffee breaks at Starbucks.”
“I can’t. Wednesday’s are my busiest days.”
“Okay; I’ll walk you back.”
“Com’on,” She agreed with a smile.
“Did you like my oatmeal?”
“Is that what it was?”
“Uh, yeah. “
“I wasn’t sure.”
“Does that mean you didn’t like it.”
“No, it means I didn’t want to assume.”
“So, you did like it?”
“Good. I figured you would because of the kick you’re on.”
“Yes, you know.”
“Right, I do,” he said with a wide smile.
“You’re always on some kick.”
“See…” She rolled her beautiful green eyes. “Alright, I have to stop here before I head back into my office.” Lindsey pointed to the ladies room.
“Okay, see ya!”
Curtis walked back to his office with a huge grin on his face, waving to everyone he passed. The door was propped open again to let the odor out this time. Someone had microwaved leftover fish for lunch. On his chair was the binder he left in Bernie’s inbox. He wanted to share a few ideas about how to improve the overall performance of the office. It started by removing a few of the unnecessary layers in management and eliminating needless processes. The book also forecasted some of the cost savings.
He picked up the book and sifted through some of the pages to see if there were any comments or feedback, but Curtis only noticed that the book had been ruined by coffee. It seems the boss had tossed it over his transaction counter, returning it to him. It landed on Curtis’s chair and, without realizing, Bernie spilled his morning coffee.
A Sticky Note was discovered on the floor as Curtis returned from grabbing napkins to wipe the mess.
Sorry about the mess, Curtis.
I didn’t have a chance to read your book.
It looks great, though.
The office was quiet for a long minute before Curtis’s phone rang.
“Office of Enterprise Services, this is Curtis. How may I help you?”
“Hi, Curtis.” It was Michelle Longbottom.
“Hi, Michelle. How are you?”
“I’m good. I’m heading to London tomorrow and could use your help arranging my travel. Do you have the bandwidth?”
“Yes, one minute,” Curtis’s second line was ringing.
“Office of Enterprise Services, this is Curt — ”
“Curtis! Hey, man, it’s Landon. My monitor won’t turn on. Can you send someone to check it out?”
“Have you tried the power button?”
“You know what? You’re a genius! I must have hit the button by accident.”
“No problem. Okay. Have a good day.”
Curtis clicked back to the other line.
“Hey, Michelle, so I’ll work on your travel. Can you send me your travel plans?”
“Yes, thanks so much. I’m sorry for the short notice.”
“It’s no problem, really.”
“Alright, I just sent the email. I’m in meetings the rest of the afternoon and then I’m heading home early. I hope you don’t have to stay too late.”
“Not later than usual.”
Curtis tossed the coffee-stained book he put together in the trash and began arranging Michelle’s travel. It was almost eight when he finished all the miscellaneous tasks he was assigned, which meant he was the last person to leave and had to set the alarm and lock the office.
Lindsey was long gone, but she was always on his mind. Her last instant message at 4:43 had said she was leaving and would see him tomorrow. At least he had her to look forward to the next day since he was never going to get that promotion or new job. Not in OES anyway. He turned out the lights and let the door shut behind him.