Keta's Storybook!

WORKPLACE MAYHEM

I knock on the glass, peering inside tentatively. This looks like the right place. “I’m looking for Donna or Jack”. Donna tskes me into a large, bright room and introduces me to Petra.

The first day at a new job is always hairy; you’re anxious that nothing be amiss but you’re looking hard for anything that could be. I was overdressed, looking more like a lawyer than a graphic designer. The agency had made it clear that this was their biggest client and they wanted me appear as business-like as possible. I, of course, carried out their request fully because this was a real graphics job in a real print shop. No more answering phones and filing with a bit of design on the side.

Petra shows me my station, the layout room, back into the noisy shop with all the presses running, through the warehouse where the printed material is stored ending up in the staff lunch room. “You can be part of the coffee club” Petra explains, “you just have to pay into it whenever they need more beans.”

“Oh yeah, I’m a coffee drinker,” I laughed. In fact I could use a cup right now. But Petra wasn’t offering so I decide to wait.

We’re chatting in the doorway as a tall fellow washes his hands. I say “Hi, how are you?” when Petra introduces us but he just grunts, kind of like ‘yeah yeah’ and doesn’t even look at me. That’s pretty rude; I make a mental note to keep track of his attitude. Better get a grip on the characters I’m going to want to avoid in the future.

Petra laughs and makes excuses for the fellow. “Oh, Adam likes to think he’s anti-social but he’s really just a pussy cat.”

I smile back at Petra, she seems nice enough so I want to be friendly with her. Just then Adam looks over at us, probably about to make some sarcastic remark, but stops short. Petra and I drift out of the lunch room; she shows me where the fax machine is then we stop in front of the staff bulletin board. Part of it is dedicated to personal photos or announcements; we’re looking it over as Petra points out some of the other people that work in the building. Out of the corner of my eye I see Adam fastidiously drying his hands while obviously staring at us. I don’t turn his way though. Such rudeness is uncalled for, particularly in the workplace, not matter how hot you are. Or how hot you think you are.

That ends the tour and we return to our computer stations.

Introductions all Around

I’m temping while Fiona is on a year’s maternity leave, and I plan to make such an impression that they won’t want me to go when my time is up. Bit tricky though, since all Fiona has to do is want to come back to work and I am out, so I’m hoping she likes motherhood and decides to stay home. This large, semig-government organization produces workplace safety material. The design work is hardly cutting-edge but I like the content much better than a studio or ad agency. I’m not really about creating glossy ads to sell more toilet paper.

I’m familiarizing myself with the computer files and the servers while people keep sliding by politely asking if I am covering for Fiona. There’s too many to keep track of right now so I’m being friendly with everyone but mostly keeping my head in my work. One woman though, from back in the shop, speaks to Donna briefly then comes to introduce herself. Her name is Hana and she is a fellow Czech, so we exchange a few words in our language. Funny how such a small coincidence creates an instant acquaintance.

I’m still chuckling about this when Max comes around the corner laughing. I look over as Petra keeps her back turned, engrossed in her computer screen. Max walks up to us boldly, spewing greetings then seems to hesitate and stops by our desks looking lost.

“How’s it going, Max?” I tease, returning to my work.

Petra turns around to say hi and Max says to her, “I have a question to ask Keta but I’m not sure if I should.”

“You can ask me anything you want, Max, I just might not answer.” I say this to give an impression of my coolness. Does it work?

Petra is more encouraging, “I think you can ask her Max. She won’t freak out.”

Hmm, what’s this then? Something is up.

Max giggles and says, “Well, we were just wondering . . . we were back in the shop and Hana told us you were Czech . . . and we were wondering if .. . we wanted to know . .. . they told me to ask the sexy new girl to say something in Czech!”

I burst out laughing. Max seems relieved and Petra grins that her estimation of my character is correct. I think I see a tall shadow glide around the corner at the other end of the layout room.

“Ok children enough with your games, I need to get back to work now!”

Well, it seems like my personality might be a good fit here.

An Excersise in Futility

I’m focussed on closing off whatever small amount of work was left on Fiona’s projects before her departure, and just doing some tiny catch-up. Learning the mysterious workings of this organization, that kind of thing. Petra doesn’t want to train me, she considers it “not her problem”.

Jack should have had the sense to hire you when Fiona was still here.”

Petra’s up to her eyeballs in the annual report, so I don’t hold it against her, but it’s pretty silly and counter-productive since there is no one else to ask for help. There are only two typesetters on staff here; Petra and Fiona (now me).

Jack (our manager) has told me a few basic things, otherwise I am figuring it out for myself or by muddling through some phone conversations. I don’t need any help with the computer, it’s already clear I know the software better than Petra; but I do need to know protocols and procedures, who to send proofs to and how to keep records. That sort of thing. Oh well, things will probably work themselves out eventually.

Jack has handed me my first big project; a brand-new book about ergonomics in the workplace. The consultant is coming over to give me the material so I can get started right away. I’m going to use a large page size, to really show off all the sketches.

Having a bit of confusion here, the material is completely not organized in any recognizable format. “So . . . the raw sketches and these few pieces of paper that you’ve written captions on is all you have for me?” I flipped through it nervously. This is in no way ready to be made into a book, the consultant is either going to have to sit here with me for hours explaining what goes where or I will have to send her away to get organized. I really don’t think I’m supposed to devote time to helping other people do their jobs properly.

“Yes the sketches are already scanned and these captions go with the images.”

“Um, ok. And how am I supposed to know which caption to match with which image?”

“Well, it’s rather obvious. This caption describes a person standing at a counter workspace, so it goes with this image here.” JV deftly picks out an sketch.

I’m beginning to sense a real attitude of her lofty knowledge of the subject and my lowly status in the bowels of this large organization.

I look her in the eye, “It’s just that usually I don’t get handed the raw material just in a big pile like this. Usually it’s already organized in a format so I know exactly what content goes on each page.” I glance over at Petra; she has her face pasted right up at her computer screen and I can’t figure out why she is ignoring us. She’s sitting not six feet away; don’t pretend you can’t hear this nonsense.

JV chuckles softly to herself and I feel she will reach out and pet my poor mentally challenged head at any moment. I can see she is ready to pick up her purse and leave this mess behind so I start to sift through the images quickly while glancing down the pages of captions.

“Ok look here, this is an example of what I am talking about. There are two different images of the proper layout of a computer station. How am I supposed to know which image goes with which caption?” Petra turns from her computer. I’m relieved, expecting her to step in and help but she’s just checking over her draft from the writer.

JV loudly clucks her tongue, I look back at her sharply.

I am seriously beginning to dislike this person. “Well, I guess if you can’t figure that out then I am going to have to mark it for you.”

“Of course.”

‘Figuring it out’ is not something I generally need to do. I make the book, and that takes a lot of work. I’m not an expert on the subjects and I really shouldn’t be handed a puzzle from someone else. I am trying to be as gentle as possible, no need to make waves in my second week. But who does this person think she is?

We continue to stand over my desk as JV glances through the material she brought over saying, “I guess this wasn’t quite ready for the layout stage. I’ll organize it better for you, bring it back then you can get started.”

“Yeah, I’ll get started on it as soon as you bring it back.”

Whew, that wasn’t so bad in the end. I feel confident that I handled the situation well, even without any help.

JV came over again today but I had to send her off once more. She was not pleased. Now I can see which captions go with which images, but she hasn’t given them any order. Is this person not getting any work direction from the department that hired her? I told her to do up a table of contents and to bring it back again. Next time I should be able to get going on it.

I’ve been pounding my head on my desk for a few days with this ergonomics book. Petra is completely ignoring my problems; when I show her whatever I don’t understand she grunts in sympathy but doesn’t give me any advice on how to solve it. It’s really starting to get on my nerves actually. She’s been working for this company for like fifteen years, how can she just sit there and watch me suffer when the smallest amount of help could make all the difference? Jack is no good, he knows how to run a press but he doesn’t have the faintest idea about the computer. I even asked the artist who drew the 100 sketches; he understands my confusion and sympathizes but also offers no help at all. What kind of a place is this and why am I working here? Geez.

I’ve ended up phoning JV like six times a day with questions and she is progressively becoming more short tempered. Don’t get snippy with me lady, you’re the one who’s completely disorganized!

Another face-to-face meeting with the uncooperative JV. Basically she is turning into a big bitch. All of my questions are valid, and even she cannot answer some of them, leaving us to muddle through this mess together which I hate doing. She seems to think that I am psychic or that simply through osmosis will be able to divine how this book is meant to be put together. I am starting to get rather snippy with her now. She’s not even on staff here, why the hell should I waste patience on her?

We have been struggling with this layout for days and now she is acting as if somehow I am an idiot for not being able to figure it out, when she doesn’t even know herself. Picking up the sketches she tosses them back on my desk saying, “This project would have been finished by now if not for all the screw-ups in this department.”

Stunned silence. I can feel Petra holding her breath. See? This is what happens when you hang me out to dry, now this useless person is going to go back to the department that hired her and tell everyone that we are screw-ups. I don’t waste time looking knowingly over at Petra. In fact neither do I waste time tangling with this insignificant person.

I send JV on her way. She walks out with an attitude of vindication ‘see I was right and you were wrong all along’ with every step. Yeah honey, just feel like that for five minutes because it’s all about to crash down around you. Since Jack isn’t around and even if he was he’d just tell me to do what I can which I have already been doing, and since Petra is now frozen in fear and ready to hide under her desk I take matters into my own hands.

I call the Director of the department that hired the consultant. I quickly explain what I do and that it requires people to be at a certain level of preparation before they even come over here. I give some quick examples of what JV brought me and why it does not work. He is understanding and apologetic and tells me he will speak to her.

“Oh and one more thing. She was just here and when she couldn’t answer my questions about her material she told me that I am a screw-up. I just want to be clear that I am not to be blamed for her inability to get organized.”

There is a long silence on the phone then he apologizes even more profusely. He tells me he will handle it, I thank him and hang up.

Petra looks like she is going to die. Now she starts offering all kinds of hints and advice on how to make the project go more smoothly. Too late, I’ve already spoken up to a higher-up!

I never saw JV. The Director came over a few days later to formally apologize to my face, which I accepted but not before giving him a small taste of the treatment I got. I feel better now, but am a bit bothered that all that work will never see the light of day. It was good material, and the consultant really knew her stuff when it came to ergonomics. She just had no idea about the printing process and no one to guide her through it.

An unfortunate introduction as a first project but I’m sure it was just bad luck and the next one will work out smoothly.

CONTINUED . . .