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03 November 2006

"What you see you don't see."

Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA, 08-Oct-06

"But some people,
they always see."

"I am the eyes and ears of this institution, my friends." I remember when I first heard Carl the Janitor utter this immortal Breakfast Club line. I was nine or ten years old, discovering that a trash can guarantees neither privacy nor anonymity. All that throwing personal items in the garbage ensures, I realized, is that your dirt will get dirtier.

For the most part, in offices -- given the commonplace situation of the paper shredder -- the secretaries and receptionists are the eyes and ears of the institution. Nine times out of ten, it is the secretary or receptionist who shreds each sensitive document. Nine times out of ten, they plainly see what makes the document so sensitive. The higher-ups are aware of this fact; thus, even temps like me are usually required to sign a confidentiality agreement, or at least verbally consent to maintain company secrets. Once the ink dries, of course, the guard is let down.

Receptionists working for larger businesses will often smirk at how most of the employees ignore them on a daily basis, except when they need something ordered or couriered, and anyway these requests are conveyed to receptionists by department secretaries. Granted, sometimes this can make a receptionist feel unappreciated, but there's something to be said about being more or less undetected. When people don't notice you sitting there, or choose not to notice, they tend to reduce the filter level. What comes out of their mouths can be quite amazing.

Now, imagine how loose tongues get around temps. Temps have such brief lifespans that regular employees don't even have to learn their names. There is a particular office, at which I've filled in as receptionist on a couple of occasions, where I am routinely addressed as "Rebecca" -- the name of the regular receptionist. To be fair, from the nose up, I look very similar to this "Rebecca"; moreover, the majority of the people who call me by the wrong name aren't even looking at me. So: whatever. I don't care. I'm just there for the day!

Because these people may never see me again, I am often enlisted as a confidante, as someone to whom they can vent about other employees. This sort of makeshift therapy offers the same relief as airing their grievances to their respective supervisors, without the (probably messy) ensuing mediation. I don't mind. I have no interest in spreading gossip within the office; outside the office, especially in the pages of a public diary, I carefully change the names of all my short-term co-workers. I know the legend of the blogger fired from her job for full online disclosure. I'm not ready to burn those kinds of bridges just yet.

I've heard about office romances; quirks of the bosses; and that so-and-so is SUCH a BITCH. People stage whisper the details of divorces and lawsuits; of physical and mental illnesses; and of the imminent termination of a colleague's career. There was one incident in which I forced myself to divert my attention, or at least appear as if I was diverting my attention, from a loud cell phone conversation taking place across from my desk. The employee overlooked me as a then-current, highly infamous criminal case was discussed. Normally, this water cooler stuff wouldn't faze me, but in this instance the accused was one of the employee's family members. I couldn't believe what I was hearing; I couldn't believe the employee didn't care that I was hearing it.

Again: whatever; I'll never tell; etc, etc. I'm not paid much to observe what I do, and therefore regard it as free psychological training. What wonders lurk in the human mind! and all that. It's fine if people continue to treat me like the fly on the wall, like a possible nuisance that they'll tolerate because I am presently harmless. I will continue to look, listen and learn.

TRACK LISTING: Massive Attack featuring Horace Andy, "Spying Glass"

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