Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"How convenient! I can use the same picture."

In an effort to give the workplace a friendlier atmosphere, the higher-ups last year decided to establish a free-use gallery on the wall of a high-traffic hallway. Employees can now make arrangements to set up displays that will last for a week or more, usually until someone else wants to use it, and there has been a surprising amount of enthusiasm for the idea.

Mostly, I find these displays to be pretty depressing. I've walked by the unrealized dream of the failed artist, now middle-aged working an unfulfilling job, in the form of some uninspired watercolors accompanied by an introductory note still declaring painting her passion. There has also been the stained glass of the lonely senior citizen with too much free time on his hands.

It surely takes some guts to share your private despair with all your co-workers, but mostly I think it takes despair. But I do see it, I appreciate it, and that in turn lets me appreciate my co-workers a little more as fellow human beings, stuck at the same place as me, though at different stages of their lives. So I suppose the gallery serves its purpose.

Sometimes, however, the company will select a theme and ask for submissions from the general population of the lab.

For the week before Valentine's Day, employees were asked for photos representing the "Loves of Our Lives." As an added incentive for participation, the display was tied to a raffle for a small restaurant gift certificate.

Today, the results were announced by a charmless, almost robotic voice over the loudspeaker (itself a recent addition, which would seem to have the opposite effect of the employee gallery): "The 'Loves of Our Lives' contest has ended. Congratulations to (names omitted). Please remove all pictures before the end of the day. Next week will be 'Our Pets.' Thank you."

"I thought 'Our Pets' was last week," I whispered to the lady next to me.

It was meant as a joke, but the woman, not a native English speaker, did not grasp the humor. Realizing that explaining such a joke would only sap it of all humor while accentuating the offensiveness of it, I just smiled and told her it was nothing.

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