Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Stories from the Workplace

I read somewhere that working with idiots can kill you.  I'm quite sure of that.  I've had a fair share of working with some of them throughout my working life, enough to fill volumes.  But I'm not going to dwell on too much of it.  God knows, I was one big idiot myself when I first started out.  I got a job as an artist cum dispatch person in a small 5-man advertising company.  Luckily, there was no one around at that time for me to kill.

I didn't know how to use a telephone so I had to start to learn it the best way; by making mistakes.  You can't blame me though.  We didn't have a telephone at home until after I'd been working for a couple of years.  The first time it rang when nobody else was in the office, I almost panicked.  After its umpteenth ring, I managed enough courage to pick it up and put it against my ear.  I wondered why the voice from the other end sounded so far away.  And when I spoke, the other person screamed for me to speak up louder.  Oops!  I was supposed to speak into the mouth-piece which I was holding against my ear.  Talk about not knowing which end's up! 

Like all the 'macho' guys lounging around the office building, I wanted to look the same.  I decided I wanted to try smoking while at work.  The commercials at that time said it's "Sumber Inspirasi".  I bought a small, 5-stick pack and lighted one while sitting at my desk doing some artwork.  I took a few puffs.  Just then the boss walked in through the side-door.  Quickly, I snuffed out the cigarette and stuffed it in my drawer.  I didn't know why I felt so guilty about smoking.  Everybody else did that at work those days.  Besides, there was no air-conditioning.  The boss himself did that occasionally.  He looked around and sniffed the air and spoke a few words with me and the other artist who shared the same room with me.  After he left, I opened my drawer to retrieve my cigarette.  It was still smoldering and it burned a hole in my drawer.  I decided then that smoking and working doesn't go together, for me at least.  Anyway, I gave up on cigarettes.  I just wanted to know why people are always dying for a smoke.  I hated the smell.

I get so used to doing anything and everything at work.  We took turns to sweep the office and throw out the rubbish each morning.  On our way to the dumpster, we pass through the reception area of a newspaper office.  A young officer I happened to have met while I was working at another job remarked, "Wah!  Rubbish also you have to throw ah?" 

I said, "This is work, right?" 

As soon as he was out of earshot, an older guy said, "Some people don't understand the Dignity of Labour".  I was reminded of that episode while reading the following passage by the world famous IT magnate from India, Mr. Narayana Murthy

"Dignity of labor: Whereas this is an integral part of Western value system, in India, we revere only supposedly intellectual work. For instance, I have seen many engineers, fresh from college, who only want to do cutting-edge work and not work that is of relevance to business and the country. For anything to be run successfully, everyone - from the CEO to the person who serves tea - must discharge his or her duties in a responsible manner. We, therefore, need a mindset that reveres everyone who puts in honest work, no matter what it is."

From an industrial leader, that is a good lesson.

One day, the boss gave me a girl's name and an address.  He wanted to hire a secretary.  He told me to bring her in for an interview.  I found the place, told her where I came from and the purpose of my visit.  A short while later she came out in a mini-dress.   That was the standard dress those days.  There was no law that said you had to wear a crash helmet to ride on a motorbike either.  She just got on behind me on my bike and off we went.  I thought it strange she could just do that without hesitation, like it was the most natural thing to do.  I mean, riding off on a motorbike with a total stranger!  Oh, she was pretty alright.  A round face, large "Bambi" eyes and cute little mouth with full lips, and a voice so sexy, M&Ms wouldn't melt in her mouth.  My boss hired her and she started work immediately.  I found out later, her boyfriend was one of my ex-schoolmates.  (Awwww....)

We had an accounts officer working with us.  He was 2 years my senior, worldly wise guy with a pleasant personality and was a pretty smooth talker.  He got us to guess what color underwear the secretary was wearing each day.  She was mostly sitting behind a well covered desk in front of the boss' office.  I wondered how he could guess.  I hadn't taken any notice until the day the boss was out and she came into our office to chat with us.  She forgot to straighten her dress properly.  She must have got so used to it she wasn't conscious of her exposure until the accounts guy announced, "Today it's red color".  She immediately caught on to what it meant and screamed at him.  We laughed.  She made sure she came to work with longer dresses after that.

Some years after I left the company I learned that she'd married the boss.  Things don't usually work out the way you expected.


  1. but be nice to them ... you might work with one or two in future ...

  2. I've worked with many kinds of idiots. Most of them don't know they're hazardous to others. Very bad health risk. Only good is to learn something from them.