I was hanging out with an old friend one night last week, sitting on his couch and listening to music through strategically placed speakers. He’s a friend I had made three jobs ago; we were both working as analysts at a health insurance research firm. I did not last at this job, because the work was… lets see, how to put this delicately… dry as day-old dogshit. You probably know the drill: mergers and acquisitions and needless abbreviations and percentages and quarterly earnings and hospital bed counts—I could never bring myself to excel in doing the work, and so I left, years after it had become clear to everyone involved that I was going nowhere anyway. My friend, however, stayed behind, stayed with the job, and continues to thrive within it. How he does so is a mystery because the work was, and, I am told, remains D.A.D.O.D.S.
As we sat there, talking over old times, my friend (I’ll call him Peaches for the remainder of this post) mentioned an incident I had forgotten about: the time I left a can of soda in the communal freezer and forgot about it, and how it had exploded and left a brown slush river along the door of the freezer, and how our boss had taken it upon herself to clean it up. (There may have been someone important from corporate visiting that day, too, which would compound my jumpy boss’s stress levels by quite a bit, I should think.)
Peaches went on to claim that I never owned up to the mess, or, if I did, it was a lacking/shrugging kind of ownership, not nearly contrite enough. And so it may veery well have been this one incident that most damaged my relationship with my boss, souring her on me personally and, by extension, my work. He talked about how, weeks after the incident, my boss brought it up at the end of a full staff meeting, saying something like, “Be sure you don’t leave your Tab in the freezer again, Chris.” To which the entire staff oohed and ahed, as if to say, Ha ha, busted.
This was all a surprise to me, since I didn’t even remember leaving a Tab in the freezer, though over the next few days the memory bloomed into a kind of half-clarity.
(Other memories from my time there: I missed an important personal meeting with the CEO, and then I took too much time off for the birth of my second kid, and then there was the time a chief executive with a large health system in Baltimore said that the quality of a report that I wrote was not high enough to justify our subscription price… so it probably wasn’t just the Tab explosion that soured my boss on me. But I think it’s safe to say it didn’t help.)
Then I realized: I am a terrible citizen of the workplace kitchen. I have a record of making messes in workplace refrigerators. It’s like a thing I do.
Take my current job: About a year ago I was walking around the business park, stretching my legs, and I came upon a can of unopened soda on the ground. The brand was some local grocery chain knockoff of Dr. Pepper—”Mr. Taste” or something. Without thinking much about it, I picked it up, this warm, off-brand soda, feeling the same general sense of excitement that one might feel while picking a dirty quarter up off the sidewalk: no big deal, of course, but I can’t just leave it there. Free’s free, after all. I then concluded my walk, stowed the Mr. Taste or whatever in the door of the communal fridge (not the freezer), and got back to work. The next morning, I opened up the refrigerator, and, what do you know, a huge puddle of dried syrup had formed on the bottom shelf. Goodness gracious, I thought, some slob let a bottle of soy sauce spill all over the place. Some people!
Then, one day I saw my can of Mr. Taste and thought, oh, hey, this is still here, I wonder if… and I picked up the can to find that it was just about completely empty. I don’t know if it was a bad joke or what, but apparently the can had a pinprick-sized hole somewhere, and the soda had been leaking its contents over the course of days. Did I show the proper contrition this time around? Did I send out an email with “my bad” in the subject line? Did I even clean up the mess? Nope. A few days later, a piece of paper was taped to the door of the fridge saying that a professional cleaner would be brought in to clean everything, so get your stuff out or else it would be thrown away.
Anyway, that’s it, that’s the whole stupid story. I suppose the takeaway here is you’re never too old to realize you can be an inconsiderate chump by certain criteria, and if you’re interested at all in self-improvement then you might want to try making a concerted effort to be more considerate in those areas. These days I feel I am a less aggravating kitchen citizen, thanks to my extremely checkered past. At the very least, I’ve cut down on bad soda.