Monday, May 18, 2009

My work station

I've always found "work station" to be a strange expression.
It makes me think of trains whirring in and out, a bustle of commuters and routes that go places.
Whereas my work station doesn't involve anything much going anywhere.
Instead of direction there's accumulation and inertia. There's a mountain of papers that threatens my keyboard like a mini Aberfan. Sometimes they slide into my arms when I am on the phone and people wonder why I sound like I'm wrestling with a baby seal mid conversation.
Sometimes it's hard to find the old gray phone under the detritus of my desk and when I find it I have second thoughts.
The receiver is probably clogged up with the germs of reporters long since past; I try not to hold it too close to my ear.
If Aggie MacKenzie of How Clean is your House? fame were to see it she'd probably squeal in that high pitched Scottish voice of hers, take a swab and present me with a petri dish that looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.
Although I tell colleagues, tongue firmly in cheek, my desk represents a new generation of one stop filing, that I can put my hand blindly into the abyss and pull out a gem of information, the truth is more random. Rather than the stat I'm looking for on arsons in York County in 1973, it's more likely to be the remains of last October's chicken sandwich.
At least I didn't request mayonnaise.
I console myself with the thought there are women with more disordered handbags. Like a former colleague called Christine who used hers to house a collection of chicken bones dating back to the mid 1700s.
I'm told such behavior is not the norm for women.
Some days I pledge to have a purge, motivated - if nothing else - by a desire to find out if my desk is a lurid shade of bubbegum pink under those papers, or just gray like everyone else's.
Desk clutter isn't a new problem for me. Crowded desks have followed me my whole career, like an old friend, or an alarming stalker. I never know how they get there.
When I was working as a features editor in England, one of my colleagues invited to my work station, on a one way ticket from hell or Hellesdon, a neat Nazi who ran an operation called Clutter's Last Stand.
The spurious context was it might make a decent feature.
Mrs. Clutter - I can't remember her real name but am haunted by her bob - ritually humiliated me for the best part of a day and made me get on my hands and knees under the desk while she assaulted my hind quarters with a vacuum cleaner. I was getting alarmed by Mrs. C by the end of the day.
Two months later she called me up and asked if I was interested in a follow up visit. As papers cascaded onto my lap I told her there was no need to because the desk was still immaculate.
Maybe my desk needs another Mrs. C in its life. It's tired and lackluster and needs someone to whip it into shape with some Vim and a vacuum cleaner attachment.
But there is surely something noble about its decline. When I look upon my desk from afar my eyes mist over as if I have stumbled on a relic from an antique age.
In an oblique way it makes me think of Shelley's poem Ozymandias.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

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