Bathroom Ninja

I probably shouldn't advertise this too much, but sometimes when I'm at work I take "busy walks."

Basically, a busy walk is an exercise where I gather up a couple of random papers from my desk and walk around the building looking like I have somewhere important to go. It's not something I do all the time, but every now and then I'll come across a day where I don't have all that much going on, but there are too many managers walking around my desk for me to blatantly websurf without the worry of some sort of reprisal -- so I gather up some stuff, get a head of steam
And kinda, you know ..take a lap.
The funny thing about it is that I know that I'm not the only one who does it -- because whenever I walk down the halls by the R&D department, I always see the same 2 or 3 guys heading towards operations the other way.

To be honest, the way things are set up at this company there seems to be some sort of naturally occurring balance between the times when you're nailed to the wall with phone calls and projects and deadlines, and the moments when you can take your foot off the accelerator and let things coast. Even so, I'm still not comfortable enough in my unsecured contracted position to feel like I can openly laze off.

Of course whether managers like to admit it or not, in today's corporate culture I really do think there is a loose acceptance for a certain amount of slacking. I think a lot of managers (having worked in offices themselves for some period of time) realize that without certain allowances for coffee breaks, websurfing, or the occasional inter-office fantasy football league that it's all too easy for people to start feeling like their cubicles are actually more like jail cells keeping them locked away from their friends, their distractions, and their sanity.

At the same time I don't really think that the suits on the third floor would be too thrilled if they felt I was spending my entire day blogging or messing around with things like this whenever I ended up with a few extra hours minutes to kill on a Friday afternoon.
Thus, the busy walks.
Of course sometimes it backfires on me, because people will see me near their cube and say "Hey, I was just about to call you -- do you have some free time today to help me out with a project?" -- which sorta kills the whole concept of slacking off like that, but it does give me something to do, which is the actual point of me being here -- so I can't complain about too much.

The weird thing about these walks is that once you've gotten into the habit of taking them, you start to notice things about the environment you work in and the people you work with. And I'm not talking about the fact that literally all of the people who have access to the labelmaker software have used it to create stickers indicating where their phones, pens, and coffee mugs are placed on their desk -- I'm talking about the secret lives of the engineers who work for this fortune 500 company.

Case in point. Recently corporate shelled out some money to refurbish the look of the second floor. Everyone up there got new cubicles, they put in new carpeting, painted the walls, and perhaps most importantly of all -- totally updated all of the fixtures in the bathrooms. Apparently the bathrooms had remained unchanged since the building was first put together -- and were starting to show signs of their age.

So they brought in a plumber and a contracting crew, and a week or so later the mens room had a whole new look to it, complete with all new tile, brand new toilets, and a complete array of automatic faucets, soap dispensers, and paper towel machines. So you'd go in there, find a stall, do your thing -- and then find yourself in motion sensor heaven. The toilets flush when you get up, the faucets kick in when you put your hands under them, the soap drops into your palms when you move them under the dispenser, and when you're all done you wave your hands under the towel dispenser to start the machinery turning to roll out a single towel that you can easily tear away to dry off with.
Of course if you're really good, you can figure out how to get it to give
you a couple of towels at once (but you already knew that, didn't you ;)
The first thing you noticed was that for the first few weeks, the second floor bathroom was always crowded. Everyone in the building, from the CEO's to the guys that sweep the floors took the extra trip to test drive the new digs. Certainly understandable, especially with all the fancy amenities they had in there. But the more you went in there, the more you started to notice certain things.
Like the guy who can't make the water work.
As commonplace as they've become in our world, I think a lot of people are like me and still experience a feeling of momentary excitement at the magic that happens when the faucet realizes you're there and turns on automatically. A feeling that becomes all the more magical when the guy next to you can't for the life of him find the sweet spot -- and has to resort to waving his hands around under the faucet, trying to figure out the mystical angle needed to make it rain.

And don't deny that secret feeling of superiority you get standing next to that person with your fully operating automatic sink pouring fresh, cold water into your hands while the guy who makes five to ten times what you do is flailing around like some second-rate mime.

Even better than that though was the thing that happened today. Because today when I ducked into the second floor mens room during a mid-afternoon busy walk I discovered that I was the only one in the bathroom.
Me, alone -- with all the automatic stuff.
None of you out there can tell me that you haven't thought of this -- but how many of you have actually had the chance to try and make all the sinks work at once? And then, while all three sinks are pouring water you're able to move your hands quick enough to get the soap working at the same time, on all three sinks?

The best and simultaneous worst part of the whole thing though are the mirrors. Best because you use them to keep an eye on the door behind you, lest someone come in an catch you in the middle of your hand waving sink activating antics. But worst -- because you can't help but watch yourself in all your adult professional college-educated employee glory, waving your arms around in a half karate-chop half orchestra conductor way taking delight at your ability to make automatic urinals and water faucets go off in unison.

But then, after a few moments of this you catch yourself and kinda know you have to stop. Bathrooms at a big office like this never stay empty for long, and if you play around any longer you're almost sure to get caught in an embarrassing situation. The kind of thing there's just simply no logical explanation for.

So you reach down for one last time, wash your hands in the faucet for real this time -- shake them out a little, and then pass your hand under the towel dispenser -- Only to hear the thing grinding in it's death throes, overworked and under stocked -- providing you with the ultimate revelation about the secret lives of your coworkers, which is:
You're not the only one in the building who acts like this.
Someone. Maybe the guy sitting next to me. Maybe the guy who signs my paychecks. Someone out there has helped work this poor towel dispenser to death by doing their own version of the automatic bathroom dance you're doing right now. The thing hasn't been installed for 3 full months and it's already giving out. That kind of wear and tear doesn't just happen, you know. A breakdown like that can really only be the result of people playing with it, just like you are right now.
I tell you, it's a wonder we get anything done around here at all.

[Listening to:    40 Below Summer"Monday Song" ]