You Sir Are No Mark Holt

A big part of my job involves dropping in on people to solicit their approval signatures on the reports that I write. Sometimes I use interoffice mail when I need to get signatures from higher-ups and managers -- but when it comes to the engineers, a lot of times if you don't hand deliver things (and hover over them until they sign) your reports tend to get forgotten about or "put off until later" -- which can cause all kinds of problems, depending on the project.

I try to be cool about it -- I do my best not to trap people while they're eating, and if I see someone talking on the phone I usually move on and come back later, but in a busy place like this there's really no way to completely avoid disrupting people at their desks. Sometimes it works in my favor, as some of the people I deal with are more willing to sign things without much ado if they have other things to do.
But mostly I just end up scaring the hell out folks.
Not on purpose of course -- but it seems like a lot of the people I work with are the type that get so focused on their computer screens that they don’t realize I am there unless I say something or make a noise while I’m approaching their desks. And knocking on the cubicle wall when I show up isn't really enough; because a lot of people get so wired into what they're doing on that the noise itself startles them.

And while seeing the various managers jump in their chairs and even occasionally shriek in surprise is endlessly funny, it’s probably not the kind of thing that wins me a lot of points when it comes to winning friends or building bridges for the future.
Especially considering that the people who are the most startled
to see me are the ones who aren’t really working when I show up.
As someone who does his share of web-surfing and goofing off at the office, I’m well aware of what it means when someone takes a moment to re-arrange the windows on his computer desktop before turning around to see why I’m there. Not that I’m going to rat anyone out for checking up on a blog, reading their gmail or whatever while they’re on the clock –- but more like people’s personal business is their business, and it’s just natural to not want others to see it.

Not that I’m a snoop whenever I’m at someone’s desk – but some things are kinda hard not to notice, you know?

For example, there’s this one engineer on the second floor. Nice enough guy from what I can tell, maybe a few years older than me. One of the main managers is his father, so you kinda know how he got the job – but he’s been here long enough that he seems to have gotten out of the shadow that might come from people thinking he lucked into the gig. I don’t work with him directly, but he sits on the same row of cubicles as the R&D guys I see almost every day. As a result, I walk by his desk fairly often.
This is why I can say with complete confidence that this guy is the WORST secret web-surfer I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe he’s just naturally clumsy, or he leans back in his chair too much for his own good – but whenever he sees me coming, there’s this sudden scramble to get his screen cleared. And I’m not just bagging on this dude’s game because of the way that he shoots up in his seat and literally dives across his cubicle – because that’s not the worst part of his technique.
The worst part is the mouse click.
You know the one I’m talking about – it’s that frantic mouse click people do when they click on a link and it opens up fifteen pop-ups, or turns out to be a lot more NSFW than they ever expected it to be. It’s a panic click, one that kinda implies a sense of guilt or embarrassment.
And this dude does it almost every time.
But even then all he does is bring some other window up to the front of his screen. It’s not like I can’t see the bottom of the screen showing the line of pictures of women’s faces and the little icon that show whether they’re online or not. It’s almost like I want to sit down next him and say ", eh? – How’s that working out for ya?" just so he’ll stop being such a wuss about it.

But that’s just the thing -- you’re a coworker. I don’t care if you can’t get a date. To be honest, I don’t really want to know about your private life at all. I understand you’re looking to find someone and I know that can be tough, but really – do I have to be a part of this process?
I mean seriously, why do you think I’m making all this noise as I’m walking towards you?
Over the years of working in offices I've developed an array of paper-shuffling, pen tapping, or saying hello to nearby co-worker type tricks that help break the silence, coupled with a bit of a hesitant step when I get close to a desk to give people a chance to get their ducks in a row before I get there.

To be honest, it's a habit I picked up years back when I worked as an administrative assistant for an IBM office in Tallahassee. Because it was a sales office, there were always lots of conference calls or client e-seminars -- things that were easy to walk in on and interrupt if you didn't realize they were going on. Clicking the walls with your pen helped catch people's attention enough that they could motion you in if they had a moment, or wave you off if things were too busy or important for them to stop.
..But that wasn't the only reason I did it.
One of the sales guys I worked with there was named Mark Holt. Sharp guy, really knew his stuff – very much the picture of a corporate salesman. His suits were always pressed, his casual conversations were non-confrontational, and he always was quick with a joke or a business card when he met new people.

Mark was one of those guys that are really easy to really like when you first meet him, but then becomes more and more annoying as time goes along. Not that he was a bad guy -– but that you sorta had to know what you were getting into when you dealt with him, especially once he stopped treating you like a possible contact or client. Because once those kid gloves were off, he liked to use people he knew as a sounding board for his opinions on the topics of the day – especially if he got the sense that you might be the kind of person who might disagree with him on something.

I like spirited debate as much as the next guy, but some people can’t help but turn it into some kind of sport, especially when it comes to topics that people are passionate about –- like politics.
And there was nothing Mark was more passionate about than politics.
Mark Holt may just be the most raging conservative republican that I’ve ever known in my life. He loved seeking out liberals and democrats and engaging them in debates that would almost always end in raised voices, followed later by emails or conversations further proving his points (long after the discussions were over), and of course, small talk with you that's actually aimed at people in the room, like:"Confused liberals like Larry over there would probably tell you differently, but here’s what really happened on the news last night."

That more than anything else was the problem – because he’d hit you over the head with it. You were always talking about politics with him, whether you wanted to or not. And don’t get me wrong – I liked the guy. It’s just that he had a tendency to be a royal pain in the ass half the time, and it was easy to get sick of. Perhaps that’s why a lot of people gave Mark a wide berth when it came to getting through the workday. They’d check with him when they needed to – but you could see people avoiding certain conversations with him just so they didn’t have to get trapped there talking to him forever and ever.
As a result -- Mark spent a lot of time by himself; checking messages, talking to people on the phone,
..And surfing the net for porn.
I don’t know how he got away with it. I don’t know why he thought it was a good idea. All I know is that one day I came up to his desk to hand off some sales reports I’d finished only to find him staring intently at the screen of his laptop. He seemed pretty embroiled in it, so it was almost natural for my eyes to wander in the direction his were pointed –- only to find a lot more than I was expecting to see smiling back at me.

I think I was more shocked at the fact that he was right there at his desk doing it more than anything I saw at the screen. But more than that was the fact that the way he was sitting, the casualness in his manner – he might as well have been reading the newspaper. It wasn’t someone sneaking a peek at work, it was just part of his day.
And I mean like every day.
You could always tell that he was doing it because he’d hold up a piece of paper like a letter or a memo against one of the edges of the screen so that people on his blind side (his desk faced away from the front door of the office) couldn’t see what he was looking at. But anyone standing near the other shoulder couldn’t help but notice the flashing graphics and topless women on the screen.
And nobody ever said anything.
I once saw the IT guy roll his eyes when he walked by, but I think most people just wrote it off as Mark being Mark and ignored it, like he was some nut on a subway that people didn’t want to acknowledge. In a lot of ways, I think people treated his questionable web habits a lot in the same way as they saw his penchant for political debate – and did their best to steer clear of both.

It’s kinda weird how that works, where the guy who hides in plain sight is the one that people don’t seem to notice and the one who makes a huge scene out of hiding things is the one you can’t help but be curious about – and the one you’re sure will eventually get in trouble for it later.

While at the same time -- somewhere in America, Mark Holt is probably sitting alone in some executive corner office
..Staying the course.
[Listening to:    Nonpoint"March of War" ]