I pay attention to when people begin their conversations with the word “I” all the time. And in this new place, almost everyone did. Exclusively. I also noticed that no one ever started real conversations. Nobody said a word unless either a boss said something to everyone, offering an opening for the various levels of ill-gotten communal snark, or some poor newbie like me thought that people all doing the same thing over and over again might want to break the monotony a little by the by, in appropriate places, of course. Maybe by the coffee machine. Maybe while we were approaching each other in the halls. There was an odd architecture to this place. Two long hallways met at the bathrooms, and beyond that, the ‘l’ shaped corridor to the various Pakistanis and Asians who had the real jobs. I didn’t see any motivational posters there. No “Don’t Take The Shortcut” posters with cheap, awkward clip-art of a dog or some other. Our department was full of them. Every few feet or so, especially where the majority of African American women in book production worked. Had there been a problem? Did the posters help? Probably no better than the posters inside the bathroom stalls admonishing the met to “Lave nothing behind” with the attendant outhouse clip-art. Did people really not flush in the men’s room? Maybe they should have had a poster featuring Redd Foxx saying “Wipe Yo’ Ass” in English, Spanish and Farsi.
Anyhow, someone next to me, a young lady, mentioned in her out-loud musings to no one that she liked musicals. She loved them. So I mentioned Stephen Sondheim. “So you must love Stephen Sondheim” I opined. “Who?” “Sondheim.” Did he write “Wicked”?
I brought in the soundtrack to “Company” the next day, which was probably like playing Stravinsky to a Jimmy Buffet enthusiast. This should have been my clue, but I don’t take clues well. The best advice I would have given myself if I could have gone back to the beginning would be “Sit down, shut up, stop being friendly, stop trying to find common ground with these people. They don’t like you. They have no reason to dislike you, but they do. Accept it. Do your job. Take the money. Don’t worry about anything. ANYTHING.”