Cubicle Tales - Damned Blessing

Have you ever been written up at your job for mentioning God? I have, and I wasn't the office religious zealot.

Starcraft Zealot
Pictured: Not me

So, how did it happen? Someone sneezed.

The Background

I was an intern for a global-scale corporation which I'll call Initech. Morale was non-existent. An executive was caught in an illegal scandal that crippled the corporation's reputation. As punishment, the other executives decided to cut his budget rather than fire him. This meant that over 10,000 people were to be laid off because of one man's greed. A layoff of that scale would have destroyed any remaining business and would attract national attention. Initech decided to have layoffs every three months for a minimum of two years until all required 10,000+ employees were let go. They had already laid off 5,000 in the first year. The employees knew that they were helping Initech dig their own graves and despaired. Naturally, work wasn't getting done. To fill in holes, Initech hired temps and interns. I was one of the IT interns for a year.

I noticed a pattern in employee behavior.

The final point is why I got in trouble. Most of the lawsuits against Initech were frivolous. This one was no exception.

What Happened

I worked in a typical cube farm. It was absolutely silent. A problem with cubicles is that when you talk to someone, you forget that the walls aren't truly walls. Sound travels. If you start talking about someone, that person can hear you without you realizing it. Two people were talking about their boss once. They weren't with Initech anymore. Everyone else learned from their mistake; no one talked at all anymore.

Then, Eris visited me in the form of a man sneezing. This man's name is now Douchy McBaggington.

Bill O
Bill O
Reilly Sneeze"A dramatic reenactment of the Douchy McBaggington sneeze

One Friday winter morning, before my sense of hope had been sacrificed to the gods of bureaucracy, Douchy was walking past my cubicle. He sneezed. I reflexively responded, "God bless you."

He turned to say something and stopped himself, his eyes going wide. "How dare you!?"

I was caught off guard. "Wha-what?" I stammered in confusion.

"How dare you force your religion on me!? You're infringing on my rights as an atheist!" Those words etched themselves into my brain. Strangely, until that point, I never even thought of "God bless you" as having the word "God" in it.

"That's not what I meant. I was just being polite!" I cried out to no avail. He was already on his way to my boss. My boss's office was only the distance of a few cubicles away, so he probably already heard what was happening.

I heard the office door shut. A coworker who sat in the next cube over popped his head up over the wall. "Sorry, man. At least you're an intern. What can they do to you?" he asked rhetorically.

"They could not give me a good reference." The majority of an internship is to get work experience. If I couldn't get a good reference, the entire year would be a waste of time.

"Oh, yeah. I guess that's true." He sat back down to leave me with my misery.

After a few minutes, I looked over to my boss's office. Through the glass, I could see my boss, but Douchy wasn't there. I hadn't heard the door open and shut again. It was a little strange; his door was always open unless he was doing something extremely important. I waited for my boss to pull me into to his office all day, but that didn't happen. Apparently, I was full of anxiety for nothing. When the workday ended, I walked home exhausted from sitting on edge all day. I was going to spend the weekend panicking.

Judgement of Paris - Gesundheit
I have photo enhancement skills comparable to CSI: New York.

I walked in sick on Monday. There was no way I was going to miss work given what happened. I felt that it would look like I was trying to dodge the problem. I may be late, I thought to myself, but I'm here, damnit! I silently cursed Douchy, blaming him for making me sick with his plague sneeze. I had to pass by his cube on the way to mine. I tried to avert eye contact, but I glanced in. He wasn't there. Actually, none of his stuff was there. I stopped in surprise.

Douchy's (former) cube neighbor was walking back to his cube with a fresh cup of coffee. "If you're looking for Douchy, they canned him Friday."

I thanked him for the info and continued walking, blowing my nose the whole way and not minding so much anymore. When I got to my cube, I took off my jacket. I felt the temperature change immediately and sneezed. My boss walked to his always-open door and called out, "May you be smiled upon by whatever you may find sacred!"

Now, I usually respond to a sneeze with silence or boss's funny, more politically-correct version. Alternatively, I would love to respond like this:

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This part of the story was rumors and hearsay. I never looked too deeply into what happened. I was just glad it was over.

Apparently, when I heard the door shut, that was my boss closing his door before Douchy walked in. Douchy then went to my boss's boss to file a complaint and possibly start a lawsuit. Later that day, my boss's boss had walked over to Douchy's cube to clarify a few things with him. That was bad for Douchy; he had written that he worked for a full eight hours that day but left before he even made it to six and a half.

Big boss-man then walked over to my boss Monday morning. My boss already had Douchy's timecards ready before he was even asked. After checking with security, it was confirmed that for the past two months, Douchy had only worked five to seven hours every day minus lunch, but he still wrote that he was working the full eight hours plus lunch. The building had turnstiles at all of the entrances. You had to swipe your ID to go into and out of the building. I guess Douchy never thought Initech was logging the swipes.