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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s OFF at Work, I Know!

Things are going well at my new job. “Going well”, if you just count the work, that is. Every other aspect of settling into a new office is going about as devastatingly awkwardly as you’d probably expect, if you’ve read anything at all on this site.

Or know me in real life. Or ever called me up as a telemarketer. It doesn’t take long to figure me out, see. I pretty much telegraph the weird.

I mentioned last time that I get a parking pass at NewJob — and that said parking happens in a lot under a local mall. One of my least favorite places in the world. Malls bring back memories of trying on husky jeans at Sears, bad cafeteria meals on sleepy Sundays and deluding myself in so, so many ways at the local Chess King.

(Yes, I’m dating myself badly here. Just another reason to hate even talking about the mall, dammit.)

I was just starting to reconcile myself to the screaming willy nightmare of parking, and walking through, a shopping mall every single work day of the week when the unreconcilable happened. On Friday, I used a different entrance to get into the parking lot. At this one, there was no place to swipe my parking card, so I took a ticket like everyone else. When it came time to leave, I cruised over to the ‘Monthly Passholders’ lane, swiped my card, and… nothing. No beep. No raising little bar doohickey. Bupkis.

I swiped again. Nada.

Another swipe. And another fat bunch of nothing. And then it began to wash over me, a tsunami of fear and nausea and sickly sweet Cinnabon funk — because I knew. I saw what they were doing, what was about to happen. I just parked in a mall — and they were never going to let me out.

I think I fainted at the wheel. An attendant came over eventually — mostly to see who was holding up all the johns who’d just been validated at the hotel next door and were lining up behind me — and pulled me together. Mostly by telling me that I could get out of the garage just by forking over the exorbitant all-day parking fee.

That was a bargain, given the state I was in. I was about to offer the guy my pants, the car and one of my kidneys, if I could just escape from that hellish cave. Instead, it cost twenty-two bucks. Maybe somebody up there likes me, after all.

Nah. But someone’s definitely telling me to use the right stupid entrance so I can swipe my card on the way to work. Message received, big fella. Stand down the locusts and plagues of boils.

“Pretty soon, you feel like you’re trying to pedal Refrigerator Perry up a waterfall made of molasses. In slow motion. While he’s eating a bucket of chicken. And molasses.”

It’s not just the parking that gets me, though. It’s everything. Take the gym, for instance. NewJob lives in a big office complex, and right there, in the very same building, is a full-scale, honest-to-Jack-Lalanne gym. You might think that would be a straightforward ‘win’ for someone like me.

(Might you? Really? Who are you, and what the hell have you been reading? Because it sure as hell isn’t this.)

Here’s the thing: a gym next door is good. A gym down the block, also okay. Those are distances that are close enough to be convenient, but not so close as to taunt you. Right in the same building you work in? Taunt city, baby. This gym is literally — literally — seventeen steps out of my way to attend. No excuse short of full dismemberment — and I don’t mean some hokey doctor’s note claiming ‘temporary invisible unmemberment’, either — will get me out of hitting the gym. I’m lazy — but it’s seventeen fricking steps. Nobody’s that lazy.

And this newfound rededication to gymming it up comes with a cost. Naturally. I’m an old guy, and haven’t belonged to a gym since the Clinton administration. Or maybe it was Carter. One of those grinny Southern guys.

the point is, it’s been a while. I’m out of shape, and happy to try to get back into some semblance of it. But — big, overstuffed but here — it’s best for everyone if I do it in private. Nobody wants to see me sweat. Or gasp. Or fall off a rowing machine and flop on the linoleum like a wounded Shamu. So while I can’t not go to the gym — seventeen steps! — I also spend most of my time there desperately hoping that I won’t be seen.

Did I mention that the gym’s in my office’s building? And that people in this company are really healthy? Probably because they all go to this freaking close-by gym?

Pick up the story this evening, and you can pretty well guess what happened. I waddled into the gym, decided to do a little exercise bike work — because who doesn’t want to get healthier sitting down? — and hopped on a machine. Sure, I was beside some guy — it was a pretty crowded night in the cardio lounge — but I didn’t even glance at him. Some random gym rat, probably. Face forward, kiddo. Eyes on the prize.

So it was quite a surprise when, in the middle of my workout, this person finished, toweled down a bit, and said: ‘Oh — hi, Charlie.


It was one of the guys pretty high up in our company — someone I’d interviewed with back in the meet, greet ‘n’ grovel process. Really nice guy, and someone I’d be more than happy to have a conversation with… but there was just one thing. At the moment, I was strapped to some demented cardio-blasting pedal demon, and it was juuuust about to crank the pitchfork into high gear.

As a quick aside, I’ll relay how I’ve figured out this particular machine works. You sit on it, and it asks you what sort of workout you want. You tell it ‘Cardio’. It asks if you want to ride for a half hour, and you reply, ‘Hell, no, twenty minutes, chief. What do you want, I should pop an aneurysm on top of you?

Then it asks for your age. You round a little. And it asks for your weight. You round, a lot. Then it calculates what target heart rate it thinks you should shoot for. And you knock ten or fifteen off that ridiculous number, too.

Finally, it starts you off on a gentle, breezy ride. For two minutes, and if you haven’t reached your target rate, it makes things harder. Another two, and more resistance. Another two minutes, another more pain. Pretty soon, you feel like you’re trying to pedal Refrigerator Perry up a waterfall made of molasses. In slow motion. While he’s eating a bucket of chicken. That’s “level 4”, and it kicks in six minutes into the ride.

(Before it kicks the hell back out soon after, when the bike detects that you are, in fact, hanging on by three fingers and a foot, rotating fully up and under the bike with each rotation. Level 4 sucks. It’s hard as hell, painful, shaming, and honestly, I think the machine only displays levels 5-9 to scare small children at night. They can’t possibly be unleashed on human beings at will. The Geneva Convention wouldn’t allow it.

So, of course, this guy from my office wraps up and wants to chat at approximately the fife minute and fifty-three second point of my course. As soon as I said ‘Hi!’, it was on. Gears grinding. Calves burning. Teeth gritting, and all the while trying to have a light, appropriate, intelligent conversation with this person who probably counts as my boss’ boss’ boss’ boss’ boss. Or something.

Meanwhile, I looked — and sounded — like a constipated parrot with a bad case of vertigo. If I focused on him, I lurched to one side. If I looked at the bike, I repeated everything he said because all the blood from my brain was running into my shattered calves. I parrot-babbled something at him for a couple of exchanges, and soon enough he looked worried, crossed himself, and moved on. Just about the time the bike straightened up, and I could pedal again without a medicine ball bouncing on each knee.

So that’s going to be awkward, the next time I see this guy. And I’m guessing this same scenario — or scenes infinitely more mortifying — will be playing out in the gym for many, many months to come.

Because that’s how it happens, kids. Work is fine. But work-ing is never easy. And you’re usually left stammering, wiping down your own equipment, and stranded in a mall parking lot.

Jesus. It’s a wonder any of us make it to work, now that I think about it. Kudos to us, I guess. Yay?

Permalink  |  1 Comment

One Response to “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s OFF at Work, I Know!”

  1. I think “Greet and Grovel” is the best description of the job interview process I’ve seen.

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