Thursday, June 29, 2006


ALL WORK AND SOME PLAY – June 29, 2006

Work, a four letter word that rhymes with other Anglo Saxon words, usually means repetitive drudgery. Unless you pour your soul into it, and I know some accountants who love their work. Costs and profits all in line so neatly presented, brings them a glow of satisfaction. Were I faced with drudgery, and at Exxon all managers are, to see if they can make it – the position is called “planning,” I’d run away very fast. I suspect the assignment is designed to shut down all higher faculties and create a robotic personality that will take orders from above and pass them on.

Happily I’m in a small office with people who have no ambitions other than to be in Aberdeen, and not to miss the football (soccer) game. Mark, my supervisor, disappears on odd afternoons from his office. If I really need to find him I mosey on to the large conference room where I’ll find him with a few others watching the World Cup on a large screen.

The office building has glass walls. Inside there’s a smell of stale paper. Folk are so quiet that I sometimes wonder if I’m alone. Through the window, which I could open to let in fresh air, is a view of nondescript parking spaces. I don’t have to wear a tie to work – that tourniquet we install to decrease the blood flow to our brains. But before I can sit down at my workstation to determine where to drill next on our North Sea lease, I have to jump the usual obstacle course of security badges, computer permissions and processes. It’s beyond any human endeavor to make processes shorter or simpler. The past twenty years many have tried, but they still take two weeks. And the Controls. Big Daddy won’t allow employees to make international calls on their own. Just because. Daddy watches you enter and leave the building, for your safety. There’s the corporate pecking order. Younger employees do not have parking privileges. They’re expected to take the bus to work.

I don’t drive much. The office is a seven minute walk away, past a bustling secondary school where uniformed kids, wearing the school tie and coat of arms, straggle up the pavement. I also pass a couple of pubs, a gambling hall where you’re welcome to lose your money. An alley twenty feet wide with cobbled stones takes me to the office.

For lunch I wolfed down a veggie sandwich at the corner coffee shop on Union Street, and then walked away from the bustling street to Bon Accord Park. Several others were walking along paths that wound under the spreading chestnuts. Unlike in Houston where on my noon walk I felt like a weirdo, since no one there walks, here I had company. That warm afternoon, a few people were lying on the grass – not drunks or bums but folk in white shirts and ties, their jackets folded up under their heads. In the still, peaceful air, it seemed the thing to do, so I found a smooth spot on a slop facing the sun and lay down. Several daisies stared up at me. I hadn’t lain down on bare grass in twenty years. Back in Texas, the grass feels like sandpaper, with fire ants to bite you. Soon you hear the buzz of the attack mosquitoes. Here you can lie on the green for hours, watch the dappled shadows and blue sky, with no one to bother you.

Except for the f***** job that awaits you.

Walking toward the exit, I passed some kids on a bench all talking loudly. The bottles in their hands weren’t soft drink but hard cider and beer. They noticed my attention. A girl shouted after me and when I stopped, she got up and ran up to me, beer can in hand. She couldn’t be more than thirty, yet half her teeth were missing, the other half yellow and about to go. “Can you give me a pound for the bus?” she asked. “No, I can’t do that,” I said. She shrugged and turned away. As I walked back to Union Street I wished I had stopped to talk to them. For a pound, they might have told me an interesting story. That will have to wait until the next time.

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