Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Port-a-Potty Fiction - Part 1

The building's original windows, 5 feet tall and single-paned, let in long parallelograms of weak winter light and enough draft to gently ruffle loose papers on the counter below. Coffin-sized chunks of snow and ice dumped in quick succession from the slate roof four stories above me. On impact, the old brick building trembled and I cowered, both of us almost imperceptibly.  I pushed back from my desk, away from the Mandatory Annual Self-Assessment Survey for Rating Personal Performance and went to the window. The view couldn't be beat, best thing about my job, really - an expansive open hillside flanked by hardwoods sloping steadily upward to a pine forest at the very top. It was verdant in Spring, beckoning in Summer, a riot of color in Fall and marshmallow-y with snow in the Winter.

For two months Bainvoige Construction Corp. had been spoiling the view with their chain link fencing, foreman's trailer, dumpsters and Port-a-Johns.  It makes sense really, where else would all those workers go to take a leak or a dump in the middle of a shift? I started noticing them all over the place actually.  I guess I've just been more aware, like when you get a new car of a certain color and you feel like suddenly you're seeing your model car in your color everywhere you turn.

I stood at the window wondering if I should rate myself a 1, or perhaps a 2, out of 5, (with 5 standing in for "Always") in response to "follows office dress code".  I looked down at my scuffed hiking boots, corduroy pants and flannel shirt and decided that since nothing had holes, I should go with 2. I sighed, slumped against the cold window and looked out at the mess of the construction zone. A guy in Safety Yellow clothes with reflective tape on every limb (making him impossible to miss and therefore hopefully less likely to become a worker's compensation case) stepped up into the port-a-john. He was taking off his heavy yellow coat before the spring-hinge had time to close the door. So, I looked away. Do safety work clothes get in the way of male urination? I didn't have a clue; it wasn't something I'd ever wondered about before. It puzzled me.

 Up the hill, some kids from the school were sledding as part of gym class. A woman parked her Subaru, let a shaggy dog out of the back, strapped on some snow shoes and they romped up the hill together throwing snow in all directions. I think a minute or two might have passed when I realized that I hadn't seen the worker exit from the port-a-john. I smirked a little and thought of various sophomoric comments about what might be taking him so long. I watched the door intently for another 15 minutes before my secretary buzzed in over the intercom to let me know the big guns were waiting for my MASASRPP form. Payroll wouldn't be able to process my check this week until they'd gotten word from HR that it was satisfactorily completed. I told my secretary, thanks, returned to my desk and quickly circled 4's and 5's for everything on the page, including the statements about appropriate clothing and effective time management skills.

I spent much of that afternoon wondering if I had missed the worker coming out somehow. Or maybe he was avoiding his boss and stayed in for longer than I'd been able to stand there watching, waiting. But did he really need to take off his jacket? Something felt strange about it all. The light finally faded completely from the sky, my clock hit 5:00pm and for the first time in 10 years I couldn't wait to come to work the next day. I had something to do.

To be continued...

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