Thursday, April 21, 2011

The white desk phone

bRing... bRing.
The white desk phone rang.

I nearly jumped out of my skin. I nearly jump out of my skin every time it rings.

bRing... bRing.

The white desk phone has a distinctive ring. A short ring, a  pause, and then another short ring. Relentless. Loud. It will play its ring up to 20 times unless someone answers it. I don't want to be the one who answers it.

The white desk phone DOES sit on the corner of my cubicle desk. Its clones also sit on three other desks in the office area. I am the low person on the totem-pole. And I don't want to be the one who answers it.

bRing... bRing.

I look across the rows of cubicles to Will's office. Will has a real office. It's the first one along the wall of offices. He has glass walls that overlook the cubicles. He has blinds he can pull down those window -walls. He has a real door into his office - a door so real, it not only locks - but it requires you to swipe your office ID badge along the scanner AND punch in the door pass code.

bRing... bRing.

Will is our program director. A tall, young engineer, Will exudes a quiet confidence. Don't know the answer? Well, let us find it, let us examine the facts, the material, the history. We don't need to know everything - we need to know where to go to find out the clues to piece a correct answer together.
Will is charge of every ounce of information shared in this secure building. Two acres of engineers, working in cubicles, working at test stations, working at design, build, test. All TEMPEST secure. All safe.

bRing... bRing.

Will's office door is open. But his office lights are turned off. Will won't be answering the damn white desk phone. And I don't want to be the one.

 bRing... bRing.

Wait - Harold has a phone back in his area. Maybe he'll answer. Often it is for him anyway. Often it is the customer returning a call Harold initiated to them. Which meant Harold called using HIS white desk phone. So it is only fair that Harold be required to answer this annoyance. I don't want to be the one.

bRing... bRing.

Of course, Harold is probably at lunch. One thing about Harold - he is predictable. Lunch every day, same day, same place, same turkey on rye sandwich. Harold is retired military, and he likes nothing better than predictability by all of us.  So, predictably, the phone call isn't for him or he would be there - and since he isn't there to answer it, it can't be for him. I know I can't see Harold's semi-office from my cubicle. He's positioned way down the hall, around the corner, where all the spare parts are stored. You know how it is - you buy something in bulk, needing only 10 or 12. So you put the spares in a labeled container with a copy of the purchase order/receipt. Right? That is how Harold does it. Orderly. Precisely. Under control.  So, he has a warehouse full of labeled, documented spare parts. Predictable. 

But Harold isn't going to answer this white desk phone. And I don't want to be the one.

bRing... bRing.

This phone ringing is getting to me. It seems to grow louder with each ring. Damn it! I hate this white desk phone. I didn't ask for it! In fact, it wasn't even "mine" when I started here; it was my boss' responsibility. But in the corporate effort to 'share responsibilities', she decided to 'share' the white desk phone with me. Why me? Because... some questions you don't ask. And as for this white desk phone? I don't want to be the one to answer it. EVER.

bRing... bRing.

We have been trained in the protocol of answering this white desk phone. You never identifiy yourself. You never identify your location, your status, your colleagues, anything. You answer with a simple "Hello". Not in question form, but as a statement. No cordiality is allowed. Just "Hello".

bRing... bRing.

I don't even know the number to this white desk phone. I couldn't call it from home if I wanted to. And if I called out? Well, for starters, that is a major NO NO. And, secondly, the white desk phone's number is scrambled. Anyone receiving my call wouldn't have any idea who was calling them, either. We're TEMPEST here, remember?

So that leaves Barry to answer the white desk phone. Please, Barry... answer it.

bRing... bRing.

Barry has an office. Glass walls. Blinds on the glass. Door that closes. And locks. But his door doesn't require a secret code to get in... it just requires a key. Barry often talks to the 'customer'. Barry is our contracts manager. Anything with 'costs' is Barry's communication. Barry is the one who has to call the 'customer' on the white desk phone when something contractually changes. Did we spend half the allotted/paid for hours of production but only got a third of the work done? Barry has to call them. Did we under-estimate the supplies we needed? Barry tells them. Are we ahead of schedule? Barry calls.

bRing... bRing.

So why doesn't Barry answer? I don't want to be the one to answer.

Almost every time the white desk phone rings, it is Rolland calling in. Pronounced like Holland. Rolland. Most people call him Roll. Like 'hall'. Roll. Roll's last name is Lepard. Some of us call him Rollepard. Whenever Rollepard has called for me - MOI? - it has been to ask which of our engineers is working on which task. Who is testing which part, who is designing what change, who is writing the program. Rollepard has no idea who anyone is among us, but he still wants names. I'm the mistress of the charge numbers - coded numbers assigned to each task. I am the mistress of earned value, of budgeted cost of work scheduled, of actual cost of work completed. I usually know by heart who is doing which job and how much money has been spent, but when Rollepard asks me, I stop and pull out my copy of the weekly green sheets.  I always double check my facts before speaking.

bRing... bRing.

It can't be Rollepard for me. No one has changed tasks since he asked last week. No one is behind schedule, no parts have failed, nothing has changed. Our spending has been simple level of effort - a continuous flat line. The phone call can't be for me.  And I don't want to answer the white desk phone.

bRing... bRing.

Okay, the truth is, the white desk phone scares me. It scares the hell out of me. Whether Rolepard's or anyone else's voice - I am intimidated. I am nervous. My palms grow sweaty. My heart rate jumps. My skin tingles. My voice comes out in a stutter. My mind grows blank.

I don't want to answer the white desk phone.

bRing... bRing.

BUT, I do.

"Hey, is this Pizza Hut?"


"Yea... I think I dialed the wrong number, right?"


I hate answering the white desk phone.


giantspeckledchihuahua said...

How on earth did you fill a simple task so much suspense? I don't know if this is a real life event or a creative writing excersize but it's REALLY good!

I hope the white phone doesn't ring frequently!

I have my land-line phone set so low because it makes me jump out of my skin. My cell phone is ste to whistle a pretty little tune.

altadenahiker said...

Nothing like a little dread to spice up your day.

Sandra said...

well you built the suspense, now i want to know if this is REAL or did you make it up...

Kathy said...

That's me. Build it up until you're a nervous wreck and then find out it's nothing!

Banjo52 said...

Your job must have been a thousand times more important than mine. Or did we both have bosses and colleagues full of self-importance?

Thérèse said...

What about Pizza tomorrow?

Brenda's Arizona said...

Yum, pizza tomorrow it is!
Yes, this really happened. Banjo, yea, my boss was somebody... still is somebody. Harold now plays golf everyday (retirement). He's still organized, happy.

Thank you all for reading!

Snapper II said...

He he he he he he. My palms are sweaty.
I thought it would go something like "waite a minute the phone in the office is black, this is my home phone that is white, I'm not awake yet and I'm late for work".
Shame Shame!!!! LOL

Pat Tillett said...

Time to rip the "white desk phone" from the wall...