Thursday, April 21, 2011
The white desk phone
The white desk phone rang.
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I nearly jump out of my skin every time it rings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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?
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.
So why doesn't Barry answer? I don't want to be the one to answer.
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.
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.
BUT, I do.
"Hey, is this Pizza Hut?"
"Yea... I think I dialed the wrong number, right?"
I hate answering the white desk phone.