Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

10.12.08

Signs.

It was a warm Tuesday morning. I caught the train into town, got off at Parliament station, walked down a wind-swept Lonsdale Street, climbed a hundred steps up to the entrance of a vast grey office block and entered through sliding glass doors big enough for an aircraft hangar. No wonder. You could have parked a jumbo in the lobby.

I crossed the marble floor to the lifts. One whispered open and took me to what felt like the eightieth floor. I was the only person in it. The digital clock on the electronic floor indicator read 9:15 and I wondered what time the other million people in the building must have started work.

I sat in a glassed-in reception area for about ten minutes reading one of those free newspaper magazines full of ads for diamond-encrusted watches and articles about how to cope during a recession. Then a woman burst through the door, smiled and grabbed my hand, shook it furiously and then led me down a passage-way and around three corners to an office cubicle the size of a cupboard. In it was a desk and a computer. Next to the computer was a stack of A4 pages about two feet high. That was the job.

*

We got the computer going and set up a guest account and a password and a user name, both of which I immediately wrote down so I wouldn't forget them. Then I set to work.

It wasn't all that hard. It was just long and convoluted and full of jargon and there were ten acronyms to a page. My job was to make it readable by humans. The problem is that this kind of writing has meaning only to those who wrote it. Once you take the jargon out it doesn't mean anything at all. Alter the words 'strategic implementation' and the rest of the paragraph collapses around it like a house of cards. That was why, despite almost never worrying about work when not actually doing it, I had had nightmares about it the previous night. Mid-morning I decided coffee might help. The kitchen was two corners and a quite lot of passage-way back towards the reception area.

Printed signs were all along the walls with the kinds of preachy messages you expect to see in a kindergarten or a Uniting Church meeting hall. One read Diversity and had a picture of two disembodied hands shaking; another was Excellence with a magnifying glass as if any excellence around the place was hidden in a file or somewhere; a third was Co-operation with two smiling flowers. Then I reached the kitchen. There were different signs in there. One over the sink read DO NOT LEAVE YOUR DIRTY DISHES HERE. PUT THEM IN THE DISHWASHER. THIS MEANS YOU all in 72-point serif type with 'dirty dishes' and 'you' underlined to add extra emphasis to the expression of latent, seething hatred between the fellow workers.

I opened the fridge for some milk for the coffee. It was full of nearly-empty packets of caramel Tim-Tams, scraped-out plastic tubs of Kraft French onion dip and mouldy jars of Old El Paso nacho salsa. There was no full cream milk, but plenty of skim. To make up for the Tim-Tams, of course. Coffee tastes like mud with skim milk. What a beautiful place to work.

*

I went out for lunch at a sunny open sandwich bar on a mezzanine overlooking Bourke Street and read the Financial Review. Peter Ruehl on the back page was asking, if we thought bailing out GM-H was such a good idea, why we hadn't we already gone out and bought a Holden? Indeed. Holden's specialty is marketing dinosaur V8 utes to knuckle-dragging oafs, and the government says 'Here's billions of dollars, go make some electric cars.' Sure.

I walked back to the office and bashed away at the computer all afternoon, slashing and burning text and destroying acronyms and dragging capitalised words off their high horses and back to humble lower case along with all the other words.

Then I signed off and walked towards the lift lobby past a sign that read Harmony with an illustration of a musical note. The elevator chimed when it opened. It was a happy sound.

3 comments:

Julie said...

Thank you for reminding me why I don't do freelance tech writing.

And yes... we feel much the same way about the automotive industry bail-out that is pending here. Unfortunately, in the US, the automotive industry and related industry (folks who make the parts that go into the cars, aftermarket parts, tire manufacturers, etc) is estimated to employ between 5% and 10% of our industrial workforce. I sincerely don't know what we should do.

Though telling the labor unions to buzz off is a good first step - auto workers make 90% more than other industrial workers with similar jobs.

kitchen hand said...

Yes, Julie with freelance you never know what's around the corner.

Tempyra said...

"Holden's specialty is marketing dinosaur V8 utes to knuckle-dragging oafs, and the government says 'Here's billions of dollars, go make some electric cars.' Sure."

Thanks for making me laugh; I guess I have a similar (but less hilariously put) opinion of Holden.

I just discovered your blog today - it's always great to read the writings of other foodies in Australia :-)