Because I’m only a part-time intern, my desk chair frequently gets swiped when I’m not there.
If I’m lucky, whoever borrowed it will cast it free and I will recover it, drifting homeless between cubicles. Only once have I actually lost the chair. In a situation such as this, there are only two options: Die a hero (accept that your chair is gone and just kneel on the floor), or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Before we go any further, I want to clarify that I do not condone my own behavior. What I did was equivalent to stealing someone’s lunch from the fridge or neglecting to refill the water in the Keurig machine. I will pay for my sins against office courtesy someday.
I do my best to get to work early. It allows me to eat my breakfast sandwich without worrying that my wrapper-crinkling will disturb my cube-mates. It allows me to check Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest a few times before I have to settle into real work. On this particular day, it granted me the opportunity to launch a full-scale, covert mission to steal a replacement chair.
I don’t want to compare my search for my missing office chair to the Seal Team 6 recovery of Bin Laden - because that’s not what it was. I never found my chair. In a more accurate metaphor, I found a guy who looked like Bin Laden, smuggled him back to America, hid him, and told no one.
There are unspoken rules for calling “dibs” on office-owned property; for example, anything placed in a drawer is off-limits. You wanna’ pretend like you paid for that stapler? Fine - shove it in a desk drawer before you leave. Anything adhered to a wall or table is yours. Anything plugged into your computer is yours. A sweater or jacket draped over the back of the chair automatically signifies ownership. Anything else is free game. These are all rules that I completely made up just now to make myself feel better about my questionable morals.
There was only one other woman, loudly typing from the other side of the room - so ducking behind the row of cubicles against the far wall was mostly for my own benefit. I felt like Max Smart (in the Steve Carell re-boot, not the original Get Smart. Don’t be ridiculous.) I slid along the wall, finger gun raised, examining the options available to me.
Cubicle one belonged to a lady who scared me. If she stood in her cubicle, she could look directly into mine. Her chair was safe. Cubicle two had a webbed back support strap, which would have made it very obvious to identify who had taken it. Cubicle three was my perfect target. I grabbed the back of the chair and twirled it around in front of me.
This is where I got overconfident and sloppy. If my life was a sports movie, this is the part where the best basketball player on the team refuses to pass the ball to the new guy and blows the game. If my life was High School Musical 2, this is the part where Sharpay accidentally turns her brother against her. If my life was a Vince Vaughn movie, this is the whole thing.
I looked into cubicle four.
Maybe I was expecting to find an even better chair. Maybe I was expecting to find two chairs. What I was not expecting was to find someone in a chair, staring back at me.
I froze, hunched over the stolen chair. Silence. So much eye contact. Had she been here the whole time? Had she heard me humming the James Bond theme song to myself as I’d crept along the side of the room?
After a 20-second staring contest, I attempted to regain my composure. I cleared my throat, straightened up, and shuffled away, dragging the chair behind me. Back at my cubicle, I sat down in my new chair and began to calculate my odds of being tattled on, my odds of being fired over something like this, and my odds of survival without supplementary income.
Thirty minutes later, the owner of cubicle number three arrived. I could tell because he loudly announced to the room, “Hey! … Someone took my chair!” As he started pacing around the room in search of his chair, I busied myself with trying to melt into the floor.
“What? Who would have taken your chair?” It was cubicle number four, that sneaky mom. I peeked around the wall of my cubicle to see her standing, staring directly at me with her arms crossed. I must have looked pathetic, because after a few stern moments of uncomfortable eye contact, she sat down again. “You’d better go find another one. Check the conference rooms.”
Because Karma is alive and real, this chair leans too far and hurts my back. I accept this reality as part of my punishment for taking it in the first place. In fact, despite the awkwardness, there were three good things that came from my crime against the workplace:
- I may have spared cubicle three from developing scoliosis.
- Cubicle four finds mysterious vending machine snacks of gratitude on her desk from time to time.
- I finally learned to keep a sweater on the back of my chair to protect myself from ever having to do this again.
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