Sunday, November 27, 2016

An existential crisis

   Over the years -- okay, okay, decades -- I've kept enough food on my desk while plowing my way through a nine hour shift of writing headlines and editing copy to open a restaurant, neigh (how did a horse get in here?), maybe a chain of restaurants, Aaron's Copy Desk Diner. Every Halloween I scare up a few dozen extra mini Kit Kats and about Three Dozen Mini Musketeers and secrete them in the back compartment of the bottom drawer on the right hand side of my desk, while the bottom drawer on the left hand side of the desk, behind a batch of file folders which contain I have no idea what because they were left by the former employee whose desk I appropriated or maybe even the employee before that, is where I place whichever cookies I've brought in to get me through the evening. These I pull out from time to time to have with two or three cups of coffee thanks to Mr. Coffee and Mrs. S., the human resources maven who bought the coffee maker for the staff despite the fact that I'm one of only three people in the entire newsroom, and that includes advertising people, who drink coffee at work. The last managing editor kept all kinds of exotic tea bags and a bottle of honey on his desk; he only lasted about a year before losing his temper and his job; imagine how short his career would have been if he drank the kind of rotgut coffee I brew up at the start of my shift. But I digress.
   The 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor is fast approaching, heck, by the time you read this it will probably have been three weeks or a year ago, and my publisher asked if I could find a few local citizens and write about what they remembered about that day. So one morning last week, I was running late, but I decided to walk the five blocks or so to the local senior center to see what I could find. When I introduced myself at the front desk, the senor center director came out and said something to the effect that gee, that was a long time ago, anyone who remembered what they were doing that day would have to be at least 75 years old, and if they were only 75, all they could remember was being born. But, he said, let's take a walk through the facility and see what we could find. In the gym area we found a 93 year old man but the director said he probably wouldn't remember what he was doing the day Pearl Harbor was attacked because he was in Poland or Siberia at the time. What the heck, I said, I had my tape recorder with me and I recorded a 20 minute interview with him, maybe a bit longer, about Poland and Siberia and Baghdad and his time in the Polish resistance, pretty dramatic stuff if I can understand what he was saying, I'll listen to it later.
   But that was it. I found one lady who refused to tell me her name and didn't want it in the paper, but she was at a friend's birthday party the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. You must have been seven or eight, I said. She didn't answer.
   And that was it.
   By now I was late for work and I had no food to get me through the shift; even my Halloween stash was whittled down by a month's worth of nibbling. Nibbling. In the realm of literature, that's what might be called "foreshadowing." There still were a few Lindor truffles that I bought about two years ago but they were hard as a rock and were classified as for emergencies only.
   On the walk to my office I passed a C-Town supermarket, which caters to the large Hispanic and Latino population in the neighborhood. I ventured inside and was amazed at the great selection of mangoes and avocados which are way overpriced and underripe at the supermarkets where I usually shop. But it wasn't Take an Avocado to Work Day, and never should be, it was Take a Cookie to Work Day. Browsing the cookie aisle all I could find on sale was a large bag of Oreo cookies that was on sale for $2.50, so I bought a bag, figuring it would last three or four days.
   When I arrived at the office, sat at my desk and entered the password for my computer, I opened the bag of oreos while I waited, and took four cookies out. I didn't have to make coffee because it was one of the rare days when our IT guy, another caffeine fiend, made the coffee, so I poured myself a cup, set my four cookies in front of me, and placed the opened bag of Oreos in the rear compartment of the lower left hand desk drawer.
   Can you see where this is going?
   Now, this is the middle of November. It wasn't a cold November of the soul, but it wasn't Tahiti in July out either. Now do you see where this is going?
   A copy desk shift at the paper where I work has moments of intense pressure followed by moments with little to do followed by moments of intense pressure. It's during those moments of intense pressure that I like to pop a cookie or a half a mini Kit Kat into my choppers or take my half finished cup of coffee to the microwave in the back and pop it in for thirty seconds.
   Such was the case on this particular evening when, having long finished the four Oreo cookies I initially removed from the bag, I pulled the lower left hand bottom drawer out and was about to retrieve the opened bag of cookies when I saw something scurry across the bottom of the drawer. It was a mouse.
   I slammed the drawer shut, trying to slam it without making too much noise. At least I succeeded in that.
   Now I had a problem.
   Luckily there was nothing in the drawer that I needed besides a few more cookies, but my appetite was history so I could do without, and leave the drawer closed for the rest of the shift. At least there would be no getting out of the drawer for Mister Mouse and he could eat the rest of the bag of Oreos for all I cared, except I don't know what a mouse on a sugar high is capable of, and I didn't particularly want to find out.
   There were still about five hours to go in the shift. The human resources lady's desk is only about fifteen feet from mine and I didn't dare say anything because that was sure to trigger a universal email chastising reporters and editors for even thinking about keeping food in their desk and threatening probation or worse for anybody caught doing so in the future.
   And I didn't dare say anything out of concern for upsetting the woman at the desk next to mine who sometimes has a three-day old clementine or apple on her desk.
   Fortunately, I'm usually the last person in the office at the end of the night because the newspaper is printed at a different location and I have to wait for the pressroom to call and let me know that the presses are running, and in the event of a breakdown or other problem I have to do what I can, resend a page or whatever. Usually by the time I leave, sometime between 10:30 and 11 p.m., the cleaning guy has shown up and is busy emptying the waste baskets and cleaning the bathrooms.
   All of the other workers were gone when the cleaning guy arrived. I told him I had a favor to ask, I might have used the word "big," as in I have a big favor to ask. I told him about the cookies and the mouse, and I asked if he would open the drawer and see if the mouse was still there, and if it wasn't, would he toss the cookies in the waste basket?
   OK, so I'm a wimp. Sue me.
   He proceeded to open the drawer. No mouse. Whew. What am I saying, whew. That meant the darn thing got out of the drawer and hopefully went back to his hole but maybe through the nooks and crannies of the desk he was hiding in another drawer.
   Then the cleaning guy told me that that wasn't the first time a mouse had been seen in the office. There were three or four other sightings. Well, that made me feel good. For about a second. Then I thought, OMG, the place is infested. Almost everybody here has some level of food on or in their desk.
   So I didn't say anything. The next day, I cautiously opened the bottom left hand drawer -- there are two smaller drawers above it -- and glanced inside. No mouse. Whew. Then I began slowly opening the other drawers. In the drawer above the original perpetrator I found a wrapper of a small chocolate that had chew marks on it, and no more chocolate inside. In the bottom right hand drawer, home to the rock-like Lindor Truffles of two years prior, I found one empty wrapper with significant bite marks, and what appeared to be some mouse droppings (ewwww).
   And then I noticed all the little openings at the back of the drawers for the desk's legs and other parts to go through, and realized the ease with which the little reprobates could travel from drawer to drawer and in and out of the desk. No wonder the little guy who found my Oreos was gone, he'd probably returned to the mother ship with the good news that it was party time in Aaron's desk.
   Poor sucker. By the time he returned he was going to find not only no more cookies but not another piece of candy in the entire desk.
   I thought about putting a mousetrap with a piece of cheese in the bottom lower left hand desk drawer, but then all the Facebook videos of mice sunning themselves on the Riviera and playing catch and otherwise acting like human beings flashed before my eyes and I said I can't do that. There must be a more humane way to banish them. Maybe lacing a piece of cheese with a contraceptive would keep them from reproducing. Better yet, I could wrap a piece of cheese in a condom. That might not work, but it would go viral on YouTube.
   And that's where things stand now. I have not yet said anything to anyone other than the cleaning guy. All I've done is hung a sign in the lower right hand bottom desk drawer. It says "Aaron's Copy Desk Diner is Closed for Renovation."