Somehow, word has gotten out that "kitchen slave" is part of my job description. Well, not just mine. One of the women in my department dropped a note in the Cosmodemonic suggestion box which proposed the company buy a dog or goat to dispose of scraps and other bits of trash from the Break Room because she was tired of doing it herself. When she mentioned her request to the company president, he chuckled and mentioned that the managers were vested with the power to give cash rewards to whomever they saw perform random acts of cleanliness. Unfortunately, any acts of cleanliness our department performs are seen not so much as random as compulsory, and the myth of cash bonuses hasn't been enough to mobilize most Cosmodemons to such demeaning activity.

A week or so ago, I was putting a sinkful of dirty coffee mugs into the dishwasher whilst Empress @#$%, Mrs. Giggler, and one or two others slouched in their chairs, the evidence of their meal broadcast on the table before and the floor around them. Empress yawned and said, "I don't know why people don't just take a minute to put those cups away. It's not like it's hard or anything." There was a murmur of agreement from her companions. When I finished with the dishes and started wiping down the counter, Mrs. Giggler dragged herself over to the refrigerator to check the status of an abandoned cheesecake.

This was an item I was compelled to plead for earlier in the day. It was packed in a plastic wrapped cardboard box, probably bought at Costco or some such place, and completely intact-or so it seemed. If I am conscious of the horrors of the fridge, I am somewhat compelled to do something about it. Sure, I know what you're thinking: Ah, the glamour, romance, and adventure of cleaning an office refrigerator! But it isn't like that at all. It's smelly, and grimy, and wrecks your nails, and is shadowed by the likelihood that Pus will come in screaming about your ambush on his lunch that occurred after three e-mailed messages and one printed announcement--which in all fairness was concealed next to the sign-in sheet on the Reception Desk. "That's so ignorant!" he bellowed at me on one memorable occasion, then stomped off to write to My Boss that restitution should be made for the lunches (frankly, he was not the only one who bellowed at me that day) that were tossed "without warning to there owners."

So, I try to delay these episodes by sending out missives on behalf of the food. "You loved us once," the food gravely asserts. "You bought us, packaged us, exploited our tender bodies. How could you leave us here to rot?" The cheesecake struck me as a particularly tragic case, going from bought to rot without ever knowing the joys of being plundered. And now, Mrs. Giggler was headed over to kick its corpse.

"Ew," she said, "Ew." I studiously ignored her. "Ew. This should be thrown away." She paused a moment, but I was deep in my counter wiping meditation. "I will throw it away." She pulled it out of the fridge and stalked over to garbage can with a look of horror on her face that would inspire the envy of the most renowned Kabuki master. She dumped it with a final, mournful, "ew," and returned to the fridge.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her pointing at the space the late cheesecake occupied. "Look," she said, "goo." I decided I may as well set the timer on the dishwasher and fill the pan with soap. "GOO," she repeated. "Ew. Somebody should clean this." I closed the dishwasher door and watched her point at the alleged goo a few more times, then close the refrigerator door and return to her place at the table.

I don't doubt for an instant that these people make more money than I do, and may well be from wealthier families, but did Mrs. G honestly expect me to start channeling a servile Cockney maid? "Coo! Goo, you say! Blimey if 'taint so!"

I strolled back to my desk and left the goo to collect a protective layer of lint which I'm going to have to try and remove with cold Windex one of these days. And the day I do, every person who passes through the Break Room will shake their heads and tut-tut, and say, "I don't know what's wrong with people." Everybody except Mr Enigma, that is, who will laugh and say he loves to see a woman at work in the kitchen, then leave his coffee cup in the sink. Pervicious, but at least he has the courtesy of being a forthright bastard about it.

Unlike Miss Byron, one of the hypocritical clucking hens who condemns the Break Room behavior of his colleagues then engages in it himself when my back is turned. Confront him and he'd certainly open his eyes wide in sorrow and shock and deny everything, but hardly a day goes by that I don't see his stupid Starbuck's mug sitting in the sink awaiting transport to the dishwasher. My co-worker (the one who wanted to buy a company pet) and I have made a pact to leave it there, hoping it would teach him a little something. Unfortunately, Our Boss usually puts it in before she goes home at night and we're both too timid to seek a formal injunction against the practice. On the one morning when the mug was left in the sink the whole night, the cleaning staff, apparently having tired of knocking over all my picture frames, washed it.

That was really too much. A sort of mania overcame me and I poured coffee left from the previous day into it and swished it around. That didn't look as bad as I had hoped, so I took the cup and lasciviously kissed the rim, leaving a trail of Great Wear by Mabelline that I hoped would give him pause and be at least as hard to remove as, I don't know, Bill Clinton, say.

Did it work? Not by any measure I can think to use, but then, such childish measures do not deserve to. So the next time I see that mug sitting unwashed in the sink, I will simply hide it.

Written by Sharon C. McGovern

From Vol. 24
Get Back to Work!