Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Shortcomings of Others (Fka Clerking 15)

The Shortcomings of Others

(With thanks to Stanislaw Lem)

(Clerking 15)

There is no clerk so wonderful, so peaceful and perfect and together, that they do not, at some point, complain about one (or more, many, many more) of their co-workers. Also, perhaps far more notably, there is no clerk so bad, so incompetent, so irresponsible, lazy, daft, ignorant, confused or downright catatonic that they do not find fault with, at some point, their co-workers. I myself can go make an espresso, loiter reading the jacket of a book (pro-tip: you can judge a book by its cover!), exchange commentaries with a passing colleague, stare blindly into space for awhile, check the clock, consider lunch, and then pick up a book with the vague idea of maybe doing something work-like with it, eventually, maybe, only to spot a co-worker off to my left idling. Maybe they are in a conversation about their new shoes, perhaps they are leafing through a magazine, they could even mysteriously be peering at a computer screen with the intent look of someone who has mysteriously invented some fake work, and I feel a sudden flash of outrage. Why do they get all this free time? Why is their work-life full of luxuries and relaxation while I am forced to toil away on my unfair share of burdens? Bitterly I toss the book I am holding onto the machine and stew. I go over to a reliable co-worker to grumble. They are nonplussed, but wait patiently for me to finish before launching into a tirade about their issues with a different co-worker. Invariably their issues hardly sound to me like anything to get all worked up about, but I do my best to commiserate, knowing from experience that one day I'll probably feel the same way about that person they're complaining about. And so it goes around.

The more I like a co-worker, the more basic respect I have for their abilities and contributions, the more room I have for their foibles. But I think even if I could hop into the library's time travel pod and dial back in time 8 hours to work with the person deserving of the very greatest quantities of indulgence, namely myself, I would, in the right situation, get pretty irritated.

How many coffee breaks does he have to take?” I might fume to myself about my earlier self, conveniently forgetting that I am energized and focused because that was me taking all those lovely coffee breaks. And my old self perhaps, looking at my future self, would surely stew over how my future self was taking it easy while I was working like a dog.

Hey!” My old self says to my future self “Help me get all these holds processed. There's a ton of them and you're not even doing anything!”

To which my future self replies in outrage “I worked like a dog all morning on those holds with no one to help me! The future version of myself just sat here checking his email the whole time!”

Well that's you now!” My old self complains bitterly.

Well I've earned it!” My newer self says petulantly, turning back to the emails that are from eight hours in the past and so have already been read three times. Sadly I also have to delete spam I already deleted in the past. This makes me tired. I need an espresso but my old self is using my espresso machine again! The ingratitude!

So what am I trying to say here about co-workers? Am I saying one should try hard to look at the full context of things before casting stones about? Am I trying to say one should not indulge the little irritations because they are about us rather than about that person out there? Am I trying to say that it is hopeless to complain about your co-workers because no one ever seems to commiserate at a sufficient level? Or how about I am saying judge not lest ye be judged?

No, sensible as these all may be, I don't want to say any of them. And I wont.

I will say this:

Everyone is useless and shiftless at their job sometimes. Everyone. But see that person over there? The one staring intently at the computer screen that basically has nothing on it? That person is just unbelievable. And I'm gonna end up having to do all that work there. I mean, what are they even looking at? Nothing!

It all makes me so tired. I need a break. I think I better go have an espresso.


  1. I love this one. What is name of the story it is like by Law?

  2. So glad you love it. It is conceptually borrowed (er, swiped? reworked? Homaged? something...) from Stanislaw Lem's story in "The Star Diaries" It is one of the first stories there I think, but I am not sure since our Library no longer owns it, which is a story for another blogpost. Info grabbed from wikipedia follows:
    Collection of short fiction dealing with the voyages of Ijon Tichy. Translated into English and expanded as The Star Diaries (1976, translated by Michael Kandel), later published in 2 volumes as Memoirs of a Space Traveller (1982, second volume translated by Joel Stern).

  3. "...our Library no longer owns it..." is exactly why I do a lot of my borrowing from HCL. They seem to have everything, and they are on my two favorite bus lines.

    1. Though it might be fun to get loyally defensive, I speak for all libraries and so cannot fault you. HCL has the advantage of being gigantic relative to other metro systems so even though in my wanderings I see them making what I take to be the same sort of mistakes as us a lot, 41 (or suchlike) branches and the accompanying budget covers a lot of sins. Strangely though, when I dig deep I have to be saved by mnlink, which allows me to get books from anywhere in the state, and then I am saved most often by the U libraries and sometimes somewhere sort of random. Lately I have been looking into the curating of the older collections in our local libraries and I am alarmed by its lack of vision and personality, which is well expressed by our not having things like The Star Diaries or Night Watch or other truly great things we used to have.


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