As most of you know I recently released "Unsafe at Any Speed: Elsie W.'s OTHER Book"
Elsie had a major issue with the fact that we did not get paid breaks. I’ve worked a lot of jobs and the concept of a paid break is quite foreign. Apparently, at some point in her working career, she worked for a company called Monuments, Inc. It was the best place in the world to work, according to Elsie. She could take as many breaks as she wanted and she got paid. They even flew her to Arizona once to see one of her kids. Best place ever to work.
Would it shock anyone to know Monuments, Inc. is out of business?
Elsie railed under the rule of no paid breaks. She complained about it endlessly. She demanded she be given two twenty minute breaks every day, paid, in addition to her lunch hour, which she also wanted to get paid for.
The fact that NBM refused to entertain her demands didn’t phase her. Didn’t make her work harder or maybe look for another job. Nope, when NBM said she couldn’t have paid breaks, she just made very sure she got them anyway…by using the bathroom. A lot.
Elsie and I were the only two women who worked in that office and I have this thing about restrooms. I like them to be very private. The one at Stuff, Installed, was not private. It was the worst kind of restroom. It was large, with a lock on the door I didn’t trust. The commode was too far from the door for me to be able to shove a foot in front of it in case someone tried to burst in on me. The fan was SUPER loud, but covered nothing of the intimate…gross…sounds one tends to make in a rest room. Quite the opposite, the fan in there seemed to amplify everything that went on in the bathroom.
I know. I have issues. But this book isn’t about my issues. This book is about Elsie. Elsie had no problems with the bathroom. She loved being in there. She realized that NBM being very uncomfortable around women, wouldn’t dare to say a word about how much time she spent in there.
She was right. At least for a while.
Elsie, though she didn’t start work until 11:07 AM and had Fridays off, was simply unable to conduct personal business outside of the office. Thusly, she felt the need, every day, to make prolonged personal phone calls during working hours, something NBM loathed. When she started making these calls in the bathroom, I had to hail the greatness of her evil genius. She figured something out before I did, and we were powerless to combat it. Because, really, who is going to yell at a woman in her sixties because she has to use the bathroom?
Because I’m an observer of life, and because I’d pretty much started writing this book at this point, I chose to not be the office tattle tale. I figured everyone in the office was an adult, and since I was not only the newest hire, I was also the lowest paid person in the entire company, being the “potty police” was way above my pay grade. So I simply kept, track, for my own amusement, the number of trips Elsie made to the ladies’ room and how long she was in there, how long she spent coughing and how much time she spent yelling into her cell phone.
The numbers were astounding. Her longest span, that I tracked, as a thirty-three marathon session with her doctor’s office. It might sound like I’m being heartless, that this poor lady should have been given the time she needed to talk to her doctor’s office. But before you pass judgment, ponder this: that call, like many to that particular doctor’s office, was a screeching debate about the bill she’d racked up and refused to pay. Her defense was that she had health insurance through work, she paid for said insurance, the doctor’s office had no business billing her for anything, especially anything called a ‘co-pay.’
Apparently she was in deep to the doctor’s office in large part because, and again, I am not making this up, she would go to the doctor’s office complaining of symptoms her CAT had…so she could get medicine for her CAT on her health insurance. (Wouldn’t you think they would get suspicious when a sixty year old woman complained of coughing up hairballs?)
These phone calls were always peppered with bouts of her Death Cough, the one symptom, apparently, she refused to see a doctor for. The Death Cough was a delightful concophony of noise ranging from a loud cough to throat clearing, to massive phlegm gagging. (And she wondered why on earth we thought the snot wad under her desk came from her.) It was an annoyance when she was in the office. When she was in the bathroom, with the sound amplified by the exhaust fan, no one could get anything done on the phone because the entire office sounded like a tuberculosis ward.
It took NBM quite some time before he realized her subversive little scheme to get paid breaks. Part of his delayed realization was that whenever Elsie came in one door, he went out the other. It wasn’t that he trusted her to be doing her job while he was out, he couldn’t take her chasing him around all day saying, “NBM, can I tell you something?”
But one afternoon, during an especially entertaining phone call with her car insurance people (I will address Elsie’s endless car adventures in the next book, “Elsie W.: Unsafe at Any Speed.”) NBM stood in the Tunnel of Sound, four feet from the bathroom door, and listened to the coughing, the gagging, and the yelling.
“Is she on the phone in there?”
“Yes,” I said, keeping my eyes on my own computer.
“How long has she been in there?”
I checked my running notes. “Twenty-one minutes.”
He stared at the door for a beat, then looked at me. “Does she do this often?”
I’m no tattle tale, but I certainly wasn’t not about to start lying to NBM. A direct question is a direct question. “Yes,” I said, flipping through my notes, “two to three times a day.”
When you add that time to the seventy-seven minutes she always took for lunch, the lost work time was staggering. And that didn’t even count the time it took me to take notes.
His jaw dropped. What manager wants to find out that one of his employees is spending large chunks of the day in the bathroom, on the phone? He waited, standing there, for another seven minutes while Elsie wrapped it up with Triple A. She emerged, he pounced.
“Were you on the phone in there?”
She turned that crazy spinning eye on me, because I was the one to blame for uncovering her oh-so-covert method of getting paid breaks. “I was using the bathroom.”
I give her points for guts.
NBM: But were you talking on the phone?
ELSIE: Well, yes, I made a call while I was using the potty.
I don’t know about you, but I think the word ‘potty’ should be reserved for children. Adults should use it only when speaking to children under the age of six.
NBM: And you were in there for a long time.
ELSIE: Not any longer than anyone else.
NBM: I was standing out here for almost ten minutes. That’s excessive.
And I was sitting there for ten minutes, watching him watch the door. And PM was sitting at his desk watching me watch him watch the door. That’s at least forty minutes of labor time spent on Elsie making a call in the bathroom.
ELSIE: I don’t think it is. And can I tell you something? If you gave us paid breaks we wouldn’t be forced to sneak our cell phones into the bathrooms while we tinkle.
“Tinkle” is another word I’d reserve for children under the age of six. And what is this “we” business?
NBM: We’ve talked about this, and you are not to be making phone calls while you’re in the bathroom.
ELSIE: If I were a man, you wouldn’t care what I did. You never care what anyone does around here just as long as we women are stuck under your control.
NBM: Elsie, my office.
She swept past him and he slammed the door, a rare show of emotion for him. I couldn’t hear him, I never could because the angrier NBM got the lower his voice got. Elsie, on the other hand, could be depended on to raise her voice to a shrill shriek, and to repeat everything he said, so I really didn’t miss much. He spoke softly, she raged about how the women in the office were being treated unfairly. The conference ended, however, like all their noisy battles: with the two of them smiling and laughing as they walked out of the office.
I’d like to know what kind of power that woman had in that office because that is a super power we could all use.
Immediately upon emerging from the office, NBM left to run an errand and Elsie returned to the bathroom, this time to call her doctor’s office again. Length of time in the bathroom: twenty-six minutes. Maybe if we moved her desk in there, she would have accomplished some actual work.
At this point I gave up hope of ever using the office bathroom and just waited until lunch when I could walk to the local fast food place and use theirs.