Cubicle rage monkey.

I've been temping for the past couple of weeks.Originally, I took the job to help ease the pain of a freelance client telling me he wouldn't be paying for work I did on a...really big job. My fault — I didn't ask him to sign a contract, and I should have realized much earlier on that he was completely lacking in the class department, not surprising given his choice in profession — but that doesn't soothe the sting.

CubicleYeah, no. Ow.

Turns out, though, it's been preparation for my official re-entry into the full-time working world. (I accepted a job last week with the daily deal site, and I start in a few days. If you're in Chicago and don't know YouSwoop, subscribe now and ask questions later. You're welcome.)

It's glorious being back in the swing of things, such that I am. But temping is awkward.

Yes, I eat the office bagels and sip water from the same tank (hey, Culligan Man, you fox), but I'm sitting at a desk that isn't and never will be mine, cluttered with Post-It notes marked up with passwords that I didn't set. My e-mail address once belonged to an intern named Erica. I use the bathroom key they keep at the front desk and am comfortable with the fact that half the people here don't know my name. Try as I might to carve out an identity for myself. (Read: Act like a loudmouthed fool and bring snacks to soften the cubicle-hardened hearts of my short-term cohorts.)

The situation is even stranger as I sit here reading stories about talent management and the virtues of a "contingent workforce" — that's me — in the magazines I'm here to copy edit. So meta.

And yet, I have the requisite dumb office conversations and know well enough to be friendly to everyone, even if it means plastering on a smile in the morning when I'm absolutely not feeling it. Coffee. Coffee.

I left my dishes from lunch in the sink yesterday. Actually, I left them in "my" cubicle, neatly stacked and not bothering anyone, until this morning, when I moved them to the sink to soak for a moment. Where I promptly forgot about them. I got an IM from one of my coworkers suggesting I address the situation in the sink. He must have noticed the morass at my desk and the ensuing transfer to the kitchen. He connected the dots. There's a busybody in every office, and not only do they complain about the same things, but they also tend even to look the same. It's like there are pod people set forth on offices everywhere to make employees' lives a living hell. Seriously.

Here, there's a team of them.

Today's complaint was the dishes in the sink. (Last week it was the disastrous Tupperware-of-mysterious-origin situation in the refrigerator.) My dishes. "Was there a knife in there?" I heard them say, secondhand, in Google Talk message. "Someone could get hurt!"

Yeah, if you saw the knife and decided to wave your arms around in the sink willy-nilly despite the obvious danger of half-hearted impalement from a dull Wal-Mart utensil.

Duly chastened, I rushed the 10 feet from my desk — temps get primo placement — to the kitchen and spent five minutes washing the offending dishes.

I hadn't heard these women kvetching about the dishes firsthand, so I didn't feel the need to cop to the gaffe and let them know the problem had been solved. The dishes were gone; no harm, no foul. Right? No. Because they were still incensed come lunch time.


And from this prime real estate I've called home for the past week and a half, I had to listen to them making an aural scene about it for 5 minutes — the amount of time it would have taken them just to wash the damn dishes themselves, if they'd really felt like addressing the problem. And the dishes were gone already. I MEAN, REALLY.

While I understand the sentiment that without adherence to rules and certain suggested courtesies in place, offices around the world would descend into utter chaos... Get a life.

So I got up and did the 10-foot walk of shame again. "Okay, you know what?" I said, having lost my patience about 5 feet in, when I heard the leader of the kvetchpods sneering about those people. "You can just stop. I left the dishes out. I didn't know it was a big deal. It's nobody else in the office, so you can quit worrying about writing an e-mail to everyone. I'm sorry."

I didn't expect her to hug me and shower me with thanks, but I expected the icy glare I got from her even less. Yikes.

Back in someone else's cubicle, home sweet home, I shoved my earbuds in and selected the songs I'd be blaring for the rest of the day to block out the dull roar of the pod people.