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Cubicle Bard

Joshua Ferris, author of the lauded satire Then We Came to the End, talks about the Chicago ad agency where his office education began.

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Rebellion
Sometimes I’d just leave the office. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving. I’d just go home, watch TV, and make a sandwich. I didn’t need to do anything crazy, it was more about the intrigue of being AWOL. You miss that when you’re working for yourself.

The Terror
The day some of my colleagues were fired, there was one guy who stuck around for hours, trying to get various people in the office to tell him why he’d been fired. It dragged out so long, it became surreal, and then it became menacing. His entire self-worth balanced on knowing why that decision had been made.

Ethics
Idiocy is on wide display at any workplace, but it really behooves you to treat everyone with respect, even if they don’t deserve it. One day, I criticized a colleague about a decision she’d made. Later, she came into my office, closed the door, and cried. I realized that nothing I could say about a bill insert or a hotel newsletter was important enough to risk making that happen.

The Outcast
There was this copywriter who was a total pariah because she was considered incompetent and maybe not fashionable. I don’t remember her ever being invited to lunch. I never really talked to her. But she was from Southern California, and when I was leaving to go to school there, she gave me all of her contact information. She wanted me to stay in touch. The discrepancy between the way she was treated and the personal gesture she made to me was so stark that I felt she’d been wronged.

Romance
The office is a romantic enabler because you’re always around the person you have a crush on. There’s no escape from, and maybe no desire to escape from, those pressure-cooker conditions. And there’s an automatic series of things you have to talk about all the time.

Comrades
One Christmas party, I got really wasted on the top of the John Hancock building. I made a mess of myself in the restroom, getting sick all over the place. And those poor saps helped me take the elevator down, all 95 floors. I thank them for that.


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