Something there is about an office that loves a wall,

That wants it up full to the ceiling,

Not halfway or 3/4, but all the way,

Over which no errant conversations can pass.

The work of worthless bureaucrats is another thing:

I have seen them pile up cubicles one on top of another,

In every manner, form and configuration,

To satisfy their obsession to have their employees out,

Where they can be seen, watched, measured. The gaps I mean,

Between their ears are so vast,

They would make a grown man cry, if their decisions made any sense —

Which they don’t.  These decisions:

No one sees them made or hears them made, or understands their purpose,

But each year there’s a new plan,

A new arrangement of the spaces for more productive “flow.”

I let my assistant four cubicles over know,

So that he can find me once we’ve moved;

And on a day we meet to watch,

As walls are torn down and rearranged yet again.

We keep our essential things with us as we go:

Coats, hats, files, paperclips, stapler, tape,

Each to his designated spot in the new “arrangement.”

One from “Management Services” to “Management Affairs, Service Branch,”

Another from “Management Operations” to “Service Operations, Management Branch.”

Each so tenuous and mind-being, we know

That we’ll each barely be settled,

Until the whole thing is turned topsy-turvy once again.

Oh, just another indoor game,

Petty cubicle tyrants against the rest. It comes to little more.

Since what’s clear is that what each really needs is a wall between them.

My neighbor is all “I need to talk on my cell phone all day with every person I know,”

Where I need the quiet of a library.

Her loud conversations about feminine protection and carpools cannot help but get across

The low cubicle wall and eat at my soul like a devouring demon.

I tell our director; I reason with him; I implore.

He only says, “Flexible workplaces make productive work environments,”

Then smiles, congratulating himself on remembering

This one pearl of wisdom from his on-line graduate class

On “Space Management and Workplace Morale.”

Bourbon puts the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

Why do they make good work environments?  Isn’t it

“You work here, I’ll work there, we’ll talk together later?”

And aren’t there endless meetings to “coordinate activities”?

Before I’d tear down a wall, I’d want to know

What I was letting in or failing to wall out,

And to how many in the office I was likely to give offence,

Especially if none of the managers are forced to live in cubicles as are we,

But have offices, plush, private, and secure.

Where are their “flexible workplaces”? 

And their “productive work environments”?

Not needed, perhaps?

Something there is about an office that loves a wall,

That makes one thrill at a real office,

Away from prying eyes and unwanted encounters.

I could say, “This is pure idiocy!”

But it’s not “idiocy” exactly, more like a type of pedantic cruelty,

That only the really educated can hope to attain to,

Or would even wish to.

I see him there, watching the bee-hive, wheels turning in his head,

Plotting, re-planning, planning to re-plan, rearrange, re-do.

He moves in darkness it seems to me,

Like a vampire,

Not because of pale white skin in florescent light,

But because he lives unperturbed, slowly draining the life from others.

He will not think an original thought in his life,

And will inspire instant recognition at a host of Dilbert cartoons.

But he likes these poor bits of silly business jargon so well,

He says again, this time with stifling, empty-headed certainty:

“Flexible workplaces make productive work environments.”

Randall Smith is an Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, where he has a lovely office, although he generally prefers to work in a coffee shop nearby.