In my third week at The Company I got a trash can for my office. This is no small accomplishment. The workplace adheres to the open-office philosophy, which apparently also stipulates that people do not generate trash at their desks. Unfortunately, the open-office gurus neglected to invent the peel-less banana.
Late at night on Friday, I was finishing up. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse (this is Industry, after all.) I figured that I should empty my trash can lest everyone see (and smell) my banana peels on Monday morning. (Open offices have glass walls and doors that are left… open.) But where to dump the peels and other (unsanctioned but) accumulated trash? Gazing out in all directions through the glass walls of my open office, I could identify no trash receptacles anywhere. I loaded my work bag with provisions, making sure to pack a change of clothing and a bottle of water for the long trip, set my out-of-office message to “In search of trash bin – may have limited access to email”, and headed out into the unknown to dispose of my rapidly-ripening collection.
As I wandered the vast dark expanse of pristine desks and trash-free meeting-spaces with my overflowing trash can under my arm, I came across a young diligent worker hunched over her desk. The only light in the room coming from her computer screen. Next to her sat her office-mate (age 5?) happily eating a Pop Tart sandwich (five fingers pressed between two Pop Tarts). “Who are you?” cut in the protective mother.
“I’m Evan”, I answered, offering my hand.
“Do you work at The Company?” asked the mom, suspiciously, eying my luggage.
“Yes, I do”, I answered dutifully.
“What do you do?” asked the inquisitor.
“I’m a Vice President”, I beamed.
My inquisitor studied me. She studied my trash can. She considered its slightly aromatic yellow and black contents.
“I don’t believe you”, she retorted.
The little girl, feet dangling from her chair, was noncommittal.
She offered me a bite of her Pop Tart.
It was cherry.
Evan Morris is a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging at Yale. Last year he was a vice president at a biotech company.