The lady on the seat in front of me is fanning herself with a piece of paper because the air-conditioning unit on the bus is struggling to keep up with the heat and it’s only 7am.
There are bush-fires burning all around the city, billowing smoke in to the sky which in turn forms a thick haze that clings to the city like a warm blanket. Nobody needs a warm blanket in summer.
The drought continues. Unprecedented consecutive days without recorded rain have resulted in water restrictions. Short showers and a ban on all non-essential water usage.
I lurch off the bus and walk straight past my usual coffee haunt. It’s even too hot for coffee, despite what my internal addiction mechanism screams at me.
The office is cool, almost too cool.
These fancy offices with their automated climate-controlled air-conditioning units that use basic algorithms to monitor the outside environment in order to determine what the indoor temperate should be. They always get it wrong.
Today, with the temperate already climbing in to the 30s, the air-conditioner has ramped up it’s activity in order to fight back the outside heat. The result is a sudden chill that hits my sweat skin as I sit down at my desk.
It is a weird feeling.
Sweat is still pooling under my arms from the bus trip and subsequent walk to the office, yet my skin is tingling and my nipples are firming up from the arctic blast coming from the vent directly above me.
Jason – one of the department executives – strides back from the kitchen with his morning tradition in hand: freshly made instant coffee in his personal mug that dubiously proclaims him as the world’s best boss. I have a hunch he bought the mug himself.
Despite being one of the highest-paid executives in the office Jason has the frugal public-servant mindset down pat. He always brings his lunch and never pays for coffee when he can make one himself. Only on his latest promotion to Senior Public Servant Do-Gooder Level 329 did he decide to splurge and reward himself with an upgrade from his normal Nescafe Blend 43 to Nescafe Gold. The little jar that sits proudly in the kitchen with a big label that says “Property of Jason. DO NOT USE.”
We are the only two people on the floor at this hour and normally that might result in five minutes of awkward manager-attempting-to-connect-with-employees banter but, thankfully, Jason is not a friendly kind of manager. Because I sit several rungs below him on the office hierarchy he views me as little more than an underling to do his bidding. I would be surprised if he even knows my name and, as if in agreement with me, he just nods silently as he walks past my desk and toward his corner office.
I breathe a sigh of relief under my breath and I log on to the technological relic that passes as my computer in this department.
I turn around and see Jason’s coffee mug on the side of my L-shaped desk, splashing light brown liquid around as after-effects from being hastily plonked down. Jason is looking me up and down with his serious face. I know where this is going.
“Shorts?” It’s only one word but it says everything it needs to. It is dripping with disdain and disappointment. Smeared with sneering and sarcasm.
Jason is one of those guys wears suits every day. Even on casual Fridays in blisteringly sweltering heat. He is the kind of guy that would in all seriousness give the advice that ‘the suit maketh the man’ not realising that such bold and bullshit phrases are an indictment on his personality, performance, or anything that might indicate having substance beneath his outer layer of clothing.
I calm myself and put on the social mask of outgoing jovial banter.
“These were long pants when I left home but after soaking up more sweat than I thought humanly possible for me to lose I had to cut the bottom off and turn them in to shorts.”
Whoosh. My attempt at defusing the situation with humour flies over his balding middle-aged head.
“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘the suit maketh the man’?” Jason drawls and I nearly scream as I bite my tongue to stop from saying or doing anything regrettable.
“You’re a smart man Jack.” He continues his lecture. “You could do good things here but you waste it. You waste your opportunity. You don’t take it seriously. You make jokes and play the fool like this is some big charade for you. Like you’re just a player in a game. If you took this place a little more seriously you might be more than just another shitty junior data analyst.”
He watches me, looking for a reaction. Outside I am a picture of calm composure but inside I am…well I’m not sure. I cannot tell if I want to laugh right in his face or grab said fat face and slam it in to the desk. Instead I do neither and sit there, looking him in the eye. Holding his gaze. He looks unhappy that his goading has not elicited a strong reaction from me.
“Here’s a tip you insolent turd.” He smiles as he leans in to speak to me quietly, as if the empty office might hear. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
“And that was that.” I state to the committee panel hearing the code of conduct case. I knew I was in trouble the moment I decided to bite Jason’s obvious bait.
Patti, my direct line manager in the departmental managerial-employee matrix and current chair of the review committee, looks up and raises an eyebrow at me.
“Did you say anything to Jason in response?”
“I did say something along the lines of…” I pause so I can put on my best show of looking abashed and embarrassed when in reality I’m trying not to burst in to a smile.
“The problem is I don’t want this fucking job you overgrown man-child. The job I want is something like billionaire playboy and if I dressed for that job I would be naked and lathered head-to-toe in baby oil while being hand fed exotic grapes. So unless you want to volunteer for the oiling up or the feeding of grapes you can waddle back to your office and leave me the fuck alone.”
Stifled laughs come from the long table of committee hearing members. Patti nods and looks up and down the table before continuing.
“Whilst Jack’s behaviour and language is not in line with our code of conduct, I think we can all agree that Jason’s reputation for bullying and harassment of junior staff is the real problem here.”
Hang on a minute, what is going on here?
“This is just another example of him pushing an otherwise excellent employee in to the brink of frustration for no reason other than to demean them and establish some sick sense of power.”
This cannot be happening. I thought this was a hearing on my behaviour.
“As such I move that we initiate a formal investigation into Jason’s conduct and we issue Jack with an informal code of conduct warning for his, shall we say ‘colourful’ language. All in favour?”
Patti looks around and I notice all the other committee members nodding their heads.
“Motion carried.” She looks around for something to whack like a symbolic gavel and, not finding anything suitable, decides to give the table a rap with her knuckles. “You are free to go Jack.”
I am numb. My body moves on its own, legs on autopilot guiding me to the door. Did I just get lucky? Is Patti protecting me? Or was I used as a pawn in some broader office politics game that I cannot see? Does this mean I can keep pushing the boundaries with my behaviour with the knowledge that I have friends in moderately high places?
“Jack?” Patti calls and as I turn back I catch a glimpse of a smile trying to burst through her lips. “Next time, don’t be such an arrogant jerk.”