July 15, 2002

Rule

It was my job to sort the mail into cubbies and then periodically deliver it to the people on my floor. At least ten other employees did the same thing in the same room, and each had their own floor.

After my first delivery, I returned to an empty mail room. This seemed bizarre, particularly since everyone had left at the same time as me, with more or less the same amount of mail to deliver. When the same thing happened after my second delivery, I realized that you weren’t supposed to return right away but rather waste time elsewhere in the building. It was crazy how much time you were supposed to waste, but I understood that if I came back too soon, I made everyone else look bad, which I didn’t want to do since I was a temp and everyone else was permanent.

I made a similar mistake that first day by sorting the mail as soon as it arrived from the post office. No one else did this, because there wasn’t much mail to sort. Basically you had to make the sorting last about five times longer than necessary or else it looked like you weren’t doing anything. Everyone, including the boss, understood this, since everyone including the boss was doing as little as you were, while pretending to do five times as much. Suffice it to say, no one was allowed to do anything that made this state of affairs too obvious.

That was the only rule.