Tony Woodlief, 6/3/2013

Current Occupation: Education non-profit manager
Former Occupation: Non-profit consultant
Contact Information: Tony manages organizations that put the “non” in non-profit by day, and scribbles away at fiction and creative non-fiction in the wee morning hours.

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Uninterested

 

“Time Desk.”

“Yeah. This is Tom Delaney. I’m not coming in today.”

“Department?”

“Cash management.”

“Employee number?”

“83439.”

“Tom Delaney?”

“You guessed it.”

“What should I list as the reason for absence?”

“I’m just not interested.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said I’m not interested in working today.”

“You want me to enter that you’re not interested?”

“That’s right. I’m calling in uninterested.”

“That’s not an acceptable reason.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not a recognized category.”

“What’s not to recognize? Haven’t you ever been uninterested?”

“That’s beside the point. Our system doesn’t recognize ‘uninterested’ as a valid category. I can put you down as sick. How’s that?”

“But it’s not true. I’m not calling in sick; I’m calling in uninterested.”

“I can’t enter that.”

“They’re my personal leave days, right?”

“Yes, in a manner of speaking.”

“What do you mean? They’re the leave days that belong to me.”

“Technically, they’re the company’s days, which we give to you in the form of payment for excused absences.”

“Yes, yes, yes. I get the point. But we’re talking about the days that are assigned to me, right?”

“That’s correct.”

“And all you have to do is record the reason I’m using one.”

“Yes, but you . . .”

“So type into your computer that I’m not interested today. I can probably muster up enough interest to come in tomorrow.”

“That’s just not a category. We can say that you’re sick . . .”

“I feel great.”

“. . . or that you’ve got personal business, or that it’s a vacation day. Those are my categories. There’s just no room for ‘uninterested.’”

“What’s with all the category talk? I thought you guys just entered the reasons people give when they call this number.”

“Yes, I realize that you, like many others, assume that ‘we people’ are just glorified secretaries. But my job as Time Desk Specialist is to take the caller’s information, assess its fit with one of our recognized categories, and then code it so that HR can analyze the resulting data. Your data doesn’t fit.”

“Administrative assistant.”

“What?”

“They aren’t secretaries any more, they’re administrative assistants.”

“Point taken. Thanks for calling and get well soon.”

“No, no, I’m not sick, and I’m not done. I don’t get the category thing, and especially the fact that you only have three categories. What if someone calls to say his cat is stuck in a tree, and that he’s taking a personal day to get it down?”

“A whole day?”

“Bear with me for the sake of discussion.”

“That just seems like a long time to spend getting a cat out of a tree.”

“It’s a big tree.”

“Shouldn’t he just call the fire department?”

“Fine, fine. Say he’s the designated cat-fetcher for all the old ladies in his neighborhood, and they’re all up trees.”

“The cats, or the old ladies?”

“You’re being deliberately obtuse.”

“It’s a weird example, either way.”

“Indulge me. So tell me; how would you code it?”

“Personal errand.”

“Okay. Now suppose instead he’s checking in to the hospital for a sex-change operation. How would you code that?”

“The cat-fetcher is going to get a sex change?”

“Yes. He’s tired of living a lie. So tell me, how would you code him when he calls to explain that he’s really a woman trapped inside a man’s body?”

“Sick.”

“That’s a little judgmental, don’t you think?”

“Anything medical gets coded as a sick day.”

“So the guy who has acupuncture to get in touch with his inner child gets coded the same as someone who’s having a tumor cut out?”

“Yes.”

“Geez. How useful is that kind of data?”

“Again, it’s pretty clear to me that you aren’t feeling well. Sick day.”

“I told you, I feel great. Hey, I heard that.”

“Heard what?”

“The typing. Delete ‘sick day.’ I’m fine.”

“But you don’t feel capable of coming in to work. That sounds like a sick day to me.”

“But it’s clearly not. I’m perfectly capable of working; I just have no interest in the work. It’s not at all a medical issue.”

“Mental problems go in this category too.”

“Do you hear me not laughing at that? I’m telling you, there’s nothing wrong with me. In fact, I feel exceedingly normal and healthy today.”

“But you don’t feel fit for work.”

“Exactly. That is precisely the problem, don’t you see? I feel fit, but I have absolutely no interest in my job today. The very thought of it numbs my soul.”

“Look bud, nobody’s interested. I double-majored in literature and philosophy in college. You think I’m interested in hearing about people’s sinus infections and divorce court hearings and parent-teacher conferences? You think I spend my spare time going up to strangers on street corners, and asking them about all the crappy little details of their existence? I get the dregs of people’s lives, my friend, and let me tell you, it’s sure not out of interest on my part. You want to know why I do it?”

“Actually, I am kind of curious.”

“Because it’s my J-O-B, pal. That thing I do to support myself. Interest has nothing to do with it.”

“But don’t you think it should? My God, you of all people should be with me on this. Shouldn’t your work hold some interest for you? Can’t you see what I’m getting at?”

“Yes, it’s all very charming and existential. But get over it. Being uninterested is just not a reason for not working. If you want to take a personal vacation day that’s fine, and I’m with you one hundred percent, but I’m not going to enter ‘uninterested.’”

“What difference does it make to you anyway? Why are you being so deliberately difficult?”

“Look, if I don’t assign you to a recognized category, then I have to type up a report and put it in our ‘Reconcile’ folder. Then in our Friday staff meeting I’ll have to explain to everyone why it didn’t fit into one of the existing categories. Then everyone in the meeting will argue about whether you took vacation, or ran errands, or had a sick day, until all the doughnuts are gone. In the end it will go into one of those categories anyway, because in my four years on this job, we have yet to add a fourth category. The only difference between me deciding right now versus them deciding on Friday is that doing it your way makes me look like an idiot who can’t make a decision.”

“Don’t you think the people in your office would agree that we need a new category?”

“No. I am the most empathetic person in our group, trust me. I say you’re sick, but they’ll insist—trust me on this—that you’re on vacation. Then, when you want to take that dream cruise, or go to your family reunion, or attend space camp, you’ll be one day short.”

“This is not sickness, and it’s not vacationing. I’m going to sit in my lounge chair and read, and then I’ll take a nap. After that I might eat a sandwich and watch some TV, but that’s really all there is to it.”

“That’s got vacation day written all over it.”

“The hell it does. A vacation is gambling in Vegas, going to Disneyworld, that kind of thing. I’m going to have a PB&J and read John Grisham.”

“Now who’s being picky about categories? To some people those are perfectly delightful vacation activities.”

“It’s the principle of the thing that I’m defending. If you enter this as a vacation day, then it looks like I’m taking time off to enjoy myself. It gets interpreted to mean that I’ve found some wonderful short-term alternative to my job. But that’s not the case at all. I’m staying home because my fundamental lack of interest in work today is overwhelming. That’s very different, and I think the difference should matter to somebody.”

“I can’t believe I’m arguing about principles with someone from cash management.”

“Easy there.”

“Maybe you should take this up with your supervisor.”

“He’s part of the problem. Why can’t you recognize that this is a very significant category for a lot of people? It gets at the very heart of man’s discontent.”

“And so you’ve taken it upon yourself to lead the revolution, is that it?”

“I’d prefer to think that I’m simply voicing a common sentiment. There’s no need to make this political.”

“You’re the first person who has ever tried to call in ‘uninterested.’”

“I pride myself on thinking outside the box.”

“We can’t invent a new category for every creative thinker in the company.”

“But my point is that if you offered this as a category, you’d get a lot of takers, and upper management would probably value that data. Why are you so opposed to this?”

“Because we’re all uninterested. There’s no getting better from uninterested. If we make that a valid excuse, why would anybody ever come to work?”

“Look, I’m not talking about a vague preference for something better. I’m talking about mind-numbing existential disinterest that incapacitates its victim.”

“You’re talking about boredom, and it’s a universal affliction.”

“No, that’s like equating appendicitis with indigestion.”

“Appendicitis that will get better by tomorrow.”

“Yes. It’s an acute condition.”

“I’m not buying it. If you’re not interested then you’re not interested. It doesn’t just come and go.”

“Sure it does. Look, do you know Bob Throckmorton, over in Accounting?”

“Yes, I know Bob.”

“He’s been undergoing chemo for what, five months?”

“That’s about right.”

“So some days he comes in and some days he doesn’t. But he pretty much feels like crap all the time, don’t you think?”

“I suppose. What’s your point?”

“My point is that my affliction is the same thing.”

“No it’s not.”

“It is. You said you can’t make ‘not interested’ a category because there’s no getting better from it, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but . . .”

“Well, my point is that we can have an underlying condition that keeps us from working some days but not others.”

“Like thyroid cancer.”

“Exactly. My lack of interest in work is like thyroid cancer. Some days I can fight it back enough to come in, some days I can’t.”

“So why don’t you just quit?”

“Is that what you say to Bob?”

“Oh good Lord. I’m going to code this as a personal errand day . . .”

“I’m not doing any errands . . .”

“. . . you are taking care of some things you’d like to do . . .”

“. . . I’m deliberately not doing errands . . .”

“. . . and the rest of the world calls that errand-running . . .”

“. . . such a bureaucrat about this . . .”

“ . . . and that’s all there is to it.”

“So you are going to deliberately lie about my reason for not coming to work?”

“No, I’m making a judgment call based on the information you’ve provided. It’s my prerogative as Time Desk Specialist.”

“Well congratulations, Mr. Time Desk Specialist. You’ve managed to give me a splitting headache.”

“Sick day.”

“Fine.” (Click.)

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6 comments on “Tony Woodlief, 6/3/2013
  1. Jan Priddy says:

    Fun. I wish I could call in disinterested, but I never am.

  2. Ava Hoffer says:

    Uninterested. I relate. Sometimes, anyway. I found myself smiling and often chuckling through this story. A classic. May we share this with others? I know quite a few people who’d like to call in uninterested – at least once in a while.

  3. Thanks for reading my work. Please do share the link to this story with others. Maybe we can spark a revolution in how HR departments record time…

  4. C Brace says:

    “Do you hear me not laughing at that?”

    My favorite part.
    Still following, still a fan.

    CB

  5. Roy says:

    About once every couple of years, I take what I call a “sick & tired” day. It’s similar to uninterested, but it gets classed as a sick day nonetheless.

  6. Susan Gerard says:

    Great story. Love the “sick day” ending. When we were in med school, we called them “mental health days”. Believe me, that’s what they were.

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