Thursday, April 10, 2008

Secretaries: Office espionage in action

When people ask me about the three jobs I have, they tend to sound a little disappointed to find out that I spend most of my time as a secretary. "Oh," they say, "that's... nice." Actually, it is nice. I am in school and working as a TA and an RA to exercise my mind. Being a secretary
is for making money, meeting people I wouldn't otherwise, and enjoying myself.

The office that I work in is no exception. There are professors with diverse backgrounds and opinions and a wide range of very interesting students that come in. One of my trained-monkey tasks as a secretary is handing back papers from a large, swinging cabinet that locks at night.
This allows me a great number of interactions with students. Many have distinct and inventive form for requesting a paper. Some examples are included below.

  • "Paper. P*** 110. TA: Ashley. Codename: Vladimir Putin." No greeting. No pause for breath.
  • "Uh... (looks around)... I uh ... need to like, pick up a paper? Or something? Where do I... do that?"
One of my favorites was yesterday - a delightful student with an interesting (but very American) lilt to his speech. "Good afternoon! I have been informed that it appears you have one of my papers! I would like to request it back." As if I had accidentally or even perhaps maliciously confiscated it from his professor. Sadly, his paper was not there and I had to console him with the tact of a doctor giving bad news. "I know... I'm sorry. You need it for your final draft, I understand.  I'm afraid... it's DOA. I mean MIA." "That's quite alright, no worries at all. Have a wonderful day!" Would that all students were as cheerful as he.

To most people, secretaries are an invisible part of the landscape. This means that we are party to all sorts of information we oughtn't know. For instance, CB has a full-tuition scholarship to BYU's law school. She said this loudly and directly in front of me to PS, and was shocked when I repeated it to her later. She was maybe a foot away from where I sit. A lot of it is stuff I really shouldn't know, and hence refuse to post on a website. It's interesting. I feel like an anthropologist who's gone native studying the military - I'm involved. i keep my ear to the wire.

Another highlight of the job is finding random artifacts of academic life. At times it's an orphaned paper. At times a cell phone, book, or charger of sorts. Today is was a green folder with slightly faded edges - used, but cared for. I cracked it open and found a business card tucked in some professional-looking slits in the pocket. The name read L*** ******, the college advisor. Realizing after a slow moment (I work at 8am... it takes a while to rev up the ol' braingine) that it didn't belong to her, I started rifling. It feels so natural but obviously voyeuristic to do... but I love it. I think you learn a lot about people by the things they keep around, especially in such a consumeristic society. Most of his things were fairly predictable - transcript, MAP, a list of things one needs for 
whatever government military force he's involved in. But there was one gem. 
A dungeons and dragons scorecard. I felt a little guilty after Elder Wirthlin's 
talk in conference on people feeling welcome and accepted. 

But I loved it. Here was this tough guy in the military who plays dungeons &
dragons in his free time. I love finding quirky things out about people - things 
they love but don't share with others. I tried to share my discovery with my
boss, but she instead said that she used to play (what?! awesome! two in one
morning!) and that it was personal - I shouldn't be looking at it because I
already found his name. She was right, of course.

I wanted to put something in the email about it - we found your folder and, by the way, why did you choose unarmed attack instead of invisibility?

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