I used to watch hours of shark-centric programming on the Discovery Channel as a kid. The most exhilarating part was the dumping of the chum in to the shark-infested water. The sharks swarmed over the chum, transforming from silent, solitary harbingers of death to a churning mass of teeth and fins. It is those scenes I think of when the snack guy delivers the basket of Slim Jims, Pop Tarts and mini-bagels to the kitchenette area. Across the room heads pop up from cubicles. Everyone looks at each other, stares laden with meaning, and hisses, “Snacks!”
Within minutes, just as the sharks decimate all traces of the chum leavening nothing but errant fish scales swirling glumly like spent confetti, the basket is empty. Some days there will be an extra mini-Slim Jim. A cold, greasy reminder of the bounty once present in the wicker basket. The mini boxes of sugary cereal, the four packs of Oreos, the Cool Ranch Doritos; all are victim to the vicious appetites of the hourly employees.
A conversation overheard at 8:34am:
“Are the snacks out yet?”
“No, I haven’t heard the guy yet.”
“UGH. This is already not going to be a good day.”
“I know. I looked in the fridge and there isn’t even any cream cheese.”
“Is there butter at least?”
“No. But there is peanut butter by the toaster.”
“THERE ISN’T EVEN ANY BUTTER? I don’t want peanut butter on my bagel. Oh, this is not a good Monday.”
My job in a corporate cubicle farm is the first to offer free food of any kind on a regular basis. I have a lot of feelings working in a small box with a desk, but hunger is never one of them. Like the other workers, I have learned to turn one of my drawers in to a mini-pantry. Right now I have a small box of Fruit Loops, a box of Corn Pops, two Nature Valley Fruit & Nut bars, and a package of Strawberry Pop Tarts. The Pop Tarts are more of a challenge I’ve given myself than a treat to be enjoyed. They’re completely terrible for you; devoid of any nutritional value and amazingly delicious. My ability to have them in my drawer and not eat them is a way I assure myself that I do indeed have some control. I’m so unnerved working in a corporate palace of mediocrity that I’ve stooped to the power I have to deny myself Pop Tarts as a means to remind myself that I am in control of my life.
It would be safe to assume I am alone in imbuing the free snack food with existential meaning. There are several of my peers who enjoy their bounty daily, and then head down to the food trucks in the parking lot for lunch. One of the regular trucks is called Belly Bombz; another Rice Balls on Fire. The latter offers a lunch item called the “Mini Heart Attack,” which so far as I can tell is a slider-style hamburger with bacon and a fried egg on top. The combo comes with two, which I guess would equal a medium-sized heart attack – maybe medium-large if you count the cheese-fries and soda. I am in no way judging the consumers of the mini heart attack lunch combo – I totally understand why it would be appealing to escape from the reality of staring a computer screen doing menial bullshit all day by treating yourself to a few minutes of greasy pleasure. It is how a shark must feel when a bucket of chum is dumped nearby. For those few minutes it can stop slowly swimming, scanning regularly for food. When the chum gets dumped, it’s party time!
The tactic of keeping well-stocked corporate kitchens is smart in terms of keeping your employees at their desks more. However, by the time the trend trickled down to the corporation where I am employed, the element of making the snacks healthy was lost. Instead of having a cubicle zone full of happily typing, engaged employees, energized by whole grains and complete proteins, the snack eaters usually wind up napping sitting up at their desks around 3:30pm. So long as my Pop Tarts stay in my drawer and out of my stomach, I can be sure I will not turn in to an upright napper by virtue of working here. I didn’t go to college for no reason. This job is totally legitimate. I get letters from the CEO in my Outlook inbox every so often. I am not anonymous here. My job is important. I make a difference. I can make a difference. I will not eat those Pop Tarts.