Punctuation Point

A Spy in the House of Work

The people I work with are functional illiterates! but in this day and age, can punctuation be a reason to quit? Here's what happened: Three weeks ago, Spud announced at the Tuesday morning all-hands meeting that, effective immediately, PotatoWare offered a new benefit: a 60-day free membership at the health club downstairs. Everyone but me was thrilled. For one thing, I already have an off-hours membership - the kind used by mothers of young children, celebrities, and losers. That way, I don't have to see anyone I know wearing a hideous pair of bicycle shorts.

The day after the announcement, people with gym bags and bottles of Evian were allowed to sneak out early. I brought a bag stuffed with dirty laundry and left with them. But I couldn't make myself go to the club.

What I feared was seeing angelic Curly Mop, she of the English accent, the strappy sandals, and the perfume that smells like fresh linen, stomping out her miles on the treadmill in a faded sports bra and Lycra pedal pushers. I once had a thing for my friend Rhonda; then I saw her on the VersaClimber, wearing a unitard - which ruined my fondness both for Rhonda and for bratwurst. My only hope was that Curly Mop, because of her English heritage, would disdain any sport that didn't involve horses.

Soon everyone was at the club, impersonating Hans and Franz, flexing and growling. Meanwhile, I kept my distance - until Dennis, a thug from human resources, grabbed me one day and said, "Word to the wise. Spud's starting to talk pay raises. And he hasn't seen you down at the health club once."

I had no choice but to go. Out by the instruments of torture, I spotted Quimby. He was draped over the StairMaster, with the setting on "Sprint Up Everest," swinging his big head to whatever was on his Walkman, splattering the people on either side of him with streams of sweat.

I walked by quickly, reached the aerobics studio, and saw a yoga class in session. I glanced in, and who should be up front, leading the class, but Curly Mop herself in a simple, elegant black leotard?

I tiptoed in, grabbed a mat, and stretched out on the floor next to Spud. Perfectamundo! Then others in the class lay down on their back, pulled up one knee, and pressed it into their chest. This was great - until things got weird.

"This pose benefits the digestive tract," Curly Mop said softly, "which includes the descending colon, the transverse colon, and the semicolon. Exhale, ahhhh."

I started to snicker and then looked around to see if anyone else had caught it. Everyone was communing with the godhead. Beside me, Spud relaxed, exhaled, ahhhh. The class ended, and Curly Mop asked, "Any questions?"

"Yeah," I said, trying to keep a straight face. "What do you do for the hyphen?"

Curly Mop, fair English rose, blushed red. "Paw-done?"

"Your hyphen. What do you do for that? What poses?"

"Uh . . . " she said, embarrassed and confused.

Later, in the locker room, Spud was furious at me. He slapped on his deodorant as if he were in a barn-painting race. "That was completely out of line," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"You don't ask a woman about her hyphen. Especially in front of witnesses."

"Spud, man, it's punctuation."

"Call it what you want, but it'll come back to bite us. I don't need a sexual-harassment charge on top of everything else."

The next day, the club revoked our membership privileges. The yoga class had been dashed by my hyphen joke.

"Thanks a lot," said Dennis. "What were you thinking?"

"No comma."

This is episode eight in "Working Behind Enemy Lines," the Spy's continuing adventures in the new world of work.

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