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Collar Me Brown

A Spy in the House of Work

Curly mop has replaced topknot two at the front desk. she has auburn curls and wears strappy black sandals. She’s British – or at least she puts on a killer British accent. I am in love. Problem: Like all progressive, product-free workplaces, PotatoWare is a flirt-free company. It’s had its erogenous zones surgically removed. I ask my friend Rhonda for advice.

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“Become a UPS driver,” she says. “All the women in my office have a thing for the UPS driver. He’s the only one left in the workplace who’s harassment-proof. The high point of my afternoon is when Rocco comes in.”

“You know your UPS guy’s name?”

“Rocco’s the only guy I know who goes to work and really works – I mean, instead of trying to pass off surfing the Web or ‘concepting’ as work. Real work is the new aphrodisiac.”

“Blue-collar work?”

“Brown collar, actually. The world is no longer divided into white collar and blue collar. It’s pink collar and brown collar. All you guys who sit around in front of your computers all day trying to look busy . . . “

“Don’t tell me.”

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” . . . you’re all just male pink-collar workers. Pink collars used to be secretaries. But computers have made secretaries of us all. We all have the secretarial esprit, at least. We sit at our desks and get big asses and spend most of our time pining for another job. Now the brown collars – the UPS driver, FedEx courier, all those delivery people with big calves and double-parking privileges – they know when they get up in the morning that they’ve got a job to do. A man’s job!”

I think of Curly Mop, who wears perfume that smells like clean laundry. This is serious.

Spud has been on the road most of the month, so the only one I have to fake out is Quimby, the ultimate suck-up. And Quimby’s so worried about a surprise raid from Spud that he hardly leaves his cubicle. So I spend an afternoon shadowing Rocco. The guy’s got it made. Free lattes from Starbucks, free Slurpees from 7-Eleven, free sandwiches from Subway. And Curly Mop? Rocco strode up to her desk, pushing that big dolly and wearing shorts and those fingerless gloves that make people look vaguely heavy-metal. Curly Mop cooed, “D’you have a package for me?” It’s disgusting. How do I get that kind of attention?

It can be a 10-year wait to become a UPS man (I checked – just out of curiosity). On a lark, I pop into my local Goodwill, and walk out in brown shorts and a brown short-sleeved shirt. I’m halfway down the block when a gaggle of admins comes out of Lotto-Donut-Pizza, waving and giggling. Grown women!

So I start bustling around the neighborhood with my rented dolly. The general manager of one company gives me hockey tickets – after he ran after me with a package that he’d forgotten to send out. (I tossed it in a dumpster, along with a phone number slipped to me by the girl with the pierced tongue at Cinnabon.) I am the Brown Ranger. I’m honest, dependable, and harassment-proof. I shout “Hey, babe” to the Kinko’s girl across the street.

But nothing virtual lasts forever. One day, I’m taking the shortcut through the alley behind the office, and a half-dozen men in brown block my way. They pummel me with their clipboard-shaped computers. In the melee, I recognize Fred Haymaker, who got me the job at Lotto-Donut-Pizza.

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“Fred! It’s me!”

“Get out of our territory,” he hisses.

“What do you mean?”

“There are already too many phony UPS guys working the neighborhood.”

“You guys aren’t UPS?”

“Nah! We met at a convention for guys who like to reenact Civil War battles.”

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At that moment, we hear the bleat of a horn, and look up to see Rocco behind the wheel of his big brown delivery truck, turning into the alley. We scatter like stray cats. He roars past and salutes.

This is episode seven in “Working Behind Enemy Lines,” the Spy’s continuing adventures in the new world of work.