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It’s the It, Stupid!

A Spy in the House of Work

For the first month, no one at PotatoWare could stop talking about it: the cigar, the neckties, the serious hair beneath the perky beret, the fact that there were 500 sexual details in a report written by a man whose father preached against women wearing Bermuda shorts, the fact that the leader of the free world apparently had a difficult time telling the difference between sex and, say, walking the dog.

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For the next month, no one could stop talking about how everyone was sick to death of talking about it: the cigar, the ties, the serious hair, blah, blah, blah. In time, complaining about the annual misery that is The Holidays began to monopolize more and more workplace conversations. In other words, we got over it.

Except Spud. Spud had it bad. He was listless one day, hyper the next. Something had to be done. I met Rhonda for a chai tea at Starbucks and told her about Spud. She laughed. “He’s got it too, huh?”

“Got it?”

“My boss has turned into an absolute cretin. It’s withdrawal. He’s so freaked by what happened that he’s given up his weekly Clintonic. He thinks that if the shareholders ever found out about it, he’d be out of a job faster than you can say ‘sexual McCarthyism.’ “

“Clintonic?”

“That’s it. Soothes the body, calms the mind, gets rid of executive stress. And the executive doesn’t even have to leave the office.”

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“You don’t mean . . .”

“With Altoids or without.”

I went back to my office, stunned. So that’s why Spud had always seemed like such a cool dude — it was his regular Clintonic! Then, as I went back to my cube, a thought hit me: If he was getting a Clintonic here in the office, somebody had to be giving it to him. But who? The remaining Topknot Twin? Curly Mop? Gina, the surly assistant? Charm? The plant-service lady?

I waited until the office cleared for lunch. Then I tiptoed over to Curly Mop’s desk and slid open the top drawer. There it was — the damning red-and-white box! “Curiously strong peppermints.” I’ll say! Hubba hubba.

Then I passed Topknot’s desk. Right on top was her red-and-white box. Gina also had one on her desk. I was pawing through Charm’s desk — Charm! who was supposed to be Quimby the suck-up’s suck-up — when I heard her voice behind me.

“Why are you going through my drawers?”

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I jumped. “I was just looking for a mint!”

“Oh, the Altoids. Spud was handing them out to everyone. You didn’t get a box?”

I found Spud slumped at his desk. He looked like just another pitted-out brainiac. “We all think,” I said, “that someone’s been eating you — I mean ‘something.’ You seem down. Have you had a, um, Clintonic lately?”

He bit his lower lip, and then he pounded on the desk. “Do you have any idea why I bothered founding PotatoWare? Do you know the motivating factor of every smart but ugly guy since the beginning of time?”

“I couldn’t guess.”

“It’s the babes. There will be no more babes.” He sounded like a heartbroken 12-year-old boy.

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“C’mon, you’ll date.”

“Who wants to date?” He spat the word out as if it left a, um, bad taste in his mouth. “If I wanted to date, I wouldn’t have founded my own company, would I? Why do you think that I have an office with a locking door and you have a cubicle?”

“I see your point.”

“It’s not the presidency that’s suffered from all of this. It’s the lives of guys like me. Close the door on your way out! On second thought, forget about it.”

This is episode 10 in “Working Behind Enemy Lines,” the Spy’s continuing adventures in the new world of work.

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