This isn’t the first office I’ve flattened my ass in, but the rules among the beasts never change—you need to think fast, never abandon food, and bared gums are a clear sign of aggression. You have to be a hunter, a cutthroat with a ragged blade and thick merciless ichor in your veins for when the first email goes out. Everyone’s little workstation chimes in staccato, “Hey everyone. There’s leftover food from the conference in the break-room, go get it.” The air starts to immediately stink, pheromones and barbarous hunger scratch at every door, and within only a beat or two, the stampede begins.
Red and yellow sirens blast from all corners of the office building, the brave ones stuffing letter openers in their teeth and heading into the fray, the cowards locking their doors and weeping into their kneecaps. Personally, I try to keep inside of my own office, but I leave the door open in case I can claw the achilles of a weaker part of the passing herd, then drag them in and tie them up under my desk, possibly for use as a hostage, or if things turn dark, nutrition. Any given day of the month I’m at full battle readiness, always six or seven seconds from wrapping my belt around my knuckles to bob and weave my way to the break-room—someone had a birthday, and I’m ready to trade concussions for cream cheese frosting.
The interns are the first wave to deal with. They’re young, they’re fast, and always terribly hungry for anything that can be converted into clean piss, a YouTube video, cheap weed, or a boner. They’ve got these fresh little teeth, and they’re never fed, so when the pastel workers with our khaki colored office socks display weakness, they’ll pounce on anything that moves, leaving behind only a ribcage and the smell of heavy deodorant. You can usually throw a net to catch the stragglers, but the foremost of the intern pack must be dealt with via subterfuge and cunning, these young day walkers have an incredible sense of smell and check their email with relentless frequency. One tactic is to send a quick and distracting follow-up email, since, as they’ll already be up and en-route to the chow, their eyes are glazed and only find comfort when affixed to a tiny screen, and on this tiny screen they’ll read something like, “Uh, nope, no food in the break-room. It’s totally all gone now, like, all of it. Everything.” You’ll get, at best, a few laborious and middle-aged steps closer to the leftover taco fixings, but making it back to your desk without a patch or two missing from your scalp is going to require thicker calves, and knowing young people these days, fire.
You must be a hunter, a veteran of office escape routes, you must wear green and grow a beard, and you must time your fridge visits carefully. For those of us in the jungles of the modern office, having our food missing even from the sanctity of the communal refrigerator isn’t so much of a surprise as it is a challenge. Once you open the fridge and notice your meal is missing, the hackles go up, that stripe of hair down your spine rises, and you start stamping and huffing at the ground, stirring up the scent and hunting for prey. Tie loosened and back hunched, you paw and slobber around the floor, poking your snout and grumbling while you sniff people’s papers, wetting them with your nose while they try to remain absolutely still. Eventually you come across the right office. It’s Jeremy, again. He immediately knows why you’re here, and you both start growling at the same time, gums bared and hands formed into claws, diving across the room to settle the matter like beasts. All that’s left behind is Jeremy in a coma, and you with the five dollar Starbucks gift card he was saving for that afternoon.
The exhausted parent feels little need to obey the Unified Rules of Abandoned Office Food, nor do they feel guilt, pity, remorse, or mercy. If there’s leftover slop from some company function, the exhausted parent is the first to start squirreling it away, disguising the meal in a paper bag, or dozens of them, like they were his lunches all along. He’ll reheat and consume this leftover protein for weeks, even months, as expiration dates stopped worrying him the first time his toddler sneezed a crayon into the roast. Technically, his actions are fair play under the Unified Rules of Abandoned Office Food, specifically, charter rule number six. Let’s recount:
Rule 1.) Any food left in a communal office area (e.g. The Kitchen, The Break-Room, The Copy Room) for more than seven minutes becomes Fair Game under the clauses and specifics outlined under the Unified Rules of Abandoned Office Food. The room which houses the food has now become a “fair zone,” or as it’s known in some offices, a “kill box.”
Rule 2.) Consumables that have been clearly labeled with a Worker name are removed from Fair Play for three minutes (in addition to the initial seven), and after the time has expired, any Workers staking claim to the food must loudly announce “Fair Play, Fair Play, this food comes claimed today,” and then spit on the floor. If no other Workers are identified by call-back, noise, or pheromone discharge, the Unified Rules resume.
Rule 3.) When two or more Workers are engaged in blood sport, the victor is determined by who can make it to a safe zone (e.g. Personal Office, Cubicle, Off-Site Location) and remain conscious for more than ten minutes after arrival. Consciousness can be proven with either a voicemail or an Outlook meeting invite, and if more than two allied Workers respond, the unified rules dictate that the food is now claimed and Fair Play combat ends. Evisceration with a plastic butter knife from the local coffee shop, shattering of the occipital bone with a penny-loafer, or forced organ prolapse are examples of Fair Play combat. Note: Restrooms are not considered safe zones, and the fallen corpse of a Worker can be considered food, and its consumption must adhere to Fair Play whether it’s been announced or abandoned.
Rule 4.) Soup, vegetable parts, and condiments are not considered abandoned food, or Fair Play. It’s nasty, learn to close the fucking cabinet doors and throw your garbage in the trash instead of leaving it all over the counters, Scott.
Rule 5.) If, in response to the initial food announcement email, Workers are currently engaged in other eating rituals in an otherwise newly identified Combat Zone, they are to be parlayed into Fair Play combat only after they’ve made no audible concession to combat. Concession is generally accepted by removing your belt, shoes, and tie, then raising both hands into the air and exclaiming, “I have no stake or claim. I have no stake or claim. This microwave pasta is mine, but the Qdoba and I have no quarrel. The Qdoba and I have no quarrel.” Your belt, shoes, tie, and any other personal belongings left behind during Fair Play are now considered Spoils of the Office.
Rule 6.) The victor for any claimed food may then store this food in a communal zone, indefinitely, as the Spoils of the Office. The food must be repurposed by reheating it over and over again, occasionally mixing in other grains or proteins that have been brought from home, in bulk. For example, the P.F. Chang’s you stole from the holiday party can be then mixed with instant-rice or some nasty Korean oatmeal-looking stuff, brought from home, and slowly eaten well into the summer months. We all know it was you, Bernie, and that goddamn corn soup shit you keep reheating is vile. The Spoils of the Office are off limits, unless they are abandoned, or placed out in a Combat Zone for Fair Play.
Rule 7.) Captured interns may be kept as hostages or traded during Fair Play, but the Unified Rules of Abandoned Office Food prohibit them from abuse or harm (unless they personally engage in Fair Play combat), and any violation of this charter rule will require trial and punishment via office tribunal, to be held in the first available conference room. Hysterical or manic interns may be slapped with an open palm across the face, or verbally berated with discouraging language, like, “You are an intern, and therefore you are not people. You will behave, you will remain silent, and you will perform work I will then take credit for.”
Rule 8.) If any of the Unified Rules of Abandoned Office Food are called into question, an office tribunal must be formed. The office tribunal must consist of three former Office Food Champions, and four other Workers chosen by either a random name draw, or by the Ritual of the Coffee Water. If any of the Workers are too injured to speak from the results of the Ritual of the Coffee Water, then new Workers must be selected from the draw or ritual. The decisions of the office tribunal are final, and may only be challenged by death-decision Fair Play blood sport, or a words-per-minute typing contest.
This is how it must work. The modern office is a maddening arena of professional things happening over the underbelly of a communal space run by children. I’d like to live in a world where we wouldn’t require the Unified Rules of Abandoned Office Food, but I’d also like to live in a world where people close doors, pick up trash, and keep from littering the restroom floor with paper towels, like we’re filthy beasts roaming a public park or a pack of divorcees at a John Mayer concert. May the rules guide us, may the rules define us, and if you steal my food again, Jeremy, I’m going to throw your shoes in the toilet.
Music in this episode:
Manuele Atzeni – The Death With Modugno