family history and genealogy

Return to Officeland

Calgary, Alberta at dawn looking south from Crescent Road. Photo by Chuck Szmurlo. Wikimedia Commons.


My hiatus after being laid off in June didn’t last long. As soon as the old job ended, I landed a small contract, editing reports for a structural engineering company. It was only part-time, and I worked from home.

Then I picked up a new contract in downtown Calgary, editing reports for a major energy company. This job naturally brought about my return to officeland.

All things considered, the new gig has been a positive development. Working at home is relaxing, but it’s also a risky enterprise, because it blurs the lines between your professional self and your private one. I suppose anyone who carries a corporate Blackberry has a similar problem. Once you practice those two roles in the same space, you’re never completely off duty. Working from home is a lot like living at work.

The downtown contract restores the traditional work-home boundary because I go to an office every day. Working downtown is relatively new for me, and so is the oil and gas business. Together, these two factors are opening my eyes to things I’ve never seen before.

There is a sleekness and opulence to this setting, like some well-appointed outpost of imperium. The technology is advanced, giving the office a futuristic sheen. I feel like I’m on a spaceship. I can’t testify as to every corner of the business, but the elevators and washrooms are definitely first rate.

Those wood-paneled cars rise and fall as if on cushions of air, while a tiny monitor in one corner of the car keeps you apprised of all the latest goings-on in business and the economy. On reaching your destination, this deluxe vehicle glides silently to a stop, sparing you that detestable lurching sensation in the pit of your stomach.

The washrooms, too, are works of art.  The floors are made of polished granite, which gleams in the mellow light. One wall supports a row of sleek, minimalist urinals equipped with the latest in water-saving technology.

The sinks are also wondrous. Stick your hand under the faucet, and a thin stream trickles over your wrist. Hold your hand under the soap dispenser, and a pearly white drop of emollient lands in your palm, like the milt of some ecstatic fish.

I’m less enamored of the air conditioning, which blasts out cold air regardless of the prevailing conditions. There were some dark, rainy days when I first started, when the temperature outside hovered at around 6° C. An endless bank of these air conditioning units snaked around the perimeter of the office, spewing icy breath from their louvered grilles. To stay warm, I wore my coat all day. But this excess of climate control is nothing new. Every office I’ve ever worked in has been air conditioned to death.

The people in the office are as sleek as the setting they inhabit. I can’t detect a whiff of discontent. Sartorial standards downtown are also a cut above what you see in the suburbs. The women wear stylish office ensembles, their hair neatly done. We men wear dress shirts open at the collar and expressions of studied composure.

The business itself is klunky and bureaucratic. It took several days to get a badge that allowed me to enter the premises. It took a few more weeks to get a vendor ID, which is the thing that let me actually work and get paid. Without a vendor ID, I lacked, for a time, all the tools of modern communication—telephone, computer, network access, and email.

Deprived of this enabling technology, I struggled at first to make headway. I read hard copy drafts and annotated the margins, but I couldn’t really get much done. Worse, this project was still ramping up, and most of the material I was supposed to edit wasn’t  ready anyway.

The initial slackness in my day encouraged wool-gathering, day dreaming, and coffee drinking, the sort of loopy, idle habits a job is supposed to dispel. My private self emerged just when it was supposed to be contained. Those first few days in officeland brought me full circle: instead of working at home, I ended up living at work.

© 2012 – 2014, Andy Kubrin. All rights reserved.


  1. Ancestry Worship Genealogy

    Hi Andy. Greetings from Los Angeles. I was at the Skirball Women Hold Up Half the Sky exhbibit yesterday and afterwards met your mom. We had one of those rare wonderful converations with a stranger. She told me about you and your blog. I’d like to link to your advice on interviewing for my genealogy blog. I too am a writer.

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