Monday, December 17, 2012

Beeps on Break

Every two hours or so, I get a half-hour break at work.

Most of my coworkers go to one of the break rooms, where they get some food, watch TV, or do God-knows-what on their phones. 

For a few months, I did the same.  But after a while, I realized that I was wasting time.  Aside from getting food, my break-time was spent poorly, either watching a rerun of SportsCenter or reading Facebook status updates that don't really matter*.

*I post Facebook status updates that don't really matter all the time, so don't take it the wrong way if you happen to be someone who does this**.

**You are.

During a typical eight-hour shift, I am on break for a total of two hours, which is a lot of time to be wasting.

So I started bringing books to work.  I have a whole shelf of them at home, never read them, yet continue buying them.  Aside from power failures, I usually lack the motivation to read, as it is much more physically taxing than watching TV, what with the holding of the book and flipping of the pages.  Plus, using a bookmark to hold my spot is a much more laborious task than hitting a pause button.

It's good for me to actually have some time in my day where reading a book is literally the most productive thing that I can accomplish.

It is also a great way for me to escape, both mentally and physically.  Mentally, I can escape into a book instead of thinking about how much time is left on my shift, how much money I am expecting to make that night, or any other kind of work-related drama.

Physically, I escape by sitting in a chair in the back corner of the locker room.

It sounds pathetically antisocial and sad, I know.

But I am one of those easily-distracted readers that can't concentrate in a break room that contains televisions and people.  Sure, I might miss out on some juicy gossip or a tremendous story, but anything truly groundbreaking or worthwhile rarely surfaces.

Last week, I passed through the break room on my way to the adjacent locker room.  As I walked through the empty room, I took a moment to turn the volume on the TVs all the way down to zero.  This is a selfish trick that I have employed on many occasions, since the TVs can still be heard from the locker room if they are turned up high enough.

The important part of the trick is not to hit the "mute" button and silence the television in one shot, but to bring the sound to a slow death at the hands of the "volume down" button.  That way, someone who wanders into the break room has to actually be interested in watching something, and when they hit the "volume up" button, they will hopefully only turn it to the minimum-needed level of sound.  Or maybe their finger will get tired.

After turning down the volume, I entered the locker room and retrieved my book out of my locker.  I moved a chair to "my spot," a corner all the way in the back of the locker room and as far away from any potential noise pollution as possible.

I angled a chair so that I could put my feet up on one of the benches, and I cozied up, ready to enjoy a few pages in the silence that I had created, a silence that would make libraries jealous.

I opened my book and began reading the words, letting them massage my brain.  I let out a deep sigh, accompanied by a slight smile, perhaps my first smile of the day.

And then he came in.

A coworker who I don't know too well.  Probably 40-50 years old.  He rummaged through his locker, and then plopped down in a chair.  Then he put his feet up on the other end of the bench so that he was a mirror image of me (except for the fact that he was holding an electronic device instead of a book (and twenty years older (and 100 pounds heavier))).

He didn't say a word.  I assumed it was because he didn't want to disturb me.  And, for a moment, I thought that was nice.

But then the beeping began.

Whatever he was holding in his hands was making noises.  It was some sort of game.  Beep, beep, beep, it went.  Over and over again, accompanied by shrill chirps.  The sound effects were basic, and predated anything you'd hear from modern-day games.

And it was loud.  This device, whatever it was, did not come with a volume control, apparently.  That, or he simply didn't care to turn it down.

The sound effects weren't the worst part, though.  The physical buttons of the game clicked distinctly in a frenzied version of Morse code that most likely said, "You will not read your book, you will not read your book" over and over.  Imagine the world's oldest cell phone, with large, sticky buttons.  

If you can't quite imagine what this guy's game sounded like, I took the liberty of recording it (Listen closely at the end for the sound of him hiccuping):

The Sounds of Early Video Games     © The Annoying Guy At Work

Note: Someday, I will have the wherewithal to record something important in the heat of the moment.  But for now, these are the kinds of things I think to document.

It went on like this for a while, with him playing his game and with me staring at my book.  After a few minutes, I heard someone opening their locker around the corner.  My bench-buddy addressed him: "Hey Jim, do you remember Mattel Football?"

"Nah," replied Jim.  Then, "What is it?"

"It is one of those handheld games that came out before any of the systems.  It doesn't even have players, just dots."

"Oh, cool," offered Jim.  Then, "Goodnight."

It became apparent to me that he had whipped out the game, not because he wanted to play it during his break, but because he wanted to show it off.  Perhaps he found it at a yard sale or had purchased it on eBay.  And he had been sitting there across from me, playing the game at maximum volume, waiting for me to ask, "Whatcha got there buddy?"

But in my blinding fury, I had forgotten to ask.  And when I didn't ask, he tried to get Jim (or anyone else who walked into the locker room) to notice his amazing taste in retro video games.

Jim didn't give a shit, though, as evidenced by the fact that I never saw Jim's face.  He didn't even care enough to walk over and look.

I kinda felt bad for my locker roommate at that moment.  It reminded me of the time, back in middle school, when nobody noticed that I got my braces removed.  Even when I smiled, like, really hard.

I was going to humor him by asking a question like "Where'd you get that game?" or "How many levels does that game have?"  But then I looked down at the book in my lap and saw that I hadn't even flipped the page once, and it made me want to ask him a different question like "Did you play that game when you were a child and when I wasn't even close to being born yet?" or "Did you know that technology has advanced so far that video games no longer rely on dots to represent football players?" or "Have you ever heard of a 'mute' button?" or "Did you know that you're a piece of shit?"

But then I thought it would be better just to leave it alone.  So I put my bookmark back to where it had been in the beginning of my break, put my book into my locker, and went back to work.

At least I got a blog post out of it.  And a really annoying audio recording.

Beep beep beep.  I win.

-Youngman Brown

So annoying.


  1. Is it weird that stories like this make me feel really sad and uncomfortable? I mean...I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like your co-worker if I knew him in real life...and that makes me feel worse. I have a highly developed sense of useless guilt.

  2. Wow, I would have been really grumpy with him - I am sometimes with my co-workers. if I want to read I just say "Sorry I am just in a middle of a book", then they go away.

    But seriously that looks and sounds annoying!!

  3. I don't know what exactly he was expecting. "Yeah, sick game bro, games these days with their sounds and their graphics, so gheeeey. I love moving dots and shrill beeps that sound like a fax machine getting raped. And that stale yellow color on the handheld just POPS."

  4. Earplugs? Sound reducing headphones? Take a break in your car weather permitting? I used to do that.

  5. I would've grabbed it, crushed it under my heel then smiled at him and said, "I love how quiet it is in here. Don't you?"

    1. YES! That's what I would have done. In my head, anyway. Canadians don't actually do things like that in real life. We just sit and seethe.

      You can always tell someone who doesn't read by their complete inability to grasp that holding a book implies that you might actually be busy absorbing what's in it, and therefore uninterested in inane chit-chat.

  6. Wow. Just wow. That's only a notch below the person who seeing you reading and still tries to talk to you and doesn't get the hint when you answer in short one word responses then look back down at the book. People these days. I'd call him an ill educated whippersnapper, but dude should have known better!

  7. "Twenty years older and 100 pounds heavier" - oh you're such a bitch, Youngman.

    Great story well-told. And I loved the sound-effects - reminded me of a heart monitor in hospital (an ominous suggestion for someone over-weight and in his 50s!).

  8. I can read through anything, often do it while watching tv, so that part of your story I can't relate to, but I do like to be alone when I have time at work, just because I need a break from people, much as I love them. And I can't stand it when someone comes ambling over and interrupts me if I'm reading. But even if that guy's game hadn't made noise, just the fact that he plopped down by you is annoying.

    And kudos for your brilliance in lowering the volume, rather than muting. That is some slick thinking there, mister!

  9. I like the sound of silence.


  10. Great way to turn a weakness into a strong point. Record more, I bet even your dullest ones have funny quirks.

  11. "What you reading?"
    "Is that a good book?"
    "Oh, is that one of those... Kindle thingys?"
    "I'm not bothering you, am I?"

    For some reason, a book is an invitaiton to be disturbed. These days I hide in my cubicle to read.

  12. I read on my breaks too so I have to block the people talking. If they get really loud I put earbuds in and listen to music while I read. Funny how I can read through music but not through people talking. Plus, since the open book (kindle) doesn't deter people from talking to me, the headphones usually do.

    As for the beep, beep, beep. I cussed out a guy at work in the bathroom. I was reading (yes, I take my Kindle in there, I'm not ashamed) and he was playing a game on his phone with the sound. I yelled at him to mute the damn thing.

  13. I read this entire blog post hoping you would share what you were reading, but you never did. Maybe you are saving that for the next post!

    Anyway, fight fire with fire! Breathe heavy and get up and march away from the locker room. Sure, he'll think you're a jerk, but he won't be back...

    P.S. You might not want to take advice form me. No one at work likes me.

  14. I started going to my car during my lunch for this exact reason. People stare at me when they walk by, but I get my best reading done all snuggled in my backseat :)

  15. I'm the type of person who gets distracted from reading by the slightest of whispers which is pretty lame because I do most of my reading on the train. I'd lose my mind if I was in the room with that guy. (Oh, and fun note, the Seinfield episode that was on yesterday had the Mattel Football game in it. I don't know why I felt the need to say that).

  16. At first I thought it was funny how the older dude was using a kindle, when the young dude was reading a book. With, like, pages and shit. And then it turns out he's playing a video game from the 1900's. Jokes on me... ... ... or is it?

  17. Those things were loud. I was never very good at them. I was pretty good at the book thingies though.

  18. Beep. Beep. You did win and I bet those libraries are so jealous of your silence!

  19. This guy is an ass. Seriously, how rude. Second, do you SEE that thing?! I wouldn't even know how to pretend play it. I'm all for retro (hello Atari!) but that thing looks like the FIRST calculator. Some people have zero social etiquette.


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