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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sign of the times

In the days and weeks after a big tragedy - most recently the Virginia Tech massacre - people are on edge. It's only natural.

So you can understand my chagrin about an hour ago, when I heard an unfamiliar voice in the newsroom yell out, "Which way is the publisher's office?" This wasn't a mousy voice. It was loud, confident even, like the person behind it was on a mission. Or maybe I'm just paranoid.

I heard in my mind that cartoonish screeching-to-a-halt sound, my fingers lifted themselves off my keyboard, I screwed up my face and made that "ruh?" sound that Scooby Doo used to make when he was confused or facing a conundrum.

Then I made eye contact with a colleague whose desk is across from mine. And the look on his face said that he'd heard it - the question, not the cartoon screeching sound - too.

OK, laugh if you must, but my thoughts went in this order: "Disgruntled postal worker! No wait, this isn't the post office. Disgruntled reporter! Pissed off reporter! Reporter, who, like Milton Waddams, the red stapler dude in Office Space, feels like he's been kicked around! Crap! We're about to get lit up and I'm working on a really good story!"

Seriously, all those thoughts flashed through my mind in about 5.3 seconds. I'm guessing at the point-three. But it was close.

I don't think I would've dove under my desk. But I'm no hero. So I'm not ruling it out.

Fortunately, it didn't come down to that. A few seconds later I saw the source of the voice: a young woman, pushing some sort of delivery cart. She was lost. Her question was what it was. She just wanted to find the publisher's office, where she apparently had a harmless delivery to make.

A minute or so later my colleague across the way and I shared a nervous laugh. He observed that someone - perhaps several someones - had quickly pointed her in the right direction....away from all of us. Hmmm.

Just like the fat guy looking at himself in one of those beautifying distortion mirrors at the carnival, I picture myself pointing my imagined disgruntled-postal-reporter-person into a broom closet, slamming the door shut, and bracing it with a heavy filing cabinet, thus saving the day.

In reality, I probably would have hidden under my desk....along with everyone else.

But how crazy is it that so much nuttiness is going on in the world that a person asking what turned out to be a perfectly innocent question can put us on edge?

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  • Just like after 9/11 people were the same way. I find myself on hyper alert after these tragedies.

    I was a nervous wreck during the white powder scare.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 4:35 PM  

  • Humans are reactionary, especially when it comes to danger, real or perceived. I think its instinctive. Old cliches like "Better safe than sorry." are around for a reason!

    By Blogger Lee, at 4:48 PM  

  • Good. So Hammer and Lee, you would have considered diving under your desks too. Glad I'm not alone there.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 4:51 PM  

  • Diving under my desk? No. Reaching for my 45? Yes.

    By Anonymous og, at 6:02 PM  

  • I didn't have a weapon on me, Og, unless you count a dull pair of scissors and an inkpen that had run dry. And for those bosses who might be reading this, no worries. I'm sane. I know the rules. No weapons at work for me, unless you count my overweight backpack as a weapon.

    In theory Og, If I'd had my own though I like to think I would have posted up behind the big pillar next to my desk and waited for a shot, so to speak.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 7:22 PM  

  • Hey, when it comes to Fight or Flight, I'll choose flight any day. There's no shame in hiding the hide.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 7:30 PM  

  • I work for a newspaper too and we seem to piss off at least one person a day. I'm always afraid that some nutjob is going walk into our office and blow us all away

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 9:23 PM  

  • Ain't life grand, in the 21st century?

    By Blogger Fathairybastard, at 12:56 AM  

  • What makes it worse, is that should you truly be frightened for your life and speak up for the safety of you and others... you will get sued
    ... civil rights, hate words, etc etc etc.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 1:07 AM  

  • great tragicomedy here. funny because there was no real danger but sad because of what it's come to.

    By Blogger Claudia, at 11:23 AM  

  • With all these crazies walking around the streets, I guess you can never be too careful nowadays, I guess. Better to listen to your instincts and be ready just in case.

    By Anonymous dating dummy, at 1:11 PM  

  • I tend to be a bit on alert all the time; I got "Sunday-punched" too many times in my teens. It is one of the reasons I never use earphones to listen to music; it makes me too nervous when I cannot hear my environment. Just call me paranoid, I guess.

    By Blogger BobG, at 8:31 PM  

  • its because you are human, james. simple as that. no one is expecting you to be jaded and cool your entire life. times where senseless voilence rocks us can cause us to question everything even an innocent question. maybe if she would have screamed out "i have a deliver for the publisher's office can someone point me in the right direction?" ya'll would have just pointed and moved on. but she was just too innocent to realize she freaked you guys out.

    its cool. sometimes you just gotta take a deep breath.

    By Blogger Yas, at 1:56 PM  

  • We must all be manufacturing excessive amounts of adrenaline these days, which can't be healthy.

    I'm glad it was only a delivery person, and not a Deliverance.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 2:59 PM  

  • You read my mind. I would have definitely been eyeing the space under the desk!

    By Blogger dennis, at 7:34 PM  

  • What about the kid who was arrested for writing a violent essay for a senior writing assignment?

    I'm torn on the issue. Seems like the kid should've definitely been talked to by school counselors BEFORE being arrested...

    Still, we're I think we're all a bit on edge after we catch word of any violent crime. Your response from normal, I think.

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 9:14 PM  

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