ARLINGTON, Va. In this suburb of Washington, D.C., office parks are plentiful, a fact that Bob Zamora, an office services worker, knows quite well. “If I get fired here, I can just move on to the next defense contractor down the road,” he says to Ellen Klumwalt and Cindy Lee Crosley, two data entry clerks who blow cigarette smoke into the early autumn breeze.
Zamora doesn’t join them in their nicotine break, however, because he’s out here for a different reason. “They say I’m too bitter,” he says, “and that I need to get out every once in a while. You’d be bitter too if you had to use a copy machine that jams any time you try to feed more than twenty sheets into it.”
Zamora is one of a new breed of office exiles, sarcastic office wags who are increasingly being forced to stand outside the entrances to businesses where they mingle with society’s former outcasts of the moment; tobacco addicts forced into the fresh air due to “No Smoking” policies.
“We spent a lot of money creating a congenial space where clients wouldn’t smell people puffing on cigarettes and cigars,” says Eldon Furnwell, Zamora’s immediate supervisor. “An employee’s share of our group health premium goes down if he stops smoking, so we don’t have as many smokers as we used to and we need to recapture our investment.”
Zamora and his aging, underemployed colleagues in the copy center of Systemphonotactronics, a technology firm that does something involving computers or something, were accordingly told to go outside to the former smoking area for twice-daily “attitude breaks.” “They’ll probably use this as an excuse not to give us raises,” says Ron Threlkeld, who operates a velo-binding machine. “Or maybe take away our personal days,” says his friend Steve Glusz. “Forget about the Thanksgiving turkeys,” adds Mike Clumley, who handles a tool that removes large staples.
Zamora has tried to kick his sarcasm habit, but over-the-counter products didn’t work. “I tried the Happiness Patch,” an externally-applied remedy that allows time-release Prozac to enter the bloodstream during the workday. “That went over like a pregnant pole-vaulter,” he says as his colleagues snicker.
So for now he is relegated to a sort of leper’s colony where the air, like the repartee, is caustic.
“Where’d you get that shirt?” he asks Clumley, who is wearing a Creamsicle-colored short-sleeved shirt with thick-and-thin stripes made from an unidentifiable petroleum-based fabric. “A Gladys Knight and the Pips garage sale, or a T.G.I. Friday’s awning?”