The Freebie List a.k.a. My Humps a.k.a. Celebrity F*ck List
Choose Your Own Adventure

The Cube Dweller's Manifesto

I used to write for a friend's web mag, Clark Schpiell Productions. This piece was published there October 27, 2003. I have edited a few minor errors and changed an outdated reference to music. Current and future employers, please note that this is satire.

1 company, 3 years, 4 titles, 6 cubicles

"It's not just the stench of stale cigarettes," I type into the tiny IM window discreetly hidden in the bottom corner of my screen. "It is the constant, unsolicited, inane chatter."

"Kill her," the response reads. "Stab her in the neck with a pen."

"Off to a mtg. Maybe when I get back."

I grab my pad and pen and head to a conference room on the other side of the building. My mind is filled with the image of a smoked leather face contorted above a jutting Pentel fine point.


Who hasn't entertained thoughts of running over a co-worker in the parking lot, or tried to rig a keyboard tray to explode? The growing expanse of tiny, three-walled cubes in my building is continually populated with those who don't mind discussing, in loud voices, the status of the Pap smear, the teenage daughter's brush with the law, how the weekend grout project went, and what sort of growth turns green then gray and hurts to the touch.

How can we keep the annoying ones, the self-centered ones, the brown-nosing, ass-kissing, stab-you-in-the-back-for-your stapler ones from multiplying if we allow them to roam among us without retribution? I am certain that revenge can be had without the accompanying orange jumpsuit and shackles.

Rise up, my silent co-workers. Defend your space, your possessions, your right to breathe untainted, unscented air.

How, you ask? How can I defend myself against this insidious evil that knows no boundaries, that is not hindered by the cube wall? How do I prevail against the intrusive chatter, stupid questions, and false pleasantries that assault me even when I have my headphones on?

It is possible to defend yourself against those who would ignore the rules of etiquette that have become an integral part of the life of the cube dweller. Fear not those who dare to speak to you over the volume of your iPod. Fear not those who would enter your cube without asking, who would look over your shoulder as you type, who would invite themselves to lunch. Fear not, my brothers and sisters, those who would perfume themselves in their cubicles, who would cook fish in a communal microwave, and who would steal your coveted binder clips. We shall prevail!

With a three-phase campaign, we can reclaim our space, and our peace of mind, before the end of the fiscal year.

Phase One: The Snub

Why does the offender dare to speak to you? Because you are not rude, as the offender is. You will answer the offender politely. The tiny sigh you emit at yet another interruption is no defense against the chronic offender. The sigh is not heard. The sigh is useless.

There is a more effective weapon available: The Snub. It will be difficult to use at first. The Snub takes practice, skill. It will go against your very nature to use this weapon, yet it will appeal to the deep, hidden desires of your subconscious.

When the offender speaks to you without being spoken to, you ignore her. When the offender asks to borrow an item from your desk, you tell him no. When the offender tries to tag along for lunch, you say to her that there is no room in your car. When the offender tries to make a joke, you will not laugh or smile.

At no time will you establish eye contact with the offender. The offender's emails shall be deleted without being read.

Surely that's going too far, you say. What if the email is work-related?

Is it ever? Is the email not always about a sick child who needs your prayers? You must have faith in the Snub.

The Snub will free you from having to pretend to be nice. The offender's attacks will lessen in severity and frequency. The offender will begin to doubt his own popularity and likability. The offender is beginning to weaken and we will take advantage of this weakness by escalating to Phase Two.

Phase Two: Subterfuge

While the offender is weak, we will attack with added force. However, the offender must not know that we are fully engaged in battle. If you are alone in your fight, you will need to be even more subtle in your acts of Subterfuge.

You will neglect to invite the offender to meetings, forget to include the offender in emails. When the offender asks about it, you will feign innocence, but do not apologize. We are done pretending to be nice!

You will forget to send important documents to the offender. Every mistake that is made by the offender, you will find a way to work into casual conversation with your boss. When the offender speaks up in meetings, you will ignore the offender and move on to the next point.

Remember, subtlety is the key to Subterfuge. It must not be apparent to anyone what you are doing. Although the Snub cannot backfire on you, Subterfuge can. Tread with caution, but do not give up! The battle is nearly won.

Phase Three: Termination

The period between Subterfuge and Termination requires serious introspection. Are you above reproach? Is your reputation untarnished? If forced to choose between you and the offender, would the company choose you?

Fortunately, the economy is in trouble. In this battle of good versus evil, reductions in force, layoffs, and corporate downsizing are our greatest allies. As we know from experience, however, allies can quickly turn to enemies. We must proceed carefully.

Phase Three is a full-scale attack resulting in the termination of the offender. You are ready. You have built up your resistance with the Snub. You have honed your skills through acts of Subterfuge. Your boss has doubted the competence of the offender for weeks. Your allies have noticed your strength growing and have in turn been strengthened by it.

Does the offender leave her workstation unlocked? You will delete important emails and meetings. Do not be seen. Does the offender use a shared drive? You will delete the latest versions of his documents.

If someone inquires about the offender's whereabouts, you wonder aloud if she is even in today or suggest that she is out smoking again. Be careful to keep all judgment out of your voice. You must not allow your motives to become suspect.

Do whatever you can, whatever is within your power, to sabotage the efforts of the offender at every turn. How can you contribute to his missed deadline without it reflecting poorly on you? Help the offender misinterpret the instructions for an assignment. Relay misinformation about deadlines, deliverables, anything you can think of. Do not hesitate! The end of the fiscal year is drawing closer. The next round of layoffs is within sight. The sweet taste of victory will be yours.


I return to my desk, pad and pen clutched tightly in my hand. The manifesto is written. I place the headphones over my ears and begin typing.

"Hey, do you have any tape?" I hear through the strains of Evanescence.

Do not throw it at her head. Do not throw it.

"No," I say glancing at the gleaming tape dispenser, a fat, opaque roll filling its middle. Phase One: The Snub.


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