Author’s note: I worked for over 12 years at a local newspaper in central Wisconsin called the Portage County Gazette, where I was Production Coordinator and also wrote a weekly column. This is a previously published column from those days.
So what’s it like working at the Gazette? Does it seem to be a glamorous thing, to work at an award-winning newspaper, a place that has its finger on the pulse of all that is happening in Portage County? The pace of the day-to-day office atmosphere must be rife with electricity, you probably think, right?
Well … not so much.
Right now as I sit here, the office is absolutely silent except for the sound of the little keys of keyboards going up and down. There are probably about seven people in their offices right now, and being it a Wednesday – the day we put the paper together – everyone’s working at a little higher level than most days, because we are under deadline today.
But electricity? Not the word I would use to describe it.
That said, we do have our moments. The Gazette staff has a great sense of humor, which is necessary in this sort of business, and it makes the office a fun place to work. It’s not the same people all day long, since the sales reps and editors come and go, which is the nature of their jobs. They often bring news back from the outside world that makes
working in a windowless office a lot more interesting. And often, we make fun of what the outside world is doing.
Today however, it was something that wasn’t going on that was the subject of great amusement to us. The light in the bathroom had stopped working. The only light in our tiny, little, itsy-bitsy, unisex bathroom.
Now our bathroom here at the Gazette has been a bit of a joke even before the light bulb decided to stop working. It’s a scary little place, not much bigger than a phone booth. Remember those? It takes forever to get the water to be any more than just above freezing, the fan in the vent is broken with no hope of repair, and the toilet seat is the coldest thing in the entire building.
It’s also an excellent echo chamber, so if your bathroom business involves any sort of sound whatsoever, you can be assured that it will carry quite a ways down the hall to where your office mates reside.
I have heard that in China the women’s bathrooms actually have a machine that can be activated to mask the sound of using the toilet, because it is such an embarrassing situation in that country. I think we could certainly benefit from installing one of those here at the Gazette.
Earlier this week we had a staff meeting about a special promotion coming up, and the first thing someone brought up was the bathroom.
It was suggested that we announce when we needed to use it, so that the bravest person could go first, and the rest of us follow, so as to build up the warmth of the seat to where it is tolerable. Sort of a team-building effort, you might say.
Another staff member suggested we replace the toilet because it was too small. I had to ask for clarification on this because I thought it might be a guy thing, but it was explained to me that when you are a large person, a small toilet can be a problem. I had no idea.
As a tall person, I know short toilets can be troublesome. You have to judge the squat distance and if you get it wrong, it can be very unpleasant. But the size of the toilet was something I had never considered. See? You learn something new every day, if you’re lucky.
So this morning for some reason I got to work extra early. I was a little surprised to see the lights on, and found a staff member working at his desk, typing away at an article for this week’s publication. We chatted a bit and then he informed me that the light in the little bathroom we have here at the Gazette had stopped working, and he wanted to warn me about that.
He said he had been there working through the night and using the bathroom with the door open, but I told him right away that probably wasn’t going to work for those of us who work together during the day. He had put a note on the door that read, “Light bulb burned out. Pee with the door open at your own risk. Or go out back.” And this from an
award-winning journalist, no less.
I took the time to send an email to the staff to let them know about the problem, and suggested they might consider taking flashlights along should they need to use the facilities. As people arrived, the situation only got more hilarious.
One woman said she would just use the light from her cell phone. I thought that might prove to be a very dangerous scenario, resulting in a lot of unsanitary outcomes, none of which I was willing to entertain. She also suggested night vision goggles, but we don’t seem to have a pair of those handy here at the paper.
Our office manager showed up and immediately set out to inspect the situation to see what he could do. He discovered that it wasn’t the bulb that was burned out, but actually the switch that had a problem.
He reported that if you flick the switch back and forth, the light would still work. “So now we need to take a partner with us to the bathroom?” I responded, generating a round of giggles from the other staffers. I wasn’t really keen on thinking we now needed to use the buddy system for this process. I like my co-workers, but this is a level of familiarity I
am not willing to explore.
Then our accounts guy came in, and together with the office manager tried to remedy the situation the best they could. Listening to the conversation about finding light bulbs, where they might be and if we had the right kind, I couldn’t help but think, “How many Gazette staffers does it take … ”
They decided the best thing to do at the moment was to put in a light right outside the scary little bathroom in the scary little hallway that leads up to it. Yes, you read that correctly. There was no light in there prior to this. So now we have light in the hallway outside the bathroom. The bathroom door is made of wood, not glass, and light does not
pass through it.
So another Gazette staffer suggested we have a bathroom monitor, to keep watch in the hallway while someone uses the bathroom with the door open. Yes, this is where I work, every day of the week. The glorious life of a newspaper columnist. Never a dull moment.
Oh and yes, the landlord has been called. Meanwhile, it’s every man for himself.
Previously published March 7, 2014 in the Portage County Gazette.