Signs were posted everywhere with big red, bold letters. It was flu season and germs were not welcome. The usually bustling office restricted visitors and required anyone with the chills or body aches to wear a disposable mask and latex gloves, yet the flu was still spreading.
More handwashing stations went up, while the news streamed stories about the rising death toll of flu related deaths. Strangers and friends alike started to eye one another as potential disease vectors and withdrew from conversations at the slightest hint of a sneeze or a sniffle, slowly backing up so as not to startle the germs into action.
Things were breaking down quickly and not much work was getting done until the genius management put their oversized egg heads together and came up with a three-part solution to the problem.
More signs, they decided, because the first batch was so effective. Then, they gave the front desk staff unlimited authority to stop and interrogate all visitors and employees. Lastly, they tightened up on attendance policy so that employees were afraid to use their time off and instead reported for duty, bleary eyed and feverishly punctual.
It was a perfect plan, seemingly infallible, and still the flu raged on.
Unaware of this change in the flu fighting approach, I walked in from the bitter cold and practically collapsed at the front desk, unable to proceed toward my office. A red, velvet rope partitioned off the hallways and forced all entrants to pass through a narrow channel monitored by a large woman with heavy braids and long, colorful nails depicting ten tropical island scenes. She pointed to a sign on the counter with a chubby finger and looked expectantly at me.
My glasses had developed a fog from the sudden change in temperature and my hands shook as they started the painful process of de-thawing after the long walk from the public parking lot.
I took my glasses off and squinted at the woman, “Good morning. What’s going on?”
Irritated she sighed, “Need to see your id badge, we’re only letting employees in today.”
“Would I be here if I didn’t have to be?” I joked, seeking common ground.
“Don’t know and don’t care, I have to see your id if you’re going in. Visitors have been impersonating employees to get into the office.”
My hands stopped shaking by this time and I put my glasses back on, catching her bad attitude faster than the rampant virus that was shutting down the city. I tried all of the positive affirmations I knew to reset my frame of mind, but it was too late.
“And what does that have to do with the flu?” I asked flatly.
“Visitors are bringing it in,” she said as a matter-of-fact.
Shaking my head, I dug through my purse, pushing aside my wallet, a pack of gum and a ring of keys; delving deeper into the bottomless pit, I found a hot pink pen with origins unknown, a folded cardboard book mark and a sticky, partially unwrapped cough-drop before latching onto my id badge.
“Aha!” I declared in victory and considered the course of the day that was already off to such a great start. Was it too late to go home, I wondered for a second before remembering the attendance policy.
I pulled the id badge out and flashed it at the woman with a frown that I tried to turn upside down, resulting in a weird smirk that was as close to a smile as I could muster. Meanwhile, another employee had come in behind me, hacking a dry cough with red rimmed eyes and overheard our conversation.
“I would complain about the cold, but I’ve been feeling so hot this morning,” she explained as she extracted her id badge from her coat pocket with a still-gloved hand.
“Anyways, you know, if anyone is bringing in the flu, its going to be an employee,” she coughed again and shuffled off towards the heart of the building. She said over her shoulder, “Just trying to be helpful.”
And still the flu raged on, baffling the eggheads.