The crime of eating lunch.

From 2005 to 2008 I maintained a blog about my experiences working in the drug test industry. Every Saturday I revive one of those experiences here. The following was originally posted September 7, 2006.

The crime of eating lunch.

My lunch hour is between 1pm and 2pm. As I am the only employee in my office, this means the office is closed between 1pm and 2pm.

Back when I was a new, idealistic peemeister (a peeprentice as it were) I would often blur the lines of my precious, precious lunch hour. If someone had to stay past 1pm that was cool with me. If I was here and someone knocked on the door at 1:30, that was cool also. And I would almost always open up early, say at 1:45 or 1:50.

Indeed, I felt horribly guilty if I didn’t do these things.

What started to happen, though, was that I would start missing lunch with alarming frequency. What started as a person saying “I’ll be ready to go in ten minutes, fifteen tops” would metamorph into a ninety-minute ordeal. What started as “I really didn’t know you closed at 1pm” would eventually become “I know you close at 1pm but can you take me anyway?”

I probably told myself that since my office was never very busy, I’d only end up missing lunch once in a blue moon. In reality I ended up sacrificing half of my lunch hour or more at least once a week.

It was Mr. Friendly that caused me to finally and firmly adopt my current policy of “closed, no matter what”. Mr. Friendly came in about 11am. He tried to drop a sample and failed, as people often do. He was thus faced with a choice: stay and try again, or return later. Since he had errands to run he said he’d come back later.

No problem. I explain that I can only save his paperwork for 24 hours, and that I take my lunch from 1pm to 2pm. If he planned to come back that afternoon he would have to wait until after 2pm. Mr. Friendly agreed; after all, he was friendly.

I had to take care of some personal affairs over the phone that day. I generally like to do this from my office during my lunch hour, since it’s my only spare time during the day when the businesses I needed to contact would be open and I was sure I wouldn’t be interrupted. Any other time of the day I might get halfway through a transaction and then have to leave abruptly to collect some pee.

It must have been 1:20 or so when Mr. Friendly returned. He looked at my Will Return sign in disgust and banged on my door. I went to answer it.

“What, did you close early today?”

“No, I’m on my lunch break. Can you come back after 2?”

(Note how poorly I worded that — as though he should have a choice in the matter.)

“Not really,” said Mr. Friendly, “see I have to pick my kids up from school at 2:30and before that I have to pick my clothes up from the laundromat, and my car’s in the shop so I have a taxi waiting on me.”

Foolishly sympathizing with Mr. Friendly’s plight, I let him in.

“Hopefully you’ll be able to go right away,” I told him. “I haven’t had a chance to go get my lunch yet.”

“No problem, I’m ready to go right now.”

Except he wasn’t.

A half hour ticked by. I was in a position where if I couldn’t get rid of Mr. Friendly right now I would have to go hungry. I tell him as much.

“Look man,” says Mr. Friendly, suddenly not-so-friendly, “we don’t need to make a thing out of it. You don’t have to be so cold all the time. Just lighten up a little!”

Of course it wasn’t a matter of me not being able to lighten up. It was a matter of me wanting to eat something for lunch.

“I’m not asking for very much here, just do your job and help me out.”

As if I weren’t already helping him out by opening the door for him while my office was closed.

Mr. Friendly was there so long that eventually, defeated, I had no choice but to flip my Will Return sign back around to Open. Another day without sustenance. I was not happy and it was pretty easy to tell that Mr. Friendly knew it.

Mr. Friendly took this as an affront to his very being.

“You’ve never been in sales, have you? I can tell you’ve never worked sales, because you have such a terrible personality. If you worked sales you’d be fired,” he told me.

“I don’t get paid to be your friend,” I snapped back.

After Mr. Friendly’s collection was finally done, nearly forty-five minutes after he arrived, he said he was going to file a complaint against me for being unpersonable. I offered to get my boss on the phone for him right away, but he declined. So, in a charitable act of pleasantness, I wrote my boss’s phone number on a Post-It note so he could call her at his convenience. He did not want the note.

“Oh no,” I growled, “I insist.”

He snatched the note, slammed my door and stomped off.

I was feeling so smug and abused for a while that I decided it would be a good idea to close my office down later in the afternoon to give me time to go buy a sandwich. After a long line at Subway and a short walk back to work in the rain, I was greeted by six or seven guys from a roofing company. They were soaking wet. Some looked confused and some looked angry. As I was unlocking the door the leader mentioned he thought we were closed between 1 and 2.

“Sorry,” I muttered. “I had to work through lunch today.”

Suddenly all my smugness and superiority evaporated. Closing down the office during the afternoon was not acceptable, no matter how hard I had worked to rationalize it in my head. My employer already gives me time to eat lunch — it’s called my lunch hour. I had chosen to squander it time and again, and I had no one to blame for it but myself.

Mr. Friendly, as it turns out, was absolutely right. He wasn’t trying to inconvenience me. The only difference between him and all the other people who take 45 minutes to pee is that I chose to let him in when my office was supposed to be closed. It was my decision, not his.

To my knowledge Mr. Friendly never did call to complain about me. Nonetheless I decided that I would never work through lunch again. I still fudge the clock a bit here and there (if you have to wait until 1:15 that’s fine, but any longer than that and you can bet I’m kicking you out) and there are the extraordinarily odd days where I don’t have a choice in the matter (a subset of collections must be done in one sitting, as opposed to offering the option for the donor to come back later). But the Mr. Friendlys of the world have been turned away ever since.

I know people hate it when it’s 1:50 and they look in the window seeing me eat my Chef Boyardee or my Uncle Ben’s Rice Bowl or my Campbell’s Chunky Soup. I know they probably can’t process the information — the dude, he’s like right there, why won’t he open the door!?

But there’s a reason for it. I work an eight-hour day and I’m entitled to a lunch break. I learned the hard way I need to take advantage of it. And besides, it’s not like these companies who send folks down to me are blindsided. My office hours are very clearly printed on all my paperwork and on the company website. If someone chooses to show up forty minutes before I open my door… well, that’s their fault. Not mine. And look — I didn’t even have to do any mental gymnastics to rationalize it.

By the time I was done with those six or seven roofer guys the bacon on my sandwich was cold. I ate about half of it and threw it away, and felt incredibly guilty.

1 comment to The crime of eating lunch.

  • Dean

    I only get a half hour lunch break. I only spend 17 minutes of it eating because I want to pee, wash hands, brush, floss and mouthwash before returning to work. I only have time to eat lunch in the breakroom, not to go out. And during work hours I’m constantly busy, every day. There’s always more to do than there’s time for, but sometimes the boss still expects me to do everything.

    It’s somewhat stressful, but it also may be hardening me up for the promotions I want.

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