Friday, September 28, 2012

Feed Me, Seymour

Once upon a time, a long time ago, back when the west was wild and I was a real biologist, "safety" meant not going too fast when you were doubling someone on your quad. Nowadays, the amount of paperwork one has to do just to drive across town for a meeting is enough to make a person weep with frustration. (If they can find the right forms on the shared drive, that is.) Although I'm convinced it also keeps us safe, for surely all the paper we've collectively armed ourselves with will at least function to absorb some of the impact in the event of a collision.

Of course, back when I was a real biologist people also asked me things about biology rather than just harassing me about deadlines and paperwork. My, times have changed.

But every so often, a relict of the old world surfaces to mingle with the new, and strange and exciting chimeras are brought forth of their union:
From: Safety Guy
Sent: September 27, 2012 2:30 PM
To: Frecklepelt
Subject: Vegetation Emergency

We have a large cactus plant in one of our meeting rooms that is quite prickly and may have poisonous sap. It has been identified as a potential safety hazard and we need your vegetation expertise to help assess and mitigate the risk. 

Can you please confirm the species, identify the hazards, and suggest a safe disposal plan? Thank you,

Safety Guy

Health and Safety Advisor

Modern-day safety, meet biology. And welcome to the world a terrifying suite of previously-unrealized office hazards.

I read the email again. It had to be a prank, but he seemed so... sincere... in all my bitterness and distortion, what if I just wasn't giving Safety Guy enough credit? There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for his concern. Maybe the cactus was a really scary cactus, with, say, two-inch-long serrated spines, or a predilection for actively shooting passers-by with its poisonous sap.

I suspended my disbelief and went to see the cactus for myself.

The thing was massive. Six feet tall, gnarled and gangly, stooped under its own weight. Some segments dry and wrinkly, others fully brown and dead. But... standard-issue prickles. None of the infamous poisonous sap in sight. Basically, a pretty ugly plant - I could see why they would want it out of the room - but hazardous? Not exactly the term that sprung to mind.

Safety Guy showed up. We made small talk as I tried desperately to figure out whether he was actually serious about needing a safe disposal plan. While I pondered, he struck:

"So I'll bet, as a veg person, it's kindof sad for you to see it go, hey?"

Touché, Safety Guy: fretting about vegetation is my job as much as fretting about safety is his. We both knew in that instant that if this was our own cactus in our own home, we would heave the thing into the black bin without a second thought. However, here in the workplace there are certain images that must be upheld. The irony was palpable: he was Safety, pretending to care whether this plant was disposed of in a safe manner, and I was Biology, pretending to care about this plant. Like, at all. 

We had reached an impasse.

There was a long silence. We looked at the cactus. We looked at each other. We looked back at the cactus. When our eyes finally met, a current of understanding passed between us and we realized simultaneously that both of us were too deeply invested in this charade to call the other person out. Tentatively, he suggested it would probably be best to wear safety goggles while disposing of the cactus. Feebly, I replied that it was a shame that we couldn't find a forever home for the cactus. He espoused aloud the pros and cons of nitrile versus leather gloves for use in disposing of Very Prickly and Poisonous plants. I expressed frustration at a society that is blind to the charms of cacti, and thus fearful of them. 

Once we were both satisfied that a sufficient amount of posturing had been conducted, Safety Guy and I got down to the nuts and bolts of the Safe Tackling of Our Plant's Imminent Disposal (STOOPID) Plan. Then we parted ways, each of us secure in the knowledge that our cover had not been blown, and ostensibly shaking our head at the folly of the other:

"Fussbudget," I muttered as I returned to my desk.

"Tree-hugger," he grumbled as he gathered the appropriate PPE.

And thus the status quo lived to fight another day. Even if the cactus didn't.

No comments:

Post a Comment