I have a lunch stalker. Well, he seems to want to stalk me at other times, but the cafeteria is his current favourite hunting ground.
The cafeteria is one of the great levellers in the work place. Where you stand with reference to other co-workers is sharply brought into focus – irrespective of rank, designation or money.
There are certain cues to figure out where you are in the lunch hierarchy.
Are you welcome at all tables or will people surreptitiously edge a lunch box on the empty chair so that it appears taken?
Do people wave at you to come and join them or do they avoid making eye contact the minute you walk in?
Is there a sudden drop in conversation the minute you approach a lunch table?
Do people, who till then look like they have roots growing under the table, gulp food and mutter ‘excuse me... work beckons’ the minute you join them?
My lunch stalker falls into the latter category (but of course!). Let’s call him Mr. X. As far as I can figure out Mr.X used to eat alone most of the times before I joined.
To give a brief background, he is a fairly senior (in the organizational hierarchy) gentleman of late middle age and overwhelmingly talent (if only in own head - His boss and others seem to disagree) and thus, he has a great sense of what is due to him and his consequence. Typical interactions will be liberally interspersed with many “when I was talking to MD’, ‘at the board meetings...’, ‘I can’t share this information because unfortunately what I do is so very confidential’. He has a disconcerting habit of starting conversation in with himself and then suddenly shifting gears and talking to the person in front of him (who of course, has no idea what the heck the topic is about).
As luck will have it, his cabin is a few feet away from my desk so I am in his direct line of vision.
His original strategy was to come and ask me completely arbitrary questions – from the spellings of words, to prices of mobile handsets to NASDAQ index and then proceed to propound his views on life for the next forty minutes until my eyes glazed over. So, I devised (quite clever I thought) solution to that – I put on headphones! This seemed to work reasonably well.
But lately, he has taken to ambushing me at lunch time. We have a small cafeteria – so I usually go early to grab a table, and like to chill out there with a book and occasionally with this other relatively new, co-worker.
Mr. X keeps an eye on my desk to see when I go for lunch (or so claims my boss, who has been watching these little tête-à-têtes with intensely sadistic amusement. So much so, that he has mandated that I sign a legal agreement promising not to quit because of persecution at lunch time). So whatever time I go, five minutes later Mr.X will come and sit on the table and talk and talk and oh God, TALK.
Yesterday, I thought I would quietly circumvent his attacks by going at the end of lunch hour. Mr. X already present (right at the front table where one couldn’t avoid him) saw me and desperately waved at his table. I shrugged and pointed out that there were dishes on his table so I would join the other regular co-worker. Before I knew what happened, Mr. X had jumped up from his table, gone to the pantry and ordered the kitchen fellow to clean the table so that I could sit there – after that basic courtesy mandated that I DO sit there.
Because of his self-importance, he has divided the office into people he deems worthy of interaction and those who are not. The former, from all I can see are almost without exception, overwhelmingly rude to him. In fact, one senior lady, having seen my unsuccessful efforts to extricate myself politely from his clutches came up to me and actually gave me a tutorial on “how to be rude to Mr. X’
I unfortunately CANNOT be overtly rude to people. There is some congenital flaw in my personality - which won’t allow me to walk off in the middle of conversations. Mr. X has figured this out and thus I provide him with easy prey. ( as I did in my earlier office, where without fail I would attract variations of Mr.X) I wouldn’t mind it so much if it was once in a while – but every SINGLE day – even when I am terribly busy or asocial or preoccupied.
As far as I can see the only way to stop him is by death or resignation. Maybe, my boss had a point after all.