I work in an office the size of a college classroom. It could comfortably hold thirty-five people, but I spend nearly forty hours a week there all by myself. On any given day, the majority of my interaction with other people consists of telling them that I don’t have a stapler. These people are students, who come to campus, print their homework, and then seek a way to bind it. There’s a room down the hall that has everything they need: staples, hole punches, pencil sharpeners—but that room isn’t close to the classrooms. So they pass my office and come in to ask me. I send them in the other direction.
Except a couple of weeks ago. I was going through a cabinet in the office and I found a stapler. It was covered in dust. It had about a dozen staples in it. My guess is that somebody, probably before I took over this office, found it in a classroom and took it back here, then put it in the closet and forgot about it. For whatever reason, I set it on the counter that separates my desk from the door. People can sit at the counter, but few ever do these days. Mostly it just keeps people from coming all the way into the office, where I have all sorts of expensive equipment to use in classrooms. My job is to maintain the technology installed in the rooms, so professors can use whatever visual aids they find necessary. My supervisor periodically calls to see what supplies I require. I never ask for staples. My job doesn’t require staples. Ever.
So the day after I found this stapler, it was sitting on the counter. It was mostly hidden. You’d have to look behind some stuff to see it. This wasn’t intentional on my part. I really didn’t even think about it. Then this guy came into the office to ask for a stapler. It was about eight in the morning.
The thing is, he didn’t ask to use a stapler. He got as far as “Hey, do you have…” before he leaned over the counter and saw the stapler. So he just picked it up and started to staple his papers. That’s when I said, “That’s really rude.”
“What?” he said.
“What you’re doing there. That’s pretty rude.”
“It’s a staple,” he said.
“Can I have one?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But you just walked in here, reached onto the desk and grabbed whatever you wanted. You can have a staple, but I want you to think about how rude that is.”
All right, so I was being rude here, too. There are a few other ways to say what I said that wouldn’t have come across as that harsh. But to tell you the truth, I’m sick of people asking for staples. And what’s more, about a third of them do exactly what this guy did—they don’t even ask, but instead the snoop around on the counter as if it’s their own personal supply closet. They ask for pens, pencils, paper clips, paper…sometimes they even ask if they can use my computer. And when this is all the interaction you get, you start to get annoyed by the little things. They eat at you. And so I turned into a cranky old man for a minute.
“But I can have a staple?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just think about it.”
So he stapled his papers and left the office. A few seconds later, he came back and said, “I want you to think about who pays for your salary. And the stapler.”
I was surprised that he came back, and so I just stared at him blankly. He left again. That morning, I had to leave the office for a few hours to take care of some other business. I came back and the day continued. I told my wife about what happened, and we laughed about it. There’s not much of interest at this job, so this one would have kept me going for a while.
I left the stapler in plain sight on the counter. I decided that I would allow people to use it until the staples ran out. Once it ran out of staples, I would just point to it when they asked. When they discover that it’s out of staples, I planned to say, “Bummer” and nothing more. I wasn’t feeling very pleased with the human condition at that moment. I even told the night guy about the new “Bummer” policy.
The next day, I got an e-mail from one of the guys who works for the same department, but in the main office across campus. He said that someone had come by with some mail for me, and that he had said something about staples. I was confused, so I walked over to the main office. There, waiting for me, was an envelope containing three things: a small note apologizing for being rude and hoping that all is forgiven, a box of staples, and a bag of skittles. Evidently he had come back to my office to apologize, but I was gone. So he called the number on the door and found out that I had a mailbox in another building.
My faith in humanity was restored.
It’s the skittles that keep coming back into my head, though. Why skittles? One person offered the possible explanation that it’s not chocolate, which some people can’t eat. It lacks peanuts, which cause some trouble. But why skittles? I may never know.