Mouthwash as a Metaphor


Last year, this bottle of mouthwash suddenly appeared in the women’s bathroom at my place of work. A whiff of nasty coffee breath must have induced H.R. to deal with the problem as indirectly as possible by installing free Listerine for employees unschooled in oral hygiene or close encounters.

Office workers love anything free, preferably leftovers from client luncheons, even if wilted and crusty. However, the installation of the mouthwash bottle, one year ago, was brand new. Stop, sip and swish! it exclaimed. And on our dime! 

Prior to the firm’s main event, the Great Embezzlement of 2013 — before the 5 P’s: Post-it notes, paper clips, pads, pens and paper were shuttered under lock and key — free mouthwash would have been regarded by staff as just another entitlement. But, as they say, you don’t miss the post-it notes until you need to make a shopping list.

Now, in 2016, the bottle of mouthwash is an apt metaphor for administration’s policy of inflicting global, rather than individual, blame for every employee infraction, be it wanton use of large rubber bands or noxious dragon breath.

I’m not sure if it’s a curse or a blessing, but I notice everything. I can’t help it. For example, a close observation of the above photo reveals:

  • A stain on the paper towel beneath the bottle of mouthwash;
  • Gooey residue coating the threads girdling the neck;
  • Tiny blue blob clinging to the coupling on the pumping mechanism;
  • Static cascade of mouthwash blurring the inner walls of the bottle.

What does that tell you? More disturbing is that the mouthwash has been stagnating at the mid-level mark for months. I usually don’t partake in communal activities that may potentially violate my boundaries, such as swimming in public pools in which people are peeing. If you don’t think they do, they do. 

Still, encountering the mouthwash bottle day after day, it is hard to resist not trying it out. So with the back of my hand, I give the pump a push. It doesn’t budge. Thus, all evidence points to the fact it’s been broken for months. Eeew. Yuck. Gross.

Backing up a bit into the chain of events that preceded its placement:

  • The head of H.R. (upon first whiff of the eye watering coffee breath) gets an idea. She has her assistant reserve a conference room.
  • A slew of meetings among middle management are held — with catered lunch, of course.
  • A partners meeting is convened. The mouthwash bottle and attendant cup holder are officially approved (lawyers being the most rampant emitters of coffee breath).
  • The head of H.R. goes shopping, her favorite activity.
  • Listerine is served, in the bathroom, like hors d’oeuvres on a silver platter.

Swiftly moving on, the entire drama is summarily forgotten. Unless you can bill by the hour, such minor matters are not permitted to drag ad infinitum. Most important of all is that it looks good on paper.

The optimists in the firm (middle management) — cheerleaders that devote all their energy to gossiping, making long-distance personal calls on the company phone and sucking up to the powers-that-be in lieu of doing hardly any work — would cheerily concur that all the bottles of life, those that contain mouthwash and those that do not, are half-full.

But I still say that the bottle of mouthwash is half-empty. Does that make me a pessimist?

During their quotidian kaffeeklatsch in the employee kitchen, the hypothetical discussion that would ensue among the attorneys as they lingered around the top-of-the-line espresso maker would conclude something like this:

“This is nothing more than a prima facie case of a bottle that was once half-full, but now is, ipso facto, half-empty. Arguendo, this bottle can reasonably be assumed to be half-full and half-empty — ex nunc.”

This imaginary exchange reminds me of a much more interesting scene from the movie Chinatown, when Jack Nicholson slaps around a tearful Faye Dunaway, who wails, “She’s my sister! She’s my daughter! She’s my sister and my daughter!”

At the office, it is unthinkable to opine in a direct manner. Cheerleaders will knee-jerk into labeling you a “Debby Downer” — the bane of middle management. Direct comments will elicit from lawyers quotes from the rule of law.

Free expression is reigned in at all costs. Consequently, many people mutter to themselves. We are our own best company!

Gray is the realm through which lawyers maneuver. The firm can be described as a trifecta of gray: gray areas, gray matter and gray hair, which sets the tone for every interaction, right down to the gray padded walls of my cubicle.

DeskThe bottle is half-empty!

2 thoughts on “Mouthwash as a Metaphor

  1. Love it Suzy! Have fun with the powers that be and suggest liverwurst and onion sandwiches for the next catered lunch. (combine that combo with coffee) They may need to rethink the whole situation! lol More meetings!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I got a painful chuckle on this one – many years ago I was working for a engineering firm in the tech drawing dept. This was during the AIDS hysteria crisis – As a openly gay man – I remember walking into the mens room to find toilet seat cover dispensers on the wall – oh sure – (I knew/felt it stemmed from my presence there )- Upon exiting – and then entering our open workroom- I had one around my neck and asked loudly – “When is the lobster buffet arriving?” The best tool to combat ignorance is with a sense of humor!

    Liked by 1 person

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