Author Archives: danwhitman

Stand clear of the closing doors.

“Going somewhere?” asked my coworker.

“Yep. Home! My cousin’s getting married this weekend,” I announced to the office as I rolled my suitcase into my cubicle. I had a 5:10 train from Penn Station that evening to head back to Central Pennsylvania. I planned it out the night before – I’ll leave at 4:30, hop on the 1 train and take it five (or was it six?) stops to Penn. I’ll get there in plenty of time to grab a bite to go for the three hour ride from New York. I’ll stand there like everyone else, staring at the leader board until my gate is called and then sprint to get a seat by myself. I couldn’t wait.

At 4:25 I powered down my work station, said goodbye to my coworkers, and headed to the subway carrying my luggage, book bag, and suit.

I entered the station, lifting my suitcase up to get down the steps. At the turn style, I realized I had a problem. The logistics of getting through with all my things didn’t make sense. I can only swipe my pass once. How do I get all of this through with just one turn? I stared at my new foe and contemplated as the approaching train echoed through the station. Maybe if I put my suitcase in front of me with my suit on top, I’ll be able to squeeze my body and book bag through behind it.

Success. It was not graceful, but it worked. I hopped on the uptown 1 and settled in for my short ride to 34th street. The train jarred forward in the familiar whiplashing motion that MTA so kindly refuses to address. I caught my suitcase before it fell over and chuckled to myself. I knew that was going to happen. Smiling still, I looked up and caught the blank judgmental stare of the person across from me. Well happy Friday to you too, douche.

“Fourteestree,” I heard the operator announce in the rushed gibberish that every train conductor speaks. “TransfetothetwothreeFLM. ConnecttothePATH.”

I knew from previous experiences that the 2 was an express train and its next stop is Penn Station. If I stayed on the 1, I’d still have four stops. I checked the schedule and saw that a 2 was arriving in less than a minute, right across the platform. Might as well.

I trudged off the 1 with all my things as the 2 approached the station. I waited behind a wall of commuters as it slowed. Through the windows, I could see that people were packed in, every car a can of sardines. Duh, it’s rush hour on a Friday. Of course it’s packed. I’ll never fit all of my things in there. I turned around to get back on the 1.

The doors were shut. Panic swept over me.

I turned back around as the doors to the 2 opened. I have to make it onto this train. My train home will leave before I get there if I wait for the next 2. I followed closely as the other sardines entered the car. C’mon, squeeze in there. The person before me stepped on the train, leaving one inch between himself and the doors, unable to move further into the car. I knew I couldn’t fit and desperately turned around to see the 1 leaving the station. No no no no no.

I walked briskly down the platform, looking for any type of space at every open door. “Excuse me,” I said to a lady that didn’t move to let me in.

I walked faster. “Excuse me!” Still no room. Even faster now. “Can I fit?!” Every car packed to its doors.  “Is there room for me?!” I started running, suitcase getting louder behind me. “CAN I FIT?!” “EXCUSE ME.” Nasty looks from annoyed sardines. “IS THERE ROOM?!” Suit flying behind me like a kite in a thunderstorm. “CAN I GET ON?!?!” Book bag bouncing violently on my back. Conductor – “standclearthedoors” Sprinting. “EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME I’M GOING TO MISS MY TRAIN EXCUSE ME!!!”

The doors shut and the 2 left the station.

I recently moved to New York City. As everyone in New York loves to tell you, we have amazing public transportation. You truly don’t need a car here and can get anywhere you need to go with ease. It’s great.

Once you understand it.

Moving to a new city is stressful. There’s so much to learn so quickly, from figuring out which streets are safe to walk down and which to avoid if you’d like to keep all your organs to learning which Starbucks makes a pumpkin spice latte just the way you like it. These things will make you feel like you truly belong to the city. However, you are not a true resident until you’ve mastered your city’s public transportation.

Whether it’s the Subway in New York, the L in Chicago, the Metro in DC, or whatever people use in California – I’m assuming some type of limo/spaceship hybrid that runs on water and depollutes the air – learning the public transportation system of your new home is key. Not only does it allow you to get around easily, but also eliminates the stress of getting home after a night of boozing with your friends.

And getting you around isn’t the only benefit of learning the system. You also get some street smarts – like knowing to avoid the train car with the homeless person lying in the corner because it’s going to be smelly. You can differentiate between a person begging for money because they’re lazy and a person begging for money because they’re hungry. Most importantly, you learn where the AC vents in each car are located and hog one to yourself on those sweaty gotta-change-when-I-get-to-work days of summer.

To many, this mastery means you can handle anything related to public transit. But don’t be fooled. Your new knowledge can often lure you into a false sense of security. You begin to take risks. You don’t hold on to the railing when the train starts moving. You don’t consult a map when giving foreigners directions. You won’t miss your stop if you want to close your eyes for a minute.

Next thing you know you’re stumbling into the grumpy 350 pound Snorlax beside you while sending two French guys to Jersey to find the Statue of Liberty and waking up an hour later alone in the Bronx.

Simply because you’ve “mastered” public transit does not mean you should ignore common sense. No, surprisingly, you won’t be able to fit your 12 bags of groceries on the seat beside you. No, your luggage, book bag, suit, and dignity will not fit on this rush hour express train to Penn Station.

If you’re considering taking public transit but have unordinary circumstances – say, 5 children and 2 dogs after a day at the park – heed caution. You may feel optimistic now, but nothing will make you feel worse than the scowling eyes of 300 people not moving to let you on.

If you think to yourself “well if I put all seven bags of groceries in this hand and drape my bag around my neck I’ll be able to hold onto the railing with my other hand as long as I can get my phone tucked under my ear” then you may want to reconsider your mode of transit.

If you think “this just might work”, it won’t.

Recognize when you get into one of these situations and do yourself and the rest of us a favor. Take a cab.

What am I gonna do I can’t miss my train I’ll have to wait for the 6:30 train no way. Bystanders in the station stared as I threw my luggage on my head and ran up the steps. Cab. I’ll get a cab and I’ll just pay for it and I’ll get there in time.

I got above ground and ran into the street. Shit, this street goes south. I needed to go north, let alone that there were no cabs in sight. Twenty thousand cabs in Manhattan and I don’t see a single one. I ran halfway down the block, my suitcase being dragged behind me like a tired dog after a long hike. This is stupid, what if I can’t catch a cab?!

I stepped into the street and waved my arms so wildly that if any taxi had passed by the driver would have called 911 to let them know a gangly twenty-something male was having a seizure on 7th Ave.

Three minutes passed since I left the station. Screw it, there’s gotta be another train down there soon. I jumped back onto the sidewalk and ran towards the station I’d just exited, hoisting up my suitcase into the air for the millionth time down the steps.

EXIT ONLY read a huge sign at the bottom of the steps. Why is this at the BOTTOM of the steps?! I went back above ground and scampered down the block to another entry in a fashion similar to how I imagine a very short Michelin man would run.

Even less graceful than last time, I barreled through the turn style and hopped on the 1 train in the station. Oh thank God, I hope it goes fast. Standing right in front of the doors and refusing to move, I counted the stops. 18th. 23rd. 28th. 34th-Penn Station. 4 stops.

Each time we stopped an hour passed. Close the doors close the doors closdoors. Oh. I get why they do that now.


Like Seabiscuit out of the starting gate, I pummeled through the crowd. Down the platform. Down the steps. This train is leaving without me. Through the subway exit. I used my suitcase as a weapon to part the Long Islanders waiting for their train like the Red Sea. Up the escalator. I’m gonna have to take the 6:30 train. Swing a right.

I entered Amtrak and found the leader board. Gate 6. Which way is gate six?! Left. I took off in a sprint. Six six six six. Please don’t say “all aboard.”… There! Six. I scrambled up to the gate, down the escalator, and onto the train.

Sweating and out of breath, I sighed out of relief to have made it. I threw my suitcase in the overhead storage and placed my suit and book bag on the empty seat so no one would sit there. Made it by the skin of my teeth. I sat down quickly and prepared to leave.

I’m so happy I made it. Barely. That was so close. I can’t believe we haven’t left yet. They must be running late. What time is it?

5:00 o’clock. My train didn’t leave for 10 more minutes.

Day 1.

I have to be there at 9:15. I’ll shoot for 9:10 to be safe. It takes 30 minutes to get to the office according to Google Maps. Factor in 15 minutes of going the wrong way. I’ll need 45 minutes to get showered and ready. So I should get up at… uhhhhhhh… 7:40. I’ll set my alarm for 7:10, 7:20, 7:27, 7:32, and 7:38.

Just in case.

At 6:00 AM I was up and getting ready. I need to make a good first impression. Clothes: Jeans or chinos? Dark or light? What matches with grey? Is this too wrinkly? What color shoes? Where’s my belt?

Chinos. Light. Orange. No. Black. Hanging in the closet, where I put it yesterday.

The walk was longer than expected. The humidity of New York City took no prisoners this morning, and I was born with sweat glands similar in strength and size to Old Faithful. I felt sweat beading on my forehead and the center of my back. No no no, not today. Don’t get sweaty.

Thirty minutes and one shirt soaked through on both sides later, I made it to my building. Right on time. I called up.

“Hi, it’s Dan Whitman.”

“Hi Dan. I’ll be right down.”

“Ok! Great! See you soo-”

The phone hung up before I could get out my last exclamation point. I fanned myself frantically, hoping to cool myself down to the point that when I entered the office my new coworkers would think that I got sprayed with a hose rather than caught in an isolated thunderstorm.

My escort arrived to take me up to the office. In the elevator, my new coworker and I struck up conversation.

“Where are you from?” he asked me.

“Originally right outside Harrisburg but I lived in Pittsburgh for the last five years,” I spoke with excitement, entirely too quickly. “I went to school at Pitt and then worked there for one year before moving here. Well, actually, I lived in LA for two months after school interning and then went back to Pittsburgh and then here.”


“Yeah!” Two quiet seconds. “What about you?”

“The DC area. Virginia. We used to drive to Philly and back for a cheesesteak and see who could make it there faster.”

“HAHA NO WAY that’s really funny haha did it take long to get there?” What am I doing? That’s not funny. That wasn’t even a joke.

“Like four hours or so.” We exited the elevator. “Here, this is our office.”

He showed me to my desk, then took me around to meet everyone else. I remembered every third name. Those that I couldn’t remember, I made up. I later found out that there is no Shelly, Brian, or Alyssa in my office, nor was there ever.

I walked around the office in a way that can be only described as snake-like, contorting my body into completely unnatural positions so that my new coworkers weren’t able to see the Great Salt Lake continuing to form on my back.

“There should be some paperwork for you to fill out sitting on your desk, and I think HR will reach out to you for orientation sometime soon.”

“Ok! Awesome! Thanks!!” Why am I still talking like this?

I took my seat and thumbed mindlessly through the paperwork sitting on my desk. Looking up, I glanced around at everyone else in the office, working hard on this or that. It was then that I came to the realization that I had no idea what I was doing.

The first day of a new job can be brutal. Especially the first day of your first real, salaried, I-don’t-know-anyone-or-what-I’m-doing-is-it-hot-in-here-where’s-the-bathroom-I-NEED-TO-PEE-RIGHT-NOW job. You’re aware of everything you do, from the way you talk and shake hands down to the way you sit in a meeting or walk to the copier.

While everyone seems to be doing important work, you’re setting up your voicemail and hoping that no one can hear you record and rerecord your greeting seven times. While your neighbor has three computer screens with different Excel sheets open, you’re deciding on the non-alphanumeric character to end your password with (the dollar sign, obviously, because you’re there to make money). And while your coworker is typing frantic emails about things that need to be done “ASAP BECAUSE IT WAS NEEDED YESTERDAY” you’re figuring out which height is just right on your desk chair.

Note: You are never able to actually get it at that height and settle for just a little too low.

You’ll need to learn a whole new language that is spoken in your office and your office only. “The Q3 BSRs are done except our major markets don’t include TRPs.” You’re lucky to catch an entire sentence without an acronym. In high school we’re told that learning a foreign language makes us more marketable to employers. In reality they should be teaching us how to rattle off arbitrary combinations of letters and numbers that sound like they could have significance.

Show excitement about your newfound employment, but don’t overdo it. The right amount of excitement shows that you’re ambitious and eager to learn. Too much excitement shows that you’re really, really annoying.

You have a weird side. Everyone does. Do not let yours loose on day 1. Keep the joke about the shape of that person’s mole in your head. Don’t share your story about catching a squirrel and keeping it as a pet right now. Unlike at a bar, the first impression you make in the office matters. Similarly, your coworkers are not your friends (unless they are).

Most importantly, though, remember that the first day normally kind of sucks. It’s slow, awkward, and uncomfortable. You’ll remember every minute of it – every interaction, every question, every moment you’re aware of yourself – until the next time you have a first day. But don’t worry; no one else will remember a thing.

Unless you’re really sweaty.

After finishing my pile of Human Resources documents, I uncomfortably dove into sexual harassment orientation training. I went to the website and hit start.

Oh good, it’s a video. This won’t be weird.

“Welcome to sexual harassment orientation,” the voice stated over my headphones. “This one hour interactive video will guide you through the policies and procedures your company has in place to prevent and punish sexual harassment in the workplace.”

HOLD THE PHONE. One hour? Interactive? I’m quitting this job.

One hour later I was afraid to even look at my female coworkers. I realized the day was nearing its end. I wasn’t sure what to do, so after rearranging my desk three more times and refreshing my inbox, I packed up my things to leave.

“Bye Alyssa!” I said to not-Alyssa as I headed out the door.

I reflected on my day in the elevator. Not bad. I met a lot of people, got my ducks in a row, and, most importantly, started a job I think I’m going to be happy in. I’m going to do well here. I’m excited – I feel like I there’s a promising horizon ahead of me, and this is the ship to get me there. Things are going to be great.

Feeling like a million dollars, I exited the elevator, strolled through the lobby, and headed towards the doors. When I stepped out into the sunlight, I turned right and walked towards my subway stop. Which, as it turns out, is not to the right, but to the left, turning my thirty-minute commute into and hour and fifteen minutes.

Happy Day 1.

Everything’s going to be all right.

I knew it was coming for weeks. I was nervous. And anxious. And scared and excited and every other emotion one goes through when a life changing event approaches. But this last day – the day before I left Pittsburgh, my home for the past five years – this day was the most emotional of them all.

I’d been getting my things packed up for weeks. Silverware one day, TV stand the next. I took my desk apart, then my shelves, then my bed. I took my wall hangings down and folded them up. Slowly my apartment was becoming empty.

My parents came a week earlier and took everything that I wouldn’t need for my last few days. That’s when the goodbyes started. “You’ll have to come visit!” I’d say to my friends. “I’ll see you soon, I’m sure.” “Not goodbye, just until next time.” “I’ll be back soon.” I didn’t want to be sad because I didn’t want my friends to be sad. Happy goodbyes are much easier than tearful ones.

On the morning of the day before the day I left, I was strangely proud of how well I was handling this enormously bittersweet situation. I’d had fleeting moments of sadness throughout the week, but kept it together even when saying goodbye to my best friends. Alone in my apartment, I turned on some music and started packing my clothing – all that was left in my now empty room. I started thinking about all the things I’d done over the past five years. The friends I made, the girlfriend I fell in love with, the laughs, the fights, the memories, and everything in between. The emotions that I’d been trying to hide for weeks welled up inside my chest.

Then I sat down on the floor cried like a baby.

Change is hard. It’s an inevitable part of life. It takes us out of our comfort zone and throws us into something new. We’re forced to thrive. Sometimes change is welcome, but that doesn’t make it any less hard. We try to be strong, to power through it like it’s no big deal. But the next thing you know you’re alone and sobbing on the floor of your empty bedroom.

For me, change took the form of moving from the city that’s become my second home. Change was moving from my friends, girlfriend, and the comforts of the place that helped shape me into who I am. But change can take any form. From the death of a loved one to the birth of a child, from a wedding to a divorce, change comes in many shapes and sizes. It evokes emotions we never knew we had. It makes us feel confused, lost, anxious, or lonely. Most of all, it can feel impossible to get through.

Sometimes change is so hard that fate steps in to help you get through it.

I woke up in the morning with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Thirty minutes left before departure. I had to say my final, and hardest, goodbye. My girlfriend of two and a half years. Tears were shed. Neither wanted to be the one to turn and leave first. Heart-wrenchingly, we parted ways. I watched her drive down the street, out of sight. There was nothing left to do now except get into my car and drive away.

With tears drying on my face I pulled into a gas station. I stepped out of my car and instinctively hit the lock button on my door as I closed it. Then, through the window, I saw my keys sitting on the seat. Great, of all days.

I asked the gas station attendant to use his phone as mine was locked in my car. I managed to call AAA. “It’ll be about an hour until someone can get there.” Wonderful. With nothing on me but my wallet, I headed to my car to wait. It only took a few minutes for the attendant to come out of the concrete box that he works in to talk to me. He was short, mid to late 30s, and had a thick foreign accent that I couldn’t place.

After some small talk, I asked him where he’s from.



“Bhutan. It’s a country in Asia, near Nepal.”

I pictured the map and placed Nepal. I then pretended I know where Bhutan is in relation to that. “Oh, I’ve heard of that. What brought you to the US?”

“Well, it’s a long story.”

I had nothing else to do, so I asked him to explain. Fifteen minutes later, the nameless Exxon attendant told me a story I couldn’t make up if I tried.

He was born in Bhutan, but his family is originally from Nepal. As he was growing up, he was learning Dzongkha (the official language of Bhutan) as well as Nepali and English. The Bhutanese government, however, looked down upon Bhutanese citizens of Nepali descent and refused to allow them to learn any languages except Dzongkha. They forced the teachings of other languages to stop and burned all of my new friend’s English and Nepali books.

As time went on, the Bhutanese government’s conflict with those of Nepali descent escalated. The military began harassing and arresting it’s citizens, eventually forcing them out of the country. When the attendant was 7 years old, he and his family took refuge in Nepal.

They lived in a refugee camp with tens of thousands of other refugees. He, his mother, father, twin brother and older brother lived in a hut made of bamboo siding and plastic roofing no bigger than the cement building where he worked now. The next hut was just several feet away. He only had access to what was available in the refugee camp, which wasn’t much.

And he lived there for 17 years.

In 2008, he and his family came to America. After living in Florida for two years, they moved to Pittsburgh. He works at the gas station where I was stranded as well as the Omni downtown. Some days he’ll work both jobs for 14 hours or more. In time, he plans to move back to Nepal so he can buy land and live out his days.

The AAA truck came, unlocked my car, and drove off. I shook my new friend’s hand and said goodbye. This goodbye, however, wasn’t a sad one.

Now, as I sit on the roof of my apartment in Brooklyn, watching the sunset across the river over Lower Manhattan, I realize that the nameless Bhutanese man’s story was exactly what I needed to hear. The struggles he went through and the strength he had in order to keep himself together gave me perspective on my situation. The change that I was going through was hard, but it could be worse.

The man’s story made me realize that I was going to be OK. The change I was going through paled in comparison to the changes he had to deal with throughout his life. If he’s made it through his struggles, I could easily make it through mine.

No matter the changes you’re facing, you’re going to be fine, too. Life throws us challenges all the time, and change can be one of the hardest. It’s easy to stay comfortable, but without change, we don’t grow. It’s hard to decide to make a change, and even harder to accept it. But when change comes your way, no matter how tough it seems, keep your head up. Everything’s going to be all right.

If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, stop at the Exxon at the intersection of Penn and Braddock and give my nameless friend the message that I never got to give him myself:

Tell him I say thank you.

9 Things I’ve Learned Since College

One year and one month ago I graduated college. Here is the wisdom I’ve gained:

  1. We are not more sophisticated than our undergraduate selves. We visit our college friends on a weekend and witness a drunk kid stumbling out of McDonald’s with six Big Macs and a milkshake in his hand. He’s yelling onto his phone about a chick he just made out with at the bar. “I can’t believe people act like that,” we say judgmentally as we head to get a Stella Artois at the newest, trendiest bar in town. Exactly 1 Stella and 9 Miller Lites later (because who knew Stella is so expensive?!), we’re walking home eating tater tots covered in pulled pork and BBQ sauce with our bare hands because we can’t wait the 7 minute walk to use a fork. They say old habits die hard, but we say “WHO CARES I’M HUNGRY.”
  2. Whoever coined the phrase “poor college kid” is full of it. More like “poor student-debt-laden-rent-paying-food-buying-gym-membership-bills-piling-no-longer-able-to-get-a-pitcher-for-$5-now-what? kid”. We may have been poor in college, but when a CASH-4-GOLD commercial sends us digging through our things so we can get takeout tonight, we’ve hit rock bottom.
  3. Sundays are the best days. For the last four years (or five, if you’re one of those people), we’ve started our Sundays with a hangover, dragged through the afternoon feebly attempting to eat crackers and drink Gatorade, and entered the evening with the crushing realization that all the work we put off over the weekend didn’t do itself. But with the onset of the real world, that has changed. Sundays often still start with a hangover (with pulled pork, BBQ sauce, and tater tot crumbs in our beds), but now we have all day to do with what we please. Need Wendy’s? Go get it. Still tired? Take one – no – take three naps. And when the familiar time comes when the work we have to do starts lingering over us like the Eye of Sauron, we can instead watch the newest episode of Game of Thrones, guilt-free.
  4. Laundry days are (still) the worst days. Self-explanatory. Laundry is, always has been, and always will be, the worst. Why are we paying to do laundry in our own apartment? Is this some type of cruel joke? Don’t they know how much a Stella costs?
  5. It is NOT ok to wear sweatpants in public. As it turns out, people in the real world do not wear sweatpants unless they’re working out or shopping at WalMart. This came as a shock to me and should to you too. Why restrict such a comfortable piece of clothing to the cramped confines of our apartments? College led us to falsely believe that sweats are acceptable mid-Tuesday attire. They are not. Looks like we’ll all be “working out” much more often.
  6. Happy Hour is a Godsend. A Blue Moon with our coworkers on the porch of our favorite bar after suffering through a painstaking 40+ hour workweek? Make it three. Get home by 8 and fall asleep by 10? Wake up before noon on Saturday and get a ton of crap done? Sign me up. This concept is foreign to the able-bodied college drinker. However, it is truly one of the best motivators to get through a last minute status meeting with that lady who doesn’t like fun or smiling on Friday afternoon.
  7. It is impossible to sleep past 9:30. There needs to be a class in college that teaches us how early life in the real world starts. There are days when we leave for work and the sun still hasn’t come up. If we wake up at 9:30 we’re already at least 30 minutes late. Turn that into a habit and we can kiss our low salaried, highly demanding, rent-paying jobs goodbye.
  8. Reading can be fun. For four years we’re forced to purchase the overpriced, stale ramblings of our professors and read them cover-to-cover. Without freedom of choice in our readings, we lose the ability to enjoy literature. Apparently, though, there’s nonfiction out there that isn’t painful to read. This new world of prose excites our senses like a pierogi excites a Pittsburgher. And if nonfiction doesn’t tickle your inner brainiac, at least you now have time to plow through the Hunger Games novels.
  9. Hobbies exist. In school we didn’t have hobbies – we had school, sleeping, eating greasy food, and drinking shitty beer. Now, when we get home from work, we’ve still got two thirds of a day left to do with what we please. In school we call this free time “bored”. Now, a whole new world awaits in a cookbook, comedy club, or cornhole league with your new, sophisticated, Sunday loving, laundry hating, equally as poor post college friends.

Your coworkers are not your friends (unless they are).

I woke up late and realized that I didn’t have a gift. Today was the company Christmas party and we were doing a White Elephant gift exchange. From what I understood, it means that everyone brings in something they have around the house that they don’t want and we exchange with each other at random.

As I rushed to get out the door I grabbed the only thing in my house that I really didn’t want. Plus, I thought to myself, this gift is going to be hilarious.

I barely made it to the party on time. My six coworkers and I piled food onto our plates and discussed Christmas vacation plans. After eating and chatting for a while, it was gift-giving time. We all grabbed a random gift and sat back down. The woman a few seats away grabbed my soon-to-be-hilarious present.

“That one’s from me. You’re gonna love it” I said with a hint of sarcasm.

“Oh weird, you grabbed mine too.” I examined the bag as if I could tell what was in it by its weight and ribbon on top.

“Nice! We should have just exchanged gifts when we got here – ha!” She feigned a smile at my sad attempt of a joke. Dejected, I turned to the first gift opener.

He tore the paper off his rectangular gift to reveal a DVD of I Am Legend.

“Oh sweet!” he said.

That’s way better than my gift.

“That’s from me!” announced another coworker.

“Thanks! Well I guess you should open yours now,” responded the newest owner of I Am Legend.

The next coworker reached into his bag. He pulled out a bottle opener and two beers. “Thanks!”

Hmm, that’s not too bad either.

I started to get nervous about my gift. The presents that my coworkers were opening all seemed pretty good. At least mine will make them laugh…

The opening continued – one person got three candles. Another got a digital picture frame and batteries. Oh shit, this isn’t a gag gift exchange. People brought real things. It was my turn to open my gift. I reached in my bag to find a set of three bookmarks and a cherry almond chocolate bar.

“Thanks. Um, I guess it’s your turn,” I said to the holder of my gift. She was the only one left.

This is not going to end well. I already felt like an asshole and she hadn’t even opened it.

If there’s one thing I learned quickly from being in the real world it’s that your coworkers are not your friends. I don’t mean that in the sense that they’re your enemies – I get along fine with my coworkers and like to think we enjoy each other’s company – but that your relationship with your coworkers is not equivalent to your relationship with your friends.

Sure, you ask them about their plans for the weekend. You help them out when they have a problem. But there’s a difference between being friends and being work friends. Being work friends means holding the door when you see a coworker approaching. It means saying hello when you get to work and goodbye when you leave.

Being friends, however, means going out together on Friday night. Being friends means texting each other about Game of Thrones and what you just ate.

There’s a boundary between being work friends and being friends that is hard to define but easily overstepped. “One time we laughed really hard together watching a video on YouTube, but he still sends me really formal emails.” This area between being work friends and friends – friendship purgatory – can cause a lot of stress. Nothing is worse than overstepping that boundary and thinking it’s OK while your work friend files a complaint to HR.

You see, you and your friends have a very specific sense of humor – one that 98% of people are completely unable to translate. Your friends will complain with you about why grapes and grape flavored things taste completely different while work friends will stare at you and go back to their desk.

Your coworkers are not on the inside of you and your friend’s slightly racist joke. They will not find it funny.

Your coworkers do not want to hear about how you face planted on Saturday night but managed to hold on to your bacon wrapped chili dog. They will not congratulate you. They will call you a drunk.

Your coworkers will not laugh when they find out you’re the one that created a “Missed Connections” post on Craigslist in their name. They will never trust you again.

And, although we all know it’s hilarious, your work friends will not think it’s funny that you tapped the top of their open bottle and had beer erupt on their suit and tie at Ethel’s retirement party.

While these things are learned with time, one more thing also becomes apparent. Sometimes you find someone in that special 2%. The person who laughs in your face when you trip over nothing or applauses when you accidentally call your boss “Mom”. Inevitably, a work friend will turn into a friend. At which point it is perfectly appropriate to do the above mentioned actions at your own risk.

Until then, though, don’t tell them about how you went skinny-dipping in that fountain at 3AM on Friday night.

“Um, you’re not going to like my gift at all.”

“I’m sure it’s not that bad,” she responded.

“No really, it’s honestly the worst gift I’ve ever given anyone. Ever.” I wanted to grab it out of her hands and run out of the room before anyone could see it.

“Stop that, I’m sure it’s fine.” She started taking the tissue paper out of the bag. I clenched my teeth and held my breath as she tilted the bag towards her face.

“Be careful,” I warned.


“Just be careful. You’ll understand.”

She reached down in and pulled out my gift.

“…what is it?” She asked.

“It’s a dead cactus.” Three of the longest seconds of my life passed by.

“…thanks.” A few coworkers forced a laugh.

“I’m so sorry.” This is awful. My friends would have thought it was funny.

“No… it’s ok… maybe I can revive it.” There’s no way she could revive it.

“Yea, maybe,” I responded. A few more seconds went by without a word.

“Thanks for the bookmarks.”