My Trash Can at Work

In the summer of 1996, fresh out of graduate school, I got an administrative assistant job at the symphony orchestra of a small city. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, and I had a 45-minute commute, but I was excited to have a “real” job, with an artsy organization! I imagined myself hanging out with musicians, meeting some talented people, and generally enjoying getting to know how a symphony orchestra works behind the scenes.

Well, the way it worked was, I sat at a desk all day and occasionally answered the phone. I wrote a newsletter. I got the mail. Sort of like my job now, there was not much to do. Except it was worse because I didn’t have the internet, and I had to clean the bathroom once a week. Therefore I invented work for myself. I developed a clear and simple cataloguing system for decades’ worth of sheet music that sat in boxes in the basement of the office. I cleaned everything. I reorganized whatever I could.

It was a really boring job, but I did the best I could to stay busy. Unfortunately, I didn’t hang out with a bunch of musicians or any other artsy people, either. I worked in an office of 3 people–myself, the general manager, and the conductor. The conductor usually came into the office around 10 AM. Until then, the GM and I usually chatted and worked comfortably together. When the conductor came into the office, the temperature in the room immediately dropped 10 degrees and the conversation stopped. Mr. Conductor needed to concentrate! There was no time for idle chatter or friendly conversation!

Anyway, I always left the office at 5 PM along with the GM. The conductor usually stayed behind. He was an ar-TEEST and very IMPORTANT so he worked at night sometimes. To get to my car after work, I would walk across the busy street, into a building, take an elevator to the roof, then walk across that parking lot to my car. It took a few minutes to get to my car. No problem. Parking was downtown and paid for by my employer.

So one normal day, about 3 months into the job, I left work at 5 PM, walked across the street, took the elevator up, walked to my car, and realized I’d forgotten something back at my desk. Whatever it was, I needed it that evening. So, I walked back across the parking lot, took the elevator down, walked across the street, and let myself back into the symphony office.

There at my desk, right inside the front door, sat the conductor.
At my desk. In my chair.

He was bent over my trash can and looking through its contents.

I was so befuddled that I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “I forgot my purse” (or whatever it was). He couldn’t think of anything to say, either, and actually didn’t look like he thought he owed me any explanation for digging through my garbage in my absence. I grabbed my purse, said goodnight, and left again.

What DO you say when you find someone going through your trash at work? And notably, this was my boss’s boss. Particularly important to mention is the fact that I was not engaging in any suspicious, unethical, weird, illegal, or non-work-related activities at that job, nor could I imagine how I’d given him any impression that my trash can needed a good inspection.

We never spoke of it. I quit after 7 months and went to another dead end job, but at least I got paid more and didn’t have to commute.

Since it’s 13 years later, I can probably take a risk and google “why would a coworker dig in my trash?”

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