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Refrigerator Hierarchy

It's quiet, it's early.  Not everyone has arrived to work yet.  You've just quietly entered the break room and opened the refrigerator door.  Food parcels in hand, you stare at the cold, dimly lit box.  The office refrigerator.  A passive, diplomacy wasteland.

Phil has been here for years.  He gets to put his yogurt in the door, right there.  And Mary started putting her food over there, in the cool spot in the back, and she holds it down like a gold-rush miner.

Some bags and containers are put there by people you don't even know, people you've never even talked to except to mumble "how y'doing" in passing... but you know to respect them.  You've seen the titles on their nameplates.  You know those abbreviations carry the weight of tenure.

We all see it multiple times a day. This is the Refrigerator Hierarchy. 

It's like a game of chess played with unseen players.  Only a limited space is available, and certainly some pieces play better in some places than others.  The round tupperware containers fit perfectly on the second shelf, but are impossible to stack in the door trays.  A thermos fits comfortably on the top shelf, but refuses to balance on the snack rack. 

Come midday, these innocuous bags become vital survival supplies for a very bored and hungry people. These food satchels are the only bastion of hope in a land barren of flavor and event.  Even the coffee gets culled and re-brewed so that it is fresh, hot, and alive.

Flash back to you standing in front of the open refrigerator, it's dimly lit box waiting for you to make a decision.  You need to find storage, but an unknown checkmate move may bring a very important and very angry person to your cubicle.  Which spot will you take?

The human interaction dynamic of the office refrigerator is as unique as it is interesting. Until fairly recently in the industry of employment, lines of work usually entailed a personal responsibility of meals, or a shared meal provided to all workers. The advent of the office environment, as well as machines to briskly reheat or to chill and preserve food, present a new situation and challenge to how we figure out our midday meals.

We may all work in many boxes, but we are all given one box in which we store all of our food.

It is a challenging situation, to say the least.  People are particular about their food, and they are even more particular with how it is kept.  We do not like our food to be touched or tampered with unless we grant explicit permission.  And we want to find it in the exact spot we left it earlier that morning, so that we do not wonder whether someone touched it, sniffed it, poked it, or... worse.

Of course, you are free to regard or to disregard all of this interpersonal dynamic, but how will you vote on the issue when the occupying food belongs to, say, your boss?  Or to the executive secretary, with whom you have a rather... tenuous relationship?  

Maybe it is best if you can just find a spot back there, near the dark corner, next to that unmarked container that has been there for two months - or has it been three?  That's probably safer.  Your tupperware is airtight anyways... right?


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