A sort-of-excerpt from “The New Thing”

“Brick and mortar” is perhaps not the best way to describe the actual building that serves as HQ for the Furlong & Company’s[1] offices. The building itself is ostensibly a large aluminum cuboid structure with very only a few windows peppered across its four rectangular sides. The front side, which faces west, is adorned with blue awnings that display the company’s name—FURLONG AND COMPANY—in a white sans serif’d font in all caps, nondescript. The aluminum building’s roof is pancake-flat, which proves problematic to clear after heavy Nebraska snows.

However, the aluminum siding on all four sides, despite being mostly low maintenance, prove to be the building’s most problematic structural feature as it wreaks all kinds of wireless havoc on cellular signals within the building itself, a circumstance most of The Agency’s employees are forced to grapple with on a daily basis. E.g. when someone’s phone rings, coworkers watch on as that person hurriedly makes a bee-line for an exterior wall—preferably one with one of The Agency’s few windows—in hopes of reclaiming a lost bar or two of signal strength, only then to flusteredly inform their caller that the call is cutting out and they’ll (i.e. The Agency employee will) have to call the caller back from an interior office landline, which, while dramatically improving audible conversation quality and ease, can also completely irk a cellular-only client if they are low on minutes for the month. Various avenues have been explored to improve cellular usability within The Agency’s HQ, but the Furlong and Company’s building simply remains a solutionless vortex of cellular unreliability.

It should be noted that the problem of nearly impossible cellular communication was not even on the radar of potential and foreseeable problems when Vicki and Hans Furlong purchased the aluminum building in the early 1990s to house The Agency’s corporate headquarters. Back then, cellular technology was still an extremely niche market in its infancy.

The Agency’s parking lot is actually shared by two other businesses, a newly-opened franchise of the Midwestern chain of pizza restaurants, Pizza Ranch, and a turn of the century building that houses a thrift store of a mostly dubious operating nature. Due to some very complex but seemingly arbitrary and somewhat nebulous zoning issues, virtually none of the actual parking in front of The Agency actually belongs to The Agency, aside from four compact spaces along the front/ west-facing side of the building and another six spaces along the south-facing side. As you can conceivably imagine, the overall parking situation becomes a little sticky when more than a few of The Agency’s nearly 100 total employees—most of which are field social workers—converge on the Furlong & Associates HQ at one time, an occurrence that happens just about every week when one or another Agency supervisor calls a team meeting, which of course are mandatory, and should really never be missed unless an employee is, at that exact time, confronting serious personal injury or death. Furlong employees, consequently, basically never miss team meetings.

Another parking oddity at The Agency pertains to its single handicapped parking space that, because of the wonky aforementioned zoning between the three businesses that share the parking lot, is designated in a sort of non-space in front of The Agency’s rented garbage dumpster[2]. As you can also probably imagine, further parking issues arise when a) more than one handicapped client or employee needs to visit The Agency’s HQ, and when b) a handicapped client or employee happens to visit The Agency on garbage collection day—typically Thursday—either of which [i.e. situation a) or b)] almost invariably sends multiple parties into severe conniptions, including the president and CEO of The Agency, Vicki Furlong, and The Agency’s punctually-erratic garbage collector, Frank Bruno[3]. Thus it is not uncommon to see the CEO of the largest private human services provider in Nebraska[4] standing in the parking lot at various times every Thursday serving as a kind of power-suited traffic cop.

Another branch of The Agency’s daily operations is its UA[5] Department. The Agency’s UA Dept. is literally an island unto itself. Ostensibly, anyway. When Vicki and Hans Furlong purchased the building, there was an incredible and inordinate amount of wasted (read: open and basically unusable) interior space. Shortly after acquiring their new base of operations, the Furlongs began partitioning off the building to create more offices, a kitchen, a second conference room and a department for their (at the time) proposed drug testing division. However, due to a miscommunication re: the ultimate vision between the contractors and Vicki Furlong, the future UA Department was literally walled off from the rest of The Agency—aside from the one exterior door located as far from the main Agency doors as geometrically possible; there was no physical way, interiorally-speaking, to reach that part of the building—which just about sent Vicki into the most violent of paroxysm-related conniptions imaginable.

However, in a rush to get a move on things, Vicki had actually signed off on the plans, which, for whatever reason, clearly illustrated that the new UA Dept. would only have a single entrance/exit. This (in her words) “little snag” has not stopped Vicki from a) proceeding with legal action against the contractors in a case that basically everyone agrees is unwinnable but that no one ever mentions to Vicki, and b) refusing to go ahead and just hire another contractor to add some kind of internal access to the UA Dept. based on (her words again) quote: “principle” and “common sense” which, to her, dictate that it should have obviously been done right in the first place, and why would she spend any more money to have something fixed that should have been done right in the first place anyway? Consequently, any interaction between The Agency proper and the UA Department requires physical perambulation around the building’s exterior, which is, for all intents and purposes, and on a fundamental level, a complete and utter annoyance; but during the scorching Nebraska summers and horrifyingly frigid winters, it becomes downright miserable. Even a warm—and typically welcome—spring shower loses its novelty in a matter of seconds.

The drab gray carpeting inside The Agency’s HQ is old and, on the whole—permitting the term—ratty. It is the original carpet that was installed when the building was brand new in the early 1990s. Most of the surface area of the low-pile carpet has been worn flat, as if it ever were to get wet, it might actually become slippery. When various tears and tatters appear, which is not all that infrequently, Vicki Furlong’s solution is to buy cheap throw rugs of varying size, shape, color and thickness with which to cover them. Ultimately, The Agency’s carpeted floors have come to look like a patchwork quilt in certain areas, i.e. especially in high-traffic areas like the Human Service Workers’ room and main clerical area.

The fluorescent lighting throughout the building is something of a conundrum as well. It seems that when it comes time to order office supplies, the same fluorescent bulb is never ordered twice in a row to replace the bulbs that have burnt out, thus creating a workspace for many employees where the bulbs above their head are varying degrees of both bright- and white-ness. Some employees have complained about strange, intermittent headaches and/or eye-related discomfort that only manifests itself when they are at work. This is also to say nothing at all of the fluorescent bulbs that flicker steadily in their sockets regardless of how new they (i.e. the bulbs) are, prompting a good many employees to suspect temperamental electrical wiring.

Those Furlong employees with actual offices[6] and separate light switches—i.e. basically everyone not assigned to a carpet-walled cubicle whose overhead lighting resides in the main clerical/cubicle area[7] of The Agency and are controlled by a single master switch—will often simply turn their overhead lights off, preferring instead to work in the semi-dark or, at most, making use of a single incandescent bulb’d lamp usually posted atop something like an end table, credenza or filing cabinet. Travis McEvoy and Rachel Bauman who both supervise the UA department are basically on a whole entirely other electrical cluster within the building, of which there are three total (i.e. there are 3 separate electrical clusters within the Furlong & Co. building, each cluster with its own individual fuse box, inter-ceiling/-wall wiring, etc.). Consequently, a power surge or outage occurring in one cluster of the building might actually not affect the other 2/3 of The Agency’s electricity-based productivity. Some of the interiormost offices actually have separate electrical outlets wired to two of the building’s separate electrical clusters which then, in the event of a power surge or outage, results in only half of that office “going down,” electrically-speaking. Employees who occupy those offices have learned which clusters tend to have more surges and/or outages and thus plug in their respective devices strategically in order of importance.[8]

[1] A.k.a. “The Agency.”

[2] Which is also located on the Furlong building’s west-facing front side, though strategically- and aesthetically-placed in the pseudo-alley extant between The Agency and the dubiously-operating thrift store.

[3] The Agency’s employees are on a first name basis with Frank Bruno due to the innumerable times he has had to wait in the Furlong & Associates’ reception area while whichever handicapped client or employee stops whatever it is they are doing to move their car while Frank uses the massive fork on his truck to hydraulically suplex the dumpster into his truck’s garbage collection area. The handicapped client or employee must then drive a lap around the block while Frank makes with the garbage-disposing due to the claustrophobic nature of the parking lot—it is (i.e. the parking lot is) simply too small for the client or employee to pull their car away from the dumpster and wait for Frank to do his thing; there is simply too much traffic coming and going and creating veritable shitloads more congestion in an already congested lot, which, in turn, just causes all kinds of tension and harsh feelings between the three businesses sharing the lot. This is really a whole set of circumstances Vicki Furlong goes to incredible extremes to avoid since she, of course, legally-speaking, has claim to the fewest number of parking spaces.

[4] Which, aside from its HQ, located in Omaha, has sites in Lincoln, Sioux City and Grand Island.

[5] A.k.a. the Urine Analysis Department, which also does various other kinds of drug testing such as hair follicle, saliva and sweat testing but has kept the moniker of “UA Dept” out of habit.

[6] Such as the Human Services supervisors (e.g. Zooey Feeney, Dharini Mohapatra, Xiang Liu and Bambi St. James), Tracker/Electronic Monitoring supervisors (Darrell Sweeney and Monica Salters), the on-site therapist, Lucy Twilliger, Accounting’s man-with-the-fiscal-plan, Tom Banerjek, and the one man IT/Server/Web Maintenance department, Todd Lomeyer.

[7] I.e. Stan Manley, Agnes Leibowitz and Rochelle Jones.

[8] It is not uncommon to see those skinny type of brown extension cords crisscrossing their way around these offices’ walls so that the right electrical device can be plugged into the most reliable outlet, regardless of desk, credenza, filing cabinet, etc. positioning.

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