A cartoon I found recently in a typical modern office was simply drawn, but it was easily recognizable as the face of an attractive smiling young woman with a twinkle in her eyes. The caption said "Before work."
When I turned the paper upside down, the face became that of a scowling wrinkled crone with bags under her eyes. The caption for this image said "After work."You could find nearly identical pieces of photocopied folklore posted on office bulletin boards throughout the land, sometimes placed next to a variation that's captioned "Before marriage" and "After marriage."
This anonymous, amateurishly drawn, before-and-after cartoon is just one example of the thousands of ways that office workers express themselves via duplicated words and pictures.
Folklorist Alan Dundes has dubbed such material "urban folklore from the paperwork empire." Other folklorists call it "Xeroxlore," and most of us have a file or a desk drawer full of the stuff.
It's as easy to collect as lint on a dark-blue business suit.
According to this flood of contemporary lore, offices are thoroughly frustrating, boring and dehumanizing places. In such a world, one of the only ways for workers to maintain their sanity is by venting their feelings with the very supplies and equipment that the work world provides.
Seldom do you meet a person who actually created a piece of photocopy folklore, since most people just re-copy something that's been going around, perhaps adding some local details. Occasionally an actual urban legend will be copied and posted, but more often the texts are shorter jokes, quips and parodies.
In the same office where I picked up the before-and-after cartoon, I also found a drawing captioned "Quiet Please, I'm Working." The illustration showed a snoring executive with his feet on the desk.
Another photocopied sign showed a goofy-looking monkey, with the caption reading "Don't ask me to think. I was hired for my looks!"
Yet another sign declared "It's hard to soar with the eagles, when you work with a bunch of turkeys."
One favorite unofficial office sign advertises answers for 75 cents, answers requiring thought for $1.25 and correct answers for $2.15. The sign concludes, "Dumb looks are still free."
A folk version of the hallowed organizational chart of office personnel pictures a succession of men in suits and ties kissing each other's hands, then further down the ladder kissing feet, then eventually kissing, well, you get the picture.
A parody of an employee performance-appraisal form rates workers on a scale. Below the top level, "Walks on water occasionally," a worker might be ranked because he merely "Washes with water" or "Drinks water." At the lowest level a worker "Passes water in an emergency."
Other phony forms, often reproduced on actual company letterhead, announce ridiculously restrictive new policies for vacation time, sick-leave or restroom use.
Peek into the company break room, and likely someone has posted a photocopied sign that declares "Notice! Your mother does not work here. Pick up after yourself."
Above the photocopier itself you might find a notice describing the machine's "critical detector sensor." This feature, supposedly, "creates a malfunction proportional to the desperation of the operator."
Another sign provides answers for the most common questions about the copier when it's down, such as "Have you called the photocopy machine repair man?" (Yes!) "How long will it take to fix?" (We don't know!) "Do you know who broke it?" (No!)