Where the toys are

I have chattering teeth on my desk.

Not just your standard plastic chattering teeth. These have big, pink bare feet attached. The whole thing hops around while the teeth chatter. Worth a smile the first 30 times you see it.
After that, you try to ignore the little gizmo, which sends you telepathic signals all day: "Wind me up. C'mon, it'll be fun."

Where did this laugh riot come from? I have no idea. I assume one of my sons set the teeth here, then forgot them.

Desks collect toys and gimcracks and gewgaws and freebie calendars, whether they're sitting with their mates in some big office or all alone at home. Such is their nature. If zoologists traced it back far enough, I'm sure they'd find an evolutionary branch where four-legged desks split from the same primitive species that spawned the packrat.

In large offices, workers decorate their desks to liven up their personal spaces and to show off their toys or photographs of their families. You can tell a lot about people by the artwork and cartoons and accessories they keep on their desks

For instance, a person who uses a ballpoint with a large pink plume attached tends to be the fun-loving sort. A man whose desk is covered with photos of dogs, but no people, might seem shy at first, but he'll be loyal and friendly and will respond well to praise. A bowling trophy may indicate a heightened appreciation for healthy activity and beer.

Desk decoration can also be a warning flag. I've never gotten a satisfactory answer from a secretary who had Garfield prominently displayed. Never enter into a conversation with a man who keeps on his desk a photo of his boat.

Some items are silent protests against the powers that be. Is there any cubicle in America that doesn't sport a "Dilbert" cartoon? Once, when I didn't like my supervisor, I placed a portrait of the Marx Brothers on my desk as mute comment on the way we were being managed. In the photo, the brothers were choking each other.

I worked with an unhappy woman who kept a plastic lamp on her desk. The lamp was shaped like a mushroom cloud and had a red bulb inside. When her superiors walked past, she'd flick on the light and say under her breath: "Boom. Heh-heh-heh." We were all secretly glad when she moved away.

In a home office, a desk is like a big stationary goathead. Everything that travels past sticks to it.

In the past week or two, along with the chattering teeth and the usual mail, I've found the following on my desk: a round plastic rock, a stuffed Roswell alien (twice), several Transformer beasts in various stages of mutation and undress, six shoes, two yo-yos, four Super Balls, a chocolate heart left over from Valentine's Day (how did I miss that?), seven Hot Wheels cars, a toy dump truck, two Koosh balls (don't ask), a dead flower, nine coffee cups, a dozen action figures, three Beanie Babies and 37 dirty socks.

I didn't want any of these things on my desk. I prefer a clean, organized work space. But detritus moves through, and the desk picks it up.

The problem is worse at our house these days because of our shaggy dog, Elvis. He's learned to pick up toys and other items around the house and chew them. He's trained us to take the item away, praise him for handing it over and then put the item on a horizontal surface out of his reach, such as my desk. Then Elvis goes to get another item and we do it all over again. As the numbers show, he's particularly keen on dirty socks.

I think Elvis sees it as his way of cleaning the house. He finds stuff on the floor, brings it to me and I eventually put it away. He's just trying to help. And I'll keep doing my part, cleaning off the desk for the next inevitable accumulation. But I'm keeping the chattering teeth.

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