entry_181We’ve gathered in the cafeteria area.

Despite the fact that no one is enthusiastic about holding the meeting, the meeting happens anyway, as if of its own will. What sort of world is it where events can take place that satisfy neither need nor desire? Only diseases are more insistent, in my estimation. But such is not a good way to begin a meeting if I have any intention of outlasting it. I must keep up appearances, feigning engagement so as not to draw attention to myself. For my colleagues a meeting is the measure of work rather than a distraction from it. Their currency is a blue square on the schedule grid.

As time passes I’ve managed to contribute a few salient points, and quietly disengage to seek the sustenance of thought. At the other end of the cafeteria an employee unfamiliar to me has sauntered into view, an older man. Cup in hand, he’s heading toward the water cooler, really taking his time. In fact I think it’s safe to say that he’s shuffling. Too many meetings, I suspect. Having finally reached his destination, he holds the cup under the spout and depresses the lever… and promptly drops the cup on the floor.

Immediately I refocus on the meeting, posing as guy-at-a-meeting guy so as not to be caught witnessing the show. But the shuffler is fully engaged in retrieving the cup. He holds it back under the spout and presses the lever again. I listen to the meeting, but secretly I’m thinking about multiple sclerosis. People with MS drop things at the beginning. Maybe I’ve just witnessed the onset of what will eventually be a debilitating malady. In a few years this guy will be helpless with MS–or Parkinson’s disease, maybe.

In spite of my diagnosis, he’s managed to fill the cup this time. So far so good–until the cup slips to the floor again, spilling water all over the yellow linoleum. “Damn,” says cup-dropper under his breath. I sneak glances at my coworkers, but no one else has noticed. This meeting is particularly resistant to interruption, not so different from the new drug-resistant virus strains. Perhaps meetings are becoming stronger over time, and eventually we’ll come face to face with the meeting that never ends. If so, then we only have ourselves to blame. The thought of it makes me uncomfortable, and I shift on my chair, sitting on my left leg.

Meanwhile, cup-dropper considers the situation for a moment before retrieving the unruly cup again. For a moment he stands still, mirrored in the pool of water he’s created, the vision of a modern day Tantalus. I see it as an unlikely office still-life: Befuddled Puddle Man in Business Casual. But he is resolute now, and holds the cup under the spout yet again.

Cup-dropper has again successfully filled his cup, and, taking more care this time, brings it up from under the spout to take a sip, thus breaking the tortuous cycle. But still there remains the matter of the pool he’s standing in. Now that he’s completed his task he appears to be a bit self conscious about the look of things. Certainly the evidence underfoot is incriminating. He’s looking from side to side, leaning to see into the main kitchen area. Is he looking for help? Or perhaps paper towels? But as he takes a few cautious steps away from the cooler it dawns on me that he is in fact looking for witnesses. Am I naive? Surely this middle-aged man–by all outward appearances a grown-up–wouldn’t shirk responsibility. He couldn’t just flee a crime scene.

But sure enough, he’s now several feet away from the water cooler, appreciating one of the employee art submissions that adorn the cafeteria walls. I know that he’s appreciating the photograph about as much as I’m appreciating my meeting. What he’s really doing is dissociating slowly. He’s now at that point where he could still own up to the mess if confronted, but in a moment he will have crossed the culpability threshold. Like a chameleon, he is changing subtly from the puddle-making man to the art-appreciating man.

As the evidence becomes ever more circumstantial, I imagine jumping over the table and tackling my art-appreciating coworker. “Confess!” I would shout, my teeth poised just over his jugular. And he would know exactly what I wanted. Still, only I would know that my motivation was less about altruism than salvation from a campaign of one hour soul-sucking sessions.

Only fifty minutes to go now.

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