entry_157I’m distracted. I look up from the doodle on my post-it notepad and see the department manager, stem to torso, standing at his desk. I haven’t gotten used to it even though it’s been two weeks since he first decided to start standing. Let me be clear on this point: he no longer sits. Ever. His laptop rests atop a tower of stacked monitor stands, and an attached keyboard is placed such that his arms can reach it from a neutral position. It’s like he’s become an upright fundamentalist. I don’t think he has a chair in his office anymore, and even the family photos on his desk that depicted people sitting were removed by the custodial staff. At first I assumed that this elevated stature was designed to give him a crow’s nest vantage point over the cubicle farm, but now I remember the mean ergonomics lady.

She is responsible for this, I’m sure of it. Last month she made her presence known to the entire staff, flitting from cube to cube, making notes, and offering each of us cold reads on the spot. “I’m going to have you move your armrests down,” she said. And people complied because they assumed she had complete armrest authority. She could hear carpal tendons from across the room, inflamed and rubbing together like frayed ropes. “We don’t want to hold our wrists up like that for an extended period of time,” she said. And, “Let’s go ahead and increase our monitor’s refresh rate so that we can avoid seizures.” And, “Do you have scoliosis, or are you just broken?”

Ergonomically-speaking, I wanted to urge her to relax as she plummeted from our sixth story window, but pity cooled my coals. Her task, after all, was unenviable. The implicit question is: how can humans survive in an office environment for an extended period of time without physical trauma? Personally, I would answer that succinctly by pulling out my urine-stained performance review and weeping. Point made.

It’s not my office manager alone who is responsible for my distraction, but rather the altered environment ergonomics lady left in her wake. Strange things are afoot, and it’s proven detrimental to my performance. Late last week I attended an in-house training class, and our instructors, three women from the HR team, conducted the entire class in a fetal position, lying on gel-filled mats, and navigating through their PowerPoint decks using sip/puff tubes. They certainly seemed comfortable–one of them even fell asleep during the course, and we had to reconvene after lunch.

Were these the lengths to which people would go to reduce the stress of the oppressive confines of their corporate veal cages, without actually escaping them? Why draw the line at the cubicle then? Why not just stay home instead? It’s the interstitial area between fight and flight, a state of mind that is accessible only to those who medicate to toleration. But the real truth, I fear, lies within a cylindrical glass tank.

Deep in the bowels of the building where I work there is a vaulted chamber, thrumming like a secret heart. In its wanly lit atrium the members of the Executive Committee perform their unholy congress cloaked in Brooks Brothers and DKNY. These are the minions of our CEO, who has lately taken to floating suspended in his tank full of burbling amniotic fluid. From this ergonomic utopia he directs the business, communicating his directives through a subdermal microphone.

At our company’s all-hands meeting we gather, all of us, around the CEO’s tank like pigeons around the breadcrumb lady on her park bench. As they massage their palsied wrists, I see fear and admiration both on my coworkers’ faces. When the CEO addresses us, we are expecting to hear wisdom of unmatched depth, but, as incongruous as it would seem, the meeting is actually boring: market-spew and revenue stats, and other obscure information best experienced as background noise. Right up until the very end, that is.

“The last order of business,” he says, “concerns your participation within this organization.” We look at each other as he pauses, drawing the moment out. Then he tells us that we are each, in turn, to have a hand in transferring him from the lymphy broth of the tank to his sensory deprivation chamber. At the end of each workday we will sponge him off, and pat him dry. We will powder his cherub skin, swathe him in a silk tunic, and slide him into his live-work womb. There is some consternation among the ranks, and I hear one of the Marketing reps asking her neighbor whether such a burden might not exacerbate the nerve damage in her forearms.

But the CEO is not finished, and the look on his face has transformed. He places a palm up to the glass membrane and says, “Though life is but the setup to death’s punchline…. Friends, shareholders, it is too late for me. If I could weep still…” he swirls his arms at his sides like propellers. “This life-restoring soup may as well be my tears. But I can see now that I’ve gone too far. I know that. And it happened, all of this, because I lost sight of the truth. But there is hope for you. The truth is that carpal tunnel syndrome and a numb ass are the modern office’s gift to you! What could be more life-affirming than fluorescent headaches and mouse-finger calluses? Please… try to see these things for what they are. They are reminders… that we are alive–truly alive!” His hands are both on the cylinder wall now, and the plea has brought life to his eyes again, if only for a moment. “Now back to your desks,” he says.

Work hurts.


entry_154All this shuffling going on, and suddenly the barking guy is back. I remember the barking guy from a long time ago when he used to sit in my unit (“the ward”), and now the churn has popped him back up like a shell in the surf. This is the guy who spoke in short, staccato bursts, always peppering his Tourette cadence with authoritarian hand-chopping gestures. His manner to coworkers was always immaculately perfunctory, so he became an easy villain in the dramatic construct I fancied myself a player in. Of course I’m no protagonist–I’ve never been anything more than a background character in my own fantasies–but I’m certainly qualified to make such judgments about others.

My point is, some people need to be the bad guy, and they need to stay the bad guy. It’s just a part of the corporate ecosystem. Naturally, there shouldn’t be any drifting of these well-defined roles. I mention this because, after that long absence, barking guy has returned full of wisdom. Not only that, but it all seems to make a canny sense. I fight this, oh yes I do, but the pearls that dribble from his lips of late seem preternaturally lucid, and his curt tone now sounds refreshingly concise. Let me be clear: I don’t want to agree with him. When I see him I think, “Don’t say something I respect. I don’t want to stop hating you from across the room, not just yet.” I cling to my initial characterization, though it seems increasingly futile. But why? There are very few things we can really rely on in these times, but one of them is that we need to know who our pretend-enemies are.

One old saw we can rely on is that extreme circumstances call for extreme measures, and I’ve thought of two just to help mitigate this nascent ecological imbalance. The first is that I’ve made a new pretend-enemy; several, actually. It must be several, see, owing to the fact that I’ve had absolutely no dealings with these people whatsoever. I know my methodology may seem flimsy, so I avoid the issue–and them–assiduously. Second, I’ve discovered that, by exploiting a latent cognitive flaw, it’s possible for me to cultivate enmity for someone based solely on the fact that they’ve forced me to like them, which is surely a manipulation of the natural order of things that borders on assault. Well I, for one, will suffer this Jedi mind-fuckery not a moment longer.

But then barking guy approaches with his friend, and I hear him making what is undeniably an excellent point, and now I like him again, and it occurs to me that I’ve just strobed across the full gamut of emotions in about 12 seconds, all the while sitting before my screen, still as a gargoyle. Madness behind these eyes. Madness.


entry_150There’s a chocolate kiss sitting on my keyboard this morning. An anonymous gift. Meaning that someone’s been in my cubicle. It’s hard for me to describe just how unsettling I find anonymous gifts such as this. It’s like finding a secret message written on the inside of your underwear–the questions are the same. How did it get there? When did it appear? Are those responsible still in the vicinity? Is there a steady red laser dot fixed on my lower spine? If I peer at my mirror real close can I see a surveillance room on the other side? Has someone installed a camera in my toilet?

It seems to me that anonymous gifts are a good way to drive someone insane, whether or not they have a predisposition toward such, on their father’s side of the family. Am I supposed to thank someone now? There’s no obvious target for me to be thankful toward, so am I supposed to be extra thankful to everyone I come across, just in case? If I’m not thankful then all of a sudden I come off as callous. “He doesn’t deserve that chocolate kiss after all.” Guilt then, and I find myself thanking people for the most trivial reasons. “Thanks for that smile.” “Thank you for adjusting your course so as not to walk into me.” “Thank you for not killing me every day since I’ve kind of known you from across the room.”

I envision myself horrified as I return to find my desk covered in chocolate kisses–the rewards for all of my kind deeds. But that’s just it: what have I done right? What am I being rewarded for? You can’t reward someone randomly like that, out of the blue. It’s like giving a serial killer a shiny certificate because they won the spelling bee when they were twelve. Non-specific rewards send mixed signals, and, more than that, stress our delicate social fabric to the absolute breaking point. Is there some behavior I should be continuing? Just what is being encouraged here? I am paralyzed, unable to remember how I usually behave. I am grown a stranger to myself. I die.

So my response is to avoid people as much as I possibly can. If I’d done this from the start then I wouldn’t be dealing with this chocolate kiss fiasco now. Of course I can’t avoid people entirely, so I regard them all with even suspicion, guarded. Thus is my happy little bubble existence violated, and it’s not even lunch time yet. I must be forever vigilant, coldly calculating the degree to which peoples’ mouths curl up at the edges, looking for that telltale smugness. I must watch for that knowing glimmer in their eyes, and that righteous bounce in their gaits. Everyone is so precious and self-satisfied, and I am left to ponder this little rape wrapped in tin foil on my keyboard. Or at least until the cleaning staff steals it tonight. Which they will.

Office Dialogue (audio)

entry_139This infomercial offers hope for anyone dealing with the many travails of life in the world of fluroescent-washed cubicles. Talking heads deliver a script that was painstakingly strung together, often one syllable at a time, from much shorter bits of dialog, as spoken by AT&T’s Natural Voices personalities.

Listen to “Office Dialogue” [5 minutes, 13 seconds, mp3]


entry_133Hey, Steve.


What’s that guy’s name?

What guy?

Next office over, the guy with the tall hair, glasses, and he slouches.

I need more than that.

You know, the guy whose name I can never remember. I’ve asked you this before.

How am I supposed to know?

Because–we’ve had this exact conversation. I can never remember his name, so I always ask you what his name is.

And what do I say?

You tell me his name. You know his name.

Well I don’t know who you’re talking about.

Oh, come on. You knew last time, and I know you didn’t just stop knowing. Tall hair, works in the office across the way, glasses, slouches. The same clues I gave you before.

I don’t have time for this.

You can’t stop now, we always finish it! Come on, we’re almost done, and I need this.

God, okay. What do I say next?

His name! Which is…?

No idea. Marcus.

Yes! That’s it! Marcus. See? Why didn’t you just say that right off? Could have saved us the trouble.

I don’t remember remembering before, and I don’t know who you don’t know.

Well you know one thing I don’t know, so next time I don’t know something just say Marcus and we can skip the whole conversation.

What if you don’t know something else?

Wouldn’t know the difference.



Economy of Movement

entry_127Dear Gloria, your erratic vibrations are draining my very life force. The way you churn your lips as you whisper to yourself is–I assure you–unnecessary, unless it is your conscious desire to amass the impressive volume of foam spittle at the corners of your mouth, which I witness daily. Also, though the industrial cleaning agent you wear for perfume makes your eyes water without abatement, I hope that, each day anew, you’ll reconsider your decision to carry around a blotter kleenex that you nervously crumple, and rumple, and work, and work, and work, and work, until little balls of ruined fluff drop like silken spider eggs from between your palsied fingers. I hope you will not think me cruel for mentioning these things, but I’ve found that the way you obsessively touch anything that comes to your attention–picking it up, putting it down, moving it just slightly, or just touching it… touch… touch…–is stirring up a demon inside me whose intentions I am not yet entirely clear on.

It’s true that I have, lately, found my attentions focusing on the inefficiency with which people go about their daily routines. Let me be clear, Gloria: I refer here to basic movement. My eyes masked only by strategically lowered brows, I watch with smouldering contempt as these creatures exhibit themselves, obliviously inelegant, and ungainly to the point of being a threat to those around them. The frivolous motions they practice–the receptionist’s valley girl head wobble, the doorman’s extraneous facial expressions, the forever-gesticulating sales staff swinging their appendages around like tassels on a rodeo rider–do not act in the service of accomplishing a discrete goal. If dance is like visual poetry, then my days find me beset by some unnameable screed of black vulgarity.

I have honed my own physical processes to such a fine state of economy that I can regulate the very pucker of my follicles in such a way as to allow the wind to pass most efficiently through my hair. I have made the odd compromise, I’ll admit, as it is not yet possible for me to move through solid matter in a predictable way. But even then I have kept my calculations strict, and adjust only as necessary. Several of my familiars have protested when I breeze by them with only molecules to spare, tiny arcs of static electricity crawling across our skin momentarily. But those same people will accrue miles upon directionless miles by the time they reach the end of their lives, and all that time heading nowhere, like derelict sailboats in the unyielding gale.

It takes timing and coordination, to be sure, and great attention to detail. But the alternative, Gloria, is dire. To squirm and convulse yourself into oblivion, eroding joint and joint, is just not dignified. Consider the Portuguese Man-of-War who thinks of nothing more each day than this: Dangle. And ingest. What shall I do today? Dangle. And ingest. You’ll not come across a skittering or giggling or fidgeting Portuguese Man-of-War, because they are content, secure, and planning for something which we may all come to know in due time.

In the meantime, Gloria, I beg you: please be still.

Overheard At Work

tall – I see her before she sees me, the way her desk faces, you know.

short – Yeah.

tall – And it’s weird because, like whenever I’m coming toward her I see her suck in her stomach.

short – Oh, really?

tall – Totally. It’s not a lot or anything I mean, just, you notice. And I don’t know if it’s because she knows someone’s coming–or maybe because it’s me?–or if she’s, like, doing some kind of isometric workout at her desk and I just happen to be privy to it.

short – Isometrics, huh? How are you privy to isometric exercises?

tall – They’re… everyone knows. It’s not just me.

short – You do isometric exercises.

tall – No.

short – Yes you do. You sit at your desk flexing, I bet.

tall – Yeah right! Give you something to think about?

short – Oh, you give me plenty to think about.

tall – Dude!

short – What?

tall – Just. Not cool. Tone it back a little. I was talking about this girl.

short – I’m only kidding.

tall – Fine.

short – I think you should scare her and see what happens.

tall – Scare her? Like, scare her how?

short – Just jump out from around the corner next time and see if she sucks it in, and be staring right at her stomach so she knows you know.

tall – Right! That would totally ruin it.

short – Ruin it? Oh, you mean this little isometric romance you have working for you?

tall – Dude, whatever. I think she’s cute, that’s all.

short – Abdominal control! Moth to the flame…

More Commuter Notes

The woman driving the convertible weighed down by carpet remnant logs piled taller than most SUVs is a woman capable of anything. Passing her by–as it is your fervent desire to drive faster than people-walking-on-sidewalk speed–you see that this woman has her windshield wipers on, and they’re on that motion blur setting that you used only once, when your hand hit the wiper controls by accident. People who use that speed can never be trusted, because there is a fine line between wanting to keep your windshield clear of rain and the desire to generate a sonic boom with the wipers strong enough to vaporize any rain within a yard from your windshield. And anyway, it’s not even raining. And what’s with the carpet logs? Crazy people commute too, see, so you should enjoy a momentary feeling of normalcy.

The Design God

We’re down to the wire now. Tomorrow the review board will focus their arc lamps upon me and judge the efficacy of my labors.

My reaction? An impenetrable self-righteousness. My willful (and liberal) use of non-party propaganda during earlier presentations provoked much uneasy stirring among their ranks. To be precise, I referred to our earnest corps of workers as “[our] dedicated team of trained monkeys.”

Now I see my latest composition circulating much farther from my desk than I’ve intended, eventually finding itself among the true company troglodytes–those whose faces have never been blighted by even the hint of a genuine smile. And when these drones espy my wayward child, they look at one another with sparring-eyebrows cocked, yet say nothing.

I laugh in the face of their consternation. “Perhaps they have forgotten,” I bark with sudden irascibility, “that if they don’t enjoy the compositions then they’re free to bite me. In fact I invite them to bite me!”

Heads turn to where I was standing a moment before, but I’ve already left the room, bored with their puerile games.

Or maybe it would be more effective if I just pictured them naked.

Tearing Down Walls

There’s always a new guy. Frankly there are too many of them, and only so many hours in a day. This is why we usually remain tucked behind our little social membrane–the alternative would be interacting with every single person around us, and filling our precious and dwindling supply of brain cells with dozens of otherwise useless proper names.

If I can possibly avoid meeting someone, I will. I’ll tie my shoe or go to the bathroom or call in sick or move, just please don’t tear down that third wall.

Earlier this week I needed to confirm an assumption I had about the project I’ve been working on. I can usually work in solitude, but soon enough I became entangled in a complex series of events that all seemed to be leading toward an inevitable interaction with a new guy. The maddening bit is that I was pretty sure I was right in my assumption, but it was an essential piece of information just the same. I had to be sure.

Desperate not to meet the new guy, I asked a anyone else who might be able to help me–people I already know–but to no avail. As a last ditch effort I tried looking up the new guy’s email address, but he’s just too damned new to be listed. Plus I didn’t know his name. It was like all of the universe’s controlling forces had suddenly become legion in their campaign to foil me.

You know when you’re going to knock something over, and you think hmm… if I don’t watch out then I’m going to knock that over, and then you do knock it over, and it’s happens even more slowly because you predicted it, and now you have to sit through it and watch it happen for real? It’s terrifying and frustrating and banal all at the same time.

So I took my little piece of paper over to the new guy and asked him if this thing was supposed to be there, and he said yeah, and I went back to my desk, defeated.

This morning I was trundling to my desk along my favorite route when I passed the new guy in the doorway. I looked up at him, looked back down to my shoes, recognized him, looked back up, saw his cordial I know you expression, and met it with my own, sustaining it just long enough so that it didn’t look like a twitch. All that work drained the life out of me.

In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat there was a guy who enjoyed a neural disorder that rendered him unable to remember anything for longer than about 60 seconds. I think I can beat that if I really assert myself.

In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat there was a guy who enjoyed a neural disorder that rendered him unable to remember…