“By working faithfully eight hours a day,you may
eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.”
- Robert Frost
In the context of the eon span of this universe the following statement is true; if time is money, then we are all but paupers. And I can think of no worse a place to spend what little credit I have remaining than in work.
I’m sat at my desk in my modern, open-plan office. It is next to what management refer to as a “hot desk”, which seems to imply that in the world of desks it is a fine piece of ass, but perhaps that’s just me. What they actually mean by this is that it is a desk that belongs to no one, but is instead filled with an endless parade of obsequious morons, visiting my work from another of our many sites. The company that I work for deals in chemicals, which seems a little ironic given my propensity for using them recreationally, but I don’t know, perhaps I’m just using that word in the Alanis Morrisette-sense. Further irony is supplied via the fact that we distribute them to all kinds of places for all kinds of things, from indirectly helping Medicins Sans Frontier save people’s lives, to assisting the military in blowing the crap out of whichever brown-skinned people the Government has pissed off this time.
Far from being some mad scientist though, I’m what the others in the office refer to as “the stats guy”, which basically involves me staring at Excel all day, typing numbers into spreadsheets and making pretty graphs for management to use in high-powered meetings, whilst shamelessly claiming it as all their own work. This might all sound thoroughly dull, but I do get to see some pretty confidential stuff on occasion, and thus there are moments that prevent me from finally throwing myself from the mezzanine. To be honest, from that height, I’d probably just end up disabled, so if I was going to do it, I’d have to go up another few floors and that just seems like a whole heap of effort. I used to sit next to the guys on my team, but ever since “The Incident”, management decided to move me and now I sit next to the hot desk and in the same wing as my Head of Function, Richard Muncher. The latter is to ensure that I don’t make trouble in front of any visitors, but unfortunately for “Dickmuncher”, he’s currently away in a meeting, and today’s visitor is called Jim.
Jim seems like a reasonably nice guy from what I can see, and at least made the effort to introduce himself to me, which automatically upgraded him a little from the default status of ‘asshole’ that I assign to everyone in life (well, unless you’ve got boobs, then you’re granted at least a temporary exemption). I’d say he’s relatively young to be doing the job that he is, probably his early thirties if you were to hold a gun to my head. As with all of the visitors who end up sitting next to me, he is dressed to impress in a dark navy pinstripe suit, which you know he never wears at his own office, but hey, I’m told that sometimes you need to dress to impress. It’s especially impressive given that he must be at least six foot six, and thus probably had to hire out a ship builder’s yard to construct a garment of such magnitude.
All of this endears me to Jim, but right now, the only thing that I can take in is the fact that he’s what I term a “fucking nose-breather”.
In and out.
Innnnnnn and out.
Jesus Christ, Jim, God gave you a mouth for a reason, and it wasn’t just so that you could endlessly shovel “health bars” down it all day, thus negating any nutritional benefit they might otherwise contain. There’s a reason that you have to work twice as hard as the other guys down the gym, and it’s not just because you’re constructed on a different scale to us other mortals.
Suddenly I sense a presence behind me like I’m some kind of Jedi Master whose command of the force is to easily identify the presence of assholes. It is my boss, Mike.
“Uhh, I’ve had a look at this report that you’ve produced and it appears that you’ve deviated from the corporate colour palette,” he says. “I’ve told you about this before Krys, the guys up above are very keen that we keep things consistent.”
I’ll tell you what’s consistent, Mike. What’s consistent is how I feel about this job. Here’s a graphical representation for you, in your stupid corporate colour palette (reflecting the “green” values of our “noble” company), although I’m amazed I had chance to prepare in between being bored, rageful, horny and tired all the time…
“Ok, I’ll change it and tattoo the appropriate RGB colour values to my forehead if you think that will help?” I reply as I turn around in my chair to face him.
“No, of course not Krys, there’s no need to be like that,” he continues, looking somewhat exasperated.
“Oh, sorry, of course, if I were to do it on my forehead I’d have to look in the mirror every time I had to recall them, and that would mean a reduction in my productivity of circa 8%, right?”
“Look, Krys, I’m just trying to do my job, ok?”
Mike is a decent enough guy, and he’s right, he’s only doing what people who get paid a shit-ton more money than him want him to do. But right now, he’s using my forename far too often and it’s beginning to annoy the crap out of me. He’s also using the defence offered by many in post-Nazi Germany.
“Pretty sure that’s what Goebbels said, Mike…”
Jim’s pretending to work, but you know that he can hear every word of this conversation. I thought it would be making him relatively uncomfortable, but there’s a distinct smirk on his face. Meanwhile, Mike is looking ever more exasperated, and I can make out a bead of sweat starting to roll down from his bald head and past the right arm of his spectacles.
“Look, just make sure it’s done to the standards that they’re requesting or it won’t look good on your end of year review,” he says, beginning to walk away.
“Ok, Mike, I’ll make sure it’s done to their liking, Mike. Don’t worry about a thing, Mike,” I reply in a rough parody of his voice.
He doesn’t give a response but I can tell he’s annoyed. I probably shouldn’t do it, but this place bores me to tears to the point where I feel like I want to physically hurt people and this just seems like a less violent form of attack. Perhaps they were right about “The Incident”.
Jim is still smiling to himself and pretending that he’s looking at some emails on his laptop, before he slowly turns his head towards me.
“I know what you mean about this place,” he says, smiling. “The other day I got called into the back office because I used the term ‘brainstorm’ in a meeting and get this – I was told to stop saying it because it could be considered offensive to those with mental illness!”
I like where Jim is going with this. What he doesn’t even realise is that officially work class me as having a mental illness due to my depression and ‘rage issues’ and even I find the whole situation fucking ridiculous. Perhaps I was a little harsh on him earlier. We’ll carry on the upgrading process from ‘asshole’ to ‘tolerable annoyance’.
“What makes the situation even crazier is the fact that they know I’ve had those kinds of issues in the past, so surely I’d be offending myself?” Jim continues.
The words coming from Jim’s mouth do not seem to tie in with his appearance, but like I say, he’s made the effort to be honest with me, so perhaps I should reciprocate.
“Oh really? Me too,” I reply, cracking a smile. “You do realise though, that you’re sitting in the ‘danger seat’?”
Jim looks on at me slightly confused.
“Yeah, I’m the department’s ‘crazy guy’, they keep me in this seat so that I don’t cause trouble,” I continue.
Jim laughs and says “Well, you seem all right to me, well, more all kinds of wrong if I’m being honest, but I could do with a guy with your sense of humour down at my office.”
I smile and reply, “Thanks, that’s a very rare response. Which office are you here from?”
“I’m from NYII, not that far away.”
Work decided to christen each of our offices with snappy abbreviations to sound modern and cool – I work out of NYI, or New York One, so I’m pretty sure you can work out where Jim is from.
“I’m a project manager – all of our guys are based out of NYII, and they’re all the wrong side of fifty,” he continues. “And all of them, to a man, seem to think that Garth Brooks needs to be worshipped as some kind of musical deity.”
“Jesus, it sounds like I should come down there to try and save you…!”
This makes us both laugh for a moment and I begin to think about the logistics of Jim’s offer. My apartment is roughly a thirty minute commute from NY1, whereas his office has got to be about an hour, maybe more. His offer is a kind one, but half an hour is half an hour, and I could have skinned and smoked two whole joints in that time – no deal, Howie Mandel, no deal.
“The thing is, man, that I used to be like you,” Jim says.
This immediately puts me on guard – what the fuck exactly does he mean by that? And I was just starting to like you Jim, I really was. My imaginary finger is hovering over the imaginary ‘downgrade to asshole’ button as we speak…
“But a few years ago now, I realised that you can’t always fight against the tide all the time or you’ll just end up drowning,” he continues.
Wow. You have gone from hero to zero in the space of roughly two sentences, my friend. I don’t even have a button on this imaginary machine that goes below ‘asshole’. Not only are you putting me down, you’re using anodyne, self-help drivel to further your argument.
I think my face makes my thoughts on Jim’s words clear to him.
“Look, all I’m saying is that sometimes? You’ve got to play the bullshit game,” he says.
In my head I have visions of a game show, probably featuring Regis and Kelly in some way, and involving beautiful, bejewelled boxes that may or may not contain vast quantities of bull faeces. I am fairly certain that this is not what Jim means.
“As much as it pains me, you have to play along sometimes,” he continues. “Do you really think that I like dressing like this, or using words like ‘solutionize’, ‘actioning’ or ‘bandwidth’??”
“Not unless you’re some kind of grammar sadist,” I reply.
Jim laughs and says “Look, the trouble is, everyone has to get on in life. I always remember a quote from Steve Jobs…”
Oh great, let’s consult the oracle, I think to myself. I hate Apple, and refer to their many evangelists as “Sheeple”, so I think Jim and I are rapidly about to fall out. It was nice knowing you, dude.
“He said this,” he continues, consulting his laptop, “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Man, this really is sweet. What a cosy world view you must have, Jim.
“It’s a neat little quote, but the problem is, that approach doesn’t really work in the real world,” he says. “Look at where it’s got you – your boss just seems to think that you’re an asshole, when in reality it’s because you’re frustrated at seeing people that you perceive to be inferior rise above you.”
Perhaps I was harsh on you again, Jim – you’re speaking some sense, please continue.
“That’s how people perceived me, but then work sent me to a doctor, some Russian chick, and she enrolled me on this programme where I can let out my feelings on things, like how I hate work, and that I have mood swings that mean that some days I just don’t even want to get out of bed.”
Well, well, we have upgraded all the way from “Sub-asshole” to “acceptable annoyance” once again. If Jim continues like this he’s on for the greatest comeback since Lazarus.
“Really?” I reply. “That’s weird, man; I have a Russian doctor too… But then this isn’t surprising if you still think that Grand Theft Auto 4 is an accurate depiction of New York…”
Jim snorts with laughter, so I continue, “She’s pretty hot as well, she’s got to be about forty, but she’s got the body of twenty-one year old… I really should visit her more often..!”
Jim’s face portrays a look of intrigue and he says, “Are you sure we haven’t got the same one? She sounds exactly like mine. Doctor Kaplinsky, her name is, and I’m telling you now, I would rail her all night!”
“Dude, high five, it’s the same chick!” I reply, as we trade palms. Some of the other guys in the office look up from their desks at me but I don’t care; after all, I’ve seen some of these dudes pull a little fist pump when they got a formula right in Excel and in the scale of things, at least mine was over an achievement that vaguely meant something.
“I kind of mentioned this already, but I had an, uh… ‘incident’ in work, and now they’re making me go see her on Monday morning. What’s this thing that she’s sent you to about? I guess she might try and get me to do the same thing… ”
Jim says “It’s nothing to be worried about. Since starting on it about uh, nine months ago, it’s completely transformed my life. I’ve had two promotions since then, and it’s done nothing but good by me.”
“Yeah, but what exactly do you do there?”
“Well, I chat about any issues that are affecting me, knowing that it’s totally confidential, so I can chat about anything that I want. Like how I hate the whole corporate nature behind things at work, or how it is that sometimes I just don’t want to deal with other human beings, you know, that kind of stuff.”
“So it’s a kind of therapy group thing then?”
“Yeah, kind of, but it also focuses on self help to a large degree.”
“Oh, ok,” I reply.
I’ve never believed in so-called ‘self-help’ stuff because I feel that it’s just a load of overly positive, unobtainable b.s., created by people who, behind their sickly sweet facade, are actually desperately unhappy. Scientology and self-help are not so far away from each other as you might think. I ponder whether to simply humour Jim, but decide that we’ve made a little connection today, certainly more so than with anyone I’ve met here in a long time, and I feel he deserves the truth from me.
“I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of self-help stuff,” I tell him. “I think that a lot of it is just, I don’t know, a money making scheme?”
“Yeah, I used to be the same as well, but this group is free, as it’s some kind of research programme, and the book that they give you is completely free as well.”
Jim seems like a pretty smart guy, and a man who could make a snappy decision correctly when he needs to. Let’s give him further benefit of the doubt.
“The only trouble is that if you just heard the title then you’d think I was crazy… as in, like, Mark Chapman crazy!”
“Go on then, tell me,” I reply.
“Well…” he continues, in a hushed tone of voice. “The group consists entirely of men, so the title of the book is… ‘This is a Book For Boys’…”
Perhaps I wasn’t so right about the whole decision-making thing.
Despite its common usage, actually “laughing out loud” is a rare occurrence for many people, but this is one such occasion when it occurs. I look back at Jim incredulously and say, “I don’t think you’re crazy, I’m just wondering what the hell kind of sausagefest is this that you’re going to??”
He looks back a little ashamed and says, “Yeah, I thought that you might say that man, but it’s nothing like that. It’s kind of a series of inspirational quotes and advice that just… well, I can’t explain to be honest, you have to read it to find out, really.”
“Well, whatever works for you, I guess,” I reply. “I’m not reading any books though, man. Hot or not, I don’t care what Kaplinsky tells me.”
“Well, ok, but I think you should give it a try, along with the group,” Jim says.
“I don’t know man, it all sounds like a lot of talking, and to a lot of strangers, but I’m kind of a private guy…”
Jim frowns a little and says, “Well, you didn’t know me until today, and you’ve opened up, haven’t you? The great thing about the group is that when I get up in the morning and I feel like absolute shit, I’ve got someone to call, through the guys that go there. They know what I’m going through, and they just know the right things to say or do, and they will always pick up the phone to me.”
“Well, that sure sounds cute,” I reply.
“Look man, I know how you feel, I was like that myself, but I like to think that I’m doing ok for myself these days. In my experience it’s far easier to be negative about things, because when they don’t get you anywhere you can blame them, rather than yourself and it becomes self perpetuating. Here, add me on office messenger, I’ve sent you a request.”
An icon pops up on my PC – it is a friend request from “Tavares, James”.
“Nice pic!” I reply, as I gaze upon a shot of Jim’s face where he is pulling a smile that, at best could be described as “escaped mental patient”.
Jim smiles and replies, “Yeah, I know – I tried to pull the most ridiculous grin possible, as my own little bit of corporate sabotage. Pathetic, I know.”
I laugh and reply, “It is a bit pathetic, but then it only ranks up there with the sabotage that I pulled the time Mike had said something particularly condescending to me in front of a new girl who’d joined the department. He made some kind of joke about my working hours, or lack thereof…”
“I take it she was hot?” he asks.
“Yeah man, she was real pretty.”
“So, did you go and tell her it wasn’t true?”
“No, I completely failed to make eye contact with her and never spoke to her again, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” I reply, winking.
Jim laughs and replies, “You really are a smooth operator aren’t you?! So you did nothing at all?”
“Not entirely. I did spit in his coffee though when he sent me to get drinks for their meeting.”
“Nice. Well at least you got him back in some way?” he asks.
“Not really,” I reply. “Kinda backfired when it turned out the coffee was for her…”
“Oh man, that is unfortunate! Well, I guess at least you can say a little bit of you has been inside her?” he says, laughing.
“Yeah, it’s just it was the wrong bit!” I reply before the sound of a text message coming through jolts my attention. I look back at Jim and say “Sorry, thought that I’d left it on silent as usual – I’ll just need to go check it,” and I get up from my desk.
Jim goes to say something, but I dash off to the mezzanine atrium and it falls on deaf ears. I noticed that the text was from Seb, and something about him makes me uncomfortable revealing his presence at work, even if it is merely via text on a screen.
I look down at my cell.
Message: Let’s play a game of impressions tonight. You be River Phoenix and I’ll be John Belushi. Will be round at 7. Sleep tight, for there will be none this weekend! xx
Seb is one of very few men that I’ve known who could send a text with that message, or end it with kisses and me not believe that he’s either insane or gay. In any case, I think that it proves my point as to why I should never, ever let him contact me in front of others at work.
Jim has been good company today and thus again, the black dog sleeps. Perhaps his solution has its merits? One thing I do know, is that Seb’s chemical solution tomorrow is an infinitely more appealing one.
“Love is like a flame.”
- Massive Attack, Paradise Circus
It is a scientific fact that it is easier to look down than it is to look up. As a result of this, if I was ever to profess to being an expert on something that was neither drugs nor gambling, then it would be girl’s feet – and consequently, their shoes. I am aware that other parts of them exist – believe me, check my internet history and I’m sure I’ve pretty much exhausted looking at the other bits – but making any form of eye contact usually leads to bad times.
So, it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m standing in the convenience store down the road from my apartment. It’s small and there is permanent odour of what smells like fish, which is weird because the place has never sold anything even remotely like that. But, it sells skins, tobacco and beer – and that’s pretty much all a guy like me cares to venture outside of my front door for on a cold, spring weekend. In addition to this, it has another factor to attract me in – one which is called “Jen”. I’m pretty certain that her full name is Jennifer, but I’ve never had the chance to ask – it’s never seemed like an avenue of conversation that we should consider meandering down. Seb tells me all the time that she should be really into me, but then he’s never even been here with me to truly understand how spectacular she is, so I have no idea how he’d even know. And anyway, why would she be into a guy who comes into her life just for the express purpose of fuelling his marijuana habit? Jen has also seen me in some of my most vulnerable states, usually when I’m coming down off whatever powder I’ve been shoving up my nose for the weekend, and I wouldn’t wish to make anyone suffer that intentionally. In any case, she so totally wouldn’t be into me. Even though she has to wear a completely unflattering green shirt that’s about three sizes too big for her and totally hides her awesome boobs, it’s clear that she’s absolutely gorgeous. Her soft blonde hair cascades down over her shoulders and her blue eyes sparkle, even though there’s barely enough light in this shithole for me to see them. They are that pretty.
She’s also way too young for me. I figure that she must be about eighteen-nineteen, and this job is just something to tide her over until she gets a good job in the city, you know, in accountancy or something? In a few years she’ll meet a beautiful man called Robert, who will sweep her off her feet and marry her in Tahiti by the age of twenty five, and she’ll have farmed out at least three kids by the time she’s thirty. And they will all have adorably modern fauna-based names, like Lily, Peaches and Apple.
Anyway, I’m waiting my turn in the queue behind some old dude who’s seemingly paying entirely in pennies, but I guess that’s just because he’s grateful that someone is willing to speak to him. I really shouldn’t sneer, as that will be me if I ever make it that far, but fuck it, I’m going to anyway. He finally finishes paying and it’s my turn. Oh God, it’s my turn.
“Can I have a pack of rolling skins and a small pack of Golden Virginia, please?” I ask, as I place down my four-pack of beer on the counter.
“No problem,” she replies, turning to retrieve them from behind her.
She takes the beer and scans it, and I notice that I’m suffering from the distinct problem that I can’t look down at her feet because the counter is in the way. I look across at her shirt and try to make out what the embroidered company motto says on her chest. I realise, that in doing this, she must think that I’m looking at her boobs. She probably gets this all the time, but that doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t seem rude.
There’s no choice in the matter this time, I glance up at her face and she doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, I think she might well be smiling, but I can’t be sure as I avert my gaze to the middle distance, like I’m auditioning for a part in a daytime soap or something.
“That’s eight dollars ninety five,” she says.
I root around in my pocket and pull out my wallet. Goddamnit, eight dollars ninety five, you say? Part of my brain tells me that I should just pay for it with the twenty that I have in my wallet, but I also have a five dollar bill and change, and I need the twenty to score another weed later in the day, and if I don’t then I’ll be climbing the walls by six, and Seb will fucking kill me. So, I pull out the five and unzip the change pocket in my wallet. I look inside to find a myriad of coins – great, I’m going to have to sift through all of this to find three dollars ninety five? Anyway, I carry on and realise that I’m taking what seems like a fucking eternity and the thought occurs to me that I am already the old guy who was in front of me mere minutes ago.
After what seems like about four hours, I finish counting out my money, but I still think that I must have made some sort of mistake, so I push it meekly across the counter and utter “I think that’s right, you might want to check?”
I think she’s frowning at me, and I know that the people behind me all have steam coming out of their ears, but fuck it, I’ll never see any of them again, so who gives a shit?
“Thank you,” she says, as I dare to look up at her face another time. Again, she’s smiling at me; I guess she must be high or something. Hey, perhaps we do have something in common after all.
“No, that’s perfect, Sir,” she says, in a tone of voice so sweet it is almost musical. “You could have paid with a note if you wanted to though, you don’t have to have exact money.”
This makes me feel like I’ve wronged her in some grave way and my stomach feels like someone’s playing Stretch Armstrong with it, but I snap out of it and look back into the middle distance. “Sorry, I thought I’d help you out,” I utter sheepishly, before turning to move away.
“Don’t worry, we’re a convenience store, it’s our job to have change,” she replies.
Man, I just want this conversation to end now, all the smooth lines I have in my head just won’t come out. In my head I’m Brad Pitt, but in reality I’m a piece of fucking shit, so instead I just let out a nervy little laugh before turning and leaving the queue.
I push open the door and escape to the streets outside, which are packed with shoppers milling about. They remind me of the time when I was a kid and I found a dead racoon at the side of the road. It looked beautiful and serene just lying there, but for some reason I couldn’t leave it alone and had to pick it up. As I did, a huge gash on its underside released a shitstorm of maggots, writhing around as they sucked the last drops of life from their host. Look at them all, consuming; buying whatever shit Apple tells them that they need in their lives, or downing a coffee from Starbuck’s that cost them five dollars a time. They are the maggots to society’s hedgehog.
Yeah, I’m moaning, but I’m having a black dog day again. They come and go, a lot like my Dad, but unlike him, they mostly just come and stay. But enough about that, I’m making my way back to my apartment in a rush because Seb is coming round and we’re going to get fucked up tonight.