The Deskís Return
It wasnít my bright idea. I wasnít supposed to have them any more.
The more you experience, the more everything seems familiar in a vague, roundabout way. As if the price for a long life was fading individuality.
But when it came to cold numbers, time was still on my side. In fact, Iím willing to place the blame for my current not-exactly-predicament squarely on its shoulders. I was here once before and managed to tear myself away before I became fused to it in both body and mind. The bribes alone left me penniless and without a clever thought in my head.
But being free in a world that favours particular prisons means I wasnít able to put up much collateral except for agreeing to another set of chains. I resisted for as long as possible, keeping up a resolve that should be framed in all the cold cramped bedrooms of the underground, but there was no slack left to cut and besides, after x amount of months, even the knife begged off.
I felt a bit more than just gently prodded, but who knows what it was like behind the scenes, if there were such places. An easy scenario. Every wall I passed was actually a secret panel to a secret room where destiny was fashioned in fits and bursts as everyone but me slipped in between casual mundane interactions to give a quick update and discuss upcoming plays designed by those who sit in skyscrapers tall and relax in plush jewel encrusted chairs which themselves sit in neighbourhoods that ward people like me off with an aura that sprays guilt and confusion into the reptilian lobes of the brain.
A full cranky, quivering circle. Back into the world of rectangular buildings sheepishly reaching for the sky full of security doors, pass cards, and punch codes. Switching one faceless, near robot job for another. A very particular assembly line, connected by tiny wires and invisible waves. An entire system resting on tiny flashing ones and zeros. The two greatest opposites, they are. A full everything and an absolute nothing.
Useful for a computer system built out of those very blocks, but pretty terrible for all of us that fester and live between those two extremes.
Couldíve been something else. I would say shouldíve but that rings a bit too fatalistic.
Something is always ringing these days.
Iím on a horribly crumbled sidewalk, mere feet from my nine-to-five house of worship, the powerful sun torturing the desiccated grasses trying to poke through.
Not long ago I was twenty-six stories and three delusions of grandeur up, staring at my compatriot and confident. Hiding my supplies and secrets in its nondescript drawers.
Not much later, after the flashing of the time in the bottom right corner of my monitor I stand up and stare at it, sitting there in front of me. A coiled snake frozen in place for all eternity. It doesnít bite, itís already swallowed me whole, and digestion will take until Iím squeezed out for no longer being a source of nutrients for the larger organism.
Even when I escaped its clutches last time, it didnít bother pursing, knowing deep in its heart that Iíd have to come back.
Advantage: inarguable, permanent function.
Iím already plying it with anthropomorphic features. It comes naturally.
Who wants to hate a piece of furniture?
I have to find more in it. A black motive, a dark soul. A crackling, malignant form of communication. Canít talk of course. But it doesnít have to. I can fit that role as easy as I can lower my chair just right so the armrests can slip underneath its counter perfectly.
-I just donít know what to do on my own. All of my thoughts are with you.
-quoting song lyrics does nothing for me.
It was for my own sanity, I thought bitterly.
I pine for magic and get nothing but smooth soulless formica. I get the laws of gravity and object permanence that constantly remind me Iím of the too solid flesh that is slowly flaking away into nothingness. I lose grace in this slow, miserable fade. Iím not the right size for the fuzzy majesty of quantum physics.
Iím too big and clunky, requiring a perfect atmosphere, constant sustenance, and fulfilled dreams.
I explain my position to myself. Iím glad no one else is on the floor at the moment. Iíd sound crazy. Or maybe I would get paid medical leave. And a nice long list of zonking prescription pills. Not surprisingly, I am sympathetic to my plight.
-I canít leave now, I tell it.
-no, thatís where youíre wrong. The answer is any time. You can leave at any time.
-but thereís consequences.
-of course there are. Thereís always consequences. The very passage of time is a consequence. One of the most damning and most overlooked ones there is. And we weigh the benefits and consequences so often we forget weíre doing it.
-well in this case, itís better to stay than leave.
And I leave myself hanging on that. Exhausted, really. And I know why. It feasts on your desire for five oíclock, on your repeated insistences under your breath that thereís a way out of here.
The voice I gave it wasnít accurate. It has no soft sympathy, no charitable advice, wasnít built for such things, those would just get in the way of proper function. Itís no oracle, even if it runs on that sort of thing.
And following the sun that eventually slowly crashes beyond the building-lined horizon, the shackles loosen at just about the same time each day and grants you temporary leave, provided you play out the final rituals to a t. Clock out, tell the great beasts what you've been up to in fifteen minute increments, and finally, hold your thumb in place, twist obscenely. Wait for the pale blue circle light to turn off alongside the quiet, incessant hum of the fan.
Thereís not supposed to be a clear and final escape. Not exactly tied to your desk, it's more of an idea concerning a rather lengthy but still unbreakable timed bungee cord.
Itís the feudal fields all over again, become ethereal, existing as representative pixels on a LCD display. Spreadsheets as far as the eye can see. Rows and columns instead of rice and corn. Viruses can still devastate crops, bad weather slows everything down, and one man's broken plow is another's paper jam in the printer.
And briefly I was out. Thought I was, no really. For a long while, anyway. What felt like years. Trying new things, like living even more cheaply, hawking ideas on porches to skeptical homeowners and selling suds and spirits behind a counter under harsh light. How long was that? Why did it feel like no time at all has passed when I suited up again in my not-at-all-fancy-not-exactly-comfortable dress shoes and everyday tie and sat down in a chair that feels like it's more valuable to the Company than me?
Blink and youíll miss it.
Everything youíll ever touch, hear, see, and think.
A plethora of individual moments rattling inside a big one.
Forty pages of filing violations later.
Data islands dancing in his head, each one forever adrift.
How quickly to be caught without the necessary gallon of gasoline to make it to the next cross station.
And in this particular, not-at-all leisure suit.
Kicking it much too old school.
But he's not a knight in a strange land, or even a wayward traveler island hoping.
Nothing more than a highly caffeinated chicken shit cubicle drone.
So Phillip was waiting. Which itself was an essential part of his day.
The delay was artificial, certainly. Manufactured with glossy-eyed intent. Passion and resolve running a distant third and fourth to just-in-case and sheer boredom.
Who makes slapdash hurdles of this caliber?
He does, apparently. An endless array of them being set up in front of him that he accepts with a passive, almost imperceptible nod.
And he'll run it for a lack of anything else to do that could keep him running at all. And wasn't that the point? Running? The time can go fuck itself, it was never the issue, there was plenty of that.
Phillip was losing the path of this analogy. It was growing into something beyond his control and understanding. Something on its way to becoming grotesque and unwanted.
A monster, lost in layers.
And as he stands once again front of the elevators the next morning (or the morning after that, or the morning after that) he decides that in terms of an adversary it would be lovely if this was a monster. A nice giant, drooling, sharp clawed, carnivorous bastard bearing down upon him at ridiculous speed. It was clear. Heart pounding. A situation that couldnít help but be filled with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Instead the challenge stretched out beyond the night. Beyond the next day, and the following one as well.
As clear as if the world was flat and you were given a shovel and told to dig all the way through.
He stands in the tiny room that is pulled up, up and up, and the doors open even slower when you want to leave faster and the carpet muffles your steps so you come in like a ghost and following a tired path under fluorescent lights he ends up in front of the supporter of all his tiny, little world problems.
Desk? More like an elaborate tray, with Ė for now Ė room to spare for the future and inevitable spillover of work. Wasnít fresh. He was getting sloppy seconds, thirds, maybe sixths. Who put in the time before he arrived? If he got on his hands and knees, crawled underneath and peered up at the underside, would he find carved initial or day ticks?
Instead he sits in his cookie cutter throne. He didn't know how much it cost, but he was sure it was bought in bulk, and was a cheap and easy way to lure the rookies into a sense of security, a natural propping up of the spinal cord in just the right way so it shuts down the rebel songs and offers instead a simple melodic hiss that helps you maximize your keystroke potential.
A fiendish plot or synergy between profit and workplace psychology? In today's world, everything's an unhealthy bit of column A and column B.
A chance integration and with it Phillip understood that in addition to no man being an island, he himself was at risk of becoming too much of a peninsula, holding on desperately to the mainland that is humanity while still being repulsed by its more unseemly and perhaps inevitable qualities.
Raging against the monotony, and yawning extravagantly when realizing that this is all that's left to rage against.
This is my conflict, he thinks, this is my man vs. man, nature, himself, what have you. Waiting for someone three flights down and perhaps nine cubicle across to send him a corrected document so he can move on.
And as he clicks on the fourth file sitting patiently on the OS toolbar, his boss approaches with an easy empty smile and asks how its going and pretty much decides that its going okay before Phillip is able to respond and the man is off on his merry way to the next cubicle, echoing the same thoughts to the endless neighbour.
His boss was friendly, if not exactly passionate and inspiring.
Certainly no adversary. The jowls aren't exactly the stuff of monsters.
A bystander, then.
A term that was based on a lie, but what else is new?
Phillip wonders how the first king decided something to be so without question. Perhaps one had to be a sociopath to believe in anything with such certainty. Or maybe you just had to be really good with a spear.
The past is alive and always quivering, peeling off allegiances with every newly discovered bit of old vellum and cracked vase. And with it comes wrinkled up stories and impressions, and trickle down backwards from science to superstition, and the kings and nobles rises from their graves and become gods towering above the perfect old world with mythic, impenetrable authority.
Today, right now, with little choice but to move forward and handle the cosmic slop, you have to settle for something less.
In tough times you have to make do.
You get no devils. No monsters. No ruthless fascists, or conniving heretics. No lions.
Your enemy will have to be a poor representation of a convoluted socioeconomic system that has inadvertently stepped on your dreams while making sure the trains run on time.
So to speak.
Phillip breathes and handles this not exactly news just more of a confirmation really with blinks and deep breaths and fingertips perched lightly on all the best letters on the keyboard.
Stupidly forward, fine. I can at least dress it up like a battle. Give me something to dig my heels into.
So what does victory look like?
Perfection, the future whispered, doing every little thing better than everyone else. Not forgetting anything essential, and even remembering the ancillary at just the right time. Be the best damn you in history, even if youíre the only one that knows.
Being exactly what you want to be in these forced, unrewarding situations, shrugging off adversity. Not great strides, but impenetrable, incontestable baby steps.
Then itís perfect for this suck-filled situation you find yourself in, right?
Come on, handle your yawn-inducing failings like a pro.
Go and twiddling thumbs like itís a contact sport.
A new-ish face to an ancient game.
Does he look busy enough, and who is he playing against? Do his opponents switch from moment to moment, whoever happens to glance at him and wonder if heís doing exactly what he should be? And certainly the old hands at all this are thinking back to their own time doing the same thing but slightly slower and with slightly more archaic thoughts as they constantly reassemble the ideas of their slightly alternate lives.
The difference between all of this is that particularly minute word.
The kind of thing Phillip can get hung upon as he glides his mouse from one monitor to the next, from the word processor to the email program with blank consideration, waiting for something, anything but settling for copying and pasting those sentences in the message to the eighth page of the manual draft.
Someone fought and died for this, he finds himself hoping.
His cell phone shakes like a seizure and he lets it go on and on, sick and lonely.
When it finally stops he finally stops and waits to see if the caller left a message. After about twenty seconds Ė he started counting what he guesses would be five or six seconds in Ė a lone vibration affirms this.
Going reconnaissance, he looks left and right to see if he was under any watchful eyes, intended or accidental. It was never Big Brother, but Big Brothers. A multitude of them, small cogs and interworking parts to build something more fearsome and powerful than they ever could be alone. Perhaps some didnít even know the overall function of what they were part of.
A mystery. A conspiracy. Only Phillip could uncover the truth and save theÖ
For fuckís sakes.
Someone once said that if a man could focus one thing for five minutes he would have the concentration to take over the world.
Did this someone ever have to pore over the papers and pages that Phillip was doing so right now? Was he ever fighting what was certainly the most purest form of insignificance?
Anything could shake his attention. The squeak of his chair, a mere moving of the mouse, an intense phone call halfway across the office floor.
The last one was happening. The guy with the horrible haircut and two kids who didnít seem to smile in the photos on his desk was talking in measured tones with someone who had failed him somehow. Since it wasnít Phillipís department, he could grasp about 55% of the problem.
He forgets the exact words and clings to how the ear caught them. How could anger come off so dull?
Somebody needs to be crucified when they miss deadlines, if only to make it all the more interesting.
Phillip remembered when he thought he could manage this type of work as long as he had a nearby window. But then when there was one, it just showed the blank sky and another tall, irredeemable office building. The two of them together, what always could have been and what typically is.
When did Ďit could be worseí stop delivering that reassuring kick?
When it got worse, perhaps, but then he would stress that he never noticed, that it came on like a slow cold, a manageable but dry throat that throughout the day gave to a measured buildup of phlegm, but only became a raging nose dripper upon waking up the next morning.
The world is as light as a feather until you give it the weight of your imagination.
Highlight that. Cut. Pull up the other document. Paste.
Glance at the clock.
Seconds to spare.
Now re-read, and do it fast. Hey look, a typo. And perhaps that past participle could be simplified.
He hopes he is building his Excalibur, bit by bit.
In a physical sense, I donít leave early. In the more important kind, I was probably never here.
And I hold on to such notions like they were bejeweled grails or arks. Itís a middling form of magic, but magic nonetheless. I have to accept such abilities when thereís a dearth of anything else. And hey, nobody noticed the change, or could afford it even if they did.
I wasnít worth enough at this point to chase down and drag back to the boss, caught helpless in their jaws. Too much stupid bone and too little worthwhile meat. But being lighter than my predators has its advantages. If I could escape detection and I could hold onto my shadow corner I could thrive in secret, exploding with carefully nurtured wisdom and expertly fashioned spreadsheets.
Imagining the good life comes too deceptively easy.
I stretch and jettison the crush of the requirements for a few precious seconds.
I wonít fall for it. Iím expected to make these naÔve rookie mistakes, there may as well be a healthy betting pool for and against them. People poring over textbooks and grainy footages of people like me in identical situations doing A or B or risking it all for a C that looks like an A plus ten percent of B in hindsight.
Here amongst my so called peers my so called co-workers my so called so calleds I try to guess at what they want and wonder if thatís the first and easiest trap they spring. I give myself to the supposed and crooked ideal within the first two weeks back, handing my second opinions to the castrator before the first paycheque clears.
And before I can make a another read over before properly saving Iím approached by a friendly face and ĎHeyÖPhilí because it takes a healthy second or two to remember my name and Iím asked if I want to go out and grab a drink by a nebulous five deep mob of slightly interested parties.
I couldnít imagine where this might be what kind of pub lounge stupidly expensive prat filled club irredeemable dive bar they might be thinking but in the early days we all have to make sacrifices and sometimes that means stepping into unknowable situations to strengthen necessary social bonds.
So even though it seems that my interior voice is losing its sense of self, my exterior cheerfully shrugs out a Ďwhy not?í. And I save my work quickly and grab my winter jacket and shuffle down the hall with the others, nodding to them all quickly if only to acknowledge them in some form, so we can then walk in comfortable silence to the elevator.
In the lobby I casually ask where weíre headed and told a name I didnít recognize and before I could get details I come across three taxis that were obviously called ahead of time to take us to our destination.
I wordlessly get in and try to imagine how much change was rattling in my wallet so I could assist in payment. I stare at the window instead of out and I begin to wonder how far this was going to take me out of my way and which subway station would suddenly be my closest. I wonder if this was just going to be one of those guarded social maneuvers that everyone at the office thinks they have to do and force themselves to get on with it with smiles or whether it was going to a genuine piss up.
Then I have to stop wondering because weíre already here. It was less than five minutes of driving. I was all prepared to acknowledge that it probably would have been easier and cheaper if we walked, but since no one asked me to cough up dough for the drivers, I stayed silent.
Cowering from the roaring winter wind by rushing inside, we bunch into the foyer and wait as three tables are moved together so weíll be able to not spend a moment apart from each other. It looks like a nondescript sports bar but instead of sports on television it was six screens showing one of those real estate reality shows.
We walk past the other tables as if in a chain gang, looking at everyone else with a mixture of envy and curiosity. We felt safe among our kind, but also dreadfully bored, and couldnít help but wonder what all these other people could possibly have to talk about.
And those feelings didnít let up. All this way from work and Iím still sitting in a chair, elbows on a table, with a person whoíve I had a meeting or two with sitting across from me. Sheís older and married and talking to someone on her right that I think is named Helen about children.
Iíve nothing to add there, and the bits of words I pick up from my left sounds a bit like other-department speak that I have no interest in.
If it wasnít for the pint of beer that eventually arrives, I could have sworn we were still in the break room. The leash is long and not forgotten. All of this still feels like an extension of work. I have to pretend to be nice and pleasant to people who seem rather nice and pleasant. And the kneejerk reaction is to wonder why that should be a challenge Ė because it is, it really is Ė but then Iím reminded by a voice or the voice that itís all too close, one can sense the desk problems and their by-the-book solutions wafting through the air.
-itís not an escape, just a temporary transfer to a roomier cell.
And here I am, stuck drinking with the apparently happily mired restricted parties.
What came next wasnít a conscious decision. I stood and took out a badly folded ten from my wallet and tossed it absentmindedly on the table and said nothing letting other people acknowledge my abrupt exit but when they did I certainly amped up the apologetic factor in my speech.
Other things to do (not this), other people to see (no one but myself when I casually glance in my homeís bathroom mirror).
Good enough, I think, as I back away and finally turn towards the door and let their eyes slowly slide off of me.
As I get closer to the outside, I look to the right and see a table half full of people whose crude intentions and low purpose I recognize immediately and I feel a thousand times more drawn towards them and comfortable with their existence than the people Iíd just left.
I didnít need to turn an ear towards their slow like honey city drawl to know the secret language behind the offhand comments of music, movements and minutiae. The reaffirming of their twisted multicolour states with blissed out agreements that could never be written on paper because the ink just wouldnít understand. The angle of the foot on the chair as important as the shoes and shirts that only matter in fits and spurts. If you like clothes, care about them. If you donít, wear whatever you want that keeps you warm enough. And this fragment of an ethos is already burning up in the past as you read this.
I know because I was one of them until the deskís return.
But that was just another temporary solution or maybe not even that maybe really just a temporary situation. One I couldnít hold onto anymore for the best and worst reasons. There were no alarms or revolutions that dragged me out kicking and screaming. It was a half-conscious decision. It just sort of happened.
I wanted to explain this to them. That I understood. That I was familiar. That it wasnít long ago that I was there. That I do in fact still have friends exactly like you and you and you. I see your world and raise you a chance to come back in occasionally on weekends to charge my batteries. I can offer you a glimpse into the endless other one Iím slowly diffusing myself into. I can let you in on the tricks of the trade, how to inoculate yourself as long as possible. I can make betrayal seem like a sound business decision.
But I knew if I tried any of these approaches I would be rebuffed with confusion. They wouldnít even understand what I was selling and thatís all for the best. To get an insider edge suddenly means theyíre forced to deal with a game they might not have any interest in playing. To learn new things effortlessly poisons the old. Donít hasten falls from grace.
Itís something you have to leave alone.
So instead I push open the front doors took a deep night airís breath and left that part of me in the sweaty hands of the punks.
|Only the living blame the dead|