~Meniscus Archives~
Autumn 2004
Issue #5
September-November 2004

Issue #5 Home


Dan Berthiume
If Julius Caesar or Kurt Cobain found themselves in corporate America today, how would they react? Without the relevant resume experience that shouldn't be a probelm...

A Mission to Coventry, Vermont
Team Meniscus
When 70,000 phans come from all over the country to converge on a mud-soaked fairly land of joy and despair, things are bound to get interesting. See for yourself.

Crystal Boots Premiere!
A film by Drayton Patriota
Get a sneak preview of the hugely-anticipated, highly awaited story of one woman overcoming her fears. Get the story and the movie trailer here!

Please Add "Positivity" to the Dictionary!
On Behalf of Meniscus Magazine
The word "positivity" is an integral component of our philosophy here at Meniscus Magazine—but its not a recognized word in Merriam-Webster's dictionary! We think that should change.



By Dan Berthiaume
Published 9/25/04


Dave applied the staple remover to the upper left-hand corner of the report he had been assigned to make 10 copies of, pulled out the staple, and laid its 50 pages face-up in the copying machine’s industrial-size feeder. Then he pushed the proper buttons to obtain 10 sets of collated copies and pressed “start.” The copier chortled to life and Dave stepped back to give it room to do its business.

“Thank God for that college degree, huh, Dave?” yelled Ian. His booming sarcasm traveled through the production area into the copy room, originating from the open door of the utility closet he had transformed into a tiny office containing a filing cabinet, grade school-style desk with attached chair, and lava lamp.

Dave glanced at the clock on the table behind him and saw that it was 11 a.m. He assumed Ian had already nipped at the pint bottle of whiskey he always kept handy in the bottom of his filing cabinet. Lately Ian had been favoring Wild Turkey, the 102-proof elixir of flat-out stupors.

Ian ambled into the production area and assumed his standard supervisory position, perilously reclining on the back wheels of a rolling chair he had “borrowed” from the executive offices upstairs, his feet up on the long metallic work table where he and Dave spent many joyless hours assembling construction industry reports and manuals.

“You know that degree is a Godsend,” said Dave. “Four years of analyzing the lives and legends of the Greeks and Romans prepared me well to punch buttons and staple together pieces of paper.”

Ian laughed long and loudly enough to tip off Dave that the day’s first taste of Wild Turkey was definitely behind him. “Hey man, nobody forced you to be a Classics major,” said Ian. “Besides, no matter what your major is, the only jobs out there for college grads your age involve stapling, copying, filing, faxing, or entering data. And when you graduated high school as a fresh-faced little New Economy brat in the late 90s you probably figured things were so good that even a bullshit liberal arts degree with no practical application would get you six figures. But 2004 is 1994 all over again. No jobs, no hope, you might as well just slack and enjoy the ride.”

Dave pondered this for a moment. His father had always told him that hard times could only be overcome with hard work, but somehow Ian’s philosophy seemed more realistic.

“Your silence is all the vindication I need,” said Ian. “Hell, I didn’t even bother with college because I knew no matter what I did, I would eventually wind up as a low-level supervisor, giving orders to someone like you in a place like this, drinking two pints of whiskey every week and another two on the weekends. Why wrestle with Fate?”

“Your optimism inspires everyone around you,” said Dave, shaking his head and laughing.
An ill-timed cry of “Hey guys, what’s up?” penetrated straight through Dave’s laughter to the heart of the brief moment of levity that had been transpiring. Todd the assistant Webmaster had entered unnoticed from the far side of the open office space that served as the production area, his approach blocked from view by a row of empty cubicles.

Ian leapt to his feet so quickly that his chair spun wildly on one wheel for several seconds before crashing to the floor. “Well, I’ve got to go check on those copies you were working on, Dave,” he said as he hurried into the copy room. Dave, helplessly watching his excuse to get away from Todd cruelly snatched, withheld a sigh.

“So what’s up?” asked Todd a second time, flecks of drool spittling from his peculiarly mismatched lips, which were curled in a vacant smile that had become an office trademark.

“Not much, Todd,” said Dave. “How about yourself?”

“Oh, nothing,” said Todd. “What’s that work Ian is checking on?”

“Copies, Todd,” said Dave. “That’s my job here, copying, collating and shipping reports.”

“Oh yeah, I know that,” said Todd. “So what’s happening?”

Rather than immediately respond to Todd’s inanely repetitive line of questioning, Dave took a moment to reflect on Todd’s existence. He pondered the third grade birthday parties he had never been invited to, the sixth grade spin-the-bottle circles he had never sat in, the high school dances where he didn’t even have the courage to show up late, slink around the corners, and leave early.

Then there was college, four years at some anonymous state technical school where even the other misfit loners shunned his company. Todd had never told Dave any of this, but Dave simply observed Todd the man standing before him and reverse engineered his way back to Todd the boy.

Moved to pity by the visions of pathetic loneliness filling his head, Dave relented and withstood a four-minute conversation with Todd, pausing patiently at every halt and stammer. He silently cursed his conscience for provoking this course of action.

The sputtering conversation halted far more suddenly than it had begun when Timothy, the executive vice president of human resources, strolled through the door on the near side of the production area that served as the official entrance. Dave had long wanted to install a deadbolt lock that only he and Ian would hold the keys to, while Ian was a proponent of bricking the door off completely. In any event, good tidings rarely traveled down the stairway that connected the production area directly to the front desk.

“Todd, aren’t you supposed to be updating the graphics on the home page?” said Timothy in exaggerated, drawn-out fashion, waving his hands for emphasis. Although Timothy’s official job duties consisted of overseeing performance reviews and benefits, everyone knew he functioned as a spy for top management. Everyone also knew he was homosexual. Timothy never discussed his orientation, just as Todd never discussed his painful and awkward teen years. People could just figure it out.

“Yes, Timothy.” Todd hung his head like he was posing for a mug shot and began shuffling back toward the empty portion of the basement office space, which contained a narrow set of metal stairs that wound through an opening in the floor of the supply room. Those stairs were so seldom used that even Ian agreed they should be left unobstructed in case of fire.

“Oh Todd,” called Timothy in a mock singsong voice. “Wouldn’t it be easier and quicker to use the front stairs?” Todd stiffly turned, nodded his head without looking Timothy directly in the eye, and slumped his way out the front door. Timothy shook his head in an expression combining the least sympathetic elements of pity and disgust. He then coldly focused his gaze on Dave.

“How about you, Dave? What are you keeping yourself busy with,” asked Timothy, folding his arms and tapping his left foot in anticipation of an answer that would allow him further displeasure.
Dave stood motionlessly for several seconds, mentally reviewing a variety of shades of the truth. He decided to answer plainly enough to obscure the whole picture. “I’m working on the Monsanti report,” he blurted, knowing right away he had spoken too quickly after too long a pause. “Ian is checking my progress right now.”

“Isn’t there something constructive you could do now while Ian checks what you’ve already accomplished?” inquired Timothy. He pursed his lips and tapped his foot harder, creating a dull vibration in the floor that could be felt through the cheap, fraying carpet.

“Yes, of course,” replied Dave, desperately trying to think of something. Outside of making copies and then assembling and packaging them to fill client orders, Dave had no official responsibilities. But Timothy did not take idleness lightly under any circumstance.

After a period of silence that embarrassed them both, Timothy dramatically cleared his throat. “Well Dave, since you can’t seem to remember what else it is you could be doing besides chatting about whatever topic Todd could possibly have to discuss, I’ll give you a suggestion,” he said. “How about cleaning this mess.” Timothy swept his bony arm over the work table behind him, which was covered in assorted papers and office supplies.

“I’ll get right on it,” said Dave. He began pushing papers into random piles, hoping Timothy wouldn’t ask how he was arranging them.

Timothy noncommittally observed Dave for a few minutes, with only the gradual reduction in the bass of the vibration his tapping foot caused in the floor signaling that he was satisfied with what he saw. Wordlessly, Timothy exited by the front door. Dave never minded the door opening when it was used as an exit.

After Timothy’s vibe had dissipated, Ian re-entered the production area from the copy room with 10 completed copies of the Monsanti report. Ian normally delegated the manual processes of the production department to Dave, but had a knack for picking the right time to become a hands-on supervisor.

“Man, Todd and Timothy back to back,” said Ian, absently tossing the reports in the middle of the mess on the table Timothy had ordered to be cleared. The thick stack of paper landed with a resounding thud, scattering several smaller piles of paper in its wake. “Although Timothy might prefer it front-to-back. Do you think Todd goes that way? I doubt he’s ever been with a woman.”
“Christ Almighty, if I didn’t need a drink before, the thought you just put in my head makes me need one now,” said Dave, stifling laughter that erupted effortlessly in the absence of Todd and Timothy.

“Say no more,” said Ian. He disappeared into his office and rematerialized a moment later holding a bottle of Wild Turkey and 3-ounce paper cup, grinning malevolently like the ghost of a jester.
Dave usually refused Ian’s alcoholic overtures, citing general cultural taboos against drinking during daylight hours or while collecting a paycheck. However, on this particular morning Dave was feeling downright countercultural, a Kurt Cobain thrashing dissonant chords against the pop metal melodies of his mainstream peers.

“Again, your silence tells me all I need to know,” said Ian, sneering in delight. He placed the cup on the edge of table and casually unleashed a stream of whiskey into it, several rivulets spattering onto the floor.

“Drink that before we get any more unwelcome visitors,” commanded Ian. He hurried into his office to put the bottle back in its hiding place in the drawer, under a stack of management books that had been previously used as a stand for his lava lamp. Dave raised the cup to his lips. The odor of the liquor filled his nose and mouth and came back out through his eyes, causing them to slightly water. Suddenly he felt less like Kurt Cobain and more like a cog in the corporate machine, ready to plod along and some day earn his reward as an executive VP or assistant Webmaster.

“Come on, pussy,” barked Ian. “Todd would put that down faster than you.”

Dave closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and tossed the double-shot of Wild Turkey directly into his throat. The sudden hot bitterness closed his esophagus and the liquid momentarily gurgled up into his mouth, but it then sank down into his stomach, where he felt a sharp pang. A pleasant airiness that expanded in his brain lessened the discomfort brought by the shock to his body.
Ian strode back into the production area proudly. “That’s my boy,” he said, pounding Dave on the back. “I’ll train you yet. Your task of cleaning that table up before Timothy has another PMS attack will now be much easier.”

Dave snorted and returned to the table. His body now felt warm and prickly, a not entirely unwelcome feeling. He carefully placed the Monsanti reports on the floor, away from the fading whiskey stain Ian had left on the carpet, and arranged all the papers and supplies into random piles with fervor. He was done within a few minutes, and could honestly say that the table looked great, although he had no idea where anything was. Dave then picked the Monsanti reports off the floor and placed them in the middle of the table as an attractive, eye-catching centerpiece.
“Good work,” said Ian. “Aesthetics over practicality. You know just how to meet our overseer’s personal preferences. I think this calls for another shot.”

“Shouldn’t we at least wait till lunchtime?” asked Dave, glancing at the clock again and seeing it was not yet 11:30 AM.

“It’s always lunchtime,” said Ian. “Everyone else around here is out to lunch, the world is out to lunch, why shouldn’t we be out to lunch?”

Again, Ian’s odd rationalization seemed to trump conventional thinking. “Good point,” agreed Dave. Ian ran to his office and came back out a few minutes later with two more 3-ounce paper cups, each brimming with Wild Turkey. He handed the slightly fuller cup to Dave.

“Bottoms up,” said Ian.

“Hold on,” said Dave. “Let’s drink to something. How about….the ancient Greeks and Romans.”

“To the ancient Greeks and Romans,” cried Ian.

“And to Kurt Cobain!” added Dave.

“And to Kurt Cobain!” echoed Ian. They both chugged the contents of their cups. Dave found the whiskey’s initial blow much softer and sweet aftereffects more satisfying.

“You know,” said Ian, slightly slurring, “Kurt Cobain never was an executive VP of human resources, or even an assistant Webmaster. Hell, he was never even made it to being a lowly copy boy.”

“Neither did Alexander the Great, and I don’t think Julius Caesar spent much time around the office,” countered Dave.

Ian punched Dave in the shoulder so hard he almost knocked him over. “Buddy,” he exclaimed, “I’ve trained you more than I knew.”

Dave rubbed his shoulder until the stinging pain subsided to a dull ache. “I suppose I owe you thanks,” he said, “but it wasn’t just you. Timothy and Todd did their parts.”

“Timothy and Todd are there to train everyone,” said Ian. “You just have to be able to recognize the lessons they have to offer.”

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, with Dave refusing all but one of Ian’s further exhortations to drink as he packaged each copy of the Monsanti report in a separately addressed envelope and otherwise tried to look occupied.

On the way home to his two-room attic apartment, Dave stopped by a coffeehouse called the Dharma Bum Café. The front door was accessible from an alley that otherwise contained loading docks for several furniture warehouses. He did not look out of place among the plaid-shirted poets and their sandal-wearing women, but they still gave him plenty of elbow room. Probably the scent of the office scares them off, he thought.

Not until his second double espresso did Dave notice a small handwritten sign taped to the chalkboard that advertised the daily specials. It read, “Full-time help wanted. Experience desired, but will train right person.”

Dave approached the heavily pierced girl working behind the counter. “Excuse me, I’m interested in the job,” he said.

She glanced at him and returned to the latte she was concocting. “The manager won’t be back till tomorrow,” she said, “but I’ll fill you in on the basics. It’s basic barista work, mostly weekday hours plus Saturday mornings. We’re really looking for someone who can learn quickly and be a self-starter. Do you have any relevant experience or training?”

“I have 4,000 years of history to fall back on and the realization of my existence as an independent, free-willed being,” replied Dave. “The same experience and training that drove Alexander the Great to conquer the world and Kurt Cobain to kill himself. Either way, the stuff of greatness is within my grasp. It all depends how I use it.”

Daniel Berthiaume


Meniscus Magazine © 2004. All material is property of respective artists.