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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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,”
“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
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
“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.”