Walking into work after class felt like slowly scraping away at a chalkboard locked inside my skull. Mentally, I had just about had it with remembering to open each eye after blinking and the fact that my feet somehow continued to shuffle one after another is a miracle. Between analyzing every minuscule detail of Richard the III and decoding whether or not toddlers can be racist based on their Teletubbie preferences, I was a lobotomized mess. The lack of sleep combined with mental anguish was beginning to drive me insane. For some reason my mouth constantly tasted like cotton balls and those weird off brand gummy bears and my hands were always covered in hives. My legs essentially felt like I was saving up for a broomstick harvest at a contemporary crafts festival. It was leggings day, every day for fall was gonna come early this year regardless if it was 93 degrees outside. Wild animals scurried away from me when I went outside. Hordes of vultures circled my house. Murders of crows haunted my ears as I aimlessly plucked out an out of tune rendition of “Banana Pancakes” on my sad little ukelele. There would be no banana pancakes here. Nay, I say! Nay! For they are too happy a thing to reside in the darkness that was my heart in the depths of despair that were these times.
Was I dying? Was this death? No. It was midterms. I loved school and still do. I love my professors but from the minute they began going over the midterm expectations my eyelids started to feel like tiny little ladies of the night were grinding cheap cigarettes into the sensitive skin with their violently pointed stilettos. It had never happened to me in my life.
Two midterms were all times essay questions over four plays, five books, the daily lectures, seven documentaries, twelve critical essays. All dialogue had to essentially be memorized because random parts of the plays and books would be interspersed throughout the midterm with names, places, and dates redacted and you had to be able to explain what piece it came from, who said it, who is with them, who they’re saying it to, what they’re saying, why is it important, what’s your social security number, is this significant and why, and finally what their mother’s maiden name was.
I was kissing my A+ Average goodbye and thanking it for the wonderful time we had together. Sure, it had been fun while it lasted but A+ Average was a typical man. I thought we had a Notebook kind of love but it turns out that I was just his rebound while the Vietnamese exchange students learned enough English to find the “submit assignment” button on blackboard.
Goodbye, my lover.
Goodbye, my friend.
On a side note to any exchange students reading this, yes, I will give you my parking spot as soon as you please move your car to a position where I can remove mine from the spot that you very clearly and loudly want to take. This is a Lincoln, not a Delorean. I can’t just teleport. Even if it was a Delorean I would need a clear path to accelerate to the proper speed so in any situation this invasion of my moving space is inappropriate. I’m looking at you, Thuy Minh from American Pluralism. I’m looking at you.
Weeks of studying and endless nights of falling asleep to the sound of the neighborhood sprinklers turning on, had finally lead up to the last day of midterms. I remembers nothing of the previous week. It was like my body was suppressing a memory or possibly my animal instincts kicked in after I signed my name and I blacked out for the duration of the exams. The last one came and went in the same manner and I felt like I had spent a few hours riding the teacups at Disney World. What happened? I can’t tell you. I can tell you that I was working until the end time on every single one of them and I had completely filled my standard issue bluebooks. My writing hand was rubbed raw from moving against the coarse wood and paper for so long. I had faced the guillotine and, with my head dangling from a little scrap of hope fueled by nature valley granola bars, I stumbled into work. The sun on my skin made my head ache but the pain reminded me of my own humanity. It was good to feel again. What had I become? What had Midterms made me? Was I a monster?
There had been a weird energy in the office ever since I had gotten booted from my desk. It wasn’t really even a desk. It was more like a discarded table that I shared with an industrial hole-punch and the odd species of beetle that I was constantly battling for territorial rights to the little space that I had. It had a chair, a broken one that if you sat on it wrong, tilted and threw you off, but it was still a chair and it was mine. I even put up with Polly who was currently growing her own gravitational field and becoming more gaseous by the day while constantly complaining about how badly she wants a cigarette and wishes she could see her toes again. I could not only see, but smell her toes as well as live under the constant fear of something burning thanks to her ancient space heater that roasted and broiled her feet juices and wafted the vapors into my dimly lit, poorly ventilated corner.
The bars on the singular window of the room may have made it official that my space was a prison but after two years, even a cell becomes home. Okay, fine. It wasn’t a home, but it was comfortable. No, that wouldn’t work either. You know what? Alright, it was familiar at least. The point is, I had gotten used to being there and, like a post-apocalyptic cockroach, my body had become accustomed to the unscrubbable layer of dust and I was virtually indestructible in my little HQ.
They say change is inevitable and like dust on the wind, my little homestead was swept away into the horizon. Apparently the guy that I had been mistaking as my coworker’s 13 year old son for the past three months, was in fact the new adult employee, Toby, with what I assume to be Benjamin Button disease and he needed a work space. So that dingo came right up and stole my baby. Work wasn’t the same as a wanderer and the day of my final Midterm carried on as a pebble lodged in the track of my boot scratched and scraped in time to my heartbeat. I passed the front desk and made eye contact with Toby. They had cleared most of the boxes and given him a nice oak desk. Vintage. Polished. Enormous. He even had a new chair to sit in and stare at his brand new, fancy-pants double monitor setup. He blinked his stupid Toby eyes. What was that? An ergonomic keyboard?
Adjusting his V-neck he slowly spun on the axle of his chair and began to type at his screen. There was nothing on the screen. It was blank. I knew it. Did he know it? Who can say? What I can say is that I no longer liked Toby. My glare bore char marks into the back of his head as I past the front office and schlepped upstairs.
“A curse on both your houses”
The backpack weighed heavily on my shoulders and up I went in search of a place to set my burden. I decided to try the conference room. UIN Enterprises wasn’t in “smile and remain calm” mode so I assumed it would be empty. Sure enough it was and I shrugged my backpack into one of the empty leather chairs at the opposite end of the room from the door. The room felt so. . . alone. I felt like a really lonely King Arthur. I liked it.
So much space. So many chairs. The possibilities were endless. Sure, it was hideously warm in here but so much room. A paper shredder and the new color copy machine beckoned to me from the corner of the room.
Oh, hello there, sailors.
I was going to shred so many things. I made a mental note to get a notepad from the copy room so that I could write each of my secrets one by one and then slowly feed them through while laughing maniacally. Possibly with the lights off. Perhaps by the golden light of the office Scentsy burner. Maybe the life of a nomad wouldn’t be so bad. Of course, on days when we have meetings I’ll have to crouch in the copy room or in the hall like a savage ,but for now, this was my executive suite.
The intercom buzzed and a garbled voice informed me that the office next door to the conference room was summoning me to do some filing. I sighed and imagined my future as the shredmaster as I walked into Jane’s office. She sat at her desk and immediately her eyes flicked up to mine. She had been here for way longer than I had and I considered her a friend. Something was up in this office. She looked like she had just run a marathon while directing a preschool class. Her eyes were rimmed with dark circles and the lids slanted with exhaustion and stress. I opened my mouth to ask if she was catching what ever bug Toby brought in last week when she ran a hand over her face and motioned to the corner.
“Hey! Aren’t you Annie’s daughter?”
I turned my head and there was a pudgy man in his mid-forties, wearing way too tight jeans and sporting short, frosted gray spikes all over his oddly round head. His eyes were too wide and his smile too big, but then again, I’m not the best person at introductions and my midterm mental state rendered my facial muscles incapacitated.
“Annie?” The gears squealed like pigs and slowly clicked. Oh yea, my mother. “Yes, I’m the oldest one.”
He turned out of his desk and braced his hands on his knees as if he was giving a pep talk to a football team that had been thrown together by circumstance but through their shared love of the game and various, unnecessary personal experiences had come to realize the true meaning of friendship. He kept adjusting himself further on the edge of his chair until he was practically squatting on the floor.
“I had a daughter and a son too. I actually just got off the phone with them. I’m getting them credit cards because I don’t want my ex-wife touching my money. She gets it and who knows where it goes.” He slumped back into his chair and turned back toward his empty screen. Did anyone do any work around here?
“Crazy bitch.” He flicked on his phone and began to furiously tap at the screen.
Wow, his ex wife sounds mean. Wait a second, what?
Had I blacked out for five to ten years and woken up in the same position and during that time we had become sparkling best friends or had he just told me that as an introduction? Good lord. I looked back at Jane and her eyes were glassy.
That was it.
He was the extra disturbance in the force. Good lord, what happened in this room if he told me that within twenty seconds. Does he know where the nukes are? Did he kill a man? Is he planning on it? Was he murdered? Oh god, was I murdered? I didn’t have the energy to be the Bruce Willis to someone’s Haley Joel. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of commitment.
A stack of papers were thrust into my hands and I went to make copies.
I heard the sound of Jane’s loud footsteps down the hallway as her work boots met the concrete floor. From the next room music turned on. Music would be a loose term to describe the distressed machine-like sounds highlighted by screams that seemed to be cranked up to 11.
Maybe the radio was malfunctioning again. Sometimes the machines in the workshop messed with the signal on Jane’s old radio and picked up a metal friendly station, but even they didn’t play stuff like this. I went by the door to check on it and see if I could fix it when I noticed that the source was Scott’s phone hooked up to two tiny speakers. Jesus, that was loud for a phone.
He looked up from what ever he was pretending to be doing. “Oh sorry, I was just unleashing my madness.”
I mumbled something like “just asking Jane something” and threw myself back into the copies. Who says that outside of a professional wrestling arena? The song ended and I was relieved as the papers spat out of the machine into a neat stack. Then it began. Again and again.
I think I could make out either “fetus” or “meet us” around the fifth time hearing it. I felt like I was trying to decipher the mating calls of wounded buzzards who happened to have bronchitis. I was about to drive the stapler through my skull to end my misery when the tune changed to a different tone of screaming and then silence. I guess it was a ringtone. It was over. At last. I could feel a little miner of a migraine chipping away at my brain as the screams echoed in my head. The last copy rolled out of the printer and I tapped the pages into an orderly stack against the flat edge of the machine. I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to file these now.
Surely he had heard the loud buzzing of the machine slow to a purr. It would look weird if I just never showed up with the files, right? I mean, maybe I could scatter the pages and then bust the window. Then, while everyone is rushing to see what the ruckus was I could escape out the fire escape and it would just look like that Mexican Eagle from the lake out back finally grew a pair and made his move. A quick glance towards the window told me that the windows were barred just as they were downstairs and the door to the escape was bolted.
My only other option was to jam my sleeves through the printer and 127 Hours myself, but this cardigan went with everything and it was light jacket season. The piping was scalloped. It’s borderline adorable. The risks were too great.
I had to go in. For the sake of professionalism, proper filing techniques, and this Goddamn cardigan.
I could hear him talking on the phone. I made my steps as quiet as possible, thinking that perhaps he would remain on the line and ignore me if I posed as little distraction as possible.
Scott was leaning back in his chair, turning from side to side at his desk.
“No, Bro, the FBI will be contact with y’all shortly. Yea, just give them the information and all the shit we went through and all that paperwork I sent over.”
What is happening in this office? FBI? Bro?
It was madness.
I began filing as fast as I could manage. I had to get out of here before he hung up. Jane hadn’t gotten back yet and I didn’t feel comfortable being alone with this guy for some reason. Why were there so many papers?
“Yea. Yea. Okay, my man. Yea. Alright. So you have my info and I have yours so I’ll be in contact.”
Oh, God, no. No. I was so close.
I heard the sound of the wheels on his chairs squeak as he pushed himself away from his desk. One wheel was jammed and screeched across the floor.
“Sorry, bout that that was the phone company.” He had wheeled himself to the table where I was placing invoices into job files. What was his job supposed to be?
I willed the corners of my mouth to twitch in an attempt to smile. “Oh, okay. I’m just filing. I’ll be-“
“You won’t believe what happened to me.” He was back in that near squat again. He had a vein in his neck that looked like it was about to burst. His eyes were too wide. His mouth was frozen in an open, slack position. Was it a smile? It looked expectant. Did he want me to probe him for questions?
OH! That vein twitched.
I panicked. I guess I should ask what happened before that thing bursts and I’m stuck looking like a murderer because no one would believe that a guy literally just exploded.
“Yea, my phone got hacked!” Good God, what had I done? He began spewing words like a baby on a tilt-a-twirl. “My ex-wife and her friend hacked seven phones so I called the phone company and turns out that its a federal offense so now the FBI is all into it.” He seemed pleased at this. Why was he telling me these things? “Hopefully they’ll throw her ass in jail.”
It was amazing. He continued to go on about his ex-wife. I was done with my filing now but he wouldn’t stop talking.
Can I just leave?
I made a sidestep towards the door.
“She thinks she’s so clever. Whatever. It’s like women think they can pull that shit on me.”
Wait, what? Did he just pull a sexist rant on me on top of his divorce? Oh boy. He sat back in his chair and rolled back to his desk, running his hand through his frosted tips. Turning slowly back to his desk, he said with a coarse chuckle, “Oh, bitches and the games they play.”
Excuse me? I’m sorry, but who did he think he was to deliver a line like that? A Bond villain? What was he gonna do? Spin around like that and enter the codes that launched a death ray at Planned Parenthood clinics? What was his problem? The games “bitches” play? What did that even mean?
I didn’t even know his ex-wife and at this point I wanted to find her and become her friend just to spite him. I wanted to add her on facebook and engage in platonic poke wars and like her statuses from 2009. I wanted to finally give in to the pressure of those chain posts and tag away so we could have a chance to exchange witty banter in the comment section. By New Year’s we’d be braiding each other’s hair and making friendship anklets.
I was too offended to really say anything at that point so I left the room and walked downstairs. Did he not realize that I was a woman? I’m wearing a dress for goodness sakes. My cardigan has scalloped piping! It’s white on black piping! It couldn’t be more clear! I couldn’t figure out what bothered me most, the fact that he had decided to tell a female stranger any of the things that he had said in a workplace or that it had almost felt like a warning.
I needed some water so I headed to the kitchen.
Had that really just happened?
Polly and the programmer with tattoos of contrasting ideologies were hanging out by the coffee maker as usual, complaining about different aspects of their lives. I went to the cooler and to my dismay, the dixie cup dispenser was empty. As I looked through the cabinets for the boxes of cups to restock the dispenser, I heard the sound of heavy feet clomping down the stairwell. There had only been one person left upstairs.
I couldn’t find anymore cups so I grabbed a glass out of the pantry. It was dirty. Of course it was. I listened to the steps descend the stairs and turn towards the kitchen as I fumbled with the dish soap. Great.
Scott entered the kitchen as Polly was telling the programmer about a rude man that she had dealt with on the phone and rubbing her insanely pregnant belly as if at any moment the baby would pop out and grant her three wishes. I scrubbed at the glass. Could no one wash what they use downstairs?
“Like, dude, it’s not my fault that he isn’t here.” Polly took a sip from her mug and the programmer nodded in agreement as he tore a sugar packet into his drink.
Scott leaned against the door frame with his mug that labelled him as “DAD”. He looked like a cocky Disney Channel antagonist that was about to announce how much of a shame it would be if someone were to sabotage the soapbox race.
He chuckled loudly to himself, “You know what you can say to those guys like that? You say, ‘he’s not here, but you can talk to a guy named Deez’.”
Oh, God, please don’t say what I think you’re about to say. Polly and the programmer stared at him as did I. He was already laughing at his own joke.
“Then, when they ask who that is, you say ‘Deez Nuts’ and hang up.”
You could cut the awkward with a knife and use it to smother yourself. His laugh just echoed on as if sound itself was fighting to survive in the immense silence that now engulfed the kitchen.
I gave up on the glass and put it on the drying rack. I wasn’t even thirsty anymore.
“It’s like Deez Nuts, like, uh, testicles, get it?”, Scott laughed.
Mother of God. He was explaining his own joke. If there had been a soundboard installed throughout the office, crickets would have been the appropriate choice and the amount of crickets needed would have shorted the system and set fire to us all in an act of divine mercy.
He wasn’t done. He picked up and imaginary receiver and held it to his head. “‘Hello?”Yea, is Jack there?”No, you wanna talk to Deez?”Deez?'” He was shaking his shoulders now and swaying a bit. Was this a routine for him? Is he Jerry Seinfeld? “‘Yea, asshole, Deez Nuts.'”
The programmer finally spoke up. “Dude, we get it.”