Another night at the office working late. Twilight is falling, the sun is tottering on the horizon as if it were precariously perched on the brink of nothingness. Azure beams of sunlight stab between the blinds before surreptitiously fading into oblivion ten minutes later. I’m alone. As usual. The other career underachievers that share my office have long given up the appearance of effort, retiring for the day. It should come as no surprise as most my co-workers have opted to abandon productivity for a ride on the corporate welfare bandwagon all the way into retirement.
For them, work has become a vestigial appendage cast aside on the trek of corporate evolution.
Alan is always the first out the door and the last in. Counting down the minutes at the office from the moment he pulled out of his driveway this morning; his entire day was spent terrrorizing productive employees with random acts of unsolicited socialization. His arsenal includes personal matters, mundane questions, or any other pursuits of a trivial distraction not related to work that he can pursue; buzzing from cubicle to cubicle pollinating every conversation with his well-honed repertoire of irrelevant pander.
‘Eeyore’ has left as well; that’s what I call him. Don is the office gloom-monger-er. Parked beneath a perpetual black cloud, he patiently waits for something to go wrong. From there he typically launches into an extended tirade against technology before digressing into what’s wrong with society and politics and the rest of the world in general.
Two hours earlier you would have heard a spontaneous outburst erupt across the office, a shrill, high-pitched laugh that could only be described as a cackle. That would be the receptionist flirting with the deliveryman. This time next week, he will have been discarded as emotional flotsam for the next available fling. Not that we keep count but we’re already on no. 37 this season. Refer to the chart behind the door in the break area, the one with the stake through the heart.
Last to go was, Cynthia. I’m not sure I can explain how a ninety-eight pound female in heels can make such a clatter? Coming down the hall, she sounds like a Clydesdale on a cobblestone street; clop, clop, clop. She’s the overpaid Human Resources guru whose job it is to redefine success to an increasingly lower state of expectation thereby boosting morale. She cheerily spouts sporadic bits of pop-psychobabble like a jack-in-the-box wound too tightly and regurgitates them to employees at meetings or splashes them across bulletin boards.
It turns out we’re a random collection of dysfunctional misfits that researchers studying abnormal psychology dream about.
Welcome to my world.
I’m a draftsman pretending to be an engineer and this is our dysfunctional corner of the galaxy. In our cubicle zoo, a dysfunctional Dilbert-esque psychology has long since seized the occupants of this office like a grievous murrain. Ours is a place in the corporate universe occupied by chronic underachievers where now we subsist in an incapacitating state of sub-par mediocrity. Once we had ascended those lofty peaks of corporate success before slowly lapsing into a collective employee stupor that dissolves neurons, leaving us the impaired assortment of office zombies we are today.
Forty minutes earlier, I had looked at my watch. “About that time,” I announced to myself. “Any moment now…” Alan suddenly ducks his head into my partition. “Anything I can do before I leave?” It may as well have been a prerecorded messaged played back. We both know he doesn’t mean it. It’s just his signature exit before he departs the building. I utter some rhetorically random retort involving sheer absurdity just to see if he will respond.
And then its silent.
Back to the present…under the garish glare of a flickering fluorescent light, the office is cast in a surreal ambiance of artificial light.
I digress for a moment to that troublesome light. Earlier this week…I complained we ought to get that thing fixed. “I think the ballast is going out.” “Put in a work order,” they said. The last time maintenance checked it out he said, “can’t find nothing wrong.” I argue there is. He dryly states, “turn in another work order if you want it checked out.” And they will, four to six weeks later. That’s how we play the work order game here; a perpetual version of procedural musical chairs; a cyclic chase-your-tail series of pushing papers from in-basket to out, generating forms and excuses. Solving the problem has no legitimate place in the work order game.
Where were we? Oh, yes. Back to the abandoned office where now I can get some work done.
I sit fuming about that light as I plod on under the luminescent glow of the monitor beneath the flickering light. The light worsens to a phosphorescent stroboscope, an oscillating mental metronome of rapidly flashing light pulses with the intent of brain-washing that lulls me into an unnatural rhythm. Soon I lapse into a lethargic stupor. And I sigh out loud.
And that’s when I hear that familiar sound.
From within the employee break area, I hear the sound of a refrigerator door slowly creak open. The faint glow of dim refrigerator light scintillesces from the darkened room, followed by the sound of a hollow metal door being sucked shut as it closed.
I hear it coming. Like a lumbering run-a-way amoeba, lumping along tediously across the tile floor.
I can only describe the visitor as a gelatinous mass exiting the fridge, an amorphous blob of stray cytoplasm that oozes and wobbles and slides across the room. Toward me. It’s a bit unnerving the first time I admit when I encountered this phenomenon but I’m not fearful of the bizarre occurrence. Running away from a gelatinous blob isn’t a major concern should it suddenly turn malevolent. I have real feet and a musculo-skeletal structure; the blob only has pseudo-pods. The primordial protoplasmic creature lumbering along has no teeth but I suppose if you were to lay motionless long enough, he might eventually be able to engulf you by the process of exocytosis.
“Hello Bob,” I say casually as I continue to work, not bothering to look up.
Maybe I should explain more, in case you’re still freaked out a bit. Bob is a spore spawned from leftovers that have been leftover again in the employee fridge. Lurking in the stale, musty air on the back shelf which he shares with the fuzzy blue macaroni.
I simply call him, Bob. What ‘Bob’ is is a matter of taxonomy; you may prefer to categorize him a mycelium or some mutated form of spontaneous generation, an example of punctuated equilibrium; but I prefer ‘Bob’. I will leave that question up to the zoologists and the philosophers.
Bob slowly, tediously pulls himself up into the chair beside me. And he sighs. “Man. You guys have really got to clean out that fridge. Its getting rank in there, even for me.”
He slurs his words slightly but for an amoebic creature with no larynx, I think he articulates well.
“I told the cleaning lady to take care of it”
Bob has one appendage, a tentacle like protrusion he uses for grasping and occasional gesticulation for emphasis when making a point. “Jim,” he wraps his tentacle over my shoulder, “I think it’s time we got rid of Myrtle.”
Maybe you don’t routinely take advice from gelatinous masses inhabiting your fridge, but Bob’s opinion carries a lot of weight with me.
“It’s not my call, Bob. Somebody else has to make that decision.”
“They should promote me to office manager. I’d fire some people around here if I ever get the position.”
This whole scene isn’t nearly as bizarre as you may think. And Bob is actually a pretty nice guy, once you get to know him, in spite of being a mutated form of leftovers. Must have been those additives; some synthetic chemical reaction or something…or some random case of evolution, spontaneously generated. After all, a refrigerator would make a perfect incubator for evolving life with it’s controlled environment and a plethora of nutrients, and an ample light source to initiate a photosynthetic jump-start of bio-synthetic processes. And despite having jello for brains: No, literally, he has gelatin for brains; for a discarded, mutated leftover, he’s very intelligent.
We have frequent conversations when I work late. Tonight is no exception. We discuss things for the next hour before Bob yawns and announces he’s retiring to the fridge. “I’m starting to thaw out.” And then he adds, “Jim? Go home. You look like crap.”
It’s hard to argue with logic like that. “I rub my eyes and hit the save button before shutting down my laptop. “I think you’re right, Bob. I’m outta’ here.”
“See you later”, he says as he plots a course toward his habitat. “Oh, and leave the TV on, will you. I’m trying to catch up on my current events.”
“You got it, Bob. Good night.”
“Hmmmmmph.” And with that I hear the sound of a hollow metal door being sucked shut as it’s closed.
“Good night, Bob,” I say affectionately.