Sunday, May 29, 2011

41/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Happiness" by Goldfrapp

The orientation room was decked out in gray carpet and maroon plastic-seated metal chairs. There were no windows. There were a few other new employees milling about, looking defeated already. Brad entered the room and sat in one of the chairs in the back row. The chair was wobbly and Brad looked down to see what was wrong.

"Ho, there! Watch your head!" said a man with a deep voice. Brad started to look up but the back of his head hit flesh. "Oops!" said the man.

"I'm sorry," said Brad, mortified. He hoped he had just brushed against the man's thigh.

"S'all right, s'all right," said the man. He squeezed past Brad and sat next to him. His girth spilled over the seat and touched Brad's elbow. He wanted to move to a different seat, but thought it might be rude. The man folded his arms over his substantial chest and sighed. Brad noticed that his was making a slight whistling noise with his nose.

"Excuse me," said a woman with scraggly hair and an rumpled pantsuit as she pushed past and took a seat in the corner and tried to make herself look small, but it just looked like her suit was about to swallow her whole.

"I guess no one wants to sit up front," chuckled Brad to the large man.

"I'm far-sighted," said the man. "I hope we get optometry benefits. That's the main reason I'm taking this job. I need new glasses."

"That's...sensible," said Brad, nodding. "I'm Brad by the way." He extended his hand to the large man, who gripped it limply and shook twice.

"I'm Claus," said the large man.

"Claus? That sounds like the name of German serial killer," said Brad, laughing lightly. Claus went red in the face.

"Excuse me?" he said.

"Uh, oh, I didn't mean to imply that you were...or anything..." said Brad.

"I'm a little offended," he said, getting up. He shuffled down the row and sat next to the woman in the pantsuit. She disappeared behind him.

Just then a stout and diminutive older woman in a shapeless dress walked into the room. Brad always thought of this type of woman as a 'dot-dot' for the way they walked, especially in heels, in a slow, swayed, double staccato, Brad thought that chiropractors must have a field day with these old gals. She dot-dotted her way to the whiteboard at the front of the room. She clapped her hands once.

"Everyone take a seat please," she said in a genuinely sunny, high voice. "Let's get started, yes?"

"Yes!" said Brad. The dot-dot looked at him funny and cocked her head. He wondered why she had asked a question if she didn't expect an answer. A man with buck teeth and a brown tie that looked like it was from 1975 sat next to him. He cleared his throat, and kept doing it every twenty seconds or so.

"Are we all seated now?" said dot-dot. Brad forced pressed his lips together, blocking the urge to answer. "Good! My name is Shirley! How are all of you?" She looked expectantly at other people seated in the room. There were several monotone mumblings of "fine."

"Oh, are we supposed to answer now?" asked Brad.

"Haha," said Shirley nervously. "Well you should all be excited because this is a big day! It's your first day at Spencer/Gaskell!" She started clapping. There was some scattered claps among the new employees. "Now today you're going to fill out all your benefits forms, and we'll also get you sorted into your departments.

"Do you think there will be a sorting hat?" Brad asked the man in the brown tie with mock enthusiasm.

"What?" said the man, clearing his throat again. "We have to wear hats?"

"No--" said Brad.

"I get traction alopecia when I wear hats. I can't wear hats!" said the man, with some degree of fright. "When I applied for this job they didn't say anything about hats!" Brad jaw fell.

"It's okay dude, no hats. I was just joking."

"You shouldn't joke about a thing like that," said the man. Then he noisily sucked back some post-nasal drip. Brad suppressed a gag.

"Can I have your attention again?" said Shirley. She pointedly looked down her nose at Brad.

"Yes sir," said Brad. Shirley rolled her eyes and suddenly looked tired.

"Okay. Now you will have to fill out your W-4s, your health plan selection, your dental benefits provision, optical provision," said Shirley.

"Yessss!" said the large man under his breath.

"You will also fill out a new employee survey. This will tell us about how you perceive Spencer/Gaskell. If and when you leave the company, you will fill out a similar exit survey," said Shirley. "Now if you have any questions about any of these forms, feel free to ask me. You will have the next hour to fill everything out."

She proceeded to hand out a series of thick benefit information packs, than sat in a chair next to the whiteboard, staring daggers at Brad. He whipped through the forms, choosing options at random. On the entry survey he drew a caricature of Shirley and gave her octopus arms. Each arm held a thick stack of forms. He wrote 'Don't Call Me Shirley' in block letters above the drawing. When he was done, there was still forty-five minutes left. He spent the time looking at his watch, listening to man next to him clear his throat, and watched a bug crawl across the whiteboard. At one point it veered near Shirley's hair and Brad got excited, hoping that it would find it's way into her hair, but alas, through Brownian motion, it wander off in the opposite direction.

Finally the hour was up. Everyone was long ago finished with their forms. Someone was snoring.

"Everyone done now?" asked Shirley standing up and adjusting her dress. There was a dull chorus of 'yeeeees'. "Excellent!" Shirley collected the forms, then left the room. A few minutes later she returned with three other people and a clipboard in hand. One was a tall fit man in a suit and black turtleneck shirt. Another was a short man with an impressive beer belly that made him waddle. The last was a mousy middle-aged woman in a black suit and pink shirt.

"Thanks for your patience everyone!" said Shirley. "Now I'd like to introduce your managers. This is Victor Morten," she pointed to the man in the turtleneck, "he's the head of invoice management!" Victor looked bored, but bowed curtly to the room. "And this is Bert Crestwell!" she pointed to the man with the beer belly. Bert took a little awkward hop and waved, all with a ridiculous grin on his face. Brad thought that this is what gnomes must look like. "He's the head of billing management! And finally, this is Eudora Aitken," she pointed at the woman. "She's the head of data integrity management!" Eudora nodded sagely with her head. She did not smile.

Shirley turned to her clipboard and started to call out names of the new employees, and assigned them to their new managers. Brad's name was the last to be called. He was assigned to Eudora. He walked up to her and shook her hand firmly. She withdrew her hand and wiped it rather obviously on her pant leg. The only other new employee assigned to Eudora was the woman in the rumpled suit. Eudora led the pair out of the room, down a hall, and then into a maze of gray cubicles. Brad goggled at the size of the area, thinking you could park a 747 or two in the space if it were cleared of cubes and people. Eudora walked them through part of the maze. Brad was already getting lost.

"Do you have a map?" he asked.

"What?" said Eudora.

"Nevermind," said Brad.

Eudora stopped at an empty cubicle. There was no computer, just gray fabric walls, a coffee-stained, lopsided task chair, and plenty of dust.

"You'll have to share," said Eudora.

"There's only one chair," said the woman in the rumpled suit.

"You'll have to requisition one from the office manager," said Eudora flatly.

"How do--" said the rumpled woman.

"Don't worry about it now. I'll be right back, I'll just go and get your work," said Eudora as she left. Brad and the rumpled woman both stared at the pathetic looking chair.

"I have sciatica," she said.

"You can have the chair," said Brad. The woman quickly sat down as if she thought Brad was going to change his mind.

"Thanks," she said, as she once again began to sink into her suit.

"What's your name by the way?" asked Brad. "I don't think I caught it."

"Cora," she said.

"Nice to meet you," said Brad.

"I guess," she swiveled around and pulled herself into the built-in cubicle desk. Brad leaned against the cube wall but it gave easily so he stood up straight and folded his arms.

"I hope we get new computers," said Brad.

"I don't like computers," said Cora.

"Really?" asked Brad, a little perplexed she would sign up for a job in an office.

"They make that buzzing sound," she said, moving her hands randomly around her ears. "And they give off a lot of bright light." Brad leaned out of the cubicle entrance, hoping Eudora was on her way back. There was nothing but gray carpet and a gentle background cacophony of ringing phones and dulcet, sleepy voices.

"I can see how that would be annoying," said Brad. He leaned back in.

"Oh it is," said Cora, tapping her hands on the desk. A plume of dust rose into the air. Cora coughed.

"Yeah," said Brad, not sure what to do with the conversation next. Finally he determined it was dead and unlikely to be revived. Then there were muted footsteps on the carpet. Eudora returned, carrying a large stack of wide printer paper. She deposited it on the desk.

"Here it is," said Eudora. She looked at Cora and Brad expectantly.

"What is it?" asked Brad.

"This is your work for the week," said Eudora. "I need you to go through each line and add up the numbers. Start with the first line on the top of the page, then the next. Then next week I'll give you another set of printouts and you will have to check that the sum of each line matches the sum on those printouts."

"Seriously?" asked Brad.

"Why wouldn't I be serious?" said Eudora.

"But, what's the point?" asked Brad. Eudora smirked.

"Well, the point, young man, is to make sure the sums are correct. You are in the data integrity department afterall," said Eudora. Brad scratched his head. "It's not that hard to comprehend," she continued.

"Okay then," said Brad. He looked at the printouts. The printing was faint, and the paper was striped blue and white. Along the sides were tear-away strips with holes. He pointed at the stack. "I didn't think they made these printers anymore," he said.

"No, of course not. This is from 1982 I believe. You will be checking it against a printout from 1993," said Shirley.

"Why?" said Cora.

"Because that's your job," said Shirley. "There should be a calculator and some pens in the desk drawer. If you don't find them, just requisition them with the office manager," she said, starting to leave. Cora opened the desk drawer.

"Where's the office manager?" asked Brad.

"Next to Bert's office," said Eudora, not looking back or stopping.

"Where's...Bert's office..." said Brad. Eudora had turned the corner. "Great."

"There's nothing in the drawer," said Cora.

"Fantastic," said Brad.

"I have my own pen though," said Cora. She pulled the stack of printouts towards her. "And I can do math."

"That's nice," said Brad. "I'm going to track down that office manager."

"Okay," said Cora, already engrossed in the numbers. Brad stood on his tiptoes and looked for anything resembling sunlight. He found the top of a bank of windows about two football fields away. He walked directly towards them, and left the monstrous, squat Spencer/Gaskell building as soon as he was able to.

Two weeks later, after many blissful days sprawled out on his sofa playing violent video games, Brad found a paycheck from Spencer/Gaskell in the mail. It was for the full 80 hours he was supposed to have worked. He immediately made appointments for a dental cleaning, his yearly medical, and to get new glasses.

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