Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I must walk the long hallway down past cubicles on either side to get coffee or to go to the bathroom. To go to meetings, notepad in hand for no good reason. Along the way I’m sure to cross paths with a colleague. Probably someone I know. Maybe someone I don’t. If it’s the former, a salutation is required upon first encounter. It can be curt. No one likes to elaborate much. Today, I found myself saying Hello.

“Hey Pat!”





Sometimes I’d take the initiative:


“Hi Pat!”

I wondered why I said Hello. Not Hi. Not Hey, what’s up? Did anyone notice? Did it strike them as odd—perhaps a little formal—that I chose to say Hello?

When you pass the same person again, you don’t say a word. What’s expected then is a sour little smile, just over a trace, not wide by any means but unmistakable, at least. It says this: We passed each other by before, and we said hello. We don’t have to now. Isn’t that kind of funny? Or, alternatively: Work is funny, isn’t it? Here we are again. Walking past each other. At the place of work.

This subsequent, wordless smirk exchanged with an acquaintance is related to the expression one must provide in each instance to a work stranger. But this smile is feebler, more labored. It says: We share the intimacy of the workspace, day after day. Yet we’ve never met and maybe never will. That’s a little funny, too. Or: I hope to God I never have to speak to you.

Certain roles are exempt from the protocol. Support staff. IT. Not giving a fuck is among their few privileges, so they indulge in it as deeply as they can. Today I passed by a man who carried two disemboweled hard drives in his right hand like a gruff, old butcher might hoist a liver to the scale.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Enterprise - 37

Brett returned to work quietly, unceremoniously, in a newly invented role: Special Projects Director. In the morning he’d drift into the office ghost-like, with the slightest shuffle of his bad foot. He’d exit periodically, looking down, pulling out a Marlboro. There was no more bluster, no more shouting, no more strumming of the guitar. He labored in isolation, on a spinoff product that was to offer users their own configurable, interactive avatars. It seemed dubious. Everyone was a bit embarrassed for him, as though he’d been chastened, emasculated. Tom, his best friend and erstwhile bandmate, was officially named his replacement. I wondered how Tom felt.

It was crowded in the office. We had grown, both here and out west. Vague new people were brought around for introductions before disappearing to their cubicles. Marketing people. Database administrators. An IT specialist named Jared was hired, finally allowing Peter to focus full-time on his domain.

One morning, Derek was holding court on a chair at the head of my cubicle row. He wore penny loafers with no socks, a blazer over a white T-shirt. He never did seem to do much. He imagined himself a visionary. An ideas man. He was fond of PowerPoint. One day he gave me a presentation to revise. It was some sort of appeal for strategic partnerships. One slide had the following words across the top:

Intracto Is Vetted By Top Brands

The rest of it contained the full-color logos of a bewildering assemblage of big-name companies: Vivendi Universal, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Continental Airlines, Hewlett Packard, Coca-Cola, Viacom, ETrade and Frito-Lay. Their whimsical arrangement on the page produced a dizzying, non-sequitur effect, suggestive of a high school girl’s locker festooned with words cut out from magazines. I asked Derek what these brands had to do with us. He shrugged and smiled.

Today Derek was telling a rambling, elliptical tale about bringing a polo mallet wrapped in plain brown paper and twine to a friend who lived in Spanish Harlem. He clapped and laughed, rocking back and forth in his chair.

“So they’re all sitting on their stoops, whatever. They’re all like, look at this guy! I’m a little nervous, like, what am I gonna do? So I open up my trunk and I, I...” He slapped his knee, hard, as though to beat back his own hysterics. “I... take out the polo mallet! And it’s wrapped in brown paper, and it looks like this!”

He leaned back and made like he was pointing a shotgun at the ceiling. He held the pose as long as he could before dissolving again in shuddering, quaking mirth.

“Can you? Can you imagine?” he gasped. “Can you fucking imagine what a polo mallet wrapped in butcher paper looks like to someone on the street?!” He convulsed and hissed with laughter. Everyone else laughed, too. We had to.

I considered what it was, exactly, about guys like this. I could never be a guy like this, I thought. I could never tell a group of people a story that made me laugh so hard that tears were pouring down my face. And there he was doing it. He didn’t care. He was perfectly serene. I envied him for his unselfconsciousness. What might it even feel like to be such a person?

Derek’s story finally coasted to a stop and we returned to our monitors to find an e-mail from Neil. It read as follows:

Dear Fellow Intractos,

You’ve always known me as a straight-up, put-up-or-shut-up type of guy, so I’ll be candid here and will try not to waste your time. Certain external circumstances—this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to any of you—have put us in the position where we have to make some decisions that we had hoped we wouldn’t have to make.

We continue to anticipate an increasingly dynamic technology landscape in which our Product is positioned to be among the most disruptive, transforming and ultimately impactful innovations. The vision is clear. Sadly, our enthusiasm for ramping up resources has outpaced market realities.

The long and the short of it is this: I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the input and energy and commitment that each and every one of you have poured into our beloved Product. While some of you will be embarking today on different life paths, and some will remain to see our dream fully realized, know that we are not making any comment on the quality of your work nor the depth of your devotion.

Beginning at 2:30 pm, Dennis and I will meet with you individually to discuss your futures or lack thereof. I caution you all to be respectful of each other in this difficult time.



Friday, February 10, 2012

The windowless room where I work sits apart from the main space, through a door off the foyer, opposite the hallway most everyone else takes to their cubicle or office. One morning a few weeks ago, a man entered and sat at one of the open desks. Ordinary, clean-cut. He brought with him a stinging waft of cologne. He was an accounts freelancer, he said. Jim.

An IT guy soon arrived with a handful of cables to set him up. There was some discussion regarding his preferred desktop, Mac or PC. His flatscreen was connected and properly adjusted. There seemed to be some problem getting his e-mail up and running. The IT guy did all he could do and left. Soon Jim got on the phone with someone who appeared to be his boss.

“Larry, Jim. Listen, I just want to let you know. I’m set up on 16. ... Yes, I’m sitting here on 16. I’m not getting any mail right now so if you have anything for me, please give me a call. Any meetings, anything. I don’t know if you already tr... I don’t know. I don’t know, better loop me in by phone. I’m here on 16. … What? Let me have a look. 8027. 8027.”

Jim hung up and scrutinized his screen, occasionally tip-tapping on his keyboard. Adopting the posture and gestures of an office man at work.

I saw him every day for a few days. Just another worker at a nearby desk. Ostensibly working. Doing.

We arrived at around the same time one morning and had small talk between the elevator and the door.

“Cold, right?” he said.

“Yup, we’re finally getting some cold.”


“It’s gonna get worse before it gets any better,” I offered.

“Really?” he asked, incredulous.

“I think so. It’s January.”

“So February’s pretty cold?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “February’s cold.”

I saw him a couple more days after that and then he never appeared again.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Enterprise - 36

Melissa lived on the Upper West, in a grand old Manhattan building with an awning and a name on it in cursive. In those first, giddy weeks of spring one of us would cross the park to see the other nearly every day. One morning I watched her from the Fifth Avenue bus as I rode to work and she walked home. She couldn’t have known I did. She angled up a little path that led into the trees and toward the meadow. She walked slowly, deliberately. No one and nothing awaited her on the other side. She seemed beautiful. I could not believe my good fortune.

We clasped hands across the table at Big Nick’s. She said, I’m so in love with you. For a moment I thought to myself: I’ve never been this happy. In the next my soul was shot with dread. How could I ever justify what she had said?

As our relationship progressed I discerned within myself a growing obsession to please her. I adopted an ingratiating persona. Why not? Was this not what she expected? Was it not what she deserved? Things seemed to be going well. Still, the effort to please her, to charm her, to seduce her left me exhausted, sometimes nearly out of breath. I became exquisitely self-conscious in her presence. When I opened my mouth to speak, I calibrated every word of every phrase, running a nonstop, internal commentary: Is this funny? Is this interesting? Is it what she wants to hear?

Deep down inside I apprehended a dark, dark truth: The harder I try, the worse it gets.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Enterprise - 35

My old colleagues from Riot.com remained in contact via an online user group dubbed Laugh Riot. It was animated with chatter at first, people signing up and saying hello, dressing up what they were doing now as best they could, poking around for jobs. Then it ebbed, as these things always do. But now and again there’d be a burst of conversation. On one such occasion it was suggested that the old gang get together for drinks.

We met at some nondescript happy-hour joint in Midtown. It was good to see people. Some more than others. We stood around in a circle, grinning mindlessly. Conversation proceeded in fits and starts.

Finally, the crowd thinned out. Melissa remained, alone at the bar, leaning over the dregs of her Maker’s Mark. I sidled up and offered her another. We began to talk. We’d practically never spoken before. Had we, in fact, ever spoken at all?

She’d been in marketing. That I knew. I remembered walking down the row of cubicles to mine each day, at approximately 10:15, and passing her to my right. She had a charming habit of slinking down in her chair and covering her mouth with the collar of her turtleneck shirt. As though she’d just as soon vanish. She was dark-haired, green-eyed. With an alluring little pout. Every day I’d glance at her and think: I’d love to fuck her. Too bad I never, ever will.

Now that we no longer worked together, now that I no longer saw her every day, every morning—I was emboldened somehow. Out from under the sallow fluorescence of the office, I was freed. I was someone else. And when she looked at me that night, she confirmed my transformation.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

There was just a blast from a foghorn just now, a low, slow honk, all the way from out wherever it is the cruise ships dock. What could be happening at one o’clock in the morning? Is it the call for everyone to come back aboard, after a Monday evening spent touring the anti-New York City downtown: the South Street Seaport, Ground Zero, the Wall Street Bull? Then it’s hurry up to the cash registers at the tchotchke shop, you heard that siren wail.

On a late spring evening in 2000, a boat off Battery Park made a similar sound while the Ornette Coleman Trio played. We all wondered if Ornette would respond in kind. I wanted him to, of course, and anticipated it, and considered how disappointing it would be if he didn’t, and immediately thought it might be great if he didn’t—if he refused to acknowledge it, to indulge us, even as he knew that’s what we wanted—and just then, a second or two after the boat’s moan ended, he punctuated his solo with a few long, low blasts of his own.

Friday, February 03, 2012

If I’m lucky I get a clear view north out the F train window in the morning, riding high above Gowanus. I love the rows of low buildings, utilitarian, industrial. Warehouses for obscure manufacturing concerns, signs faded by the decades, graffiti all over their corrugated gates. Kentile Floors.

There’s a hot dog place down there, in the middle. Must be Ninth Street. “Hot Dogs,” it says in big, blue, glorious letters.

There are vast, weedy fields ringed by fences, elaborately tagged. Some kind of gravel factory. Conveyor belts and cherry pickers. Earth movers. Terrifying metal towers from a nightmare for no apparent reason, with narrow ladders going nowhere.

Then the train dips down and plunges underground to Carroll Gardens. You get a glimpse of whatever’s happening on the street before it does. The other day I spied a scene being shot. A man stood at the open door of a parked car, streetside. He seemed to be holding a phone to his face. A few yards away the camera rolled, the director of photography squinted into the viewfinder, the director peered over his shoulder, and along the periphery were huddled the rest of the cast and crew.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Two Unusual Things I Saw Today

There were two unusual things I saw today. At work, after walking past the enormous, illuminated globe, set halfway into the floor, in the art deco lobby, and holding my wallet over the turnstile scanner to scan my badge. Holding it. Moving it around in a tight little circle until suddenly, the two metal bars swung open with a faint little hum and let me in. I walked past the newsstand that still said “CIGARS” on a sign above the entrance. I turned left and in the middle of the row of elevators on my bank—13 to 26—there was a shock of milky brown coffee on the floor. Full cup. Still hot, maybe. The elevators were gone and no one else was waiting. I leaned across the splatter to touch the button. Up.

After work, when I exited the subway station on Eighth Avenue and Ninth Street, there was a little crowd by the top of the steps. They were gathered around a telescope, perched on a tripod, about six inches wide and three feet long. A bespectacled young man hunched over the thing, squinting in the viewfinder, while others hovered, awaiting their turn. Every passerby looked up. An airplane crossed the sky. Could they be looking at airplanes? I thought that might be funny. Maybe they could glimpse a little scene from the cozy little world inside the cabin: a man fussing with a tiny bag of pretzels. His wife wearily paging through the TV series: drama category of the seat-back touchscreen in-flight entertainment programming. The moon was awful bright tonight. They had to be looking at it. You couldn’t see much else.