Centered


The late afternoon sun was pouring through the window— over the buildings, through the city, around whatever. The fax machine was screaming my name in bright, continuous squeals. I had a good rhythm going with my foot on the filing cabinet under my desk (and I didn't want to lose that), but the damn machine wouldn't stop screaming. No one else was going to shut it up. No one else was around. I crossed the carpeted expanse thinking, "I can't move to California, I've only just met her" and "it's kinda cold in here (don't you think?)" The fax machine was still screaming when I got to it, but the pages it screamed were blank and falling all over each other. I unplugged it but still it screamed—a long, slow descent into noiselessness—the pages moving slower and slower, piling up like a stack of lifeless tongues ready to be recycled.


The only other time I've been so completely alone in the office (or so I thought) was last summer. It was a Saturday. I didn't really need to be there—I didn't have that much work to do—but it was so hot (outside) and the A/C (in the office) felt really, really nice. I downloaded a movie off the internet and watched it in my darkened cubicle. I had my feet propped up and a bag of popcorn in my lap. The movie was Vanilla Sky. Tom Cruise's face was all fucked up on my computer screen when something—some thing—passed by behind me, behind my cubicle. I didn't see what it was but I heard it scurry off and I know it was there. I had the sudden feeling of being watched and/or chased. I ducked under my desk and inched my head around the corner. My heart was shitting blood into my body. The hair on my arm stood up like flag poles. To be honest, I'm not sure what terrified me the most: the thing that scurried, the movie (actually kinda scary), or getting caught at work not working. After a time, I dumped the popcorn in the break room (where it could have been anybody's), turned on all the lights, and went home to nap for the rest of the day.


One time, I was eating a sandwich in the breakroom when Bob came in looking for something. I watched him open the refrigerator. I watched him close the refrigerator. We made eye contact and said nothing. (I'm not sure he knew what my name was.) His tie actually matched his shirt on this day and he actually looked pretty sharp (for Bob). I took a bite out of my sandwich and got mayonnaise on the table, but Bob didn't notice. Bob was possessed. He rifled through drawers and cabinets, unable to find what it was he was looking for. He put his hands on his hips and made a "tsk tsk tsk" sound with his tongue. Last I heard he was at a different firm and happily married to someone tall.


I don't really look at the office as some kind of fire and ice story, though I know some do. I put my time in. I get paid. I drive to and from work in traffic that is sometimes good and sometimes bad. I have a car. I like to go out and have a good time. I have an apartment with my name on it.


Two weeks ago, she went back to California and then her name was all over my email. And my Facebook. And my iPhone. Pictures, texts, voicemails. It was always so urgent. It was so hard not to ignore her. She was good though. Her name was Jamie. She was one of those big hot golden retriever types that take up all your time and money and make you feel good even when they don't, you know?


In a dream last week, I was addressing an army composed entirely of myself. At least I think it was an army. Maybe just a very large gathering of myself brought together for a unified purpose. Regardless, they were all me but with different heights—the heights of everybody in the office, repeated over and over again. I don't know how I knew that—just part of the dream I guess. Either way, I was there addressing them and they were all listening to me but the words I spoke were empty. They didn't mean anything. There was no instruction, message, or truth to them though they were completely intelligible. I spoke to them because that's what the dream was.


When I woke up, the water bottle I had filled the night before was still cold. I drank from it. I realized my phone was ringing and I reached for it with a strange niggling in my shorts. I answered and no one was there. No music or machine. No heavy breathing. Just blank. I was too tired to question it. I used a movie to help me fall back asleep.


I have a printer in my apartment and I occasionally use it to print out different documents I need—travel arrangements, movie tickets, emails I want to read again and again. It's wireless, and it's weird to me to think about those signals—those printer signals—being just lofted out into my apartment like that. The signal's not very strong either, so, frequently, the printer gets things wrong. Sometimes it prints things in different orders. Sometimes paragraphs and whole pages go missing. The thing is, the signal must be going somewhere, right? Someone (or something) must be listening to them. Right?


I'd be lying if I said I've never fallen asleep in my cubicle at work before. Last Friday the office was warm and drowsy and I desperately needed a break from the fluorescence of it all so I let my head drift slowly down into my hands. The next thing I knew I was looking up at the computer screen and it began to display things—things that morphed into other things; colors that became shapes; shapes that became forms; forms that formed heads; heads that drifted away and changed; Jamie's head smiling out of the darkness; Jamie's head laughing and punching me lightly; Jamie's head drifting away and morphing into someone else's head; the head multiplying, becoming more heads, and more heads, and more heads, until the heads made a solid color and the cycle repeated itself. Somehow I felt like I could control the things on the screen, but I also knew I couldn't. When I woke up, the office was totally empty.


There was another time in the break room when I watched Jan watch Jerry Springer watch two or three people argue on stage. Their language was that of contractions and beeps. It sounded like a bunch of miniature smoke detectors running low on batteries. Over and over again, there was the sound of Jan's silence. The language of Jan. The television's fuzzy reception. The windowless breakroom.


(Have you ever received a letter? In the mail? One that you didn't have to respond to but did anyway? Have you ever written a letter? I mean an honest to god letter—pen on paper, words to another person. It's funny, the indirectness of it. The words go from you, to the pen, to the paper, to an envelope, then elsewhere. It's almost like a form of drunkenness. One gets all worked up and says things they'd never say otherwise, but then the words, the letter, is there (but also gone) forever (never to be heard from again).)


It's weird sitting near a printer all day. The warming up, the spooling, the clicking, the humming, the spinning, the humming, the clicking, the spooling, the cooling down. I've come to know its sounds inside and out. I can hear the difference between a single-sided print job and double-sided print job. I know what collating sounds like. I know that what I hear is a different kind of white noise—not the atonal hum of the air conditioning everyone else gets used to—but a repetitive and nuanced printer tongue.


On my birthday I sat at my desk and made a word document that said, "It's my birthday." in 32 pt bold Helvetica. Before leaving for day, I printed 500 copies and left the printer printing. I got in my car and drove home. I entered my apartment. I took a shower. I went to sleep. I woke up. I took a shower. When I got to the office, I checked the printer and there was a large stack of papers, as I expected. However, the papers did not say, "It's my birthday." as I had typed it but, simply, Jan's name instead. Jan's name in 32 pt bold Helvetica.


Jan is one of the receptionists. There are three receptionists. She is the smallest. She's always very quiet and nice to everyone. She's responsible for the coffee and doughnuts on Fridays. I remember one time she got written up for indecent attire. (I forget about this sometimes.) She had a dress on that revealed more of her than I had ever seen before or had ever expected to see, ever. It was beige and pink and kind of gray. She had never worn anything like it before and Al quickly called her into his office. A little while later she went home.


At the holiday party, Ted came up to me talking about football. He had things he wanted to say. I cleared my mind to receive his information. He explained how he'd taken his kids to last Sunday's game against the Eagles as an early Christmas present. He said there were a lot of points, a lot of snow, and I think he said the game lasted five hours. I had fallen asleep before the second half but I extrapolated what I had seen in the first to make statements about the game in its entirety. Ted asked if I had seen how weak the other team was and I said yes, yes I had. He finished with me and I watched him move around the party to repeat the conversation with other people. Every five to seven minutes the other team got weaker and weaker.


At the bar we went to after the party, Jan started going crazy. She shouted everybody's name and took shots of tequila by herself. She spoke more than anyone had heard her speak before. I mean, we all had fun but she had the most fun. I watched her face scrunch up after each Tequila shot then return with more excitement than before. She reached down a few of our pants and said she couldn't live without us. She stuck her tongue in my ear and Tony's ear. I felt blood calmly circulating throughout my body. It felt good. It felt great. I felt alive. Then the police showed up and made us all leave. In the parking lot, I felt like screaming at the cops but, fortunately, I managed to keep what was inside of me inside me.


The next morning, I told Jan I'd see her again and made plans to see her again even though I didn't want to see her again. Ever. I spent the rest of the weekend by myself watching movies and eating Chinese food. On Monday, Jan wasn't at the office. On Tuesday, Jan wasn't at the office. On Wednesday, someone said she had called in sick, but someone else said she was getting fired—she'd be

gone forever.  

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