He could pull off wearing light khakis, a rolled-up-sleeve button-down, and an old pair of penny loafers, so he generally did. As he hurriedly walked into the office late that day he got a call from a good friend. He couldn’t talk much as he entered the office, which was already buzzing with the sounds of silence, but he was noticed entering the work area with a stifled street-smile while whispering into his cell, “alright Captain, we’ll catch up later,” as he slid into his cube where he would remain relatively fixed for a few hours until lunch; but not before being stopped by a traffic cop.
The office had a few camps of men, none of which he fit. For example, there were the nobodies, those who had no outward appearance whatsoever worth noting. Their pants were too big and sometimes pleated. Their shirts were either big and tucked too tight in front, barely tucked at all, or some impossible concoction of the two that had the power to either prove or disprove God’s existence, and they were hardly cognizant of themselves one way or another. The plumber’s crack would show up every now and again from an overweight nobody, but no one said anything. There was nothing that could be done, so why embarrass the poor fellow. Without skipping a beat, they would wear paper bags and leaves if the dress code required. Fortunate for them, though, the tied-at-the-neck look was not required, though it was considered dressed-to-impress, as they say, and was a fashionable bondage look that was well worn at times by Mr. Flamboyant.
These nobodies were neatly tucked away in the back-office-heavens that towered above Hell’s Kitchen’s streets. Mr. Nobody would learn the company’s software, get enough billable hours to keep his job, and was generally looking to satisfy his owners like a good dog. He wasn’t a good negotiator, though, and that made it easier for his bosses to keep him working in the firm for what they considered to be a great multiplier.
In their annual reviews, Mr. Nobody was noted for his loyalty to the firm. He was married with kids and had little interests after work other than to study his self-help books for a few minutes before bed after watching a few shows. Sometimes he would watch a movie, but between him and Mrs. Nobody, they were totally plugged into whatever show they were in the middle of and it was hard to take a day off. The bosses could tell all of this more or less without him having to say anything, but the office’s halls had ears and his friendly small talk further evidenced to them an unhungry man. To them his loyalty was duly noted by the fact that he would sacrifice a night of shows every now and again when he showed up to the biggest of their in-house events, especially the robust year-end party where they always pretended like the firm was sitting on top of the world and everyone had a smash.
But more than that, he did not attend self-promotional events. His personal goodwill was a low-value asset. He couldn’t go to another firm with a book of business. So he was safe to employ because he wasn’t the kind of guy who made partner and took a cut of the company’s profits. He would never even ask for that. He knew his limitations. He was loyal.
His financial needs were relatively low from the perspective of his superiors, so when Mr. Nobody came to them over the years for assistance with the things that he needed but couldn’t afford, they were happy, without showing it, to front him the cash. And from the genius of generosity they often reaped significant benefits. For example, he was overweight ever since about twenty years ago when he started this part of his life, working by day, eating his wife’s mediocre dinners by night, and then snacking on the cookies and candies that he bought for the kids while he read himself to sleep with self-help books. But these days losing weight is a very expensive endeavor, and Mrs. Nobody convinced Mr. Nobody that he needed to do it right, the way that all the people in the gyms are doing it, and the way that it’s being sold in the stores and advertised online.
So he bought in to a food-Nazi program that charged him God knows what for a few morsels of food to go with his vegetables. On top of that he needed an exercise routine, and not having had any exercise experience other than the gym classes from his youthful school days, she convinced him that he must not only get a gym membership, but sign up for a trainer. She scolded him like a child to grow the courage to ask the firm for an advance. He did, and his boss was happy to talk with the powers that be to make it happen. He learned to love her over the years for moments like this. But love wasn’t his thing, nor was happiness. He would always be OK with things. He used to complain a good deal but learned over the years to be more positive. As he lost weight he found a better ok-version of himself, but he kept on wearing the same pants that started becoming way too big and he would stuff most of his shirt into them from the fourth or fifth button down.
Also, there were the guys who were finishing, just out of, or going back to grad school. This younger generation in the big city were a bunch of bachelors looking for love. They were well-kempt, either clean-shaven or groom-bearded, and they wore skinny pants with flamboyant socks and shiny shoes. Some were more formal while others on the casual side, but all with a desire to rise up, make money, and maybe even to be somebody if possible. Before or after work they were exercising, drinking, and dating when they weren’t watching the shows that they would discuss over coffee, lunch, and cigarette breaks the next day if they weren’t otherwise complaining about the job or their difficult lives.
Mr. Flamboyant was on the conservative side, generally clothing his thick and built body in a tight button-down dress-shirt tucked neatly into his fitted dress-pants that curved around his powerful buttocks and thighs like leggings that turn to pants from knees down. Every Tuesday he paid a few bucks to the old Puerto Rican who made a living making weekly shoeshine visits to the building’s businesses that were interspersed throughout the many floors, which seemed from the outside like a ladder coming down from the heavens to the people on the streets. Mr. Flamboyant was one of the few black men who worked there, and one of the few curious minds too. His hunger to be a businessman impressed his owners, as they encouragingly said that it made him dangerous, that he could have a future in this business.
But curiosity brought him trouble. They generally agreed that his curious hunger to learn and understand made him a danger to himself. They didn’t recognize curiosity for business-purposes. When the year-end review of Flamboyant’s performance uncovered significant non-billable hours that were dedicated to “research,” his boss had no choice but to limit his raise without bonus. He was reminded, in a friendly and concerned tone, that he should be appreciative that the firm had the foresight and progressiveness to keep him hired despite his plans for grad-school, which would minimize his office-presence for at least a couple of years. In fact, the firm encouraged higher education. If he was curious then he should expend such curiosity during school and study time, but the working day should be focused on billability. And this was the reality of it.
His salary was pretty good considering his experience, but he was carrying an average to below average multiplier and he was going to grad school to boot. The firm liked Flamboyant’s hunger, though, and was willing to roll the dice on his long-term future. They felt assured that he would never end up like Mr. Nobody and were happy to pay him well enough to keep him from leaving, to keep him feeling happy in choosing the firm as his future. Once in grad-school he would be vested with them for a while and he couldn’t just bounce from the firm after graduation. He was smart enough to know how to avoid burning bridges.
Both Mr. Flamboyant and Mr. Nobody were friendly with the man who walked into work late and they both were passing through the back elevator area when he had arrived. As they passed him he was just picking up his cell to take the incoming call. He thought he would have a minute to converse in the elevator area, which had partial reception, but as they came in and ruined his moment of privacy he thought the better of it. In any event, as was often the case, he misplaced his office card or maybe left it in yesterday’s pants pocket, so he was fortunate to get passed the door without having to knock on the door and interrupt a working cube. These cards were the keys to all of the automatically-locking office doors, so he had no way of getting out of the elevator area without being let in by someone inside. So he made the frustrating decision as he picked up his cell to enter the work area rather than stay on the line for a minute or two.
“Thanks,” he said to Misters Flamboyant and Nobody and he half turned halfway way to them, with his backpack on one arm and his cellphone between his shoulder and ear on the other side of his body, with his things flying everywhere. He gave them a mock salute instead of the usual, “mornin’, what’s up,” kind of greeting. It was then that he slid into his cube; but the human resources lady, a cool cat who was tough and streety, was talking in hushed tones with his coworker in the cube across. She was also among the few blacks, and could make conversation all day if she was at liberty to do so, but she was good at keeping it vanilla-white and corporate for the better part of the day. That was her job and she would keep it. She was responsible.
“Jonny, you know office hours officially start at nine!” She didn’t overtly raise her voice, but Jonny picked up the nuances of her frustration. His “schedule,” if he had one, was an unshapely image in the boxed office. “Sorry, Aunt Jemima.” He knew how to irk her with smiles. He hung up the cell and got busy staring into the glowing screen, his job until dark, broken only by a lunch-break and the occasional retreats into the back elevator area. Aside from elevator access to other departments and the occasional phone call, the elevator area was also a corridor that connected to the other side of the office where the department’s higher-ranking cubed workers were planted, and which also housed the bathrooms and kitchen/coffee area. If he would get three minutes of privacy a day then he considered himself lucky.
Because the human resources lady and he conversed over his timing, his intended smooth entrance turned into a public hearing, however short, for the earshot-delight of the twenty or so cubed coworkers sitting in the office area.
An hour or two later when Flamboyant and Jonny passed again in the coffee area, they properly fist-pumped and shared pleasantries. “Heard you waz busted earlier by Calpurnia.” In the kitchen area Flamboyant could talk black and be slightly human. Back in cubes he was smart enough to know not to share the office gossip in front of the gossipers. Jonny breathed out after sipping his crappy pod-coffee that tasted delicious after he gave it a proper sugar and creaming. “Gotta love that woman,” he finally said, shaking his head side to side in wonder. They laughed and talked a bit over a drink. He respected her. He thought she respected him too, but being late as a white dude really threw her for a loop. Jonny leaned into Flamboyant and half-whispered an imitation of Calpurnia with a twisted smile. “The blacks have to stand double straight, and then this punk-ass walks in halfway through the day like there aint no problem! Ahhhh!” They fist-to-mouth chuckled together and then parted ways.
Jonny, wanting to change the scenery so he went back to his cube the long way and passed the front elevator side of the building, the side of the floor where Noboday’s office was located. Nobody, a middle-aged to older worker n the second half of his career had been officially given some superiority over the years, which now included a non-window office. He’d never get that window, not at the office, not at the home. But then again, should we really judge his success? Maybe the one who has less expectations in life could more easily achieve levels of happiness, so who’s to say that buying a house and making partner is everything?
He was outside his office sloped over a batch of papers he was loathing to carry in. When Mr. Nobody saw Jonny approaching he smiled and began chatting. Jonny knew the conversation wouldn’t be quick unless he was impolite, so he wasted some of the billable hour happily sharing time with this friendly Nobody. Maybe he’d make it up later at the expense of his personal life, which had no value and satisfied no particular need. Another-hour-in-the-office mentality would one day lead to something, all those billable hours. They had to. But Jonny had that friend to see later, that friend who he hung up on in the morning as he started his day as an office tabloid.
Eventually the beating sun went to bed, the workday passed, and nighttime came falling from the sky, excited, awakened, and aware. The dark life offered a second wind, a healing time, for those who were burnt by the sun. Jonny logged out, searched through his paper-filled desk to uncover his keys, wallet, and phone, which were always interspersed in his messy life. He hit the elevators and plummeted from his inferno back to Earth. Once grounded he finally called back his friend. “So who’s got the best beer tonight, Captain?” The Captain kept tabs on the nearby taps, and there were plenty of great bear-bars within walking distance. They usually ended up at either Gingerman or Pony Bar. “Pony’s got Belle’s imperial IPA called ‘Hopslam.’ We’re going there!” In the big city, Jonny thought, where the drinkers are thirsty and the dollar is water, it’s all about the double IPA’s with robust scent, busting flavor, and late-in-the-boil activity.
When Jonny arrived the bar was packed to the brim and practically bursting out of its seams with people, noise, and joy. He waded through the crowd toward the bar where The Captain was already ordering them a round of Hopslam. “Yeah, hold up Jonny, lemme just order… hey!” He got the bartender’s attention over the gluttony of orders. He stuck his hand out over the counter with a twenty and yelled over the gluttony of orders, “Two Hopslams, please.” The Captain turned his back to the taps, they hug-bumped, and he smiled a sigh of relief and said “What’s up J!” They got to talking about relationships, Jonny’s outrageous stratagems toward expanding the titanic of a firm he worked for, and of course the beers they were drinking, drank, and would drink. They would analyze each others lives, share secrets, and express the dreams and problems that kept them up at night and would wake them up all in the morning all hung-over on yesterday’s consumption.
Hopslam arrived and the first sip was paradise, too good to be true. Flowers filled the nose and tailed at the back of the tongue with a manly bitter bite, which outlined the dance-floor for the sweet and spicy malted red-grapefruit flavors to twist away and tango. This fiesta filled the mouth and crept under the sides of the tongue. A mind could work in this environment to release closeted feelings and express buried thoughts.
Jonny would get round two. He saw that Mad Elf was on the menu, the strongest and sweetest sour cherry he ever had, and was excited to get it fresh off the tap. Also a red and powerful drink, the sweet cherry went down tart and boozing.
Jonny sipped with delight. Hours passed by with joy, one heavenly taste at a time. Seal’s version of the Sam Cooke classic, “A Change is Gonna Come” could be be heard from the streets, above the cacophony of screeches and honks from the buses, cars, and trains, blasting from the speakers every time the entrance door swung open for another dreamer to join the club.