Jockeying For Higher Position

The elephant seals barked and listed upon the wet dock. It was Sunday, so I had the time to sit and watch them; though as far as the seals were concerned it was now, and now just was, and that was good enough for them. A seal was little concerned that he was making twenty percent less than his co-workers. A seal was concerned with fish and a spot in the sun. Or so I thought. It is oftentimes only when you spend time observing the so-called transcendance of nature that you realize just how basic and rude and territorial the animal kingdom really is. Ruminating upon such things also has the unintended side-effect of reducing what we like to call ‘society’ to the same rung of basal desires.

The pier was vacant, it was still early. A few tourists strolled by eating their over-sized waffle cones, the soles of their open-toed sandals slapping against the old wood, causing it to creak and list.

At first, the seals seemed nearly immobile. Like thirty sleepy children in a large bed, there was only the occasional movement as someone repositioned a sore neck or hip or a fin that had fallen asleep. Half-awake, one would grunt and roll over, stretch a fin towards the heavens and yawn. In response, their neighbor would sneeze and shake their head and go back to sleep.

I had often been made aware that I talked in my sleep by the women in my life. Often, they said, it was jibberish, but the times that it was clear it was a dialogue of subservience that they reported back to me.

“Yes, sir.” “Sorry, sir.” “Oh, I’m sorry, let me get that for you.” “Oh, no, I wasn’t –no– please don’t –really…” “If that’s what you’d like.”

They reported these phrases to me innocently enough. They found them funny. It was not they who saw the connection.

The seals bumped and jittered. One awoke and looked around with groggy opalescent eyes, the details of which were too far away for me to notice, although the sleepiness and the motions of waking up and getting one’s head together were strikingly universal.

I had been reading a story about a group of employees at Google. The story focused on one black woman in her thirties who was convinced that she was getting passed over for bonus and raises, convinced that she, however equally well-performing when compared to her colleagues, was getting paid less. And, so, instead of stewing on things, or allowing herself to be alienated from those around her –many of whom she considered not just colleagues and co-workers, but true, honest-to-goodness friends– she began passing around a spreadsheet.

On the spreadsheet, if you so chose, you were asked to write your name, your title, the length of time you had been with the company, and your salary. Your race was easily enough inferred by the character of your name or a simple search in the company directory, so she erased that category before the spreadsheet got too far, because she considered it a macguffin to focus on something so obvious.

The spreadsheet traveled far and fast. It spread like a wildfire in the dry canyons above the corporate headquarters. It angered many in upper management, but according to the lawyers there was nothing they could do, in California it was not illegal to share your salary. It also angered her co-workers, the woman was happy to discover, not because of her boldness to drag something so seemingly delicate as the salary one has privately negotiated out into the open, but because of the blatant level of unfairness, and the blight it cast upon a company they had considered, if perhaps not perfect, then at least more concerned with aspiring to be so than it now appeared. There was conversation in the hallways, in the lunchrooms. Behind closed doors the managers plotted how they could redress the situation.

The seal was now fully awake. He clapped his fins, and shook his belly, and then he began to vault his body across the pack. Underneath him, the barking of his fellow sun-worshippers began in earnest.

Our annual reviews had come to a close last week, and I was given the standard three percent raise. The girl I was dating worked for the government, and she called it a ‘cost of living’ increase without even thinking about it, though in the past year the city had exploded in cost. The money was flowing into the pockets of young children who already came from it, who were adding to their families’ legacy, who didn’t know a life in which there was any concept of a struggle.

The seal propelled himself across his neighbors’ bodies, raising quite the ruckus. Just imagine, if you were sleeping and all was tranquil, and suddenly you got a face full of blubber; you’d be barking too. A tinier runt which had been lying precariously along a thin strip of wood was rolled and pitched into the cold water. He came up barking.

My department director asked me, Had I any questions and concerns, and I told him, Yes, I am incredibly disappointed, I’ve given more in this past year than I ever have, I have done well, I deserve not only to be rewarded but to have my hard work acknowleged. He told me to go home and think it over, and if I still felt this way in the morning that I should put together a written appeal.

It was Thursday. I went home and ate a meal delivered by one of the city’s new food delivery startups. It was surprisingly good, fresh salmon with a side of vegetables and a slice of lime and minty, pesto aioli to put on top. I ate slow and without enjoyment. I watched a few episodes of the new season of True Detectives. I did something online for an hour. I went to sleep.

On Friday, the director sent an email around regarding the completion of the annual reviews, congratulating those who had received a promotion. Amongst the well-deserved candidates who had either been here longer than I or put in more hours than I was the name of the kid we all did our best to ignore, who had somehow managed to get a huge bump and a title change in spite of the fact that he was terrible at his job. Not only did his work not meet our team’s standards, look horrible, and have no elegance or sense of composition, he had a bad attitude on top of it and zero work ethic. He spent most of his day in the kitchen playing ping-pong, when he wasn’t at his desk smoking his USB rechargable e-cigarette like some Chinese dragon. This shithead was now my senior.

I had no idea what the upstart seal was trying to do. He had already had a good spot in the sun, but something had got into his brain, something that told him to crawl across everyone, that the spot they had on the other end was better. As he jostled over the mass of bodies, a wall of older males stood to block him, bearing their chests, daring him to approach. He took the fleshy wall at full speed, and was summarily knocked off the pier, into the water. He swam a few circles, barking constantly, calling attention to his plight. He tried to vault himself up past them, to slip in where the runt had been, he travelled underneath the pier and tried the other side, but at every turn he was blocked. Eventually, he ended up pulling himself up at the exact spot where he had been, tucking his head against the nearest warm body, and shortly he had fallen back asleep.

Tomorrow was Monday. I would go to my job. I would satisfy my eight hours: times five to make my forty: times four to make my one hundred and sixty: times twelve to make my two thousand and eighty. At the same time, I would jockey for new positions with other companies, knowing that I could always stay just where I was, in my place in the warm Cali sun, if things didn’t turn up. The social contract, it turned out, was good for something.

I called the girl I was dating, we went for sushi, and I slept that night with her warm against me in her bed.

I had a dream that I went for a run in a vast park with rolling grassy hills, and when I came to one of them I vaulted myself forward. Feeling the air beneath my feet, and the sensation of flight, I understood in an instant why the seal had done it.

Originally published at