Ted Cleankupp is sitting in his manager's office. Well it's not an office, since no offices have doors anymore, and his manager, Mr. Spencer, likes calling it a "cube
," even though every one on Floor 27 detests even the sarcastic application of the word in water cooler conversation. Mr. Spencer uses it to make it seem like he's not above his brood
. Regardless, privacy is not a concern today
. Everyone already knows Ted is leaving for a different job today. The conversation they're about to have has been all but scripted in the hiring package from Ecclectic Egg
"Well Ted, I am sorry to see you go, but I know you've always wanted to live out West. California is big enough; I'm sure it has enough room for you." Mr. Spencer pulls out the manila folder with Ted's name printed on a #1011BH HP white folder label. The folder is pretty thin but is not alarming, as there isn't much information, aside from reprimands and promotions, that are kept in employee files. Ted's has a single sheet of paper, a release form. Still, Mr. Spencer insists on opening the folder as he speaks and stares at the signature as of there is any doubt that it belongs to Ted.
Ted is, or was, a Corporate Systems Specialist, which means that he does all the things that need to be done that no one else has time to do. Before this, Ted waited tables. For a few years after he graduated from college, he worked in an office of an architectual engineering firm, not really knowing how the employment protocol had changed while he was in high school. As he sits in the chair placed precariously half in and half out of Mr. Spencer's "cube," he looks down at his hands, knowing all too well what will happen when this little pep talk comes to closure. Ted always gets headaches at this time in the exit interview. This time, he tries to ebb it off by convincing himself he's at the beach already, smelling salt air and hearing the waves from the distance of his grandmother's old beach house.
The sheet of paper in Mr. Spencer's hand has one line that's signed by Ted and a blank line below it, separated by another few lines of printed text. He hands it to Ted with a Bic pen with the company logo on it, a clever egg with an exclamation point in the center. Ted sighs, more at the pen than at the release form. One of his "job descriptions" was to "manage the stock of office supplies," which translates into buying cheap paper that jams in the new printers and ordering cheap pens with logos on them. Manage office stock? Ted shakes his head like he's recovering from a shot of cheap tequila.
He takes the pen and signs the form, balancing the paper on his knee. He signs it all big and loopy, different from his hiring signature, which is tiny, tidy and nervous. He does this just to piss of Mr. Spencer. He's enjoyed his 2 years at Egg, but it's not like he produced anything. His jobs have been, over the last 7 years, just new names for pushing around cedar shavings in a cage. He's tried to socialize with the people at Egg, Floor 27, because they have been nice people. Unlike the people he worked with when he was a waiter, these people were nice in a fearful way. Fearful to really connect with one another, not necessarily because any of them feared being laid off despite rising unemployment, but fearful to really care about anyone. There have been some deaths in employee families, some major surgeries to worry about while at work, some new births to celebrate, but whenever the company tried to sponsor its support, people just couldn't believe it was genuine. That sounds almost redundant, but the company really did try. It just didn't have as much say as companies once did. In some ways, the cynical ones preferred this; like Ted, they always believed things should be more in their control.
The walk through the cubes to the back office, which had a back door leading to a private stairwell, was a long and jagged line. Ted's headache persists, twisting his head from side to side like someone besides himself was trying to drive his body. It's no surprise my body reject this, he thought. Like a transplanted organ, never being at peace...
Chelsea stops him on his way to the water cooler. She is the marketing supervisor, but he knows her mainly from coordinating meeting luncheon menus and running for plasticware at the nearby Wal-Mart. When her father was dying in the hospital last April, Ted visited with her in the waiting room; it was on his way home. He remembers her clutching him when he gave her a hug; it was the first physical contact they'd exchanged. He wanted to cry too, becuase it just made sense at the time. While physical contact is not discouraged, the fear of germ spreading through cold/flu season and the tupperware feel of the air inside makes people less likely to believe that the people around them care either way if their touched by human hands. Chelsea taps his shoulder as he passes. He turns to face her and she holds out a small wrapped present. The paper is sprinkled with beach balls and starfish. Ever since her father died, Ted has confided his goal to move to the beach. The paper is the silent acknowledgement of the connection. He smiles down at it in her hands and slowly relieves her of it. The paper is soft in the spots her hands were holding it, as if she'd been holding it all morning like a Hare Krishna with a lone flower at the airport. He would have kissed her on the cheek if Mr. Spencer hadn't been standing right behind him when he stopped to take the gift, sighing in a way so quiet you could only hear the air moving out of his nostrils. "Thanks, Chelsea." Ted nods, keeping eye contact with her until he turns away and continues to lead the way to the back office, swinging his shoulder bag slightly, like a boy killing time at the bus stop before school. The muscle relaxer he took a few hours ago is starting to kick in on its second wave, slithering down his empty stomach like ice thawing inside a water pipe that has not yet burst.
Ted has been told that no personal memories about his employment at Egg will be retained, that they are only after the training and instruction about policies and procedures that belong to the company. The company that manufactured the apparatus have worked hard to pinpoint which areas of the brain store information that is memorized as opposed to regular memories, which are built to fade over time anyway. He has read all the protocol. But he knows there are things in the mind that no one can really locate, and he knows he's had some memories taken from him. He cannot remember the girl's name who delivered the bagels every Friday and Monday at his old office (they believed bagels were better for you than doughnuts). He had a crush on her and knows he would have remembered it for years, but after he left that job to come to Egg, he can barely place her face.
Mr. Spencer takes Ted's bag and places it inside a plexiglass shield facing a small and inconspicuous chair. Next to it is a small table that holds the charging system and paper brain wave readouts, and on the other side there is a small magazine rack with a few of the latest men's magazines: Details, GQ, Men's Journal. The furniture trio is brushed chrome and match the brushed chrome blinds, which are pretty much there just to complete the attempt at a semi-futuristic and sterile environment, since the window is completely blotted out with dark cardboard; daylight interferes with brain waves for the procedure's purposes. They say you're supposed to be able to read during this, but Ted never could. Just to freak people out, he always tries to stare right at his former boss (the manager in charge of hiring and/or firing an employee must act as a witness for the procedure, which usually takes about 15-20 minutes) through the barrier that is vibrated with low level frequency to divert any "rays" away from those on the other side.
Ted takes off his glasses and sits them on the table by the machine, rolling his neck and shoulders like a prize fighter. He rubs his temples, almost feeling his brain creeping back, away from the brace being slipped over his eyes and forehead. C'mon, fuckers. Bring it on.