both fate and nature seem to enjoy the subtle pleasures of Irony. I am reminded of this as I revamp my CV for my upcoming prostitution. We are undeniably fully submerged in retail's High Holy Season, and to satisfy the Christmas juggernaut I am obliged to follow the parental advice I have chosen to eschew thus far, and "get a job."
I'm good enough at the things I love but downright fabulous at many of the things I abhor. I quickly find a temporary position working as the EA to the CEO of a high-profile government agency. And before I know it I'm waking up bleary-eyed on a cold, dark weekday, very early, wishing for a broken limb, a death in the far reaches of my extended family -- something, anything -- to take me out of the miserable existence of the working stiff.
My new office has walls of a sickly yellow hue that makes even my own more exotic colouring seem wan. The fluorescent lighting buzzes just quietly enough to drive me mad. The office's labyrinthine cubicles, corridors and conference rooms have me feeling a bit like a rat racing through a maze for a piece of cheese.
At least I've managed to master the jargon.
Not only do I understand "bureaucratese," but I quickly become adept at manoeuvring and negotiating duties and responsibilities -- like writing memos -- in the rarefied dialect.
I soon realize that the point of this language is to use the least possible amount of words while changing as many nouns to verbs as you can in order to get someone to do your job. Where else will I ever use "re" in a spoken sentence?
The intricacies of this form of communication spill over into non-verbal expression. If the CEO needs to sign something, I put it in a green file folder with a little arrow that points to the space provided to sign. That is, unless the signature is meant as an approval -- then, it goes into a blue folder. If the signature is urgently needed, we use a red folder -- which, in theory, will get the boss's attention faster than yelling "I'm going postal!"
Like my fellow grunts, I am also proffered an electronic card on a retractable chain that will allow me access to the inner sancta of my new daily residence. Some wear their cards around their necks like amulets. Others, seemingly jauntier, hook theirs to belts and pull them out when needed, like gunslingers.
I choose to keep mine in my pocket since it feels to me more like a badge of ignominy than a passcard.
I have taken to buying lottery tickets so that, on Fridays, I can transcend all of these bureaucratic trials by imagining the possibility of not going in the following Monday.
I wash away a week of infamy as I picture the paparazzi flashing cameras and myself, smiling, with the president of the lottery corporation next to me, and an oversized cheque firmly planted between us.
There is a quality of regression in office culture that is also surprisingly contagious. I have never wrongfully pulled a fire alarm, but I remember it felt like a heaven-sent act of mercy whenever it rang in high school.
During one of the first few days of my indentured labour, the fire alarm goes off. Like high school students, the office workers, now standing 10 deep on the sidewalk in front of our building, share a truant's grin as they steal some time from "the man" for an unscheduled and much appreciated smoke.
I remind myself that I am here because, in this season, the retailers have made it impossible to maintain relationships and keep family life peaceful without spending buckets of cash. I resolve not to enter into this game come next year.
I plummet downward into the very bowels of the city, to the self-proclaimed shoppers' paradise, another maze, where the Third Estate pass their lunch hours. Maps with the clarity of the sphinx direct the hordes this way to the Canada Trust Tower, that way to BCE Place, never confirming where I am now.
It's as if I were meant to feel that it'd be better to be anywhere else. My search for the confirmation of the red dot signalling "You are here" becomes meaningless, if not depressing.