Every morning I play office. I play elevator, I play subway ride. I play coffee machine, and finally I go to my desk in a building on Bay Street where all my toys are -- my paper clips, my white-out, my Big Jesus Computer, my paper clips, my "Mr. Professional speaking' telephone.
I write professional correspondence for eight hours a day, and compose unreadable verse and erotic science fiction when nobody's looking, often scribbling my writerly fancies on Post-it notes.
The main pride I take in my job is that I have no background for it.
I've never studied business or the stock trade and have been resentfully baffled by its machinations. But it turns out that I'm actually good at this kind of thing.
Now I'm free to just hate it.
Professional correspondence is an undervalued school of creative writing. A wide range of intentions and ideas can be expressed in the neutral, courtly lexicon of White Collar.
I'm the voice of Hal 9000 -- modulated and reasonable, concealing murder. There's a relaxation to this kind of writing. My parameters are defined, which removes a lot of pressure. Andy Warhol said he actually found commercial art a relaxing chore -- he liked somebody else telling him what to make.
Every professional letter conceals a nervous breakdown. (Dear Sir or Ms.: Please be advised that I woke up this morning, after a night of unsettling dreams, to discover that I'm a giant insect. Please advise. An enclosure of mandibles will follow shortly under separate cover. Yours truly.)
My co-workers are gentle creatures. They extend courtesies, pay their debts, wait in lines, remember to send Christmas cards and try to get along.
They're definitely not avant-garde. Which is fine. There are no heated discussions of the role of the poet, no burning anxieties, unrecognized talents, no militant passions about the death of postmodernism.
No politics Everybody puts in a day's work and goes home. It's a sigh of relief. I'd assumed I would spend my days tacking against a deluge of right-wing conversations. I needn't have worried -- for the most part, people have no politics at all.
I'm not even sure these people believe in business. They take a paycheque and wonder what they're doing here. There's a polite cynicism about the management and the organization. They're looking at pictures of children on their desks and planning their weekends. We're just cogs, and it shows.
Two-thirds of the staff are married with children, which was a culture shock for me. From the circles I travel, I'd gotten to think that everybody on earth was single, including parents. Now I work among average family folk, and have been struck many times by the symmetry of all this.
What sends chills through me is not the presence of evil in my workplace -- evil is several floors up, with more mahogany. What terrifies me in these genteel surroundings is the sense of inevitability that waits like the Reaper for middle-class spawn like me.
This is my hard-wired destiny. This is what I was bred for. I've been working against my original programming for years, but I've ended up at a desk anyway. One too many early mornings and I could be buying golf clubs and tickets to Rent.
(Existential drama, black-and-white; sensitive, waifish, dishevelled young man rails at the old black Underwood, "Must write! My god, I must write!' Overwrought soundtrack by some frustrated Modernist composer who wanted to sell this timpani-ridden passage to a high-seas swashbuckle film. Descending-spiral-stairs atonal. Scene ends with a cymbal crash, our hero in tortured silhouette.)
There is fetishism in the financial pantheon, where the motif is still Greco-Roman. Banks still tend to have that Parthenon look -- all Doric columns and grand walkways. That immovable quality of laid stone mutely announces "property' in its most ancient sense: protective ramparts and the will to immortality.
Which is why government buildings do the same image treatment. It's not by accident they call it The Establishment.
Stock certificates, which I handle daily, invoke ancient gods. The ones I see are made by the Canadian Bank Note Company and are invested with the same filigreed mystique of hidden Masonic glyphs as cash currency. They're covered in precise, Latinate, effeminate script proclaiming their value.
I'm sure there was far less cynicism when J.C. Penny announced to his carefully selected army of white Christians that they were "partners" in his company's future, that it was The People who brought glory to the organization.
People these days, I believe, have thicker skins. Nobody seems to think there's a brave new world, and they're easily bored with the mention of such things.
I was trying to read the mood from the respectful hush in a downtown reception room where a triptych of giant video screens trumpeted the glorious history of our company, the new technology we've been so eager to embrace and, oh yeah, the EXPERIENCE AND COMMITMENT OF THE PEOPLE of our organization.
Embrace change It was a high-values production that featured executives and fellow employees speaking in level, competent tones about the demands of the future (primarily technological ones), the short and glorious history of our corporation and its undaunted willingness to embrace change. Brilliant animation sequences included a scene of Our Headquarters, confident amid the Ramsean splendour of Bay Street, invested with our gaudy brass logo in a preternatural burst of light.
Our heads reeling from this blessed instalment of our company in the firmament, the courtiers of our organization came in turns to the miked podiums, each to a flourish of Oscar-night music, each an inexcusable delay in our getting to the promised free buffet.
During the lecture, questions to the CEO were passed to the front, mainly about employee wage grading and cash awards.
So it's not surprising that as we sat waiting to eat, our questions crystallized around where our next meal was coming from.