1: Jim and the Copier

“Hey listen, Jim, remember to get those copies of this week’s report to me before noon. I’ve got a lunch appointment and a skip-level meeting right after. Hard stop at 2, and then I’ll need those numbers for the stick-around, so…”

After a certain amount of absurd and often misused business lingo, Jim had to zone out and recover. Thankfully, his manager was often too busy to come around and talk without walking somewhere, so his voice always trailed off around the corner, but Jim was convinced he never really finished his sentences.

“Hey listen, Jimmy, I’m gonna need your help a little later on the….” Door closes.

“Hey listen, Jim, you remember that new guy, Frank or Billy or something?” He was sitting right there. “I need you to give him a hand on…” Corner.

“By the way, Lindy…” actually Linda “thanks for your help with yesterday’s meetings, but I need today’s pre-read on my desk by…” Vacuum?

He was one of those people who thought of himself as really intense, was convinced he could read people like a bookget a finger on their pulse, and when he felt you were someone he could talk to, someone who’d appreciate his special flavor of genius, he’d let you in on whatever self-help book he was reading at the moment, whatever Dale Carnegie-esque tome told you to look people in the eye, give a firm handshake, use their name often in conversation, apparently to the point of mild aggression.

Despite Will, or Willy, as his inner circle of corporate confidants would call him, with his costume of intensity and aspirations of being an influencer, he was actually not egotistical or arrogant, or happy, and seemed kind of soulless. All of this made the entire enterprise, this corporate life, seem so soul-sucking.

Jim sat at his desk and stared at his monitor, pondering on the potential catastrophes of resizing a graphic in the Word document and what havoc it would wreak on the rest of the text.

I have a degree in psychology, and I put on a collared shirt and tie to be bathed in fluorescent lighting all day and do things like write ‘filling out KPI’ on my KPI. 

So meta. 

He hated that phrase.

There was a lot Jim hated, lately, to be honest. It was a rough time in his life, but it was a little too early to say that. He was a few years out of his psych degree, had a job, but had recently broken up with his girlfriend and had to find a new place to live.

Jim’s particular style of hate, though, wasn’t the kind of oh my god I hate that expression of opinion, but an understated, subtle abhorrence, a passionate apathy. For example, he hated the corporate ideal, the image that had been sold to our grandparents (or parents, depending on your age) that a company will take care of you, that you need to wear a ‘power tie’ and bold suit to work, and do whatever you need to do, even if it means leasing, to get that expensive luxury sedan, even if it’s the cheapest, bottom of the line model. Seeing a bunch of sad, middle-aged men smiling and saying the word ‘brewskies’ or drinking scotch and talking shop about clients or wives or girlfriends or sports was like being on the set of a sitcom where nobody ever called ‘cut’. People kept holding their smiles, continuing the dialogue, even when they went home, and had an audience with wife or kids, but that act was different. No one ever yelled ‘cut.’ What would happen if they did?

The graphic in question, a pie chart with text that was way too small to read, was aligned left, leaving room for a two- or three-word wide column of text that drizzled down the right side of the page. Even the word ‘report’ was barely long enough to fit, so stat – istics was broken across lines.

Align center. Will this ruin everything?

Of course.

The drizzly text was now below the image, but formatted incorrectly, and inevitably any paragraph that talked about an image was now on a different page than what it referred to.

I spent four years at a university and have student loans to pay off to do this?

Everyone put ‘competent in’ or ‘familiar with’ or ‘proficient in’ and listed a series of software programs, usually the suite of Office products, but for most people it just meant they can type and save and send and do some other fancy things. The arcane mysteries of Word formatting were never discussed in university anywhere, and it meant that across the country sit psych and physics and statistics and business majors secretly incapable of using word processors.

Shuffle, shuffle, click, click, a few trailed-off sentences later, and it’s good enough to be printed.

Ctrl+P.

It’s a 17-page document. Who knows how many copies he needs? A few extra is better than a few short. 

17 pages. 

The primeness of that number was off-putting. Why is a number prime if it has no other factors, but then something is in its prime, or in a prime position, if it’s in the best position for something? That seems like confusing usage.

The properties of 17 meant that it was 17*2 was obviously 20 more than 7*2; 17*3 was 30 more than 7*3, and so on. 7*7=49, then we know that 17*7 must be 119. Is it? Yes, it is.

10 was the first clean number that came to mind, giving 170 pages of paper to print on the only computer in the small office. They were in one of those office neighborhoods, a complex of cookie cutter 12-story buildings, each full of cubicles and sad people. The drive through the winding, speed-bump-studded complex to the corner of the compound where their building sat was a deflating one, like watching the spark of life disappear from over the small hills and clumps of small locked mailbox cubbies and a sea of unhappy cars

There was just no life. Unless you smoked or they were homeless, you wouldn’t just run into anyone. Even a trip to the store ‘down the street’ for takeout would take fifteen minutes, even if you didn’t have to wait or find a parking spot, both of which you always had to do. There was no way to get out of the maze of parking lots without driving. But the seclusion was sometimes nice.

The regular, low hum and click of the printer whispered in the background. It was an old thing, the size of a washing machine, with the paper trays that always jammed, and the rattly plastic casing, feeding out paper that looked like it shuddered to be born as it was spat out onto a lifeless but still warm stack of reports or contracts or other depressing literature.

Jim closed his eyes and tried to calculate how long it would take to print his 10 copies at this rate. It was the sad sound of time ticking away.

Jim wore the same sort of thing to work every day: clean-cut but still not formal khakis, a bit too boot cut for the board room, and an oxford button-down shirt. Button-up? It was often untucked, but he still seemed well-dressed, ‘preppy’ if people still used that word, the kind of presentable that your mom puts you up to, rather than the conscious decision to “look nice.”

After more than enough time of looking at his shoes or the ceiling or the stitching his rolled-up cuffs, he walked over to pick up what should have been his document. From a kind of commons area with open-style cubicles, more like divided tables, lining the wall, he walked over to the copier to get his documents, hopefully collated.

The new girl from HR was perched in front of the machine, like she’d never seen anything like it. She was too young to be professional at anything but folding, stapling, answering phones… she had to have been an intern or something, but she was putting forth the kind of ‘make a good impression’ effort that a new college grad puts into her attire: perfect hair, absolutely lint-free black skirt, pressed blouse. She was a beautiful girl, but there seemed no humane, logical way to address her or get her attention.

It’s rude to say anything to her and not introduce myself because she’s new, but it’s probably more rude to ignore her. Excuse me? Sorry? You look pretty hot off the press, too. 

No. God no.

Instead, a genuine clearing of the throat made his presence known, and he walked over to get his documents, which disappointingly got the attention of Miss Good Impression, sweater tied over her shoulders.

“Um…. that’s for HR.”

“Oh, no. I had something printing and I was ju…”

“This is for HR.”

Like it was some kind of national secret… He snuck a look at the bottom page, and sure enough, not his document.

“How much more do you…” He looked at the readout. There were 343 pages left.

“It won’t stop.” She looked at him blankly and gestured palm-up to the copier like it had made the decision on its own.

It would stop if you would cancel the job. 

But it was pushing 12 and Mr. Buzzword didn’t have his reports yet. He walked through the commons area and somehow managed to get out the phrases ‘peel the onion’ and ‘come to Jesus’ in one breath.

I swear he’s never finished a sentence in his life.

Jim didn’t actually have to be in most of the meetings. He was just responsible for data analysis. Every time someone mentioned big data, he thought it might just be better to go back to waiting tables. He watched the presentation transfer to a thumb drive, also too slow.

Buzzword was coming back by to get in a few more zingers before his meeting, and Jim had to get out. He had just enough time to “safely eject hardware” and put the postage-stamp sized chip in his pocket before Buzzword rounded the corner.

“Let’s get our ducks in a row, everyone. Meeting in five. Jim, I need my….. Jim!

Jim rounded the corner, in an obvious hurry, and was just a few long strides away from the automatic sliding glass door that separated him from the lobby. He’d been a pretty good member of the track team in high school. He got an elevator before Buzzword rounded the corner. There were now two sets of doors between him and his job. He sighed in the privacy of the elevator as it descended to the first floor.

Jim! Where has Jim gone? Gotta get those documents over the wall stat…”

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