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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Office Life

Kiss-Ass Andy
Jessica Schneider

"I would do anything to protect my job," Paige could remember her co-worker Andy muttering upon one occasion. They had been at break, and Andy (or Kiss-Ass Andy, as how he was referred) sat across from her in one of those formless office chairs as usual, polishing his apple onto his jeans and then biting into it with his smile.

She watched him chew, and resented him for it, how he would devour the apple in its entirety, eating all but the stem. Even the core he'd ingest in a single gulp, for he did not wish to be wasteful of nature. Everything, right down to his eating habits, was an indication of his flawed and failed character, she thought. Later on, he'd grin and pick his teeth with the stem, thinking of something totally irrelevant. "So if Noelle asked if you'd ever gone off property and out to your garden during one of your breaks, you'd tell her that you never had, even though both Rita and I have watched you do it?" Paige asked.

Andy sat there a moment, his lips not moving, twirling the apple stem between his two fingers. His face twisted into expression before stating again (this time with a smirk and a snicker), "I would do anything to protect my job."

He was a pock faced little shit, one who liked to boast about how many girls he screwed in college, but Paige knew that had been a lie. He had suffered acne in his teen years, leaving an explosion of scars and pits that never really healed nor formed over properly. And as if that wasn't enough, he stood only at five foot seven, not exactly a dwarf, but he had nothing on the taller, more attractive and athletically built guys in the office. He was a small homunculus of a man that, out of his own need for self-assurance, had married a fat woman three years older than he whose name was also coincidentally, Andi, but with an I. Andy liked that he and his wife shared the same name, for it gave him another reason to think he was better than she. Often he would brag about his vast knowledge of science and space exploration, of which he kept up with these little forced burps of knowledge by reading magazines and books that made him feel more intelligent than he really was. They would provide passages for him to use in casual conversation, bringing up this or that regarding the most recent space probe, or the politics behind the Vietnam War, and most of the time he could get away with muttering something obscure with no one really knowing he was just plagiarizing something he'd read, or something that his history professor said in college over a dozen years ago. His wife had been an art history major, but now worked as a bank teller, and had never been much of an avid reader, outside that of her book club that met twice a month and which she baked fat-free brownies for upon every meeting. She would often come home late in the evenings complaining how she hated math, and would ask her husband to figure out some bank percentages that her feeble mind had found just too taxing. This of course made Andy feel important, and while his wife hopped into the shower, Andy would reassure her that her problems would be solved, literally.
"Oh you're so smart about all this, and I'm so naïve," his wife would say before kissing him on the cheek and escaping into the shower to soap her porky frame.
"It's not a problem, hee hee," he'd say, and then would proceed to email his best friend from college, a mathematician, to ask how to do these basic statistic problems since it had been at least a dozen years since taking a stats class, of which he passed with a D minus. Once his friend responded, (Andy was lucky enough that his math friend was perhaps the only individual more pathetic than he, in that he never left his computer or his email for that matter).

Andy would copy his friend's solutions, and hand them to his wife.  "She appreciates me," he'd think with a snicker, upon handing her the math results. And she did, for it was not uncommon for Andi to resort to her source of feminine weakness, that is - crying, whenever they fought, which happened to be not that often. Sometimes she'd cry about being fat, for she'd been on Weight Watchers for well over a year and hadn't dropped a single pound, or when G.W. Bush had won the re-election, she had cried then, and Andy was there to comfort his wife. They were dedicated liberals.
"There, there, it's okay honey," he'd say in that generic tone of voice, while patting her fat frame. He was glad she got emotional-he thrived on it, for it reassured him that he was the man. She rarely fought back, she always agreed, and heck, he was a good person.
  "I'm a good person," he'd think to himself while riding his bike to work, looking like an adolescent with his recovering acne. He cared about people, so much that when some miners had died in West Virginia, Andy had to call in late for work that morning and tell everyone that he was watching the news, and that he had been 'too broken up' to come in on time. He made sure everyone, especially Paige, saw that he'd been crying. The tears had pooled into his pitted cheeks and gleamed upon contact with the window's light. Despite the tragedy though, things were going to be alright. After all, he was one of those people that never had to strive for anything, for things were always handed to him. He got this job working for Homeland Security by luck alone, simply because the man who hired him was too lazy to check his background references. Had he done so, he would have found that Andy had been involved in some questionable activity, mainly drug use in his previous job, and had been fired for it. But despite this, Andy got hired anyway. Andy smiled a lot, so that seemed good enough, and the job was a government job, so one did not need to know much at all about anything to get it. 

But this one morning, Andy was in a good mood, and was not going to let Paige's cynicism get in the way of his buzz on life. Just the night before, his wife and he had gone out to dinner with their neighbors, who consisted of a fatter, older man and his younger wife. The young wife was no 'catch', according to male standards, but was better looking than Andi, Andy's own wife, because for one, the woman was not obese, and secondly, she was only thirty. The couples had a few drinks, and before the night was over, this younger woman was flirting with Andy, saying how cute he was, and Andy of course, was basking in it, even though when his wife admitted later to having felt uncomfortable by this woman's flirtation, it was Andy there again to comfort her.
"I can see why she likes you, you're just so intelligent and so cute," Andi would say in between the tears.
"I think you're overreacting. She should have known better to not flirt with me in front of my wife, it's just not right," he said, even though he had been the one to encourage the woman's advances a bit more than he should have over the alcohol.
"If I'm not mistaken, I'd think that you were flirting back with her."
"Don't be silly," he'd say, while squeezing his wife's love handles.
"But she's so young, and I'm so fat. I just wish I could be a size 12. Hell, I'd settle for a 16 if I could," Andi said in between the tears. He would reassure her that she had nothing to be jealous about, even though the truth was he was the one who need not be jealous, since most men would rather turn homosexual than frolic in the sheets with his portly wife.
"Tell me I'm beautiful," she'd say.
"You're beautiful."
"Only on the inside though?" she asked in between the sobs.
"Yes, but on the outside too. You're beautiful because you're a beautiful person."
"AAW!" she'd say while clobbering him with her chub. "I'm just so sorry I'm so moody lately," she'd add-as usual, being the one to apologize.

So Andy was feeling sexy. Women wanted him. Every woman except for his two female co-workers: Paige and Rita. Not that he wanted them to want him, but he knew that the both of them found him physically unappealing, too short, and not intelligent enough to even be considered by them. They were, after all, quite attractive and in great physical shape. Many of the men in the office flirted with them playfully, even though Paige was married and Rita was engaged. Andy resented this. He was good enough for his wife, but was not good enough for them. He was smart enough for his wife, but not smart enough for them, and that's the reason he resented them so, and eventually got the two of them fired. Their bastard of a boss was Noelle, a name that she liked to paste everywhere around Christmas time, as a means for making a bad pun, and pretending like she gave a damn about the holiday season to begin with even though she treated her employees like complete shit. Andy, who had his nose so far up her ass crack, would do anything to please her-laugh at her unfunny jokes, bring her pecans from his wilted backyard tree, or even the corn that he grew in his garden (and if he could, pluck the kernels from his poop).

He loved his little garden, for it gave him the illusion of security, and reassured him that he was a good person helping the environment. He had never been very ambitious, and his garden gave him purpose. He liked seeing the octogenarians come walking by to water their own gardens, wave to him and wait as he waved back and smiled. He found it comforting how their lives essentially were now over, even though they were not dead. Their kids were grown, they were retired, living on social security and what have you, and what one did with his or her life wouldn't matter much when death was so near. Andy liked the idea of getting old, for he felt that age was the great leveler of all things. A janitor and an accountant, a garbage man and a doctor--what one had done in his youth made no difference to the cucumbers begging for water and in need of him.

He pretended that he cared little for others' success, but the truth was he resented it. His brother was a very accomplished surgeon, and his other brother a physical therapist, while Andy merely bobbled from job to job, hoping that he could hold out till the contract ended, or till he was absolutely forced to find new work. But now he had it made. He had landed this government job, assisting with Homeland Security, which meant that he did nothing. It was an easy job and it paid a lot. He could read his pulpy sci-fi novels during work hours and take naps on the building's seventh floor, and since the job was supposed to be 'top secret' he could sleep all day and no one would notice he was gone. He could disappear to his garden for his daily dose of Zen, and no one would miss him, not even after two hours time. Noelle was a bitch, but she was hardly around. All these things were factors for why he loved his job so much, which is why when Paige had asked him that question about lying to Noelle should she ask if he'd ever been gone from his work station for longer than what policy permitted, he would reply with: "I would do anything to protect my job."
"So you would lie then?" Paige asked. Andy responded with silence, and then after a moment, changed the subject.
"So have you read the new Harry Potter book?" he asked in his phony light-hearted tone.
"No," was all Paige said, without looking up from her magazine. There was another silence, and Paige could tell he wanted her to ask him what his opinion was about the book. After a moment, she finally just gave in.
"Was it good?"
"Not as good as the last one, but better than the one before that. It's good brain candy. Hee hee." This was the extent of his analysis when he didn't have the text from some critic to crib from.
"That's what most books are now a days," Paige said. There she goes again, Andy thought. Always being so negative. There is no way that a system designed by people could ever be lazy or flawed. No, Paige was just bitter because she was a painter and wasn't getting any buyers for any of her work. Andy was convinced that this was the source of her nihilism -a word he'd just heard about days before.
"Well, they have to make things more readable for the audience. The first Harry Potter is actually called The Philosopher's Stone. Publishers do that--they're always adjusting the language in books to suit whatever culture."
"No they don't," Paige said.
"Yes they do--they did it for J.K. Rowling with her British and American editions, what more proof do you need?"
"That's only because she agreed to it, they can't just go in and alter an author's work without permission. Not to mention it's a kid's book. Personally, I don't know why she allowed that to be done to her work. If I were a writer, I never would have allowed that."
"You would do whatever they told you to do, if it meant getting published," Andy muttered through a modest laugh, one that implied far more resentment internalized throughout this conversation, but of course he was pretending it was not there.
"Spoken like a true non-artist," Paige said.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Andy, you've obviously never created anything entirely on your own, the product of your own imagination and it shows. Besides, you are wrong," Paige said, then looked back down at her magazine. Andy was silent, dumbfounded, and sat there twirling his apple stem in between his fingers. Then he let out a slight mumble that carried over in a passive snicker.
"I'm not wrong if it's obviously been done before," he said quietly though a distilled snicker. Paige looked up from her magazine and stared into his pock-filled acne expired face.
"Andy, yes. You are wrong. I've never seen the characters in The Grapes of Wrath altered to speak an Irish Brogue. And likewise, I've never seen an edition of Dubliners written with a Faulkner-like twang. It doesn't happen," she said. Andy sat a moment and had to think: who wrote Dubliners again?

He thought about the night before, and how he had made that point to his neighbor and his wife, and how at the table everyone had been so impressed by his observation. He hated Paige. She always brought his flaws to his attention, and he could get away with nothing. In fact, last month the two of them had been discussing The Da Vinci Code, and Andy had really liked the book - he had finished it in two days, the fastest ever for him to complete a book. When he told Paige he'd read it, he kept his opinion to himself just to see what she'd say, which was of course, something negative.
"The narrative is atrocious and it's filled with clichés. He can't even come up with an interesting way to describe things, he needs to rely on phrases like, 'dark night' and ah ha moments to tell his boring tale," she said. Andy was silent.
"Well I liked it," was all he said, but her argument did not convince him. After all, if the book was so bad, then how could it sell so much? There is no way a bad book could ever become so popular - there had to be something wrong with her.

Later, when he was discussing the book with another one of his neighbors (part of being a good citizen and good person is being friendly with neighbors) who had a Ph.D in literature, Andy was surprised to discover that his neighbor said very much the same things about the book as Paige.
"Hmm," was all Andy thought. But it wasn't until he had this approbation from his neighbor, when he could finally speak about the book to others.
"I didn't care for it much particularly. It wasn't the best written work," he'd say in front of his wife's dopey book club friends.
"Wow, you make such interesting observations," one of the women said. "I'll have to read what I read more carefully from now on," another said. Andy gloated a bit, keeping it to himself that he had in fact liked the book when he first read it, and hadn't noticed any of the flaws in the work that now, only though the observations of others, illuminated so clearly. To use a cliché of Dan Brown's protagonist, 'How Could I Have Been So Blind?'
"Andi, I think we need to have your husband sit in with us on our book club sessions. We would learn so much," one of the women said to Andi, who merely buzzed with satisfaction upon her marriage to such an 'intellectual'.

Andy's gift resided in the disguise. He knew that his two more successful brothers were everything he was not: better looking, more articulate, more ambitious. He knew he had nothing on them, so his ability to lead conversations became his comfort. Keep the conversation shallow, and when in doubt mumble or change the subject. Keep abreast on political events, a name drop here or there, befriend the ignorant and the vegetables. Andy had no problem with acknowledging that groups of people were smarter: corporations, laws, but never individuals, and especially not those younger than he and female. He had to convince himself he was worthy of his own beliefs since he was not strong enough to stand on them alone, and he desperately needed others to agree with him. His opinions changed depending on who was in the room. He was resentful of those who wouldn't budge, who created worlds that were beyond him, and that which he thereby could never belong to. He had to rearrange the facts of the world within his mind to suit him. He was cheap and never paid for anything on his own, and was only lucky enough (and too stupid to figure this out on his own) that the only reasons he was passed over by Noelle from being canned from his job is because there were others that she hated more: Paige and Rita. Andy had to find an agenda. He had to find an agenda and stick with it. Earlier that month, Noelle the boss had come to ask him for a favor. Basically, what she needed was any information regarding 'the girls' as they were called. She wanted him to spy on them, but in his mind, he looked at it as he was doing it for the good of the government, as opposed to allowing individuals run wild. He arranged the facts within his mind accordingly, and even though he regarded Republicans as the worst of all evils (and the only real evil because every Democrat was good) he adopted this Republican mentality.
"I'll do whatever it takes, hee hee," he said to Noelle with a faux laugh and a smile, hoping that the two of them would share a chuckle, but Noelle never laughed.
"Fine," was all she said before leaving the room. Noelle disliked Andy, but hated the girls more. They were outgoing and better looking and got along well together, not to mention they questioned her authority. And Andy was no threat since he did none of those things, and had no real friends.

After his encounter with Noelle, Andy spent all morning contriving a plan. He tried watching the girls do their work, but he could find no flaws to get them on. He knew that they did their jobs better than he did his, and of course, this was just another reason to resent them. Thinking he was out of luck, it was only a matter of chance that he spotted the girls at a coffee shop on his day off. They were on break. He saw them, they saw him, he got his coffee, and left. He knew they had done nothing wrong since policy permitted breaks, and the shop was just up the street. But that didn't matter. In his mind they had done something wrong, and he was going to get them for it. He was going to be right this time. He was going to have the last word. He would show them. So that next Monday, he informed Noelle of the situation, which really wasn't any situation at all, but he had told her that the girls had spent over twenty-five minutes sitting at the coffee shop, rather than the permitted fifteen. He knew he was lying, and the girls knew it too, and even Noelle knew this information was second hand, it was enough to initiate termination. Both Noelle and he knew that the real reason they were getting rid of them had nothing to do with one lousy break - after all, Andy would escape to his garden for an hour at a time, sometimes longer, but had Noelle ever confronted him with that, he would have told her no. Why? Because he would do anything to protect his job.
The universe begins and ends with the notion of self. The outward world exists as nothing more than an abstraction, and how one affects it doesn't matter if one can keep that self, contained. Ambition was not important unless it could benefit the good of the self. Andy liked this philosophy, and he would think it often when watering his onions. He'd always preferred to be the chosen rather than the chooser, but today was a good day. Noelle had hired two new co-workers, they were female and one was from Florida and the other had a large ass--like his wife. Andy had been to Florida once, to watch the space shuttle take off, and he could talk and talk to this new girl about all his opinions on politics and the world because he knew she would listen. He'd be the one training her on how to do the job, so she would have no choice but to listen and smile, and Andy liked that. He felt that he had been quite proactive in getting his co-workers fired, and he was hoping that Noelle would see him differently now, and know that Andy was someone who she could trust to do anything she asked. As Andy stood there on one of his hour-long work breaks, he held the hose above his garden, and watched as the wind fetched the water and took it towards a more dizzying slant, thinking then, that there was something more to him, something significant. He thought this thing, and smiled, and even thought to write it down, whatever it was. Moving the hose to his other hand, he felt his breast pocket for a pen, but had none. Oh well. At least it had been something that arrived, then carried onward to that place of thought that never goes beyond just a mere whimper, or whisper, or snicker to the self. Thinking then, he thought, "At least it had been that."

Fat Nasty Bitch
Jessica Schneider

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