International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Office Life
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.
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
"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
"Don't be silly," he'd say, while squeezing his wife's love
"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.
"Only on the inside though?" she asked in between the sobs.
"Yes, but on the outside too. You're beautiful because you're a
"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
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
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
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
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."
Stories from life