By Margery Topper Weinstein
Linda liked sparkles, and, unfortunately, sparkles sparked nodes of pain in my brain. That Thursday, the smell of microwave-heated-up pizza and white wine from the executive farewell party in the office suite next door collaborated with Linda’s green sparkle blazer to set my brain feeling like I had fallen off a diving board I had intended to dive off of, and instead had hit my head.
“Linda, why do you always wear the sparkles blazer on Tuesdays and Thursdays?” I asked her from across the cubicle aisle. “What’s it about Tuesdays and Thursdays that make you think they sparkle?” I knew Linda had a sense of humor and wouldn’t mind my teasing her again about her habit of wearing sparkling blazers the same two days of every week.
“I guess this time of the week—the middle—needs some jazzing up,” she said without looking at me and continuing to type. “Monday is too depressing to be receptive to sparkles, Wednesday is too laborious because it’s the hump of the middle, but on Tuesday you’re just beginning the ascent to the middle (and have gotten Monday over with) and Thursday you’re nearing the end. Friday, of course, just sparkles on its own. “
“What if your Friday involves an obligation you can’t get out of? Is that necessarily better than going to work the next day?” I asked. It seemed more appropriate to me to wear sparkles on Friday since Friday to me sometimes required convincing that it was happy.
“Yes, because then it’s your own fault you’re suffering. During the week suffering is expected. But on the weekend it’s something only overly generous people fall into,” Linda said.
The sparkles transcended my panoramic vision, but I still caught sight of one of my least favorite officemates, Sanders Reynolds. He was rarely on time, but when he did show up, he spent his day divided between the vending machine (Baked Lays were a favorite), the coffee machine (Coffee Mate, Sweet ‘n Low), and the bathroom (guess Baked Lays and coffee with artificial creamer and artificial sweetener don’t go well together as far as his stomach was concerned).
He also wasn’t a study in smooth style. Ours was a casual office (as you may have guessed via Linda’s sparkling jackets), and nobody expected much, but as far as workday slobs go, Sanders was a standout. One thing that always bothered me was why his wife didn’t dress him. It’s passé for wives to dress husbands but Sanders needed so much sartorial assistance that if I were married to him I think I’d feel compelled to lend a hand—or, rather, I wouldn’t let him go near the closet unsupervised. His colors were drab (browns and olive greens), but his greatest clothing problem was what he wore didn’t fit, or maybe it was just that he didn’t know how to wear any of it.
Sanders favored button-down dress shirts, but not the conventional tucked in way. He opted, rather, for the flair of the slob. The button-down shirt was left flapping loose beyond his belt buckle, all the way down, covering at least half of his rear end. It also inelegantly flapped over his paunch, which he was always bragging had been slimmed down thanks to veggie burgers and Baked Lays.
“Your sparkles, Linda, are eye-orb frightening, but I’ll take them over Slob Mystique walking in,” I said, rolling my eyes, and nodding my head towards the top of the cubicle aisle, where Sanders was clomping in. He was one of those balls-of-feet walkers who always walked like his shoes didn’t fit. Kind of like if a person forced a mule or donkey to wear sneakers.
“Yeah, he needs more sparkle and smooth,” she said, laughing. “But my concern would be misuse of sparkle. The idea of sparkle highlighting flaw. Why, in other words, sparkle up a belly?”
“Well, according to Slob Mystique, the belly has slimmed down substantially. He’s always pointing to that wedding photo of him and Shirley, with her orange and purple bouquet and his widows peak hairline and his larger-than-now belly. Unfortunately, the hairline has receded along with the belly. I wonder if that’s also thanks to veggie burgers?”
I think that would be enough to convince any man of mine to avoid veggie burgers and be a cave man chomping on chuck ground beef (not even the fancy kind). Once you’ve made the transition from meat chomping man who’s civilized enough to eat meat taken off the bone and made into malleable patties symmetrical enough to fit in between assembly line bread buns, why would additional civilizing be desired? Maybe his hairline started to go because he was losing his cave man essence by eating too many veggie burgers. And what in the world was wrong with fried potato chips? It’s OK to accept grease into your life. If you’re going to be Slob Mystique you may as well live up to the title.
“Maybe we should ask him,” Linda said. “He’s so dumb he’ll probably just assume we’re complimenting him on his physique and new look.”
“Yeah, he’s one of those people who assumes everyone likes him,” I noted. “There are some people who could benefit from a little paranoid schizophrenia.”
It was big brown sweater day for Slob Mystique as he clomped his backpack onto his desk. He had mumbled (as he always mumbled) a “morning” to Linda and I, but we were so immersed in our critical camaraderie we didn’t respond. I disliked it the way grown adults tended to wear backpacks these days, and was glad the Homeland Security people were on to them. I doubted whether Slob Mystique or any of his circle were terrorists, but the sight of a grown man with a receding hairline and paunchy belly with a backpack slung over his shoulders was gauche enough to be criminal—at least from a fashion perspective.
Of course, he also was carrying his healthy-eating breakfast of strawberry yogurt parfait and butter-less, cream cheese-less bagel. I believe I spotted some white fish layered on top of it with a tomato perhaps. “Is that white fish I see?” I asked Slob Mysique—well, I mean, to be nice, I suppose I should refer to him by the name God gave him (at least to his mother’s face)—Sanders. “I thought the mercury levels in fish was troubling you.”
“The latest studies show two moderate fish servings per week is OK,” he said to Linda and I as we continued our busy work in our cubicles without looking at him.
“What studies?” I wanted to know. “What studies do you know about?” And that was all it took to unravel his self-confidence. “Well, that is to say, more or less, the safety of fish is not disputed so long as it’s indulged in moderately,” he said. Sanders always spoke (or tried to) speak like a TV network anchorman from the ‘50s or ‘60s whenever he got nervous. He added phrases like “I can say with relative certainty” or “I’m reasonably confident.” Who cares if you’re relative or reasonable, I always wondered.
“Have they done any studies on the ‘reasonable confidence’ of blazers with sparkles causing premature cataracts?” I said. “Linda here may be endangering our oracular health with her fashion choices. It sets off my brain, so I can feel it through my skin.”
“Well, don’t act like I’m hemorrhaging you,” Linda said. “It’s just a headache. And it’s not my fault. It’s probably just hormones.”
Sanders had begun his wheezy, suppressed laughing into his white fish. He loved that he could tolerate the sparkles better than me. He at last had something to feel confident about. “Corporate came by yesterday,” he said, looking Linda’s sparkles up and down, and taking in my green foam frog on a wire, Alfred Alfredo, whom I had stuck to the top of my cubicle wall so he flew in the air as an amphibian flag. “They say there’s a new company-wide initiative that’s been launched about corporate culture and keeping our work spaces ‘clean and professional looking,’ so I told them I would help spread the word.”
“Will you ask Alfred for immigration papers since I got him in Canada?” I said. “Just over the boarder, but I know Noisen likes to cover itself.” Noisen Media Enterprises was the name of our company, and there were two things its executives were scared of—being overly generous and lawsuits. I couldn’t figure out which of those two fears this new initiative had more to do with. Overly generous because it would be too much for them to allow us the freedom to personalize our cubicles; fearful of lawsuits because death by green foam frog on a wire is a possibility. Well, let’s say Alfred fell from his perch and lay haphazardly on the floor of the cubicle aisle. Someone, maybe the always-wears-a-tie-even-though-he-doesn’t-need-to in accounting could be on the way to the freezer to retrieve his frozen grapes, trip, bang his head, and find himself no longer able to calculate tax loopholes for the company.
“You shouldn’t worry too much about that assignment,” I said. “Those people are too greedy to check up on your ‘work.’ To cover themselves, they need to tell us to rein in the foam frogs, sparkles, pink flamingos, and the odd wooden penguin figurine, but they’re too busy obsessing about their ’$20 billion’ company to see whether any of their ‘culture’ mandates have gone through.”
“I don’t know,” said Sanders, raking his hand through his hair and sniffling into his white fish. “They seemed pretty serious this time. A couple of them—Barnaby Rocksnard and Hugh Fargle—pointed to Alfred while they were talking and said he had to go.”
I wish I could tell you Sanders was only joking about being impressed by the ferocity of these HR hacks, but he was really that insecure. He wanted to make sure he was aligned to the system, whatever that system happened to be. He must have thought: “First they come for the foam frogs, and, before you know it, you’re next in line.” Alfred, wobbling every which way on his precarious wire, sticking up above the cubicle walls, and exhibiting a conspicuous green, wasn’t suitable to our culture. But the prudent Sanders Reynolds would make the mark.
“Tomorrow there’s going to be a work space review,” Sanders said. Rich Hornersford from the Human Alignment department said they’ll be inspected for ‘professionalism and cleanliness.’”
“I wonder if my wall of candy bar wrappers is professional and clean? I licked the inside of all the wrappers, so I’m fairly sure they’re clean, and I tried to line them up as well as possible.”
The candy bar wrappers and Alfred were spice to jazz up the dullness of cubicle life, and the idea that I would have to conform to an image of Cubicle Ideal was disheartening. Why would I want my cubicle to look like anyone else’s? We were already in “cubes,” that, literally, were square and composed of a boxing in. I felt the shape we had all been thrust into was uniform enough.
“That may not be enough,” Sanders said. “I think Noisen is serious about this one. The thing is they have investors coming here next week, so they want them to think we’re professional.”
Noisen had been trying to sell our business unit for a while, so I guess they were getting desperate. If doing away with pink flamingoes and green foam frogs would seal the deal, than that’s how harsh the measures would be. This is becoming a cubicle police state, I thought to myself.
“I’m prepared to devolve for the sake of my work,” I said, thinking of all the times I dumbed down my writing to appeal to our plush toy enthusiast audience, but I refused to dumb down my cubicle aesthetic since, unlike my work, I saw it as a true representation of myself. It was my habitat. “But where Alfred Alfredo and my candy bar wrapper collage are concerned, the bigwigs are out of luck.”
While Sanders and I (he still going at it sloppy-style with his white fish bagel) went back and forth over the mortal threat to Alfred Alfredo, Linda was pulling open her filing cabinet draws and looking furiously under her desk. Her sparkles spinning in the corner of my eye like a disco ball chained to the desk.
“What are you doing there?” I asked her. “You’re giving me motion sickness.”
“I think the sparkles need to go further,” she said. “I see sparkles spreading through this office so that you—they—can’t escape them.”
Sanders was too consumed with his white fish to bother with this latest from Linda, but I was intrigued. “Are you going to kidnap anybody?”
“No, I’m just going to show Noisen how dynamic sparkle can be,” she said. With that, she hopped up from her seat as though in a dance revue, and sashayed across the room, holding a pouch of some sort. It looked like the kind of pouch some jewelry stores give you when you buy a necklace. I wondered if she had figured out where our boss, Miranda, kept her in-office valuables (if such a thing existed), and was on her way to equal the score by stealing. Instead, she opened the pouch and laid on Miranda’s desk decals of sparkles, and began spreading the sparkles from the back of the phone receiver to the bulletin board to the initialed wooden box she kept her calculator in.
“And you don’t think Miranda will mind this?” I asked, elated by the sparkle growth (I was so excited by her plan, apparently, that I forgot my headache).
“Well, you have a calculator in a wooden box, and then you have a calculator in a wooden box with sparkle. Which would you prefer? To do your calculations on wood or in sparkle? The way I see it, if I was calculating my assets or concerns up, and the thing I was calculating against was wood, I’d begin to think of everything adding up to the grave—on account of the fact that wood is what lots of caskets are made out of—but if I was calculating against sparkle, I’d think of bright things I was adding all my stuff towards,” she said.
I thought that was prudent thinking on her part, to consider the level of sparkle against the level of wood. But I wondered what our stilted boss, Miranda, who was famous for maintaining an immobile face when she spoke and raising her eyebrows rather than smiling when she passed you by in the hall, would think. Linda may be sparkling her way out of a job, I thought to myself. Low-level to moderate sparkle was all Noisen tolerated.
As Linda darted around Miranda’s office—even adding a solitary sparkle to her wedding photo—I thought of Alfred Alfredo, and wondered if I should follow suit to Linda and let him be. My foam frog on a wire could be a sentinel in our pro-sparkle resistance movement.
“When the sparkle is seen marching, the cavalry of Alfred Alfredo won’t be far behind,” I announced with as much aplomb as possible. Linda and I had entirely forgotten our workload for the morning—which is a good reason not to threaten worker sparkle. When what you’ve surrounded yourself with for the purpose of shine is threatened, who knows how you’ll react, and what kind of uprisings you’ll inspire in others?
Linda was still in Miranda’s office, now approaching dangerous territory—the picture Miranda, who never seemed sure whether she loved or loathed herself, kept of a cartoon version of herself in a black and white striped shirt rowing a boat. I say “cartoon” because Phil, our graphic artist, had doctored it up as a joke so that Miranda’s head was way out of proportion to her body, and everything else in the photo. And it was even funnier than Miranda realized because even though the photo was made to look like a real life cartoon or caricature, she wore the same stony-stern expression she always wore on her deeply Celtic face. “I think Miranda, eternally rowing on the River Stix needs some sparkle,” said Linda, dabbling the adhesive sparkle from pictorial bow to stern, and up to the rower’s forked (well, okay, so it was a cleft) chin. “Ha-ha, now she’s done!” Linda exclaimed twirling around. I wondered if, in addition to the bran muffin and yogurt she had every morning to ward off constipation she also had popped an ecstasy pill or two.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Miranda was helping to spearhead the whole anti-sparkle movement,” I said. “She’s never liked your jacket, or Alfred Alfredo whose sparkle, after all, is merely symbolic.”
“She may be. After all, I saw her talking yesterday to Lisa Blackenridge—you know, the six-feet-something -tall gal from accounting who’s taking over our department. Miranda was saying something to her about ‘taking ownership of work’ and ‘stepping up to the plate’ and ‘synergies.’ She was in full-on corporate-speak mode. She was automatoning herself and loving it.”
“Well,” I said judiciously, “That’s not saying much considering that her face and eyes rarely move when she speaks. I think she’s always been an automaton, and that she has rollers under feet, which none of us can see, and that once a year she’s surreptitiously rolled into Talbots to get suited up.”
As we laughed with our backs curved over and our hands over our mouths, Miranda made her way back to her office. She was in red today, which was funny because I was in the midst of a color war with her. She had been trying to get rid of me since the day I got there, and when she couldn’t defeat me via taxing work assignments, she resorted to mimicry—sensing my independent spirit, she homed in on copycat fashion as the best offense against me. The day before I had worn a bright red blouse (a color particularly suiting my winter coloring), so that day Miranda had on an equally bright red jacket that cinched around the waist with a bow.
“Hi!” I chirped with as teethy a smile as I could come up with. It was the right thing to smile at people, my preschool teacher told me, but it also had the advantage of making Miranda very angry. She did what she usually did when I smiled teethy-like at her—she raised her eyebrows and then looked me up and down while keeping the whole rest of her face—the parts beyond comatose dark blue eyes and dyed-yellow eyebrows—immobile.
“Hm, I see you took the liberty to redecorate,” she said, walking towards her desk. “Interesting.” It was a disappointment that she wasn’t outwardly upset, but then that was Miranda for you. She tended more towards snotty, condescending, snide commentary and raised eyebrows than open hysteria. It was when she walked away from you that the trouble began. You suddenly realized lies had been told to the boss at your expense, set in motion by what I suspected to be her crocodile tears. It would be just like her to use menopausal hormones to bring on tears to gain the sympathy of our boss, Sara. I thought this because I had seen her many times red-faced and bleary-eyed, as though she were either working herself towards tears or just recovering from a great melodramatic performance.
“Uh, thanks?” she said sarcastically. “I think I’ll tweak it a little.” With that she methodically began removing the sparkling decals, pausing in front of the real life cartoon of herself out of proportion in a black and white striped shirt in a boat, rowing alone. “It’ll be interesting to see what corporate thinks of this artistry,” she said, nasally laughing to herself. “I think I may leave it like this.”
Miranda’s nostrils were flaring like an angry horse and she was fiddling with her calculator, having removed it from the initialed wooden box she kept it in. “Hmm, let’s see,” she said. “I think these damages come to at least a few hundred dollars.”
I didn’t think she would tattle on us because she liked to be seen as the “kind, sympathetic Miranda”—not a person who would lose her temper over what her colleagues would undoubtedly call “just a little joke.”
“Sparkle doesn’t have to be an isolated affair,” Linda said. “It can spread anywhere you choose, and doesn’t require special planning. It’s less arduous than Sander’s white fish sandwich and health regimen. Let’s say I want sparkle. Well, who’s to stop me from dashing a sparkle on the phone, another on the cartoon you rowing a boat as an outsize self, and another on the wooden, initialed box cover to a calculator?”
“True,” Miranda said with her characteristic jerky gestures (like she was made of tin), “but sometimes there’s a sparkle encroachment that needs to be pushed back.”
Sanders had begun playing with a hand-held device he kept pressing at, but we couldn’t tell at first whether it was a calculator or some other counting and measuring device.
“What you got there, Sanders?” I asked. Sometimes I believed he had a crush on me because he didn’t dare look me in the eye, but it’s also possible he thought I was a vampire. He read a lot of gothic horror stories, and I think he mentioned during small talk once that you weren’t supposed to look vampires in the eye—for fear you’ll turn into one yourself.
“I’m gauging the climate of our office,” he said. “Every time I click this thing it gives me a reading of the temperature in the exact spot I’m at.”
“Well, I’m always cold in here. What does it say?”
“72. So, it must be an imbalance of yours,” he said without smiling or otherwise hinting he was only joking.
“Why does accounting need to know what temperature it is in various ‘exact spots’ in the office?”
“The company thought we could save air conditioning and heating costs if we knew exactly where the temperature was inconsistent with the rest of the office. If it’s colder or hotter in certain spots it might mean the windows in that area aren’t insulated properly.”
“Well, what do you know? The secret behind Noisen’s corporate debt is insulation. Maybe the new strategic plan should be a sun porch,” I said.
“We need to streamline our costs,” Sanders said. “And be a cost leader.”
“Yeah, well, I guess that’s true,” I copped out, knowing he had slipped into automaton mode, and it wasn’t worthwhile (or safe) to argue with him. It would be like arguing with an automatic response system in a car or on a computer in which responses are reflexively triggered by certain keywords.
“Hey Sanders, is it true Alfred Alfredo’s days may be numbered?”
“‘He doesn’t conform,” said Sanders half with a sniff, half with a smile, seemingly aware of his absurdity and yet unwilling to step back from it. He seemed to realize how ridiculous he sounded, but was stubborn about sticking to his script.
“The beauty of being a green foam frog stuck to a wire that bounces you this way and that with the least passing breeze of a passerby is you’re one of a kind,” I noted. “He has no need to conform. It’s beneath his essence.”
“I hate to tell you this,” Sanders said, “but that foam frog was mass produced. I was at the conference where this lady in a booth hawking her books was giving them out.”
“His interaction with me has personalized him. He’s a marker for Linda’s sparkle and Miranda’s-Miranda’s-Miranda’s, well, I don’t know, Miranda’s funny boat picture. He lets people looking for me know I’m here.”
I know I’m here, I know I’m here, I know I’m here, I said repetitively to myself, attempting to stave off hyperventilization due to a throbbing migraine and the cornering of my wired frog. Sanders, I noted, focusing on the minutia of my surroundings, had finished his white fish sandwich and was beginning his coffee machine-vending machine-bathroom-talk to wife at desk-take a stroll out of doors trajectory, and was frumping his way to the kitchen. “Frumping,” a word I knew didn’t exist, insisted itself to me as just the way to describe that clomping walk of his. Next he would frump out of the kitchen with his Eco-Cup of coffee and stand-slouch next to out-of-whack-on-an-outsized-boat Miranda and Miranda herself, and ask about her sprinkler system. That was Sander’s contribution to ensuring his job didn’t get cut. “Surely, you can’t fire me. I’m not productive, of course, but then who else asks you about your sprinkler system?” I imagined him saying to himself.
“Sanders, can I ask you something?” I said. And without waiting/caring whether he thought it was OK to proceed: “When will the execution of the acrylic pink flamingos, wood-based in-office owls, rubber caterpillars, rubber spiders, stuffed geese, and green stuck-to-a-wire-above-my-cubical frogs begin?
“Well, to be in compliance with this new push by corporate for a professional workplace, I would say no later than the end of the week,” he said. “Metal bins will be available later this afternoon to collect all items that are not in compliance. If you don’t take it home, it will be directed to the bin for recycling. The company gets a tax write-off for recycling.”
I thought about the difference between sparkle and office light florescence and thought an assembly of sparkle wouldn’t be so bad. The thing is, Sanders and his bosses would assume (and we’d lead them to believe) the sparkle was being assembled for elimination, but what we’d really be doing is assembling the office sparkle for maximum sparkability. I thought the sparkle could speak in a way my verbal arguments couldn’t. Now that Miranda’s possessions had been sparkled, I wondered if we should add them to the pile.
“Hey Miranda,” I said, wondering when I would go far enough for her to start her nostril flaring. “Can the outsize you with the tiny head in the funny boat be added to the sparkle pile? As long as it’s ruined, can we have it?”
“I have to say, that’s not a bad idea. You—and her—have ruined most of my office already, so you may as well put the evidence on display, and show them what you did.”
Yeah, show them what we did, I thought to myself. That’s what I liked about the sparkle Linda liked to throw around, and how we were assembling our out-going possessions for sparklefication. I liked the fact that it would be marked off just when the ones who wanted us to get rid of it all wanted to hide it as fast as they could. Why should foam frogs, rubber pink flamingoes, and wooden penguins go into hiding? I felt the true pink flamingoes were the executives behind the anti-sparkle ruling. Ordinarily I would mean “pink flamingo” as a compliment, but I’m saying it now as they (anti-sparkle authorities) perceive pink flamingoes, foam frogs, and wooden penguins—as menaces to the organization. I saw those executives and acolytes, like Sanders, as the true menace.
My best idea of the moment was foamy combat. It was to draft Alfred Alfredo and company into an army of animated inanimates. I arranged him, and his material kin, along a wall formed by a few cubicles, and stuck the sparkle decals on them like the medals generals wear. My thought was to station them around our “private” work stations as a buffer between sparkle dimmers and the sparkle beyond the wall comprised of our personal momentos and mindful clutter. If we could gather enough of what we had imposed on ourselves, maybe there wouldn’t be room for impositions from others who were neurotic, as we were, but didn’t share our particular anxieties. I liked the people who entered my cubicle to share my neuroses, or at least be sympathetic to them. In life, when you let strangers trespass into the far reaches of your cubicle, where you keep your remembrances, you have to feel secure they won’t discard any foam frogs on a wire they find along the way.
“Productive, as always,” Miranda sneered, looking me, and my plastic-foamy entourage, up and down with her forever-critical eye. “Glad to see you’re putting your time to good use.”
“Well, you never know,” I said. “This work of mine might give birth to an article next issue on the pros and cons of the creative workplace, and how plush toys can help.”
“We’ll see,” she said, punctuating her last syllable, as she usually did, with an unseen, but nonetheless tangible, period—as if to say she would be the last word on that.
I had no time to waste, and, so, concentrated on rubber alligators, as I always did when there was no time to waste. In this case, I’m referring to Herman and Chantal, two small (roughly 6 inch by 6 inch) rubber alligators I decided had an illustrious past as 1970’s cocaine-loving, Studio 54-going swingers. A third rubber alligator prowled alongside them, whom I introduced simply as “The Insurgent” to anyone who stopped by my cubicle. My thought was The Insurgent was hovering nearby to steel Chantal, or in some other way disturb the particular order of their swamp. The Insurgent would now be arranged side-by-side with them, as if to face a common enemy.
Next came the ducks—stuffed, plastic, and rubber. I usually kept them in a row, to harmonize with the saying about “getting all your ducks in a row,” but that afternoon, I decided to scatter them so the power of their imitation duck selves would get dispersed throughout the cubicle, and maybe even get over the cubicle wall.
Naturally, too, I had to consider The Lindas, four pens with faces painted near the tips, from which rubbery strands of hair jutted out. Linda got them as a gift at a business meeting, and so, I took them for my own, but thought naming them The Lindas would make up for my stealing them. As long as you give a thing the appropriate name you can take it (and do with it) anything you want—or that’s what I’ve heard anyway, so I thought I’d give it a try.
The Lindas resided in a Mickey Mouse mug that I considered reminiscent of my soul—a cartoonish presence on the outside, but room for lots to drink up on the inside. I felt very much a Mickey Mouse mug. That’s where I decided to stick the Lindas. If you steal something, the best thing to do is put it inside something that you feel represents yourself. That way, your stealing will be easily forgotten, as if that object or keepsake that represents you has swallowed up the other person’s possession. That was the goal with The Lindas—to swallow up my co-worker’s possession. To absolve myself of guilt (and knowing she’s a good sport), I told this whole scenario to her, and she licensed my pilfering. But got back at me with those awful sparkles. Even as I write this I remember that moment, trying to create a bulwark of keepsakes against the Corporate Sanders, and seeing those sparkles out of the corner of my eye—in the part of my cubicle I never was able to obscure from the intrusion of the sight of others—and thinking she enjoys encroaching on me, and all of us, with her illumination.
“Your sparkles are intruding on my capacity to extrude the forced-changers,” I said.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Linda replied as she finished off the last of her sparkle decals by affixing that last one to the lever you pull when there’s a fire. “A fire is no reason not to sparkle. Fires glow and shine, but they don’t sparkle like these marks of mine.”
“Or even Repunzel and Gilmore,” I said, nodding toward my plants. Repunzel was some sort of ivy plant that had grown so long I had to push her vines away to use the phone. Gilmore, descended from Bamboo, was more compact, but, nonetheless, constantly sprouted new leaves. All this despite the lack of natural light. The nearest window was probably 100 feet away.
“Yeah, I guess I can add them to my list of intra-office sparkle noteworthies,” Linda said.
“And they don’t need one of your sparkle decals. They wear their official badge of sparkle inside,” I said. “That’s, by the way, why I’ve never liked your sparkling jacket and even those decals. If you truly sparkle, you sparkle on your own, with no special marking up or signifying necessary.”
“But what about when sparkle is submerged in florescent lighting and the absence of windows or comfortable ladies room toilet paper? Couldn’t a sparkling jacket help then?”
“No, because those of true sparkle would sparkle no matter the environ, and no matter how anyone attempted to regulate that environ. That Sanders is an arranger, organizer, and categorizer. He’s good at looking for things, then arranging and organizing those things, but he doesn’t recognize or appreciate inborn sparkle because it isn’t anything he can pinpoint by spreadsheeting it.”
“Yeah, he’s always trying to spreadsheet everything,” Linda agreed, forgetting for a moment her commitment to the sparkling jacket I loathed.
“Nothing seems to make sense to me once it’s in a spreadsheet,” I pointed out, gathering the rubber rooster in my arms, and righting into proper position the alligators Chantal and Herman. “Why would anything need to be put into a spreadsheet? Can’t everything just make sense, and be appreciated on its own, without taking into consideration its relation to other things? If a piece of information isn’t useful on its own, I don’t think I’m interested. I like points of fact that stand on their own. If you have a beautiful flower, you don’t have to put it in a bouquet, after all.”
My rubber rooster wasn’t the only bird to be aware of. Last year one morning, in my cubicle, stuck to the rim of the computer screen, I found a cartoon of a rooster with a bubble over its head that read: “Now do you know what I know?” I never found out who stuck it to my computer, but was paranoid about it. I wondered if there was some awful secret or rumor about me that other people thought I was trying to hide. I never found out who sent it, but there was a girl with a big nose (artistic, she jokingly called it), whom I suspected. Being so suspicious was commonplace in our office. It was a place that if you weren’t suspicious of cartoon roosters taunting you, you were out of whack. As I assembled my cubicle for Sander’s inspection, I finally dismissed the rooster, and focused on the paper coop I found him in. “Now do you know what I know?” the rooster’s paper horizon asked me. It was hard to say for sure, but it seemed like the rooster and all my other animals had spots set aside by my comfort and intuition in my cubicle, and that I alone knew exactly where they lived. The living wasn’t fleshly, but then neither were the lights overhead, the processed air we breathed, or the electronic screen we used for reference in lieu of a sun on the horizon.
Sanders, who had advanced to a rye sandwich with what looked like alfalfa sprouts inside and a pink-colored yogurt parfait, strode toward us down the florescent lights cubicle lane, note pad and another of those clicking devices in hand. “What’s that clicker for?” I asked him, wondering about the rubber roosters in my life.
“After I’ve assessed each cubicle to ensure they’re all up to their professional workplace standard, I click “complete” on an electronic grid listing the number of the cubicle I’ve just inspected. I can also type with this thing, so I can make notes on modifications I recommended.”
“What if the best modification you can recommend is absence?” I said.
“What do you mean?” Sanders asked, slouching forward with his hands rustling the keys in his pockets and his hands each getting balled up with the index finger on his left hand jutting out for no apparent reason (in other words, looking as un-artful as ever).
“I mean I’ve assembled my rubber chickens and ducks; I’ve gathered my plastic alligators; I’ve moved Alfred Alfredo from his watch post; and I’ve deliberated whether the Lindas need to go. At this point, it seems the modification you’re looking for—the thing that would make my workspace ‘professional’—is absence.”
“Our policy is clean, professional workspaces, and sometimes, yes, that involves removing clutter,” he said, softening his words with a smile at the end.
“Who’s to say Chantal and Herman, my Studio 54 manage a trois plastic alligators, are clutter?”
Just then I thought, with Miranda at work in her office and Linda’s attention diverted as she inspected the wall for sparkle additions, it might be time to hand Sanders a piece of synthetic animal.
“Sanders, does your work style involve any animal hommages?”
“I mean, do you have any totems of any kind you plant or hang around yourself to remember a feeling that makes you feel inside yourself?”
He laughed nervously, and then shook his head. “I had a collection of spoons as a child—a spoon for every state my family visited on vacation, but I lost most of them.”
“Do you think a rubber chicken would epitomize you, or would a frog of foam be more your thing?” If I could impart an animal symbol from the refuge I had created in the office, I thought maybe he would see the wisdom of being at work with animal spirits on your mind rather than protocol.
“For here or for home? It doesn’t sound like something for the workplace,” he said.
“It’s for any and all places because the epitome of you doesn’t have a location,” I pointed out.
At this point, Sanders began concentrating on his clicker, glancing up and down, and taking a click or two, and then looking around, above and behind, and resuming the punching up of our personal inventory. How could he ever account for the ducks, alligators, and named writing utensils that counted toward my inner-self inside a numbered cubicle?
“OK, I have you registered as a 12,” he said.
“You mean you think on the inside I’m 12?” I mostly knew that’s not what he meant, but I thought I’d ask him as though I were really that naïve in the hope that he’d see his numerical designation was arbitrary—surely whatever it stood for wouldn’t be as meaningful as how old I felt on the inside.
“No,” he laughed, attempting to be inside my joke. “I mean you have 12 violations. Your animals and personal items are still in view.”
“Actually,” I said, “They’re in the process of deciding where to go. They (I) know they can’t stay inside my cubicle, so I’m rounding them up for transport. It’s a shame keeping them at home because at home the whole thing is mine, so I don’t need my animal stand-ins there. But here I have to remind myself of my menagerie.”
“There’s no room in a professional workspace for personal animals,” Sanders said.
I imagined it also wouldn’t be OK if I happened to bring my Golden Retriever, Pixie, in. I supposed the ban on animals also included three-dimensional, fleshly ones.
“OK, Sanders, I’ll make a deal with you. You can haul away this box of my ‘personal animals’ if you promise to take one for yourself, and prop it up some place in your home—where it can be a point of reflection. And I don’t mean a reflecting decal; I mean something to think about.”
He looked at the rubber chickens and plastic alligators, and weighed the birds and the reptiles in either hand, moving his hands up and down as though they were two halves of a scale he was trying to balance.
“The alligator is more space efficient, but the rubber chicken can be folded up for traveling,” he said.
“Yes, life is such a hardship,” I said, “when you have to choose from amongst your animals, instead of enjoying them all.
Linda and Miranda were off shuttling their boxes of personal paraphernalia down to the parking lot. But the remnants of the stick-on sparkle could be seen. I wondered when Sanders would begin peeling the sparkle away.
“In the end, space efficiency always comes first,” Sanders decided. “I’ll take the alligator.”
As I handed him the alligator, he looked down and recorded on his clicker the diminution of another of my personal items, and turned all around, finally attempting to fit the sparkle-decaled area Linda had created into his system of done and have not done; aligns and not aligns.
“The sparkle is hard to document because it isn’t in any one in particular’s cubicle,” he said. “It’s a permeating factor, and my environmental calculator doesn’t make allowances for deviations that permeate.”
“Maybe you should create a new factor to take into consideration widespread, endemic sparkle,” I said. “It’s like the sky in here; it’s everywhere, but not in any one place in particular. It’s just something we all work under—the various sparkles.”
“New factors are out of the question,” he said, looking down with regret at his clicker. “I have to fit everything into the categories that corporate programmed into this monitor.”
“I guess you’ll have to tell them you’re in search of new factors so sparkle can be taken into account,” I said. I gathered up my remaining animals and personified office supplies, and turned to walk down the hall that led to the exit, where I could figure out where to take my menagerie next.
Glancing behind, I noticed the sparkle stuck to the walls (so bad I wondered if Noisen would be fined for it by the building’s owners); Sanders studying his monitoring clicker so hard he didn’t see me; and me in a sparkle-overlaid mirror Linda put up last week in the hall, the sparkles across the mirror proving my reflection back to me, full of too much glint for me not to notice myself.