Mythical Animal at the Coffee Machine

I got a Snickers bar forgetting my role as a mythical animal. I knew mythical animals should stick to foods grown in gardens, but I just wasn’t in the mood, so I slunk to the vending machine. I wondered if I would be noticed, and figured if I was, so little is known about the eating habits of mythical animals that it wouldn’t make any difference.

I heard people happy in the morning, asking each other about their weekends and probably making up stories (I was mythical, so I assumed everyone else was, too, and was just pretending otherwise).

“Oh, it was nice, we went down to the South Street Seaport, and they were having a street fair down there…”

“It was OK—we helped my father-in-law move into a new condo in Park Slope…”

“It was great! My sister was in town, and we went to this new club down in Tribeca—Capital R—and we stayed until they were ready to close…”

They didn’t see me, so my Snickers eating and coffee drinking didn’t offend them. As a mythical animal, I wanted to be glamorous and other worldly, and didn’t think it was exotic enough to eat Snickers bars and drink coffee in the morning. I should be off in a swamp somewhere like the Loch Ness Monster, or out foraging in a remote valley for rare berries.

Lacking rare berries, I skulked unseen to my cubicle. I had a window and liked to stare at the people across the street having meetings. I could easily see into a meeting room with a white, modern, almost plastic-looking table, two sofas and abstract artwork on the wall. A girl with a long, blond ponytail usually presided over the meetings, and the people she met with usually would smile and nod their heads at her and didn’t appear to say much. Either she was their boss or they thought she was so dumb they were just humoring her. A lot of times she would stand up, rather than sit down, behind her desk, as she spoke to them, and they would remain sitting and nodding and smiling.

In nearly a year of staring, they never once looked back at me, violating that phenomenon of the stared-at-the-back–of-the-head somehow feeling a stranger’s eyes on them, and reflexively turning to stare back.

“Gary is out today, do you want to look through his drawers to see if he left any spare change around?” Linda, the girl who sat in the next cubicle over, said to a work friend. “I’d like to stock up on my Hershey rations.”

I, meanwhile, had gravitated away from the window and into my work, calculating owed payments from the last month. I didn’t report to anyone in the office because my boss, Gladys, was based at another location, and I didn’t work with anyone else in the company, so I just e-mailed my completed tasks to Gladys, or texted her questions. Otherwise, I was left to my numbers and the write-ups of meetings and upcoming events I was charged with.  I was a public relations manager, so I spent my days alternating between writing press releases, and once a month, submitting accruals of money we owed event contractors.

My latest assignment—behind the accrual of numbers—was to promote a charity event for a new irrigation system. So I spent an hour or two  super-imposing eyeballs into cactuses. I also sifted through photos of dead leaves looking for just the right crevice to insert my eyeballs into. Nobody interrupted me in my work, looking for dead or dried up pieces of nature to insert my eyeballs into.

“Is it raining yet?” Emily Stone, an office mate, said.  “I want to go to the gym after work, but if it’s raining, I think I’ll just go straight home because I forgot my umbrella.” She was talking to Greg Norse, who sat next to her. The two of them sat on the opposite side of the cubicle wall to me. They had walked around to my cubicle, which had a window, but they had looked over (or under) me, straight out the window without acknowledging me. I didn’t mind that they didn’t acknowledge me because it helped me retain my mythology.

My eyeballs set to dried-up plants, I turned away from the screen in front of me, and began inspecting the florescent landscape. The office was washed in grays, and the aroma of lemony disinfectant was in the air. One of my coworkers was phobic of dust, and so at least a few times a day sprayed his cubicle with “all-natural” cleaning solution. It made my eyes burn, which was odd, I thought, since it’s supposed to be “all-natural.” In a way it made sense, though. Given my status as “the other,” things that didn’t hurt most people, hurt me.

The turquoise flowers Glinda tacked to her wall last week, across the cubicle aisle from me, stared unseeing at me, not unlike the people around me. There were abstract eyes weaved into the center of the flowers. I felt comforted knowing they could stare at me but not see me.  A lot of our co-workers thought the unseeing eyes were creepy, but they were the norm to me as a mythical animal.

“Your eyeball flowers are creeping me out,” Hillary, one of the other girls sitting around us, said to Glinda. “It reminds me of one of those paintings where the eyes follow you, only this is much worse because the eyes aren’t connected to a person. They’re just stuck inside a flower.”

The disembodied eyes did follow the observer everywhere, but I saw them as no different than the people across the way in the view from my window. I saw them, tracked their movements, but if they looked back at my window, they gave no indication that they noticed me.

“Why would a flower need eyes?” Hillary said. “What does it need to see anyway? All it does all day is grow and wait for bees to come along.”

Why does anyone need eyes, I wondered to myself. I worked alongside people like Glinda and Hillary, and they never noticed me, anymore than the eyeballed flower noticed them. The florescent lights glaring down on me, I looked up, and noticed a few of them flickering, which reminded me of stars twinkling at night. With the daylight from the windows and the florescent illumination overhead, I felt that it was too bright to distinguish anything. If it’s dark outside, and there’s just a little light here and there, from a stray lit-up window, a full moon, or a gathering of bright stars, particular things are pointed out to you—like a spotlight on a stage in a darkened theatre.

Maybe my mythical self was too much the same color as the lighting overhead, so I blended into the cubicle walls and the windowpanes. I thought maybe people who were far away, like the workers across the way in that other building could see me if I stared at them long enough. Maybe I was like a painting that you have to stand back from to fully see.

That’s when I decided to start slinking around more instead of doing my work. I was always so reliable maybe that was the problem. Nobody bothered to think of me because they could take it for granted that I would turn my assignments in on time, and that there was no need to worry about me. I was punished for my superiority. My grandness as an employee turned me into a mythical creature.

So, I got up and began rustling papers on the edge of Glinda’s desk, the way an animal in the woods might slink up to the parameter of a person’s backyard and begin riffling through the hedges or nosing around in the garbage.  “Somebody looks as though she’s been neglecting her skin,” I said as loud as I could, knowing the kind and gentle rarely were noticed. “I think you’ve been washing your face with sandpaper, Glinda.”

“Did you hear something, Hillary? It sounded like a woodpecker outside, or one of those birds with an annoying cawing sound.”

I knew I was mythological, but never thought of myself as part of the bird family. I thought I was more closely related to the Loch Ness Monster. Except, of course, that I had better taste. I began knocking on Glinda’s desk, and changed my tact, now insulting her work. “This work really isn’t your best, dear,” I said sarcastically.

“There it is again!” Glinda said. “It’s that weird bird sound again, like a bird that’s been injured and can’t fly up off the sidewalk.”

Well, I kind of felt like a crippled bird, but looking at myself in the long mirror in the ladies room (I was a female mythical animal), I never noticed any feathers. I didn’t think I had wings because I never got any place fast, so how could I be flying?

They were mistaken about my bird status, but it was possible I was some other non-human being they felt free to only see in their peripheral vision. How about a unicorn galloping at the edge of the woods, or here in the city, at the edge of the stores’ entrances? Or maybe a centaur shaking down the vending machine in the copy room because her second candy bar of the day got stuck?

I banged the vending machine as hard as I could, and the eyes of those around me fixed on the Snicker’s dangling mid-candy bar row, but looked past me again. “Weird,” Steve, one of our accountants, said who sat nearby. “It’s the haunted vending machine.” Another co-worker wondered, laughing, if we were having an earthquake.

With commotions and negative commentary getting me nowhere, I decided the thing to do would be to start stealing. I would jamb the engagement ring of a gal named Bethany who sat around the corner from me into the vending machine.

She usually took off her ring to wash her hands, so I would follow her into the ladies room, steal the ring and then find a crevice in the vending machine to drop it into, so along with Milky Ways, Twizzler’s and potato chips, you could insert a few coins for a chance to win a diamond engagement ring. If I acted soon, the machine couldn’t be opened and the ring easily retrieved because the repairman was on vacation. Ordinarily, you could call the vending machine company to help out with something like this, but our company was so cheap, it bought the machine from a vending supplier who was now out of business, and had it stocked with leftovers from the CEO’s home. One time we even noticed miniature bottles of Scope and packets of Lactaid alongside the candy. I guess he thought he was doing us a favor while at the same time cleaning out his medicine chest.

The lodging of the engagement ring in the vending machine interested me because it was something Bethany was always waving around and smiling about, and getting noticed for. As a mythical animal whose existence had not yet been recognized, I was very resentful of that attention. Why should a sparkling ring garner so much recognition when my stampedes and habitat were so brilliant?

My markings must offer me camouflage like a zebra’s stripes or a leopard’s spots, but when I looked at my reflection, I only saw plain flesh-colored skin. However it happened, I was effectively camouflaged to those around me, so sidling around the corner at the sink counter in the ladies room and snatching the ring wouldn’t be hard.

Bethany, as I contemplated my plans, stared at her ring, holding it up closer to the florescent lights on the ceiling, twirling her hand this way and that. She once joked that she stared at it so much people were going to begin to think she was a mental patient.

When she got up from her desk, I followed at her heels—she wore that over-done red-bottom-of-the-shoes fashion—following her straight into the stinky ladies room.

She stopped to admire herself—her newly ringed self—in the long mirror. She twirled her hand and then walked back and forth like a strutting peacock, watching her reflection to see what her ring would look like as she strolled down the street. “Yoo-hoo, oh Bethany,” I said, as though I were hollering into a canyon or an empty hallway that echoes easily. “Do you hear me?  I’m going to steal your wonderful new ring and hang it by the potato chips in the vending machine so anyone who wants can extract it for 85 cents.”

She began happily (or nervously?) humming to herself, taking off her ring and washing it, as she did several times a day. She had just gotten the ring last week, and was still excited enough about it to act like that. She was like a teenage boy who kept washing and waxing his new car.

She slipped the ring off her finger, and began rubbing it under the water (she didn’t trust the ladies room soap enough to squirt any of it on her prized gem), and swaying from left to right, as if she were swaying to music (or as if she were agitated?).  When she turned her back to gaze one more time in the long mirror, I reached out my hand, paw, or whatever it is you’d call a mythical animal’s appendages, and snatched it.

I twirled it along my index finger, and then my ring finger, seeing what it felt like to be marked by someone else’s possession. I didn’t feel bad for having taken it because I didn’t think it was worthwhile to be marked by possession and, also, because I didn’t think it meant anything more to Bethany than any other attention-getting piece of fashion.

I held the ring in my hand, winding all my fingers around it, balling my hand into a first around it, and walked out the bathroom door.  “Oh, tra, la, la, la, I’ve got Bethany’s ring, and, oh, tra, la, la, I’m going to hang it in the vending machine like a bag of potato chips,” I sang as loudly as I could, with no response.

Bethany was still in the lady’s room, so probably hadn’t realized yet that she’d lost it. I wondered how much hysteria there would be, and whether the opportunity to insert my presence would finally arrive. As soon as I heard the clacking of her heels down the hall, back to her desk, I sashayed there (mythical animals like to transport themselves in style), and lingered, waiting for her to notice there was something she was missing.

She got back to work for a minute or two, typing into her computer, and then all of a sudden she gasped. As she went for her mug of herbal tea with her left hand, she must have finally noticed what was gone.  “Where’s my ring?” she asked with an increasingly rising voice. “I must have left it along the sink in the bathroom.” She shoved her chair back and ran back down the hall to check. I, meanwhile, laughed, twirling the ring around my forefinger. It’s horrible to lose something, or to take something you enjoyed taking, but have no use for. But it’s funny nonetheless.  Well, I have to admit, I was having fun with it, though I knew there was nothing for me to do with an engagement ring.

When she came clamoring down the hall a minute or two later, raking her hand through her hair, rubbing her hands back and forth, and pulling at her fingers with reddening face and eyes, I looked to the Snicker’s, Three Musketeers and Milky Way rack in the vending machine.

I didn’t have to prowl or even hide the ring up my sleeve. I held my forefinger high in the air, continuing to twirl the ring as I marched to the candy bar rack of the vending machine. On my tippy toes, I tried to insert the ring into the machine, and when that failed, I stood on top of a box filled with office supplies and slipped it in, stretching and angling my hand until the ring looped over the rack with the hanging Snickers bars.

“I don’t know what could have happened, this is crazy!” I heard Bethany wail. When I rounded the corner back to my cubicle, I saw her pacing up and down the aisle next to her workstation, frantically rubbing her hands together. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said, her voice choking with a sob.

“Bethany,” I said, standing right behind her. “Why don’t you get yourself a Milky Way Bar or a bag of potato chips to make yourself feel better?  Chocolate and potato chips are good way to mourn the loss of an engagement ring, especially ‘cause you have to tell your fiancé about it tonight.”  I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed.

“I need chocolate,” Bethany said. “I just got a bad craving for it.”  She darted her head around and looked across the office, as if she thought she heard something but wasn’t sure.

I heard her coins jangling against the inside of the vending machine, and wondered when she would notice the additional “snack” among the candy bars.  She kept turning her head to the side, seeing “me” maybe in her peripheral vision, but deciding to ignore or doubt what she saw. I say “me” rather than plain me because I was mythical, and as a mythical animal, I didn’t know myself whether I existed.

I heard Bethany smacking her lips as she ate her Milky Way bar, and at the same time, I heard high-pitched squeals from the copy room, where the vending machine was.  It was Jill from Data magazine, a publication devoted to the needs of data analysts. She didn’t know about Bethany’s lost ring, but she did happen to spot a $10,000 diamond engagement ring alongside the Snickers. In fact, as luck would have it, she put 85 cents into the vending machine, and she got a two for one—a Snicker’s bar plus an engagement ring. No bad dates required, and chocolate to boot.

Jill trotted out of the copy room in the orthopedic clogs she always favored—and which she had painted a design of clouds and snails on—and announced to everyone her great luck. “I got a Snicker’s plus an engagement ring for 85 cents!”

Bethany cheered up at the news her ring had been found.

“Jill, you have no idea how relieved I am!” Bethany said, extending her left hand toward Jill, and sighing with a laugh. “So, where did you find it?”

“It was in with the Snickers bars in the vending machine.”

“But I was there just a few minutes ago to get my Milky Way!” Bethany said.  “I don’t know how I could have missed it.”

“Yeah, a diamond ring usually stands out in a crowd of candy bars,” Jill said.

“Well, the important thing is you found it!” Bethany said breathlessly. “I’m very grateful!  So, where is it?”

“In my drawer, all locked up and safe,” Jill said.

“Well, thank you very much for taking such good care of it!” Bethany said. “I hate to ask, but would you mind getting it for me before I forget?”

Bethany was trying to be as nice as possible, which was touching considering that I never thought much of her as a human being. Us mythical animals don’t feel a kinship with most humans. So, to see one acting kind of nice was a happy surprise.

“I was thinking it was mine now,” Jill said without laughing.  “After all, I was the one who saw it among the Snickers. You were there just a few minutes before me and didn’t see it. You’d think if it was yours, you would have spotted it right away.”

“This is ridiculous!” Bethany said. “Everyone around here has seen me wearing it!”

“But why didn’t you see it in with the candy bars in the vending machine like I did?”

“I can’t believe this!” Bethany said, beginning to whimper and pace back and forth.  “I don’t know—maybe my eyes aren’t as good at seeing details as yours.”

“I don’t know how you could miss a diamond ring hanging on a rack with candy bars. It seems like one of those things that anybody would notice.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I just know that’s my ring!” Bethany yelped, starting to sob with frustration. “I’m going to talk to HR about this.”

I was enjoying the scene quite a bit, especially since it “appeared” that no one saw me. Well, it was bittersweet, I suppose. No one saw me, and I had hoped hanging the ring on the Snicker’s bar wrack would finally bring attention to myself.  But on the other hand, I was enjoying that fantasy of being a fly on the wall when something really funny happens—it’s even more funny because no one knows you’re there listening, and, so, no one alters their behavior. You get a chance to see people as they really are in a silly crisis.  Jill was smacking her lips as she ate the Snicker’s bar. The ring drama hadn’t made a dent in her appetite, and she didn’t care about Bethany’s angst. I started back to my cubicle to be unseen watching the blond pony tail girl and her work group across the way through their enormous glass windows.

“Hey you,” I heard just as I turned on my heel (or hoof?). “Pretty funny, huh?” Jill said to me. “Bethany is such a spoiled brat, who cares about her anyway?  I’m sure he’ll just buy her another one. She gets whatever she wants in life.”

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King of the Daffodils

It was my first week as Madam Daffodils, and I hadn’t considered that it would be shortened to the pedestrian, stuffy “Madam.”  So, I had been telling my friends for days to just call me “Daf,” or “Daffy,” if they weren’t kind enough to use the full Madam Daffodils. I didn’t like being a cartoon duck or having a name that sounded similar to “daft,” a word that means stupid, but since the point was to escape the ordinariness of “Anne,” I could think of no worse name fate than to be called “Madam.” It made me feel like an old lady at a shoe store asking the clerk to go to the backroom to find a pair of brown pumps.  The last thing I wanted was to be a seeker of brown pumps—and to be so uptight about seeking the brown pumps that I would need to be called “Madam” in the process.

Some people by this time assumed I was becoming mentally ill, which helped. They felt sorry for me, and thought if they could give me comfort by calling me the full “Madam Daffodils,” they better do it to avoid facilitating my slide into madness. Though, of course, if I were really losing my mind, a psychologist would argue the worst thing they could do is “enable” me by agreeing to call me Madam Daffodils.

With spring approaching, I wondered whether I should begin preparing for my floral name companions (couldn’t call them namesakes since I was named after them rather than the other way around). Spring was the season of daffodils, so I wanted to find a place to nurture these flowers whose name I took. The problem was I lived in the East Village in New York City, and didn’t have access to fertile earth I could ask to grow daffodils. I heard about places in some of the boroughs, like Brooklyn, where you could pay a nominal fee to “own” your own square of garden, but I make it a point not to go out of my way in life, and so needed easy access. Complicating matters was Sugar Plum Jones. Unlike his mistress, Madam Daffodils, he didn’t respect forms of life other than his own. He respected me, but I suspected that was because he thought I was a cat. A psychic once told me Sugar Plum thought he was my father.  Flowers, on the other hand, were outside his orbit of respect. He immediately offended the daffodil community in our apartment. He dug at the soil at the bottom of the planter as though it were a litter box, and bit the flowers’ petals.

That’s when I arrived at my solution: I would satisfy his need to dominate by crowning him “King of the Daffodils.”  To illustrate the subservient position of the daffodils to the throne of Sugar Plum Jones, I sacrificed several of my already-grown daffodils into a crown for Sugar Plum. He batted around for about a minute with the crown of daffodils fitted around his ears, but then a calm descended on him, and while it could have been the tuna I introduced as a sacred King of the Daffodils rite, I think it was the mysterious spirit of his new mantle (and not the fast consumption of a can of fish) that assuaged Sugar Plum, lulling him to sleep under his crown of daffodils. After making myself a daffodils crown and consuming a box of Mike & Ikes as my own sacred rite, I began wondering who else I could lull into non-offensive quietude via flower crown. Sure, it was a tried-and-worn out Hippie strategy to wear flower crowns and expect empirical results, but since it worked for sophisticated brains like those possessed by Sugar Plum and myself, I thought it also could work on another sophisticate: the CEO of Noisen Media Enterprises, where I worked.

We were in the midst of a deep financial recession, business results were lagging, and the company had tried everything—layoffs, salary and hiring freezes, and crummy business travel arrangements (as a go-the-extra-mile touch of ostentatious suffering), so why not daffodil crowns?  The trick would be first getting a face-to-face appointment with David Van Doon, and then convincing him of the efficacy of daffodil crowns, explaining how what’s good enough (and empirically effective) for Sugar Plum Jones is just the thing for him.

The appointment part turned out not to be so hard. Noisen  is big on being “open,” and so Van Doon has committed himself to spending one afternoon a week visiting, in five minute sessions, any employee who signs up to see him. I expected no one would want to see him given the wave of layoffs that had gripped the company and the fact that he doesn’t look like much fun, but I discovered he’s surprisingly popular. The first open appointment was at 2 p.m. about a month from the day I decided to Crown him Human King of the Daffodils (the feline mantle taken, of course, by Sugar Plum Jones).  I realized Van Doon wasn’t a cat, but I thought the daffodils crown would work on him because he seemed feline in some ways. For one thing, he spent a lot of time grooming himself. He was known to keep a portable, fold-up mirror in his desk drawer, had a personal shopper (at the company’s expense), made weekly trips to the nail salon for manicures/pedicures, and had a habit of smoothing back his sandy hair when being questioned in “town hall meetings” by hostile employees. It reminded me of how Sugar Plum likes to lick his paws and smooth back the fur around his ears when I catch him scratching the sofa—as if he thought he could smooth out or groom off his infraction. Then, too, he wasn’t all that appealing, so if he were my husband, I think I would try letting him out at night and then letting him back inside in the morning as a way of avoiding his nocturnal caterwauling. Van Doon lacked subtlety in his approach to “workforce management,” thinking nothing of lopping off hundreds of employees at one time to enhance his financial results for the quarter. So, he seemed simple enough to be quieted by a bowl of milk after spending the night out in the rain.

He was aggressive, though hapless, about pursuing business competitors, launching products and services like the annual Executive Directory of Thrift, a yearly guidebook to the latest corporate cost-saving strategies that really should have been called the Executive Guide to Cheap, but which he really thought might be a competitor to Fortune or BusinessWeek. When asked which supplement or guidebook published by either of those brands, he never could say for sure, and would start meticulously pawing back his already amply combed-through hair. His business approach reminded me of Sugar Plum pouncing his toy mice or male cats fighting in an alley at night. He was a primal man who had put on personal grooming airs but who, at heart, was Sugar Plum’s furless, clawless brother. He also, incidentally, seemed to have been neutered as a kitten, which may explain why his pursuits always fell short of their target—he was missing that extra hunting oomph needed to get the job done.

I wanted to steer clear of becoming like one of those latter day religious prophets who hand out flowers at the airport, but I did want to offer him the crown of Daffodils as part of a proposal to be less antithetical to growth, and not to mention, just plain nicer. Van Doon was always talking about growth of finances and growth of “market share,” but that’s where his “growth” ended. My colleagues and I felt in a state of stasis if not on-the-job decline. In addition to layoffs, some of my co-workers were suffering Loss of The Small Luxuries in Life.  For instance, why couldn’t we have the fake-sugar sweetener that doesn’t cause cancer?  And what happened to our complimentary white plastic forks, knives, and spoons?  We were horrified to think the thin wooden stirrers would be the next to go.  As if the situation wasn’t bleak enough, our toilet paper had been downgraded to one or one and a half ply rather than the luxurious 2-ply standard, and the hand soap was no longer pleasantly fragranced. It was supposed to have no scent at all, but to me it smelled like women’s correctional institution or what they’d put in the soap dispensers at a city unemployment office. These latest non-Daffodil, non-growth moves were set in cascading motion about five years prior when Van Doon and the executive board decided to do away with water coolers (the kind fancy enough to get delivered every few days ). They were sure our profits would begin to soar if only we didn’t chat while drinking water. The dangers of communal water drinking to a company’s financial health was one of their big postulates. If there were ever such a thing as The Corporate Channel on Cable , I think Noisen might have sponsored public service announcements about  the riskiness of providing employees with free plastic eating utensils, too indulgent toilet paper, and a reason to congregate while under the influence of cold water.

If Van Doon could become more in touch with Daffodils (if he could even just touch a Daffodil), I thought maybe it would inspire him to nurture and grow, rather than forget to water, cut-back, and eventually pull up by the roots. My goal was that he should follow the lead of Sugar Plum (I wished Sugar Plum could be chairman of the Noisen Board of Directors), and, at least for a moment, wear the King of the Daffodils crown, but I also wanted to leave him with his own window sill Daffodil garden to care for and grow.  I would know my plan worked if our layoffs subsided, and if the state of our toilet paper improved. We needed jobs, but we also needed not to be chafed.  If Daffodil Therapy worked with Van Doon, my plan was to start a new, widespread movement in which secretly (though obviously) anti-growth CEOs were presented with Daffodils to foster more humanoid characteristics.

The first barrier to the humanoid is the reflexive response, the responses that come from (seemingly) live humans, but which sound like the voice activated systems programmed to give a set number of answers to a set number of responses. The afternoon I went to see Van Doon I anticipated feeling like I was having a conversation with an airline reservation system. “David Van Doon,” he said, extending his hand. It sounded like a person on the street corner handing out fliers, who was monotonously repeating the name of whatever brand he was hawking. I gave him credit, though, for getting out of his high-backed, black leather chair and walking to the door to greet me. I wondered why his desk and chair were arranged so that his back was facing the picture window at the back of the office. The view offered a panorama of downtown New York, with the Brooklyn Bridge at the lower right corner and the Empire State Building at the center. Hard to see any flowers, let alone distinguish Daffodils, from up there, but he could pigeon-watch, so I couldn’t imagine finding efficient piles of un-crinkled, seemingly untouched computer printouts more compelling than wondering where all the pigeons were going. “Don’t you want to see the pigeons?” I asked to cut to my latest chase. “Excuse me,” was all he could say in response, not laughing, but turning down the corners of his mouth as though I were being facetious. “What do you mean?”  Imagine, having to enlighten a CEO raking in about $20 million a year about why the flight of pigeons outside a picture window with a view of all of Lower Manhattan was more important than his sundry reports. “You’ve got a pigeon dance right outside your window. It’s cool, don’t you think?”  With that, he finally smiled a little, thinking me cute rather than serious, which angered me, though I was set enough on delivering the Mantle of Daffodils to let it go. “I have a little work to do,” he said in response, laughing and gesturing with a sweep of his white dress shirt-sleeved arm at the top of his desk. The color of that desk didn’t coordinate well with the thick black leather of his window-ignorant chair. Nobody cared enough to think of wood harmonies?  Astounding!  A black leather chair and a chestnut colored desk. I guess his designers were striving for contrast. To me it signaled a man untouched by the colors he spent his life backed by and leaning into (I got a sense not much labored hovering took place there).

“What can I do for you?” he said looking down at me in the kindly, though condescending, way of a teacher nearing retirement (or one everyone wishes would retire because he’s becoming hard of hearing and senile). Van Doon wasn’t old. In fact, I bet he wasn’t more than around 50, but he just kept reminding me of the old math teacher I had with the shaky hands who didn’t understand how I could do well at my algebra homework, but then fail his tests. “Who’s doing your homework?” he would always ask me, not believing I could figure it out if I had the time to relax and think. At any rate, there seemed a lot Van Doon would find incredulous about me if I tried to explain—which, unfortunately, I would have to do if he were to wear his crown of Daffodils. “Well, I’m kind of confused,” I said. I wasn’t confused at all, but knew he expected me to be confused, and that saying so would give me time to think of what I really wanted to ask him. “About…”

“You’ve cut a lot of jobs, and are stalling promotions and raises for at least six months, but you’ve hired senior-level people who have salaries much higher than the people you let go, and who do much less hands-on work than the people you let go.”  I was trembling a little like I do when my body is reflexively nervous despite having calmed my brain. “Those were strategic hires, like the company-wide e-mail my assistant sent last week explained.”

“Not to be rude, but what does the word “strategic” mean in this case?” I asked.

I would say that I was so meek and mild that I wondered at that point whether he would throw me out, but once I got going, I had a feeling I was in no danger of being shut up or pushed out. And not because of any grandeur I possessed, but just the opposite—he didn’t take me seriously. I was pushing into my middle thirties, and he was no more than 20 years older (though either I looked very good or he looked not-so-very-good so that it looked like more of a difference), but he affected the look of a man listening to a child. He wouldn’t throw me out any more than he would throw a six-year-old out regaling him with stories of her talking lollipop.

“I’m evaluating all sides of the issue, and keeping alert for positive synergies and abilities to facilitate our speed to market and all other endeavors to keep our customers happy,” he said, smiling and without blinking.

I started laughing, thinking he was only joking, playing the role of the prototype of the corporate man, like that famous photo from the 1950s of huddled masses of “corporate men” all wearing the same clothes, hat, and physical stance, and apparently all headed in the same direction, wherever that happened to be. When he didn’t laugh back, smile, or blink, I changed tact. I remembered that I also needed to keep my job. “Oh, that’s interesting,” I said. “Synergies are pretty important, and, of course, you can’t discount speed to market.”

“Exactly,” he said.

It wasn’t going well. The first step to Daffodils was honesty, and he didn’t seem willing to exert the effort and risk for an honest, Daffodil-worthy conversation.  Van Doon was a pragmatist who didn’t like risk. He was like a cowboy afraid to get on a horse meanwhile asking—or, no, “strategizing,”—a plan to combat the Indians that his wife would have to see through. The key to Daffodils entering the world of Van Doon was appealing to his need to be as personally safe as possible.

“What I really came to talk to you about is related, actually,” I began. “Have you given any thought to corporate social responsibility?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s a hot topic right now. Did you get the company-wide e-mail last week about the blood drive?”

“Oh, the blood drive, of course, now I remember,” I said, wondering if any of us at Noisen had enough blood to spare these days to contribute. I read somewhere that extreme exhaustion can lead to anemia, and felt confident that at least several of my co-workers were suffering from it. If I hadn’t been so focused on my elevation of Van Doon to Daffodil acceptance I might have suggested a gimmicky event to promote our brands in which Noisen employees compete against each other for top vampire. We could invite all our New York City advertising prospects and have fun with it. You have to do something after all when your employees are as pale as ours were. But I digress…

“Well, not that I don’t just adore giving blood, but I was thinking it might be smart for the company to branch out a little. Instead of giving out our blood and money when natural disasters strike, I was thinking we could do something more fun.”

Van Doon smiled as if stifling a laugh. I think he liked my bit about “adoring giving blood” and “giving out our blood and money,” but didn’t want to let on too much that he found it funny.

“I’m open to all suggestions. What were you thinking?”

“Daffodils,” I said, deciding the power of Daffodils spoke for themselves.

“I’m not familiar. Is that a media company you think we could invest in or partner with?  One of the things I’m hoping to do around Noisen’s CSR initiative is collect best practices from other companies.  What kinds of things is Daffodils doing?

I hated to interfere with his rising zeal, so I decided to hedge off a bit, so to speak.  “Growing. They’re doing a lot of growing.”

“Oh, I see. They’re in a growth mode. Very impressive in this economic climate.”

“Well,” I offered, “it’s sunny days for daffodils.”

“Where is Daffodils based?  Are they a multi-national?”

“Most definitely.  I think they’re in most countries.”

Van Doon was getting more than zealous. He had begun rubbing his hands together and pacing the length of his office back and forth. The idea of a growth company in hard financial times was like Sugar Plum with the cat nip. He looked like a man about to break a code, or maybe more like a man who had been fiddling with a lock to a house he wasn’t supposed to have access to, who had finally found a way to break in without breaking the windows or setting off the alarms. There was something a little sleazy about his excitement over Daffodils.

“Do you think they might be interested in an acquisition, or, um, a merger?” he asked, forgetting, I guess, that he was talking to a “child.”

“Beats me. Why don’t you go outside and just try to pick them, and see for yourself?”  I was growing tired of my little joke. I certainly never meant to get myself creeped out by Van Doon’s scheming brain—or his “business savvy,” as it’s called around here.

“Excuse me?  Do they have offices in our neighborhood?”

“Offices on nearly every sidewalk this time of year. Look outside your window.”

Peering out the window he spent his days with his back to, Van Doon slapped his forehead and laughed. “Oh, the flower!  You’re talking about daffodil flowers?”

“Yep. Just the flowers.” I was impressed that he had laughed instead of gasped and sent me away. It might have been more of the disregard-because-she’s-at-the-level-of-a-child. But, maybe (was it possible?) he had a sense of humor.

“You want Noisen to start selling daffodils as part of our offering to our customer base—as a way of reaching out to a new market segment?”

I guessed I was wrong about the sense of humor, or maybe his wasn’t strongly developed so that he’d need a clown or comedian performing directly in front of him to sustain it past the immediate impact of a remark. “No, I was thinking that it could be both a symbolic and literal tool to inspire people at the company to be more sincere.”

“Why would you want them to be sincere?  How do you monetize that?”

Now, you’d think this question would insult or rub me the wrong way, but I felt like I understood his perspective, so I played along. “Well, salespeople, and anyone trying to convince anyone else of anything, like us writers asking reluctant sources for interviews or information, has a better shot if they ask it from a sincere standpoint. People you’re trying to get to do things can spot a phony pretty fast.”

“I still don’t understand. How do daffodils figure into all this?

“I was thinking the daffodils as a part of nature seem pure and they are what they are, as they say. A daffodil isn’t pretending or hoping to be a tulip. They’re a natural, rather than a manipulated, phenomenon. I thought maybe we could have a contest for finding the best bed of daffodils in the city this spring, and the winner would get to have dinner with you—as you wore a crown of daffodils around your head and you presented a similar crown to the winner of the contest.”

“Or—what about me—taking a, um, more active role?”

Well, I was excited, but wondered what he could be up to given his lack of enthusiasm up till now for anything outside the realm of mergers, acquisitions, “streamlining,” and synergies. “Do you want to be a judge, or the judge, of the contest, or maybe work it into an advertising campaign for one of our brands?”

“Not exactly. Let me show you something,” he said obliquely as he headed to the top drawer of his desk. He pulled out about five photos of a man with dark blond hair and about his same height wearing a variety of outfits who I can say, scientifically speaking as a resident of the East Village, was a drag queen. In one photo, “she” wore a rose in “her” hair (along with a Hawaiian grass skirt and bikini top that had been left unstuffed and flat). Upon closer inspection, I gasped.

“It’s you!  I had no idea…”

“That I’d be open to becoming King of the Daffodils?”


“And, heads-up, I’m streamlining your department if your division doesn’t make its numbers at the end of the quarter.  You might want to start polishing your resume—but you didn’t hear it from me.”

“No, of course not. So, layoffs and “streamlining” still a go?”

“I’m always looking for synergies…”

So, there you have it, Noisen’s David Van Doon isn’t evolved, but at least he’s (he’s?) got style.

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My Sack of Suns

My Sack of Suns

I buried a sack of suns

hoping a hungry dog

or cat

searching for mislaid mice

might dig it up.

But my bed of seeds

gold petals of yellow roses

bloomed anyway;

yellow roses

framing the yard

my porch

my window frame

my reading nook,

too fragrant to ignore.

The Other Sidewalkers

The shadows of the other


were like derby dogs,

rushing so fast

getting ready

to be brusque

about accidentally

brushing my shoulders—

like dogs running

to a dinner table

with leftover pieces

of meat and crumbs of feast

scattered for their salivating chops.

Actually, to be kind,

more like dogs

attempting to be civilized

in upright humanoid


but not hiding

even in their shadows

they rushed to dinner

and the free side dishes

under the table.

They seemed to carry

raw steaks

in their briefcases and back packs,

their heads shadowing me,

bobbing up and down

dogs at the gate to the house

with the untidy dinner table

forgetting the cache

they already carried at their sides

and on their backs.


I like to trip up the tulips

cross the roots

of coordinated plantings.

But my bright juandice

rubs off on cheeks

and lawn mower blades

getting treated

to the latest poison—

not to ruin

the tulips’ bed.

The marble-framed front door

I’ve crept around

practicing deft

avoidance of pesticides,

surrounding the sculptured

front door, the landscaped

garden paths.

I Walked to the Edge

I walked to the edge

until the branch

was weighed down, the blossoms

at the end

crushed under

my feet.

Some blossoms

had closed back up

in a late spring

out of season


Others lasted

until the moment

I walked

to the end of the bough

I indulged in.

I walked to the edge

looking over

the ready-to-snap

edge of summer


watching the remnants

of a garage sale


in the grass beneath me.

A mirror with seashells

lay flat

on its back

reflecting me,

at the bough’s climax

towards the earth,

pointing me out

before I fell.

Elephants Have…

Elephants have

elephant dust

I don’t have to

kill them for.

Who needs


when you can take

elephant dust?

It’s more substantial

than pixie

or sawdust

and aids



and stampedes.

Preparing for 2012

When the seams

come loose from the moon

the stars will get thrown back

and the morning

will see out-of-light

stars on the ground,

stalking the vegetable garden.

The good part

about the moon coming apart

is it’s hard to go to work

with star and celestial orb


littering the roads.

Fill the Saucer of the Sun

Fill the saucer of the sun

when you see it

with imagination spears

of self-made


To be burned

by what you see inside


is as painful as rawhide

winter feet

on August beach,

but the shine stays

longer than seeing nothing

but smoothed-down shade.

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Madam Daffodils

I couldn’t stand being Anne Dunbar anymore. My mother told me it’s classy, but it didn’t feel like me, so a couple months ago I decided it had to go. But I didn’t want to replace it with anything that sounded similar. I didn’t want something that had the same initials only fancier. I didn’t want to be Annalise Du Cliffs or Arielle Duvalle or Artemis Duraddly.

So I thought maybe I should use the same system I used to pick a name for my cat five years ago: I thought of all the things I liked best about life, and then chose the one that gave me the best feelings for the longest time after saying it. Well, first there was Sugar Plum Jones  (on account of how much I like sweets); then Judge Hershey Bars (sweets again); June Strawberryshortcakes (sweets again, but summer, too);  Oceans Brine (love of the sea and over-salting my dinner plate); and, last, Oracular Destinies (my wish to have better eye sight instead of being nearsighted plus my hope destinies exist).

I chanted each of these names over and over again starting on a Friday night, and continued with it, all during the weekend, even under my breath while talking to my accountant about my taxes (it was tax season so Murster, Rum, and Cockly were in the office on a Saturday afternoon). Henry Murster probably thought I was running a prostitution ring or call girl service given the way I knew those names sounded, but I didn’t let that stop me, and he was too embarrassed to ask.  My cat would be very important to me (much more important than whatever I’d be getting back from the government), so I knew where my concentration belonged.

By Sunday that weekend, at about 8 p.m., I was getting a little nervous about not being able to name the kitten. She was a tabby cat that looked like a miniature tiger, but I would never call her just “tiger” because such a name is insulting. It’s like naming your son “John” or your daughter “Jennifer.”  My female tabby would never be a duplicate of any kind. I had met plenty of duplicates in the office, and most everywhere (especially the post office at noon), and had no intention of cultivating a feline assembly output cog.

So, with my nerves in such a state, I did what I do, and I wish I could tell you it was Scotch on the rocks or pot. But I don’t have a taste for anything other than sugar when life gets desperate. I had no choice but to turn to the lollipops. Grape lollipops—I lost count of how many—as an early spring storm set in outside made me feel  like I was in a black and white detective movie from the forties, or maybe an old fashioned Western, because I started imagining the lollipops were cigarettes or cigars. I decided I’d make my decision when my tongue had turned entirely purple. Not just part of it—the whole thing had to be purple, and then I’d know I’d been a prudent deliberator.

What I decided on was Sugar Plum Jones. While this could have been little more than a subconscious reflex due to the purple on my tongue and the fact that plums also are purple, I think it was a decision of transcendent authenticity. I had always loved the Nutcracker, and when you combine ballet with sweets, I felt I was being true to myself, and the things I really like (not just what I say I like), and that was the whole point.

Now I would have to do the same thing for myself because Anne Dunbar had to go. She had a “bar” as part of her name, and bars are what’s in prison and cages for big animals (they don’t have to be as big as bars if the animals are small, of course). Then, too, “Anne” is just one syllable, and it was a name given to royalty, which I hated.  Why would I want a name that was the same one given to people who were probably prejudiced and wouldn’t invite me in for scones?  I wanted to be called something that recalled to me a time I had a revelation.

So, I thought of my favorite poems.  “Patterns” by Amy Lowell I remembered liking a lot because I felt like I was wandering along patterned garden paths, all “boned and stayed,” and agreed that you could feel that way even in a garden, a place that makes you think of vibrancy and colors. I’ve always loathed the sound of lawn mowers and the obsession places like Central Florida have with symmetrically groomed, short lawns reminiscent of military haircuts. I feel strongly all greenery should be set free to be what it will, as much as we can let it while still living with it, so the idea of patterned garden paths, and the state of being stuffed or shuttered and boarded up inside yourself, spoke to me. I made a mental note at that part of my decision-making process of the connection I intuitively make between trueness and freely growing greenery.

Shrubs made into topiary is obscene, I thought to myself.  They had that at a hotel in Disney World I stayed at, so those English people with the fancy gardens that include topiary shouldn’t give themselves too much credit. Most of all I hated topiary (and still hate topiary) because a person should be able to appreciate the greenery for what it is rather than feeling they have to cut it up into something it’s not before it can be fully appreciated.

I also remembered liking the William Wordsworth poem, “Daffodils” so much. “Lonely as a cloud” felt like me, and his use of the word “solitude,”  and the way he internalized the field of daffodils was a lot like me, too. I like the way Daffodils are democratic in that they sometimes bloom in pre-arranged gardens, but just as often can be found scattered here and there by the side of the road or at the perimeter of the woods. You can find all flowers that way, but some, like roses or tulips, seem a lot harder to find by chance. Finding by chance is important to me.

So, I filed daffodils away into my mental folder of new Anne Dunbars. I hate the thought that you have to plan to find things. Where’s the genuine aura in that?  If you planned to find it, and worked at finding it, then how do you know you didn’t order it to you?  The unbound garden that has no restrictions or prisons placed on its growth, or any pre-definitions, is meaningful to me because it isn’t something I’ve ordered to be that way—it just is. I didn’t want to live my life as a philosophical military general, ordering everything from companionship to daffodils  to come to me. I wanted to see whom and what wanted, of its own accord, to come to me.  I didn’t seek anything but to be kind and receptive to what presented itself to me, and I hoped the places I presented myself would be receptive in kind. So, daffodils made perfect sense. They were where I needed them to be without ever having to ask.

The last flower drawing me to abandon my name was the rose. It also connected in my mind with poetry—with Robert Burns’ “Red, Red Rose” poem.  It was written over a hundred years before I was born, but I always liked to pretend he was talking about me, and it didn’t come hard imagining that. For one thing, I was born in June, so the line about being “newly sprung in June” felt like a direct reference to me. The part about loving the subject of the poem “Till a’ the seas gang dry” seemed right, too, so I filed that one away. Only “Rose” was too common a name for me. I didn’t want a name that thousands, if not millions, of other women had. I wanted something that if you were in the second grade and the teacher was taking roll call, there would be about no chance you’d hear your name refer to anyone but you.

I had become so frantic now in my deliberations that the purple lollipops were no longer getting sucked, but bitten, and bitten violently. I think lollipop pieces even began flying. I felt like I was at the threshold of an epiphany. But something was still missing, and I was embarrassed to admit what it was. I hate to tell you, but I really wanted to add some esteem to myself. I didn’t believe in royalty because I didn’t understand why so much should be heaped for free on some people’s plates while others were limping around starving just outside the gate, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want a little something for myself.

Queen Whomever-I-Ended-Up-Being wasn’t anything I would be called (whatever “I” ended up being), but maybe some other prefix I would enjoy, and could bring out like a toy, was necessary. I always liked France because I heard people lie around there a lot of the time, eating pastries and going to spas, and that’s my idea of a great country, so I figured on adding a French element of esteem to my name (which I had by now determined also would be tied to some form of greenery). How about “Madame” Somebody-Or-Other I shouted in glee, spitting purple lollipop fragments at the moment of religious revelation. But, hating pretention as I did (the planned, posed part of pretension), I thought “Madame” better be pronounced the American way. So, there it was: I would be a naturally occurring piece of greenery who came from a place where people said “Madam” rather than “Madame.”

For which part of greenery would be me, I looked to my arc of rational thinking. Roses are beautiful, and goddesses of flowers, but I didn’t expect to be a goddess or, as I previously explained, a being that would need to be cajoled and searched for. I wanted my friends to find me easily, and not have to go out of their way to preserve me, so I would need to be hardy.

So, daffodils won. I would thereafter be known as Madam Daffodils.

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Of Unicorns, Dog Sweaters and Pink Cake

The Unicorn You’ve Become

The unicorn
you’ve become
has an uneven
“slightly askew
for stylish effect,”
you say.
But I see
a unicorn
who’s cockeyed
searching for a way
to straighten
his adornment.
Left to the devices
of style,
you say you can
laugh off
your irregularities.


The Sinking Duck

The sinking duck
smoothing back feathers
keeps a light tread
in the drowning.
Reaching the pond’s
his quacks make music
in submerged acoustics.


The Dog

The dog
you carry around
with you
isn’t you
but you
refer to him
as if he were
You and the dog
both scratch
your ears a lot;
you both
get sent outside
when howling
too much indoors.
But the dog
keeps better track
of his tail.


Your Dog Sweater

Your dog sweater
fits so swell
your paws
look longer
than usual.
A Cocker Spaniel,
you could pass
for a Great Dane
puppy’s puppy.
Your fur
is set off
to perfection
by that color.
Your canine
are shown
at their best.
Sell your wares,
sell your wares
for meaty bones.


The Locusts Came

The locusts came
in the peach tree;
the fruit
I tried to sell.
Never ripe, I
tried to press
into an artistic
Plaster peach
the colors glossy
the juice
ran out;
the sight
of the varying
colors of your
unpeeled skin
looks back
from the glue
and polish.


The Pink Cake

The tracks
led to a pink cake.
Tracks disappeared
in decorative
the sugar
trailed around
the edges.
Taking the path
to the sweet end,
the one who came
upon the pink cake
lapped at its surface
to cut it alone.


I Never Liked Him

I never liked him
and now I’m glad
I don’t have to
see him again.
I wouldn’t
say I wished him
but I won’t say
I’ll speak
at his funeral
because I’m attending
a lady bug convention
in which specimens
of dead lady bugs
are passed around.
I never liked him
and won’t attend
his wake
because I’ve got
a tree doctor
coming from Switzerland
to diagnose
an ailing Maple tree.
He’s in a coffin
boxed up
in time for Christmas.
No malice intended
but I’m glad
the lid’s shut
on his inquiries.


Kiss the Lion

Kiss the lion
getting whiskers
stuck to your
Paws and claws
in your hair
and remnants
of zebra kill
on your breath.


Hornets with No Nest

with no nest
are circling
your window.
“Build a nest,”
you tell them,
“organize yourselves.”
But stingers
the insects swarm
against your
window pane
waiting for the glass
to be rolled back
thinking maybe
your bed sheets
are best to infest.


Your Basket

Your basket
filled with strawberries,
you cut in line
taking a few
grapes, too
along the way.
You elbowed
and shoved
your way
to the next piece
of harvest,
dropping nothing
of your own,
scattering the pickings
of those behind you.


Spoiled Meat

Spoiled meat
you waited too long
to serve;
as you didn’t
pay for it yourself
you were in no rush
to serve it.
The parrot
with rare
copper and azure
you asked for
as a gift
you carried
on your shoulder
as a party novelty,
the bird
your friends’


Doll Inside

Doll inside
my drawer.
Her hair
strung up,
her skin
her stitches
coming open.
The seams
are off-loading
her inner foam;
the top of her
head and bottom
of her soles
are open.


Unoriginal, Too

you’re not,
but maybe
a colored-up daisy
dyed blue
or red
or another
A bouquet of plain
you’re not only
but dyed to be
unoriginal, too.


Being Butter

Being trapped
a butter dish,
you can’t help
but squirm
among the grease.
The ceramic
lid on top of you,
the knives
out for you
the diners
to melt you
is difficult
having been
used to the peace
of the freezer,
hardened over
so you could stay



Seepacor medicine
keeps your insides
from seeping out.
If you ever
feel your core
dropping out
through your skin
take 1 gram
per day
by mouth
of Seepacor—
as the number one
by internal medicine
doctors worldwide
for inside seeping
out disease.


Good Luck, Summer Ghost

Good luck
summer ghost.
Sorry to see
you go, wrapped
in white
cold now.
Bald boughed
of animals
hiding out,
the sun stays away, too
knowing you,
it’s best
to stay aloof.

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Linda Likes Sparkles

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?”

“Come again?”

“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.

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