Home > Domestic Violets(10)

Domestic Violets(10)
Matthew Norman

“Take one forty-five minutes before you’re ready to go. Works every time. Trust me.”

“Umm,” I say, but humiliation claims the rest.

Reading my mind, Charlie leans forward, resting his elbows on his desk. “It’s just to get you back in the game, man. You need to be out of your own head. That’s what these babies are for. When you’ve got your confidence back up, you can sell whatever you’d got left on the street to teenagers. It’s all good.”

My BlackBerry makes a little chirp and vibrates in my pocket. It means I have a text message, and there’s only one person in the world who texts me. Katie has written:

Need to get bk here. Ppl r lookin 4 u .

“What’s wrong?” Charlie asks.

“Nothing. It’s just work.”

“You guys gonna survive all this doomsday stuff?”

As I get up to leave, I shrug, because, in truth, I have absolutely no idea.

“What does your company do again? I can never remember.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I say.

“Hey, dumb ass, aren’t you forgetting something?” Charlie tosses me the sample box. “Go home, Tom. Fuck your wife. You’ll both feel a lot better in the morning.”

I think of Mr. Halgas again in his Velcro sneakers. Like him, I’m hating the prospect of medication. But, also like him, I’m begrudgingly beginning to accept it. “You know, I still have a few minutes. You sure you don’t want to look at my prostate? Just for a second?”

Chapter 6

Back at the office, I head for Cubeland. This is what we call it, Cubeland, where everyone who isn’t a manager works. Every floor has one, row after row of tiny little work cells. Each cell is personalized with cat calendars or Dilbert cartoons or coffee mugs, but they’re all uniform in their sadness. The tension here today is as palpable as air pollution. Nearly every computer I see is turned to a news site, and articles are up about how we’re all spiraling toward a national state of bankruptcy. Lehman Brothers is officially gone, as in, it no longer exists. A girl in a navy blue dress is loading knickknacks from her desk into her gym bag. Another guy a few cubes down is talking on the phone. “Mom, I don’t know,” he says. “Seriously. We know nothing. No one does.”

I suppose I’m nervous, like everyone else, but, in truth, I only half understand what in the hell is going on, or who Lehman Brothers or any of the other floundering and/or destroyed companies are in a practical sense. Terrorism, natural disasters, and little blue erection pills: those things are tangible. But right now, my fear of the economy is like my fear of algebra in high school.

For no legitimate reason, I take a detour past Katie’s cube, but, sadly, she’s not there. There are a few random files strewn about and an old yogurt carton. The I’M A PEPPER sign above her computer is crooked, like always, and there’s the picture of Katie and her boyfriend, Todd. In my head, I refer to him as Todd the Idiot, which is a name he earned last year at the company holiday party when he threw up into an arrangement of poinsettias in front of everyone. Next to their picture sits my heart-shaped squeeze ball. If I were a less mature person, I’d steal it back—along with her dancing hula girl bobble head—but I control myself.

In my office, back at my computer, there’s an unholy amount of e-mails, 97 percent of which can be deleted immediately. There’s one from Katie, buried in the middle, asking if we’re going to 7-Eleven today for our biweekly meeting. She’s also wondering if she should start looking into food stamps. Another e-mail is from my boss, Doug, the vice president of marketing and corporate communications.

Stop by when you get a second. Need to chat.

I sit down and am prepared to feel the appropriate amount of anxiety, but I’m interrupted by a knock on my door—my open door. In my career, I’ve found that only annoying people knock on open doors. I know that’s a generalization, but, using my peripheral vision, I can see that my theory remains rock solid. There’s another knock, and for reasons I can’t quite explain, I pretend as if I don’t hear it. Staring at my monitor, I’m a busy professional man totally unaware of the person lurking in the doorway.

“I know that you know I’m here, Tom, so you can stop ignoring me.”

When I look up, I act surprised to see Gregory Steinberg. And then I smile as big as I can. “Hey, Greg, I didn’t see you standing there.” Gregory is one of those guys who insist on being called Gregory, and so I insist on calling him Greg.

“Yeah right,” he says. His face is an unhappy mix of lines and corporate scowls. “So, I suppose you’ve been in meetings for the last two hours, right?”

“Well, not that it’s any of your business, Greg, but I was in a pretty important meeting, as a matter of fact. The management team pulled me in to discuss marketing initiatives. You know, with all these little snafus in the financial sector, we should probably lay out an aggressive plan. They just wanted to run some things by me. Brainstorm a little.”

This is a profound lie, and I’m proud of myself for its boldness and the fact that it came to me so quickly.

“That’s not true, and you know it,” he says. If such a meeting had taken place, Greg, the director of communications, would surely have been invited, but there’s enough doubt in his twitching jaw to give me a little thrill. His hatred for me is strong today, buzzing around his head in swirls and hisses. Greg is my Dr. Evil. He is my one-armed man. Whenever he enters a room, in my mind I hear the Imperial Death March from Star Wars. He is my nemesis, yet, whenever I see him, regardless of the situation, I smile like I’ve just won the lottery. I do this for no other reason than because he hates it. One of the countless complaints he’s lodged against me with HR reads:

Dear HR:

Tom Violet insists on smiling and saying hello to me every time he sees me, even in the men’s room. However, I know that these sentiments are not sincere, and only succeed in undermining me in front of my team and fellow employees.

These complaints, which I have saved on my computer in a file called “Ass Face,” are among the greatest achievements of my career. I read them sometimes when things are bleak or there’s a particularly ghastly paper jam in the printer down the hall. They always make me feel just a little better.

“So, Greg, to what do I owe the honor?” My face hurts, but I keep smiling. It’s called commitment.

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