On the first day of my new career, August 15, 1999, the human resources director, Heather, cheerfully directed me to my cubicle. She cheerfully explained how to get to the conference room for orientation. I had an hour to kill and I lapsed into a coma.
The padded cubicle walls were the color of a Caribbean sea. Flecks of dust clung to the shiny vinyl surface of the desk. A space-age telephone with more buttons than a calculator sat next to a tinted plastic Rolodex, a tape dispenser with even more dust than the desk, and three books- “e-Business: Roadmap for Success,” “The Profit Zone,” and “Permission Marketing.”
An eerie silence permeated my surroundings, except for the low hum of stale air being filtered through overhead vents. Noisy when you concentrated on it, but so much a part of the background that it actually counted as silence. Occasionally there was a click of a shoe against a plastic rug protector. Faraway, a door opened and shut. A muffled voice spoke into a telephone.
Washed out fluorescent lights flickered softly.
I stood and looked over the padded cubicle walls the color of a Caribbean sea. There were the heads of my fellow employees, eyes riveted to computer screens, ears plugged with iPod earphones. They were frozen, except for eyeballs and fingers clicking, clicking, clicking…
The office air had no odor. No taste. It felt like nothing. The temperature could have been cool or warm. It was difficult to tell. But it was dry. Dry like paper. Time seemed suspended. Unimportant. Bland art hung from the beige walls. Unassuming. Unthreatening. Uninspiring. Surfers and sailboats. Vapid landscapes. No place you’d want to be. No place real.
Overhead, the vent kicked into overdrive and the noise level increased, but it still counted as silence because no else noticed. It might have been the numbing screech of the earth hurtling through the universe. It might have been the squeal of brakes just before your car hits a brick wall at 100 mph. It might have been the silent scream of your nightmares.
There were no plants and no living things other than the wide-eyed human beings with plugged ears and index fingers clicking, clicking, clicking…
Souls were being lost here. Spirits dashed. But not dramatically. Slowly, like a leaky cistern. People died here. One slow hour at a time. One miserable ticking second at a time. This was a place where asses grew large, bellies soft, and where backs and shoulders became crooked. The twitch in your eye. Dry skin. Chapped lips. Itchy rectum. Cancer growing like mold, arteries hardening, hearts getting ready to rupture.
All of us pale and fading. All of use disappearing into the cubicle walls the color of a Caribbean sea.
I nearly screamed. I don’t know what I expected. The Grim Reaper? Charon? Satan himself?
Heather smiled at me and tapped my brand-new and already impossibly fat personnel file.