Birds darted and soared outside in slow, steady spirals and graceful zig zags. My cubicle faced the window, which was heaven and hell all rolled into one. Staring out into the blue skies was a revelation that reminded me of the unfathomable depth of the world, and that the world still breathed…and, through it all, that I was still alive despite the paralytic effects of my surroundings. It reminded me that beauty was a real thing, a very honest concept, not just a figment of imagination and magazine ads, or movies, commercials and television shows. It was a reminder that I was most certainly not meant for the off-white box that I was in. On the flip side though, having a window seat was pure, uncut hell, because it was also a sickeningly painful reminder that I was very well shackled to a cube wall like some dungeon prisoner in the old cartoons or comic books, all hairy and ragged and barefoot and threadbare. I felt as if I were that comic book detainee, tethered to some imaginary world where numbers ruled, office politics reigned supreme, and management was as crooked as a bad case of scoliosis. Either way, it was awesome to see the clouds float by and the birds soar outside every day.
A sharp shudder awoke me from those old thoughts, and the quintessential office cacophony of keyboard clicks, ringing phones, and light chatter swirled around my ears like bad porn music. I’d only dozed off for a scant few minutes, and traded a (quite pleasant) humorous dream for a very real corporate prison cell. Not a good swap; those dreams and daydreams were the fuel that propelled me through the persistent tedium of the day. My screen stared back at me with rows upon rows of untouched work, a dull mishmash of numbers and letters, reports and spreadsheets that I’d scarcely mastered after all the years being there. Those rows and worksheets stared at me with dead, drab, critical eyes, and I stared back at it with equal scorn. It was abnormally cold in the cubicle that morning, and the fluorescent lights above shone down as coldly as a winter star. In the office, it was always either too hot or too cold…as if working in a state of discomfort was somehow great for productivity. I was dreaming of zombies again that day, and those raggedy bastards managed to grab hold of me and tear the hell out of my jugular. Again. I deftly flicked a bit of morning crust from the corner of my eyes and squinted hard in an attempt to refocus them on the computer screen that I’d been staring at for hours; a gang of work needed to be done, and it was only 9 a.m.
The highlight of our childish creativity was The Bunker, a hollowed out cluster of unused shelving, walled with a carefully crafted facade of boxes that concealed an inner homemade bar. To the untrained eye, it wouldn’t even garner a second look; it was identical to any other normal, mundane, ordinary wall of boxes. However, this particular Great Wall of Cardboard masterfully concealed a super-secret hideout within that rivaled something that a James Bond villain would have constructed, or perhaps it resembled the lair of some comic book bad guy. In it was our headquarters, our command tent, our private lounge that served as our secret war cabinet. Our Round Table, with each of us looking to fill our Holy Grails with whatever was on tap that day. The effort that went into crafting bubble wrap and cardboard La-Z-Boy recliners and cotton stuffed sleeping mats was labor intensive. Not to mention surreptitiously loading our liquid stash in and out through the drop down hatch that we cut through the wood slats of the pallets that served as the roof. Our cooler was always stocked to the gills with a variety of suds. This was the real deal for us. That was our debaucherous shrine, and we’d retreat to The Bunker to devour a few bottles or cups of the drink of the day, every day. And when we weren’t in our venerated safe zone, we’d just down our spirits from the red plastic Solo cups in broad daylight like it was a house party. Like we owned the joint.
We developed into exceptional drinkers; a functional alcoholism that allowed us to perform at our best with just the right amount of whiskey flowing through our veins. We’d field instructions, calmly attend meetings, and cheerfully converse with the front office staff while being lit to the core on liters of Rum and Diet Dr. Pepper. And no one was the wiser. It was the only way we were able to make it through the monotony of the day, a monotony which by now I hope you sincerely feel. It was an alcohol fueled, fun steeped binge that lasted for years, and invariably suffused our livers and our minds with loads of lasting good memories. But all good things must end at some point, right? The question ticked in my brain every single day, like a turgid time bomb just waiting to explode; what the hell was my purpose? There had to be something that I was good at in life. Thoughts like this lingered in my head on a regular basis as I walked the aisles up and down filling orders. Whatever that ‘something’ was, wasting away under layers of box dust was not it. What was I good at? I was in my twenties, but felt as if I was past my prime, or as if I’d missed the ferry to Success Town. I felt utterly left behind by life, and my fun, yet counterproductive daily dealings only resigned me to that early grave and kept me pinned tightly. There just had to be more to life than this.
Do you feel the monotony? Can you hear the annoying scrape of my feet dragging themselves to the bathroom? The stabbing numbness of my slowly adjusting eyes as I try in vain to shield them from the blinding solar glare of the bathroom light? Or how about the pungently aromatic stale air produced by 8 hours of backed up bowels? I stood at the toilet, graciously releasing at least four hours-worth of slightly yellow urine, and let out a long bear growl of relief. One of the few breaths of relief that I get to look forward to over the coming day. Feel that monotony as I clamber into the shower, only to realize that I forgot to buy soap and toothpaste? Ever wash a tired body with dish soap? Feel the monotony.
The sky that day was a deep overcast grey, with thick, overfed clouds spewing their liquid lunch all over the city, making for a slow and sloppy morning commute. I arrived at my gig thirty minutes late (not giving half a shit), and slowly crept into a parking space. It was a lonely, bleak, deserted lot, strewn with unattractively enterprising weeds tangoing out of deep cracks that resembled California fault lines, and year old garbage bleached bone white by a harsh sun. I carelessly swerved into a parking space, which I created myself due to the fading of the yellow dividing lines. It’s a sight you would have expected to see in the former Soviet Union, not twenty first century USA; an aged, crudely built exterior, its walls cleverly stained brown by the rust that rained down from the aluminum roof. It reminded me of coffee stained dentures, or a distasteful hotel room watercolor.