Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Brain Eater Part II

Part I can be read here

The Brain Eater

Alan Green



The elevator doors open and Bob steps out. He is wearing the same old clothes, same calculated neutral expression, and walks with the same tacked-on ease as he does everyday. When nobody is looking his eyes flit around to catch approaching threats. He sees one now. It can't be avoided. So, just keep walking. You're doing fine.

"Good morning," she says.

This one is Margeaux. Stu-pid. I'm smarter than her. Margeaux only speaks to him because she must. He knows it. If she just passed without speaking it would make her a bitch. The Office Bitch. So, she says something. Anything. That's the only reason. She's still a bitch but at least she doesn't act like one. She hates my guts. She'd just as soon not say a word to me. She wants to see me get fired. I know it.

"Good morning."

He sits at his desk. Everything where I left it. Perfect. I can't believe I'm back here. It's like I just left. I swear, it's like I was here just a minute ago. Just sixty seconds ago. I mean, literally…one minute. That's what it seems like. Now, I'm back. Great.

Okay, big smile -- Hey, how's it going? You know, he's not so bad. He hates his job, too. Like me. That makes him cool. He's an okay guy. Kind of a dick, but who cares. Everybody's kind of a dick. If he sat next to me he could learn how to work better. Get ahead. I could show him -- I wouldn't mind. He's been stuck in the same job for years. I've been promoted...once, but who's counting.

He starts the email server and gets the systems running. Then, he hears her. Oh, my god. Here she comes. What kind of perfume will she have on today? Don't we have policy against that? You're not supposed to be able to come to work smelling like you dunked yourself in a bathtub full of GD perfume. (GD stands for God – you know. I don't say that, though. It's not nice). Oh, fuck. There it is. That's it. She's wearing that flowery kind. I fucking hate that kind. I hate all of them, but especially that one -- the flowery one. What's that for? To help you get rid of your anonymity so you stand out from the herd? Stu-pid. It's so stupid.

Now, she'll take a slurp of her coffee and set the cup down. There it is. Sluuuurp. I have to listen to that because she doesn't know how to drink coffee quiet. Look, you do it just like this. He raises his cup to his mouth and sips coffee without making a sound. Is that so fucking difficult? Can you do that? Dumb bitch. Oh, great. Here he comes. The boss. Check this guy out.

"Morning Bob," he says.

"Morning," I say. "Busy today?"

"No, kind of light actually."

"Oh, good."

The boss nods as he ambles away. Dick. Thank God he's gone.

At least it's light today. I always like it better when it's slower. I like to be able to think. Even while I work -- I can do both at the same time. More time to look around, watch people. Makes it more interesting. Like, look over there at Margeaux. She's a couple desks down chatting with that idiot, T-T-Tommy (he stutters -- dumbass). See? The one I passed coming out of the elevator? See? Wearing the floofy shirt unbuttoned so you can see her cleavage (especially when she bends over [on purpose] like that), and a skirt (well above the knee), with dark hose and platform shoes, leaning over his desk so her ass sticks out so people will check out her ass? Yeah, her. She thinks T-T-Tommy likes her but he thinks she's a manipulative bitch. I agree with him (he may be a dumbass stutterer but he knows the score). Only problem is he's such an idiot. He's lazy. His work isn't very good. No resolve. He'll never become anything. I'm much better than him and the boss likes me better (they want to fire him except if they do he'll claim it's because he stutters and sue the shit out of them -- which would be cool. Which adds to his cool factor. Oh, man I'd love that).

That damn perfume. It stinks. Don't you think? She smells like a prostitute. Okay, I admit it. I don't know what a prostitute smells like. I've never, you know, seen one. Well, maybe I've seen one but I didn't know it at the time and never got close enough to smell one. Not that I know of. That would be cool, though. To stand right next to a woman who would let you fuck her for money. I wonder if she would let me squeeze her boob. Stu-pid!  'Boob' is so lame. You're like a kid. It's 'tit'. You say 'tit'. Not 'boob'. Say the right words. Sorry, sometimes I get mad at myself. Anyway, how much would she charge for that? Like, a couple bucks. That is so funny. 'Here's two bucks, ma'am.'  'Oh, thanks big boy (they call their johns [you know what a john is, right?] they call them big boy because men want to be big -- it's a psychological trick). Now, give my tit a good squeeze. I want you to. Go ahead.'  That would be so cool. I'd do it, too. I'd reach right over and put my hand on her boob and yoink it. Oh, man. Honk, honk. I can almost feel it.

That stinking perfume. And that slurping. Can't she drink coffee without making noise? You do it like this. See? It's so easy. Margeaux is finally finished sucking up to T-T-Tommy. Oh, good lord. No. She's coming over here? No way.

"Another day, another dollar."

"More like fifty cents."

"Yeah. At least it's not that busy today."

"Yeah, thank God."

"Yeah. See you."

Yeah, right. See you. Her name isn't 'Margeaux', it's 'Margot.'  She spells it that way because she thinks it makes her special. Stu-pid. She's hot, though. I wouldn't mind fucking her. I'd like to find out if she even wears panties under that short skirt -- bet she doesn't. I've heard girls like her don't. It would only take a second -- one quick reach up there, feel around -- I bet she'd like it -- I bet she wants me to -- maybe, someday I will.

I work in an office surrounded by pests and dorks. Out of everybody here I'm the best. Not that anybody appreciates that. Speaking of dorks, check out that guy over there -- he's a good example. I can work and tell you about him at the same time. (It's easy for me). This guy has a lot of energy but he's insecure, and it really affects his potential in the company -- if he could just focus, he'd go a long way. Here's what I mean. His eyes. He's always looking around. He can look at two or three things in one second. I'm serious. One second. Each time he looks at something he responds to what he thinks it might be thinking about him. If he looks at the water cooler he is relieved because it's an inanimate object and couldn't have an opinion. But, half a second later he'll catch a glimpse of someone passing by and he's scared. You can see it in his face. It's the most expressive face I've ever seen. His face looks like it's controlled by puppet strings -- jink up the brow, lower the left side of the mouth, cast the eyes to the floor -- that kind of thing, except lightning fast, like a computer controlled puppet face. Now, he's suspicious yet befuddled -- eyes narrowed, lips pursed, and now, a fraction of a second later, he's surprised and embarrassed -- eyes wide, mouth shaped like an O.

If he catches you looking right at him he freezes like a deer in headlights, but only for an instant. The moment he realizes he is looking directly at someone who is looking directly back at him he zips his eyes away and finds some random thing to look at. He's like a shoplifter desperate to look casual -- the only thing missing is the fake, innocent whistling. Then, he'll realize he's staring at, say, a pencil and feel self-conscious -- like he's making the pencil uncomfortable by looking at it. Like it was a rule of etiquette that you can't look at pencils if you are not planning to write something with them. He'll get pissed at himself for being so rude, then find some other object to look at, proud of his quick sensitivity -- only to realize that now he's staring at the clock or bulletin board and feels like shit for being so rude again. After eye-hopping a bit he'll look at you again and get red-faced because he knows you've been watching him the whole time -- the 'whole' time being between two and four seconds -- then the process starts over again when he realizes he is looking directly at someone who is looking directly back at him, and he starts the search for some inanimate object to look at, only to feel guilty for making that object feel bad, et cetera.

He twitches like this all day long, from nine to five, five days a week. This guy can make an ass out of himself ten times in a second -- ass, ass, ass, ass, ass, ass, buffoon, ass, ass, ass, ass -- forty hours a week. Stu-pid. At least he's good at it. He changes facial expression like a concert pianist plays a fast passage -- effortlessly, hitting every ass note. He'll never go anywhere. How could he? He spends half his time looking around to see if someone is watching, the other half of his time wondering what they think of him, and he spends the third half of his time feeling guilty for staring at things. For the last ten years. He's been with this company, flashing his eyes around like that and feeling guilty...for ten years. I'd rather be dead.

See that woman? Her name is Gretchen. She's an alcoholic. She drinks so much on weekends that by Monday morning her breath smells like vodka. I don't mean she has bad breath, I mean it smells like vodka. On Monday morning, saying hello to her is like sticking your face in a bucket of vodka and taking a big whiff. It stops you in your tracks. It's so bad you have to fight not to laugh -- after you choke back the urge to wretch, that is.

She drinks during the week too, but not as much. I guess she prefers saving the big guns for Saturday and Sunday. Anyway, she's in the first stage of liver failure. This means her liver can't burn all the booze and her body tries to get rid of it some other way. Right now, it's her lungs (later it'll be her skin). Her dying liver ships raw booze to her lungs in the hope it can be expelled there -- and, it works -- the proof is in her breath. Her breath smells like vodka, largely, because there's a certain percentage of vodka in it.

On Monday night she's mainly interested in knocking back the daylong hangover with a bottle or two of red wine -- strictly utilitarian, you understand. But, then by Tuesday it's not her breath that's the problem it's her mistakes. By then she's in withdrawal, despite the two bottles from the night before, and she can't concentrate. This is made worse because she doesn't start workdays with a toot like she does weekend mornings. So, by Tuesday her mind is a zing-zang of jonesing for booze, and fierce determination to concentrate despite it, so as a result she makes lots of mistakes. She'll put the wrong name on a file, copy the number wrong on a phone message, that kind of thing. After all these years people expect it of her and treat her dismissively, as if they're better than her. She tries to offset this by being over friendly and clingy. Some people like the power this gives them and string her along. I can't do that. I try to treat her normal. Other people keep her at arm's length, which hurts her feelings. Knocks her back on her heels, and the loss of equilibrium causes more mistakes.

Then, come the apologies. Endless apologies. It's automatic, a knee-jerk reaction to almost anything. Even when she doesn't do anything wrong she's apologetic. Like -- you'll pass her in the hall and she'll say, "Hi" (she's always the first to talk) and you answer, "Hey, how's it going?"  Then, a second later, she'll say, "Oh, sorry. I guess…I didn't."  But, by this time you're halfway up the hall and she's apologizing to the place where the floor meets the wall. Walking and apologizing and gesturing. When she realizes she's doing this she apologizes for it. "Oh…you're gone. Sorry. I'm so sorry." 

She has these episodes all day. They're not clumped up -- like a few here, a couple there. They're strung together -- one leading to another in a smooth unbroken chain of gaffs and apologies that's painful to watch. Mistake, apology, mistake, apology, gaff, I'm sorry, gaff, I'm sorry. Then, toward the end of the day, she's all flustered and that makes the next mistake unavoidable. At this point she's afraid of her own shadow and moves about with her hands held near her chest in a protective way like some little girl in the dark woods of a fairy tale. I've seen her like this. She'll be sitting at her desk, hands clutched near her chest, looking at her pens. She'll reach out then snatch her hand back. I guess she's sure that she'll make a mistake when she writes. Problem is she needs the pen so she's stuck in a loop: reach for the pen, snatch her hand back, wait a few seconds eying the pen like it's a snake, reach, snatch her hand back. She'll try to trick the pen by looking in another direction like she isn't interested -- the only thing missing is the fake casual whistling -- then, when the pen's guard is down, she'll grab for it, but won't be able to commit, and she stops, her trembling fingers hovering and twitching. Her eyes will be wild. She'll look like a bad actor in a bad movie who is about to address the press to inform them that monsters from space have attacked Earth. Her hand will hover there over the pens for several seconds, then she'll snatch it back where it will join the other hand clutched to her chest and you can just see the disappointment -- she's really ashamed, breathing hard, glaring at the pens, hands twisting between her breasts.

After a few minutes of this her face will be all shiny and slick with sweat. It's pathetic and after a while she'll sense how pathetic it is and with all her resolve she'll squeeze her eyes shut, take a deep breath, shoot her hand out, and grab a pen. When she opens her eyes and sees the pen in her hand she does this weird smile-grimace thing and clutches it in her fist like it was a stake and she was going to kill Dracula with it. Her expression is pure triumph, as if she just won a wrestling match -- which she did I guess. She'll click the pen a couple times, wipe the sweat off her face, and take a deep breath. Then when her breathing has returned to normal, she'll hunker down, and eloquently, triumphantly put pen to paper. Then, she'll write a few words and start a different version of the same process. Write a couple words, scratch them out, apologize, write half a sentence, scratch it out, apologize. Write, apologize, write, apologize, agonize, I'm sorry, agonize, I'm sorry. She keeps this up until the paper is covered with scratch-outs so dense they're solid ink. In places it's so bad there are holes where the pen has been raked back and forth. It looks like modern art, like something you would see in a small gallery for five hundred dollars entitled 'Frustration', or 'Life Sucks!, number 4.'  She'll throw the paper away and fling the pen back behind the desk. Then she realizes she's right back where she started -- without pen. Then, again, she'll reach for a pen.

By the end of the day she's exhausted and tends to stare at her computer a lot. It gets worse as the week progresses. By Friday she's a real mess. Her hair is frazzled, sometimes a shirttail will stick out. People are unable to look her in the eyes and make their remarks short and to the point -- one word if possible -- and without breaking stride. I think the only solution is for her to start drinking during the day. You know -- keep a bottle in the bottom drawer. A lot of people do it (you'd be surprised). It would calm her nerves and she could focus. I suppose it won't be long before she figures that out. I mean, she has to reach a point with this where it can't get worse. There has to come a time when she can't function...right? Until she decides to take that final step and become a full-time booze hound, she'll spend her day fucking up and saying she's sorry.

It's been like this for the last sixteen years. She's been with the company, fucking up and apologizing for sixteen years. It can't last much longer. It's funny. If she didn't drink so much she wouldn't be such a balloon-head. And, if she wasn't such a balloon-head people wouldn't make fun of her, and she wouldn't feel so bad about herself and, if that were the case, she wouldn't drink so much. It's circular, I know, but it makes sense.

I guess lots of stuff is like that. I used to care, but Bob got tired of it. What are you gonna do? Bob would rather be dead (and Gretchen will be soon). 

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