I couldn’t quit and I wasn’t cut out for a job in risk management. But without a 9-5 I’d be back in my cousin’s basement. My damp closet #420 on South and Main was better than that warm house with smoking jacket intellectuals coming by every Friday for an evening drink, wasting air on far off abstractions. But every morning, waking up, I had that rush of solitude, grinning quiet, and then the weight to carry myself from my bedsheet’s entanglements to put on that chainmail of a button-down.
I never wanted to look boss in the eye. Being a poor speller and senior copywriter didn’t anticipate the best results. You have to write the right shit or you look like shit. But I was needed. I was essential, to boss’s disdain. He even talked to the accountant a couple months after I started asking if they could afford someone more qualified for less pay. Nope, they could barely keep me and would have had to pay umpteenth percent more to the poor sap. I’d hear them talking. The office walls were thin. You could hear water running through the drywall during an afternoon shower. Certain words puzzle me.
Necessary. That’s one of them. I have to stop my train of thought because some buffalo carcass with ‘necessary’ branded on its hide blocked the tracks. The first thing I learned in risk management is that you have to expect horror from any circumstance. So, a buffalo has a .25% chance of walking along the tracks and succumbing to cardiac arrest. If the subject of plains livestock comes up at a party use that gem. We can seee the werst before you hav to. Our slogan.
My desk was a cubby cubicle that flashed me back to third grade and fat kids sitting on my face before I enjoyed it kind of. There was a 45% chance of cartilage tearing, dependent on weight and girth of Bully Max’s maximus. Boss could have benefited from any type of facial rearrangement. The guy had a retreating hairline and penchant for cracking masturbation jokes. So yeah, I had an angry, creepy manager working in a place that reminded me of unwanted ass in my face. Something wasn’t right with him, something wasn’t right about this place, particularly before I put him in his place. Getting ahead of myself.
Before that, boss got on my case for letting go a heavy sigh, one of those why the hell am I here type-sighs, to which he inquired my plans my ambitions what I did in my off-hours accusing me that I was snooping for a competitor down the street that didn’t exist. That first day, the interview wasn’t even a conversation. A bunch of questions flown at the wall behind me as he raced around answering phone calls interns were hired to take for the summer. He had an incredibly defined overbite, like an inbred duke’s. He asked if I could do the job. Of course I said I could, I did I’ll learn to spell as I go along, me thought. Because if I went dee otter way then I would have no job or muney. There was a 31% chance I still would have gotten hired if I told the truth or a cat would have fallen through the ceiling, same odds apply (my research). Do you like otters? well they rape some their mates and occasionally hold them underwater until they drown. Bringing such a fact up did not bode well with my cousin when I told that fun fact to a college teaching assistant wearing an ironic look-how-cute-and-quirky-I-am otter t-shit during a Friday soiree I was handed the contract and told to sign and did so, gave them my mark. Wasn’t a name but a symbol for my art of lying. Boss yelled at me from behind, up close, his crotch pulling a Blitzkrieg.
“This is total garbage. Clients need to know that it’s absolutely NES-SUH-SAR-REY they ‘purchase the premium package with advisors available 24/7,” his gapped teeth and prominent overbite made him spittle, “and this too, ‘each equipped to handle your needs’ not ‘ecuiped to handul your needs.’ How’d you pass grade school if you don’t even know how to spell these simple words?”
He waved his arms around in exasperation. His wedding band had a dull sparkle in the white fluorescence. Boss annunciated each syllable as if each were its own word. That reminded me of those pronunciation tools in dictionaries. Necessary. Nesahsarrey. Necesssary. Ne-suh-sar-ree. Boss’s wife hadn’t come in for a couple weeks. She used to always bring him the lunch he forgot every morning.
Certain words throw me through a loop. The chances of a world-class figure skater breaking her leg on a roller coaster doing a loopy loopty loop are 5,000,373 to 3. My cousin had these gatherings at his house and low hanging words like ‘quotidian’ or ‘quintessential’ trickled from the smoke-room patio. Empty syllables. He invited half-talented booze hounds from a purposely bare venue where they’d yell simple observations RED! slamming poetic emphasis until oxygen left the room SAD! When I rarely came upstairs for a beer, they looked at me like I was some lost shade, wandering in disappointment. I would have loved an inheritance and an arts degree but I needed to eat and I needed beer.
Some things just don’t sound the way they’re supposed to. Like onomatopoeia: a word that’s supposed to mean ‘sound’ doesn’t actually sound the way it looks. Where the fuck did that ‘t’ come from? Boss had this crick in his neck. Crick, another cute word for annoyance. He joked it was his wife’s doing: kicked to the couch you know how women are, and he’d sigh. He started bringing in his own lunch. After eating a pickle and ham sandwich on white bread, he stomped around the office looking for error. Every time I heard his voice I felt like I was being called up to the chalkboard in the midst of a poorly timed fifth-grade erection. Bully Max with that staring grin…Boss’s outfits even had the look of a jaded school teacher, a faded blue button down dejected by more fund cuts and wash-throughs. The chances of a child choking to death on a dryer sheet is 1 in 1,300, keep da kidz saf. Working for a place that anticipates the bad changes you, like getting a splotched sun scar from laying on the beach.
He brought me on to be a copywriter or tag-line guy, I don’t know. The role changed by the week, by the day. We had a small office with a revolving door of employees. Our clients were just as transitory. Boss’s dad was our most loyal client. He came into the office once. We had to play our parts that day. We all have roles to play and it only matters if we decide to put on the right mask. On Friday evenings my cousin’d call me into the kitchen like I was the next piece of art. His tone was of attempted affection and inclusion, like a high-low octave hoping to hide the reality of not caring and using my presence as the aesthetic theory of the ‘other side.’ I was the exhibit titled working class and then came the questions that didn’t want answers but to hear their own cadences of such inquiries, how delightful. Speaking of yups or rather yips, boss started bringing his miniature Chihuahua into the office. Wife must’ve been on vacation. Parnassus was its name and it had large beady eyes. Parnassus was ungroomed and had stringy fur hanging from its hind legs, like an aging hair-metal frontman. It yipped every time I stepped into boss’s office. He wouldn’t say no bark, but more pleaded with it like an argument across a kitchen table.
Boss never took Parnassus out to do its business. He had these absorbent white pee pads placed outside my cubicle. Parnassus always missed his mark. My workspace smelled like a sour lemon dropped on a mound of old baby’s spit. I’d mention it to boss and his response was the same every time, it’s just a dog. And I’d go back to my desk and screw up another special pitch package. Twentee percent off, too for won…It’s just a dog? More like a harpy with a ball gag. Parnassus bent the air with its shrillness.
Dogees have 100% chance to dye before or after derr mastr: our pet plan. Every week needed another premium offer, another pitch he wanted to roll out to clients. If we weren’t constantly reinventing ourselves, we’d be at Defcon One.
Boss treated the new employees best. Fresh ones, college grads scared out of their minds thinking Christ is this the real world and I’m banking on becoming one of these people? They had to deal with his weird attempts at endearment. Advice: talking about jacking it when the wife isn’t giving you any doesn’t accomplish fraternity. I’d rather wash my face with steel wool than listen to one of those jokes again. Yeah, sure boss was only six years older but he might as well have been fifty with an extra dose of perv. No one filed a formal complaint though. Boss was the office manager too.
He’d try too hard at being all buddy-buddy. It was like driving at 110 miles per hour and everyone got out of the way. Driving home each evening I’d wade in the parking garage to hear the hot silence in the summer. In the lot at the firm, outside that dark building, thin, see-through and dark, I’d look at the apples bobbing over my sun roof. Each morning the interns ran to the front door packed together. Playing the worker bee with smiles on their faces before the reality settled. At 9:01 I’m at my desk answering emails smelling the sporadic bouts of Parnassus’s stinky gifts. That thinning region in his pale hairline glistened like the oily surface of a sludgy lake when he told his jokes. He stared right through you in laser focused earnestness and we did our best to look away. Pump the brakes, man. I could never look him in the eye. He gave off this menace of you’re never good enough. Whenever I felt him behind me my armpits poured and my boxers hid up my ass crack.
Boss started coming in later in the workday as the weather chilled. He closed the door to his office when he wasn’t skulking around with Parnassus cradled in one arm. He was taking personal calls. From what I could make out, he was talking to a woman. Leaning forward, pawing at the air, the receiver pressed hard against his cheek. I’d know, I peeked in every once in a while. Parnassus stared at its master, shaking from the reverberations of its last yip. Boss’s tone shifted mid-sentence and went soft, reaching for a level he couldn’t get back to. “No I don’t want to talk to him—Because you’re my wife and I think we can work this—You pawned it? Why’d you have to bring that—Hello?” I waited a few minutes before knocking and sliding the door all the way open. Divorce ends in 50% of the parties a happier person.
He didn’t hear me or that dog wailing get out get out who are you where am I—hungry—I’m hungry heeelllppp heeeeeellllppp. Boss stared down twisting his ring, pulling it out then putting it back on. I asked if he had a minute to go over the new couple’s package. Two seconds passed after setting it on his desk he crumpled it up. He told me to do it again after he found I spelled ‘privilidge’ wrong. Boss wiped away nothing on his shiny brown shoes that squeaked and squished like a sponge. At least we knew when he was coming from behind so we could prepare ourselves. Squish, squish. Not Parnassus, his presence was known only through that god-awful smell.
Water damage happuns for one in every two and a half homes, buy our package to savvv the hole haf. I know boss said round up to three homes but doesn’t it already take away a part of your home so shouldn’t that be worked in? Our office was a tent with drywall. Boss’s yelling shook the walls. One day we lost several clients and Boss said my clerical error was to blame. John Jaycub’s name was spelled wrong. We gained a client, lost one, then got another, then not. I had the same salary as some geriatric greeter at Walmart without the 60 plus years of life kicking my ass. I felt like I was the firm’s resident greeter: hello, thanks, looking forward to working with you, oh that’s a shame, okay then, good luck, goodbye. Boss and I were the only stable bits. We were the rocks under a dead ship keeping it from drifting but the ship would never know the vast expanse again. Boss just didn’t want to accept it. I needed to keep this job or else I’d be back in a basement sending my puffed up cover letter to God knows how many places. Upstairs there’d be smooth elevator jazz music while those hipsters oogled at some avant-garde pastel sketch. Called to the kitchen again and how do you like the white collar chain? Do I want that routine? No thanks. I’d choose my boss talking about how he had to readjust his package if he sat a certain way for too long before eating lunch.
Once I was in the breakroom and boss was there with a fresh one. The breakroom was a closet with a toaster oven and a window looking out at a brick wall “Oh look at this, seems like your left arm’s a lot bigger than your right.”
“It’s because I’m left-handed, sir.”
He poked the kid’s shoulder with his elbow, “Ha! I’m sure it is.” Then he started playing with some invisible firehose gone wild and slapped the poor kid on the back. The kid, partly closed his eyes in shock and confusion, trying to register what just happened. I’m sure he was thinking if I don’t laugh I won’t get a recommendation from this sicko. Not sure you’d want it bud. I stepped in to say hi, clear the air a bit. He looked at me like I’d just cut in on a mating dance. My palms got sweaty.
“What are you doing back here? Get to work. Come back when you’ve learned how to spell ‘necessary,’ haha, got it?”
Another fresh one already looking for a way out. Another fresh one told to stay away from this asshole, he’s bad news, only trouble. When boss left the breakroom, the kid cleaned off tiny beads of spit resting on his forehead. He had such a dangerous overbite. On the kid’s last day I kept him company during a smoke break and he asked me how I did it, taking a long, relieved drag. I told him there’s nowhere else. The sky is always greyer when emerging from sad white walls with tarragon lining.
The day boss’s dad, the primary investor, backed out. I heard them in his office. Parnassus was quiet the whole time.
“Dad I just need to get back. Break even and everything.”
“You’re a mess, get yourself together and get rid of that damn dog. She isn’t coming back anyway.”
“You don’t know that.”
“All I know is that it smells like shit around here. I’m doing more harm than good by keeping you up. God only knows what your house looks like.”
“I had to move out.”
I found a turd nugget from Parnassus under my desk and bumped my head as Boss’s dad turned for the exit. He left his son standing on the threshold. Boss’s phone calls with his wife (maybe?) got worse as the weeks dragged on. He threw his rolling chair against a wall and sweated through four blue oxfords a day. More people quit, more people came. Ebb and flow. Cousin called on Tuesdays during lunch while he lounged on his patio asking me how work life treated me. I’d hang up and lie we got disconnected. Once Boss saw me emerge from under my desk with a shit nug, he pointed at me.
“Come here. Let’s go over this tag line.” And he went to my cubby.
There were stains all over the carpet. Boss commented that I should do something about the smell. He sat at my desk, my three-walled nook. One way in, one way out. He hunched over, unconsciously playing with his ring finger. His overbite outstretched itself.
My body got hot, my undershirt a wet blanket. I had to remind myself to breathe. My time here dug into me like an ulcer. How I was still there and hadn’t put a twelve gauge in his mouth—ten seconds passed before he smacked my computer screen.
“How many times do I have to tell you, I can’t just keep checking up on your mistakes. It’s ‘necessary’ not ‘nesuhsary’ and how can you not tell the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’?”
Boss jumped up from my rolling chair. The thinning top of his head was boiling red. His Roman nose almost touching mine. That look, that posturing for superiority. I saw into his eyes. I thought they’d have this reddish tint. No, just angry green. His pupils held back a willow of tears like rusted levies. His gaze had nothing but want and emptiness. My body got cool. All I saw was dull gold rings in his eyes, fingerless, homeless. A piece was missing. I could have looked into that void all day and never blinked. Nothing to be afraid of. No distance, no door for me to politely knock on. He was just some guy in a boring blue oxford, dulled by improper washing. He was doing his own clothes. Five o’clock shadow imprinted on his face. I didn’t hear him. I just saw his bottom lip tucking behind his overbite, his thin hair strands suspended themselves with every violent head swing. At our feet, Parnassus wailed what’s happening what’s happeninnnggg ahhwoohhwooohh. An intern walked by as quick as he could. I breathed in, ready to speak.
“Boss, you can always try and find a new copywriter. But you can never find another one of her.”
He stopped in his tracks like an elk brought down by a Springfield. His upper lip had this film of saliva spread across. Boss widened his eyes and stared. Nothing to say. He walked back into his office and slid the door closed. He punched in a number and didn’t bother to pick up the receiver. I heard the dial tone. Nothing.
Parnassus kept wailing and I saw the pee pad. Pristine. Untouched. Like the little Mexican sewer rat intended to miss, spelling out fuck you to me in puddles of urine. The dial tone kept going on. Nothing. I wanted to see that red face again, trying to hide away and find comfort in a familiar voice that didn’t want him. I wasn’t satisfied. He wanted this business to stay afloat while keeping me face down biting the pillow? I grabbed the pee-pad and headed for his office. I didn’t knock.
He looked up and Parnassus growled. The white pad landed softly on the floor in front of his desk. He looked so confused. I undid my pants, pulled it out, and yellowed the alabaster sponge.
Right on target. My stream was like falling water echoing in the dark alley outside the breakroom. Parnassus looked at me, beady and shaky and silent and boss looked the same, beady and shaky and silent. When I was done, I gave it a little shake and stepped out. I sat down at my desk and typed that we offer the best services for those trying to make the best decishun for there next investment. Yer ferst best investment is syning with us 25% of the time.
James Pimmitt is a pen name.
Bill Wolak is a poet, photographer, and collage artist. He has just published his twelfth book of poetry entitled Love Opens the Hands with Nirala Press. His collages have been published in over a hundred magazines including: The Annual, Peculiar Mormyrid, Danse Macabre, Dirty Chai, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Lost Coast Review, Mad Swirl, Otis Nebula, and Horror Sleaze Trash. Recently, he was a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.