Sunday, February 28 2021

from the homework vault: cubicle life

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Dear Journal,

Mike Judge's film Office Space has always had a special place in my heart, but in high school it was my personal Citizen Kane. Even though the film meant to show how cruel and inhuman the cubicle life was to the modern white collar worker, I was fascinated by that world. I secretly wanted to commiserate over office politics, software bugs, and idiot bosses just like Peter Gibbons. I'd go on to find a real knack and passion for working with computers, but there's no denying that Office Space first piqued my interest.

By the time I entered the work force, office cubicles were already going out of style. Following the latest trend, most places adopted open floor plans, forcing us to sit in smaller desks pushed together or arranged in a big circle. They told us it was to "facilitate collaboration", but we knew that was bullshit. Companies liked open floor plans because they could fit more developers in the same room, they didn't have to pay for cubicle walls, and it was easier to keep an eye on what we were doing.

For two different companies I worked for, I briefly enjoyed my own real cubicle. My phelt walls were a soft, non-threatening grey. I had my own coat rack, landline phone, and locking metal cabinet. On very special days, someone would absent-mindedly wheel our big scrum whiteboard in front of my door way, sealing me in. My friends, you haven't experienced peace like quietly eating instant ramen in a walled off cubicle. That was the closest I've ever come to having my own office.

For this 11th grade British Literature assignment, we had to write a short story around a moral, a proverb, or a well known wise saying. Truth be told, it didn't matter what the assignment was - I had already made up my mind on writing my own miniature rendition of Office Space. I wrote up the story, then picked the most open ended quote from my collection of pithy AIM away messages.

My teacher liked my essay and chose mine to read aloud in class. The proverb I had randomly chosen from my computer struck a chord with him.

"No matter how long the night, the sun will rise," he read. "In other words, your sin will always find you out. Beautiful."

I was genuinely surprised that my teacher's interpretation worked so well with the story. In a way, he completed the assignment for me.

This is dated January 11, 2008.

No matter how long the night, the sun will rise.

-- African Proverb

“Woo! Let’s get right down to business, shall we? What is your name?”

“Cline Gallagher. I don’t remember what my title is.” The company wellness survey took place twice a week. Every Tuesday and Thursday the human resources rep Andy would gallop into his cubicle (yes, actually gallop), brandish a stupid grin, and sit with his legs crossed on the floor. Without a doubt, Cline would love nothing more than to creatively end Andy’s life – perhaps strangle him with his polka dot clip on tie or maybe even offer him a diet Pepsi spiked with printer ink.

“Says here that you are a sales associate, buddy, as well as a… certified office downer!” Andy cackled and resounded with obscene laughter. His oily red facial hair bristled as saliva thickened at the sides of his mouth; he rocked in a ball clapping his elephantine hands. Cline buried his head and mentally screamed.

“Sales? I don’t even know what I sell.” Cline’s retort was acidic, but Andy was still as vibrant as a bag of skittles. Cline winced, knowing that what was to come was either a robotic recitation of the SmileyCon mission statement (accompanied by the robot dance, of course) or an obnoxious faux German accent.

“VELL SMAHRTY PAHNTZ! VHAT ISS IT DAT YOU DO AHL DAY!” Needless to say, today it was the German accent. At this point in the aimless questioning, Cline would usually make up something that sounded productive and unsuspicious, yet inexplicably vague. However, Cline was feeling especially honest today.

“I don’t do anything. I mean, other than checking my email, playing Minesweeper, pretending to drink coffee, and staring at my shoes, I don’t do anything that comes close to a ‘sales associate’ in this prison. In fact, I don’t know what I’m doing in this company, not to mention what I’m doing with my life! Ah! That’s what it is! A prison! This place is a prison, and I am serving a life sentence here!” Andy rolled to his feet. He crimped his chapped lips as if he were crying. Andy was mocking Cline with sputtering tears and comical moans. Cline grew angry.


Pop! Andy fell to the ground like a wounded grizzly bear. Cline stood over him, rubbing his swollen fist. Andy groaned and tipped his head upward; his jaw dropped, revealing three bloody sockets that once held wide yellow teeth. Cline heard a nasal wheezing behind his neck. It was Gloria. Her massive forehead was perched just over the wall of his cubicle (which she did regularly). Her beady eyes spun in frantic observation.

“Cline, you punched Andy.” Only her eyes and forehead were seen, but she raised her eyebrows as if she was expecting an apology.

“Cline, you punched Andy.” Cline stared at her in disgust. Her beady eyes were fixed on him.


“I know! I punched Andy,” Cline screamed. His face was now red and the tips of his ears burned.

“… you punched Andy.” She blinked about thirty times as she wiggled her eyebrows. Cline seized a bottle of keyboard cleaner and lunged at her, pumping the aerosol cap. She closed her eyes tightly as she lethargically fell to the ground, moaning through her nose.

“Ah! I can’t see. The ammonium burns…” Andy joined with a wail.

“I fink I swallowed a toof,” whimpered Andy as he writhed at Cline’s feet. Cline stormed out in a huff. His eyes were fixed on a decorative SmileyCon baseball bat displayed on the wall at the end of the hallway. Everyone on his floor milled around completely oblivious to him. Cline wrapped his sweaty fingers around the polished wood and hurled himself backwards. Cline wielded the bat above his head and screamed hoarsely. Everyone stopped and stared. Cline felt their stares like a solar cooker. He trembled, struggling to hold the bat above his head. Gloria crawled out of her cubicle.

“Cline punched Andy.” Her words were choked by the uncomfortable silence. Cline felt his pulse in his eyes. His eardrums rumbled. Tightening his grip on the colorful bat, he raised both his arms.

Cline swung at the window. It shattered with a vile frequency. Cline swung again at a copier mounted on the wall. Sparks flung into the air in a static whip. Cline was lost – drowning in a raging sea of fury. His mind ached within a delirium of numbing anger. He could not even hear the screams and shouts of employees as they fled. Cline beat everything. Shards of glass, chunks of drywall, and wooden splinters filled the air. His rampage was brutishly turbulent. Computers fizzled and flared in every cubicle. The bat snapped violently. Cline fell to the ground bearing the broken handle. He stared at the ceiling, straining to catch his breath.

A single piece of paper floated under the bright lights and fell. It draped across his face and slid onto the carpeting. Cline shifted to read. It was an official SmileyCon memo. His name caught his eye. It was printed in fine black in the text. He read on:

Attention all SmileyCon employees:

Please offer your congratulations when possible to Cline Gallagher as he has been recommended for a corporate position at our building downtown. Well done Cline. We’ll miss you.

Andy Jellian, Director of Human Resources

Cline rolled backwards and sighed.

“Now I’m actually going to prison.”