"Week of Bariatric Bashing!"
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Sheís sublimely fat. When walking behind her, I stare at her trembling rear-end, her quaking lovehandles that cascade down her sides like a hybrid of elastic and lava. Around her elbows, expanses of fat bunch up like the thick long sleeves of a sweater pushed back to expose the forearms. The bones of my wrists assert a separation between my arms and hands, but her forearms seem draped in leg-warmers stitched of thick flesh, baggy shin-guards of cellulose strapped between elbow and palm. If she were to accidentally serrate a finger on the tiny narrow teeth of her tape dispenser, no blood would flow. Instead there would be oozing pus like when a crushed eclair spews its innards. But instead of sweet heavenly cream, it would taste like an entirely corrosive aloe. And if her miniscule points that serve as feet were elongated, reversed, and bound together in some flowery/cottony fabric and then united in a sharp point, and if she slithered around on this pupal conveyor of her exaggerated obesity, she would answer perfectly to a personal advertisement commissioned by someone as pulchritudinously challenged as Jabba-the-Hut. I hope all these similes carve a hideous image of a commandante composed of corporate gelatin.
I know the meaning of compassion. Itís an empathetic perspective, a participation in anotherís suffering. I know how to break compassion into its components: com (with) and passion (suffering). I also know that Iím not demonstrating any of it right now. But I find it hard to serve up my suffering for this woman, because she expects me to spurn her, and so, she snaps and yaps. And when she sneaks up (somehow treading silently on delicate feet) and blames me for the administrative foul-up with the incoming shipment of 3-hole-punched bond paper (thatís actually no concern of mine), and I tell her she should wear a bell to alert all those behind whose backs she creeps felinely, she snaps and yaps. And when I asked her to sign my timesheet at the end of my first week, she snaps, ďJust leave it there,Ē indicating only with her yappy harshness that I should ever so gently rest it on the azure expanse of her mousepad.
Key Point #1: Her suffering forces her to make others suffer.
Itís as if a storehouse of pain within transforms her into a whip that lashes and scars everyone around her. At first, I thought that a benign attempt at empathy (expressed as humor) would protect me. But sheís on blood-red alert for typical sympathy, and when she suspects it, she flails. Because she must think Iíll reject her for her appearance, she defends herself against attacks (including expressions of sympathy) by striking first. She makes me suffer. All attempts at levity are summarily rejected. And then I sense (overwhelmingly) that at any moment she could slip into a rage. At any moment there will be a concealed handgun pulled from beneath her chubby folds and sheíll blast my ass all over the Temporary World. But instead of stabbing her coworkers with a letter opener or splattering us against the neutral walls of our shared confines, she inflicts her suffering by acting as nasty as a beach-ball sized cat tossed into an agitated surf. At least thereís a pervasive sense of compassion around the office for everyone but her. She brings everyone closer together by giving them someone to hate.
Key Point #2: People should be put out of their misery before their hatefulness spreads like a virus.
If she were the most attractive creature who ever roamed the mauve-and-lavender corridors through the maze of the most benevolent pharmaceutical outfitís cubicles, she would nevertheless instill in me a feeling that the world is doomed, that society hangs on the thinnest thread of order and decency, that arguments in favor of selective genocide are justifiable when it comes to all those who attack the kind and unsuspecting with their minotauric personalities.
ďRound Ďem up!Ē I say.
She infects me with the feeling that I should behave automatically, robotically, as coldly and impersonally as an icon on her screen, something (not someone) that reacts exactly as expected without deviation, without benign expressions of individuality, without sensible attempts at acceptable humor. But Iím not interested in acting this way. I was not born to be treated like this. My mother did not spend all those hours in labor so I could be attacked at work. And while jockeying the Xerox machine, mesmerized by the shuttling rhythm and recirculation of a 100-page report on a new ovarian cancer treatmentís clinical trial, of which she asked me to make one-hundred and sixty-five copies, I imagine an atrocity.
Right before she handed down this massive copy job (it will ultimately involve 16,500 sheets of 8½Ē x 11Ē), she sneered and asked me why Iím tempingómeaning: why is your life so unsettled even as a quasi-mature twenty-five-year old? I responded in my regionally unrecognizable (certainly not from where Iím from), fast-talking accent (brought on by prepubescent speech impediments and adolescent dope smoking) something about living at my parentsí home and earning enough cash to head off to the Third World and teach English in Cuzco, Peru. From her silence and sustained sneering, I inferred that she didnít respect the fact that Iím in search of some very un-corporate action and adventure. Itís apparent that this one particular secretary understands my ideal mode of living as an un-realistic, unknowable, irresponsible affront to all she holds sacred. I realize that I come into her officespace embodying her opposite, and for two weeks Iím hers, and after two weeks, she could hardly give a shit if I exchange my temping income for travelerís checks and fall off the edge of the world.
Itís possible that I threaten her with my lack of responsibilities as defined by possessions, and the debts accrued for said possessions.
Itís possible that I threaten her with my good-natured but sometimes-construed-as-aloof sense of humor.
Itís possible that the fact of my existence within her realm threatens the taking-care-of-business, bottom-line, work-frenzied mindstate that makes corporate culture so rewarding and alluring to all those who are down-to-earth and plaster trite slogans across the bumpers of their leased sedans, things like ďK.I.S.S: Keep It Simple StupidĒ and ďOne Day At A TimeĒ and all the other truisms that only resound right if simplicity and structured ease are your main concerns and aspirations.
I think my Temporary Existence in Anthra Pharmaceuticalsí Fax/Copy Room threatens her because Iím working towards an approaching future that relies on the fact that an explorable world actually lies beyond her corporate centerís perimeter. And Iím doing something that is no longer (realistically) a possibility for her (probably something she never would have done even when she was young and svelte), and so, now, with me in her realm, sheís reminded of her obligations, her enclosures, the trappings of her security.
I understand that Iím talking about HER LIFE. The job continues, plods on for her, Iím just a pay-period flash-in-the-pan, and a freakish flash at that. Iím not nearly as professional as she is. Iím conspicuously disguised in business-casual khakis, tucked-in button downs, ridiculously retro ties. Iím openly undedicated to the whole mechanism, not to mention this one little upstart ovarian cancer outfit. So what should I expect?
I expect basic human civility.
If she has a problem with my performance or my abilities, if she thinks my attention to detail occasionally strays, if she believes a constant vigil over my slumped shoulders is necessary to ensure the correct execution of my labors, then I include as inseparable from this notion of civility some sort of recommendation or constructive criticism as to how I can meet her expectations and prove myself a worthwhile contributor to her drudgery-all-day domain. I consider myself a diligent, hard working, at times oxen-like executioner of tasks bent on working-well when adequately compensated, but follow this the best you can: she told me to cut-out the heading and new address from one sheet of updated letterhead, then xerox it twenty-five times, then cut-out each heading and address and glue-stick it down on one sheet of 8½Ē x 11Ē paper, then xerox that ad infinitum on 8½Ē x 11Ē Avery Laser Label one-side-stick paper, then cut-out each heading and address from the xeroxed Laser Label paper, then peel and stick each updated heading and address over the old heading and letterhead waiting in three boxes of five-hundred out-dated letterheads. Keep in mind all the similes I employed to describe her earlier. And let me add that, when sheís sitting down, the fat swells out literally two feet from her hipbones out and under the arms of her desk chair. Her face is exaggeratedly small. Her nose is strongly aquiline. Her eyes are like half-inch slits sliced in her face by an exacto knife then outlined with dark mascara thatís at once black and somehow flecked with electric-blue dust.
Keeping in mind the similes above as well as the just-described image of the face from which these complex instructions flow, imagine yourself wide-eyedly matching her stare as she rants on.
Imagine that the office environment is relatively new to you.
Imagine that youíre the sort that enjoys complex commands as a test of your comprehensive capacity.
Imagine that youíre one to smile as someone goes on and on deep beyond typical thresholds of getting-what-someoneís-saying.
And also, remember that the process as described to you here is silent and rereadable, that it sticks to the screen in print before your eyes.
And remember that when the aforedescribed secretary ranted, she was not right in my hands (fortunately), the rate of input was controlled by this quick-whipping professionalís rant, not your casual perusal of my writing.
Now that Iíve laid it all out for you, guess what I did?
I skipped a step.
I screwed up.
I glued the twenty-five labels down on to the Laser Label paper then cut and stuck that to the old out-dated letterhead. I absentmindedly spaced (forgot) all the xeroxing partially because she mentioned something (which I forgot to mention above) about xeroxing the out-going fax form over all the old letterhead and probably I mixed up this xeroxing that she mentioned later with the xeroxing onto the Laser labels (if youíre thoroughly confused, then I did a good job illustrating the situation) and so, understandably, I skipped a step, thereby losing a secretaryís respect.
Or maybe I never had her respect.
Or maybe sheís going through a crisis at home and sheís all out of patience.
Or maybe I remind her of people she distrusts and hates.
Or maybe sheís suspicious because of that one time when the phone rang and I answered with the obligatory and inevitable Anthrax.
I am insensitive, condescending, arrogant. I believe myself to be flawless: a suburban-superman. But besides all these so-called unbecoming traits, I believe that the suburban-superman (Die Sububermensch) must balance all egoistics with self-effacement and compassion. I realize that Iím guilty of thinking of her as a machine, someone entirely occupied by her current state of labor, someone whoís beyond hope for renewal because sheís burrowed so deeply into the permanent. My hope for renewal through the old stand-by of traveling to an exotic locale is rooted (I admit) in this newly forged conception of myself as a Suburban Superman. This delusion helps. This is the way I fend off the whisperings of debilitating zero-confidence. My arrogance is just a manageable side effect of the very therapeutic process of leaving for a few years to swashbuckle the southern territories.
Her hatefulness, however, is a symptom of something broader and underlying, something even more virulent breeding within that swollen body, which I felt compelled to so viciously describe above. Her size probably isnít her fault. I realize I havenít considered all the physical complications of her entire life: her slow metabolism mixed with the urge to gorge her ever-expanding gut (and the snowballing effects of both) and the psychological side-effects of all these complications that exist unseen within her. Which bloat her. And what an asshole I am for describing her blood as the corrosive cream of a crushed eclair. Thereís no humor there. No empathy. And if you even smirked at any of my descriptions above, then you better re-evaluate yourself. How can I speak of basic human civility when I preface that with tremendous exaggerations of a complex and ultimately really sad state of affairs in the Temporary World?
You may accuse me of half-assedly covering my tracks.
You may say I canít stick to my Celinesque Guns.
You might think Iím a schlump who feels sad when he says what he means and realizes he must be narrow-hearted, and because he wants to be liked, he scrambles to make amends because he feels ever-so-fucked and shitty for potentially pissing others off.
Maybe I react so harshly because Iím prone to dramatic swings in weight.
Maybe I react so harshly because I never want my body to swell to her size, and, realistically, I think I could.
But I couldnít blame this girth on the secretions of chemicals within. I could only blame it on an impulse to devour everything in sight.
Maybe I need a muzzle.
A swollen ego can temporarily lift you out of the depths, but a body inflated with solid fat, carrying its own heavy load, isnít raised from its cavity so easily. The heavyweight body doesnít float in the zero-gravity bubble of American life. Self-confidence doesnít have the strength; its exultant forces are only so strong. It can only bear so much. It makes sense that I attack her. I plead self-defense
But thereís more to the story.
The Hateful Secretaryís door was closed. I held something in my hand to give to her. Behind the door I hear her speaking to a representative from my temporary agency, saying something about a male temp . . . heís nice enough, but pays no attention to detail; he doesnít seem all there; repeatedly he must be retold instructions; if heís unclear about something he never asks clarifying questions; he must always be watched over his shoulder; heís been repeatedly short-tempered and quick-to-run-off before hearing all the instructions that he doesnít understand entirely; heís repeatedly come in late.
This last one got me.
I was never late.
Always working at twenty-five after eight, taking forty-minute lunch hours, leaving at ten after five.
I felt my hackles rise.
I break into the room. Flinging open and slamming the door just a few inches short of shut, 8½Ē x 11Ēs soar like warhawks through the agitated air. I silently and firmly close the door as the secretary turns. Her slits-for-eyes flash as wide as pennies. I dig my fingertips into the flesh that voluminously collars her neck. The roundly jutting flab of her overtaxed medulla oblongata and burdened cerebral stem gives way as easily as putting on a glove of blubber. I dive my aerodynamically stiffened fingertips into this suspended collar of bariatric flesh until I feel a mucousy space yield between two links of vertebrae. I wedge my fingertips into the clammy marrow and raise and lower the bone as though waving bon voyage to a tearful loved one in a silent movie. Itís remorseless. And as I peer down on her suddenly lifeless slumping girth, I feel the unmistakable first taste of criminal addiction, the release of something within.
Later on that day, after licking my fingers clean and pulling out from under the pleasurable shade of this atrocity, I called my temporary agency.
When I asked whether the secretary at Anthra had complained about "my
consistent tardiness," my advocate didnít know what I was talking about.
After my repeated questioning and my advocateís increasingly confounded
reassurance that the secretary had nothing to say about me, my advocate
finally asked why I was so concerned with the secretaryís report. She asked
if there was something I thought I was doing wrong, and when I didnít answer,
she suggested a new assignment.
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