The shear curtains acted not as a light block but actually as
a refractive lens. The sunshine was still orange, his favorite part
of the morning, and the curtains lit up orange as if on fire, and
cascaded that amazing life-giving color into every nook and cranny of
his factory assembly line room.
He didn't rise, except to pull back the shears and open the window,
staring out at the sunrise still near the horizon. The orange color
was tinting everything from the cars in the parking lot, to the light
poles, the telephone poles, the gaudy neon signs and the garbage
dumpster, hidden from view at ground level by a six foot redwood
picket fence but laid out before him now like a grotesque sculpture.
He turned to pick up the TV remote, laid back down (pulling the
covers over himself tightly) and listened to the mechanical symphony
of sounds as the garbage truck arrived to perform the multi-ton
ballet put on every other morning. The morning news shows were
consistent, and he watched all five simultaneously. The weather would
be smashing today, sunny and clear, and each had the same lead news
stories about the ongoing saga of the plane that crashed off the east
coast now two weeks ago. If it goes according to schedule, it will be
mentioned each morning for three more weeks, then once in three
months, then a Sunday newspaper section will mention it six months
after that, then one night three years from now he will be sitting in
a hotel room watching cable or PBS and a Science inquiry, or Nova, or
Discovery Channel newsmagazine will be doing a documentary expose on
it. Today, it is grieving relatives and navy boats, bobbing in the
sea hopelessly searching for the black box data recorder.
At 6:45 he sat up, stumbled naked to the shower, and was
finished and brushing his teeth with 6:49 on the clock face. Into his
clothes, bringing his coffee mug, he was out the door at 7:10 after
watching the news headlines on all three national morning shows (how
do those people yuck it up at this hours). Down to the lobby for the
free coffee, out to the car, drive through (which one today?) for a
greasy egg and bacon on a bun sandwich washed down with free coffee.
Ten minutes later we was going over the tracks, into the gravel
parking lot, in the door, up the stairs, through the maze of cubes,
and into his personal cell, booted up for e-mail with a quick look,
7:42 this morning, running 12 minutes late.
He had finished the seventh of the data conversion programs
but was again being denied support by the DBA. How could this company
be spending thousands of dollars per day for his time, then have this
goofy beach-brat be 'too busy' or 'checking on' getting privileges
assigned. How many times had he said he was on the 'test system' and
would simply like Root privilege? Oh no! He might sit around and
spend hours trying to break into the live system. Simple minds have
simple fears, and it would be 1pm before his data files were restored
for his test. He could have keyed the data in by hand faster.
Of course, the first pass died, and the second wrote output data
mercilessly. The third try was fine, all the way through the user
interface. Of course, he had had to hard code over two dozen
settings, but there would be time later in the week to make that all
table driven. A couple of projects ago, he stayed behind and had to
do that for each and every script written by his project teammate,
the one that 'kicked out the code' then 'blew out of town' so he had
to be the one to 'clean up the mess'. He would have time, no he would
MAKE TIME to fix all of those settings so nobody else would have to.
He would do that tomorrow afternoon, after the user signoffs.
One last look at the so-called 'specs', really just a now-tattered
pile of screen shots, stained with coffee and amended with ink, first
blue, later felt tip, until agreement had been reached. It always
felt so strange to hold up a screen shot next to the screen, and
ponder why it was that reasonable and intelligent people paid him
money to do this job. Why? Why did he come to this stinky town and
sit in a mouse hole among mouse holes and write conversion programs
and user reports and program extensions? Why did it have to pay so well?
He had took a leak and stopped by the lunchroom to pick a tub
of lunch out of the machine (ummm, Banana-Strawberry) and was reading
E-Mails and eating the yougurt amid piles of printouts when she
popped into his cubicle. "Can we start a little early?",
she asked pleadingly. "I got snagged into a two-hour product
meeting at two and I don't want it to affect our time".
How could it be? How could she be so sweet, so kind, so
considerate, and so respectfu of him? What whould life be like if
each user could just be half as perfect as Jan Stapleton?
Jan was middle aged, and beautiful, and silly, and smoked (phew!).
She had been with the company almost 6 years, and found a way to take
things one day at a time. She knew what she wanted, and she knew when
she didn't know. When he gave her some printouts to review, with a
date to be completed, she would drop by, just like today, always half
a day early. And always delighted to see him. And always pleasant and
sincere, and funny.
They had gone to lunch once or twice (and sat in the smoking section)
and she had lead a very plain and simple life that she managed to
relate in hilarious and insightful ways. She was, in every way, a
delightful diversion to an otherwise awful week, awful project.
She took the 'guest' chair out of Rami's cubical, and made the
schoolgirl in trouble look about when Rami would find out. She rolled
it half into the cubical, half in the aisleway, and he snugged up
against the side desk and rearranged his papers and his markers and
his stack of so-called specs, the ones marked up with Jan's famous
green felt tip. He self conciously licked his plastic spoon clean of
yougurt and trashed it and the little empty tub. Then he smelled the
dank cubical air, now scented with the sweet smell of hyacinth and
the stale odor of Virginia Slims. He closed his eyes and took a
moment to focus while Jan set and reset her chair and finally
departed for a refill of weak coffee.
They sat together, methodically walking screen by screen, and she
smiled and laughed and they both made fun of the other review
sessions (with Mike from purchasing and Hector from receiving).
Somehow Jan knew how good she was and how good she was for him. And
they laughed together, and giggled, and did foreign voice impressions
of team members too busy to take an interest in the future of the
company, the system, their jobs. The hour passed in minutes, and the
stack of paper shifted from "In" to "Out" and the
bullet list numbered three follow ups. Then they sat back, and
smiled, and Jan suddenly opened her eyes wide and looked at her watch
and stood up and was gone. And his day was done.
In twenty minutes the three fixes were applied, and Jan was
done. He had left voice mail for Mike and for Sheila, and neither had
called back. He called them both again, and left them messages again,
then wrote them both E-Mails cc'ing the project manager. But he was
done. It was only 4:20, but there was nothing left to do so he logged
out of the system, and logged out of E-Mail, and turned off the
lights and stacked up his papers.
He walked down the hallway and peeked into the conference room
and everybody was in attendance at the two-hour product launch
meeting. Nothing would get done until tomorrow, so he left a note on
Rami's desk, and walked out through the maze of cubicals and down the
stairway and through the retro-lobby (finally back in style again)
and out to the gravel parking lot. The whisp of the tank farm filled
his nostrils with acerbic sulfer and gravel dust. Sadly, he was
coming to consider these smells to be part of 'home'.