Unplugging—Clark Humphrey

Almost none of the agency’s younger employees were in the office on Friday afternoon. They were all scattered at nearby coffee houses and cafes. The people who remembered what office routines were like prior to, say, 1998, they stuck around and did what tasks they could do—filing, phones, in-person appointments and meetings.

One of the office old timers declared this Friday as “old home day.” A day to do things the way they used to do things around there. Why it wasn’t all that long ago, all the managers reminded me all day, when nobody used such newfangled nonsense as “email” or “Googled” anything. If somebody needed a document sent to them you mailed it off. If they needed it sooner, you sent it by FedEx. If they needed it any sooner than that, you faxed it to them. There’s still a fax machine, and a fax line, in the office. It was actually used on Friday. 

Hell, there are even some old IBM Selectric typewriters around in there. And they apparently still work, though I have no idea when anybody used them last. Even on Friday, everybody still used their computers; even though the computers couldn’t communicate with the outside world, only with their own printers.

But not me. At least not after 3 o’clock, when I finally realized that (1) the tech support was not going to show, and (2) I still had shitloads of work to do that needed access to the electronic outside world.

So I bundled up my aging, firm-issued XP laptop, unplugged and gathered the power cord just in case, and got out of my workplace toward some place where I could do some work.

The thing was, our office tower didn’t have a coffee house in it, just a cafeteria that had already closed for the day. My own office mates had filled the seats in the ground floor coffee house in the tower across from ours. I had to keep searching, out in the downtown mid afternoon. My second, third, and fourth choice places had either already closed for the day, were too crowded, or too noisy.

Somehow I ended up almost at Pioneer Square, at some place named after the world’s most decrepit automobile. I was probably the only customer in there who knew that. Hell, I seemed to be the only customer in there who was old enough to remember there had been such a thing as East Germany, where the aforementioned automobile had been made. (Is there a word for somebody who’s old enough to remember Communism, but young enough to have always had jobs with email addresses?)

I purchased enough food and drink to justify my planned long term stay in the place. I plopped myself down at the table furthest from the counter, where I hoped to have the fewest reality-based distractions from my screen-based work stint.

The wifi here worked. I got my emails in and out. I retrieved the information I needed from the cloud. I inserted the just-acquired names, addresses, and case numbers into my documents. 

I kept my eyes laser focused on the screen. I barley noticed that the room around me was steadily becoming busier and noisier. I vaguely overheard people vaguely talking about when some event was going to start in there. Next thing I knew, I overheard people yelling and clinking glasses. I hadn’t realized when I came in that this place turns into a bar in the evenings. There was a clock on my screen but I hadn’t looked at it. I still had a lot to do when I finally glanced at the little menu bar clock to find it was past 5:45. Had my supervisors been here, they would have admired my dedication.

Somebody WAS there who DIDN’T admire my dedication. I found this out suddenly, when my laptop was slammed shut, almost with my fingers in the way. 

The second thing I did, after the initial shock wore off a bit, was look up.

When I did, I saw a pair of steely blue-grey eyes beneath a tussle of dyed red hair and above a cherry lipsticked mouth that emphatically proclaimed “Office hours are OVER!” 

She grinned and stared straight at me. I felt terror at first sight, followed seconds later by, not love or even lust, but something I’d call “intrigue.”

She brusquely introduced herself as the instigator of this evening’s festivity, a closing night for the art show currently on the cafe’s walls. Yes, I had paid not a whiff of attention to the art works. I looked up just then to see collage pieces combining magazine pictures of different women from different decades. The woman looking at me (who would soon identify herself as “Lee Z.”) told me she wasn’t the artist but a friend of hers was, and that this party was intended to get the show’s last unsold pieces sold. 

As I said, that was around 5:45 on Friday. By the time I reported to work (in our re-connected office) on Monday morning, Lee Z. Had sold me an artwork. She had also taken me bar hopping to at least seven places (and this was after the art reception had ended at 8), then let me crash at her condo that night, then driven herself and me on a weekend-long jaunt to wineries, casinos, the La Conner museum, a biker bar, several other bars, scenic Chuckanut Drive, and an unrestored dive motel. Along the way, she told me all about spending most of her law-firm salary on “bucket list” trips around the world; though her last trip was only as far east as East Rutherford NJ. Yes, she’d gone to the Super Bowl by herself.

Just about the only thing we didn’t do (and still haven’t yet) was sex. When she woke me up in her condo Saturday morning, she said I looked so peaceful and “yummy” while she’d watched me sleep, but she has a policy to never “take” a man in any way that she wouldn’t want anyone to “take” her. Without going into any examples, she said any American woman who travels the world solo quickly learns to not just demand respect but to give it.

How “giving respect” had to do with nearly crushing my fingers in my company-owned laptop, I still haven’t asked.

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About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on March 25, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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