Socialism In The Workplace
The new hire is introducing himself at the weekly staff meeting. He jogs to the mic with a sort of embarrassed athleticism and then yanks it out of the stand a little too hard, so that a thud coughs out of the speakers. “Hey everyone, I’m Luca,” he says. “So happy to be here.”
He looks like a tech CEO or televangelist. He pauses for effect, waits for the room to settle around him. The muscles of his tanned forearms are visible as he lifts the mic back up to his mouth. He whispers into it. “Can’t wait to meet you all.”
Will misses the meeting so a lot of this sequence is imagined based on the description of his work friend Tracey. “He seems nice,” she says. “But kind of a bro.” Will nods, silent. Sometimes he thinks he might be a bro, though not the kind that Luca is. “Not that it matters.”
“Because he’s the CEO’s son.” She shrugs. They both look out over the office – a series of long desks set in horizontal rows between the parallel windows of their loft space – until their eyes find the door to the CEO’s office at the end of the room. Tracey is about Will’s age, with dark brown hair and a penchant for black jeans and fashionable tops. “I have a meeting,” she says. “I’ll see you later.”
“Ok.” He pulls his phone out and checks his email on it before returning to his desk, where he email his open.
Will has been trying not to use plastic bags. So of course he notices plastic bags everywhere. He buys lunch – which already, unavoidably, comes in a plastic container – and they offer him a plastic bag. He buys a yogurt at the Duane Reade on his way home from the gym and the clerk tries to put it in a bag. “I’m OK,” he says. “Don’t worry about the bag.” The clerk nods. He wonders if it’s policy to put everything in a plastic bag. What a horrible policy, he thinks to himself.
The plastic bags are part of a larger shift. He’s trying to be more conscious of his role in the world. Better.
He’s not sure what brought this on. Part of it is that, in spite of the fact that he never pictured himself getting into sales, he has been in sales for six years. And six years is a long time. Not so long that he can’t do something else but a long time doing something that, at best, can be described as useless. Socially, he solves this problem by regularly commenting on the shittiness and hypocrisy of large companies – including his clients. To make himself feel better, he decides to be a part of the solution.
Tracey is putting together a baby pool for Lisa, one of the accountants. Lisa is very pregnant. “What’s the due date?” Will asks. He pauses. “Is that cheating?”
“No,” Tracey says. “But they never come on the due date.”
“Has anyone taken the due date?”
“Yes.” Will ends up taking a week early and a week late between six and noon and six and midnight, respectively. In the pool, each day is broken into four parts and as a result the prize, at last count, is up to $350. Obviously, a chunk of it will go to a shower gift for Lisa. A committee, led by Tracey, will decide what to get. Over coffee one day Will offers to help – financially, with research, etc. He believes that work should, as possible, be pleasant, and makes a point of supporting coworkers where he can.
There’s a happy hour that takes place a few days before the start of Lisa’s maternity leave (it’s at this event that they give her the gift). Someone breaks into the events budget and makes virgin and non-virgin daiquiris. There’s baby themed bingo and a brief round of company baby trivia. Thankfully, someone knows the name of every single baby at the company. This makes Will happy.
The party goes late and a contingent – about fifteen people – ends up at an Irish pub down the street from the office. Will finds himself wedged between a bar stool and the bar top, talking to Suzanne who also works in accounting. About eight feet away from them but positioned in a way that he’s directly in Will’s line of sight, Luca is regaling a small group with a story from business school. “It was just supposed to be a team building exercise,” the story starts.
“You guys busy?” Will asks Suzanne. She rolls her eyes.
“Yeah,” Will says. “I know what you mean.” They pause, drink. “What do you think of him? He seems… I don’t know.” Suzanne looks at him, her eyes slanted. He doesn’t know how to read the look but, feeling a bit drunk, pushes on. “Weird I guess.”
“He’s funny.” Her brow has furrowed. Maybe. “Really down to earth.”
He’s not a king, Will almost says. Instead, “Yeah I haven’t gotten to spend much time with him yet.”
“Well he’s really nice.”
“I’m sure. I just haven’t gotten to know him yet.”
Will goes home. Sitting on his couch, he swipes on Bumble for a while. He gets a few matches, but none of them message him. He thinks about how easy Luca must have it on the internet, if he even uses the internet. He thinks about how easy Luca has had it in general. He thinks, for the first of what will be many times, that Luca is a fucking prick. He tells himself that he, Will is smarter, but then remembers that Luca went to Yale. He saw that on LinkedIn.
The next day he wakes up embarrassed about the conversation with Suzanne and goes to work. They don’t sit near each other and they don’t run into each other but Will still spends a decent chunk of the day being conspicuously pleasant to show that he’s a team player. He makes two pots of coffee and asks people about their weekend plans. He and Tracey spend half an hour in the office kitchen talking about one of her more difficult clients.
Will’s weekend plans involve going to the gym and a birthday party for a college friend. The college friend’s girlfriend is throwing the party. Her name is Nicole, and she has made a major effort. There are decorations and a cake. There is nice alcohol. Expensive, nice alcohol and mixed drinks. “She’s so nice.” A mutual friend whispers to him at one point. She is.
He stays at the party later than he means to, talking to a pair of his friends over Miller High Life. “My boss hired his kid,” he says at one point. “He’s a total frat boy.”
“Lame.” His friends say in unison.
“Yeah,” he says. There’s a pause. He’s not sure what to say. He feels somewhat embarrassed to have brought the issue up. Growing up, they would have made fun of people for getting this worked up about non-problems. His friend Mark cuts in.
“We just started working with Adidas,” he says. “Which has been cool.”
A few weeks go by. Lisa has her baby. They review intern resumes and Will spends a few afternoons on the phone with college students. All of them are extremely confident. They go through their majors and activities and interests in lists that never seem to end. They call attention to the quality of their education and their engagement with it. They talk about their rounded, deep intelligence. Will wonders if he sounded like them. He wants to tell them to pick a different job.
Will’s boss has put Luca on one of his accounts. “Find a way to use him,” are his boss’s exact words. Will tries to give him the tasks he doesn’t want to do. Luca doesn’t blink. In fact he does a great job. This makes Will’s job easier, which makes him happy but also uncomfortable. He spends a lot of time thinking about the fact that Luca is gaining power and influence.
One Thursday Will goes on a date with a girl he meets on Bumble. Her name is Sandy. Her profile says that she’s a teacher and rock-climbing enthusiast. They meet at a bar that’s closer to her apartment than his.
“What do you do?” Sandy asks at some point. They’ve made a long time without falling to the more basic intro questions. The date is going well.
“Sales consulting,” Will says. “Basically we come in when people can’t figure out how to sell stuff.”
Will feels confident. He feels like he and this girl have a connection. So he brings up Luca. “They just hired our owner’s kid though. He’s not very experienced but he’s super senior. It’s fucked up.”
“Sounds fucked up,” Sandy says. “But what can you do?”
“I know,” Will says. “It’s just wrong though.”
“The client loves Luca,” his boss says. “They just called me to say how great the work has been.” He pauses. “And of course they’re still very happy with you.”
“Right,” Will says. He’s started to dread coming to work. He dreads it so much that he has trouble sleeping. He finds himself snapping at people. He walks around mad most of the time.
A little while after the conversation with his boss he walks over to Tracey’s desk. “Want to get a coffee?” he asks. He’s been feeling a little crazy since the conversation: paranoid, like they’re trying to push him out. This actually cuts the rage: he’s too afraid to be angry. He’s not sure what he wants from Tracey beyond reassurance that he’s good at his job.
“Sure,” she says. They walk a couple blocks to the Starbucks. As soon as they’re out the door Will brings up the conversation with his boss.
“So apparently they love Luca,” he says. “The bank.”
“That’s great,” Tracey says.
“Yeah,” he says. “But I mean he’s just doing what we were already doing. What I was already doing.”
“Right,” she says.
“They were already happy.”
“I know,” she says. “But it’s good that they like what we’re doing. Maybe they’ll give us some more money.” Will hasn’t considered this possibility. What if they up the budget and Luca gets credit?
“Yeah,” he says. “I don’t know. It just feels like they’re going to give Luca credit. Boss’s kid and all.”
“I don’t think so.”
“People know how good you’re at your job,” she says. “Don’t worry about it.”
Will recognizes that it’s become an obsession. He spends huge chunks of the day staring at Luca – their desks are about ten feet apart. The CEO’s son is always spinning his pen on his fingers. His mouth is always open. He looks fucking stupid, Will thinks.
He notes, too, the amount of time Luca spends texting. And the dumb look he gets on his face when he’s concentrating, even when he’s not typing. He notices the time it takes him to write an email – in watching Luca, Will discovers that the CEO’s son agonizes over his response to every email Will sends. For a few moments he feels a tenderness towards Luca. Luca cares. Luca isn’t good at everything. Then he reminds himself of all the things the CEO’s son has, all the things he’s been given. He tells himself that this is how the world balances itself –or anyway as close as the world gets to balance.
“He’s kind of just a jackass,” he says to Tracey one day in the elevator. “The more I watch him, that’s what I think.” She smiles but doesn’t respond.
A few days later he finds out that Tracey and Luca have had lunch together. He finds out from the office manager or rather he finds out when he sees them riding the elevator together and asks the office manager if they had a meeting. “Just lunch,” she says.
Will nods and then goes to the bathroom. A cold sweat has settled over him. He places both hands on the counter and stares at himself in the mirror. “Jackass,” he says. “Jackass.”
This, he knows, is his wakeup call. He’s really been cutting it close. People have probably started to sense his loathing, his weird workplace rage. He should be grateful for what he has.
He Gchats a friend of his who tells him the same thing. “Just let it go,” his friend says. “It’s a job.”
Will knows it’s a job. He knows that life isn’t fair. He just thought that his life was going to be fair. Or mostly fair anyway.
He understands that this is silly. He understands that Luca isn’t, in the scheme of the world’s unfairness, much of an issue. But this knowledge doesn’t help so he focuses on whether Tracey will say anything to the boss’s son. She doesn’t, so he lets it go.
Or he almost lets it go. About a week later they have coffee. It’s Tracey’s idea. She’s walking past his desk and asks him. “I’m out of gas,” she says.
They make small talk in the elevator. The whole ride Will feels a lump forming in his throat though he can’t quite place why. The invitation seems genuine. They’re friends.
Halfway through the walk the source of his anxiety becomes apparent when he asks Tracey about the lunch. “So I heard you and Luca had lunch?”
“Where’d you hear that?” she responds.
“Oh.” They order their coffees. “Weird,” Tracey says after they’ve finished.
“How was it?”
“He’s nice. He said we hadn’t gotten to spend a lot of time together and wanted to find out more about what I did.”
“Yeah. It was good.”
“I know you don’t like him,” Tracey says. She sips her coffee. “But he’s smart and nice.”
“I like him,” Will says.
“Okay,” Tracey says. He feels like he should say something else.
“Did you ever think this is where you’d end up?” he asks. “This sort of job.”
“I thought I’d be a doctor.”
“What happened?” she shrugs.
“Sometimes I can’t believe that this is all there is.”
The best word for the look on Tracey’s face is stricken. “It’s not-“ she starts. She gestures around her with both hands. It’s an abortive gesture: half started and then immediately stopped.
“Sorry,” Will says. “Sorry.” He makes up a lie. “My dog’s been sick.” Tracey says she understands.
A few weeks later Will’s boss tells him that Luca is going to be taking over their shared account. “We’re giving you a piece of new business that we just won,” he explains. “It’s a good opportunity.” Will doesn’t think so. Will can feel his future at the company shrinking.
He goes on a second date with Sandy. They have dinner at a ramen place. “I love ramen,” Sandy says.
The meal lasts for a long time. Sandy explains some of the issues she has with her school. “We were founded to do a specific thing,” she says. “But we don’t have the funds. And since we don’t have the funds, we can’t offer kids the opportunities we were supposed to, which means some of them act out. And then we don’t have anything for them. To help them I mean.”
“Yeah,” Will says. “Yeah.” He pauses, spoons some ramen into his mouth. “Jesus that sucks.”
He keeps thinking about this on the way home, along with a related thought. The related thought is: I’m such an asshole.
This realization doesn’t help. Remembering that other people’s problems are worse doesn’t make his problem seem smaller, it just makes him feel guilty for caring. He tries to force himself to be happy but it doesn’t take. He tells himself to focus on his next paycheck. His next paycheck is nine days away.
Will keeps waiting for someone to ask him what’s wrong. He keeps waiting to be confronted for his behavior. But no one says anything. “Keep up the good work,” his boss says.
“Okay,” Will says.
There has to be some way out of this, he thinks. And of course there is, there are other jobs, other places. That’s the rational thing to do, the sane thing. Instead he goes to work every day and pictures himself flipping Luca’s salad into his face as he eats at his desk. He pictures himself tripping the boss’s son as he walks by. He pictures himself screaming at him for using a plastic bag for a powerbar.
None of these things happen. And he doesn’t leave either. Things just continue. This is baffling. It’s truly baffling that this is the way things are.
DE MacMillan has had work in Necessary Fiction, Wigleaf, JMWW, and some other places. He lives in Jersey City. Twitter @DEMacMillan