Friday, March 15, 2013

The emperor of ice cream

Everyone on the floor believed that Major was paying Maria handsomely to stay. Why else would she remain loyal to the prick? Corporate life, you gotta love it. He needed her and her good looks, not to mention her organizational and interpersonal skills. Without which he wouldn't be able to sit back in his overstuffed leather chair and impersonate the Emperor of Ice Cream. We who had had to deal with him directly knew him for what he was -- when you saw him on the elevator or on the street, he was just a short, stout white man in a suit with lifts in his shoes. But when he sat behind his desk -- two Manhattan phone books cushioning his soft arse -- he looked for all the world like a renowned and much-feared potentate. Sporting a kind of concupiscence, perhaps.

If we got called up to the rarified air of the twenty-fourth floor, our effin teeth would start to chatter and our armpits would get wet. The prick was brutal with underlings. And that's what all of us were, despite our six-figure salaries, company cars, steak lunches, and golf outings in Scottsdale. All of that shite was gravy smothering cold cardboard potatoes. When we weren't sopping it up, we were gagging on it. Our tongues had gotten too heavy for our jaws.

Major loved to humiliate us. He would look out the floor-to-ceiling windows -- wanting us think he was watching for the red-tailed hawk that occasionally soared outside our building -- as he let us cool our heels. It was so quiet up there you could hear the air-conditioning vents vibrate. He'd clear his throat and start with a rhetorical question. "Who is going to do the heavy lifting around here?"

I wasn't about to say, "Me." Nor were my colleagues. No one had the cujones to answer his question. We had lead in our mouths and cold piss in our pants.

The hawk might've been busy with its pigeons. Major turned to us and forced a smile. "You guys. You guys are the company. What are you going to do about the next quarter? You want me to go back to the board without a plan?” He looked like he was determining which of us he was going to fire. “You know the drill -- increase sales or cut expenses." But we all knew it was already a done deal -- somebody in the room was a goner. "Take a look at your departments and make sure you've got the resources you need. No more, no less. Just remember, they're not just employees. They're also people. Touch base with HR before you make your lists. Then I want to see them. I want a ten percent cut across the board." It was kind of bracing to see power wielded so nakedly, even by such an asshole. We were cold and dumb in our complicity.

It got even worse when we were forced to stand there and listen to him wax philosophical about his rise in the corporation. "I know what it's like for these young people. I came from nowhere and worked my butt off. If they're willing to do the same, fine. If not, cut 'em loose." We were sick of his honking Horatio Alger shite, his personal reworking of the myth of the small town lad who makes good in the big city. His success, he boasted, was the result of his own efforts. Luck played no part in it. Neither did his effin upper middle class boyhood in Westchester. It was entirely due to the fire in his own distended belly. It was a grotesquerie. And what did we do? We nodded our heads, a bunch of underlings with dry mouths and sweaty cracks.

It's a stark and terribly beautiful thing to see a human being acting the role of despot with relish. Like that waterfall in Yosemite or the sun setting over Diamond Beach. That part of him was so natural and so cool. Hell, he was the person we all wanted to be, if there were only some way we pasty-faced chimps could’ve scuttled our scruples. I sometimes dreamt of leaving my conscience in the cafeteria dumpster, along with my spine and the crushed coffee cups. I thought to myself, there is no finale to “seem.” Hell, “seem” is all there is.

But what we really understood about the prick was this: despite his pretense of cold calculation, Major was a deeply emotional being. You could tell that he was in touch with his inner selves. Plural. They were all there, out in the open, slithering all over the twenty-fourth floor like a gaggle of comic-book villains. In fact, everything the man did was based on emotion, not intellect, certainly not rational analysis. Maria, who knew him best, used to say that he was like a child. For he lived on the surface -- an effin surfer, he was -- and simply obeyed his appetites. His effin desires. If he didn't get his way he'd throw a tantrum and expect the rest of the world to fold. It was so straightforward. It was amazing -- it was good. We knew exactly where we stood. We stood behind him. Effin sheep, us.

What about Maria? She had his number in spades. What an cold-blooded expert she was -- rolling her eyes surreptitiously when he went into one of his jags -- as though we were co-members of her conspiracy. What a joke. Those eyes -- the way she used them to bind us to her, although we couldn’t tell whether she was being doubly ironic. Maybe she was really excusing his behavior. Maria, our lady of excuses. She knew better than anyone that her boss lacked any feel for his company, its products or its processes. She knew better than anyone how little he actually did. Sitting up there pontificating. She knew that he was more or less a figurehead, pulling down a bloody ridiculous salary, his annual bonus alone worth a couple of dozen of us. And yet she remained loyal, except for those eyes. He must’ve been paying her handsomely.

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