“Disney Land East”
by Michail Mulvey
“That must really suck,” I said as Matt and I stopped outside an accounting classroom. We watched as row after row of aspiring accountants, all sitting at gray metal tables and hunched over large gray ledger books, punched numbers into bulky electric calculators and entered the totals with number two pencils . . . like a bunch of celibate monks hunched over parchment, scribbling away with quill pens.
“Yeah. That looks about as much fun as getting your nutsack caught in your zipper,” said Matt, a classmate and fellow English major. We stood there for a minute, shook our heads and moved on. Mary’s Package Store opened at eleven.
Accounting majors took a lot of crap, almost as much as philosophy majors . . . and art history majors . . . especially at off-campus keggers. With their high-waters, white socks, black-frame Coke-bottle glasses, white shirts and pocket protectors, accounting majors stood out in a crowded room and made easy targets.
“Hey, four-eyes, why don’t you come over here and count the hairs on my ass?” I yelled at a bevy of bean counters huddled on the opposite side of the room, yakking away about balance sheets and the bottom line, no doubt. I was well into my fifth beer at a party thrown by a buddy, Steve, a P.E. major who rented a house by the lake and threw keggers to help pay the rent. He didn’t give a rat’s ass what your major was as long as you paid the five dollar entrance fee at the door and didn’t puke on the rug.
“Someday I’ll be the CEO of a large corporation while you’re putting kids to sleep droning on about Moby Dick or Ralph Waldo Hemingway in some sweaty classroom for ten grand a year,” one of the accounting majors yelled back.
“Yeah, I got your Moby Dick right here, asshole,” yelled Matt holding his crotch in one hand and his beer in the other. “And it’s F. Scott Hemingway you illiterate pencil-pushing pecker head.”
“Don’t push the alliteration,” I warned Matt. Turning back to the accounting majors, he continued his verbal assault. “Yeah, and you’ll be sitting at a desk, pushing a number two pencil for the rest of your miserable life, Bartleby.”
“He doesn’t have a friggin’ clue who Bartleby is,” I said to Matt who held onto his girlfriend for support. “Wait, Bartleby was a scribbler, right? And he worked for a lawyer?”
“Freakin’ bean counting . . . I can’t think of anything that alliterates with counting,” said Matt, scratching his stomach.
“Forget it. Have another beer before the keg runs dry,” I told him, refilling my plastic cup.
“Steve, you ran outta chips, man. We need some more chips,” yelled Matt to the other room.
“Count this,” yelled one of the geeks, flipping Matt the bird with one hand while holding his beer with the other.
“What’s that? Your IQ or your GPA?” I shot back.
“Someday you’ll all be replaced by machines,” yelled Matt who read somewhere about some other geeks out in California who’d built a computer the size of a breadbox.
“Fat chance,” said one of the Bartlebys. “Yeah,” added another. “There’s about as much chance of that happening as you finding a teaching job, or any job, for that matter with only a B.A. in English. What we’re you thinking, Shakespeare?”
“Me thinks the best part of thou dribbled down thy mother’s leg, asshole,” said Matt heading across the room toward the accounting majors.
Steve intervened before any blood could be spilled on the rug of his rented house by the lake.
With commencement just around the corner, I pondered my future, especially with a weak economy, my rock-bottom GPA, and a world that still hadn’t figured out what to do with college graduates holding a B.A. in English. I toyed with the idea of prolonging college and the four-year-long party by going to grad school, but I would need money for tuition, books, and, of course, beer.
My prospects looked bleak indeed, but a friend told me about an opening at the publishing house where she worked. With my degree in English I was hoping for a job as an editor, but I was desperate, I’d settle for any anything. Well, almost anything.
“We have an opening for a junior accountant. Well, an assistant to a junior accountant, really, so the pay is, well . . . a bit below entry level. The accounting department has had several people leave recently. Do you have any experience?”
I was torn between lying about having experience just to get the job and telling the truth. Truth was, not only did I lack any accounting experience, there was bad blood between me and accountants. Surely they had to have other openings, I thought. I’d empty the trash, sweep floors. I’d rather shave my balls with a cheese grader than sit behind a desk all day, punching numbers into a calculator and entering the totals into a ledger sheet with a number two pencil. For some reason I chose to tell the truth . . . for a change.
“Nope, no experience at all.” But I can pump out a ten-page paper on the nine circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.”
“Good with figures?” Yes, but not the kind you’re talking about.
“Well, I worked in the student union, in the game room. I handed out pool cues and ping pong paddles, kept track of the register, counted change, balanced the cash drawer at the end of the night, made deposits in the morning. You know, kind of like running a small store.”
“Close enough. I’ll schedule an interview with the department head if that’s OK. I’m sure he’ll find you acceptable. Like I said, they’ve been very busy lately and could use some help.“
The prospect of working in an accounting office was my worst nightmare. Well, my second worst nightmare. My worst nightmare was being told by my college advisor that there had been an error in the audit of my transcript and I would have to go back and retake Art 100, The History and Appreciation of Western Art with Dr. Gilmore.
“Our next slide is an example of a triptych, three paintings on wooden panels attached to each other,” lectured Dr. Gilmore a week before Halloween, one of the few classes I attended. “This particular triptych is by the Flemish painter, Hieronymous Bosch. It depicts paradise with Adam and Eve and many wondrous animals on the left panel, the earthly delights with numerous nude figures in the middle panel, and hell with depictions of fantastic punishments of various types of sinners, and strange, scary monsters on the right panel.”
“Kill me now,” I whispered to Matt as we suffered through the lecture. With the help of Matt’s girlfriend, who took copious and detailed notes, I managed to pass the course with a D-. Matt got a D+.
I wanted to drink beer and spend the summer at the beach, but I had to eat and pay bills. So I put on a jacket and tie and went for the second interview with the supervisor of the accounting department, a guy named Mr. Lafarge.
The interview was short and to the point. Mr. Lafarge was an old guy around forty, a tall, lanky fellow in a dark suit. He had a long nose and reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t place the face. His office was dark; only one lamp with a low-wattage bulb on his desk. There were no windows and the room was airless and close. I began to sweat through my shirt. My interview consisted of several questions about my job at the game room. Mr. Lafarge smiled and asked if I’d be interested in the position. ”Yes,” I lied. Inwardly I groaned, but there was no heavy lifting involved and it paid two dollars an hour more than any other job I saw in the want ads. “Then I’ll see you Monday,” he said, smiling again. He stood up, reached across his desk and offered a hand. It was warm and moist.
On my way home I wondered why the chief of the bean counters had hired me of all people, and after such a short interview. Surely there were newly-minted accountants looking for work, guys with degrees. But this was a position as an assistant to a junior accountant, probably beneath them. In the end I figured Mr. Lafarge must have been really hard up for help. Still, my hiring was a mystery that baffled me for most of the summer.
Accounting, as I had suspected, was deadly boring. I understood then why they had so much trouble holding onto their help. But I had to admit it still beat the hell out of working nights at that convenience store, bussing tables at the college dining hall, or handing out ping pong paddles and pool cues at the student union game room. All paid minimum wage.
I called the accounting firm where I worked Disneyland East, not because the parking lot was filled with fun rides and Disney characters wandered the halls, handing out hugs and blowing kisses to all the employees, but because of the life-sized pictures of Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Daisy, Pluto and a dozen other Disney characters painted on the walls of the office where we calculated the royalties of various Disney publications.
My three co-workers were all college grads with degrees in accounting. As far as I knew, though, none were alums of my college and had no first-hand knowledge of the razzing accounting majors took at my school, especially at the hands of certain English majors I knew.
I had to admit, for accounting geeks, my three co-workers were almost human. Almost. Bill was an odd little guy, but he liked beer and chili dogs, so we hit it off right away. Bob, the guy at the desk by the window was slightly older than the rest. He was a quiet, hard-working little gnome in glasses who wore an ill-fitting suit. Rumor was Bob was next in line when the boss moved up the corporate ladder. The third was a CEO-wannabe named Bart, a tall and gangly freak who, I was told, I should be wary of. He was suspected of being a company man, a blatant ass-kisser who’d stick it to you if it would help further his career.
Although I found the job about as interesting as watching a loaf of Wonderbread turn green, I was earning more money than I had ever made in my entire life. And I wasn’t sweating my ass off moving large bags of cow manure, mulch, topsoil, and grass seed in the garden department of that department story I worked the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. This place was air-conditioned.
Despite the decent paycheck, the cool temps, and the department secretary in the tight blouse and short skirt named Ursula, after two weeks I was ready to snap. I wanted to jump up on my desk, wave my pants in the air and yell, “For Christ’s sake, get a friggin’ life why don’t ya?” But I needed the paycheck, so the pants stayed on and my ass stayed planted in the chair.
There were days when I wanted to take my number two pencil and shove it as far into my ear as it would go, all the way through if possible. If it hit a vital organ along the way, all the better. Anything to put me out of my misery. But, as I was told by the accounting geeks back in college, there was little chance of that number two pencil hitting anything on its way to the other side.
I longed for the beach, the sun on my face, sand between my toes, the smell of suntan lotion, and summer sweat beading on my brow. I wanted to sip cold beer while eying long lines of bronze beauties wearing tiny and too-tight bikinis stretched out on blankets like red Twizzlers lying in the candy case. Paradise.
The nuns at Saint John’s had lied. Hell, I found out, was nothing like that fiery-hot, sulfur-filled pit in the picture they showed us, the one where devils in red body suits, carrying long pointy tridents poked you in the ass while laughing uproariously as you screamed in agony. Hell can be an air-conditioned office where you’re chained to a chair, eight friggin’ hours a day, five friggin’ days a week for eternity . . . or until you shoved a number two pencil in your ear or hanged yourself from the sprinkler pipe with your tie.
I soon discovered that there were other hazards to this job — aside from getting fat, pasty-faced, and growing a hump in your back from leaning over a ledger book all day. While sitting at my desk late one Friday afternoon, I felt an unfamiliar, uncomfortable and painful twinge in my rear. I squirmed, shifted position, got up and picked at what I thought might be a wedgie, sat back down, got up again and poked at the chair cushion thinking a metal spring was sticking up through the padding. Finally I realized that the source of the discomfort was in my ass, not in the chair.
When I got back to my apartment, I asked my long-suffering, on-again off-again girlfriend, a student nurse named Karen, what it could be. Without looking up from her nursing text, and without me having to drop my pants and stick my ass in her face, she diagnosed a hemorrhoid. I wasn’t exactly sure what a hemorrhoid was, what caused it or how to rid myself of this annoying discomfort, a disabling injury for someone chained to a chair all day.
Could this be the end of a promising career in accounting, I wondered, tongue in cheek? One can only hope, I thought to myself. Could I apply for workman’s comp?
“I probably got it sitting on my ass all day long,” I said, opening a can of beer. I was fishing for sympathy.
“Not likely,” she said, not even looking up from her textbook — she was taking a summer course. “It’s probably from straining to let one of your infamous beer and chili farts go in a crowded room — or in bed.” The smirk on her face told me she was taking great pleasure in my pain, probably thinking it was Divine retribution. “It’s an example of contrapasso, don’t you think?” she added, still smirking.
“Where’d you see that word,” I asked, racking my brain for a reference.
“I may be only a nursing major, but I’m not illiterate. I took a couple literature courses. Haven’t you read Dante’s Inferno? she asked, rhetorically. “Contrapasso. It’s a symbolic example of poetic justice. Jeeze, you’re an English major? Go look it up, dumbass.”
I still didn’t catch the connection to Dante’s Inferno.
“A hemorrhoid is no big deal. Go see a doctor if it bothers you that much. Now get lost and let me study,” she said dismissively. “Go watch cartoons or something.”
“No doctors. I have an aversion to strange men poking around that part of my anatomy,” I said, half in jest. “The last time I let a doctor near me with sharp instruments I lost part of my dick.”
“No big loss,” she said, again with the smirk.
“Ha ha. You know, words can hurt,” I said, again looking for sympathy. “What’s for supper,” I asked, hoping she’d close her book and throw something on the stove.
“Whatever you want . . . McDonald’s is open till midnight.”
After two days of applying various creams and ointments, spending hours in a sitzbath and parking my ass on a blow-up rubber donut in front of the TV, I reluctantly decided to see Dr. Donald Black, a general practitioner with an office in an old Victorian house on South Main Street.
The following Saturday morning I drove to Dr. Black’s office to make an appointment. I circled the block several times trying to gather up enough nerve. I avoided doctors if at all possible. They had a reputation for poking and prodding, sticking you with pointy or sharp instruments and grabbing at your private parts. My policy had always been that if you waited long enough, the pain, wherever it was, would eventually work itself out.
“Shake it off,” my Uncle Jimmy said when I fell off the ladder trying to clean the gutters at his house that day, and, “Rub some dirt on it,” when I cut myself on a downspout.
When the pain didn’t go away on its own or if I couldn’t shake it off, I resorted to other remedies. Drinking lots of beer, I discovered, eased the pain considerably . . . until the next day when the pain was replaced by a throbbing in my head. Kind of like whacking yourself on the hand with a hammer to take your mind away off the pain in your foot.
All I wanted was for Dr. Black to take a quick peek and prescribe a pill or something, anything short of surgery to alleviate the painful and itchy ailment in my ass. ”Just take a look,” I was going to tell him. No needles, knives, scalpels, saws, probes, or clamps, none of those medical instruments I’d seen doctors use on TV.
“Can I help you?” asked the receptionist looking up from a stack of bills — almost certainly padded, for procedures performed and imagined, no doubt.
“Yes, I’d like to make an appointment to . . . uh . . .see Dr. Black.”
“What is the nature of your ailment?” she asked.
“I, uh, have a . . . pain . . . a hemorrhoid, I’ve been told,” almost leaning over and whispering, even though the waiting room was empty.
“Dr. Black may be able to see you,” she said looking in her appointment book. ”A patient just called and cancelled. I’ll go check with the doctor.”
Tiny beads of sweat began to gather on my forehead and upper lip. I was hoping Dr. Black couldn’t see me that day, or any other day for that matter. But before I could back out of the office and sneak away, she was back.
“Dr. Black is available. Follow me, please.”
I followed this thin, sallow, gray-clad gatekeeper through a dark door with a bronze sign that read “Surgery.” I winced at the sight of the word and the mental images running through my mind as I reluctantly followed the receptionist deep into the bowels of Dr. Black’s office.
“Wait here please. Dr. Black will be with you momentarily.”
Looking around the room, I noticed that Dr. Black’s surgery didn’t have that completely white, sterile look I expected. Although there was a long black leather examining table, several tall white cabinets, filled with pills, catheters, splints and bandages, no doubt, and counters covered with stainless steel trays filled with shiny instruments all lying at attention, oddly enough there were other items you’d find in someone’s living room: a couch, a plant, a leather chair, and a coffee table.
Did this surgery double as his living room, I wondered? Or did Dr. Black occasionally allow an audience to observe his work, like an intimate operating theater? Just a few close friends and associates, seated comfortably at his couch, martinis in hand? Was I going to be this afternoon’s entertainment? An alternative to day-time TV; moronic quiz shows and hysterical soap operas?
“Welcome to our show, ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Black’s Workshop, today featuring Mike’s amazing ass. It’s a wonder he hasn’t blown a hole in his colon with all the chilidogs and beer he consumes. Let’s watch Dr. Don at work, why don’t we? And here’s the star of our show, Dr. Donald Black, co-starring, Mike’s asshole. How about a big hand.” The applause sign over the audience flashes.
“Good morning. Drop your trousers and hop onto the table,” said Dr. Black as he entered the room, interrupting my bizarre daydream. His rolling “r’s” told me that Dr. Don hailed from the highlands of Scotland. His abrupt manner also spoke of a man who wasted little time with pleasantries. No “How do you do,” “What can I do for you today,” “What’s the nature of your ailment,” “Where does it hurt,” or “Hi. My name’s Dr. Black, but you can call me Don.” No candle-light dinner, flowers, jewelry, soft touch on the arm, just, “Drop your trousers.”
“Uh, I have a slight discomfort in my . . . uh . . . rear,” I said as I slowly undid my belt and lowered my Levi’s to my knees.
“Right. Let’s have a look, then. Hop up on the table and lie on your side, please.” Holding open my butt cheeks and closely examining the affected area, he announced, “Yes, you have a hemorrhoid.” Not too close, pal, I was thinking, I have a reputation. “Quite common,” he said, turning to his counter covered in stainless steel trays filled with shiny, sharp, and pointy instruments.
“Grace, could you come in here please?” he yelled over his shoulder to the other room. Through one eye I peeked and found a slightly stout nurse — Reubenesque the art majors would call her — dressed in a starched white dress, starched white hat, and white shoes, briskly walking up to the table. “Ah, there you are. Could you hold the patient’s buttocks open for me please?” asked Dr. Don. Grace snapped on a pair of surgical gloves, grasped my buttocks with both hands as ordered and held open my ass cheeks for the good doctor.
Looking up I stared into a vaguely familiar face, someone from my past. Dr. Black’s nurse looked like a girl I knew in high school, a plain girl with a full figure who, I remembered, had trouble finding a date for our senior prom. She was a nice, quiet, studious girl, Grace was. Yeah, that’s her. I remember now. She was the kind of girl you’d try to sell to a friend just as plain and unattractive; “She has a great personality,” you’d tell him, meaning she hadn’t been out on a date recently, or ever, and for good reason. But there she was, dressed in white, wearing a white nurses’uniform and her all-too-familiar and homely, black-frame glasses. “Birth control glasses” we called them in the Army. If you wore them, we laughed, you’d never get laid. I wanted to ask Grace how the glasses were working out. Do they have the same effect in the civilian world? But I thought the better of it. Not smart to act the wiseass at times like these. Not around sharp and pointy instruments and with your pants down around your ankles.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” she asked, holding the cheeks of my sweaty, pasty-white ass open with both hands.
“Uh, yeah. We were in Miss Mirante’s English class together, right?” I said, while covering my groin with both hands and attempting a smile, all the while listening to Dr. Black behind me sort through his collection of shiny, sharp, and pointy instruments. The slight comfort I felt at seeing Grace’s closely-cropped nails before she snapped on her surgical gloves was offset by the unsettling sound of tinkling metal on stainless steel.
“I’m going to numb the area a bit. Hold still now,” said Doctor Don. Numb the area! What the hell does that mean? I twisted my head around and peered over my shoulder just as the good doctor shot the air bubbles out of a tall syringe with a needle that looked at least a foot long. I immediately broke from a slight sweat into a panic-induced outpouring of bodily fluids that caused my cheeks to begin to slip from Grace’s hands. Soon I would be devoid of all bodily fluids and I would lose consciousness or, with the grace of God, I would die, if not from embarrassment then from dehydration.
Body fluids streamed through my pores like water from a sprinkler as I felt a slight pinch in my rectum. My shirt grew dark with perspiration. Sweat began to collect in small pools on the black leather operating table. Grace struggled to hold open my cheeks as my face and ass winced. The pucker factor was ten and rising, about to peg the meter.
“Hold his cheeks open, would you please, Grace?” There was just a hint of irritation in Dr. Don’s voice. I was hoping his irritation was with Grace and not with me. I learned the hard way in the Army that you should never to piss off the man holding the syringe.
No questions, no consultation, no discussion of treatment options, just right at it. No shilly-shallying around. Well, maybe it was better this way, I reasoned. If Dr. Black had discussed the proposed procedure with me, I would have backed out of his office and run as fast as possible to my car, shouting over my shoulder, “I’ll just learn to live with it.”
“Now we’ll just slice open that vein and squeeze out the clot,” he said matter of factly, turning again to his table of pointy instruments.
Say what? All I wanted was for Dr. Black to look at the troubled area, recommend a course of treatment or maybe prescribe a miracle drug, anything besides the useless Preparation-H, not stick me in the ass and slice open any veins, especially in that delicate part of my anatomy. Now I was covered in sweat, as if someone had dumped a bucket of salt water all over my body. I could see a worried look on Grace’s face as she struggled to hold open my ass cheeks.
“So, how have you been? Where are you working?” she asked.
“I . . . uh . . . ” I gasped.
“OK, open up wider. Keep a firm grip,” ordered Dr. Black.
“Yes, doctor,” she replied. The worry lines in her brow added to my angst. If her hands slipped, my cheeks would slam shut on Dr. Black’s hand and that scalpel he was holding. Not far from that knife were body parts I held very dear.
“I . . . uh . . . work here in town,” I replied, trying to take my mind off sharp and pointy instruments. It wasn’t working.
Being numb in the affected area, I didn’t feel Dr. Black slice open the guilty vein. In a flash he had the offending blood clot on his thumb, holding it in front of my nose for me to examine as proof of his skill with the scalpel.
“There’s the little bugger,” he said in a tone that spoke of a man who took pride in his work.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, looking away, grateful I missed breakfast.
“Now I’ll just cauterize the incision and we’ll be done.”
Cauterize?Â Hey! Hold on for just a second! Does this part of the procedure involve any hot instruments or open flames, I wanted to ask? Wait! . . . let me tell you a story about my Uncle Joe who discovered a gas leak the hard way in a third floor walkup in Brooklyn one night.
But before I could relate this humorous and highly relevant anecdote, what could turn out to be the downside of this particular step of the procedure, the stench of burning flesh reached my nostrils. It was the offending vein. Burn you bastard. Arggggg –
“Right, then. Done. You can get up now.” Again with the rolling “r’s.” “Try to keep it clean, will you, and you might want to lie on your stomach for awhile.” How the hell was I going to keep off my ass and keep it clean? I have to drive home and I have to eat! What goes in eventually comes out. Surely that’s the law of anatomy or at least the law of gravity.
“Thanks,” I mumbled as I pulled up my trousers, looking at Grace sheepishly, trying to hide my privates with one hand while pulling up my pants — my “trousers” — with the other. Before I could gather everything in my now sweat-soaked underwear — I was hoping it was sweat — the receptionist entered the room and announced there were now two patients waiting. “I’ll be right with them” said Dr. Black, turning his back on me. I was old news. There were other assholes to save.
“You live in town? Maybe we’ll run into each other,” said a smiling Grace as I buckled my belt and headed for the door. I turned and smiled a weak smile back, one not meant to lead her on.
“Sure. Maybe,” I yelled over my shoulder. “Send me the bill,” I yelled to the pale-faced receptionist as I scurried, head down, past two waiting patients, out of the office and into the afternoon sun. “Sir,” I heard her call as I ran to my car, sped out of the parking lot and down Main Street.
How was I supposed to work come Monday, I wondered as I raced away? How would I be able to punch numbers while standing at my desk? How would I explain to my co-workers what I had just been through? “Why are you standing?” they would ask.
Somehow I managed to drive my car back to our apartment and my still-smirking girlfriend. I was able to work the three pedals — gas, brake, and clutch — without my ass touching the seat. As the anesthetic wore off, my ass began to burn.
“How could you work at a hospital that summer and act like such a big baby?” Karen asked after I described in great detail my recent operation.
“I emptied bedpans and changed sheets,” I said, opening a beer. “I was nowhere near any sharp instruments or operations. Besides, how would you know what I went through today?”
“Do you have any understanding of what a woman goes through when she gives birth, for instance? Ever seen open heart surgery?” she said, incredulous and visibly annoyed. Pissed off was closer to the truth. As expected, I got no sympathy from my student nurse on-again off-again girlfriend who was at a stage in her training where operations such as mine were small potatoes, the equivalent of clipping your nails: over in the blink of an eye. She witnessed procedures, operations and what have you, every day. She was right, though. I was a big baby when it came to hospitals.
What was the source of my ailment, anyway? Was it the chair from Hell? Was it the chili-fueled beer farts or the beer-fueled chili farts as she alleged? I wasn’t sure. Could sauerkraut cause gas as Karen claimed?
“It’s one thing to watch and it’s another to have it done to you,” I answered, desperately looking for at least a sliver of sympathy. “Especially in that area. Can you get me some ice cream?” I asked, lying on my stomach while watching TV.
“Get up and get it yourself. The doctor didn’t amputate your legs. Besides, ice cream is for patients who can’t eat solids or for little kids who don’t cry when the doctor gives them a shot. You’ve been whining all day.” No pity.
“Wait till you’ve spent a long day on the wards and want me to rub your feet.” I was whining now. She’d pay for this callousness.
“Rubbing my feet is foreplay to you. You don’t care how hard a day I’ve had at the hospital.”
I got my own ice cream.
“You’re going to be one hard-assed nurse when you graduate,” I said as I opened the freezer. “I worked for a nurse like you that summer I worked at the hospital. Nurse Hardass we called her.” There, take that! Karen gave me a sharp look, shook her head and continued studying.
That Monday I was sufficiently healed to go to work. The offending chair that I suspected might be the source of my pain and suffering awaited. Beer farts don’t cause hemorrhoids, I said to myself. It’s this job. Sitting on my ass all day, slaving over a calculator.
At lunch I confided in Bill, my co-worker; “This is a work-related injury. I should be able to go out on workmen’s comp,” I argued over beer and chilidogs at the Inn & Out, a college watering hole about a mile up the road from the office and just down the street from the college. A barstool at the far end of the bar held the perfect imprint of my ass. I’d spent many a night these last four years, hunched over a beer and a chilidog. I couldn’t remember that particular seat ever causing me any pain whatsoever. On the contrary.
“I don’t think you can collect workman’s comp based on what you’ve told me,” Bill said. “I have to agree with your girlfriend. You probably hurt yourself squeezing out a beer and chili fart,” he added, smiling. Several days a week Bill and I went to the Inn & Out for a lunch of cheeseburgers and beer, or beer and chilidogs, so he knew better. He sat across from me at work.
“OK. Maybe, just maybe it’s part occupational hazard. Sit on your ass all day, AND drink beer all night and I guess you’re bound to have problems,” he said pointing to my seat with a half empty beer glass — his fourth — spilling some on my arm and the floor.
Not only was I still looking for sympathy — the sympathy I failed to get from Karen — but I was looking for a way out. Out of that office. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and tell Bill that I was ready to toss my tie over a fire sprinkler and hang myself if I thought I would have to spend the rest of my life in that office, or any office for that matter. I could see myself in twenty years; a stunted, hunchbacked, scorbutic Bartleby who eventually loses the will to live and dies alone, facing a blank wall… or a wall covered in Disney characters.
Whenever I looked up from my ledger book, the near life-size pictures of the Disney characters on the walls laughed at me. When I was a kid I loved The Mickey Mouse Club show and all the Disney characters, but now they mocked me. I was stuck in Disney hell, and with a chair that was out to get me. It was a conspiracy hatched by all the accounting majors I had mocked at college. I was sure of it.
When I ran my theory by Bill at lunch at the Inn & Out, he leaned back, looked at me like I was crazy or drunk, or both, and laughed. “You’re fuckin’ nuts. And you’re paranoid.”
“It’s not paranoia when they’re really out to get you,” I argued. “You sure nobody in the office went to my college?” Bill’s answer to my beer-fueled paranoia was a, “Lunch’s over. Time to get back,” and so back to Disney Hell we went. But not before downing at least four glasses of ice-cold mind-numbing anesthesia, the only way I could bring myself to go back for another four hours of soul-sucking number crunching.
After a month hunched over a ledger book, wincing at every twinge in my ass, real and imagined, I decided I’d finally had enough, but I wasn’t sure how to end it. Give two weeks notice? Just walk out and use up whatever sick time I had accumulated? Not much after only a month, I guessed
At lunch on what would turned out to be my last day, I danced around my predicament, not wanting to let out that I was fed up and ready to quit. Maybe I could stick it out for another week or two. But Bill wasn’t stupid. He could tell I was ready to bail. Our lunches were getting longer, and shots of Tequila began to supplement our chilidog, French fry, and beer lunches at the Inn & Out.
I’d probably guzzled enough beer at the Inn & Out in the last four years to float a small boat, or spent enough money on chilidogs and French fries to pay for grad school. Lou, the owner, made a killer chilidog. I spilled some chili on my Levi’s once and I swear it ate a hole right through to my leg. I didn’t notice the hole till the next day when getting dressed for class. I proudly displayed the hole to classmates and later to Lou, hoping he’d pay for the free advertising with a few beers… and maybe a new pair of Levi’s.
“How the hell can you stand it, day after day?” I asked Bill, while waving at Lou to refill our empty shot glasses.
“I guess I’m just used to it or maybe I have a higher tolerance for boredom than you do, but, to be honest, I don’t find accounting boring. It’s my job. In fact when all the columns and rows tally up, I feel a sense of accomplishment,” he answered, biting into a scalding-hot French fry just out of the deep fryer. He soothed his singed tongue with a sip of tequila.
I looked at Bill for a minute, wanting to say something like, “Are you shitting me? Accomplishment?” but he had become a buddy and I didn’t want to alienate one of the few friends I’d made at Disneyland East.
“OK. Maybe I’m just restless. Can’t stand to be inside all day long or deal with people who wear suits and ties,” I answered. “I’d rather be at the beach.”
“Then why did you even take the job,” he asked, draining his beer chaser.
“I need money, simple as that. Thought I’d be able to deal with it . . . Lou, two more,” I yelled to the owner who stood by the window reading the paper. I pointed to our empty glasses with a French fry dipped in chili that had dripped onto my plate from my hot dog.
“No, that’s enough for me. We have to get back,” Bill said, looking at his watch. “What are you going to do, where will you go when you quit?” he asked. I had no answer, but I knew I was in no hurry to get back to that office and that chair, the chair from Hell, the source of my recent pain and suffering.
Not wanting him to run off and leave me with nagging questions and decisions to make, I sidetracked Bill into talking about his former girlfriend, Nancy, a secretary who worked in the office next to ours. He still wasn’t over her, so it was easy to get him to talk… and have another beer. And another shot. And another chilidog. Bill wasn’t much of a drinker, I discovered over many lunches — but he loved Lou’s chili.
Before we knew it, it was three-forty five. Bill leaned precariously on his bar stool, tie loosened and covered in chili stains. ”What time is it?” he asked looking at his watch, trying to focus his eyes on the two tiny black hands. “Shit. Is it really that late?”
We were due back at one.
“Don’t sweat it,” I said. “The boss likes your ass. Just tell him you had a flat or some other bullshit excuse. You accountants are tight. The others will cover for you, except for Jake. Watch out for that jerkoff,” I said, holding onto Bill’s bar stool so he wouldn’t tip over while he held his watch hand up in the air, still trying to focus his eyes on the hands.
Realizing that it was probably too late to go back, and knowing that our slurred speech, the slight lean in our stance — I guessed about ten or more degrees off the vertical — and our beer breath would give the lie to any bullshit excuse we could come up with, Bill ordered another beer and talked more about his girlfriend, his former girlfriend he reminded me. Since it was getting close to suppertime, we both ordered a couple of Lou’s famous cheeseburgers. “Throw some chili on mine,” I yelled to Lou’s wife in the kitchen. “And some kraut. Got any kraut?” I yelled through the little window that looked in on the kitchen.
It was almost dark by the time we ran out of money. We’d spent more than eight hours drinking and talking, the equivalent of an entire work day. Ha! I wondered where I could find a job where they’d pay me to drink and bullshit all day? “There’s a job I’m gonna look for in the want ads tomorrow,” I thought out loud.
“Look, bottom line?” — that’s an accounting term — “if you hate the job that much, quit. Life’s too short. Do somethin’ else that’ll make you happy, whatever that is.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I hate that fuckin’ place. I’m giving notice tomorrow. Maybe I’ll just call in and tell the Mr. Lafarge to shove it. And Mickey. I’ll tell him to kiss my ass.”
“OK. Now I gotta go. I have to get up tomorrow even if you don’t.” Bill rolled off his barstool, held onto it for a moment while he adjusted his vision, brushed crumbs from his jacket and headed for the door, waving over his shoulder. “Drive careful, buddy,” I yelled after him.
Bill stumbled to his car while I waved goodbye through the window… for the last time. I spun around on my barstool and waved at Lou to pour one more. I could sleep late the next morning. I wasn’t going back to Disneyland East… or that chair.
“Last one,” I said, holding up a wrinkled dollar bill I found buried deep in a recesses of my coat pocket. By the lines on his forehead I guessed Lou was annoyed . . . Bill took a leak by his car then almost backed over a customer on his way out of the lot. As he poured my beer, Lou gave me the once over, wondering if this last beer was a good idea. But Lou was a good guy and I’d been a loyal customer.
Fuck that place, and fuck Mickey and his asshole pals, I thought as Lou plopped a foaming glass of cold beer on the soaked coaster in front of me. Daffy was banging Minnie, I was sure of it. And Goofy was high. How else to explain that stupid, shit-eating grin on his face all the time and that stupid fuckin’ laugh. Didn’t Mickey realize they were all using him, this bunch of clownish sycophants? They’d all be working kids’ parties, leading sing-alongs and making balloon giraffes if it weren’t for him. Wise up, dickhead!
Yeah, I’m gonna quit, I decided. The night before, I’d sat at the kitchen table and crunched a few numbers, as the accounting majors would say, and found that, with a little belt-tightening, I might make it through the summer without having to work at Disneyland East. Karen made me put aside part of every paycheck just in case. Smart girl. She’s a keeper.
It would be close. I’d have to walk to the beach, drink a cheaper brand of beer and occasionally leech off my friend Matt who found a summer job as a lifeguard at the beach in his home town. He hadn’t found a real job either. But I could drink cold beer for the rest of the summer, work on my tan, sleep late, chase Karen around our tiny apartment, move on a whim. Eat all the friggin’ chilidogs I wanted, maybe a couple a large bowls of cabbage soup at the Ukrainian Hall on the south side of town and wash it down with a couple of bottles of Ballantine Ale.
How I would manage to pay the bills when my money ran out was still in question, though. Better yet, what I would do when the summer ended was an even greater mystery, but right then and there I didn’t give a rat’s furry fart. Mickey could kiss my aching ass and the chair from Hell could torment someone else.
I wondered if someone in the office had learned of the ration of shit me and Matt served the accounting majors at college. Is that why I was hired? Revenge? I tossed back and finished my beer. Lou took my glass and waved me towards the door. I waved adios back, turned and wove my way around barstools, patrons and other obstacles, real and imagined, and out to my car.
As I sat there trying to focus my eyes and get my key into the ignition, I had what James Joyce would call an apiphany . . . epifanie . . . epiphiany . . . a revelation. The knowing looks, the smirks at Disneyland East. It was a conspiracy. I was sure of it.
And God was in on it. I was sure. He was an accountant of sorts, right? Keeping track of sins and good deeds in that big ledger book in the sky. You know, keeping track of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice . . . or is that Santa Claus? No, wait, that’s Saint Peter. Well, God or Santa or Saint Peter . . . someone said, “This is the guy who made life hell for all the accounting majors in college. Let’s send him to Disneyland East, give him the chair from Hell then send him to Doctor Black!” Devilish laughter emanated from the speakers of my car radio as I drove home.
Just after I collapsed onto the living room couch and just before I lapsed into an alcohol and chili-dog-induced coma, I outlined my theory to Karen. She wasn’t buying it. ”Shut up and go to sleep, dumbass,” she said as she took off my shoes, threw a blanket over me and placed a bucket on the living room floor by my head.
“Thanks. I love you,” I said as she went back to the bedroom and slammed the door, leaving me lying there with the whirlies.
As I lay on the couch, watching the ceiling go round and round, I had another apiphanie . . . another revelation; that sign over the door of the office, the one that read,
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate
At first I thought it was a non-smoking sign meant for our chain-smoking janitor from San Juan, Cesar, but it was meant for someone else. And it had nothing to do with smoking. The warning was right there in front of me all the time . . . or, rather, over my head, but I missed it.
Karen was right. I must be some kind of dumbass. Smart girl, Karen. A keeper.