I carry this thing in my pocket which makes everything worthwhile.
The place where I work is a vast edifice on the edge of the financial district. It is one of seven similar buildings owned by the company that I work for. The company that I work for has three names, and they are the names of the men who formed the company, though if anyone with the names still remain, it is probably only as shareholders now.
There are six hundred and thirty two people working for the company in this building, though there are a further sixty eight employed by agencies that the company employs, to feed us and clean up after us.
I am a quantity surveyor for the company. I survey quantities. I count things. I have been working here for more than eight years. I hate my job enough to loathe it, but not enough to leave it. There is a delicate balance in this equation, and I am not at the tipping point. At least half of the people in my office are over that point, but stay anyway.
My office as a collective hates all of the other offices, collectively, though each person in it has friends in those other offices. Each person is at least three people: The person who is a percentage of an office, the person who fiercely guards their own desk-space from their office mates, and the person who they are at home. Sometimes the three people are very different from each other, other times the same but for a few insignificant details.
Of the six hundred and thirty two people who work here for the company, one hundred and two earn slightly more than the other five hundred and thirty people combined. And only thirty two act with real authority, though many more are paid to manage.
“Manage” is a funny word, quantitatively. It suggests control and authority, but broken down and examined, it means the same thing as “cope”.
There is a person, somewhere in the building, whose job it is to buy art to line the corridors and decorate the meeting rooms. They are very good at their job, and despite the corporate sterility of the company and its buildings, beautiful things hang on the eggshell walls, taunting us.
In the foyer one particular piece enthrals me. It is a large, square canvas, with brass brushwork over black across its surface. Laid out in perfect rows and columns, in relief, are tiny little plaster men, painted dirty gold, rough and in a variety of poses. Some of them are upright, some point down, and though they are equally spaced and jumbled together, the ones looking up are equal in number to the ones that are falling. There are exactly a hundred tiny people.
The company itself is no worse than any other company, and the jobs within are no worse than any other jobs, but for most of the people working here, being no worse is not enough to spark enthusiasm. It is the tragedy of the middle class that they are as pinned to the center of their lives by their finances as the very poor or the very rich, rewarded well enough that deserting isn’t an option, but not well enough to buy themselves a little control.
But nobody weeps for the middle classes, and they shouldn’t.
Lack of control is a big part of corporate life, here, and down here at the midway point of the workforce, sometimes the only way to gain control is to take it.
The painting is a grid. There is a mathematical formula for the way the eye drifts across it, or the brain processes the small people on it, or the point at which a person stops seeing each one on its own, and just sees a crowd, but it would be hard to write it down, and it would be slightly different for each person looking. People aren’t all the same height, and don’t all have the same attention span.
My job is also a calling, and I have a natural knack for these things. I instinctually know that there is a point , toward the bottom and the right, where, if one of the men were plucked from the canvas, breaking the tiny plaster bond holding it there, nobody would notice that it was gone.
So now I walk through my working days with one of the tiny people hidden in my pocket. I picked it out based on placement, and have since forgotten whether it was rising up or falling down, but it is enough to know that I have disrupted the balance. I don’t dwell long enough in front of the painting to count them out any more, and free of the wall the little guy is neutral, held in my hand in my pocket in free-fall.
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