Office Man and the Conference
Maya Jewell Zeller
Office Man has the immense pleasure of traveling to Tucson for a Conference. When I say “immense pleasure,” I meant the kind you experience when you have to take a cat to the vet for rabies or a porcupine attack, but first you have to get it out from under the boat house and you lose several layers of epidermis in the process, and you get that flare up people call Cat Scratch Fever, and it reminds you of other pulsings & flarings you’ve felt in your life. (We ourselves flash and yearn, said Berryman, but who really understands or believes anything that guy said?) When I say pleasure I mean the kind you experience when one of your friends judges you for something he himself is doing all the time and pretending he isn’t. Bastard. He thinks it’s okay for the Reasons. Anyway, Tucson is full of flowers and Starbucks and strip malls, and Office Man feels Tucson is a lot like any other City in America in this way. We can imagine how this makes him feel. But Look! A Foxy Nails! Oh, thinks Office Man, Office Woman could get her nails done, if she were here.
The Conference goes on interminably. Office Man shackles up with a brunette woman (he has a slight preference for brunette women), and a monkey (because he remembers making a joke about not wanting to go to Tucson and Office Woman said something scientifically inaccurate and nevertheless humorous—she’s so charming, that Office Woman—and this makes him very interested in Seeing Where it Goes with the monkey). One night, in the hotel, he engages in various yoga poses with this brunette and this monkey. One is called “the monkey” and one is called “the brunette” and one is called “Office Man doesn’t dance.” He recalls how, days ago, he didn’t dance, and he laughs at the distant memory of that Old Self. Who was that man, who stood in a field and watched the wind feel up the grass, and thought how he wanted it to do that to him, how he wanted to feel up the woman with whom he stood? (He should have. She was into it. Or maybe she’d prefer a symbiotic yoga pose? Hard to say now, now that he Dances.) What, then, did he think life was all about? New Office Man, who has a nameless Conference Girlfriend and a small monkey, loves to dance. All he wants to do is dance. And make romance. He looks out the window at the steam rising off the spring blacktop. I feel like there should be a party, he thinks. I feel like someone should write a song about this. Meanwhile, below them, in the room with all the chairs and the whiteboard, the Conference rages on. There are disco lights and sticky notes and several colors of folders. There is a fountain of red punch, full of Red #40, which everyone knows is superior to the former thirty-nine synthetic chemical Reds. There are cookies and chips and Splenda packets and decaf coffee and the chairs are part metal and part blue cloth that looks like an airport floor. And people are writing Outcomes and Incomes and people are making Conference Eyes.
The first thing they do at the conference is get in a circle and confess their sins. Office Man isn’t sure where to begin—he has a long list of things that he’s pretty sure are considered sins but he isn’t sure what the context is for “sin” anyway and also why is this happening, he didn’t know this was supposed to be a religious experience. He briefly entertains the idea of bullshitting his way through—he could just say the things he knows they want to hear: once, I gave a student an A- who really earned a B+ but I felt sorry for the kid because he actually worked really hard and he understood things at the subconscious level and his grandma had just passed; once, I accidentally grazed the butt of my fifth grade teacher; it was horrifying but also an Interesting Experience; once, I did not consider the learning goals before planning a class, I just did what I thought would be fun; once, I killed someone; another time, I burned down a barn; finally, I had lustful feelings for this rock crevice, but really, you should have seen how sexy it was, I mean, have you ever seen the flecks of mica dust spread across the weathered sandstone of the desert in the evening, when the sun is going down, and that last light makes everything into a kind of vision? It’s a sight to behold, you wonder if this is Wonder. Until you meet a person who might actually be Wonder, but that’s another set of sins I can’t get into today, and anyway, that wasn’t sinful so much as anointing or some sort of brief spiritual experience, less like a conference, but more like when an angel descends upon Mary and tells her she’s gonna carry a baby out of wedlock and she’s all ummmm ok sure that’s a good idea, I’ll do it and I’m happy to have people walk around calling me a slut because my ultimate purpose is to serve the divine, and I can choose to lie to others or lie to God, so, yeah, I’ll have that savior baby, bring it on!!! My vagina has some work to do, but it’s amazing! You know, that kind of sins. But it’s Office Man’s turn now and he missed most of what everyone else was saying—I think one of them’s name is Jennifer?, he thinks. Didn’t she say that once she was hosting a Pinterest Party and she made the wrong kind of Chex Mix and OMG? Yeah, I’ll riff off that . . .
On the third day the Conference Angels begin to visit Office Man in his sleep. They bring him visions of all the people he’s ever cared for: his mother, his two brothers, his one dog he had as a boy, his Friends at Work, his wife and children. Also a girl he once called Molly. Her name was something else but when they first met he called her Molly and to this day that’s what she goes by.
Office Man realizes he’s forgotten his toothbrush. He walks down to the lobby to ask for a spare, when he runs right into Office Woman. What the fuck? he asks her. What are you doing here? He seems rather abrasive about it, and Office Woman takes it personally. What the fuck yourself, she says, and slips her thin little key card into her hotel room door, and without looking back at Office Man, she shuts the door in his face. Office Man feels slight remorse but goes to his penthouse room to be with his brunette and his monkey. He’s got some work to do on a confession about Chex Mix, and some new dance moves to practice for tomorrow, so Oh Well.
Office Woman leans against the door, her chest heaving, her heart racing. Or is it spleen? She’s never sure what she means anymore, but she’s pretty sure “heart” is not the physical manifestation of love. Still, the heart is pumping its blood at an alarmingly rapid rate and it literally feels as if it is breaking. How did she get so effed? Why in heaven’s name is she in Tucson? Has she really thrown herself into the sacrificial canyon of this volcano? Was her pursuit of truth really a pursuit of something else entirely?
Office Woman gathers herself together and does a head stand. That’s better, she thinks. She draws a bath. She touches herself for a full thirty minutes. It’s a transcendent experience, and she forgets she’s in Tucson altogether. See, she thinks to herself, I don’t need a “little friend” with 25 speeds, I just need my own two very capable hands. Office Man has no idea what he’s missing. Office Woman falls asleep dreaming about herself, the beautiful one hundred birds of the body, the tree wind blue darkness of the body, the way the body brings the whole sky into itself and folds it, tidily, like a shook sheet, and puts it in the drawer. Office Woman dreams that she’s fourteen again, her hair a wild mess behind her, and she’s riding a horse into a field of daffodils. She wakes up back in her own bedroom, far from Tucson, from Office Man and his monkey and his brunette. Office Woman shrugs and goes out to the garden to plant carrots. In approximately 65-70 days, she’ll eat bright orange omens straight from the dirt.
Maya Jewell Zeller is the author of Rust Fish; Yesterday, The Bees; and Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts (with visual artist Carrie DeBacker). Maya teaches creative writing for Central Washington University. Learn more at mayajewellzeller.com or follow her on Twitter @MayaJZeller.