Excerpt of Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
(Page 2 of 4)
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We thanked each other. It was customary after every exchange.
Our thanks were never disingenuous or ironic.We said thanks for
getting this done so quickly, thanks for putting in so much effort.
We had a meeting and when a meeting was over, we said thank
you to the meeting makers for having made the meeting. Very
rarely did we say anything negative or derogatory about meetings.
We all knew there was a good deal of pointlessness to nearly all the
meetings and in fact one meeting out of every three or four was
nearly perfectly without gain or purpose but many meetings
revealed the one thing that was necessary and so we attended them
and afterward we thanked each other.
Karen Woo always had something new to tell us and we hated
her guts for it. She would start talking and our eyes would glaze
over. Might it be true, as we sometimes feared on the commute
home, that we were callous, unfeeling individuals, incapable of
sympathy, and full of spite toward people for no reason other than
their proximity and familiarity? We had these sudden revelations
that employment, the daily nine-to-five, was driving us far from
our better selves. Should we quit? Would that solve it? Or were
those qualities innate, dooming us to nastiness and paucity of
spirit? We hoped not.
Marcia Dwyer became famous for sending an e-mail to
Genevieve Latko-Devine. Marcia often wrote to Genevieve after
meetings. "It is really irritating to work with irritating people," she
once wrote.There she ended it and waited for Genevieve's response.
Usually when she got Genevieve's e-mail, instead of writing back,
which would take too long - Marcia was an art director, not a
writer - she would head down to Genevieve's office, close the
door, and the two women would talk. The only thing bearable
about the irritating event involving the irritating person was the
thought of telling it all to Genevieve, who would understand better
than anyone else. Marcia could have called her mother, her
mother would have listened. She could have called one of her four
brothers, any one of those South Side pipe-ends would have been
more than happy to beat up the irritating person. But they would
not have understood. They would have sympathized, but that
was not the same thing. Genevieve would hardly need to nod for
Marcia to know she was getting through. Did we not all understand
the essential need for someone to understand? But the e-mail
Marcia got back was not from Genevieve. It was from Jim Jackers.
"Are you talking about me?" he wrote. Amber Ludwig wrote, "I'm
not Genevieve." Benny Shassburger wrote, "I think you goofed."
Tom Mota wrote, "Ha!" Marcia was mortified. She got sixty-five
e-mails in two minutes. One from HR cautioned her against sending
personal e-mails. Jim wrote a second time. "Can you please tell
me - is it me, Marcia? Am I the irritating person you're talking
Marcia wanted to eat Jim's heart because some mornings he
shuffled up to the elevators and greeted us by saying, "What up,
my niggas?" He meant it ironically in an effort to be funny, but he
was just not the man to pull it off. It made us cringe, especially
Marcia, especially if Hank was present.
In those days it wasn't rare for someone to push someone else
down the hall really fast in a swivel chair. Games aside, we spent
most of our time inside long silent pauses as we bent over our
individual desks, working on some task at hand, lost to it - until
Benny, bored, came and stood in the doorway. "What are you up
to?" he'd ask.
It could have been any of us. "Working" was the usual reply.
Then Benny would tap his topaz class ring on the doorway
and drift away.
How we hated our coffee mugs! our mouse pads, our desk
clocks, our daily calendars, the contents of our desk drawers. Even
the photos of our loved ones taped to our computer monitors for
uplift and support turned into cloying reminders of time served.
But when we got a new office, a bigger office, and we brought
everything with us into the new office, how we loved everything
all over again, and thought hard about where to place things, and
looked with satisfaction at the end of the day at how well our old
things looked in this new, improved, important space. There was
no doubt in our minds just then that we had made all the right
decisions, whereas most days we were men and women of two
minds. Everywhere you looked, in the hallways and bathrooms,
the coffee bar and cafeteria, the lobbies and the print stations,
there we were with our two minds.
Copyright © 2007 by Joshua Ferris. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Little Brown and Company.