The mistake was listening to Hunter S. Thompson.
Well, no – that wasn’t the whole mistake, because Thompson is one of the best. The real mistake was listening to “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” on audiobook…while sitting in my cubicle.
I thought I was going to lose. my. mind.
Combining things like an already active personal imagination with a story about hallucinogenic drug trips and bats and lawyers and Vegas is enough of a mind-bender as it is. Do it whilst chained to the gray-walled visual reality of felt-cubed Midwestern office space, and it’s kind of like trying to chain smoke a pack of Marlboro Reds while running the Flying Pig Marathon. They mix like hell.
The white halogen lights hit you like a laser as you bleep — click your keycard and walk through the door at 8:27 AM. Beige walls meet gray felt as the endless mirage of cubicles lines the hallway in front of you. No one is talking, because no one feels likes talking. It’s 8:30 in the morning, and the whole crowd is either too asleep to care, or has already surrendered their fate to the fact that they will spend the entirety of their daylight hours developing chronic scoliosis and sure-to-bite-them-in-the-ass-later calories as they guzzle coffee and gobble down whatever form of hermetically sealed baked good the snack machine is dispensing today.
I plop down at my desk. “Fear and Loathing” is on my iPod under “Recently Added.” What to do, what to do… Should I listen to it? I probably shouldn’t listen to it…
I’m gonna listen to it.
Five minutes in, and my skin’s already crawling. The weasels are closing in…I feel locked in a cage. I start to feel paranoid and restless. My breath gets short and all I can think about is running for the door. But I try to focus, look around – find someone sane, or at least smiling.
Just shut the fuck up and get it over with, the whole collective energy seems to hiss through gritted teeth. The day will be hell, but this too shall pass. Now sit in your chair and strap in. Fire up that computer (enter your username and password and then wait for 5 tedious minutes as the thing loads with a speed apropos of, well, all things Microsoft), and get tapping. Shhhh, no, don’t think about it. Now, zone out and let the time pass, push the buttons, and try, for petesake try not to think about any damn thing at all.
The girl across from you in the cubicle pod is already cursing out the machine under her breath, and despite your best efforts to stay positive; it won’t be long before you’ll develop your own brand of office turrets. You fight the urge, trying to maintain your dignity over the din of soldiers who long ago surrendered to mediocrity, but your lost battle will come – it’s only a matter of time.
And then one day – on this day, induced by the good Doctor Thompson – it breaks you.
“This fuck-damned piece of bastard shit!” you snarl under your breath. You’ve snapped.
“What the fuck!!! What the shitting fuck?!” Your mind rages. Heinous incoherent babble. Uncontrollable. Unhealthy. Bombastic. Sacrilegious. The almost out-of-body experience is careening. Am I having a stroke? You’re half shocked at what’s scrolling through your head. The invective is directed at your voicemail. The lady on the machine won’t take your passcode. But it’s worked a thousand times before! The weasels are closing in. You want to scream. “Let me hear that message you loony bitch!” You feel yourself starting to physically shake as you grip your mouse, holding on for dear life. Just breathe, try to breath, you tell yourself. Just make it to lunch, just make it to lunch…Oh Lord have mercy!
I used to try and think myself into being happy in the office cube: “Hey, be thankful – at least you’re relaxing in an office instead of making a buck hauling timber, or ice fishing in Alaska…or…in a Nazi prison camp.” But at this point, I’d rather be Steve McQueen bouncing the baseball against the wall in the cooler than spend another day in a leather chair. Or maybe I’d just rather be Steve McQueen.
The point is, for an active mind, much less one on the cerebral equivalent of an acid trip brought on by Hunter S. on audiobook – the office pod is insane as the chemically altered bats on the road to Vegas. It is not a place for the adventurous. It is a soul-killing machine; a well meaning institution that provides you a moderate salary in exchange for the sacrifice of your personal dignity upon the altar of the company handbook.
Am I on drugs?
The earbuds are still in and my mind is raving mad.
I want my lawyer. Where’s my lawyer?? Wait…do I have a lawyer? Never-mind, I think my lawyer would advise me to quit. I’m quitting! Wait, I need a paycheck – damn it! At least until Rolling Stone calls. Maybe Rolling Stone will call…
I yank the earphones out, almost gasping for breath. The weasels disappear, the place levels. No one’s turning into a reptile, the carpet hasn’t turned blood red, my lawyer’s not in the bathtub with a radio and a gun. I’m not in a car on the road to Vegas and there are no heinous bats swarming around. Good grief. Everything is quiet save for the click-clacking of furious fat fingers on computer keys. I look around for a minute. Everything’s normal. Hell – maybe that’s the problem.
But I still feel the creeping fear. The madness is in the walls and the halls and in the coffee machines and the platitudes and the loathsome bullshit of the office.