UPDATE: I pulled the plug on the experiment you are about to read because I couldn't keep to my promise to just post this novel without re-editing it. I took a peek and after 10 years there are some passages that are just too embarrassing to put out there in the wider world. Some day I'd like to run it through the typewriter one more time but I just don't have the time now to do it for free. If you'd like to know how it turns out email email@example.com and I'll send you a private copy of the manuscript under certain conditions.
This relic of mine starts here. Let me know what you think.
Thursday, as Quinn made his groggy way to his office he was greeted by a large and grumpy man who rolling away Quinn's plus-sized computer. Its wires hung out like insults as the cart clattered by.
"You can just call me if that little baby doesn't turn on." he laughed pointing to the replacement which sat on the desk. "These machines I don't know from them or my elbow," he said, moving his elbow like a chicken.
On the desk sat a new Apple G4. It looked hopeful and sleek in the circle of pristine desk that had been covered for so many years by the base of the old lummox. An icon of a diskette appeared on the new screen. Quinn pressed the On button several times. Nothing. He pressed again and waited. A question mark appeared for a brief moment on the screen and then it went blank.
Quinn's hands shot out like he was trying to catch a plunging toddler. On his desk he found a memo.
"To: All writers and reporters
From: Larda Nickles
Re: Your new Computer!
Welcome to the digital age! Phil "the computer guy" will be making the installation of your computers this week to help propel us into the future. Due to the volume of work, the installation will go forward in two stages. Stage one will be the installation stage consisting of the implementation of new machines and egress of old systems from their current work environs. Stage two will consist of the software installation and be managed by Ida Mace and her team. Until Ida has implemented her regimen the new machines will not be in the operational mode. We are cognizant that this may cause inconvenience. We have tried to do all that we can to make the transition a lack of stress causing event. Please bare with us as we make this exciting move! Your cooperation is appreciated! Have a nice day!"
On the screen the icon had turned into a smiley face. How would he know if the writer had gotten his file? What if Forney had more interview requests? Quinn recognized the lack of sleep was making him a little crazy but he didn't know what to do. His hands were still outstretched when a woman appeared at his door.
"Hey," she said, her arms full of diskettes and manuals. "I'm Ida. I'll be your server today." She brushed past him without waiting for a reply. "Lovely hole you've got here," she said. "Bright."
Quinn didn't say anything. His hands were still outstretched.
Ida looked at him.
Quinn dropped his hands.
"Mind if I borrow your seat?" Ida's foot reached back and caught the swivel chair wheel bringing it under her. She was typing before she sat down.
"You're new huh?" she said to the screen.
"Yes," said Quinn. "Yes, I'm trying to get through my first week without getting fired." Maybe he hadn't actually said that out loud.
"Okay white boy don't get anxious and start pouting. Go get yourself a nice tall glass of whole milk. I'll be out in a minute." Ida swiveled her head and moved her smile close enough to Quinn's face to cast a reflection.
So he had said it out loud.
Back at the keys, she exchanged disks with one hand while the other stayed on the keys. Her hair looked like someone had unwound a ship's old rope, curls collected with thicker dry strands at the base of her neck. It had a kind of pirate's order. Where the thicket had randomly parted, Quinn could see the strand of a dark green tattoo that followed the ridge of her shoulders. He moved to get a better look.
Pushing back the chair, she vaulted under the desk. Quinn jumped back, trying to hide his survey.
"Whoops. Sorry, you've been fed to the wrong pipe. I'm going to have go skin diving. Hide your eyes."
She pulled and threaded wires through their narrow openings in the wall giving Quinn only a view of her heels and the cuffs of her black canvas pants. Wedging her black boot against his filing cabinet, she freed an opening for another mysterious wire.
Quinn tried out some conversational lines in his head for when she returned. He didn't know what to say but felt compelled to say something. "I have no idea whether I was an enormous failure or not at my first week and if I don't do well I'll be fired. Can you help?" Honest, yes, but pathetic. "Do you know where the men's room is?" Utilitarian but slightly creepy. "What's your major." Outdated.
Abruptly Ida ended her contortion performance under the desk and caught Quinn in mid thought and his face in an uncertain grin-wince hedge: a smile to look like he'd gotten the joke with enough left behind in case he wasn't supposed to be smiling at all.
"Sorry, yes I'm new here," he said. "I'm a little frazzled." Safe.
"Oh, it's okay," she said, pressing the computer's On button.
The new machine came to life.
"Hit F1 for word processing. F2 for mail. I'll spare you the full tutorial in four-part harmony because you're so twitchy and nervous and I don't want to be the first victim of your shooting spree. You can read the manual."
Quinn missed every word she had said. She had beautiful olive skin. Or was it mushroom colored? She had apparently, among other things, made him color blind.
Ida stuck a Xeroxed manual into his hand. Its cover was splashed with the word "HELP" written in wavy lettering. "Goodbye white boy," she said leaving the swivel chair turning as she exited. "You have wonderful orthodontia."
Quinn was suddenly conscious that his every body
movement was highly uncool. His Brooks Brothers shirt and grey flannels pants
made him look like a high school principal. Jodhpurs would have been more in
style, he thought. He didn't know what a
On the desk Ida had left a neon green flier with thick black lettering. NO FUCKING WAY TOUR. ONE NIGHT ONLY. IDA MACE AT THE BACK FENCE. SATURDAY 12:30-Whenever AM. An image of the woman who had just been under his desk showed her strangling an acoustic guitar while her gypsy hair fanned out into the top half of the picture. It looked like a sparkler had gone off in her head.
Each of Ida's moves replayed in Quinn's mind as he took on the sandwich bin in the cafeteria late in the afternoon. Listlessly he turned over triangles of mystery meats masquerading as sandwiches. Choices from the sensible center were long gone, leaving only the odd-lot remnants like liverwurst on white, pork sausage on rye or sprouts in a pita.
He'd pawed over the feeling of Ida excitement. The exchange was a neutral event, he decided. Not bloodcurdling as some conversations had been with women in his life, but not formative either. He was likely to have left impressions so weightless that they left her mind even while they were happening. But this was fine, he decided. No harm. He would be prepared next time.
It wasn't that Ida was pretty in a conventional way. She was pretty, but that wasn't why he was looking at himself in the reflection of the drink refrigerator trying to improve his stance and appearance for their next meeting.
It was like she was plugged in, thought That smile: it felt like a window had suddenly been installed in the office. A window? "How long have you worked for Hallmark," he said to himself in her voice.
This was a problem. His instincts were unhelpful and largely nonexistent in this territory and yet he had filled out an entire personal profile for her. She liked Indian food, Joni Mitchell (a little too much) and could explain why she liked A Fan's Notes. And she hated people that tried to figure her out and especially while wearing loafers.
He looked at himself in the door of the glass case. His hip was now poking out the way hers had when she stood in his office. He had it bad.
Back in his Office Quinn checked his email every thirty seconds to find out what was happening with the Stock Market boom story to which he had filed at such prodigious length.
He could have asked someone, but he didn't know who to ask. He had only had contact that week with Forney. He didn't know who the writer on the story would be so he had no one to call or email and he'd never met Kramer, the business section editor. He couldn't work up a pretext to find Ida and ask her about it, though the thought kept him busy for a few minutes.
By sundown, he concluded that the silence meant he'd done something terribly wrong. He didn't want to leave his office for fear that any minute the phone would ring with the business editor, or maybe Forney (!) asking him to address the ten obvious questions that he had neglected to answer.
Maybe everyone was very busy with the story, he thought. He could hear the activity in all the offices around him. It was a rationale that rescued him from thinking up more baroque reasons why he'd failed. Yes, that was it. Everyone was busy. That's why he hadn't heard. No need to push. He went back to organizing his office-- wiping the coffee stains off of his desk and adjusting his office chair to the right height. He emptied out the bottom drawer of its crackers and dehydrated old newspapers from the correspondent who had lived there before. He collected the primary colored pushpins from their scattered positions across the bulletin board. Each one made a little squeak as he pulled and placed it in his drawer tray.
After the Thursday evening news, Quinn checked the story list again. There it was: "Wall Street Boom 3 pp." The market closed for the day down 300 points in record trading. That didn't seem very much in keeping with the idea of a market boom.
The doubt set in again. Maybe there should have been more on new theories on productivity? Yes, he thought, looking at his file's three paragraphs on the topic. That's not enough. People had mentioned it quite a lot.
Quinn opened a new document in his
word processor. It would be way past his deadline for getting information to
the writer but at least he wouldn't look like he'd let them down. Quinn started
typing, pulling the leftover quotes he hadn't used in his first file. He
included a long story about seamstresses in
Quinn sent the new file and sneaked down the elevator to the shops near the subway to buy a few slices of runaway pizza with charred crust. When he returned there was an email. He nearly dove for his keyboard. Someone had lost a purse in the cafeteria. Finally his stamina gave out. He slipped out of the building before midnight.
By 8:00 A.M. Friday morning when
Quinn stepped out of the elevator, the floor was already whirling with
colleagues, some of them still in the previous day's clothing. According to the
story list, they were working on another
Quinn exhaled for the first time in three days. He had slept and was now pretty proud of the work he'd done. He had tamed all that information and it read well. It was a smart start to his trial, and boy sending a second file on productivity had been the right thing to do. This would be his first story for Think magazine. He'd have to send a clip to his father. Quinn laughed, his dad would never be able to find the story on his own. Maybe someone from high school or college would see his name some time leafing through the magazine at a doctor's office.
He waved the mouse over the blinking flag icon and clicked.
"To: Quinn Connor, Charles Frazier
Slug: Stock Market Boom
"Story has been killed."