Three Excerpts from “Mining Esoterica”

1. From “Comfort”

At our company’s all-hands meeting we gather, all of us, around the CEO’s tank like pigeons around the breadcrumb lady on her park bench. As they massage their palsied wrists, I see fear and admiration both on my coworkers’ faces. When the CEO addresses us, we are expecting to hear wisdom of unmatched depth, but, as incongruous as it would seem, the meeting is actually boring: market-spew and revenue stats, and other obscure information best experienced as background noise. Right up until the very end, that is.

“The last order of business,” he says, “concerns your participation within this organization.” We look at each other as he pauses, drawing the moment out. Then he tells us that we are each, in turn, to have a hand in transferring him from the lymphy broth of the tank to his sensory deprivation chamber. At the end of each workday we will sponge him off, and pat him dry. We will powder his cherub skin, swathe him in a silk tunic, and slide him into his live-work womb. There is some consternation among the ranks, and I hear one of the Marketing reps asking her neighbor whether such a burden might not exacerbate the nerve damage in her forearms.

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2. From “Summer of Shrunken Heads”

The neighborhood where I grew up lay on the border between the old quarter and the new. The natives to the land were descendants of those left behind in the frontier days, themselves too unfit physically, socially, or mentally to make the trip westward. The late twentieth century had seen the rise of suburban sprawl and expensive homes, and with that came the lawyers and politicians willing to pay any price to live outside the nearest city. The divide between the old and new was a constant source of fascination for me, especially as tensions flared. On weekends I could hear them both from my bedroom window. To my left the bucolic rhythms of jaunty jug bands and the synchronized slap of bare feet on floorboards echoed into night, and the morning brought fire and brimstone sermons and wails of repentance. To my right the antiseptic strains of classical music accompanied barbecue gatherings that spiced the air until dusk, and the morning brought the chatter of televisions to keep families safe from conversation and lawsuits.

Daily I watched the uneasy interplay of two cultures brought together in a time of transition, like tectonic plates, one steadily subsuming the other. And though it was this dynamic that was the source of many of my childhood amusements, there’s one memory in particular that I still hold most dear.

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3. From “Survival”

When I see an abandoned pile of papers my first thought is: What if I had to survive on those papers? That is, what if I had no food save for this briefcase, with its printed PowerPoint deck, a mini-stapler, a spiral-bound notebook, and three legal pads? Could they provide enough sustenance to keep me alive for three weeks? That gray-brown exterior, was it treated leather or some kind of naugahyde? Could one survive on naugahyde alone? Could I savor briefcase-skin cuds as I hunted for more abandoned briefcases? Either way, I would save the legal pad cardboard backing for last. After three weeks it would taste virtually identical to juicy, juicy graham cracker.

Flight is one way to survive, but my own thoughts tend toward fight. Or rather: how to survive within the system. Salaryman made it out alive, perhaps, and would frolic in fields of clover, and would reproduce. But his young would be soft and round as grapes, and ill-prepared for business meetings. No, his line was as good as dead. You can lead a man to water, but you can’t take the water out of the man. Or teach him to fish. Kind of makes you feel powerless, doesn’t it?

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