by David L. Brown

I sit here in my office doing something I love, something mundane and quiet: updating the company Web site, developing a spreadsheet, writing my great novel. You get the picture. I’m sitting here when, from twenty feet down the hall, I hear, “Well, maybe Mr. Morrow can help you. Let me transfer you to his office.”

Fortunately situational awareness is one of my gifts. The secretary is a half mile down the hall, and I hear her while the guy in the cube right next to her probably doesn’t. I’ve noticed that most people around here are so wrapped up in there own crap — surfing the web, playing spider solitaire, writing their own great novel; you get the picture — that a three megaton explosion could go off right next to them, and all they would do is readjust the computer screen so that the glare isn’t so bad.

Before the secretary can hit the Transfer button on her phone, I’m up and out of my office. I have to make my escape. Before the wretched phone rings its nails-on-a-chalk-board ring, I have to be gone. Fortunately, she can’t see me from her desk. I can covertly walk away. I know that even after she realizes I’m not going to answer, she’ll do what she can to make the connection. She’ll say, “I'm sorry, but Mr. Morrow isn't answering. I know he's here today, so let me see if I can find him for you.”

She'll walk to my office, see that I’m not there, and call out, “Has anyone seen Mr. Morrow?”

The closest zombies will have to wrench themselves away from their blogging or their Little Johnny joke or their MySpace slut — you get the picture. They’ll pull their blank stare away long enough to say, “Naw, I aint seen him.” Or say, “I saw him earlier.” Or whatever.

The secretary will look around and try to find me. She’s relentless. I know that I have to go where she can’t, so I quickly walk toward the men’s room with a determination that could only come from someone with a full bowel. I don’t have to go, but I’m good at selling the illusion.

I walk in one of the empty stalls, drop my drawers, and sit. I think about how I'm going to pass the time. I guess I should've brought something to read. The graffiti on the wall doesn't really do for me. There's not much of a plot, and I've already read it all. There really wasn't much time to browse my private library before I came here anyway.

I guess I could masturbate. I try to blow a load every day or two. I tell myself that it’s good for the prostate — yeah, that's why I do it, honest. I don't usually do it here though. There isn't much here to maintain a proper self-abusive mood. I decide against diddling myself though; it seems like Grand Central Station in the men’s room this morning. I wouldn’t want to get caught. That would be messed up.

So I'll just sit here making imaginary mosaic images out of the multicolored floor tiles. There’s the pink and green check pattern. There’s the blue bird on the green background, not the tweet-tweet kind of bird but the hand gesture kind. There’s the pink and blue Tie Fighter from Star Wars. You get the picture. I sit doing this for about ten minutes — just long enough to make it look good.

Back to the reason why I'm here. It isn’t that I don’t want to help the stupid customer. It’s just that I don’t want to do it on the phone. I hate the phone. I fear the phone. The phone is Satan. The phone is Death.

I have these reoccurring phone related nightmares. There’s the one where I get a call from a surgeon who tells me that he’s elbow deep in a little girl’s chest, and the heart monitor has just experienced the infamous Blue Screen of Death. If I can’t help him get the monitor working again, the little girl is going to die.

Then there’s the one where I get a call from General Whoever at NORAD who says that we’re at defense condition two, and the computer that decides when to launch the nukes has found an online version of Missile Command and thinks it’s a really fun game. If I can’t figure out how to convince the computer that Missile Command is stupid and video tic-tac-toe is the bomb — probably not the best choice of words — twenty million people will be vaporized — including me.

There are other idiotic dreams, but you get the picture. In all of these dreams, I always have the same answer: “If you could just e-mail me with your problem, I’m sure I could help you out before it’s too late, before we all die.”

I love e-mail. Seemingly insurmountable problems come in, and my ingenious, innovative, outside-the-box solutions go out. In the glorious ether of e-mail, I am a god. The inbox is my prayer line. Send me your woes, and I will solve them all — bless you my child. Just don’t call me on the fucking phone.

Sitting on the toilet, I dig through my pants pocket and pull out my cell phone. Yes, I know the irony. But I don’t wear a watch, and it keeps perfect time. I find my ten minutes are up.

I get up and do all the things needed to give the impression that I just took a juicy dump: flush the empty toilet; wash the relatively clean hands. You get the picture.

I get back to my desk and notice the inevitable e-mail from the secretary: the unavoidable Please Call e-mail. I set up an e-mail folder and an automated macro just for these e-mails. The folder’s name is Cancer. Our secretary’s last name is Krebs. Krebs means cancer in German. I wonder if she knows that. That’s the way I think of her when I have to think of her. In my head, she will always be Ms. Cancer. One of these days I’ll probably make a Freudian slip and call her that. That would somehow be both horrific and glorious at the same time.

Here’s the automated macro for the e-mails: when from = “Krebs, Danielle” and subject = “please call”, move to folder “Cancer”.

And of course, predictably, the e-mail is there. The Cancer folder is bold and there’s a big (1) right next to it. For some reason, she expects me to call the jerk in the e-mail back. It never happens, but she keeps sending the e-mails anyway. Ms. Cancer seems to want to ruin the only communications system where I shine, to stain my precious e-mail system. I want to hate her, but she’s not really a bad person. She just wants me to call people.

Every once in a while, I like to mess with Ms. Cancer. I’ll delete the e-mail from my system and purge it from my Deleted Items folder, and when she’s away from her desk, I’ll delete it from her Sent Items folder and likewise purge it from her Deleted Items folder. The e-mail is still on the server. I know it’s still there. Our I.T. guys know it’s still there. If Ms. Cancer would take the time to investigate, even she would know it’s still there.

That’s why I don’t do this very often. She may be a sadistic bitch that probably wants me to sew the phone receiver to my head, but she’s not stupid. If I did this too often, I’m sure she would eventually catch on.

In a couple of days, she gets a call from the aforementioned jerk, the customer I was supposed to call, who says he never got the call.

She asks me, “Did you ever call back Mr. Jerk?”

With a quizzical look, I say, “Mr. Jerk?”

Clearly bothered, she replies, “Yes, I sent you an e-mail to call Mr. Jerk.”

With hard edged earnestness that can cut steel, false though it may be, I tell her, “Sorry, but I guess I never got the e-mail.”

I show her my Inbox with its irritating lack of the e-mail she knows she sent.

She says, “You didn’t delete it did you?”

I open my Deleted Items folder, and it too is devoid of her e-mail, her little barb in my side.

With as much concern as I can muster, I ask, “Are you sure you sent it?”

She looks at me with an air of distrust, and I wonder if I may have done this one too many times. Will this be the time she checks? Will this be the time I get caught?

She walks back to her desk. After a while, she comes back and says, “I can’t find it in my system either. I guess I didn’t send it. Sorry about that.”

My relief is short lived because she reaches out to hand me a one of those lovely little pink gotchas, the analog version of the Please Call e-mail. The words, “While you were out” glare down at me with contempt. I take it with an ingratiating smile and even produce an honest sounding, “Thank you.”

I put the pink piece of toilet paper face down next to my phone. I still have no intention of calling Mr. Jerk. That would only happen if had no choice — if I were backed into a corner.

Fortunately though, after a few of days, Mr. Jerk tires of waiting for me to call and moves on to bother some other victim. Ms. Cancer doesn’t give the exchange another thought. I can get back to my mundane and quiet little activities.

Don’t think me a bad person for my behavior. If I could afford it, I would buy everyone their own little Blackberry. You know the ones with a nice big keyboard. If everyone would just e-mail me there problems, I think I could probably cure cancer, feed the hungry, bring about world peace. You get the picture.

E-mail me your issues. Send me your digital prayers. I know I can save you. Just don’t call me on the fucking phone.

Bless you my child.

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