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Black hole in space

Filed Under , on August 12th, 2017

Celestial Deadline

By Seth Kabala

As agreed, your first day of work will be on Monday, January 1, 2018, 6th floor of the Burnside Building on N Sycamore Ave, which is two blocks from the State Capitol building.

Mason read those words and thought, Time to blow shit up again. He’d reached that conclusion earlier, much earlier, as in less than a year after he had started his current job. Then, as a good husband does, he brought his wife into the conversation for the formal We are doing this! decision. No sense in dealing with the hysterics that would doubtless present if he just came right out and said We are doing this. Get used to it. He’d learned his lesson to that regard long ago, and after 14 years of marriage, three kids, and a renewable guarantee that they could fuck any way he wanted at least three nights a week, he wasn’t fucking up that arrangement.

“Got a couple minutes?” His Boss, Cash, asked, popping up on Mason’s right like a gopher from its hole. At 5′ 3″, his Boss was height-challenged but stealth-enabled, able to sneak around the office like the weasel he was, moving below the windows that formed the top panel of all the cubicle walls, appearing at the last second to scare the shit out of whomever he sought. This didn’t scare Mason, though. He’d memorized the sound of Cash’s footfalls (like a bike with bent, rusty wheel hubs) and the smell of his cheap cologne (somewhere between rotten flowers and used condom residue), so he was ready for Cash’s sudden appearance.

“Yeah, Cash. I’m free. What’s up?” Mason said, turning the offer letter face-down and sliding it out of Cash’s sight-line.

“Why don’t you come on back to my office. I’ve got a project for you, and I’d rather discuss it in private.”

Mason looked at Cash. Enough sweat and oil stood out on the forehead of his 300lb frame to deep fry a chicken. He always looked as if he was a few flights of stairs short of a heart attack. Thus, on days when the elevator service went out, he suddenly became a fan of working remotely. On all the other days, “I can’t trust you bums to get your shit done,” he’d said, in violation of no less than five sections of the employee conduct manual. The oxidized metal-colored ring of hair circling the crown of his head, rising to blunt points in the back corners, and his substantial mustache of the same color that seemed to explode outward from the sides of his nose, drew a cross-resemblance between the Boss from Dilbert comics and Dr. Robotnik of Sonic the Hedgehog fame, which, Mason thought, was appropriate, as he was equal parts clueless and evil.

Three years Mason had wasted on this asshole. Three years of so much possibility, so many brilliantly-written reports of findings and recommendations, so much that could have changed with the right application of knowledge and power. So much futility. Three years was enough, but he could handle one more meeting. “Let me close down some open files,” Mason said. “I’ll be over in five.”

“Super!” Cash said this likely attempting to sound like a sea captain giving the order to fire on an armada of approaching pirate forces, but it instead came off with the authority of a McDonald’s manager yelling at his minimum-wage drive-though employee, “I needed a double-cheeseburger, not two singles, fucking GED genius!”

Back in Cash’s office, Cash said, without preamble, before Mason’s ass had hit the chair, “I need you to push the Celestial audit.” Celestial was a multi-billion-dollar, global, publicly-traded combination telephone/internet/cable service provider that dominated the local markets everywhere and was suspected of flouting federal, state, and local regulations–everywhere. As a civil revenue compliance officer for Bridgeport, Mason enforced the compensation provisions of permit holders’ contract authority to use the City’s rights-of-way as well as their general privilege to provide their services within the City. He had no authority to bring or recommend criminal charges for egregious contract violations, only the power to recommend assessment and penalties.

This had galled him over the years. He’d always wanted to supplement his education with additional coursework and degree credentials on criminal justice and expand the scope of his role with the City to include the filing of criminal offenses. But that would have involved a level of liaising with the criminal justice folks with which management were uncomfortable, i.e., the money probably wasn’t there, and, more importantly, they were disinclined to flex the boundaries of their own scope of work, i.e., they were lazy fuckers who were sliding down a well-greased path to defined benefit pension retirement, so why the fuck should they try to outperform, to do right by the citizenry?

You’ve got a Bachelor’s, a CPA license, and half a Master’s. What more do you want? He’d heard multiple versions of this dismissive statement over the years, and though he’d long stopped trying to change minds, he still wondered about the sanity of the person who’d considered half a Master’s degree to be worthy of inclusion on his resume.

Why, yes, Ms. Interviewer, I have 900 PhD’s, 950 Master’s, and an even 1,000 Bachelor’s degrees. How is this possible? Well, I thought about each of these degrees, decided I possessed the requisite skills, and awarded myself the academic honors. That’s sufficient, right? I think therefore I am?

Mason had 13% of a Master’s, two courses of the required 15. Actually, since he wanted to finish a double Master’s program, he was about 8% there, but what was the point of getting into the weeds about percentage of completion when the powers that were deemed an incomplete degree, whatever the stage of completion, sufficient to placate academic and career ambitions? There seemed to be no end to the idiocy that marched out of peoples’ mouths when they had decided to permanently shelve ambition and had decided that everyone else should add volumes to fill up that shelf space.

Cash droned on about the need to push the Celestial audit, and Mason’s mind wandered. He kept enough of his consciousness focused on Cash to provide a credible second party presence in the conversation, but as a fiduciary presence, he checked out. Instead, he directed the hedonistic portion of his mind to celebratory activities planned for that evening with his wife.

A life of career accomplishments was nothing without fine home cooking at least three nights a week, with tossed salad and cookies being ever present on the menu. How did those choices work in with the halibut, fresh-caught Alaskan salmon, and dry-aged beef? You found a way. He believed his wife knew the value of ensuring the quality and variety of the house menu. Otherwise, the dangers of visiting other restaurants, and pouring over the choices on their menus, was an ever-present danger. With enough time spent in other establishments, the probability of moving past viewing the menus to trying the menus steadily ticked upward. Thus, they cooked at home–a lot.

Mason Graeves was 36, a smidge under six feet, held his weight at or around 190lbs, 10% bodyfat (he lied, though it surely wasn’t over 15%, he hoped) had a thick head of dark brown hair, milk chocolate and caramel-colored eyes. They been dark chocolate when he was a child. That was weird. Was this a dilution of his self, his id, as well as his physical features, or an addendum with an edit? Either way, he felt he looked nothing like his younger self, and that that was as much the result of evolutionary flow as it was his desire to will himself to change. I think therefore I am, or some bullshit of the same platitudinal magnitude. His hairline was at the same level it had been for the last 10 years, which was post the widow’s peak with which he had been born. When he’d been about 8, he’d fallen on his head after hanging upside down from the jungle gym and landed on his dome, resulting in the killing of a dime-sized patch of hair on the ending of the first derivative calculus curve on the back of his head and the passing to the second derivative.

In non-mathematical terms, the bald-spot, which he vociferously defended upon even the slightest questioning–fuck, no. He was not going bald, you presumptuous fuck!–was not visible from the back, not visible from the top, only visible moving back to between these two vantage points. Even so, he was fastidious in checking the diameter of the bald spot on a weekly basis. To the same degree, he daily applied Rogaine to his anterior and posterior hairlines, hoping that, even though his former not-quite-Dracula-esque hairline was likely gone forever, what he had would remain and wouldn’t turn yellow and retreat. It was easier to defend something that aligned with reality than something that lost its representativeness with the passage of time.

11 years into his career, lots of kids, lots of jobs, and lots of moving around, he could still run a seven-minute mile (one, if he was honest). He could still keep it up without help (for at least the length of your standard-issue movie previews). If he could do that, he thought, he could do more than turn in more reports that became fodder for the shredders.

“Are you good with this?” Cash asked. Mason’s conscious division had apparently worked. “Are we on the same team? Are you gonna step up and hit this shit out of the park?”

“Absolutely, Cash,” Mason said, drawing himself back to one mind. “I’ll get done what needs to be done. First, though, I’ve got a pressing report I need to finish. It’s short, only a couple paragraphs long, but you’re gonna want to read this one.”

“Is this going to fuck up the Celestial deadline?”

“Nothing could fuck that up, Cash. It’s the highest priority, right?”

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Seth Kabala

About: Seth Kabala
Seth is an entrepreneur, writer, musician, family man, and juggler of balls--big ones. He lives with his wife and three children in Portland, OR.

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