I don’t really have any family, but I have friends. I have a home and pets and a job. I have a pretty typical, every day kind of life. But lately, I've been thinking about escaping. As if I am trapped.
There’s just something about the work-a-day world that has been getting to me lately. Everyone has been walking around as if their lives are carved into stone. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone make a brash decision. Everyone does what they’re told. I hate that about the world.
I was on a business trip in Bangkok when I first noticed the abscess. My right lymph-node was swollen after a presentation at one of the big Asian technology conventions. We were in town presenting a white paper on sustainable business, that was our cover story anyway. I was really hijacking the speech and presenting our solution to the corporate overtake of the World Wide Web.
I work for a company called Onyx. To the public, we present ourselves as a technology research firm looking into augmented reality, touch technology, and geo-locative identity mapping. We don’t actually do any of those things. The CEO, Jacob Sunnard, had been a guerrilla marketer and a punk in his previous life. He fell in love with communication, the very human act of communication. He’d started Onyx to protect the people from the online hijacking of their communications and data. Onyx makes money as a consulting firm. We do underground consulting for underground organizations trying to make a difference in the world of technology. If Jacob agrees with the politics of an organization, we’ll get involved.
Onyx approaches organizations that would benefit from our particular expertise and be accepting of our particular methods. No organization has ever turned us away. Ever. We’ll help with online security, audience acquisition, targeted campaigning, and various MNBL (“might not be legal”) activities.
We also go around to conferences and talked about the “thievery of mind” or the “capitalization of the soul” because Jacob likes messing with people. Onyx has six employees whose sole job is to write and submit white papers to conferences. Once a paper is accepted, the rest of us research the attendees of the conference and work out which of our messages will make them the most uncomfortable.
I love my work. It allows me to pretend that I’m an activist. Lately though, I feel like I don’t make a difference at all.
I was in Bangkok with my colleague, Dan, a short, dumpy party guy. His receding hairline and bargain basement clothes were oblivious to him. He was an arrogant, psychotic son-of-a-bitch and one of the only people in our office I could stand. Other than Dan, Jacob and Eric, I didn’t really like my colleagues. It’s not that they weren’t nice. Most of them were nice, but they were also way too politically correct. They were always looking around before they said anything even slightly off color. Their humor was lacking, and I found myself having to curb my speech. Dan just didn’t give a fuck. He was good at his job, and he had fun with his life. Everyone in the office considered him the drunkard, the village idiot. But he got shit done.
We got to Bangkok the same day I got a visit from Aunt Flo. That’s always happening to me. I go away, and I get my period or I get sick, and I spend my time noting where the bathrooms are and looking for drug stores. The night before my presentation I had cramps. Really bad cramps. I went wandering about looking for a pharmacy instead of practicing and polishing my presentation.
I’d given versions of this presentation several times before, so I wasn’t really worried about embarrassing myself. I just happen to suffer from a little bit of performance anxiety, and when I give a presentation I wanted to “be on rails”. I’d learned about being on rails from my last lover. Our relationship last three hours. He said you just say your speech out loud ten times, and then you’ll “be on rails”, unable to be sidetracked from your purpose.
The next morning the cramps were better thanks to a very nice young lady at the pharmacy who knew exactly which pill to give me. I awoke feeling pretty good about myself. I put on a dress and my new suit jacket and made myself look respectable.
Dan and I took a cab to the convention.
“You look rested, nice dress.”
“Yeah, this is my ‘look-at-me-I’m-all-grown-up’ outfit.”
“I’m pretty glad they decided to send you instead of that stuck up bitch June Kim. She is totally not fun. Buzz killll,” Dan had a cappuccino in one hand and his smartphone in the other. “Did you see that story about the baby goats in Seattle?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Yeah, dude. They found a bunch of abandoned baby goats walked around in some ritzy suburb. They were all starving and whatnot.”
“Why does this matter?”
“They. Found. Baby. Goats. Wandering. Around. In. A. Fucking. Suburb!” Dan speaking was like watching game shows on television. He was always animated, very gestural. His mannerisms reminded me of epilepsy, “It’s pandemonium out there. The people are going nuts.”
I had the feeling we were going to get into a deep economic discussion if I didn’t change the subject.
“You know that guy who works in management, Eric?” Dan knew who I was asking about, the three of us had hid from Random Coworker’s retirement party a couple months ago. We’d slipped into the handicap bathroom on the second floor and smoked a spliff. We had briefly considered going back to the party so that we could have some cake, but changed our minds after realizing that we were all bonkers high. Ever since then, Eric and I have been exchanging this look.
“Yeah, I like that guy. A couple days ago, I saw him spill soup on his crotch and totally just not give a shit.”
“Exactly, well he told me to find this guy, Scott Spencer. He was like ‘Tell him you're friends with me, then tell him you're really good friends with Jacob. Be effusive about your like for me in particular. He hates us both. It’ll amuse me to hear about your interaction.’”
“That guy is fucking cool.”
“I know, you gotta help me find this Scott Spencer guy. If he hates Eric and Jacob, we can probably make him hate us too.”
“That sounds like a fun game.”
As we pulled up to the convention center, Dan pulled out a mini flask. “It’s just two swigs, but it’s enough to calm the jitters.”
I tossed back the flask, at nine in the morning. “Thanks,” I said after waiting for the last drop to glide from the rim and fall into my mouth.
“Asshole, I wanted the second one.”
The first couple of hours, we just schmoozed around. I did the networking thing, talked about our mission statement, explained our current projects and markets. I made up thirty different lies, and no one knew the difference. Part of my job was just to talk people into corners. I’d gotten pretty good at it over the years. Really, it’s all about reading people. Everyone has their nuances, their tells, that are ready to be exploited.
To get a job at Onyx, you have to be more than meets the eye. All interviewees have an interview with HR, and those that fulfill the basic requirements go to Jacob’s house for dinner. It is part of the interview process. Jacob uses that dinner to get an idea about your character. Basically, he gets you drunk on expensive wine and then talks to you about any and everything that comes into his head. Your conversational skills, sarcasm, irony, wit, ability to hold your alcohol – these things are on display, and Jacob makes an assessment of your character based on that one evening. Afterwards, there’s another interview with Jacob’s right-hand man, Eric. Eric never interviewed me though. Jacob hired me twenty minutes after I arrived at his house.
Everyone had on name tags, so Dan and I branched out to look for Scott. I found him at the OmniGreen Technology booth. Scott stood as if he wear balancing his asshole just above a poison tipped spear. His crisp suit, cufflinks, and penny loafers led me to believe he wasn’t interested in OmniGreen’s efforts to recycle old hardware and build robots that would tend to our agricultural needs. I texted Dan our location.
As I eavesdropped on the conversation, I listened to Scott sarcastically explain to the OmniGreen people what a “scrapyard artist” was and how fucking stupid they are. Before he could cause those poor hippies to cry, I tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hi, Scott Spencer?”
“Well, hello missy. How can Scott be of service to,” he grabbed my name tag, “Ms. Maggie Lawson?” He was undressing me with his eyes and his tongue was hanging out of his mouth.
“Oh, I work with Jacob Sunnard and Eric Murphy over at Onyx. They were talking about the AR company you’re on the board of, and I was just looking to hear some more. You know Jacob and Eric? They’re great guys.”
Dan slid in beside me, picking up the thread. “Hey Maggie, were you just talking about Jacob and Eric? I just watched Jacob’s SARDAN 2011 webinar. He’s so brilliant.”
“Yes, I was just telling Scott here how much I like them. I heard Eric was responsible for getting gaming consoles in all our conference rooms.”
Scott studied Dan and me for a moment, and then his vacant look brightened a little. “Oh yes, Jacob and Eric. I haven’t seen them in ages. Did Eric get demoted yet for being a dumb ass?” Dan and I look at each other, trying hard not to smile. “No, but seriously! Both of them are just the cat’s meow. What are you? Their fucking fan club?”
“No, no. They’re just, you know, cool is all. They were talking about the new augmented contact lens you guys are creating. All of us were talking about changing our eyes to be that scary violet color from Children of the Corn.”
“That’s the kind of stuff you talk about over at Onyx. I mean, I knew you guys were weird, but come on!”
Dan had a new coffee in his hand. It must have been his forth one already, and it was only ten-thirty. “Oh, Scott. We’re just happy to work for an organization that has more than three weeks vacation a year, and healthcare that takes care of our health. Nice scarf, by the way.”
“Anyway,” I broke in, “I just wanted to let you know that we, and by we I mean mainly me and Eric, are really excited about the developments,” I knew that Scott Spencer and his company weren’t any closer to solving the spatial issues inherent in the project than anyone else.
“Well, yes, we’re definitely lightyears ahead of the competition,” in Scott’s mind, Onyx was the competition.
“Ok. Well. It certainly was nice meeting you, shall I tell Eric and Jacob you said ‘hi’?”
“Oh, yes absolutely you should. Just give them a big ol’ hug from me,” Scott smirked and walked away.
“Wait, are you serious!?” I yelled out after him. It wasn’t a brilliant interaction by far, but the mention of Eric had certainly changed Scott’s demeanor. Still, I dreaded calling Eric and telling him it was an anti climatic exchange.
When the keynote started after lunch, I was already ready to leave. There were three people speaking before me. I just sort of zoned out for all of their presentations. There were too many interesting characters in the room to look at. I felt like I was watching a Discovery Channel special on dork fashion. After my presentation, Dan came over and handed me a celebratory Mai Tai. They didn’t even have a bar at the convention.
“Where’d you get this?”
“Don’t worry about it, I got it from someone who knows that these conventions are fucking boring.”
“Someone you know?”
“That guy, over there,” Dan pointed to a tall Asian fellow with a suspiciously large backpack. “He’s the party brigade.”
I studied the guy for a moment. Then I took a big swing of the drink. It was delicious. Dan and I got wasted sucking down Backpack Mai Tais. When Dan’s wasted, he gets belligerent. He started telling people how boring and common they were. At some point a security guard tried to throw us out. Dan just laughed and said, “Yeah, you want us to leave? Face!” and then turned around and walked back into the crowd.
After Dan had successfully pissed off every one he came into contact with, we decided we should head down to the Blue Elephant for something a little stiffer than a Mai Tai. Dan was more than laced, and I was well on my way to being too fucked up to stand. At three am, Dan was facedown on a dance floor, and I was trying to convince the club bouncer that he didn’t need to call the cops. I had to drag Dan outside and throw him into a cab.
When we got back to the hotel, Dan and I stumbled into the elevator. The cab ride had sobered him up enough to fall into walls. Dan slept next to my room in the hallway, and I slept with my head in the toilet. A few hours later, Dan pounded on the door and we both moved to the bed. We started making out, and eventually had awkward, drunk, disgusting sex. I remember waiting for it to be over, but kind of into it at the same time. Afterwards, we both passed out.
When I awoke, Dan was missing, and I had this horrible pain in my throat accompanying the after-drinking-shame. I thought the sore throat was just a remnant from smoking, drinking, and talking too much. I felt like shit, but was supposed to be meeting and greeting some people at the convention. I was already extremely late.
After a thorough shower, I decided to walk to the convention center. It was about a thirty minute walk, but I needed coffee and a bit of time to collect myself. Dan was no where to be found.
As I walked through the streets of Bangkok, I wasn’t registering any of the things going on around me. I had a single focus: Don’t get fired for being a drunken idiot. I wasn’t even completely sure if anyone knew I wasn’t doing my job at the moment. I didn’t know what was going on, I was still wasted. I finally found a coffee three blocks from the convention center and quickly sucked it down. Then I stood there in front of the café and put on my happy face.
As the day progressed, my throat started to feel tighter and tighter. At around six in the evening, I was feeling so knocked out that I could barely stand. I still hadn’t seen Dan, and he wasn’t answering his messages. I took a cab back to the hotel and twenty-nine hours later, I was awoken by a banging on my door.
“What the fuck have you been doing?” Dan came into the room and set a half empty bottle of vodka on the table. He kicked off his shoes and slumped into a chair.
“What time is it?”
“It’s fucking eleven pm on Wednesday! I’ve been banging on your door all day. Did you take some of those knock out drugs or what? And what the fuck is that on your neck?”
My throat was hurting more than it had when I went to sleep. As I grabbed at my neck, I felt a golf ball sized growth on the right side.
“Oh Christ! What is that!?”
“I’ve never seen something that gross,” Dan laughed.
“It’s not oozing or anything, it’s just a swollen lymph-node. It’s really swollen. Do me a favor, look down my throat, it feels like I’m swallowing thumbtacks.”
“I’m not getting near your mouth. Here, drink this,” Dan handed me the half empty bottle of vodka. “It helps.”
I had just slept twenty-nine hours and everything had gotten worse, so I took the vodka. What harm can a little joy juice do when you’re already nearly dying.
Two days later, I was still drunk as we went to the airport to catch the flight back home. The stale, sticky air in the smoking lounge smelled a little like Tabasco sauce.
“…And those bitches just kept hobbin the knob if you know what I’m saying,” Dan was saying. I hadn’t heard the beginning of the story. I was still eating glass, and my mouth tasted like the sewage water running down the streets in Bangkok.
“I think I need a doctor,” I barely whispered.
“Yeah, well, we’ve got twenty minutes to board our flight, so first you’ll have to haul ass.”
“Oh, fuck.” I hadn’t been paying attention to the clock. I was in no condition to run, but the thought of spending another day here when all I wanted was a doctor, a Western doctor, was motivation enough for me to sling my laptop over my shoulder and run to the gate.
When we arrived they were about to pull the door closed. Dan didn’t even pull out his ticket as he raced through the door. “Two more passengers!” He was yelling down the jetway. From behind the gate operator was screaming at us. I pulled Dan to a stop, grabbed his ticket and turned around and breathlessly presented them to the operator.
“Sorry, we have to catch this flight!” Annoyed the gate operator nodded and then let me pass.
When we got to the plane, the flight attendant looked sideways at us. Then she realized we were first class passengers and changed her demeanor. “Oh, we’re so glad to have you on board! That was a close one,” her left eye hung ever so slightly lower than her right eye, and her pulled back hair pulled her face muscles making her look slightly waxy.
“I want a martini with an extra bottle of gin,” Dan told her as he swung into his seat.
“Yes sir, anything for you ma’am?”
“I’ll have a vodka with Ginger Ale, another blanket, and two aspirin.”
“Right away.” As the flight attendant turned to leave, Dan was staring at her legs.
“What do you think happened to her?”
I leaned over the aisle to take a look at what Dan was talking about and noted the large, crescent shaped scar covering her calf. “I don’t know, shark bite?”
Dan laughed for a minute and then pushed his call button. Another flight attendant was immediately at his side. “I’ve been sitting here for forty-five seconds! Where’s my booze!?” The flight attendant apologized and then scurried away.
“Jesus Dan, do you have to be such an asshole?”
“I never get to fly first class, I’m getting my money’s worth.”
“It’s not your money.”
The flight attendant arrived with our requests. I chased the aspirin down with the vodka Ginger Ale. I held my breath as we took off. Before we stopped ascending, I was already done with my drink.
“Hey! Get mi Amiga another vodka Ginger Ale!”
“You know, Dan, I can order my own drinks,” I didn’t really want another drink until it arrived seconds later.
I took a sip and then nestled back into my oversize, first class seat. I thought about all the poor saps back in coach with their knees up against the seat. I thought about how every single time I’d ever flown, I had to walk through first class and watch the rich fucks get served mimosas and little hot towelettes. I thought about how angry it made me to be squished in economy class with the sniveling fat guy on my left and the redneck kid blasting country music from his headphones on my right. That kid should have been deaf, I could understand every lyric. I thought about that one time in particular when there were two babies on the plane, and neither one of them liked flying very much. They cried and cried, and I remember having really mean, unnatural kinds of thoughts. I felt bad about it immediately afterwards, but the thoughts were there. That was the same transatlantic flight when the old guy sitting behind me coughed on my hair all night long.
I took another sip of the vodka and then smiled to myself. “Suckers,” I thought.
“So, uh, that was fun the other night,” Dan was starting to settle in.
“What the drunk fucking or the psychotic rampage that came before it?”
“Both, that was just fun. You don’t, uh, you aren’t…”
“Dan, we both had drunk sex, I’m sure it was good in the moment, but we should probably just forget about it before I throw up.”
“I was thinking exactly the same thing. Not that you weren’t great or anything it’s just…”
“Trust me, I know. Let’s pretend it never happened.”
“Deal. We can still be friends though, right?”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, are you serious?”
“Good, that’s what I thought.”
I covered myself up and went to sleep. I didn’t awake for the entire flight. When we landed, Dan punched me to wake me up.
“I’ve never seen anyone sleep like that. I could have had my way with you and you never would have noticed.”
“You know, I could file sexual harassment charges on you,” I said.
“Yeah, but you won’t. I know you’re a sick fuck, even if you are a girl.”
I swallowed as I closed my eyes. I’d never had that kind of pain in my throat before, and I’d always been prone to getting strep. It was as if jagged teeth were sawing through my trachea, as if my esophagus was being cleaned with a steel scouring pad. The breathing was starting to get tight, and I fantasized about not waking up again.
In the airport, I was feeling dizzy. I just wanted to sleep some more, even though I’d been sleeping much of the last several days. The flight was direct, but still nineteen hours. I had slept through all of it. At the baggage carousel, I gathered my bags, told Dan I’d see him later, and then grabbed a taxi. When I got home, I threw my bags on the floor. I popped another two aspirin and then went to sleep. It was too late in the day to go see my doctor anyway. His walk-in hours are only until nine-thirty on Sundays. I don’t know why he has hours on Sundays at all.