The face I’m staring at looks remarkably like my own, with familiar dark shades under the eyes and firm lines forming around the figure’s mouth. The graying hair at his temples could be a precursor to my own stress-induced ageing. Now what really bothers me is that, no matter how hard I stare, the face won’t blink back. Then again, bus stop posters can’t blink. I know that. In fact I’ve known since at least sixth grade that most inanimate objects won’t gesture back at anyone. But the poster across from my seat at the bus stop is the only thing I’ve got to hold my attention while I wait. Since staring down at the asphalt has lost its charm, it’s time to build myself up for the day. One, just one more day left this week, that’s all I have to put up with; unfortunately I already know exactly how today will play out.
Minutes into the ride to work, someone will fall asleep in their seat. As it turns out, I’ll be the lucky passenger next to them, and as the ride continues I’ll become a make shift pillow as his head slumps onto my shoulder. Just as I consider nudging him off me, the bus will come to a stop outside. I’ll squeeze my way through the crowded vehicle and reach the sidewalk right as the driver closes the doors behind me. Once off the bus I’ll have twenty six steps to myself before I hit the parking lot, and then another forty steps over cracked and pot-hole ridden blacktop will take me to the front door. Goodbye daylight, I’ll see you in eight hours.
After storing my things and sitting down to work, the floor’s director will announce a surprise evaluation meeting. Surprise? But of course, it’s not like the office has had these meetings every Friday for the last two years. No, that would be too predictable. Anderson, my supervising director, still remains a mystery to me. Color coordinating shirt and ties, voice like an eager televangelist, and that molded mass of helmet hair I’ve yet to see ever lose its shape; just who the hell put this guy in charge of an office of tired IT workers?
Anderson will deliver a speech as vague and meaningless as his job title, punctuated my air quotes and hopeful rhetorical questions no one even attempts to answer. As he is a stickler for office protocol, nobody can leave the meeting without at least one team assessment:
“Alright team, how’re we feeling about this quarter’s numbers?”
The group’s reply is predictable, “…hmm”
A riveting response, but not good enough for our supervisor.
“That’s right! Double check all your shipping forms, leave no stone unturned!”
“…what the fuck?”, this from a lone man muttering his frustration at the end of the table.
Satisfied with himself, Anderson will release us, but not before officially ending our meeting with a proverb none of us can relate to.
Everyone will make a meandering exit to the break room, only to be mutually disappointed when they don’t find any coffee. Someone will find a can of decaf and while we’re all gathered, waiting for the coffee maker to finish, we’ll all enjoy a minute or two of comfortable silence. But like a politically correct shark trying to save me from the fishing net of eternal damnation, Anderson will somehow trap me in a corner, convinced that I need his words of wisdom.
He’ll say he’s worried about me.
“I’m worried for you.”
How sweet of him.
“You know,” he’ll continue, “we live in difficult times, and sometimes, we can’t keep up with things. But that’s okay, because as a supervisor I know how demanding office life is, and I just want you to know that your productivity is important to me.”
At this point he’ll be nothing other than an obstacle between me and caffeine, so I’ll do my best to play along.
“Thank you, but, no, I’m fine. I can still fill out progress reports without having nervous breakdowns.”
My answer will appease him, and he’ll attempt to leave on a positive note.
“Ah, well then. Remember, should you fall to your obviously deep personal problems, there’s always the divine intervention of higher beings to call upon.”
This reply will leave me temporarily without speech, and it won’t be until he’s walked out of the break room that I finally find my reply:
“Fuck you, Anderson.”
I’ll never be sure if he’s actually heard me, or just chooses to ignore my outbursts every week.
Michelle from accounting will be next to me, and having heard everything she’ll sigh and tell me how much I remind her of her son when he was a teenager. I act offended; surely a thirty-seven year old can only take so much belittling before having to stand up for himself. Then I’ll stomp away in an exaggerated fashion because I know it’ll make her laugh, and that will be the last enjoyable exchange of the day.
Most of the afternoon will pass in my office. I’ll be double checking shipping forms until the sun shining through the window heats up my workspace so much that I’ll have to leave or face second degree burns. I’ll relocate and spend another hour or so pretending to work. I’ll tell myself that it will get finished eventually; after all those spreadsheets will be there next week anyway. And the week after that, and after that.
Instead of stopping for lunch I’ll go back to my office and reread the coursework for the online classes I take. This shouldn’t be done on work time, but since it’s my only chance at moving on from this job I’ll decide to risk reprimand and do anything not involving data logging. Now by this time I predict I will have reached such a slump in motivation and general apathy that I’ll pause from work again to stare out the window and ponder my favorite topics: Why am I still working here? How did I get this cynical? How did they get the horse from the Mister Ed show to talk? How many jellybeans can fit into a fully loaded Sedan? Jellybeans continue to haunt me throughout the rest of my shift.
I need to stop thinking this over, it’s just getting depressing. Whatever I did in a past life to wind up here, at this shitty bus stop flanked by dead trees and ne’er do wells, I can’t imagine. There’s an upside to this somewhere, but I’m not in the mood to think of one. Maybe if I start small: it’s Friday, end of the work week. That’s a start.
Hang on, Friday? So it’s almost the weekend? So my kid and I are only an eight hour shift away from a weekend of doing whatever the hell we want? That thought itself could get me through at least three surprise meetings, and it’s about to get better. At the end of the street I can see a school bus, the district’s lettering worn and faded off the side, rounding the corner across from where I’m sitting. As it rolls closer I count to the third window, hoping she’s still choose that particular seat today. Like always, she’s sitting in the bus, left side, third window down, waiting to wave goodbye to me as she heads off to school. I can’t help it; I smile big and take a few steps down the sidewalk, following her as the bus takes off.
I’m so glad my daughter’s not old enough to feel embarrassed as her dad waves her goodbye every morning. I’m happy that she still wants to keep up our routine: a smile and wave goodbye for every school day, every week, for these past few years. She’ll grow out of it eventually, moving on to walking by herself or getting rides with friends. But for now it’s her favorite part of the morning, and the only part of my day that I feel genuinely happy.