ERP – Giovanni DeJaneiro
April 23, 2020
Screaming bloody murder and I must have an angel because the light hasn’t turned, thank fucking god, man. The green stakes of the digital clock spur me through a long yellow at twice the limit. Almost T-boned a short bus, but that’s alright. I beat the sun to the cubicle farm.
The ignition interlock beeps before I can kill the engine. Not five minutes to prove I haven’t slammed a high-point since the last rolling retest. I lean into my lap so no one sees and squeeze my lungs into the mouthpiece. I fuck up the first time, pass the second. I’m such a safe and sober boy.
I always feel like a total faggot in a collared shirt. All these foofy little buttons wedged up my ass crack. And these fucking dress pants don’t fit right. Hey, maybe the Packers’ll win the Superbowl and they’ll let everyone where regular clothes for half a day. Alright, alright, that’s enough, let’s go.
Dodge the receptionist lady and duck into the break room. That tubby dude with the short white hair is filling a bunch of Dixie cups with tap water. I try to sneak back out, but he turns on a dime and bares his gap teeth like a school portrait—
“Good morning. You’re new here?”
“Mornin’. Yeah, I just started the other day.”
“Nice to meet you. My name is Mark. I try to drink my eight cups of water first thing in the morning.”
“Good thinking. I don’t drink nearly enough water.”
Mark stares at me. I can’t puzzle out his expression. He looks like he’s about to sneeze.
“Well, have a good day.”
“Thanks. You too, man.”
My computer chair whimpers as I set down my swamp ass and scald my tongue. I never used to drink coffee, but I’m already so bored of everything. I’d fall asleep without my heart ringing in my throat. Sip enough cinder and the grey felt shimmers, I swear.
Wow, look how many emails. I’m a productive member of polite society. I would kick up my feet and smoke a big cigar, but I’m too goddamn important to the success of this economy. Better hunker down and get back to making a difference. There’s money on the table, never leave money on the table—
“How was your weekend?”
“Good. I watched the game with my wife and my brother.”
“Me, too! I dragged the TV outside. It was such a nice day.”
“It was a nice day.”
“Yeah. We made margaritas and I was screaming. They won, but it was stressful.”
“Good morning, Becky.”
“Good morning, Christine.”
“Good morning, Jeremy.”
“We’re way behind on where we’re supposed to be for rain.”
“It’s supposed to rain all weekend.”
“I know—such crap. Crapola. Aren’t you going to the game this weekend? Jeremy? I said aren’t you going to the game this weekend? Hello?”
“That’s going to be fun! You’re going to have so much fun.”
“Becky? I need your help.”
“Hold on just one second, Christine.”
“Good morning, good morning.”
“My eye is twitching.” Becky chuckled. “Why does it do that? I’m really struggling today.”
“It’s chicken sandwich day,” Christine said.
“Chicken parm for me.”
“I have a salad.”
“I feel sorry for you—”
Wendy barged into my cube and I about spat up my skeleton. She cackled.
“Whoa, didn’t mean to scare the heck out of you!”
She handed me a yellowed newspaper clipping.
“That’s me. I used to do dog training when I was a kid. My dog had just given birth, so I borrowed a friend’s dog. I won third place overall. The leash is baling twine. How do you like that? I thought you’d get a chuckle.”
I don’t know why she thinks I’d give a flying fuck, but I fake a chuckle and pretend to marvel at the clipping.
“I lost an earring,” Vicki whined.
“You lost an earring?”
Wendy and Vicki discuss the lost earring. Wendy shows Vicki the clipping and repeats her spiel verbatim. Vicki cackles until she coughs and coughs and coughs and coughs and Wendy repeats her spiel verbatim to Christine and Jeremy and Becky. Becky sees a spider and shrieks.
I haven’t done much of anything. My heart slowed down and my palms dried, but my bladder’s warm and my cock’s hot pink. Can’t cum on the clock, so I’m forced to dangle an eye over my shoulder and stealthily stroke my cock through my pocket.
Wendy’s not terrible. She has eyes like spoiled oysters and stinks like potpourri, but her tits are monstrous. Muzzled in garish sweaters and blouses, they seem humble as bread. Small wonder my godfather married such a cranky cranky bitch. She was probably beautiful once.
But I don’t know, she seems a little senile. She insists she doesn’t know anything about ERP, yet she expects me to cobble together an instruction manual according to misspelled fragments and wacky diagrams banged out by Chinese coders. And she’s been here since high school. She doesn’t seem to do much more than talk shit and stuff her turkey neck.
I don’t disdain her laziness, but she’s getting paid good money to do fuck all. All these bariatric boomers own big ass houses in the boonies, they’re driving monster trucks and slingshots and talking oodles and oodles of shit. They were jocks and preps in high school and they parented many of the same.
And I’m the fucking weirdo all over again. I can’t seem to break the chain. Except this time around they’re flicking me twelve peanuts an hour to keep my head down and take the beating. And they have every right to fire my ass as soon as they’re sick of dishing it out.
The Big Bosses want to meet me. They hired me sight unseen on Wendy’s good word and they flew here to take me out to lunch and get to know me. I suppose I should be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy my merciful superiors in the flesh, but I’m not. I would’ve liked to take lunch in the park and talk to myself, tracing my rickety hairline in the rearview mirror.
I slowly walk to the bathroom. I always walk slower than usual at work. I crack the door to make sure I’m alone and stand in front of the urinal with my cock out, flexing my ass cheeks until the piss clears. I wash my hands in hot water for an eternity until the creak of the door breaks the spell.
I recognize Mr. Winston in the lobby. He’s smaller than my mother and powerfully ugly. I extend a hand against my will, but he won’t deign to shake it. He won’t even look at me. A newscast commands his attention.
“The stock market is down,” he says to the ceiling.
“Huh. I didn’t know that.”
“I said I didn’t know that.”
Mr. Laporte smiles wide and shakes the sweat off my hand. He seems nice, but he’s jolly fat and Canadian. There’s no way he’s happy to see me. I think we’re all very upset about the Dow. But Mr. Laporte smiles anyway.
“So, where do you want to eat?”
“I don’t know. You guys pick.”
We pile into their rental van and ride through the suburbs in silence. Houses outgrow the dying trees and trim lawns gush into storm water ditches. I pick what remains of my fingernails, tear a hangnail out my cuticle and bleed into the scabby matrix of my bare nail bed. I suck my index finger like a candy cane. The Big Bosses seem angry, but I can’t tell.
Plaster cacti and fake red rocks ornament the parking lot of Brisco County Grill. The sun burns whitely under a skin of scum at the top of the sky. I unkink my spine and tremblingly hold the door with a toothless smile. They thank me, but I’m not being nice. I’m begging them not to hurt me.
Our waitress has a mole for each missing tooth. She slaps three menus on a table and walks away. A giant drop of sweat suddenly falls out of my armpit hair and chills my hip. Mr. Winston folds his hairy little fingers and looks at me like a cow skull.
“So. Do you have any experience working with an ERP system?”
I screw my lips and shake my head.
“—it’s a big program.”
“Yeah, well, you know.”
“What did you go to school for?”
Mr. Winston frowns. Bitch. Probably thinks I weave baskets underwater and shit. He rummages through the facts of my face, but I turn to stone and hold his reptilian gaze. He blinks first and retrains his eyes elsewhere. That’s right, you goddamn fucking piece of shit bitch. Fuck you.
I’m happy as hell to see the waitress again. I want her to like me, not these stupid ass cocksucking douchebag assholes. I order a buffalo chicken sandwich and a regular Coke. The Big Bosses both order salad without dressing and water.
“We’re on diets,” Mr. Laporte explains. “So, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?”
Yeah man, totally. Let’s see. I still jack off to yearbook portraits of my high school crushes. I don’t know. I’m deaf in my left ear. I have a glass ear, you know. What else, I don’t know what else. I have a very bad opinion of you people. It’s probably best I don’t say shit.
“Okay, well, why don’t you tell me what made you want to write documentation for our company?”
I don’t want to write documentation for anyone. I can’t imagine who would choose to write or read a manual more than once. The first world couldn’t print enough money to make wage work worth my while. Everyone expects you to die a little for them. But I’d rather be dead than president.
Mr. Laporte cracks his big mouth to ask more stupid questions, but our lunches arrive. I immediately jam a handful of steak fries down my throat. Can’t talk with your mouth full, it’s just not right. The Big Bosses play with their salads as I clean my plate.
What the fuck is wrong with these people. They go to restaurants to sit and stare and somehow I’m the dick. I suppose they expect me to feed them. Wait, that’s right, the stock market is down. They’re probably tonguing their cyanide teeth and praying for their eternal souls.
Mr. Laporte fidgets.
“Is there anything you want to ask us?”
That’s a really good question. I still don’t know what ERP means. But Wendy doesn’t know and she’s my boss, so I’ll follow her lead. I’m absolutely determined to waste my whole life working for your piece of shit company. Wait, okay, I think I know what I wanted to ask you. I’d really like to know whether or not my first and only girlfriend ever loved me.
I persuaded my ex to meet me for lunch a while back. We hadn’t seen each other in about a year or so. We were supposedly friends, but she always flaked whenever I asked to hang out. I couldn’t believe she actually said yes this time.
We went to the Panera across the street from the Toppers on Layton, you know, between eighty fourth and seventy sixth. I had suggested Oscar’s, the custard place, but she declined. She wanted to eat healthy. She always thought she was fat, but she’s not. I remember the time we went to A&W and got root beer floats. She probably wouldn’t dare touch a root beer float anymore.
I miss her down to her ugly toe. I still beat my cock to the memory of her big ass. It’s a flabby constellation of pimples and grooves. Her inner thighs are as soft as malted milk. She’s really something else. But I imagine she would hate to know that’s what I remember of her body. I don’t know, she’s not going to read my shit.
When I saw her face, I turned eighteen again and swelled with blood. Your first love is a spore as green as the sun, an open secret in the back of your brain like birds in a pie. I wanted to apologize for everything. Maybe she would take me back.
We hugged. The gums at the top of her smile gleamed. She had a little lipstick on her teeth. I didn’t know she started wearing lipstick. Otherwise, she didn’t seem any different.
We ordered our food and sat down. Gussied mothers and daughters gossiped over disemboweled bread bowls. Shit, I don’t like that goddamn place, it’s loud and busy and, you know, it’s not bad food, but it’s not that good. But I’m afraid she’s going the way of these idiot office ladies, that’s not the girl I loved, or thought—
It was like a bad date. We told each other facts and not secrets. She explained the curative properties of her homemade turmeric toothpaste. I thought she was trying to tell me my teeth were too yellow for her taste. I nodded and nodded until my neck snapped and my bloody heart blossomed.
“I still love you.”
“What? Listen, we had our time together. That time has passed. We’re just friends now.”
“You’re the one who broke up with me. Don’t you remember? You broke up with me three times.”
“You started it! You broke up with me first, when you went back to your husband. Our relationship was never the same after that. Everything was great until you ruined it. That’s why I broke up with you three times. That’s why I’ve been miserable. It’s your fault.”
I glanced at the faded rainbow tattooed around her right ring finger, the only remnant of her marriage. I realized that she had never removed her wedding ring during our relationship. I was not her first love. I wasn’t even her second.
“As cheesy as it sounds, I really don’t think you’ve ever given yourself a chance to love yourself, and the things that you’re doing, and the things that you see, and you don’t appreciate the people you know or meet.”
“What’s to appreciate? I absolutely love myself. I’m fantastic. I’m the best. Everyone’s just been giving me a hard time.”
“The world isn’t out to get you.”
“I genuinely believe that it is.”
“Well, then shut up about it.”
“You always make me feel horrible, you know that? At least you used to admit that you dragged me through shit because you’re so selfish and fucked up, but now you just blame me like everyone else.”
“You’ve already realized that I’m no good for you, so don’t let me hurt you like this. Block my number. Move on with your life. You make it seem so impossible to be happy just because of me? There has to be something deep inside you that’s not allowing you to be happy. Take the initiative if you think your life will be better. Please.”
“Fine. But I want you to delete my number. Right now.”
My ex scrolled and tapped through her phone. She finally pocketed her phone and looked at me, her bottom lip huge and heavy. I followed her out the door.
I walked my ex to her car, knowing I might not see her again. Sunshine tickled my nose. I wanted to cry, but I sneezed instead.
We hugged again. I continued to squeeze her spine well after she let go. She used to love my backbreaking hugs.
“I will always love you,” I stammered.
She didn’t say anything. She seemed uncomfortable. I hope she was as sad as me, but I didn’t think so.
She said goodbye and I said goodbye and she shut the door and started her engine and merged into traffic and I haven’t heard from her since.
I slurp the bottom of my soda until the ice squeaks. Mr. Laporte looks at me like I flipped my eyelids inside out. Don’t look so surprised, asshole.
“I’m having a bad day.”
“I’m having a bad day. And I don’t think I’m right for the job, so.”
“You come highly recommended by Wendy.”
“Well, that’s nice of her. I can’t imagine why.”
Mr. Laporte chuckles.
“So, how do you pronounce your last name?”
I come back from lunch on the downside of a sugar crash. I set down and my computer chair shrieks. I can smell my breath through the roof of my mouth. It’s bad. My eyes cross and double as I key my password, but I don’t think I can stomach another coffee.
I want to smear shit on the walls and shout slurs until someone hauls me away. But you can’t do that shit. You can’t just go home and stay home. Work is a life sentence. Act out and you’ll just wind up in a smaller cell. They won’t let you do anything.
“So, last night I got home and I couldn’t see the counter, there were so many dishes. I lost it! I told the kids I was putting their clothes on the internet, their stupid video games. I don’t know how two kids can make such a mess.”
“Have you ever had barbeque brisket tator tot pizza?”
“That actually sounds really good,” Jeremy says.
“I love tater tots,” Becky screams. She laughs a little louder.
“I took my 84 year old aunt and she said, tater tots on a pizza, who would’ve thought? They should have quoted her on a microphone or something.”
“Everyone likes the mac and cheese pizza. Yuck!”
“Becky hates hotdogs,” Christine says.
“I hate cake, too.”
“Last week I was in Madison and I ordered a spicy jalapeño venison steak or something.”
“I’ll bake you a hotdog cake.”
“Ew, why would you do that?”
Vicki cackles and coughs.
“I might be able to handle that, I like jalapeños.”
“I’ll smash the hotdogs into the batter and use, you know, the juice in the package for frosting.”
“I’m going to throw up.”
“Okay, well, we’ll have to have a picnic sometime.”
I slowly walk to the bathroom. As soon as I open the door, a sloppy shit hits water. The stench bowls me over and about breaks my nose. It’s like I’ve cracked open a crypt. A shiny leather shoe shrinks into the stall like a bad dog with a guilty grin.
I back out and float upstairs and downstairs several times slower and slower and inch through the second floor cubicles and tiptoe down the opposite staircase. Take the long way to the break room and peek inside. Not a soul. I quietly cheer and tap the water cooler.
Without a sound, Mark appears behind me. I can feel his eyes in my hair. I twist my neck and nod. Mark nods, too. Water drums the bottom of the Dixie cup. The fridge rings and the clock snaps. Goddamn fucking shit, hurry up, god why, why, why god why. Mark clears his throat.
“Yeah, every water cooler I’ve ever used seems really slow.”
“The filter hasn’t been changed since I started working here. I’d hate to see what it looks like now. Yikes.”
“It’s still good water. It’s refreshing water.”
“It’s decent water.”
“Yeah. Well, have a good one.”
I scuttle back to my cubicle and check my phone. It’s only Tuesday, only two o’clock, only October . . .
No need to shit in your hands, man. You’re a smart guy. Let the money roll. It’s not much, but you don’t have a life to live. Stick it out for another few decades and retire early. Take a cruise in the meantime. You can’t complain, man. It’s not so bad. At least you’re gainfully employed.
Open Facebook to a bright shiny notification. The redhead accepted my friend request of two weeks ago. I immediately rifle through her albums. She has a boyfriend. I don’t like the looks of him. But she seems happier in photo. She never used to smile.
She’s the only other woman I ever fucked. We almost dated. Things could have been different. I’m such a fucking idiot. I decide to fall in love with the redhead. She seems like the only way out. I immediately send her a message and watch Facebook messenger for signs of life. She’s online. Hunched over my phone, hand in my pocket, I stare at the green dot beside her name and will my phone to judder.