A throwback story here about a Wednesday night that had a far more profound impact on my life than I could’ve ever imagined. There’s a lot more to this story than what is written. Context is important, but I’m not going to provide it as this is a blog, not a place for essays.
For those who know me and whom may be aware of the characters or things talked about in this story, it is extremely important for me to state up front:
- This a story about a guy, some printing, and a hurt soul;
- I’m a sensitive fucker… it’s entirely possible others may not have reacted so deeply to the events of this story. However, fact is, I did. It’s my truth;
- The events occurred over two years ago;
- This is a story about a guy, some printing and a hurt soul. Nothing more.
I hope you can enjoy it for what it is.
I’m finishing up an email to send to a client. Within 15 minutes I’d be done with it, out the door, and on my way home for some dinner and family feud.
The phone at my desk rings. The number pops up on the screen in front of me. I don’t recognise it. The area code isn’t Adelaide, but I can see its Australian. I let it ring a couple times, debating whether to answer it or not. Receiving a call at this hour from a number outside of Adelaide (or within for that matter) was definitely well out of the ordinary. It led me to believe this may be about something urgent or important, or both. Was it possible I’d fucked something up and didn’t know about it? I decide it best not to speculate. I pick up the phone.
“Hello, Mark speaking”
“Hi Mark, I’m Pete, a partner from the Melbourne office. How are you?” says Pete.
A partner calling me at this time is an extreme oddity. I must’ve fucked something up, and catastrophically so… I’m nervous. The phone has a video screen. Pete looks swish as fuck. He’s at that age where I can’t tell if he’s thirty, or fourty-four.
“Hi Pete, yeah I’m great thank you. How’s it going?”
“Good Mark, good. Look, thanks for answering the phone. I know this is a little odd, but I’m really in need here. I’ve been calling numbers in the Adelaide office in desperation. Tomorrow I’m coming to Adelaide. I’m looking for someone to help me with a job, and it’s really getting quite urgent. I was wondering, do you have time to help?” he says.
The company I work for is a Partnership. A Partnership is a business which is owned by the partners of the business. The Partnership employs me. The partners, in effect, are the people who employ me. Pete is a partner. Pete owns (partly) the Partnership which employs me. Pete owns (partly) me as an employee of his Partnership (or at least, this is how it felt to me). You don’t say no to partners… you don’t say no to the hand that feeds you.
“Yeah, sure thing. What is it?” I say enthusiastically, feeling grateful I hadn’t fucked something up.
“Mark, thank you. Great! That’s great. Thank you. Look, it’s nothing intense or anything like that. It’s just some printing. We need someone in the Adelaide office to do it because the printers are operated by swipe card.” he says.
“Sure, printing, yeah I can help with that.” I say.
“Great Mark. Look, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.” he says.
“Sure thing” I say.
“I’ll get a Minion to contact you with the details. Thanks again Mark, bye now.” says Pete.
I hang up the phone.
A few minutes later I receive a call. It’s a Minion.
“Hey Mark, thanks so much for doing this. Look, I’m going to try to talk to Pete because I don’t think this is fair that you’re doing this. I don’t think we need the printing, we have everything electronic… but Pete’s old school you know. Hopefully you don’t have to do it, and I can get you out of it, but in the mean time I’ll send through the documents just in case to keep things moving. But don’t do anything with them yet. I’ll talk to Pete again, and give you a call again soon once I have.”
Emails begin to flood my inbox and I get my first true glimpse at what it is I’ve gotten myself into. There are documents upon documents upon documents. I can’t count exactly how many. There’s too many different emails. Each email harbours multiple folders. Each folder contains multiple documents. At a guess, well over one hundred docs. I open one of the emails and click into a folder. I open a doc. It’s 600 pages long. That counts as one document.
The phone rings. I grab it off the hook.
“Hello, Mark speaking”
“Hi Mark, it’s Minion. Look, I’ve tried to talk to Pete but he’s adamant this needs to be done. I don’t think it does but you know, he does, so… yeah… Are you still okay to help out?” says Minion.
“There’s a lot of documents here. He really wants all of these printed?” I say.
“Yeah, he does. The meeting is tomorrow and he wants us to have hard copies on hand. I know it’s crazy but he’s old school. I’ve really tried to talk to him, but he’s adamant we need them. I disagree… but yeah…” says Minion.
“This is going to take a long time. Like, a really long time. I mean, I’m happy to help, but I don’t want to be here too late, you know what I mean?” I say.
“Totally understand. We will be there soon in the office. Maybe in an hour. It’s me and another Minion coming in, we need to do some last-minute prep before tomorrow. Do you want to start printing the stuff now, and then we catch up once we get in and see how you’re going with it?” says Minion.
“Sure, that sounds reasonable” I say.
“Great. See you soon. And thanks again Mark. Really. Thank you!” says Minion.
“Sure. No problem.” I say.
Two under thirty year olds show up in the office. It’s a small office, and I’ve never seen them before. That’s how I know it’s the Minions. I introduce myself.
There’s two printers in the office. Both have been blaring non-stop for the past hour and a bit, only stopping briefly here and there when someone else who’s also working late needs to use one. Despite this, I’ve barely managed to print a quarter of the documents.
I tell the Minions as much. They both look at me with a look that makes me realise a harsh truth: I’m not getting out of here until this shit is done. The reality of the situation is tattooed on their faces… I’d agreed to this. I’d taken ownership of this. It was mine, and mine alone to own.
I could’ve just said fuck it and left the Minions to do this shit themselves. I mean, it wasn’t my client I was working on. And I didn’t know Pete. And, I honestly didn’t really give much of a fuck… there are a few reasons why I didn’t opt for this approach:
- The whole Pete owns the business, and so owns me thing – he’d seen my face, he knew who I was;
- I’d agreed to do this. I like to keep my word; and
- That’s honestly just not my style. I don’t like to let people down. If I agree to something, I need a good reason not to follow through with it.
In other words, I might not have given a fuck about the printing, but I did give a fuck about my word and my reputation. I didn’t like it, but I was going to get this shit done.
The Minion I’d spoken to on the phone earlier comes over to the printers to check how I’m doing. The printing is going fine, I’m doing the best I can with it. I’ve picked up efficiencies here and there, as one does when they do the same thing on repeat for hours on end. As for my internal state, let’s just say it’s being held together with a piece of string and some un-chewed bubble gum… I’m a light breeze away from broken.
Minion detects the fragility of my internal state and offers a condolence:
“Think about the chargeable hours” says Minion
Chargeable hours at the Partnership are what you are measured by as an employee. The Partnership operates by charging clients per hour worked. As an employee, the more chargeable hours you work, the more money you make for the partners in the Partnership (in theory). Partners like this for obvious reasons. An employee who does lots of chargeable hours is a good thing.
But, in this moment, I don’t give a fuck.
“Chargeable hours? Chargeable hours? Chargeable fucking hours… do you think, I give a flying fuck about chargeable fucking hours right now? My hands are fucking numb from fucking around with all this paper, these folders, these hole punches, these labels, this shit. I’ve killed more trees than I can count, all because this fuckwit Pete can’t keep up with technology. This is honestly fucking retarded. Don’t you think? Don’t you see the fucking retardation of this shit? Actually, no it’s not retarded at all. Honestly… it’s beyond fucking retarded. I don’t even have a word for this shit. Chargeable hours…? Seriously…you’re coming at me with this shit like I could give a fuck…Fuck!”
That’s what I wanted to say… But, the simple fact of the matter was the situation I’d found myself in wasn’t Minion’s fault in the slightest. Minion was also here in the office working on her own version of Pete’s shit-sandwich. All Minion was trying to do by talking about chargeable hours was to empathise with me about how bad the sandwich tasted. Sure, it was a pretty crappy attempt, but if you see someone drowning in a whirlpool of shit, there’s not much you can say to lessen the stink.
Minion was just the messenger. Getting angry at the messenger wasn’t going to achieve anything. That didn’t mean I needed to be fake. I wasn’t about to pretend to Minion that I was enjoying the taste…
I stop fiddling with paper for a second, turn to Minion and look her in the eyes. A sarcastic smile and a nostril puff is all I’m capable of… a spectacularly poor effort to conceal the fact I’m dead inside.
I leave the office, bags under my eyes, hands numb, fingerprints erased. I get home at midnight. I collapse into bed. In six hours, I need to get up and do it all over again.
The next day at work I lock myself in a quiet room. Six hours of sleep hasn’t calmed me at all. I’m red-hot, steaming like a kettle. There’s no email from Pete or the Minions. I don’t have any missed calls. Nothing.
I receive an email from Pete:
“Hi Mark, Thank you for your help with the printing. It’s much appreciated.”
As I read the words, the steam blowing from my head turns to flames. This guy. This fucking guy. This email, I think to myself, probably took him all of five seconds to belt out on his iPhone while he was jerking off on his Ferrari. A five second email for five hours of laughably-unnecessary-finger-print-erasing torture. THIS FUCKING GUY.
I hit the reply button. A blank email page pops open on the screen. I don’t even realise my fingers have smacked the keys before I look up and read what’s written:
“Fuck off Pete, seriously just FUCK OFF”
The cursor sits after the final ‘F’, blinking on and off… on and off… on and off.
The flames coming off my head are hot. It’s a fucking inferno up there. Somehow, I resist its burn. I cautiously and repeatedly tap the delete button with my middle finger until the email screen is once again blank. It takes every ounce of conscious energy I have to begin typing again:
“Hi Pete, no problem. I’m glad it was of use. Kind regards, Mark”
This takes me fifteen minutes to write. Fifteen fucking minutes for thirteen words. That’s more than a minute per word… four of which are ‘Hi, Kind Regards, Mark’. These four words are the only words which feel like mine. As for the rest, well, one is Pete’s name and I don’t know who the fuck wrote the rest.
I move the mouse to the top right-hand corner of the screen and hover over the square button reading ‘Send’. There’s a brief moment of hesitation before my right index finger pushes down on the mouse.