Not many people know this, but I am working my dream job. Some little boys dream of becoming astronauts, fire fighters, or a member of the X-Men. But I, I dreamed of greater things. Darker things. Things that smelled of copy toner and burned coffee. Things that glowed beige in the flicker of florescent light. You see, as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a faceless paper pusher in a cold, labyrinthine bureaucracy.
Reader, I have become one.
Maybe it was the fact that growing up, the only VHS tape my parents owned was Brazil. Maybe it was the little thrill I got every time I heard the word “spreadsheet.” But, really, I believe it was my love of euphemisms. The way language could be twisted and abused to drain the life from any concept, the way a single turn of phrase could make even the most heinous act sound rote and mundane, the way power could be wielded through renaming.
One night as I read 1984 as one joyfully possessed, I realized that was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to obfuscate, to confuse, to hide reality in the folds of nonsense. Much as Mozart had done the day he tinkled his first ivory, I had found my art, my calling.
Long I pursued this dream. First in real estate, where I rented out dank, dark, roach-infested caves in the hollowed out shells beneath Cabrini-Green as “Cozy Garden Apartments in East Wicker Park!” If you’ve ever rented an apartment with an unfortunate space that is too small to serve any purpose other than encompassing half a bed-side table, you have me to thank for telling your mom you have an “office.” Reader, you’re welcome.
Yet Real Estate was not enough. The euphemisms were too easy, too on-the-nose. Every client already knew “lots of light!” meant “drafty,” and “convenient to public transportation” meant “under an El track.” My art needed cultivation, needed to find a field truly worthy of it.
So, I went to grad school. At first, I thought I had finally found the place in which to best pursue my calling. Everything was renamed, not just once, but repeatedly, through hundreds of different theoretical filters. The amount of jargon was so staggering I nearly cried during my first day of Theory, as I imagine Van Gogh did when he stared at rainbows. Reader, I was reified.
No longer did Kipling’s books need be described as kind of racist. Now they were problematic, reifications of a colonial gaze… something something subaltern groups. Forgive me, Reader, even now the jargon escapes me. For you see, in the end Academia was not for me. The stakes were too low, the power too paltry. If I toiled for decades in the stacks, enduring poverty and black turtlenecks, I could one day, at most, deny someone tenure or fail a few bushy-tailed undergrads.
I knew I was meant for greater things. But what, I didn’t know. I became lost then, after leaving the Ivory Tower. I sought solace in mindless sex, but while the euphemisms there were plentiful, they were shallow and funny. My art is tragedy, not comedy. I dabbled briefly in renaming the act “consensual insemination,” but this too provoked laughter as easily as did “hiding the sausage,” or “humping.” Sex, I was horrified to discover, that most sacred of acts, had not one term, not one euphemism, that could be said without invoking peals of laughter.
Finally, after much searching, I found my home. Bureaucracy. I took a job as a clerk at a large corporation, and later in a government office. They are two heads of the same hydra. In both I was able to pursue my calling at its highest level. All words that crossed my desk were drained of life and power. As a corporate man, I watered down dangerous words by attaching them to the least dangerous things on earth, like soda pops and snack chips. I coined the word synergy in a burst of pride, much as Shakespeare must have done when he first inked the word “assassination.”
Yet, it is here in my government job that I feel most complete. I have yet to meet an atrocity I couldn’t make sound like the name of a 3 pm meeting at a copy toner company. You don’t even want to know what “Enhanced Genetic Restructuring” means, though you will, very very soon.
Now, I am content. My only hope is that when I die and am sent to the clouds, I will find, sitting in front of the Pearly Gates, a low gray building where St. Peter processes the active existential data of the RAFMBE’s (Recently Acquired Formerly Matter-Based Entities) and in that building, a paper-covered desk with my nominal status identification plate on it.
Reader, I will see you there.