“So why are you trying to find another job so fast?”
“Well I’ve been with Uriah Place for four months now—is that really so little time? In this modern world of ours and all I mean, what with its fast pace and general uncertainty.”
“In fact yes, it is a very brief tenure, and frankly it raises questions, to me, about your stability and reliability as an employee. We want to make sure that we bring aboard the right person, a person who will repay our gesture of employment with steady work for a meaningful period of time.”
“And that’s understandable of course. Well, you see, the reason…um, the reason I…” Jerry Carr had planned for this question, and mapped out several phrasings, eventually arriving at the most plausible one. “There are, I mean there have been, and likely will continue being…communication gaps, which I find to be rather…insurmountable.”
Carr squirmed in his seat and focused on not hyperventilating. “Indeed. I believe my particular…linguistic proclivities…inveigh against…continued employment at Uriah Place.”
Steve O’Brien, the Communications Director at Muddy Bro’s Fitness Scene, curved his upper lip dramatically down and shot his lower lip up while raising his eyebrows in an expression of genuine interest. “I am confused but intrigued, Mr. Carr. Please do continue describing the situation, as I should very much like to understand it more clearly.”
Jerry Carr had worked at Uriah Place for four months, but it had only taken about six weeks for him to realize that he had to get out of there. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like his actual job. That part was fine—he could handle his social media responsibilities, making sure that Uriah Place’s brand voice was engaging, active, and professional, while always maintaining a high standard of elegance and class, since, after all, Uriah Place was a consolidation of several high-end catering companies who rented out the unique space at Uriah Place. Carr’s job was in part to act as the facilitating hub at the center of Uriah Place, making sure incoming inquiries were transferred to the correct catering company. It simply would not due to have the 9/11 Memorial Committee book an event with Fun & Cheese Co. on the third floor of Uriah Place, as subtle somberness was not Fun & Cheese’s forte. What Fun & Cheese Co. did, and did damn well mind you, was cater impressive cheese spreads for events and have their professional cheese enthusiasm actors stand by the spread and gush over how great everything was and how much fun they were having.
The particular difficulty for Jerry Carr was that Uriah Place itself, not counting the several catering companies that rented out space upstairs, was manned by a very small administrative staff, none of whom spoke English. It wasn’t just that they did not speak English—they spoke no discernible human tongue at all, which was something of a major difficulty considering the high volume of communication their business required. Jerry Carr, as Senior Communications Representative, was in charge of distilling the instructions from his superiors into directly actionable statements for the catering companies and their clients, the majority of which called the main Uriah Place line to get Carr, ignoring the menu of options that would get them to the specific catering company they were looking for.
The manager of Uriah Place, Carl Hopp, considered himself an excellent delegator, and savored every opportunity to display his delegating chops, typically to Jerry. Unfortunately for Jerry Carr, Mr. Hopp did not speak English sentences or, again, sentences of any known form of human expression. The only other Uriah Place employees were Betty Nobson, the accounts manager, and Sharon Thorner, the hostess for the luncheon service provided by Uriah Place itself to its dwindling membership base. Amidst the sectioning off of the many rooms of Uriah Place, they had kept a small room with a few tables to serve as their luncheon center to the two dozen or so remaining members of the Uriah Place Lunch Club. Typically she would stand in the tiny lunch room by herself from 11:30AM-2:30PM and no one would enter, though she kept returning every day in full makeup and formal attire on the off chance that an ancient member of the UPLC would come by for pure nostalgia.
Sharon Thorner was in her mid-seventies and had struggled with a full buffet of upper respiratory infirmities, as well as a kind of neck-specific obesity, which in combination made her all but impossible to understand. She communicated in a variety of high pitched groans and exclamations, but the defining aspect of her speech, along with Betty Nobson’s and Carl Hopp’s, was the fact that her sentences not only didn’t seem to stop but didn’t seem to begin. Her speech was a series of endless middles, carrying with it the expectation that, because she was always in the middle of saying something, there was some degree of understanding on the part of the listener, without, however, the crucial aspect of having actually begun the sentence in a clear, definable way. After four months of working at Uriah Place, Jerry Carr had found this to in fact be the most bothersome part of the whole package, rather than the, admittedly very initially off-putting, lack of English words or human syntax.
Carl Hopp’s communicational tendencies were even trickier to manage for Jerry Carr, as he would begin talking from the minute he left his office, some twenty feet away from the administrative office where Jerry Carr worked. Very quickly Jerry Carr learned to be on the lookout for any kind of ambient noise that sounded like vocal emissions generated behind two closed doors (Hopp’s and Carr’s) and a hallway away, and to try to pick out patterns in these emissions that could be helpful in piecing together the concept being expressed. Typically, manager Hopp would be just about finished with his vocal emission by the time he finally opened Jerry Carr’s door, at which point he would adopt an expression of bemused acknowledgement of how facile and redundant his instructions were, since he knew what they were in his own head and seemed to expect that everyone else always knew what was happening in his head, and making those thoughts manifest through his mouth was simply an academic formality, rather than a basic necessity for the relaying of instructions.
Betty Nobson, for her part, was a sort of ally to Jerry Carr, and had grown into that role over more than a decade of employment as Uriah Place’s bookkeeper, since Jerry Carr’s role, as communications rep, was something of a revolving door position, to say the least, with people typically lasting no more than three to five months. Betty, Sharon, and Mr. Hopp had been there for over a decade each, and had evolved a kind of language-free ecosystem in which they were entirely comfortable, mainly because it fell to whoever the communications rep was to make sense of their meaning-void miasma of signifiers and express it to the outside world, and to serve as a kind of last-ditch bastion of intelligibility uncorrupted by prolonged existence in their insularity. Betty mainly offered resentment and exasperation at the absurdity of the entire situation, though expressed in a series of pointed hand gestures and guffaws and headshakes in place of sentences, which Jerry Carr felt, because of his daily proximity to Betty, compelled to evince a chummy understanding of.
When he first started at Uriah Place, he was initially just glad to have a job, and quickly thereafter he regarded the lack of actual speech on anyone’s part to be a kind of extensive, slightly disturbing but admirably fully-formed practical joke. After his first month, however, he realized it was no joke, and that no words were intended for any office use, but by then it felt too late for him to outright bring up the fact that it may perhaps be better for discernible sentences to be deployed. He had spent the past several weeks fantasizing about the handover period where he would train the new Uriah Place communications rep after submitting his notice, and delivering that advice as the first order of business—confront your co-workers the first week about their lack of human sentences, or else spend the remainder of your tenure enabling their pidgin discourse.
In fact, this fantasy about training his replacement, and the all-important advice he would impart, was tumbling around the forefront of his mind as he struggled to articulate exactly what the insurmountable communication gaps were that brought him to interview at Muddy Bros Fitness Scene. He didn’t feel ready to do so without betraying the utter absurdity he had been entrenched in, so he tried another angle: “I’d actually prefer talking about my vision for how I would enhance and expand the already strong and promising Muddy Bros brand, as I feel that this is in keeping with the qualities outlined in the profile section of my resume, as being forward-looking and positivity-oriented, as well as a host of other desirable hyphenated phrases, rather than look backwards at my other employment experiences.”
Muddy Bros was an active life enhancement company specializing in building camaraderie into athleticism in a way that did more than simply carry over the spirit of college intramural sports into post-college life. The idea was to create a massive force that attracted the middle of the bell curve in an irresistible, almost subliminal way. Jerry Carr studied Steve O’Brien’s facial reaction to his gambit, and it was not good. “Or,” Carr quickly continued before O’Brien could voice his face’s misgivings, “let’s talk about my current position more. Let’s get it all out in the open, as I can tell that this, reasonably so, is an important issue for you, as it would be for anyone in your position.”
Jerry Carr had been on enough unsuccessful interviews to know that whatever employers were looking for, he was not offering. Gradually, as his rejections piled up and his bitterness about working at Uriah Place congealed, he cobbled together an understanding of a persona consisting of all of the things that he wasn’t offering in the interview space, and walked around with a growing, Frankenstein-like sketch of that persona in his mind. At this moment he felt not only like he had a sufficiently fully formed grasp of that persona ready-to-hand, but also the perspective on the immediate situation to realize its need to be implemented, and the requisite boldness to enact it.
“The communication gap I referenced earlier, the one that I find to be insurmountable? Well, the fact is that I’ve understood exactly nothing I’ve heard from anyone I work with since I started there. I’m not exaggerating or being a brat or anything—I am telling you that the people I work with do not communicate using the English language, or any other known tongue or hand-based speech. As one might imagine, this presents not inconsiderable stresses which, everything being equal, I would prefer not dealing with throughout the course of my workday. However, what I really think is that, as un-ideal as this has been, this experience has given me a distinct edge on all other applicants for this particular position here at Muddy Bros Fitness Scene. The reason for this is that it seems to me that your inchoate fitness scene is striving for a kind of post-lingual brand voice, am I right? I mean after all there’s only so much that a combination of letters in various sequences can express about such an elemental movement as the Muddy Bros Fitness Scene. What you want is the primordial nature of your movement to take hold of the public on a level that’s older than language—language, after all, being a relatively recent invention. The problem with a language-based appeal is that it can be refuted using language back at you—but if you make an appeal that’s post-lingual, what ammunition does the other party have to resist your appeal with? So what I’m saying is, you are highly unlikely to find a candidate with more firsthand prolonged experience operating successfully in a post-lingual workspace.”
Jerry Carr felt exhilarated by how, in his view, he had so skillfully turned his weakness into a major strength. Steve O’Brien had been listening to Carr’s monologue intently. “I can see why you were reticent to share your reasons for leaving Uriah Place with me, and you have explained them with admirable clarity. However, I’m nervous that you have perhaps too clearly and neatly mapped this experience onto your own view of your future here at Muddy Bros as our social media director. We don’t necessarily want someone who has an obscenely lucid grasp of our brand voice mission or of his role in that mission. We want someone who can communicate their own skills in really a brass tacks way. We feel that too intricate or lucid of an articulable understanding of professional activities is undesirable with respect to brand building. So on behalf of Muddy Bros I would like to really authentically thank you for your time and your passion. Please remain passionate. Can you promise us that?”
“Great. Passion after all is our business, and the more of it there is in the world, the better off in the long run will we be.”
Jerry Carr woke up the next morning more unsure of himself than he had been in as long as he could remember. The saving thread of his time as a Uriah Place employee had been his steady building of his lucidity—it was his stronghold in the face of the absurdly of all his daily interactions. As long as he kept his storehouse of personal lucidity growing steadily, he had convinced himself, then it was permissible to continue working at such a disorientingly dehumanizing place. But after the Muddy Bros interview he was convinced that this had all been not only misguided but counterproductively valueless. Most mornings after first waking up Jerry Carr felt deeply unsure of his entire position in life, doubting his goals, his abilities, his future, his choices, everything that could be doubted. This morning was the same, but as his faith in the value of his lucidity was completely gone, he found this typical wave of totalizing doubt almost unendurable. He managed to get through it by forcing a fascination with the idea of something being unendurable, white-knuckling through the nausea in this way.
Thus cleaned out of the remaining slivers of self-concept he had been in the habit of staking pride in, Jerry Carr came into work resolved to have that particular day be a turning point in his life, and he was convinced that he knew how to do it. Carl Hopp came bounding in shortly after Jerry settled in at his desk and strode to the center of the office, laughing and coughing and smiling. Jerry made eye contact and said, before Mr. Hopp could say anything, “Gando plantis beckuh brantis though nope yeah?” in an uptempo, declarative way. Mr. Hopp looked surprised but kept laughing and coughing and nodded vigorously. He then sat down in the open chair across from Jerry’s desk and let out a long sigh punctuated with a sustained nearly hacking cough and then a high-pitched laugh, to which he added a serious look of expectation that Jerry Carr would understand this sequence of vocal emissions and respond in kind.
Jerry Carr was somewhat familiar with Hopp’s laughing, coughing, and sighing repertoire—in recent weeks he had resorted to it more than actual statements of garbled, though alphabetically-rooted, gibberish. Carr had gotten the idea that after a certain point in time, Mr. Hopp liked to see how far he could push his communicative peculiarities by abandoning discernible phonemes entirely, and relying instead as he now was on basically involuntary laryngeal spasms like laughing, sighing, and coughing. For a brief moment, Jerry Carr was worried that he was insufficiently prepared for the task at hand, as he had planned on setting loose a string of nonsense words designed to top any that Mr. Hopp had established himself as being prepared to deploy. But Jerry was determined to win out and to earn the experience of being more obscure than Mr. Hopp, or any of the other employees, so he answered the manager’s question by whistling a protracted low frequency whistle, like a sad robot on his last joule of power, sending out a final, atonal missive to an unhearing world.
At this point, Sharon Thorner and Betty Nobson, on the other side of the office, began to notice Jerry Carr’s increasingly absurd responses to manager Hopp’s sublingual onslaught. Jerry thought he saw something like hope creep in amidst the disbelief on their faces. Mr. Hopp coughed meaningfully, as if to set things straight and call matters to order, before doing the most uncannily accurate impression of an infant crying that Jerry Carr had ever heard—in fact it sounded more like an hysterical infant than most hysterical infants, the impression being aided by an adult’s perspective fashioned by years of observing and listening to a variety of infants, enabling the impressionist to synthesize all of the traits gathered from years of such practice into a kind of idealized cry. The crying fit lasted for a full ninety seconds, during which time Mr. Hopp, committing fully, went flush red in the face and inserted aggressive, bass heavy almost accusatory grunts between wailing crescendos, rounding out the experience of an infant really throwing everything it has into the presentation of fuss.
Jerry Carr, admittedly impressed, glanced at Sharon and Betty, both of whom wore fixed expressions of earnest expectation directed at Jerry. Mr. Hopp, still sort of coming down from the place he had to access to pull off the disturbingly realistic infant noises, was all but openly hostile, snarling and rocking back and forth, shaking his head in violent little gusts like a lawn sprinkler at the end of a cycle or like a wolf tearing something unamenable to being torn with teeth. Jerry took a deep breath and walked with confidence and poise to the photocopier, opening the lid and breathing as heavily as he could onto it while pressing copy, including generous amounts of drool. He printed out over twenty copies of a small black drool mark and took out a stapler and stapled them to the carpeted floor, at which point Betty and Sharon began whistling in the forlornly robotic style Jerry Carr had used as an opening salvo. Carl Hopp pushed his tongue into the bottom of his teeth so that the wide middle part of it fatly thrust out and he narrowed his eyes and stormed out. Betty and Sharon kept whistling and broke into applause, while Jerry, sweating, nodded in gracious thanks for their support.
A few minutes later, Carl Hopp returned to the office. He placed a stack of papers on Jerry’s desk and they locked eyes, Jerry being ready to do whatever it took to protect the ground he felt he had somehow covered. “Jerry,” Mr. Hopp began in crystalline spoken English, “I would like these faxes filed in the appropriate files in the large black filing cabinet in the corner. If you need further instructions as to the particularities of this task, I will happily supply them via the communicational medium of your choice—that is to say, phone, email, or in-person. I look forward to the task being done, as these old faxes are too valuable to simply discard outright, and yet not so valuable that I need them at the absolute ready. Consequently, the middle drawer of the large black filing cabinet is the appropriate location for them, and has been, frankly, for several months. Unfortunately, I for whatever reason neglected to instruct you to complete this task at a more punctual rate. However, I believe that this lack of punctuality has been shall we say punctuated, that is, ended, and a new sentence can perchance begin.”
Jerry Carr beamed and said “That will be my pleasure, sir.”