Writing Calisthenics

AvatarA collection of short stories, essays, and exercises to keep my brain from rusting between larger works.

International Radar

    I knew he was coming.  They sent out a memo saying there would be new people on the floor, and one of them would be named Mark.  They said he'd be sitting on the 18th floor right outside the break room.  This sounded fun, mostly because my name's Mark and I sit on the 18th floor right outside the break room.  They also said he was a transfer from the London office so I waited and waited for someone to come up to me, ask me if my name was Mark, and then stare at me in confusion when I responded "yes" in an unmistakably Midwestern accent.
    It never happened.
    For days I looked over at the empty cube across from me for any sign of our new guest.  I mulled over witty and insightful observations about London from recent trips to the UK.  I created a list of my favorite nearby restaurants so he could get a proper taste of Chicago.  I even looked for "football" scores in case he was a fan (I'm not), but abandoned the sports angle when I realized that it wasn't soccer season, that it was hockey season in the US and I knew even less about hockey than I do about soccer, and that the British in general hold our baseball in disdain as a compressed and perverted form of their beloved cricket.  Days passed and I began to wonder if he had changed his mind about coming to America: we're not the most popular people on the planet, you know.
    But he never showed.  After a week or two of persistent vacancy in the quadrant opposite me, I forgot all about the other Mark.  Okay, forget isn't completely accurate.  To be perfectly honest, I felt relieved.  The only thing more wearying than being witty and insightful is preparing to be witty and insightful without any payoff.  I was secretly glad to settle back into the solitude of working first shift in a pod of cubes populated by graveyard shift workers.

    And then today, as I stepped onto the elevator, a tidy white man with fashionably tousled hair got on with me, and my International Radar sounded like a klaxon.  His hair was ginger-blonde and covered the collar of his shirt.  His pants were charcoal with an impeccable crease and an ivory pin-stripe.  He wore a plain, white, long-sleeve shirt cuffed with three precise turns up his forearms, and an outlandish but tasteful purple tie.
    I swiped my badge and pushed the button for the 18th floor.  He took a step forward to select his floor, saw that 18 was already lit, and stepped back.  He smiled and I saw a row of perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth, and for just a moment I thought my radar had failed me.  I smiled back, pushed my stereotypes aside, and tried to think of something clever to say.
    I am not, nor have I ever been quick-witted.  I am a champion of esprit d'escalier, and inevitably, by the time I'm finally poised to deliver my irrecoverable coup de grâce, I find myself talking to the door that's swung shut behind my victim.  This time was no different.  I opened my mouth to ask if he was "The other Mark who's supposed to be on the 18th floor," when I realized the door had opened and he had stepped into the elevator lobby.
    The door started to close and I stuck my arm out to stop it.  By the time I got out of the elevator, he was already being greeted near the reception desk by one of the women from the clearing desk.
    "There you are!" 
    I knew it!  Never, never doubt the radar.
    "Where'd you take off to?" the woman asked.
    "Just stepped out for a fag."
    "Oh.  I wanted to go over that listing with you.  I just threw a copy on your desk.  You got time to look at that now?"
    "Sure thing luv," he replied, and followed her through the door on the other side of the reception desk.  I turned around and walked the other way back to my desk.

   I've worked here for over 3 years now.  It would have been nice if someone had told me there was more than one break room on the 18th floor.


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