[Note: This is a novel being presented in installments, one chapter per week, every Friday, from May 4 to August 24, 2012. The full novel will be published in its entirety in September 2012.]
Jonathan sits at his workstation with the sulk of a lost puppy. After a productive weekend of writing he had to return to work. John le Carré had the benefit of having a cool job before his writing took off. Jonathan Jones was disinterestedly working with a spreadsheet. It certainly was not a spreadsheet of how many Soviet spies’ necks he had snapped on the weekend. It was a basic table of some statistics his boss had requested for the afternoon. Jonathan sips his coffee.
-Hey, Jon. Have you gone for a coffee break, yet?
-Yeah, Michel. I’m actually just working on it right now.
The paper cup rested in his hand, providing the obvious clue.
-Do you want to go for a walk, anyways?
There was only so much disinterested boredom a man can take at one time. For Jonathan that limit was about twenty-seven minutes.
-How was your weekend, Michel?
-It was okay.
-Did you get up to anything interesting?
-No, not really.
-Oh. Did you see the game on Saturday?
-Yes, I watched that.
-I thought it was pretty good.
-Yes, not the best I have seen, but they played well.
-They look pretty good.
-They should be in the playoffs this year.
-If they play as well as they can, then yes.
-If they play as well as they did Saturday?
-Better. They need to play better than they did on Saturday.
-Yeah, probably. It’s a weak conference, so anything is possible.
-That’s true. But, even if they get in playing like they did on Saturday, if they play like that in the playoffs they will not last too long.
-Definitely. I totally agree.
-Did Philippe come by and talk to you?
-He thinks that they will win it all this year.
-What game was he watching?
-He claims the same one.
-It’s always the same.
-What did you do this weekend, Jonathan?
-Oh, I wrote a little bit.
-Oh yeah, are you starting a new book?
Michel had been one of the few people that had read Jonathan’s first book.
-What’s it about?
-I want to write something fun, a comedy about the university experience.
-Yeah, it will be different than the last book.
-I want to fill it with far more action. There is the possibility for a lot of crazy things to happen.
-Yes, that’s university.
-Exactly. Everyone can relate.
-I thought you didn’t believe in regrets, Michel.
-No, I don’t. I just couldn’t think of the word for it in English what I meant.
They stop at the coffee shop while Michel fills his reusable mug. Jonathan felt like a dick while he drank from his paper cup. He had three reusable ones sitting at his workstation.
-Did you see if there were any good movies playing this week?
-No, I haven’t checked.
-It’s been a while.
-It has. We should get a group to go.
-So, tell me more about your book.
-It’s basically a version of myself telling a stream of consciousness style story of all the amazing, life affirming things that happened to my friends and me during university, while trying to draw the connection that life after university is the beginning of the end. I use the metaphor of death a lot in the book.
-That’s a good one.
-Yeah, I really don’t feel too much excitement about all of this.
-It’s not what I was anticipating when I was a kid, or even a teenager.
-No, of course not. Everybody wants to grow up and be something cool and amazing and be with cool and amazing people. Instead I get to go for coffees with you, Jonathan.
-Thanks buddy, the feeling is mutual.
-It’s perfectly natural to be disappointed. We should all be disappointed.
-It seemed like all of this was supposed to be somehow better than it is.
-Yes, that’s exactly it. They told us when we were young it would be better than this, and it’s not and they knew that.
-You mean it’s always been underwhelming?
-Absolutely. Just look around and see we’re living in a culture of mediocrity.
-Yeah, that’s just it.
-What’s the last big innovation that you can admit changed your life?
-Computers, I would think.
-No, not really. We were born in to that generation. Computers are scary and amazing things to our parents and grandparents. They’re like sliced bread to us. So ordinary.
-Remember when they changed the way they cut foot long sandwiches? I do. That was revolutionary. From the v cut to the straight slice. I can still remember that.
-No, it made sense; you can now fit more veggies in to the sandwich.
-Do you hear yourself speak sometimes, Jon?
-I do. I still think that was a seminal moment in our youth. I will talk to my kids about it the way my parents talk to me about the introduction of the metric system.
-The metric system.
-Another reason to hate Trudeau.
-Hey, let’s leave Pierre out of this. He wouldn’t have gotten the idea if it hadn’t have been for the French Revolution several hundred years earlier.
-Alright, another reason to hate Robespierre.
-And he got what he deserved.
-That’s right, the guillotine was probably calibrated in metric, too.
They returned to their office and parted ways at Jonathan’s workstation. Jonathan looks at his watch. It reads ten thirty nine, or about three units of disinterested boredom until lunch. He sits and reads the news on the internet. He drinks more coffee. He sighs. Jonathan Jones is a modern man.
-Hi Jonathan, do you have a minute?
It’s Jonathan’s boss, dropping by to check in. Jonathan had several minutes to spare.
-Sure, how’s it going?
-It’s going pretty good, you?
-I see your duster is coming in pretty good.
Jonathan had been growing a mustache for a charitable cause. It was something he had actually forgotten was growing on his face.
-I have actually seen a lot of guys doing that this year.
-Yeah, there is a bunch now. It seems like a pretty popular idea.
-Think it will bring back the mustache?
He laughed. They always laughed. Jonathan wondered why. It was just facial hair and it grew naturally on the faces of men. It would of course come back in to fashion. These things always did. But the fact that it was being grown temporarily, almost ironically, for charity made it notable. That was the extent of a challenge that they were willing to undertake. So long as they shaved when it was all over.
-I don’t know. It seems to be out of fashion right now.
-A lot of beards, though.
Hipsters had brought back the classic beard. It was the perfectly lazy accessory for an underachieving tribe. Hipsters are just old ass teenagers, Jonathan thought. He also thought he wanted to be one. He loved the music they listened to. The debates they got in to. The freedom they had to drink terrible beer without any shame. Instead, he found himself sitting in a cubicle with his boss talking about spreadsheets.
-So, you think you will have those numbers today?
-Yeah, probably just after lunch.
-Great, thanks Jonathan.
This is what it had come to, thought Jonathan. Thousands of years of human progress had led to this moment. He was going to be able to give his boss a spreadsheet of statistical numbers sometime, probably after lunch. I’m sure Kant would be proud.
It was hardly a triumphant moment, but then again, nothing was particularly triumphant in this era. The model had been thrust forward in the 1950s and for all the pretending that society liked to do that things had changed, it had remained particularly stagnant ever since. To be sure, some things have come, Jonathan thought, but they were mere reforms, tweaks of the system, and not complete game changers. This was the great era of moderation, set forth by the nuclear family, and held steady ever since. People can argue all they like about the dissolution of nuclear family in recent years, and they can cite divorce and teen pregnancy rates to support their cause. They might also want to ask why gays are so strident to get the same rights that married heterosexual couples have. Even if their sexual orientation is different, the social norms, the very fabric that supposedly holds this whole mess together is still what they want.
-They can have my cubicle, too.
Remember when I told you that Jonathan likes to mutter things? He was at it again. It was a soul depriving existence, Jonathan found himself in. He didn’t hate his job. That would be far too harsh. He liked it. He liked what he did. He liked his co-workers. He liked the money. But in sum, he didn’t love it. And really, if we’re honest with ourselves, is that not what we’ve been told to go reaching for? All those years that our parents and grandparents, teachers and coaches, role models on all fronts kept reinforcing the thought that we could live our dreams.
-This is not my dream job.
No, it likely was not a career that Jonathan had dreamt of as a young boy. There was not a small LEGO cubicle he played with. He had wanted to be something beyond that. To be fair, that’s what all boys wanted to be. They really had no reason not to. Idealism and optimism are horrible ideas that plant themselves in the heads of children and don’t leave until horrible realities replace them, often at that moment what we might later describe as a loss of innocence. Innocent? Jonathan questioned the whole concept. Naïve. It was all bullshit. Did parents actually believe what they said? When do they stop? Is this like Santa Claus? Enough deception, please. Jonathan felt like screaming at the top of his lungs that this was the end. Instead he sat quietly at his workstation, click clacking at his keyboard, click clicking with his mouse, compliantly doing what he was reasonably paid to do. It really was hard for him to make a fuss when it seemed like everyone else was in on the racket. Was this the Truman Show? Would it all come crashing down when the set starts to fall apart or his best friend forgets his lines? That was the dream. Not an idealised place in the distance that everyone hoped to reach. No, the dream was this charade that everyone agreed was real. It’s okay guys, Jonathan thought, I won’t mind stopping now if you do, too. That would be fantastic, if it were true. Jonathan was just beginning to realise that there was no stage production surrounding his life. It was real. And real, much like reality television, was boring. The moment it becomes slightly more interesting more questions ought to appear.
So, instead, Jonathan started retreating back in to his own fantasies. Instead of thinking about the possible future, as his parents and mentors had always urged him to do, Jonathan thought of an idealised past. Why did everyone keep talking about future plans and places? Everything has already been done. There was nothing left to do. Anything he had wanted to do was just a mirage. There were no oases in the horizon. That was as sombre a thought as any young man should think. Futility for the next fifty to sixty years is hardly motivating. Neither was repetition and routine. Jonathan wanted to break free and he was disturbed by both the possibility that so did everyone else on the planet, and that none of them did. Marx had urged the workers of the world to unite and throw off their shackles. It was a great start, Jonathan had thought, until you learn that the next step was not to do what you love or to find yourself, it was to reclaim the means of production. Apparently factories would be better places if the workers had shares in the business. Wouldn’t they all be happier if they travelled through South Asia or if they took pottery classes?
-Hey Jonathan, nice ‘stache.
-Did you watch the game on Saturday?
-What did you think?
-I thought they played okay.
-Okay? Please, I think they played better than okay.
-It’s still early in the season, but I thought they made lots of mistakes that they were lucky didn’t come back to hurt them in the game.
-Yeah, but they looked so good when they were not making mistakes.
-True, but everybody does. That’s kind of the point.
-So, you don’t think they are a good team?
-No, I think they are a good team, but it’s still too early to say that they are a great team.
-Do you think they will make the playoffs?
-Yeah, I think they will probably make the playoffs. They have the talent on paper, they just need to correct those mistakes I mentioned.
-I think they look really good and this could be the year.
-Every year could be the year, right?
-Yes, of course, but having watched them play in the past month I think this might be the best team they’ve had in a long time.
-Hopefully they live up to those expectations.
-Yes, hopefully. I will be the first one to cheer if they do win it.
-I would be happy too, but let’s not start planning the parade.
-Alright, are you going to watch the game tomorrow night?
-Not sure, I might have plans, but if I don’t I will flip it on.
-Cool, well if you do, let me know what you think. I think it will be a very good game. They are on a streak.
-Have you gone for a coffee yet?
-I have, thanks, yes. It’s getting too close to lunch anyways.
-Alright, well maybe we can go for one this afternoon and we can talk some more.
Philippe left Jonathan to return to his spreadsheet. He didn’t want to admit it, but there was something comforting about the cells on the screen. He really did like his job, but liking something was not the same as loving it. Would you marry someone you like? Sure, maybe, he supposed, there are probably lots of cases of people who married someone they liked. But the aim, as years of instruction had informed him, was to find the right person that you love. It was not getting any easier on that front for Jonathan, either.
At twenty five, he found himself wanting to, being ready to, settle down. Not settle, but to settle down. If only he could find that person that he loved. It was easy in his younger days to find tons of girls that he liked. He might have even found a few that he’d dare to say that he loved. But now, even finding women he liked was a chore. There was not an abundance showing up at his cubicle on a daily basis. Things had been easier at university. Everyone got what they wanted, even if they were absolutely drunk.