The Potomac - Poetry and Politics
December 2006 - THE POTOMAC

Training Day with Mr. Zwaggert
   Lisa Kaitz

I see him leading the new guy around.  His face is tight as he speaks in that hushed yet stern manner, flexing his wrists and fanning his fingers to achieve the emphasis he can't manage in his voice.  No matter what he says, I know he's not telling the little fella what he really needs to know, like swipe your ID card downward, with the magnetic strip facing away from you, and if you're a minute past nine a.m. Zwaggert will know it.  Have your explanation ready at any time, although he'll likely approach you at the end of the month when he bets you won't remember and he'll have the tally sheet in front of him.  Memorization is key here!  It won't really matter what you say anyway.  He cares very little that the F train was stalled for twenty minutes at Second Avenue.  He cares even less that you spent all night throwing towels on the floor of your basement apartment to keep the melting snow at bay.  He'll say to deal with life's tragedies before your alarm goes off.  You will promise to do so.

Hang your winter gear neatly in the closet across from his strategically-placed office. Don't socialize with your co-workers along the way.  It's important to keep to yourself and embrace your daily routine within the short walls of your beige and brown cubicle. Rest assured that people are not interested in your trivial existence beyond what you contribute here. Right, Zwaggert?  Learn early that nobody wishes to hear about your fake-wife's polka dotted panties caught in the barrel of the dryer.  Even fewer people need to hear about your elderly father who defecated on the kitchen floor.  If you must speak socially, do so on your lunch hour in the break room, or outside having a wicked little cigarette. Ah, sweet teet of the witch!  Even so, consider choosing your topics carefully. Does it honestly matter to other people that you're being forced to retire with a depleted pension after 30 years?  An example of proper office chatter…perhaps the current exchange rate of Swedish Krona to US Dollars, however, you will find that more quickly and quietly online.  And please, while you are on the phone, do not adopt the cadence of an auctioneer or the timbre of a parakeet.  Slow it down and enunciate so everybody can understand you. Try to rise above any accent you may have acquired during childhood. You are communicating, not showing off.

Let us speak now of computers.  Though you deal with some state-of-the-art programs, you must also learn to adapt to less sophisticated systems, such as the Wang.  Believe it or not, we use it in processing our daily accounts.  It will be your main source of frustration, so the sooner you dumb yourself down the less blood pressure medication you'll need. Just think way inside the box, sort of a reverse skill.  Our tech guy recently acquired some parts from 1982 off EBay, so it probably won't crash for a while.  Please note, if you ever try and leave this company, by all means, do not include the Wang on your resume.  It's the kiss of death, barely adequate for our purposes and completely obsolete everywhere else in the modern world.  Why not invest in a new system?  Well, we like to call it our little insurance policy; it keeps our minions right where they are. Obviously, it's much more business-savvy to allocate money for fresh-cut flowers in the executive offices, constructing a leather wall in the 3rd floor conference room, and brown-nosing clients with extravagant gifts that would take you a decade to purchase on your own.  But this is none of your business. These practices have been in place long before you were hired and it's pointless to fuss about it.  Besides, we don't pay you for your opinions.  Just do the best you can with the work you've been given, and hope it's enough to not get yourself fired. You are a lackey, a peon, a tiny white collar cog in a multi-million dollar corporate machine.  But you know the old saying, there's comfort in numbers.

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