Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Still Even More Ghost

Here is Chapter 5 of the Living Ghost novel. Chapter 4 is here (from there you can find links to previous chapters). I should point out that, as is the case with all my fiction, none of this is even remotely autobiographical; it anything much to do with me personally nor with anyone I know. That said, Living Ghost does have some autobiographical elements (I did go to Syracuse University, I have lived near Redondo Beach, CA, and I am a market research analyst, solely out of laziness so that I could focus on the main plot elements and not get bogged down in researching comparatively minor background details), but that's about where the similarity ends, except insofar as there have been some meetings during which I fantasized about flipping out the way Tom Graves does in this chapter. The ultimate point of the novel up to this point (and maybe even beyond) is not so much to say anything specifically about what it is I do for a living, but rather to question, as the Everyone does (or should), that, given the scant 75 years or so we are allotted on this Earth, we choose to spend so much of that time dwelling on corporate bullshit and the like. I think this applies to all the utterly pointless "busywork" stuff we humans do to take our minds off the fact that we'll be worm food before too long.

And on that cheery note, I give you...

“I’m completely amazed,” said Cliff, flipping through the binder-clipped sheaf of printed sheets Tom had plopped on the desk in front of him. “This is all of Section 3 and a preliminary run-through of Section 4. This is amazing. And your commentary is cogent and, dare I say, perceptive and insightful, the tables and charts well-presented. This is going to please The Larva to no end.”

Tom was half asleep in the chair in front of Cliff’s desk. He had indeed worked all though the night. He didn’t know which he was happier about—that he had stayed awake and was able to finish it or that he wasn’t whisked off to some other geographical location of his youth.

“Of course, you look like utter crap,” said Cliff.

Indeed, Tom was unshaven, his eyes were red and puffy, and his clothes weren’t exactly his Sunday best, but at least he had been able to jump in the shower for a minute.

Cliff flipped to the end and skimmed the last few pages. “You know, Tom, you are one great writer.”

“No,” said Tom groggily. “I’m not a writer. I’m a delivery system for words.”

“Isn’t that what a writer is?” Cliff set the sheaf of papers on his desk. “Anyway, great job. I mean that.”

“Conference room five minutes,” came a voice from the doorway.

“Dah!” said Cliff, startled. “Sally! Stop doing that!”

“I am the Stealth Queen!” Sally proclaimed loudly as she disappeared down the hall.

“She is one wacky chick,” said Cliff. “Anyway, I don’t expect this meeting will last more than half an hour. Then you can go home and get some sleep. And,” he added as an afterthought, “maybe you’ll still be in California when you wake up.”

“Mmmm,” Tom grunted.

Tom shambled into the conference room and sat down at the chair nearest the door—in case he had to flee the room in a hurry. He couldn’t think of any reason why he would have to, but he couldn’t say that he was thinking particularly clearly at the moment.

A long wooden table occupied the middle of the room, and in the center of the table was a teleconferencing set-up. This enabled Carol to listen in on the meeting—even though she never actually said anything. And, in fact, only the oldest veterans in the room—and, of course, Sally—knew that the teleconferencing unit was even on.

The rest of the meeting attendees quickly filed in. Sally led the charge and she sat at the head of the table. He was followed by Marv, then by Tony DiPietro, representative of one of the biggest sponsors of the camera research study. He was followed by a nondescript set of two of his own minions who were never spoken to nor did they speak. As Tom watched them, he suspected that was always the case.
Tom suddenly found a large cup of coffee placed in front of him. Cliff sat down next to him.

“That should get you through the meeting,” said Cliff.

“I’ve had so much coffee it feels like my cellphone has been vibrating for the past two hours. Either someone is really trying to reach me or I’m on the verge of some kind of neurological disorder.” He went to unclasp his phone from his belt suddenly remembered he had left it at home. “Yep, too much caffeine.”

“Is it just me or is the cellphone vibrate mode like a torture device or some kind of cattle prod,” said Cliff, taking a sip from his own cup of coffee. He choked. “All right! Who’s been putting cinnamon in the coffee again? I thought we settled that issue.”

“As pressing as the coffee issue is,” said Sally to the assembled group, “it is precisely 9 a.m. and I think we should get this meeting started.” She passed handed a stack of binder-clipped papers to the person to her right and the stack quickly moved around the room. “I’m passing out a draft of Section 3, hot off the laser printer. As you recall, this is the section that details the share of the market that each of the holocamera vendors have—at least according to our survey respondents.”

“I’m looking at page 21,” said Tony.

“Why did I know that you’d immediately go there?” said Cliff.

“Possibly because for me it’s the most crucial data in the whole damn study,” said Tony.

“It shouldn’t be,” said Marv. “Current market share is nice, but what you’ll want to pay attention to is Section 10, when we get to it. That’s going to have all the seven-year projections and our analysis of where the market is headed.”

“That’s not my problem right now. I need to tell my boss what our market share is right now. And I’m looking at Figure 3-5 and I tell you that can’t possibly be what out share of the market is. That contradicts every internal study we’ve ever done.”

“Maybe that’s because you’re getting objective data for once,” said Marv.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Guys, let’s start at the beginning, shall we,” said Sally.

“Yo, dude, is this really what you do for a living?”

Tom started. He glanced to his left. In place of one of the silent minions was Mark, the kid from Syracuse.

“Jesus, what are you doing here?” Tom whispered, hoping none of the other conference members would notice.

“I’m having trouble deciding what to major in. I’m here for, I don’t know, some career guidance.” He looked around and listened to some more of the argument between Tony and Marv. “OK, I don’t think this would be it. You majored in this?”

Tom scowled. “No, I was an English major.”

“Wow. So did that like fast-track your career? Because American business can’t get enough of people who can quote Chaucer in the original Middle English.”

“Would you keep it down. We’re trying to have a meeting.”

“Ah, they can’t hear me. Watch.” He jumped up on the table. “Yo, fuckwads! Is this any way to live a life? Fighting over who has what percentage of fucking what? Who gives a shit!” Everyone at the table went on with the meeting, oblivious. He sat back down. “See?”

“How did you…”

“Dude, do you like have no accumulated memory at all?”

“I think I see where this is going.” Tom smiled and nodded knowingly. “Right, you’re going to start singing Supertramp songs again. Or screeching, anyway”

Mark shook his head. “Nah. I’m over that now.”

“Thank god for that.”

Mark paused and he and Tom started at each other for a few moments. Then, in a high, mock-operatic voice, “‘Oh, dreamweaver…’”


“Oh, Dennis Weaver…”

“How do you even know these songs? They’re at least 20 years older than you are.”

“Dude, I’m a figment of your subconscious. I only know what you know.”

“What do you want from me?”

“What do I want from you? Dude, again, you’re one who keeps hallucinating about me.”

“Do kids even use the word ‘dude’ anymore?”

“Damned if I know. Hey, Cliff wants you, so I gotta go. But I just want to congratulate you on finding the numerological clues last night. That was genius, man. I never would have thought of counting ‘h’s.”

“But what does it mean?”

“Don’t know. But think about this. You disappeared before 1:45, but Mel and Kyoko were in their room until Mel left at 8:00 for her 8:30 and Kyoko left at 9:30 to meet some friends at the student center. You don’t think they would have seen you if you had been sleeping there since 1:45—or 4:45 Syracuse time?”

“That’s true…”

“So the question is not how did you get to Syracuse, but where were you for eight hours? Right, Tom. Tom! Tom!”


“Yes!” he said, waking up abruptly. “I’m listening. The market share. Right.”

“Tom,” Cliff said, “Tony asked you, what if Marv rebased the data in Table 3-12. Would that overwhelmingly change the conclusions section?”

“Well, it would depend on how Marv rebased it and if the numbers in all the cross-tabs changed dramatically. I think the way the data has been calculated now gives us the clearest picture of what’s going on. I mean, we can rebase and retab data all you want to come up with whatever specific conclusions you want. But wouldn’t just defeat the purpose of why we were hired?” Tom started sweating, and his voice started rising. “I mean, first you people say ‘We want to know where the market is going,’ but now it turns out you don’t really want to know where the market is going. You just want us to verify the incorrect data you’ve been presenting to your superiors for years.”

Cliff tried to calm him down. “Tom, buddy—”

“You don’t give a damn about the market. All you want to do is provide pleasing numbers to your own bosses to cover your own asses. Tell me this isn’t just a colossal waste of time.”

“Tom is under a lot of strain. He didn’t get any sleep last night, trying to get this section done.”

“And no one cares about it!” yelled Tom. “All the text, the analysis, the conclusions. All the writing. Meaningless. All you people are focusing on is one stupid chart. What a waste of fucking time.”

“Tom, why don’t you go home and get some sleep. I think we can get by without you for now,” said Cliff.

“Yeah, I would strongly recommend that,” said Tony, not even remotely amused.

“Be seeing you,” said Tom, getting up and leaving the room.

From the teleconferencing unit in the center of the table came a loud “click.”

“Uh, oh,” said Sally.
To be continued...

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