After countless strategy meetings and corporate analysis reports from outside auditors, plus the hiring of a hatchet man, CFO Doug Dredgers, it was determined that the Company’s real problem was its old people. We were like China: too many purportedly-accomplished, ancient men occupying the high perches--featherless crows content with stewing away in abstract authority, sport-shitting on the underlings scurrying about below; withered Rumpelstiltskins weaving golden parachutes out of the stuffed-shirt strawmen who came in close enough to be snared.
This was not acceptable. Our industry was a youthful one: multi-media. Not only were the good old boys out-of-touch with the technology; not only did their minds seem unable to understand post-modern paradigms; not only did their bigoted sensibilities offend numerous potential partners; not only was their so-called alcoholism annoyingly anachronistic and stagy; it was concluded that many of the top men were senile, or in some way, mentally unstable. They were also said to bear an "unpleasant pungency," according to a confidential document outlining their many faults.
As lower-middle management, and hardly key, I had had no personal experience with upper-management musk. I had never been permitted proximity that would allow such a thing to register. Also, since my third out-of-body experience (this one occurring at a Reggae Sunsplash festival at the University), I’ve been unable to smell anything other than ganja; that is, most everything smells like pot to me. Still, I had often witnessed, from across the vast expanse of marble-top boardroom tables/stripper runways or via speakerphone/telescreen distance conferencing, the tendencies listed above. It was with the company’s future in mind that I agreed to play a role in the forthcoming pogroms.
Until those late-evening, top secret meetings, held in a nearby restaurant bar, I gave very little thought to seniors. I certainly did not have any specific prejudices towards the elderly. In fact, I recently acquired an appreciation for the old men executives, knowing that one of them had signed off--his signature like a fly-tie cluster of pubic hairs--on a touchy expense report I had sent upstairs. The tab was significant, or so I thought; I had spent nearly two grand on Oriental massages at the Pink Panda. The break-up with my wife Stacy, occurring the year before, had me feeling really lonely.
The pre-purge meetings, cleverly code-named GOBstopper (Good Old Boy), were held in secret in the late evening. Naturally, members of middle management organized the events, discretely pulling aside those who would clearly benefit from a top-level restructuring. My boss, John "F-word" Kennedy, had an invite printed and snaked into a Chinese fortune cookie. It was delivered on a plastic tray at my usual lunch-time loft, the Panda Kitchen. It read: "Meeting at Subic Bay to discuss future fortune, 8:00pm, tonight. JFK." I appreciated the drama, and knew that Kennedy was probably getting giddy with sneak-around stuff, as was his tendency. We all liked to think we were involved in something that mattered on a grand, classic scale: the stuff that makes for feature films, or, at the least, a TV mini-series. Kennedy always opted for big screen antics whenever possible; he was a high-concept, visual thinker.
The first meeting took place during happy hour at the Subic Bay, a nearby Filipino brothel-themed family eatery and drink house chain found throughout the southland. The event marked the first time I met then-rookie CFO Doug Dredgers. He was much younger than I had anticipated. A bio, which was included in the press release announcing his arrival, bore the plot-points of a business titan; since I had read it while still stationed on the East Coast, and hadn’t yet seen the man, I assumed he’d be far more mature.
Despite Dredgers’ apparent youth, and the limited years of others in attendance (all Boomers), I was, at thirty flat (a Tweener), the most age-impoverished at the table. The difference in generational outlook, be it only four-or-five years on the bottom end, was profound and, later, resulted in serious trouble. Even then, I marveled at the insanely consistent business Boomer attributes that I had always found hard to fathom. They were uniformly serious about money and it was, in essence, all they ever really talked about. Other traits: they exhibited a total lack of irony and a sense of humor based almost entirely upon timed contradiction; that is, someone says something seemingly definitive and another (usually three or four) chimes in with a remark or attitude that seemingly undermines the definitive statement. For example:
A: We need to really control costs--no more carefree spending!
B: Absolutely. (pause) So should I expense these drinks?
This kind of quickly predictable (and therefore intolerable) TV-trained rhythm ran throughout any "humorous" discussion they had. But, perhaps the most incomprehensible quality they exhibited was their loyalty to things, ideas, people--you name it.
Meanwhile, my peers were continually involved in more earthy discussions. Lately, it seemed the hot topic in the office place, among hetero men in my age group, single, married or otherwise, was defecation. Besides relating the details of daily sittings, we were all heavily into colon-cleansers and shared info regarding the latest experiments with psyllium husk and other natural fiber enhancers, not to mention enemas. We were interested in improving frequency, but, more importantly, we were after bulk. We considered it a healthy kind of fun, but also enjoyed toying with the subtle transgressive undertones associated with all things pertaining to the adult asshole.
Regardless of the subject’s obvious appeal, it was nothing I could introduce into the narrow band of pre-business banter that flitted about the makeshift war-room table at Subic Bay. Talk meandered from high school reunions to a nostalgic, earnest exchange regarding Leave it to Beaver. Then, it was business as usual when the waitress arrived. Incidentally, she was a fake brunette--in an attempt, I supposed, to appear Asian. Also in line with the restaurant theme was her self-introduction: "Hi, I’m Margarita. I’ll be your whore this evening."
After three sessions at Subic Bay, I was asked to play a key role in the GOBstopper plot due to my Creative Director position. Bearing such a title, it would make perfect sense to the Old Guard that I would organize a resort weekend in Cocoyoc, Mexico, in order to generate lusty, youth-like photo/film opportunities featuring the saggy fat cats of the uppermost tier, the results of which would be exhibited in the up-coming annual report CD-ROM and hi-end website. The real plan was to stage irresistible scenes of transgression and capture the old guys in action, then blackmail them into bowing out of the organization. Why couldn’t we just ask them to leave? Or fire them? These boys were well-entrenched. With their shifty lawyer pals, they had managed to embed themselves, like sinewy tumors, deep into the tender tissue of the corporate body. Their contracts contained protective clauses, promising them enormous sums of cash and property if they should ever be smoked out of their opulent, upstairs stalls. Canning one or two of these insulated lions would cost the company dearly; we had half a dozen to contend with. No, according to Doug Dredgers, the good old boys had to leave "voluntarily."
Before we came to this conclusion, we had tossed around some rather colorful scenarios over the pancit primavera. Naturally, we first went digging in the dirt, trying to find evidence of stinky business with their budgets. There was missing money all over the place, naturally. The problem with waving these numbers around in a threatening manner was that most of the middle management types--those clustered around the table--would be incriminated as well. There were other things to consider: supposed sexual indiscretions with the staff; insider trading; funky tax maneuverings; bribing of government agencies; exploitation of prisoner labor; and we vaguely knew of an actual violent criminal matter involving my boss’s boss Prigg, Ray Whaley (VP of Operations) and Wayne Butts (CEO). It was rumored that, in their pro-sports days (the three met as venue managers for Major League Baseball), they had abducted a Hispanic janitor from the office place and brought him on a weekend ski trip against his will. Apparently, their brandy-marinated intention was to conduct a social experiment in which they would attempt to "civilize" the young illegal.
According to Gerald Deemer, who had heard the story first-hand from Whaley, they clothed the kid in prep-wear and force-fed him Cuban cigars and champagne. The kid, however, was training to be a featherweight boxer. He didn’t appreciate the derailing of his strict regime. Punches were thrown, but the three older, fatter men eventually overpowered the youth and tied him to a chair, slapped him around, blew smoke in his face, then beat him with ski poles. As a final insult, they urinated on him. When they eventually untied him (after waiting for the rope to dry), the kid was in a murderous fury and tore the place apart. Before escaping out a window, he managed to bludgeon Butts pretty severely with a hunk of firewood. Prigg and Whaley also received blows, but weren’t seriously hurt. Butts had to be hospitalized for a few days. The janitor vanished, no doubt too humiliated to talk to cops, or fearful of being deported.
The archeology involved in piecing this promising tale together was deemed to be too overwhelming, and potentially fruitless. It had happened so long ago, nearly thirty years, and there were no witnesses. And certainly, over time, the tale had mutated into something only vaguely resembling the actual events. As for the other possible avenues, we again either lacked the leverage of solid evidence or knew we’d be drawing fire upon ourselves. Naturally, this latter concern was not openly stated.
No, something new and thorough had to be arranged, we concluded during the second session. The brainstorming produced a number of colorful scenarios, the most severe of which was Kennedy’s golf cart pile-up idea. This drew a wince out of Dredgers. Kennedy modified his pitch on the fly. "Okay, maybe not a pile-up: too messy, sure. But some kind of golf accident. Like, say, a sink hole opening up in the turf." Again, his filmic tendencies got the better of him. Besides, it was agreed that no one was really comfortable with murder. We broke for the night. The next day, Dredgers waited for the waitress to deliver the San Miguels before pitching his Mexico trip plan. Personally, I thought it was brilliant.
The plan was this: I would write a creative prospectus for the up-coming annual report CD-ROM and high-end website. The script would call for digitally filmed shots of upper-management members frolicking in a youthful manner, in response to the overt concerns of the shareholders that the top dogs were too old to learn new tricks. It was to be, in essence, a bikini-issue annual report. In alliteration-laden pitch lingo, the prospectus called for shots of "mambo-line madness; Jacuzzi joviality; sweat-slick sun-worshipping; triumphant tans." All of this was to be staged at a hot springs resort called Cocoyoc, located two hours (driving time) outside of Mexico City. In our dealings with the Mexican government, we had acquired access to the place that was, according to the brochure, first a hot spot for Aztec royalty, then an early playland for Spanish officials. It boasted ruins, jungle, hot springs, open, airy rooms, fine cuisine, domesticated waterfalls, lake-sized swimming pools, nation-sized golf greens. The place was also fully wired for technocrats and business boobs, like ourselves. This was an important detail since, in order to avoid having the families invited along, Dredgers wanted to at least call the trip a working one.
Really, though, the only persons working would be me and my appointed assistant, Marty "Monkey" Douglas, a Spanish-speaking surveillance/security whiz Dredgers had originally hired five jobs back, at IBM, to de-bug his office. Our work started several weeks in advance, when I provided Monkey with the approved secret prospectus, detailing the gluttonous scenarios I had in mind for the fat heads. He went south, like a location scout for the movies (Kennedy pointed out), to select the sets, install the gear and sniff out potential suppliers of dope and girls. Meanwhile, Dredgers was working on the good old boys, seeing to it that they understood the importance of re-inventing our corporate image as a youthful, vibrant one--in the eyes of the shareholders. They seemed to like the idea, and all six top execs agreed to plan a "strategy meeting" for the trip. We weren’t in the least bit discouraged to hear talk of work, knowing well that "strategy meeting" was GOBspeak for happy hour. At our secret Subic Bay meeting, only a week before the trip, we all agreed that everything was going smoothly.
I once read that if fecal matter glowed, Mexico City wouldn’t need electric lights. It’s a town so full in shit, it’s sinking into the earth. They had evicted the lake and installed an empire of shit, but the lake had crept back and was now vengefully gnawing at the pocked concrete and steel roots of the megapolis. And if the shit doesn’t smother the place, the afterbirth will; some statistic I had read pointed out that something like ninety percent of its population was pregnant. Supposedly, the babies were flopping like fish in the topsoil of shit. None of this was apparent from the porthole in the side of the shiny plane. Through it, I stared down at the super-city of the future. There was nothing especially urgent about the place from a mile up. When we landed, I stepped out of the plane and inhaled deeply, hoping to catch a whiff of the famous fecal matter. The place smelled like pot, as did my travel companions--the Company’s ancient execs--as did my armpits. It was hot and smoggy in Mexico City; it was just like L.A.
We were met by Monkey, who guided us to an awaiting luxury limo van. Everyone piled in, tossing the baggage in the vehicle’s low belly, and the old boys immediately lined up for the mobile head. They tag-teamed the toilet, loading it with old man menudo as we wove through the endless city.
After three hours of solid driving without clearing the city, the old folks were getting restless. For the first time that day, they addressed me, asking when we’d reach our destination. I channeled the question to Monkey who said something to the driver who responded to Monkey who told me at least two more fucking hours. This was overheard by the execs. The grumbling commenced. They wanted to know why the resort was so far from the airport. They were horrified by the city, Wayne Butts pointing out that no one in the ocean of faces fit our demographic; this made everyone nervous. I doused the whiny chatter with a round of stiff drinks: booze plus tonic was their formula for temporary happiness.
AT Cocoyoc, the gang wanted to hit the hay immediately after dinner, claiming to be exhausted by the trip. I was getting tired, too--of their endless whining. Besides, I had already arranged, through Monkey, for some girls to come by, thinking I’d get right to the good stuff. I had planned to have a hard drinking session in the private bar, then introduce the ladies into the scene, slipping guppies into a tank of sharks. "It’s all ruined for the night," I said to Monkey in the men’s room. "That drive killed us."
"No worries," he said. "I’ll call the ladies off until tomorrow. We’ll get plenty of good shots, guaranteed." Monkey had some kind of accent.
"Are the rooms ready?" I said, referring to the surveillance gear.
"Each one a little theater," he said with a wink.
"Good man," I said.
"You bet," he said.
Monkey escorted me to my room, which, I might add, was very nice: mission-style with white adobe walls, and the occasional hand-shaped brick showing through; high ceiling resting on thick dark beams. In the large walk-in closet, Monkey showed me the secret control center he had installed. Seven video screens glared at me, blinking as the shot switched, looping from bed, to bathroom, to sitting-room, at five second intervals. Some of the boys were already in bed, either staring up at the ceiling fan with wet eyes or building up to a cycle of snores. Prigg was reading something, sitting at his bedroom desk in pajamas. Butts was on the phone. We held on him. "Can I hear that call?" I asked.
Monkey popped open a laptop and, using the nipple-like mini-mouse, point-clicked on a series of buttons bearing an ear icon. The speakers crackled and Butts’ voice broke through. He said: "It’s inflamed."
A woman’s voice responded. "Do you think it’s getting worse?"
"Hell, yes," Butts said. "I think it was that goddamn drive. Endless!"
Another screen caught my eye: It was McMurphy, VP of Marketing, down on his knees at his bedside, hands clasped in prayer, looking very much like a child. His lips were moving.
"Sound," I said.
Monkey winced. His finger hesitated over the mini-mouse. I looked at his face: It was an ugly one. Monkey looked like a bass player from a British Invasion band. "What’s the problem?" I said.
"I don’t think he’s saying anything we need to hear."
"I decide that," I said. "I’m the Creative Director, you know."
"Fuckery," Monkey said. Then he clicked the ear icons. McMurphy was speaking jibberish to himself.
"That Spanish?" I said, hoping Monkey could translate.
"What’s he saying?"
"I don’t know."
"Then how do you know it’s Latin?"
"I used to be a priest," Monkey said.
The next two days did not go well; the execs weren’t taking the bait. Whenever I put something in their path, they sidestepped it. Girls were admired, but not touched. Booze was guzzled, but seemed to have little effect on these ancient war horses. When I sent a bellboy around with what I considered to be an irresistible desert tray of narcotics, he was not only soundly rejected, he was scolded and told not to come around again. It was as if they knew what was going on, as if they had been tipped off. I mentioned this to Kennedy and Dredgers during my conference call check-ins. They insisted that I wasn’t making it clean enough for the old guys, who in their many years of indiscretions, had become cautious about dabbling in all things sinful. Kennedy also reminded me to live by the "platinum rule," not the dated golden one. He explained that, in practicing the "platinum rule," you treat others how they want to be treated, not how you wanted to be treated. Everything I had arranged, he pointed out, was stuff I’d like to dive into, cock-first. The old boys were beyond it all.
There was truth in what Kennedy was saying: I had, in the last two days, gobbled up their rejected goodies. It was too much to resist. I was having a wonderful time, despite the fact that Monkey and I had to go through the business of photographing and filming the flabby oldsters lolling around the pool like walruses, or cha-cha-cha-ing to the music of Alegria, a Vegas-style Latin band with glittery blouses and big hair. The girls I sent around inevitably ended up in my bed. Just the night before, I was with two women at once for the first time in my life. It was a feeding frenzy and, due to the abundance of "leftover" coke, I was in rare form. I even tried a Warren Beatty, calling some of the boys at work, while my favorite lady--the small-breasted, smooth-haired, Mia--gave me a warm water enema.
When I wasn’t engaged in such luxuries, I was doing my job, scanning the screens in my closet. Absolutely nothing was going on. If the old folks weren’t napping, they were playing golf or tennis, or flopped out by the pool. They were a boring bunch of coconuts, who seemed to be trying to live healthy, clean lives. It occurred to me that they were afraid to die, then it dawned on me that they all had something to live for--that they were a pretty happy crowd of fat cats whose moving-and-shaking days were behind them. This was the payoff for all their warring and whoring; this quietude, this mainstream, presidential kind of fun, was what they had plundered for as younger men. It was horrifying and foreign. Being unprepared to see such a simple, hideous truth play itself out before me, I chomped pills and snorted up powders and sought solace in the arms of sweet-smelling Mia. I was a sad happy wreck.
Late Sunday, Kennedy called and forced me to report that, in three days and four nights of "shooting," I had failed to capture a single scene of value. I had nothing on the GOBbers. He was outraged and, in his rant, it became clear to me that Monkey had been placing a few calls north. Kennedy knew, for example, that I had been stealing from the sample tray. And, in his comment that I had been lounging around, paying ladies to shake their asses in my face, it almost seemed as though he knew about Mia’s maraca stunt.
He worked me hard on the phone, telling me to straighten my shit out and get something good on film. They were spending a lot of money on this venture and the future of the company was riding on its success. "Maybe we made a mistake in sending you," he said. "Maybe you’re too young, too unprincipled." He observed that people my age were not to be trusted; that we’re a lot like the GOBbers, only they crossed the lines as empire-builders, while folks my age crossed lines because they didn’t give a shit about anything. "I have a theory," he said, "that you people don’t care because you were led to believe there was going to be a nuclear holocaust. That’s why you’re so nostalgically apocalyptic. The world’s still here, people, still spinning round, and you find yourselves unprepared for life after adolescence." He went on and on, leading up to threats of firing and worse: a blackballing from the corporate world. The thought horrified me; it was where I belonged, I knew that. Scared, I gave up the only goods I had on the old boys--something I didn’t want to mention, even acknowledge, to anyone. I told him that the senior citizens that were the upper-management of the Company seemed to despise me.
Yes, the only possible dirt I had on the GOBbers concerned myself. The evidence was subtle, initially. In viewing a tape of myself swinging by Prigg’s room, interrupting a poker game, I saw Whaley making some finger loops at his ear as I turned my back, indicating that I was crazy. The others, for the most part, respond with a chuckle, but Prigg fans his hand in front of his nose, indicating that I smell. Then, Advertising VP, Daniel Dale, shakes a fist over his lap, indicating that either I masturbate or I’m not to be taken seriously. Not exactly criminal, but still revealing. That scene occurred on the first day. On the third day, I viewed another, more incriminating tableau. Shirtless, I enter McMurphy’s room to inform the fellas that have congregated there to be at the Jacuzzi in a half hour. By this time, having chased these idiots all over the golf course the day before, under the blazing sun, I’m looking very tan--a state I normally avoid. Sure enough, it catches McMurphy’s eye. As I leave the room, he turns to Butts and says: "What is he anyway?"
Butts says: "Some kind of darky apparently. Didn’t notice it so much before."
McMurphy responds with: "That and I can’t tell if he’s queer, or what. These sexually and ethnically ambiguous types give me the willies."
Butts: "I saw him with a gal the other day. Skinny little titless thing. Come to think of it, looked a lot like a boy, that girl."
If that wasn’t enough, I had one more very subtle scene that really unnerved me. The set was again Prigg’s room. He, Butts, Whaley and Dale were sitting at the table, looking through some brochures of nearby sites, planning a trip to a cathedral or graveyard or something, when I came through the door. In the tape, I say something indecipherable, a result of the massive bowl of funk-dusted dope I smoked just before seeking them out. I still had enough wits about me to smoke a fat cigar, burying the weed smell. Maybe the fact that I was chewing a thick Cuban also hampered my ability to enunciate. After I release this garbled mess into the air, Butts says: "What the fuck did he just say?"
Whaley: (to me) "What the fuck did you just say?"
I just stand there. I don’t answer. Reason for my sudden shyness: I was suddenly terrified of them; they looked to me like enormous, tusked, bristle-backed pigs, no doubt a result of the dope. Then as I turn to shuffle off, something is said that totally justifies my fear. It’s Prigg who says it: "He’s starting to remind me of a certain boxer."
Butts: "I was thinking the same exact thing!"
Whaley: "Me, too!"
I told all this to Kennedy over the telephone, closing with, "I definitely want to see these guys out on their asses, JK. You think I want these guys around? Me? You think that I haven’t been trying after all that? I want these guys out!"
Kennedy was quiet, so much so that I thought he had hung up. A sniffle let me know he was still there.
I said, "This stuff they’ve been saying about me is pretty good stuff, don’t you think? I mean the boxer, you know what that’s about. And the `darky’ stuff. That’s pretty good--pretty bad, I mean."
Finally Kennedy said: "It’s shit. It’s nothing. You’re not cutting it. We’re going to have to come down."
"No need," I said. "I’ll get something good probably tonight. We’ve got some girls set up: virgins. Real fucking virgins, JK!"
"Don’t do anything," Kennedy said. "You’re already over-budget." Then, after a pause, he added: "Hey, you know what this is like? This is like fucking Apocalypse Now!" He hung up, leaving the image of the wayward director watching naked Filipino natives slaughtering hogs endlessly looping in my brain.
There was nothing to do but wait. I figured they couldn’t make it out until the following morning. I wanted to purge myself, I decided, before they arrived; I wanted to shake the last few days loose. One way was taking a shot of husk; I’d put all the bad stuff in the shit, then release it. Another way was letting go inside the head. After the husk went in, I groped around for a switch that would allow me to turn off the problem of framing the old guys. A paranoid idea was building in my head and I knew that if it hit me, I’d be lost. As is the usual case, the more I tried to smother it with positive thinking (trying to distract myself with the idea that I’d straighten out, that I’d get back with Stacy and we’d resume our course to Happyland, USA), the more the ugly thought loomed in my consciousness. After no time at all, it hit like a typhoon. I believed, suddenly, that I was the one who had been framed--by Dredgers, by Kennedy. No, no. I fought this notion. It didn’t make total sense. It was filled with holes. How would they know, for example, that I would fuck up so miserably?
Rather than purge, I tried to drown this thought with tequila, and stone it to death with a hail of shiny pills, lose it in a blizzard of dust. I started thinking about Monkey; I was certain he was a spy. His room, I wondered. Why wasn’t his room wired? Why couldn’t I see him on the screens? Then, I remembered how, in the only visit to his room, I had noticed light coming through the slats of the closet door. "Fuck you, Monkey!" I yelled up at the beamed ceiling. I flipped off every possible vantage point. Then I stood, shouting, "I’ll kill you, Monkey!" I lunged for the door but my legs were rubber and I hit the floor hard. Time passed. It went from light to dark. Then the door opened and Mia stepped in. She was with someone. The virgin had painted toenails.
I said, "Help me up."
"You’re too heavy," the virgin said. "Let me lighten you so you can stand." She reached down and removed my wallet from my pants pocket. They left.
The floor rose high and I slid down against the wall. I screamed for help and Monkey came in. He lifted me onto his shoulder. Then I was in his room, naked, hanging from the dark beam. My hands were bound. My body bore the weight of a dying star. My arms were on fire, about to tear free. Then in came the old boys armed with brightly painted piñata bats. Butts went first. I thrashed around but he still found me. The blows struck and I could hear them more than feel them--the ribs cracking. But something else was emerging: I was intensely aware of a cleansing current sweeping through, a flood. I was pushing out from the ugly inside.
About the author:
Kenneth Calhoun lives in San Diego, California, and Durham, North Carolina. His story Butterfly Box appeared in the Fall issue of Colorado Review. Hes working on an autobiographical novel about a boy raised by coyotes in the suburbs of L.A.