December 3rd, 2008

flaminga in salzburg

The Office Chairs' Desertion

There is a cluster of used desk chairs near the staff kitchen, heavy black beasts whose single legs end in wheel-tipped talons, deserving of some ominous corvid plural: an unkindness, a murder.  In point of fact, it is a downsizing of chairs, each the revenant of someone who was here last week, before the conference room convocation, the manila folders with details of severance packages and COBRA benefits, the tears in the HR director’s office with the pitiful privacy of its glass door.  This is the third time since spring, so we’re all familiar with the protocol: the bitter stoicism of it’s-been-fun final emails with civilian contact information, the poorly-attended postmortem at a Santa Monica bar after six, the hugs and promises to keep in touch like it’s the last day of summer camp.  On Monday, the appropriations begin, hesitant at first – Do you think it’s ok to take B’s chair now? – but before long the choicest office supplies of the departed have been picked through and redistributed, the sudden surfeit of staple removers a reminder like the pervasive hush – as if most of the office has just stepped out for lunch, with only the unpopular and the overworked still holding down the fort at their desks – and the desks themselves, quickly covered with drawings and models to hide the nakedness of unmanned workspace.  A week later, we in the dwindling herd of survivors are still checking up on one another, as if unemployment might be contagious, the fabric of the firm so thin that we must enact a buddy system so as not to accidentally lose anyone else in its fissures.  We've completed the business of contraction (archiving files, staffing reassignments to bolster hard-hit teams, distribution of the brutally truncated phone directory), and now all that’s left is to corral those last unwanted chairs, the ones no one would trade for, the ones no one even wants to keep on hand for visitors at impromptu deskside meetings.  Tomorrow they will probably be gone, trucked off to a retirement home for rejected office furniture – the Salvation Army, maybe, or a Council Thrift Shop – but today I find myself wanting to warn them, to suggest that they pass around some WD-40 and wheel themselves quietly away, out the door and down the street (under cover of night so as to make use of their natural camouflage), skating effortlessly across the concrete banks of the L.A. River to the Ballona Wetlands, where their crow cousins can teach them the ways of the wild.  In six months they will be completely feral, upholstery shredded, seat foam sodden and pungent, and perhaps I will catch a glimpse of one, driving back from Playa Del Rey after lunch, an ungainly shadow behind a shrubby thicket, armrests akimbo, lying in wait.