In which Ike finds himself up against a partition, darkly
“Hierarchical social organization is like a system of hoppers lined with sharp blades. While it flays us alive, power cleverly persuades us that we are flaying each other.” – Raoul Vaneigem
The intercom boomed into the working quiet.
“Everyone proceed to the large conference room for the design presentation,” Alice, the office manager, bellowed into the intercom.
Ike didn’t hesitate. He shut off his iPod, hit save on the Gym plans and clicked off his monitor. It was one of those company-wide initiatives people were always on about, and over the last two days, there had been a summit in the main conference room, attended by the biggest players in the initiative at each of the four corporate offices: Newark, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
Ike found a chair all the way in the back, crossed his arms and leaned back. He needed the break; he’d done so many of these repetitive partitions that not just his eyes but his brain cells were crossing. Considering the looming deadline, it wasn’t a bad thing to schedule the presentations now; beside the fact that the entire staff did not have the same whip at their backs, those who did sure needed a chance to remember the passion for materials and space that had set them on this road.
The first presenter was a senior associate in Newark; Ike hadn’t caught her name. She fumbled with the technology, spoke in a low monotone and included weird images of the staff running marathons, messy desks, and Dilbert cartoons among the slides. The projects, though, were great: some glorious stone walls that looked less like enclosure than sculpture; sketches for a rural community center reusing a dilapidated barn; a private house on a narrow lot using concrete and steel with sensuality. It must be really different working in Newark. Time was, that was where he wanted to be.
The next presenter—Chet from the Atlanta office—was even better. Ike felt his pulse race as he gazed at the PowerPoint slide show: a modernist house in Los Angeles, split in half to make a processional courtyard between two enormous stone fireplaces; a huge public space in Florida, plate-glass facing the hurricane-hurling Atlantic, sheltered within concrete walls of staggered, pierced blocks that framed the view while channeling the shearing winds away from the glass. Amazing. The flame rekindled in him, the desire to be part of this group, to work his way toward real creative work, to design at the side of these great minds. Maybe he’d been right about FKRS all along; maybe here, he could do the things he’d dreamed of.
Ray, who’d recently shuffled in to stand in the back, leaned down to Ike.
“Are the partitions done?” he whispered. The tone was accusatory. “Deadline is Friday noon.”
Ike shook his head.
“Then you’d better damn well be sure they do get done. I loaned you to Frank last week, but that’s not a skate on my project, Duckworth.”
Ike fumed. Probably he could sit here and enjoy this moment with his colleagues, thinking about design, and stay a few hours late to get it done, but hell, he was going to have to stay late as it was. With deep resentment, he got up and edged his way out of the gathering. He didn’t look at Ray; one wrong twitch from the bastard and he thought he might hit him.
Punching the elevator button instead, he paced in the lobby while he waited. Even the fucking Futurama high-rise project in Chicago probably had a million toilet partitions and that was all he’d ever get to do in it. He wasn’t going to be one of the ones having discussions with Colin or Amanda or Chet. Not for years, anyway. Could he wait? Could he bide his time, pay his dues, climb the ladder? He crossed the reception area, thundered down the spiral staircase, flopped back into his chair.
His monitor was dark. He needed to turn it on.
Leave. Just get up and go.
The little voice, the evil little voice of liberation, was whispering to him. Maybe he should go find Fred. His extremism might give Ike some perspective, but if not, maybe he’d agree that he should forsake it all. Why not? Say he was sick, say the Indian buffet did him wrong—and what could they say to that? Take a few days, clear his head. Get loaded; think it out.
He saw his face reflected in the monitor, a dark specter in a frightening limbo of afternoon glare. If he had a hammer in his hand right now, nothing would stop him from shattering that image, destroying his darkling self.
He got up again, hurtling with speed back up the stairs. The coffee smelled burnt, but he poured a cup. He didn’t sip, he gulped it. It burned going down, hit him like a slap in the face.
Should he just get on with it, go back downstairs, flick on the damn monitor and finish the fucking toilet partitions? Should he? He’d had all he could take of it, that’s for sure. It wasn’t about money—he had some money, and Fred didn’t ask for much. The issue was whether he was ready to throw his career away. The dream of being an architect. Because he was bored out of his mind, because he hated the hand that held him down for a beating.
Hadn’t he grown out of that?
Ike’s eyes stung, which only made him angrier.
“And to what evil agency do we owe this precipitous despair?” Fred asked, crossing to the coffeepot to fill a short peanut butter jar that served as his coffee mug.
Fred. He was so glad to hear that voice, he lifted his face the way it was: jaw tight, eyes squinted, too bright.
“I don’t know if I can go back down. Miles and miles of toilet partitions—I’m shit with it—but it’s my lifeline, if I want… if I want any kind of career. I still want to be an architect, I know that; I guess I’m too arrogant to …”
“Bullshit.” Fred was glaring, arms crossed over his chest.
Ike waited, still gulping coffee, trying to get his composure back.
“It has nothing to do with arrogance—or architecture. It is the philosophy of Late Capital to co-opt the methods of industry to strip all work of meaning. You are bewildered; you trained in a studio as an artist and find yourself in a factory as an assembly line hack. It is in the nature of this profit-making machine that it does not care for the souls it buys and consumes. It has nothing at all to do with the personality or aspirations of Isaac Duckworth. A medium of exchange is valued over life, over multitudes of lives, over your life.”
“But I still have so much to learn if I want to be really good someday…”
“But it doesn’t have to be here, does it?”
Ike laughed mirthlessly. “You read the papers–There are no architecture jobs in town right now; no one is hiring. Guys are getting laid off all over. Who knows how long it will last?” He crossed his arms. “Besides, FKRS is the best firm in town.”
“You mean you like to look at their buildings—“
“Yes,” Ike said defiantly.
“But working here is intolerable.”
“It’s a bad relationship, Ike. Walk away.”
Ike choked out a mirthless sound. “Now what?”
“Now what, indeed. You have awoken; the day is yours to spend as you choose.”
Ike was able to smile, a forlorn mix of resolve and acceptance.
“I’m going back downstairs—for now. Got some thinking to do. I’ll probably be late.”
The sun was setting, a last chip of gold flashing behind Mt. Washington. The specter still hovered in the illusory cave within the monitor’s reflection. Ike punched the button and the specter was consumed in a soup of intersecting lines of various weights and colors that signified the ADA compliant toilet facilities of a University gymnasium. Gone again, for now.
Like what you are reading? You can find chapters 1-8 here.