Corporate Cold Cake

cake.jpg 

Every time it was someone’s birthday in the office, it was customary to get a card (signed by all  other department members) and a cake. And the colleagues (with the enthusiasm of an inexperienced  gun-shy soldier being shipped off to Iraq) would stand around the cubicle and sing “Happy Birthday” with fake smiles on their faces.

Being  that there was  20 people in  the department, this happened pretty regularly. The greetings  on the card would usually go something like this:

“Hey – Have a great day”

“Happy Birthday”

“Have a good one”

“Enjoy your special day”

Some pretty standard, non-personable, unthoughtful and totally meaningless greetings. I mean, I  guess it’s nice to have a card signed by all of your colleagues, but not when it doesn’t say anything  nice because your colleagues are so absolutely brainwashed by corporate jargon, small talk, and office etiquette that it ends up sounding more like a programmed robot voiceover wishing you a happy birthday and thanking
you for being a subscriber!

And sure, everyone loves a good cake right?! But really, isn’t it just an excuse for everyone to stand around and stuff their face and gossip, maybe get in some brown-nosing time with the department head…Does anyone really (and I mean “really”) care  that it’s Bob’s birthday?

Does anyone even know that last night Bob tried to kill himself after drinking half a bottle of 30  year old scotch because his wife left him, his kids hate him, he’s $40,000 in debt, and he’s been evicted from his apartment?! Does anyone know that Bob is a severe alcoholic?!

But go ahead… Eat that cake, sign that card. Bob won’t mind. Stand at his desk. Pretend that you are interested in his birthday and that you genuinely care about him as a fellow coworker.

Or

Don’t…

And instead sign the card like this:

“You know what Bob, I don’t really know you… So I feel weird trying to write something that would indicate otherwise. I do hope you enjoy your day though, but I regretfully will not be joining you at your cubicle to celebrate in the cake and social festivities, it would just feel weird. Birthdays are meant to be spent with those you love, not those you are forced to work with.”

It was five o-clock on Friday afternoon when Bob appeared at my cubicle, holding a box filled with books, office supplies, and a couple of certificates.

“Hi Bob, anything I can do for you?”

“No.” he said. He continued to stand there staring at me with the box in his hand. I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

“Are ya sure?”

“Well” he said “I guess I just wanted to say thanks” he said

I was pretty confused at this point. “Thanks for what?” I asked.

“For not being like all the others” he said. “I wish I could have known more people like you.”

“Thanks Bob. Are you leaving the company?”

“Yes I am” he said, as he slowly walked away.

I sat there watching him walk away, knowing that I was seeing a dead man walking. I knew that he was done, he was out, he had taken about all he could take. The curtain had fallen.

And the next day, the memo went out… He had done it. Taken his life, in his apartment by way of pistol to the brain.

They found him still dressed for work, he was holding the card he had received for his birthday, and he strangely highlighted what I wrote in his card with an Orange highligher.

From that day forward, I was blamed for Bob’s death. My coworkers said that it was my coldness and my unwillingness to participate in the festivities that “pushed him over the edge” they said.  I heard the whispers behind my back when I walked around the office.

Ironically (but not surprisingly), I was the only one from the office that attended Bob’s funeral.

3 months later I quit my job. I took a job making less money, but working with the homeless, and actually making a difference in somebody’s life.

And every year, on Bob’s birthday, I go to his grave to visit him. I pour some scotch on his grave and smoke a joint with him. And I think that, is how Bob would have wanted to celebrate, not with a fucking cake and a shitty card.

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12 thoughts on “Corporate Cold Cake

  1. Great story.

    I can relate, sort of. I’ve had exactly two birthday parties in my life. One at the age of five, given by my Mom & Dad (and minus my horrid sister) and one, given by my coworkers, when I was 42.

    I don’t go to faux celeberations unless forced to, and I don’t think anyone has died. However, I have noticed one thing…when the celebratory cards and cakes come around at work, I NEVER get one.

    One of the benefits of being anti-social I guess.

  2. Poobah: There is something to be said for being anti-social… Some people are just such people-pleasers that they can’t handle the thought of someone not liking them, they need that constant approval from others… I think that is much more of a problem.

    Whenever I have to sign one of those cards, I always try to say something meaningful, otherwise I don’t say anything at all.

    Birthday Parties are over rated… Having said that, it is my birthday on November 17th!!! 😛

    thenyd: Getting high in a cemetary is absolutely wonderful… It makes you feel more grounded! Although, depending on the strength of your pot, it can also make for a wee bit of a paranoid nightmare with random bouts of hyperventilation and heart failure.

  3. While working at the cube farm is an unnatural joy in itself, having a manager who outdoes the spawnettes or my little devils in enthusiasm and energy, is an exceptional treat. One of her first acts as my new manager was to send around an email, with too many exclamation points and smilies, that explained how she would delegate someone to decorate the desk of whoever had a birthday. We don’t have the same desk every day, so that’s a PITA. I opted out of her “little fun”, especially as my birthday was likely to be the first one celebrated. I haven’t seen anyone’s desk decorated yet, so I am wondering if everyone opted out.

  4. Happy Birthday, SeLiNa.
    I know it’s early, but life is uncertain and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate your blog. I won’t pretend to know you; that would be weird, but I value the glimpses you’ve shared of your personality. If I don’t comment on every post, it’s because not every post motivates me. So, when you do hear from me, it’s because you’ve done something to touch me . . . or aggravate me . . . or impress me with your intelligence. Now make a wish.
    –David

  5. Sadly, I can totally relate to the insidious habit of co-worker birthdays. They are so fake, I find them actually offensive. Its obvious no one really wants to be involved, but they have to so that the boss notices and can somehow relate this to your performance. It always strikes me as a bunch of children playing grown-up, placing insignificant emphasis on being a “team player”, when it is all so obviously fake.

    As for getting high in a cemetary, I agree, it is strangley calming. I have gotten high in a cemetery just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and both times it was surreal, calm, and for some reason, uniquely poignant to my life at the time. Highly recommended. (Pun intended)

    Great story, as usual.
    Dirk

  6. MrCorey: Wow… what a trainwreck! There’s a special place for people like that… It’s called McDonalds, where smiles are always FREE! 😉

    DavidBale: Thank you!! I will never turn down an advance birthday wish. I too appreciate your thoughtful comments on my posts. I believe that feedback from others is what makes a better writer.

    Johnny: Hey dude! I have to swing by your place… It’s been too long! Thanks so much for your kind words. I have really been working like mad on my writing lately. It’s nice to see that it doesn’t go unnoticed.

    Dirk Richter: Isn’t it funny how some people believe that almost everything they do in the office can somehow be related back to their performance. Some days I find being a “team player” an impossible feat and something I want no part of.

    Halloween is coming… It is the perfect time to get high in a cemetary!

  7. Hey Lingo, it is sad, especially when its true. My current boss even told me so. In her words, “Image is everything”. When she said that, it almost felt like a little of my sould was ripped out. Where I work, that is the rule. No wonder so many despise the corporate-cubicle world, it’s so far from reality.

    Dirk

  8. Hey SeLiNa!

    Where I work, we all pretty much get along, so we have fun with cards and hurtful (but funny) comments…and on your birthday, you’re supposed to bring donuts or some other baked treat…Speaking of which, I have never gotten high at a cemetery…I think that would be really weird ’cause the thought of death kinda gets me down and I’d probably freak the fuck out…

    Don’t get me wrong though…I like the people I work with, but the job itself is still soul-crushing…and I can’t wait to get out of there…

    That’s all for now.

    Take care out there!

    Your Pal,

    Zambo.

  9. Don’t know where you’ve been, SeLiNa, but I miss you. Hope you’re having a wonderful birthday.

    Follow me to your latest post if you want to sing along!

    –David

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