On January 6, 1992, I, a twenty-seven year-old, retro, pot-smokin’, diversity-embracin’, peace-lovin’ hippie-jester, entered the white collar business world of terrestrial indifference, knowingly leaping feet first into the planet-destroying corporate fraternity of pasty white corpulent middle-aged men bent on outrageous wealth acquisition at the cost of human dignity and nature’s beauty, a speciously nefarious environment that I, a child of the ecologically empowered 70s, envisioned as the evil enemy of Smokey the Bear, Woodsy the Owl, and the crying Native American Indian, all of whom encouraged Universal harmony through moderation; it was the most ambivalent thing I’ve ever done, although supernumerary pathos-evoking questions darted through my cranial gray matter like a sporadic flock of avian interest collectively sputter-jerking in frenetic synchronized fury against a pallid and gray evening sky, the hazy winking sun’s silently and insidiously seeping through dread-leaden mist, morphing into a deliquescent flaming ball churning in horrific heated turmoil, innocuous in its distance—a fuzz-dripped golden tear straining through ominously slashed orange watercolors and splash-spraying radial rays of Life to pierce through wide single brush strokes of an evermore subtle-somber indigo hue. Was corporate life to be a polished, poisoned apple?
On one hand, I had been given an opportunity (probably because I’m white) to earn decent money (much more than I’m worth) and enough free time to pursue my dreams of singing, writing, and reading. This is good... positive, but I also witnessed the nefarious side of corporate life, a life that screams from corpulent board members and blissfully blind international watch-dogs an unreasonably high and completely impossible standard of morality unconscionably dressed in expensive Italian suits, riding beaming automobiles, living half a year in gated neighborhoods that conceal luxurious castles with manicured lawns meticulously caressed by undeserving minorities, and gluttonous consumption of calories from imported beef priced hundreds of dollars per pound; a specious set of standards that is even now superfluously recognized as the paradigm of success based on feigned moral achievement merely because it is represented by annual salaries boasting an unseemly amount of significant digits, unimaginable wealth accumulation by balding, middle-aged, Caucasian, hypocritically ludicrous cupidity.
Granted, not everyone in corporate America is caught up in the belief that spending lavishly on oneself will help the economy remain strong and vibrant, but it is a temptation nearly impossible to overcome, especially when it is supplemented with an unfailing belief that one’s wealth is a direct measure of one’s spiritual worth, that we aristocrats deserve ludicrous riches because of our high moralistic values, our Christian conservatism, our Jesus said that there will ALWAYS be poor, so my indifference makes no difference attitude that somehow allows us to justify having two Cadillac Escalades in our three-car garages while only blocks away families huddle around impoverished cupboards, dreaming of fresh bread.
Yes, I was (and still am), at times, ashamed that I made so much money and did so little in return. The question that ran (and still runs) through my mind is why have I so much? I am one of the richest men on the planet. I am upper-middle class, and I’ve done nothing morally relevant to deserve it... then nor now, and yes, I realize that I’ve been dealt this hand by forces beyond my understanding and that I’m probably doing the best I can, especially considering my current inability to survive on my own... but it seems that I could do more, and this is my personal struggle.
From the beginning of my self-imposed Capitalistic incarceration, I had, in all likelihood, pushed my paralysis to the very limits of corporate, and possibly civil, tolerance. For the first eight years of my employment with TSYS, I worked in the Annex building on the south side of 10th Street between Fifth Avenue and Veteran’s Parkway (formerly Fourth Avenue) . It really was an abattoir, but instead of a daily bloody massacre of organic meat, this slaughterhouse insidiously seeped away each life that shuffled through its doors, day after day ad nauseam. Maybe that’s why we were always pretty punchy.
In all seriousness, the Annex was a sarcophagus. The only windows were in the offices that lined the inside perimeter of the bland, stucco-white rectangular building; the sunless barren corporate hinterland remained, and that’s where some sad genius constructed an endless maze for humans. There were only three exits, and the maze stretched to the horizon, which hung below the din glow of florescent lighting. Although easy to solve, the maze presented so many unique problems and obstacles that it generally took a human specimen eight or nine hours, sometimes more, to overcome the barriers that prevented escape. Then the drained employee might leave the maze, but she always seemed to return the following morning. Mostly without fail. Again, no wonder we were all punchy.
The main entrance into the Annex hinterland was the lobby, and, as information area to the greater corporate network, TSYS always hired someone to humanize the post. This position saw a high turnover rate, but that’s because TSYS is a fairly exclusive opportunity for employment in the city, and once these cats got their foot in the door, they would apply to other areas of interest within the company as soon as reasonably possible. One such temp was Maria.
Maria was a very interesting person; she was actually training for the Olympics. Archery. She was probably five-two, slim, attractive; she had Marlo Thomas curly black hair and enchanting brown eyes. She was in the lobby, and the lobby, as stated before, opened up into the never-ending maze of human chattel, corralled into individual, miniature pens, typing lifelessly on tinted keyboards as their ruminating faces glowed green from mainframe monitors. The lobby emptied into a short hall, ten steps, until you entered the Zombie Zone. I was third cube on the right, mindin’ my own business, busy doing my work as Maria was being bombarded with a crash-course, don’t-worry-you’ll-get-a-hold-of-it-soon, everybody-goes-through-this encouragement of an ol’ pro teachin’ a puppy new tricks. After her mentor left her, I wheeled up to Maria and asked her to page John to my cube.
John is deaf.
Maria had been warned that I might do something like this because I had tried before with other temps but failed; however, Maria had just been overwhelmed by forty-five minutes of lawnmower shouting, rapid-fire banter from a mindless pedagogue; she was brain-warped by an incessant stream of twisted oral rhetoric.
John’s name, like the smoky runes from Lewis Carol’s hookah-smoking caterpillar, softly floated inches below the ceiling before mockingly seeping into the vast Universe that militantly charged away from the total silence of the building as everyone within collectively questioned whether or not laughter was appropriate, all the while fighting back the humorously decadent audacity to react at what was, in fact, not only really creative but very funny as well. Besides, John would never have known unless somebody told him.
Who’s the bad guy now?
It wasn’t the first time I’ve worked up anxiety within the the consciousnesses of carbon based, well-intentioned yet highly misguided social-puppets who become frustrated through such confusion, but I think it was the most effective to date. The beauty of it was that I didn’t get in trouble, corporate trouble, that is, the kind of trouble from which one never recovers if one’s goals lie in the Corporate Office, the leather chairs, the impressive portrait, the Rolex.
That’s when I first garnered a little bit of a reputation for intolerance of euphemistic expression, and I learned that, as a cripple, I could get away with a few more things that I would not have gotten away with otherwise. I also garnered a reputation for wit, and with that comes challenge.
Lewis Darylson was the kind of guy everyone seemed to pick on, but he brought it upon himself very often. When I first started working, Lewis would often walk up to me and say something snide in an effort to get a laugh out of whomever was around, but I always rebutted with a more interesting and often more scathing wit. Every time. Sometimes he’d stumble away from my injurious rhetoric, get a few feet down the hall, then he’d quickly turn around in a delayed verbal counterattack to announce his sadly attempted assault only to be taken down again. I don’t know why, but it happened without fail, and there would always be a small crowd around to witness his verbal lashing. (It’s
story...) This lasted for about three months before he realized how badly he was losing, then he’d only assault me every other week; then every other month; then he moved away.
One day we were sitting next to Juanita’s cube (she was an administrative secretary for one of the big wigs), and I casually mentioned that my leg itched. Lewis bent over and asked if he could scratch it for me, which he did.
I assisted... verbally. “There... no wait... over... left... LEFT... Ah! Right there.”
I can’t feel my legs.
I thought everyone knew. Incidentally, I thought that Lewis was just playing along when he scratched my legs, but the peal of laughter from Juanita told me fairly clearly that I had, once again, although unintentionally, gotten the better of Lewis.
* * *
I’ve already documented the culinary legend of Lieutenant’s world famous scrambled dog, and, as you can imagine, every so often someone within the campus invariable suggests a lunch at Dinglewood Pharmacy. One day a group of us went to lunch across the street from AFLAC's headquarters.
As you might expect, Lewis’ order varied greatly from the traditional “I’ll have a scrambled dog, double-wienie, double cheese, extra onions, please.” (And don’t forget the vanilla coke that totally refreshes after all the Tabasco with which you’ve dowsed the dog.) For whatever reason (I wasn’t put on Earth to judge), Lewis ordered a scrambled dog without the dog. When Earnestine brought our order over to the table, she asked, Which o’ you is Mr. No-wienie?
Lewis’ hand shot up as eagerly as a third-grader’s request to go pottie.
* * *
One of Life’s most important lessons that I’ve learned is a lesson I first learned when I worked at Muscogee Manor Nursing Home as a puppy: befriend the people who work in the Maintenance Department. These cats are, without fail, some of the most wonderful people in corporate America; they’re real; genuine; always willing to help then treat you to a beer after they’ve solved whatever problem with which they just helped you.
I used a division of my city’s public transportation department to get to work: Dial-A-Ride, which was, and still is, the city’s para-transit unit, a small herd of small buses used to transport the physically- and mentally-handicapped citizenry of our city to and from their respective appointments. There are times, quite often in fact, when I ride with other passengers; during the time that this story takes place, I was riding with Leroy.
Leroy was retarded, but he was a joy, and he always wore a smile and laughed too loudly. Always. One morning, as I was loading onto the bus, John, the bus-driver, noticed that I had a flat in one of my wheelchair tires. I thanked him and started trying to figure out how I was going to manage this minor crisis.
John pulled into a Chevron station and jumped out. It didn’t take me long to figure out what he was doing because he sent the air-hose through the window above me. With the eagerness of a child at Christmas, Leroy jumped up from his seat in the front of the van, reached for the hose that John was feeding through the window above me, and immediately applied the air hose to my tire.
Within seconds the tire exploded, a loud, ear-ringing shattering of silence that frightened both of us almost to death, the blast echoing in our ears, a dull, high-pitched ringing that seemed to liquefy the ear wax that slowly trickled from our Eustachian Tubes.
Leroy busted out laughing, and we heard the story a dozen times or more before I got to work ten minutes later, each time ending with a guffaw as intense as a manatee’s grace.
Of course, once I got to work, the secretary helped me call the Maintenance Department (remember Juanita?), and they were at my side within minutes. In the interim, I called Gene, the wonderful man who worked on my wheelchair, and he delivered a new inner-tube directly to my work area. After considering a few options, the maintenance men decided to borrow a small hydraulic car-lift, jack up the right side of my chair (with me still in it), replace the wheel, pump it up, and have my wheelchair in operational order practically before I could sign-on to my computer. If you work anywhere in corporate America, get to know the men in your maintenance department; they’re always good men.
Good men are... good, but a good woman may be better.
I have found strength in women that just does not exist in men. Whether or not conscious of it, all men sense the primeval, fecund power that all women, especially older women, possess. Women have so much more power than man that he sometimes deceives, hovering in a wavy cobra-hooded dance, ignorantly portraying violence over the feminine force that frightens him. I think that it’s this feminine power that makes some men fear the homosexual male. Seeing some of this latent feminine power assumed in a male is impossible for some men to tolerate, so they strike out against it; although, most of this ignorant aggression stems from a fear born of acknowledging the feminine power, from whatever source, that might be stronger than anything any male might possess. If latent feminine power in a man can confuse a myopically misguided misogynistic mind, then the true feminine power must be all that more powerful. For this reason, I tend to find comfort in nesting with the females at work.
I don’t know why, but girls seem to trust me. So much so, that they’ll share with me subjects not ordinarily shared with anybody else who might even look like he could possibly be harboring a Y-chromosome deep within the microcosm of his DNA. One day, one of the girls told me in detail about a recent appointment with her gynecologist. This, to me, doesn’t seem like regular conversation between a man and a woman who are not intimate, but this subject is comparably mild to some of the other subjects women have shared with me.
The most memorable distaff confabulation occurred when three of us sat together at lunch: Angelina, Buffy, and I sat at a table in the break room, which was otherwise empty of people, and both Angelina and Buffy talked about their trouble births, their respective pregnancies wherein something went awry and the outcome was perilously uncertain for both mother and child. I just listened... and marveled.
Believe me, I had never felt the strength of estrogen before, but these two women put out enough to squash any earthly rebellion. And yes, my eyes teared rather freely at the sheer power of it, and in return, both sets of distaff eyes discharged electrical surges of passionate, life-affirming energy as they solemnly told their respective stories. Each overcoming death to produce another filament for the web of live. It was, in a word, incredible. If every woman shared more openly her birth-tales, I can’t imagine a man strong enough to repress her, abuse her, distrust her, abhor her, or even show her the least amount of disrespect.
Although corporate life brought me down (probably because I didn’t deserve the riches I had gathered from its bounty), I tried to remember that my ultimate path was what I did when I got home from work, the hobbies that surviving Corporate America allowed me: singing, writing, or reading. It, Corporate America, also allowed me the wonderful opportunity to act like a fool. Yes, I am an actor, and nowhere else on this planet am I more on stage then when I read to the children of Downtown Elementary, a school that is, quite conveniently, across the street from the campus where I had worked, a school that TSYS adopted as a Partner-In-Education, a school TSYS encouraged its employees to support. Of course, the TSYS campus is built on an impressive five to ten acre plot of riverside land, so it took me ten to fifteen minutes to get to the school by wheelchair... unless, of course, a summer thunderstorm quickened.
I read to Ms. Jones' third grade class, and the children's wide-eyed innocence was an especial gift that should be bottled and marketed to prevent suicides and War. That much divine power needs to be nurtured... and shared. One of the stories I read was Willie Wonka. If you don't know the story, Charlie Bucket lives in a dilapidated house with his parents and both sets of grandparents. This means that I got to try to do, at least, seven different voices, which was funny because I'd often mess up, using a Gabby Hayes kind of California Goal-mining crazy-man voice for a line that was spoken by Grandma Josephina. I'd just stop suddenly and say, “Oops! Wrong one. That's supposed to be grandma's voice.” This'd get a smile out of the class as well as Ms. Jones. That, my friend, is more priceless than anything imaginable. And I never had to pay a late fee. These were the rewards afforded by the Corporate World. I suppose it may take me the rest of my life to determine weather the rewards justified the disinterest in pursuing a more economic equilibrium or a more socially tolerant benevolence.
Unfortunately, corporate largess catalyzed the economic crash of 2008, and TSYS's
transmogrified into a treatise of find a scapegoat, and who is more vulnerable than a man who is unable to perform even the most rudimentary acts of daily living. I went from being the pride of the company to being a pariah... with chronic halitosis and excessively odoriferous flatulence.
Peace Through Music
[I wrote this chapter as part of a larger manuscript of biographical stories. I actually wrote this in the late ‘90s; it is interesting nearly two decades later.]
 Either I'm stoned, or that's the most impressive opening sentence I have ever written. (...yeah, I'm stoned!)
 In 1996 when Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics, Columbus received an opportunity to host the softball competition. As a result, the city's board convened to rename Fourth Avenue, and, for obvious reasons, they wanted to name it Olympic Road; however, they found out that nobody could legally use the word
under penalty of law. So, instead of leaving well enough alone, the board decided to change the name of the road to Veteran's Parkway and not return the name Fourth Avenue to the street between Third and Fifth Avenues.
 For years, Dinglewood Pharmacy has sold the Lieutenant's world-famous scrambled dog. The Lieutenant recently passed away but will remain a local legend for quite a while.