Gregor awoke from uneasy dreams to find himself answering emails before he had brushed his teeth or was even vertical, corporeally speaking — still lying in bed, crusts in the noseside corners of his eyes, sending falsely earnest responses to poorly-written corporate agitprop, all of which, the emails, ended “thanks, Gregor.” The usage seemed to criminally diminish the meaning of the word “thanks.” And the agitprop wasn’t so much overt propaganda as just inexplicably dull, inoculatingly dull, which made the subversive undertones of his insincere “thanks,” to the third party, terrifically ironic. His official job description was Senior Regional Manager of Sales, which meant nothing more than that he hadn’t taken a proper weekday lunch in eight months. Ever since his promotion, all lunches had been spent hunched over his oppressively ergonomic keyboard or towards a representative of a client’s company, said representative sporting a stylish mid-forties beer gut put on to keep off the horrors of his own job, of which there were many.
Though if there were anything worse than email and client lunches it was the sales meetings themselves. It was in the sales meetings that Gregor realized that he didn’t so much want to separate himself from email and working lunches, as separate himself from responsibility, from having to care how many units were sold vs. how many were returned. It didn’t help to think that other people had far worse jobs than his — in fact, it was far more depressing to think of the poor saps stuck below him punching numbers into a spreadsheet for $7.25 per hour, making $290 per week, $14,500 per year (before taxes). But the sales meetings were loathsome and gaseous, expanding to fill however much time you gave them, regardless of how inevitably little there was to be said. If the higher-ups booked an hour to review numbers then someone would find a way to take that entire hour from Gregor.
During his freshman year of college, Gregor came up with this idea of the GPA Scale of Sliding Insanity, in which someone .1 above you had their GPA just by chance, .2 above you had a work ethic to admire, .3 above you was slightly crazed, and .4 above you had no life whatsoever. This kept Gregor feeling good about himself, while also staving off the inevitable crisis of consciousness that might come around should he choose to confront his inferiority head-on. His whole M.O., the foundational weltanschauung of his undergrad years, had been based upon the low-key superiority that kept him thinking he could’ve been the valedictorian if only he’d cared a little more, or that he could do his classmates’ high-paying jobs if only he’d been more willing to sell out.
Gregor dreamt of employment in the upper ranks of a labor union, if for no other reason than to antagonize his fellow classmates who were committed to the grim path of self-advancement in “the business world,” which always meant management. Not that the upper ranks of a labor union were that different than the upper ranks of management, but the vast difference in pay scale meant that he could maintain a measure of moral (if not financial) advantage over his former classmates.
And yet he sold out, just at a lower pay scale than those who’d been into the whole corporate thing from the start. After two years at his soul-vaporizing job as Junior Sales Assistant at the same company, he diagnosed himself with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which presents with, among other things, according to the DSM-5, “Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation.” He since realized that what appeared to present as a clinical/ mental disorder was simply a gut-level disdain for, no joke, every single person with whom he worked.
And yet, the bone of it was that even this re-appraisal could in itself, in fact, be merely a confirmation of his initial diagnosis—one of the other symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder being “self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others,” which of course would create his opinion that everyone he worked with was worthy of disdain, an opinion that maybe he wasn’t really at fault for after all, should he have a clinical/mental disorder.
Gregor calculated one morning during the daily office roundtable that he’d spent a full 8-point-something hours since he was hired laughing at jokes he didn’t think were funny. You figure something like two weeks of paid vacation time for your average salaried employee (and though he was loath to admit it, Gregor was here nothing but average), so spending fifty weeks a year at work for two years, five days a week, with maybe a minute of total fake laughter per work day gets you to eight hours and twenty minutes of fake laughing time in response to people’s jokes about the fucking WiFi, or shitty coffee in the breakroom, or how much they need a drink after today, because “gah, Mondays.” That felt, in retrospect, like a symptom as well.
That night Gregor dreamt that he would hurl his head and body from the top of a very tall building without a parachute, perhaps an apartment building or an office. In the dream he had pretended to be an adult for ten years, and that was enough of that, ergo the jumping and the no parachute. The nightmarish horror of this dream wasn’t so much that he decided to become a suicide as that his head, after he’d hit the ground in a squelchy ragdoll sort of way, was totally and improbably intact. And he watched, in the dream, from the confines of his own POV, as crowds gathered around. He was embarrassed that he was exposing his lightly-shmushed torso to his co-workers as he realized in horror that he’d jumped off his own office building just as everyone was leaving for lunch.
Gregor woke with his alarm to seventeen work emails, three personal emails, and six promotional emails from companies with whom he didn’t remember having done business. He dropped his phone on the floor and went back to sleep.