The Business of Business
There’s so much you’ll need to learn, but basically
here is how you do it: you remove your mind
from where it wants to be, as if plucking it
with your fingers from a table top,
and firmly place it where it needs to be:
in a file drawer, say, or a silverware sorter.
You do this over and over, thousands of times
a day if necessary. It’s difficult, because
very soon you are no longer interested in
the materials you must transform, no matter
how noble the task may have seemed in the abstract.
Or else you are responsible for preventing disorder:
flying fish that jump from an open tank, stray cats
escaping from an alley, oil from an ancient gasket,
prisoners from a poorly guarded compound, and your
job is to catch the strays, plug the leaks, stave off
disaster—in which case, despite your boredom, you
are probably too anxious to let your attention wander.
And there are always so many files, or forks, or fish,
or leaks, or strays: hundreds, thousands, so that
catching up even temporarily is unrealistic
(and in any case, what a small victory it would be),
besides which the management just laid off five
of your co-workers and gave themselves big bonuses.
On an assigned day, you will finish up what you can,
push the excess into a dumpster (bolting the lid shut),
and write a largely fictional interim report.
You will worry about getting caught, yet fundamentally
you know you’re doing what your employers want:
To have you actually do your job would cost more
than anyone would willingly pay, and they are satisfied
with your anxious semblance of achievement, which
is cheaper and good enough to fool the auditors
(who are overworked themselves), and if necessary
they will blame it all on you: after all, it was your
conspiracy of silence that allowed the shameful
conditions that led to the inevitable catastrophe.
Once a month a fixed sum of money will show up
in your bank account, which means you can keep eating
and stay in your house. You are lucky, riding the river
to oblivion in comfort. Others suffer
hunger instead of boredom, watching flies
settle on their children’s faces.
Sitting slumped in your armchair with the lights off
and the television turned up loud,
the work you brought home still sitting untouched
inside your 50-pound briefcase-on-wheels,
you remind yourself that this beats the alternative,
and anyway you’re already nearly asleep,
a half-eaten chicken leg dropping into your lap
where your cat finds it, gnawing and choking,
gnawing and choking, but surviving,
like you, to do it all again tomorrow.
If you look at your hand, you will find you have already
signed the contract. Feel free to keep the pen.
We will end our little talk with the appropriate
clichés: Go forth and make your country proud.
Civilization as we know it depends on you.