Kyle Norwood 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.


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