By Michael Luo
BY MICHAEL LUO
There were only five of us, and since I was the youngest by a decade, I did most of the scanning. We all sat in one family cubicle. Our supervisor couldn’t afford those stale, plastic dividers. We didn’t have fake walls to separate us. We did it anyway with our silence.
My desk was next to Ali’s and Tory’s in classic Tetris formation. They were two ladies in their late twenties, one recently married, and one silently jealous but verbally excited for the other. Ali’s favorite band was Alice in Chains, so I had this natural urge to ask about her namesake. What gave me pause was the scathing dragon shielded by purple split ends under her gauge earring. Tory was jealous of Ali’s marriage.
At exactly an arm’s length away where I could brush my elbow against his as he scan sat Tom, the in-house mall Santa. Waterfalls of thick white hair trailed off his jawline, hiding a history of naval years spent deep in the trenches of malaria-infested Southeast Asia. Every time I had to approach him to rescan a page, an involuntary “sir” fell out of my mouth, whether out of reverence for the cameo cap embroidered with the NRA logo or the denim jacket populated by an ecosystem of woodland creatures, I wasn’t sure. Either way, Tom gave as much a care about employment etiquette as Clint Eastwood did about fidelity. Then again, American Document Solutions was a company well on its way to becoming a memory.
I started working here on Halloween, one day after being told by Applebee’s that I didn’t have the personality to wait tables.
My project was to place thin, redacted medical pages into outdated Epson all-in-ones until jpegs flooded the monitors of Dell PCs fished out of the clearance section of Best Buy. The job mainly involved moving one hand from a stack of lawsuits onto another in silence, give or take a few spreadsheet side gigs. Silence hadn’t been a qualification when I applied on Craigslist, but all I heard for eight hours a day were routine click and drones with the occasional interstitial of Marvin Gaye leaking out of Deb’s headphones. Deb was the only other person of color in this group. I think we might’ve bonded over this one time when she dropped a box of scanned documents, spilling thousands of health waivers once sorted in order. As I helped to pick some up, all I heard was, “Thanks, chink.”
The newest addition was a lady in her fifties who went by Toot, which I always thought was short for destitute. She came in every day with hair unwashed in a fleece jacket the color of Robitussin. Every alternating Tuesday morning, she’d declare, “Hey Nate, my screen froze” and every time, I’d suggest turning it off to turn it on back again. I could’ve told her my real name was Nick, but that would just make things too complicated. Funny thing was everyone in the office apparently thought I had an affinity for numbers. Whenever Excel became a nuisance, I received an email asking how to divide some data entries from someone who could’ve walked five feet over to ask me in person. Sure, I thought, knowing somewhere in this office of skimmed and skipped pages documenting family medical histories sat a copy of my unofficial transcript dotted with A’s and B’s save for the regular C’s flowing from counting to calculus.
The fact that I had given up a year of collegiate social drinking for minimum wage mind numbing was something I tried hard not to think about. My dad, the same guy who sent me potato chips for Christmas, said a gap year was a good way to build character. But his hobbies had recently transitioned from lifelong binge drinking to extended overnight stay at Plainfield Correctional Facility, so I felt every right to think differently.
School had been such an intense atmosphere that I had to quit to find better education. When I packed my bags and flew back to Indiana, I found a disappointed mother, a disappeared father, and a disunited family. Medicine, law, and anything enviable by society were out of the question due to my “unexplained learning disability” so it was onto options at seven dollars an hour.
Ma couldn’t really hug me as I trailed out of the terminal so all she said with arms folded was good to see you. You too, Meredith.
Ma had found a job printing newspapers nearby, finally something she could get by with, even with her broken English. Shattered spirits were the reason for her depression and her husband’s incarceration. Whether out of good fortune or bad karma, my job was located on the same lot, so Ma and I reluctantly carpooled each morning and night.
She’d drop me off at the building gate before parking twenty feet away at her office, which was more of a room with a few printers than an office. Every morning a few minutes before eight, I pushed open heavy double doors to head up one flight of stairs for the top floor. One morning, while she was waiting for the elevator, Deb shouted to me, “What, too lazy to wait for the elevator?”
Once I sank into my canvas chair, with its Nike tennis balls for wheels, I dived straight into another box of Prozac lawsuits. Between pages of manic depression were also applications for credit cards. The redeeming quality here were the names of these individuals I’d never have the luck of meeting. For example, Jesus Christ, who resided at 12345 Drive, Screw You, Indiana also had a height of 7’2” and a weight of “yes.”
Between trying to adjust resolution DPIs, rescaling greyscale levels, and daydreaming, I would come across some intriguing discoveries. This one chart had the survey responses of whether or not experts thought anonymous participants were depressed, garnished with a personal drawing meant to convey favorite childhood experiences. Thinking it would spice up the day, I held this page up to Tory but she just looked back at me.
Later that day, our supervisor announced the whole company was folding. When Ma drove us home, I told her I needed another job. She didn’t say a word, so we sat in silence until we pulled up to our house. She had expected a lot of me and now she expected nothing. Tucked into her purse was a medical notice with a name I knew and a date too recent to understand. Is it true? I wanted to ask. Ma just ignored me, got out of the car, walked to the house, and leaned her head against the glass door.
Michael Luo ‘16 (firstname.lastname@example.org) hopes your