The young lady in the cubicle next to me looks like a teenager. She has perfect skin and long luminous but absolutely straight black hair. Always with a bit of eyeliner perfectly applied, she dresses modestly in jeans and non frilly blouses and she is always very serious.
Nonetheless, every morning the Joes come by to see her. The Old Joe, for her smiling nod to the wisdom of one’s elders, and Young Joe on the guise of friendship as his puppy dog crush is hopeless. K is engaged to be married. K has been engaged to be married since she was a baby but, although their union has the full blessing of both families, they are soul mates. At age five they both escaped the collapse of Vietnam on an overcrowded boat which drifted at sea until its occupants were rescued and brought to a refugee camp in the Philippines. There they waited until asylum in the US was granted.
Our cubicles are split into units of four or eight and spread across the floor of former warehouse. It’s like a rat’s maze with only minimal natural sunlight. The only thing that makes the job bearable are the perks. Weekly barbecues, season tickets to the nearby ball park, commute vouchers for gas or mass transit, a gourmet lunch service, all the soda or coffee you can drink and unheard of salaries, even for a tech firm.
Across the cubicle wall from K is T, coincidentally a Filipino guy with an intense love of computer games and Star Trek. T signs up for every social event and even organizes a few. His mother calls every day because he is an only son and we can all hear their half English, half Tagalong conversation. I try not to giggle at the exasperated sigh I hear after he hangs up the phone.
When in the office, N sits across from T in another set of cubicles. N’s first marriage (now failed) was arranged by her father and a stepmother whom N describes as vain and silly. Her own mother died in a suspicious oven fire when she was young. N will tell you unapologetically that she is the smartest and prettiest of all her cousins and that when she returns to India they all greet her like a Bollywood star.
Over the cube wall from N is X who shyly overhears work-related chitchat between N and T and never asks them to find a conference room as is the respectful thing to do in such crowded conditions. X has a circle of similarly quiet friends, two from Mainland China and the third from Taiwan, like X. One wouldn’t know it by her shy demeanor, but X is a fierce competitor, having won many a marathon.
It is the morning of September 11, 2001. The Russians have gathered in a conference room nearby. Their voices carry through the thin walls and sound angry. The only other sounds come from the radios which people have gathered around. A technician, newly hired to help with a vital product release, arrives at work with an oversized American flag which he posts on the wall above his cubicle where it can be seen by all.
“Maybe now’s not the time.” We suggest to which we get a rant worthy of a diehard Trump supporter (except Trump is at this time bragging about how his hotel is now the highest in NYC). As the Russians exit the conference room, the technician glares at them as if they were to blame. He rants on as if he is in an office full of enemies and anyone not caucasian begins to hunker down in their cubes hoping he doesn’t have a gun. We call HR.
A few minutes later the HR reps arrive along with technician’s manager, a tall lanky Dutchman, to explain to the technician that he is working for a company owned by the Dutch which has offices all over the world. Indeed 38% of his fellow workers at this particular site are not Americans and he’s making them uncomfortable.
He begins yelling that this is America and he has the right to post the American flag and that everyone who doesn’t agree should leave the country, etc. etc.
He is told his services are no longer required and to remove his flag and person from the property. He leaves threatening to sue. Oh, they’ll be sorry. All these foreigners can’t tell real Americans what to do on American soil! On and on … until the door is closed behind him and he burns rubber out of the parking lot.
Minutes later everyone is told to go home and take the next few days off.