"You should write a novel about this place," Bill Foster advised Mark Nipple at his retirement luncheon. "Blow the lid off the agency. The nepotism, the racism, the cronyism, the incompetence. Most of these managers couldn't find their own ass with both hands in their back pockets." Foster knew that Mark had been in a punk band in his youth, dabbled in song lyrics – wasn't the next logical step the great American Novel?
But it was precisely the pure bland nothingness of the agency's bureaucratic work that had driven Nipple, a graphics designer, to retire in the first place. Whole days spent in administrative drivel without any sense of accomplishment, just the dull anxiety of deadlines.
The word "bureaucracy," originally coined in the eighteenth century, had had a satirical intent from the start. It referred to a body of non-elected government officials devoted to the administration of its on rules, policies, procedures, but had come to include any large organization with the same purpose. Sociologists and philosophers had argued back and forth over the centuries about the necessity and efficacy of bureaucracies. The German, Max Weber, believed they were the most rational way to organize human activity. John Stuart Mill wrote that bureaucracies stifle the mind, the individual, and inevitably become "pedantocracies." Kafka's fiction was suffused by the notion that bureaucracies were dehumanizing, alienating.
What could Mark write about the agency that was at all compelling? There were "colorful characters," all right, Foster among them, but this was nothing anybody would ever care to read about.
"Now that you're retired, you can come back as a contractor," Ben Taylor suggested. "Get your pension and a paycheck." Stick it to the man!
But it wasn't money Mark cared about or particularly needed. He did have that pension, after all, and his nest egg, and his wife, Anita, had come into a minor fortune when her parents died. Easy Street. Just making more money was not going to give him any sense of accomplishment or mitigate the stress of time wasted in pointless activity.
Mark wondered if it were too late now to make another stab at musical success. He remembered the glory days of his punk rock bands. But he certainly wouldn't be in a group with a name like Smelly Asshole, that first band he'd been in forty-five years ago. Where were his former bandmates now? But a "reunion tour" was out of the question — how utterly depressing! — and he wasn't a non–stop act like Dylan or the Stones; hell, Mick Jagger was a great-grandfather these days. Did he really want to play music again? Maybe he could live vicariously through his son, Aubrey, who hadn't given up the dream yet.
Mark remembered the parable about the Zen master who had a satori experience while he was chopping wood. What did he do after he had the satori experience? After he'd achieved "enlightenment"? He went on chopping wood,
That's what I need, Mark Nipple thought, some wood to chop.