Hunter splatted out the habanero Tabasco across the surface of his eggs and hash browns as Jordus returned to the table with a newspaper folded in his paw. It was one of Jordus’ annoying habits to peruse the paper while eating with others. Hortencia sipped her coffee black and watched Hunter shovel a fork-load of food into his gullet. He was aware of her watching and felt the vague discomfort and insecurity that accompanies the outside observation of normally unaware tasks. He liked eating better alone, without the need for social projection. He liked sitting alone with a book in front of him and putting food into his mouth without thought, immersed in the story, the process of eating an excuse to concentrate for a period of time solely on the book, without any other distractions beyond the unconscious simple joy of bringing food into the mouth and chewing and washing it down in pink lemonade.
“City Recoils In Aftermath of Black-out,” Jordus read.
“So you like the job, then,” Hortencia said to Hunter.
“It’s surprisingly fulfilling to fill out forms and move them from the In to the Out box. I gain satisfaction from filling in the boxes with information that only I am designated to give, and then to place these papers in the Out box. I take the pile at the end of the day and I walk them over to someone else’s desk and I place them in their In box.”
“The job has a future.”
“It is remarkable, this feeling I get when I drop the completed forms in someone else’s In box.”
“’25 percent of adult Americans are afraid of the dark.’ And those are just the ones who admit it.”
“I wish I could enjoy meaningless mundane tasks that I am not paid enough for. My boss gave me a raise on Monday, I think the company senses that I am restless. They apparently felt the need to show their appreciation for my mundane tasks. Employee recognition, the demonstration of the company’s awareness of ‘the little guy.’ I didn’t even ask for it,” Hortencia said, pulling off a piece of a blueberry muffin top, the kind with giant crystalline sugars on it, and stuffing it delicately in her mouth.
“There is even a gym and showers at my new job. I can come into work after a night of partying, sleep in until the last minute, then shower when I get there. They provide Mountain Action scented body wash.”
“They gave me a button in my mailbox. It says, ‘I Am Appreciated’ on it with a little golden star. In some ways I am offended.”
“It says here that children are fast becoming the top consumers of electronic devices.”
The hot sauce sprayed on Hunter’s food was beginning to cause a light sheen of sweat to break out on his forehead. He washed down his food with O.J. and breathed through his mouth.
“I am offended because it shows how disconnected the company is from my needs. They think giving me a button is going to increase the quality of my work? There’s probably statistics. I am offended because they blatantly treat me like a number rather than like a human being. They could have had my boss make me cookies or something. That I might appreciate. A fucking button. Like I’m in third grade. Even third graders don’t want buttons anymore. They want an early pass to recess or a coupon for McDonalds, something with value. Not that I’m complaining about the raise. The raise itself was a nice gesture. I could have done without the button. I would have been happy without the button. The button just served to piss me off.”
Hunter kept looking out the corner of his eye at an Asian girl sitting at the next table. She sensed she was being looked at and animatedly talked to her friend and brushed her hair back with her hand. Hunter made sure not to be caught looking, but to look enough so that she knew. He breathed through his mouth and gulped down O.J.
“That was some shindig last night, huh. I’d never seen Harris dance before. He looked like an ostrich on acid.”
Jordus folded up the newspaper and sat back and laughed. A piece of toast flew out and stuck to the table. Hunter had started laughing at the remembrance of Harris dancing and then laughed harder at the flying bit of toast. Hortencia smiled and pulled off a chunk of muffin and adjusted her glasses.