From Here to Apathy by Tony Byrer

Today’s meeting took place in a small conference room with fourteen other people. There was seating for eight. I was the last to arrive because I didn’t want to go and so I was hiding in the men’s room, perched atop a toilet so anyone who bent over to peer underneath the dividers wouldn’t see my feet. It was a useless gesture, though. My pager started beeping insistently, stridently, maddeningly. It was worse than going to a meeting, so I turned it off and trudged my unhappy ass to the room.

Because I was the last to arrive, I had to stand next to the door in this crowded, hot conference room. The production manager, Gary Busey, was holding forth on his passion. His name is not really Gary Busey, but he looks enough like the notorious actor he could be his brother. He lives to ensure a quality product goes on the trucks to our customers. “You poor bastard,” I thought. Imagine devoting your entire life to pursuing a better power steering assembly. And because I am a quality engineer technician, I fall within the sphere of Gary’s passion.

It’s a smelly place to be. Gary’s overbite looks as if it were drawn by Matt Groening. His hot, wet breath surrounds him in a steamy ball of sour fragrance. Standing close to Gary is like standing next to a large tongue dripping with saliva, a tongue that goes to the Olive Garden every day for a stromboli. Extra garlic and onions, please. Really, I can’t stand someone who can’t keep his lunch to himself.

I had assumed my place standing next to the door with the other standees. Gary glanced up. “Tony!” he exclaimed. “Glad to see you could make it. It’s not a party without you.” Bernie Frye, a product engineer, recognized Gary had just made a joke, lame though it was. He guffawed, looking around the room to see who else would laugh. A few of the attendees worked up belly laughs as well, not wanting Gary to notice they were not giving his joke the appreciation it deserved.

Inez Reynolds, a production supervisor and thus Gary’s subordinate, should have been laughing but she wasn’t. Gary reached over and clapped her on the back to encourage her laughter. She managed a wan smile, but that wasn’t nearly an enthusiastic enough tribute to Gary’s joke. He stood and tugged at his belt. There should be laughter, damn it, and there wasn’t, so he was damn well going to distribute some righteous punishment.

When he pulled his belt from his waist, his fist tapped Inez in the back of the head and her eyes popped out. They skittered across the conference table and bounced to the floor. “Oops,” someone said, and reached for one of her bouncing eyeballs. It squirted out of his fist and rebounded off someone’s face.

Charlie McKenzie, a production technology specialist, grabbed for the eye and accidentally smacked Bernie in the cheek. Bernie, he of the first guffaw, the guffaw that started this whole eye-bouncing fandango, clapped his hands to his face but not in time to keep his eyeballs from popping out of their sockets and bouncing across the conference table. Charlie grabbed for both eyes and managed to knock three more people in the heads with his flailing elbows. Suddenly this small, hot conference room, humid with the damp exhalations of over a dozen people, reeking with Gary’s exhaled lunch, was full of hopping, popping, bouncing eyeballs.

I saw a video on the internet once in which someone set hundreds of mouse traps in an empty room. He tossed a ping pong ball into the middle of these hundreds of locked and loaded mouse traps and for a few seconds the room was full of flying mouse traps. When one went off, it flew into the air, upsetting traps around it which in turn flew into the air, upsetting traps around them, and on and on and on. The snappity snap snap of the flying mouse traps pleased me. I laughed and clapped my hands. This was entertainment!

And now the squickity squick squick of flying eyeballs pleased me. I had the presence of mind to duck into the corner between the credenza and the artificial potted rubber tree. I laughed and clapped my hands.

People were flailing about the conference room among dozens of skittering, bouncing eyeballs. Their harsh gasps and soft mewling filled the spaces around the soft pops and plops of the eyeballs as they scrabbled among themselves to reclaim their lost sight. I rolled out the door on my shoulder and hopped to my feet.

“What’s going on in there?” asked Chad Sammitch, a quality engineer late to the gathering.

“Aw, man,” I laughed. “You just gotta see for yourself.” I clapped him on the back and shoved him through the door. The last I saw of him, he was on his hands and knees, one eye completely gone and the other swinging on its stalk back and forth, slapping him on both sides of his face as he crabbed and clawed on the floor. Skittering, dancing eyeballs squirted through his fingers as he tried in vain to find his own eye among the dozens now squashed and smashed into the carpet.

I whistled a happy tune as I walked back to my desk. From now on, I’m going to be a glad-handing sack of shit. I’m going to greet people with a big cheese-eating grin and a hearty clap on the back.

Work can be entertaining, oh yes it can!

Tony Byrer is a transportation engineer in the exciting, dynamic, and fast paced poultry industry. That doesn’t sum up his life, but that’s what people want to know when they ask, “What do you do?” He lives in southern Indiana with his wife, some cats, and a dog.

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