I am the director of a zombie movie, which is a dream, kind of . . .
When I debarked from the 85 it was raining. The metal of the city’s third highest towerblock, Chicago House, where I worked, the gridded window frames as I blinked branded my eyeballs. One beam and the sun disappeared and pigeons circulated above. I went in the newsagent. A bottle of water I got and a DAILY DISQUIET the man behind the counter scanned and he grinned differently . . . to the grins I’d seen him send previous customers I mean.
It had abated to drizzle and of the bodies loitering in the smoker’s I saw a man nod. He showed his teeth, so I shows mine. Then leaning on a parking-meter I lit a pre-rolled cig and I was counting the seconds between taking it from my lips and putting it back in my lips. I thought: I can’t remember Kurt Cobain . . .
People shuffled thru the glass carousel. A dozen were cramped in a lift that smelt of perfume, bad. They were talking. But all I heard were the words smile is off and aiming my eye at a rucksack’s polar-bear logo I prickled for the next cig.
Then dead on the dot, 08:59 the LED said, I snuck with like a crabwalk going past a plastic yucca when bald in Shipman specs, Norman Baleen, stopped feeding on a bacon-egg bagel and said: Hey duh-brain, move it.
I said nothing.
Don’t ignore me, tiptoeing in.
Tomato sauce was splashed on his left cheek. With a hand gesture I told him.
Oh, he said . . . You’re still in the Late Book.
What, because your birthday? Sorry mate.
Jaws clamped I dropped my anorak on the back of the chair and said: Late Book means half hour docked, means you lose three and a half quid, means nothing in the context of kids chewing bones from bins in Caracas, but still. Nobody heard. And blubber in shape, blubber in posture, in unison with his Team Leader cronies on rows B to L, Baleen struggled off his leather seat and repressing a burp he spouted in chorus: We need a gazillion B and C-1s and I want you hitting the phones like bam-bam-bam!
And humming freaky little beasty I was uncoiling headset wires from a mouse cable when a snort was aimed at my not logged-in screen. It was a jelly mass of white nylon wobbling three inch from my ear. It grabbed my DISQUIET and trekked back to its desk saying: No reading.
I snapped on, adjusted the headset. I typed arctic-spunky my password but then read email@example.com saying: Hi de hi campers! In Lakes today but last night we had fab news. As competitors make redundancies, we plan to blah and blah an NVQ in Callcentre Skills . . . and reading I swigged a vendor coffee and the bottle of water. But with a bash of the mouse I logged into the Peludic Call Generator. This was software designed to melt the brain by throwing out calls-call-calls, mushing you to pancake mixture. Like a callcentre version of the thingy Brother's Little Death Machine - a contraption of a claw hammer set ready to pommel a brain - five seconds you’d get between goodbye and the next hello.
It rang twice then a pip led into Jagger singing about traps for troubadours. My forefinger aimed at END CALL. Abruptly though the beat stopped and a posh man said: What do you want? We’re busy.
Speak to . . . ah . . . Mister Angelskin, please?
What are you selling?
The line crackled as I said: Nothing, my name’s George, George Romero calling from Mark-an-Lune on behalf of the Comportment for Slog and Abstentions who’re gauging views on everything from technology fears to your tooth brushing habits. So, say for instance, do you a: wet the brush before applying toothpaste? Or do you b: wet it after you’ve applied it, or even c . . .?
When I paused the line hissed but I heard twice: Telephone Preference Service. Then it went clack and it was a blink before a PA got hoity-toity. Delete him! Delete Mr Arapaima from your database! So I swooped with the cursor and repeated till with its grinning names and numbers your eyes soldered to the screen. Or they didn’t but this was me trapped in a tempo of data transfer. Caged in office geometry, the polystyrene tiles of the ceiling, grey slats draped halfway down the windows. All you did was END CALL. Say: Hello my name is . . . and you wait for break.
Near the smoker’s cage, listening to Performance by the Mondays, I put a diazepam in my mouth. I downed it with vendor coffee. And with a face carrying the Mark and Lune pall, the testicular wrinkles around his eyelids, from repetition and VDU rays, a fellow man mechanical pointed to a newspaper and I pulled an earphone as he said: Twat’s pissed off home. Tévez, he said. Twat, he said.
Wish I was in Argentina, I said and the man complained about car insurance. He quoted a price. I could feel my face go glassy. Then he retold a Maddie McCann joke and I laughed out my noseholes.
In the next slog all was similar apart from completing three surveys and I locked myself in a gent’s cubicle.
Lunchtime I’d nipped down TESCO and got a prepacked BLT, a can and crisps.
Then in the canteen they sat at tables depending on what floor you worked: the number-crunching clods, IT cretins, HR admin dweebs, and them who’d yak about survey targets. Today the talk was brain-eating NVQs.
I plonked on a window stool where I could prize out the denture, which made it easier to eat. I pulled open my WALKERS salted and I stared between the paragraphs of a Zoo or Heat. I chewed quickly. A pigeon was bopping on the ledge. A sunbeam spilled over bleaching a page in the mag about some film premier. And behind me a Scottish man said: Aye they put it on the big screen down in Gorton, in the Steelies.
Our kid’s put in an application for Beano, a woman said. That’s what you’re on about, in it, Woof Wedding?
That sunbeam had gone when I went outside. But Mr Pigeon with a junky mate was like tug-o-warring over a cheese twizzle. I watched as I rolled and smoked. I thought: Yeah and I missed Senna’s crash.
Back in the workpen . . . I listened to my stomach grapple with the crisps and BLT. I deleted emails. On a webpage that had the meta-title Ask me a question (Kathy Reich) and I typed: In a city of half a mill all I know is my ex, a mate, I suppose my dealer. My dad’s alive but like a distant memory. My bro’s in jail. That is my struggle. I want to make zombie films but all I do is autobiographic shit on my walls lately. Honest. What shall I do?
Eyelids closing, opening sleepily, I downed a pill.
We made more a murmur when kicking off the final slog with not many answering calls and half the taskmasters playing War of Witchcraft. Or they did till noticing the lull and the Baleen was one of four who fiddled with the AC so it blew chilly wafts.
Gradually the volume of us increased.
Have a good weekend, I said to each voice in my ear.
At quart-to-four I grabbed my anorak and nipped to a Portland Street payphone but the mobile I dialled was the wrong number and I said: Oh fuck.
I made a smoke. I strolled, listening to Performance. I sneezed. And despite sweating out my face I hit END CALL END CALL you’ll keel on the next call, and went on a run of ten secretaries putting me thru to the named sample. Three agreed to a survey. After which I hit END the instant they said hello, cutting all them off, steering my eyes from the decimal clock until it ended in a five and a nine and it was home.