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Richard Weems

Paradigms

Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or evil--the silent, unconscious, unseen influences of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what man really is, not what he pretends to be.

          --William George Jordan

Most of my learning has come from modeling after other people and what they do.

          --Fran Tarkenton

 

I: First Things First

It all started quietly: Regional Manager Johnson paging Mutzweiller in Advertising to see if he wouldn’t mind showing up for his own presentation. The secretary--flustered, stalling--covered the receiver incompletely, whispered to another, "Go see if Mr. Mutzweiller’s back yet."

"Back?" the other asked.

"If he’s..." a bit hushed, though still audible between her fingers, "zoomed. You know, back." A sound--a quick gesture involving the arm and wrist.

Footsteps headed away, a door opened, then the hold music.

Then through the grapevine, a tale of Thracken in Contracts’s team running themselves unruly while a client large in economics and body type and even larger in contract negotiations boomed complaints in the waiting room regarding his precious time. Secretaries and other minions made calls, Thracken on line one, collect from Istanbul (Istanbul?), the secretaries finally calling research, asking what would lure out a pig.

No one has pointed any fingers, but wherever it started, however long it took, most all the execs at the Eastern Branch Office are trying it. Setting up pup tents in their offices, squeezing into them holding potbelly pigs, and with a ping! or pop! (or zoom!), they’re teleporting out, seeing sights, eating ethnic foods on location, buying Asian prostitutes (male and female), and not getting back for scheduled appointments, synergistic trainings, one-to-ones with supervisors.

"It’s the damn pigs," Corkle, Johnson’s snitch, confides.

"Soon as they teleport, these pigs get ornery, damn hard to hold, and they take off. Seems you can only get back with the same pig." Corkle is up to putting his feet on Johnson’s desk. A steady progression--first rigid and formal, nervous to be the company spy, then relaxed and willing to accept a bourbon, then slouched and comfortable that his secret goes both ways, then his feet up on Johnson’s desk. Johnson can’t recall the first time it happened. Seems like Corkle had his feet on the desk a long time before they were actually there.

"These pigs wriggle away quickly, leave you beating shrubbery. Olman in Graphics keeps his on a leash, but that only gets him as far as Florida, once to the Haitian Islands." Corkle is from business school in Wyoming, a descendant of pig farmers. He’s of the old school of getting ahead: get an in with the boss. No win-win attitude, interdependency, seeking first to understand before being understood. Corkle wants the bigger office and a team of private secretaries, the best accommodations for conventions, he wants them now, and that means ratting on anything Johnson wants to know about.

"Already, if you can’t get out of the hemisphere, you have nothing to say at the water cooler."

 

II: The Power of Independent Will

As yet, the Home Office in Texas hasn’t deemed this enough of a problem to take it out of Johnson’s hands (or maybe because it’s that much of a problem--execs all over the country vanishing off to faraway lands, chasing pigs through foreign streets), and Johnson’s efforts have nary made a dent. Endless memos only challenge the printing budget and show commission signs in the eyes of copier repairmen. The guards at sign-in have instructions to check all gym bags, not allow in tent boxes, listen for muffled grunts, but the problems go on just the same. Corkle has even gotten word of a pig pusher--someone in Budgeting, possibly, skulking swine through hallways (under coats? buried under envelopes in mailbins?). Spot checks have revealed tents hastily stowed in broom closets and drop ceilings, a pig in a cat caddie hidden under a planter stand, maps of China and Thailand with circles around cities and sites, some checked off, some not. The checks have ranks of 1 to 10.

"Thailand is a favorite," Corkle reveals.

There is a secret newsletter going about. Tips, suggestions, what to wear, reader mail, all in code names: Leonard C., Maury A., Gwynivere S. Corkle keeps Johnson in a regular subscription, but the names mystify them both. The initials Johnson could have figured out on his own--department. There’s no Gwynivere in Sales, but Corkle has divined possibilities from anagrams, known reading habits, mathematical theorem (the number of letters in the code name corresponding to the perpetrator’s executive floor), offered to Johnson in the most professional presentation since Mutzweiller’s first disappearance.

Corkle can’t simply ask any more--word’s out there’s a snitch.

Other signs of things getting worse: Ellenberry, VP of Marketing, out on leave due to a bad fall in the Antarctic, his life saved only because the pig was too cold to abandon the confines of Ellenberry’s oversized coat; a cursory check of the mailroom reveals a community tent, a pig with a company name tag, "Buster"; the lunch hour leaves the executive floors not with the usual air of temporary quiet before the work day storm re-ensues, but just the feeling of people gone.

"The guys are starting a pool for most dangerous transport," Corkle reports. "They gather in one of the lounges, watch CNN and dare each other to get as close as possible to a California brush fire, an earthquake in Chile, the running of the bulls." Corkle shows no concern at all about his feet. It’s as if he has them on his own desk. He hardly pays attention to Johnson’s probing questions anymore. He has the stare now--of reminiscence, of sights seen.

 

III: Fishing for the Third Alternative

Johnson backed into a corner. The items he confiscated have to be returned. Tents reclaimed from custodial storage, company checks issued for pig replacement.

"Teleportational harassment," the letter, championed by official-sounding names (Jewish, mostly), threatens. Everyone is permitted a lunch hour and two twenty-minute breaks, and since the average teleportation uses only 91.47 minutes of company time (no citation of where this figure came from), there are no grounds for threats or termination. Unfortunate incidents where teleportation impeded company operations cannot be a basis for disciplinary action--this mode of transportation can be executed on company property and therefore provides undue strain to its workers, who are being given no instruction or otherwise appropriate consideration on how to control and contain this temptation. A ruling is cited, where management of a meat-packing plant was not legally justified in terminating any meat packer (packed into what? boxes? cans? paper? plastic?) for use of the hallucinogenic fungi that grew in abundance in the plant’s back lot for the same reasons. Besides, the unusual nature of these teleportations, their ease and immediacy, allows visits to New Zealand to be singled out only as much as running down to the corner Pizzeria Uno. A quick trip to Bali constitutes no more a threat to company business than a cigarette break, and is the pressure on these employees as discriminatory as delving into employees’ personal lives, or holding it against a female when she gets pregnant?

Johnson trifles, yells at his secretaries for no reason, chain-smokes for a full hour. Texas is finally offering ‘solutions’: pamphlets arranged by country, suggestions from world-famous chefs on the best spots for lunch, what places are willing to offer a pig check; sow-handling: how to care for your tele-buddy; complimentary leashes; field trips to offer safety pointers; a pigpen next to daycare.

These are ideas offered up by thinkers and P.R. experts and lawyers behind desks and in tanks filled with others of their own kind, so how is Johnson to explain? He looks and looks and looks, hours spent trying to find the dent in his desk from Corkle’s heel. At the board meetings, he was once able to fawn over Price in Sales’s secretary, the minutes-taker--tall and auburn and just the slightest hint of perfume, slightest hint of baby powder, slightest hint of breast under conservative blouses, the kind that will take you on your desk (everyone knows that), pant like a dog in your ear. Once, the lower execs cleared the way when Johnson decided he was going to sit next to her. She would straighten her posture, subtly but noticeably, and lick her lips. How can Johnson explain that no one moves anymore? That there is no one left to move? That Corkle visits without an appointment now, his feet already on Johnson’s desk, his pup tent steaming from a fresh teleport, Johnson’s staff off in Bangkok, Bangladesh, Burma?

Every now and then, Corkle removes his shoes.

Every now and then, Johnson believes himself transported to a strange place: purple trees, pink kiwi fruit running in parabola-shaped flocks, garbage cans just starting to blossom. Johnson reeking of pig slop, his little potbelly, Edgar, gone off forever, leaving Johnson alone with nothing but his pup tent and his wits...

(Then again, his pup tent.)

...and then he thrusts awake, panting, palpitating, sun beaming between the vertical blinds of his high-rise condo, burning right into his brain...

 

IV: Four Dimensions of Renewal

Johnson tries all the quick-fix methods: primal scream, stress balls, aromatherapy. He calls the company help line, but the anonymous voice on the other end can’t make him out. Pigs? Saigon? The auburn secretary? Johnson--unshaven, shirts wrinkled and loose, suspenders not connected in the back--lets his habit of coming in drunk worsen. The clanking of bottles Johnson doesn’t bother to clean up anymore. The industrial supply of Wrigley’s Spearmint in his desk drawer untouched, for there is no one left to hide from, the executive floors quiet as a mausoleum except when the central air kicks in, or when the phones are ringing, but these aren’t business calls anymore. Clients are being given international numbers, agendas for what countries can be reached on what days. The only incoming calls are voice mails.

"Hey Morgan, your Siberian romp is the best." The phone is held up to the sound of inhuman voices, chanting as though through a life of too many cigarettes. "I made it to Tuva, man. I’m taking throat-singing lessons. I’m going to milk a yak."

Johnson dances through the vacant corridors, exposes himself to empty desks, laughs until he coughs and spits. He’s stopped wearing pants. He expects to see wisps of abandoned paper cross his path, maybe a tumbleweed.

His e-mail account is jammed with messages from the Home Office. Great work! Highest productivity of all the national offices! Interview requests from Fortune, The Wall Street Journal! They’re coining a term: the Johnson Pig Incentive. It’s become a catch term, the latest business fad, the new barometer of ‘making it,’ but no other business can make the system work as effectively. An offer of a new position--Teleportational Specialist. Seminars, mini-courses, a series of instructional video tapes, an infommercial. A sketch of the book cover is faxed over: Johnson and a smiling pig, a strange, Oriental-esque land their background, a pup tent hanging lazily over Johnson’s left shoulder. Omni wants a story.

 

V: The Upward Spiral

Corkle’s breath is warm and meaty from supper with his mother in Wyoming. Mother Corkle sent a note back with her son, attached to a homemade peach pie:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

My thanks for discovering this way my son can come spend some time with his dear old dam (though I’m sure he’ll come to regret it when he realizes that he no longer has an excuse to miss family gatherings). Though I must admit, the whole thing confuses me--I always considered rabbits more a traveling animal (ha ha).

Again, my warmest thanks. I made Elvin promise to bring you by some time. I’m noted for my biscuits. Should be a good break from city food.

You should also meet Elvin’s sister, Loretta. Elvin’s told us a lot about you, and she’d love to meet you in person. She was engaged to the church organist, but it turns out he’s going with the McAllott girl, Reemy. A hussy, if you ask me, who’ll dump him for anyone with a better income.

Loretta’s not like that at all, mind you. She’s been brought up with all the commandments and a proper fear of God. Sounds to me you could stand meeting a proper woman.

God Bless,

Mother Corkle

P.S. May I call you Roger?

Johnson feels himself on the verge of tears. When was the last time someone called him Roger? He had no idea Corkle even knew his first name. Johnson is spent, eternal hangover, tired of finding desk drawers to piss in. He lets Corkle lead him to his own office, his secretary’s OUT TO LUNCH developing cobwebs.

There sits a tent, maps (country, city, street) spread over the floor like drop cloths before a painting job. A squealing kennel shuddering by the oak desk.

"The first step," Corkle explains, "is to find a place. Picking a country is fine, but then you leave your landing completely to chance. That put Price in the middle of a pond--instant pneumonia. The more you look over the maps, the better chance of hitting the spot you’re looking for. Just thinking ‘Washington D.C.’ could land you in the Southeast, bad neighborhood, especially for well dressed whites." Corkle snorts once or twice and leads Johnson around the maps, making recommendations: a good Thai restaurant there, a good massage parlor, where to find a damn fine martini.

"You might want to start short," Corkle suggests, picking up a map of Florida, but Johnson feels he is encased in Plexiglas--shielded, removed by a crisp, transparent border he can’t quite hear the world through, yet it keeps banging in at him, the thumps bothersome and painful. The only way to quiet it all is to follow along, and it is this Johnson does, numbly.

Corkle shows Johnson a map of northern Florida, a park outside Gainesville that is quiet and out of the way.

"Not even many gators," Corkle jokes, muffled to Johnson’s ears.

A quick orientation on the best way to hold a pig (both arms wrapped lengthwise, one hand holding the forelocks, the other patting the hind). It wriggles, belts out a squeal that makes even Corkle cringe noticeably.

"It’ll stop," Corkle assures. "Too small to fight too long."

Soon enough, the pig settles, and Johnson is helped down Indian-style, the pig snuggling affectionately against his chest. (Such a warm and friendly presence!) He scooches into the tent, all the while Corkle coaching:

"Just picture the place as concretely as you can, but don’t make it up. Think of the map, what you saw on it. When you start going places, just remember where you been, and you can get back in an instant. Rumor has it Peterson in Research tried picturing a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Couldn’t keep it too clear in his head, but for an instant, he said, he saw Technicolor out the tent flaps. No one’s heard from him lately so I’d say don’t try anything too risky."

As Corkle zips him in, Johnson has an instantaneous flash--a place in absence of everything. No noise. No needs. No deadlines, no supervision. The body no longer a body. A wonderful removal from everything. Johnson can only picture it as a freedom from his self, from everything he knows. He can’t capture the idea and concentrate on it. It came upon him uncalled for, and left without restraint, but Johnson hopes it was with him just long enough.

"The transport is instantaneous. One second, you’ll be hearing my voice, next you’ll be there. Remember, it’s the same thing to get back, just

 


Richard Weems has had work in the Crescent Review, and has new work forthcoming in the New England Review. He lives in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. He teaches writing, he counsels homeless teenagers, he lifts weights. Sometimes, he bows before the Buddha. He once saw Lily Tomlin explain the difference between art and soup to alien visitors, and this affected him deeply.

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