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Jim Maguire

Macroeconomic Stability: The Downside

New guy beside me at work, breath of fresh air, take Tuesday, haven't even sat down at my desk and this little boss is handing me a stack of tapes, transcribe these by Friday, flecks of red pepper between his teeth, this Friday I say my but my voice forgets the exclamation mark and the old feelings get stirred up, those tragic feelings about me still being in the Orient, all this going on when the new guy sticks his head over the partition and apropos of having a nice friendly chat starts telling me about this waterbed he's bought. I can take a lot but, I don't know, six tapes at six hours a tape and now, on top of it all, this voice that's started up in my head from last week's batch, some gravelly-voiced guy saying thank you mister chairman for your explication of the economic miracle that is your country, me just about ready to say Goodnight Irene when out of the blue the new guy lowers his voice and says everyone in this outfit is shit, the sudden pink love that lights up in me then.

Takes us up to Tuesday lunchtime, I'm at a table by myself in the octopus place off the Victory Table Tennis Hall, only restaurant on the block that isn't packed with suits (lunchtimes here!), there with my book, not being anti-social, just wanting to be alone with some not-so-bad feeling and this waitress there, nothing going on, couple of lonely glances exchanged, then a hand on my shoulder, "Why you eat all by yourself?," if it isn't the new guy with one of the other new guys from the office, panic stations, small talk not being my forte. So it's all of us sitting together like it's the most natural thing on earth, "Foreigners always off in a corner by themselves," the other new guy says, tense like that for a while, telling myself to take it easy because the new guy's here, on my side, sit back, no panic, move onto next subject. Which is the new guy's game plan of having at least two girls going at the same time ("my multi-targeting strategy" - his English is superb), other new guy impressed by all this, laughs a lot, me just dead-pan, sitting there thinking this is pure bullshit, wondering whether I should let him have a blast of the old wisdom, save him some of the hardship I've had over the years, what the hell, sit back, enjoy the way it flows out of him, not every word being processed through some only-for-export department in his head and here's my little lady, food at last the new guy says, he goes quiet while he eats - I like that - but what's this, he's off again, mouth full of yellow bean sprouts, "You guys ever been to a cushion parlor?"

That night the usual cushion parlor deal, beer, chandelier, cigarette burns on the fancy wallpaper, no windows (of course), the new guy keeping things going, jokes, saying how shit the bosses are, me and the other guy laughing, giddy, out in the reception area two women shout at each other, door opens, sound of a bunch of keys being slammed on the floor just as the girls are ushered in, not bad, mine in a miniskirt, gets a fit of the giggles when she sees me. "Bring on the side dishes!" the new guy is in his element, a lot of small talk among themselves, no panic, the days of Mr. Personality long gone now, sit back, enjoy the show, the waiters coming in with their gigantic plates, bide my time, wait for the cue, finally, eventually, after all these years I'm getting to know the score around here and would you just look at the way those girls are gobbling down that expensive fruit! Talk dying down, heads turning my way, the new guy clearing his throat, let it be nice and easy new guy, my guy, "Any cushion parlors in your country, Mr. Dibbins?" got his arm around his girl, feel not so good about that, disrespectful talking to somebody with your arm around a girl, feel not so good about a lot of things these past few seconds, hearing my name spoken like that, "Everything okay, Mr. Dibbins?" but I don't hear him too well this time, someone else talking to me now, fortyish, Caucasian, the last batch of tapes, the message I want to leave you with this morning is that the stability of the macroeconomic environment is everything, scary little punch on the first e of everything, no words coming out of my mouth, white collar terror man inside my head, funny looks all round.

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