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The Temp That Time Forgot

After chiseling my message on the stone tablet, I fasten it around the neck of the orangutan and give him a gentle push towards the customer service department. He scratches his privates for a moment, lets out a hoot, and scampers away in the direction of the engineering division.

I sigh. The office I am working in this week is a bit behind the times, technologically speaking.

I’m working for the city's sewer division. As receptionist, I'll be answering the smoke-signals, distributing crude drawings and pictograms, and sorting the dung and moss that comes in through the mail. Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but they have some really antiquated equipment, software, and phones here, and it's the only city office that still accepts livestock as payment for sewer connection fees.

It's going to be one of those jobs. Lots of calls from the general public, hundreds of employees’ names to remember (while trying to forget the hundreds from previous jobs), and yet no actual work to do. There might be the occasional odd job such as taking a delivery over to City Hall or reassuring the employees that, regardless of what they've heard on the Talking-Box, the Earth is indeed flat.

This office really is out of date, and it's apparent in nearly every task I am given and every question I am asked.

"Can you see if a conference room is available?" Cathy, an engineer from Development Systems asks me. "Johnson botched the Mid-County sewer assessment project. He says the guy in Abacus Payable fouled up the figures, but we think he's possessed by evil demons, so we're going to flay him alive."

"Let's see," I say, flipping through the ancient, leather-bound book. "The River-God Room is free until the Sun-Hangs-Low-In-The-Sky. Then Marketing has it for a meeting."

"I don't think that's enough time," she says. "Let's see... tear off Johnson's skin, boil his eyes, the purification ritual... no, we'll need a room at least until The-Moon-Rises-Above-The-Treetops."

"Well, the Great Bear-Spirit Room is available until The-Rooster-Crows-Once."

"Perfect! And that's right near the breakroom and excrement-holes, too!"

I'm really bored. At my desk is a sign-up sheet for a Soft Tissue Injury Prevention class. It seems the entire office will be relocating to a cave across the street next month, and the Safety Department wants to make sure that no one hurts themselves carting their boxes and rocks and stuff around. I notice that only a handful of people have signed up for the class, so I wind up the phone and call the guy in charge to offer my recruitment services.

"I can write up some sort of motivational memo," I offer. "Maybe people just aren't aware of the class."

He grunts in the affirmative so I set out to create a memo that will make soft tissue injury prevention sound interesting and important.

After a few hours of staring at a blank screen, I throw that idea away and instead write this:



Has this ever happened to you? You're at a party, surrounded by people who are all talking about how to prevent injuries to soft tissue. You'd like to participate but you realize you don't know all that much about soft tissue injury prevention!!!

Well, kiss this social faux pas good-bye, because this month you can be the envy of all your friends and neighbors by attending the Soft Tissue Injury Prevention Class!

The class will cover these exciting topics:

1) Soft tissue

2) Injuries pertaining to soft tissue

3) How to prevent injuries pertaining to soft tissue(!)

4) Soft tissue as a metaphor in post-Reconstructionist literature

5) Your soft tissue and You: A bond of trust

6) How to spot soft tissue from quite a long way off

7) Some other stuff about soft tissue

And much more! So sign up now and receive a free six-month subscription to Soft Tissue Digest and a Soft Tissue Manä Action Figure with Cartilage Gripâ (limited supply)!

I add the class schedule and some serious words about injury prevention to the bottom of the memo and head to the copy hovel to make 1 million copies. I feel this is probably a mistake because I have just started this job and I don't know if people will think I'm a total dope, or perhaps this is a company that takes their soft tissue very seriously. Then again, I need something else to write about because you can only make fun of the low-tech qualities of an office for so long (about twelve-hundred words, hopefully).

Surprise of surprises, there's a paper jam. I open the copier and see the gnome, his face bathed in sweat, yanking at the spool of parchment. "Fixed in a minute," he spits, inadvertently knocking over his flasks of ink and quill pens. I close the copier door and wait. I'd better not mention that I need them collated, three-hole punched and bound with twine. The copier-gnome has a quick temper.

A little later, a man is here to pay his sewer bill, so I turn towards the hallway and imitate the sound of a premature female buffalo. Nothing happens. "No one is answering," I say. "They must all be on other calls."

I'll have to do this myself. Consulting my parchment, I make change for a goat and two hens. "Here's three grubs and a shiny rock," I say. "Do you need a receipt?"

By now, my memo has hit the mail-slabs of every employee on the floor, and so far, I've gotten no reaction. Maybe no one thought it was funny. Maybe they have relatives with no soft tissue of their own and are deeply offended. Perhaps its my imagination, but I seem to be getting dirty looks from one or two of the secretaries and some of the serfs.

A guy named Todd shows up a few moments later. "Is this where I sign up for the soft tissue class?" he asks.

I hand him the clipboard and sit there glumly while he searches through his zebra-skin for a writing implement. I guess no one got the joke or just didn’t find it funny. Why did I put out such a stupid memo? Now everyone in the office will think I'm even more of a dork than they already thought I was.

"By the way," Todd says, scrawling an X across the papyrus, "when do I get my action figure?"

He laughs. I feel a little better.

The week is about over. Friday afternoon brings a lull in phone activity and the usual hurrying of the employees to catch the early ox-cart back home. All in all, this isn't such a bad place to work. Most of the people are nice and I think its cute how they run and hide when it rains. I suppose someday soon a bold explorer will enter these shadowed halls, ambition in his heart and a Windows 2000 upgrade under his arm, and pull this office boldly forward into the sixteenth century. It will be somewhat of a shame, I think, for this place to lose its old-world innocence, and it would most definitely be a shock to its fragile eco-system.

But I suppose that's called progress. Or perhaps a better word would be... evolution.