Suicide is Painless
"Hi, could I speak
with Christopher, please?"
are you available to work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday?"
Great. It's just answering phones at a front desk, pretty
easy. I do need to mention, though, that the office may be
a little.. well, they recently lost a co-worker to
suicide. Do you think you'd be able to deal with
I mean, I'm sure I can handle it."
course you can! We know you can, in fact, that's
why we called you for this job!"
speaking to a temp agent I've never met (the agent who
interviewed me was laid off a while ago) at an agency that has
given me a total of two assignments since I signed up about six
months ago, and I'm being told that they called me specifically
because they believe in my ability to competently perform in an
office where the atmosphere might be a bit, well, morbid.
I guess I'm supposed to feel flattered (although "We heard
the word 'suicide' and thought of you!" ain't exactly
making me blush with pride), but it sounds to me like they've
been having trouble filling the position, it being Thanksgiving
week and all. I've got nothing else on the calendar,
though, so I accept the assignment, and I do have to say, it's
nice of them to let me know ahead of time what I'll be dealing
with. I've said it a million times before: temp
agencies always leave out some important detail when they call
me in for assignment, but this time, they're actually preparing
me. It's a Thanksgiving miracle!
sounds like it will be somewhat of a downer of a Thanksgiving
week. Ah, well. Temps can't be choosers. At
least I'm just filling in for someone on vacation, and not for
the person who killed himself. That would be a little too
weird, even for a temp with a renowned knack for dealing with
grief-stricken strangers, as I suddenly appear to be. Time
to update the resume!
As I do
before all my temp jobs, I take a moment to make a mental
checklist of everything I'll be needing. Not what I'll be
needing to bring, since I always bring a timecard, a book, and
my surly attitude, but what I'll be needing to steal. At
home, I'm low on toilet paper, sugar packets, Sharpie markers,
AA batteries, and 1.2GHz Pentium III Sony VAIO Notebooks.
I should be able to scarf up at least some of those over the
next few days. What I really need, though, is a new mouse,
since my left-click button isn't real keen on clicking
anymore. If there's a supply closet or a vacant office
(which it seems there will be), I'll see if I can nab myself a
is on the outskirts of town, by the railroad, a small office
with maybe fifty people in it. The front door is locked
and I need to be buzzed in by a very nice woman named Katherine,
who shows me around a bit and introduces me to a few people.
is Chris," she says. "He'll be answering the
phones at the front desk, and just... pretty much just being a
presence up front for us."
presence, eh? I've never heard myself described that
way. As I straighten my shoulders and rise to my full,
towering five feet, seven inches, I'm sure I'm quite the
presence. Ominous, imposing, a veritable Cerberus of the
cubicles, the very cubicles I'm covertly scanning for items on
my shopping list.
my post in the lobby. "You will probably have to buzz
a lot of people into the building," she says.
"We just had this security system installed, and people may
be forgetting their access cards or not have them yet. You
can let delivery people in, UPS, FedEx, and the mailman, but
everyone else will need to show you their ID badge. If
someone doesn't have a badge, or if you're unsure about anyone,
come find me immediately."
I hate overly security-conscious places. This office makes
furniture for their company's main office facilities. It's
a friggin' cabinet shop. Why do they need to screen
everyone who comes to the front door? Are they afraid of
some knobs and hinges being stolen? Is the Columbian
Cartel making a play for control of the particle board
market? Here I was hoping I could devote the day to doing
crossword puzzles and stuffing stolen goods in my backpack, but
now it seems I shall have to look up from time to
time. How tiring. At least I know what they
don't: the real thief is already in their midst.
traffic in and out of the office is sparse, the phone doesn't
ring often, and no one asks me to do anything but sit
there. When someone does call, they generally know the
name of the person they're looking for or the extension they
need, so it just becomes a matter of pressing buttons. No
one here asks me to do anything or gives me any work, so I play
games online, read e-mail, and download the usual gang of chat
programs. The few people who actually talk to me just say
hello and maybe introduce themselves, but that's about it.
Everyone seems very withdrawn, quiet, thoughtful and, well,
depressed. They are constantly asking each other,
"Are you okay?" and "How are you holding
up?" I guess this co-worker must have been close to
One of the
women who works nearby my desk tells me that she will be back in
a few hours. "I'm going to therapy," she says.
therapy is definitely nothing to be ashamed of, but I'm not used
to people announcing it as if it were a smoke break or trip to
the bank. I don't know what to say other than
"Bye," as "Have fun!" and "Yeah, I
gotta get me some o' dat!" don't seem particularly
into Katherine's office to ask her when I should take lunch, and
she's sitting completely still, her eyes staring blankly at her
computer screen. I knock on her open door, and it still
takes her a moment to notice me. She tells me I can go to
lunch whenever I'd like.
Is there anything I can do in the meantime? Any copying or
faxing or anything?" I ask, breaking my cardinal rule
of never asking for work. Thing is, I'm pretty damn bored
and the day is just dragging.
she says. "I think we're okay, and anyway, it really
just helps us to have you up there."
afternoon, I buzz in a printer repair guy. I always feel
bad for printer repair guys, because as standard practice, no
one ever knows which printer he is supposed to be repairing,
least of all him. Someone goes off to determine which
printer is broken while the guy stands by my desk.
he says loudly in broken English. "Dis where hass-a-jess
he says. "Dis where dat guy took hass-a-jess lass
What the hell is he talking about? "I'm... I just
started here today, I have no idea what you mean."
called away then, as the faulty printer has been located, and I
sit there, wondering what he was talking about. What the
hell is hass-a-jess? Haagen-Dazs? Someone took some
maybe? Someone took some cough drops?
brain finally starts to make some faint whirring noises.
much just being a presence up front
just had this security system installed
you're unsure about anyone, come find me immediately
just helps us to have you up there
going to therapy
balls. I get online, and start looking through the local
news from last week. And then I find it.
temp agency told me: they recently lost a co-worker to
suicide. Yeah. Close. Real close,
guys. Bang up job.
all, this was not a co-worker, this was a former
co-worker. And "suicide" is perhaps the
understatement of the year, because, according to the article,
this former co-worker, upset and angry over losing his job,
burst into the building with a gun. Burst through these
very doors I'm sitting in front of, the ones that are now locked
except when I decide to open them for somebody. He then
threatened two dozen or so of these people at gunpoint, these
people I'm working with now. He eventually released them,
and as they were fleeing the building they heard the gun go off
as he shot himself in the head. Police swarmed into the
area around the building, blocking off the streets, while a
handful of employees hid in a conference room for hours, not
knowing where the guy with the gun was, fearing for their
lives. A SWAT team finally got them out.
need to turn on the local news once in a while.
temp agency really needs to be severely beaten about the
collective head and neck with a burning porcupine. Surely,
they knew the details. And surely, they don't know
me. These poor people wanted a presence at the front desk
while the regular person was away. Only five days ago
they'd had a gun shoved in their faces. And my agency
sends me? These people wanted the Incredible Hulk
doing reception duty. Bruce Lee. Conan the
Barbarian. What they got was a sleepy pipsqueak who, quite
frankly, has let everyone into the building who asked to be let
in, without doing much in the way of screening them. When
this job is over, I've got half a mind to head straight over to
my temp agency, walk right in their front door, and turn in my
time card without wishing them a happy
Thanksgiving. That's how upset I am.
new information, I take my security job a bit more seriously,
even drawing angry remarks from an employee's husband, whom I
keep outside for almost five minutes, doing everything but a
rectal exam on him before someone else finally buzzes him
in. I can now also clearly see that the people I am
working with are not just depressed or saddened, they're
shell-shocked and traumatized, and I assume the therapy that was
mentioned was arranged for all of them by their human resources
department. They stared down the barrel of a gun held by a
enraged man. They felt shock and terror. Their lives
flashed before their eyes, or, infinitely more likely, their
deaths did. Seeing someone run into the building with a
gun, I would have figured I was dead, too. Homicide is the
second leading cause of death on the job (automobile accidents
being number one), and for women, it is the first. The leading cause of death for women on the job is being
murdered. Christ. And you read about these
things all the time. Disgruntled current or ex-employees,
storming a building with a gun or guns, picking specific targets
or random ones, killing one or two or four or five or more, and
then killing themselves. It happens everywhere and we all know
how it goes. Bloodbath followed by suicide. And
all, most horrifying of all, is the fact that I can't
steal anything from these people now. It's just plain
wrong to swipe a roll of TP or a handful of Sharpies.
They've lost enough, and even I have a conscience. Plus,
well, I don't see a mouse that wouldn't be missed anywhere.
beginning of my second and last day (I'm told they're closing
the office on Friday and I won't need to be there), they inform
me they'll be closing at noon but will pay me for the whole
day. Nice of them. One of them women even gives me a
goodie bag, containing a mini tool kit, a flashlight, a few
pens, a compact umbrella, and not one, not two, but three
small teddy bears, wearing tiny t-shirts with the company logo
on them. Sure, none of these are on my list, but
sometimes, you have to take what you can get. They've been
pretty giving, and I'm pretty thankful, so I guess the theme of
the holiday is upheld. And I'll be even more thankful if I
can remember to stop on the way home and buy toilet paper.