“Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.”
― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956
It had been a week since the company had issued new rules saying that employees working from home were required to have their cameras on during Zoom meetings. In addition, everyone was expected to wear AOA – “appropriate office attire.” Since Craig was an Assistant Associate Vice President for Corporate Policies and Procedures that meant a coat and tie. He did not wear pants, of course, and in invisible protest of the new rules he even stopped wearing even the boxer shorts he used to – sitting there in a gray suit and striped tie, naked below the waist.
A typical Zoom call would have fifty or more attendees but only four or five, the same four or five every time, would actually talk. Craig used to leave the meetings and go out for a beer, a walk in the park, or a beer and a walk in the park. He used a mouse jigger – a little USB dongle that would simulate a mouse movement every few minutes – to keep his status light green. If anything important came up he knew the meeting was recorded and he could revisit the content. He never had to.
But now, with the new camera policy he had to actually sit through the things. It was driving him crazy – hours and hours every day of the same farrago of virtue signaling, ass covering, and sucking up to superiors was mind numbing. No work was getting done. Craig had risen to his executive position because of his finely-tuned ability to avoid doing anything – getting credit for other people’s work – and dodging any blame for anything going wrong. Still, these remote working Zoom calls was throwing his uselessness back into his face and he didn’t like it. He preferred honestly goofing off over pretending to be useful
He spent the hours of the camera calls thinking of a way out and finally came up with a plan. A department store near his house was going out of business and selling everything. On a hunch, he drove over there and was able to buy a display dummy from the men’s department. He began to wear sunglasses and a ballcap on the meetings and tried to think about an excuse for this – but nobody ever asked – he doubted anyone even noticed. He stopped shaving and grew out his ragged beard.
A friend of his from college had gone to Mortuary school. He remembered watching the guy learn how to do makeup on model heads, learning how to make a corpse look like life. It creeped Craig out but after all these years it was useful to him. He dropped off the dummy, some photos of himself, and a wad of cash. It only took a few days and the work was done.
Craig lugged the dummy home and dressed in a suit and tie, cap and glasses, and propped in the desk chair – after a tiny bit of blur (a thin streak of Vaseline on the camera lens) the illusion was complete.
As a gift to himself Craig stopped by the big liquor store and bought a half-fridge worth of various craft beers. It would be fun to walk down to the park during meetings and figure out which ones were actually good and which were pretentious shit.
This went perfectly for a few weeks. He developed a route – a walk to a favorite picnic table – where he would sit and sip his brew. The only downside was a homeless guy that would sit at another table a hundred yards away. The guy was wrapped in a dirty blanket, no matter how hot the day was. He was there before Craig arrived and never left while Craig was there. Craig figured the guy would walk up every day from the encampment down where the creek ran into the thick scrub of the river floodplain. Usually they were the only two in this obscure part of the park. The guy never moved or said anything but it still bothered Craig – but even so, this was the most isolated spot, so he grudgingly shared his isolation.
Then one day the guy wasn’t there. Craig looked over and saw him on the ground beside the picnic table. At first Craig thought he must be sleeping, but his position looked uncomfortable – like he had just fallen like that. After he finished sipping his beer, Craig decided he’d better take a look. Sure enough the guy was dead. Cold and stiff. Up close, Craig was shocked at how young he was. What disaster or terrible personal flaw had led someone like that to this ignominious end?
The big question was what to do now? Craig had a vision of a newspaper article, maybe even a short section on a news program about how a dead man was discovered in a public park. Craig was afraid he might be interviewed, photographed, word would get out. He was, after all, supposed to be sitting in from of his camera on a Zoom call – not sipping beer discovering dead homeless guys in a park a short walk from his house. This probably wouldn’t happen, but could he take the risk?
Craig knew right away he couldn’t. He gathered his stuff together and walked home, a little quicker than usual. He dressed (and undressed) and, pausing his camera for a second, switched places with the dummy. As the Zoom meeting droned on, he sat there aggravated.
For the life of him, he couldn’t think of another spot to walk and sip his beer as good as this one, which he would definitely have to give up now.