“Check Out Mr. Businessman” by Neil McDonald

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Me and Jesus worked in the Content section in the Department of Awesome at ryplr, on the floor we called Little Venice because the toilet overflowed one time.

It was our little joke.

We had lots of little jokes, me and Jesus, just between us.

“Passes the time,” he’d say.

“Gotta do sumpin’,” I’d say, shrugging with exaggeration.

That was another little joke just between us, the way we talked at the office, a running mock dialogue between two regular Joes who were frequently flummoxed by technology and business speak.

“Well, this is all about as clear as mud,” I’d say, while piecing together a blog entry for the website.

“I just don’t understand all this jargon,” Jesus would reply. “It’s just so much … mumbo jumbo!” Throwing his pen down in a parody of pique for the laugh it always got from me.

When we were ourselves, we talked about music. That was how we knew each other originally, pre-ryplr, from playing in bands and running into each other at gigs. Going to the same Britpop nights, etc. We’d hang in our own circles at first, but always end up drink-talking about These Animal Men or whatever by midnight, then bro-hug at last call. “We should hang out!” one of us would drunk-yell, and we eventually did a couple of times. That was less fun, but fine. Anyway, music was our thing, I guess.

Jesus was obsessed with the minutiae of popular music, and was compiling lists of the following things:

  • Songs from the late 1960’s that included the words “Sock it to me” in the lyrics, which turned out to be a surprisingly large amount, given the phrase’s faddish popularity and what must surely have been its swift decline into non-grooviness. (Soul music, it turned out, was a real boon for the sock-it-to-me-seeker. Whenever Jesus came across a new one, he would turn to me, triumphant, pump his fist, and then add the new find to his phone. He made me a playlist.)
  • Songs that included the line, “That’s why I wrote this song,” or words to that effect – anything that in some way referenced the author composing the song you were currently hearing.
  • Any song where someone says that they “called you up on the telephone,” which we both loved because a) what other device would you use to call someone? and b) it was a sentence that no native speaker of English would ever utter. ‘I called you up on the telephone’ was a redundancy not unlike saying ‘I’m going to talk to you with my mouth.’ It sounded like something a just-drafted Serbian basketball player might say.

I had once suggested my own list, where I was going to try and find all the popular songs that contained references to grown men romancing young ladies of an inappropriate age, e.g. “Only Sixteen,” “Sexy and 17,” and so on. Jesus didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it, though – just said, “Alright, man,” with a weird kind of fake encouragement that I had trouble explaining to myself afterward. So I ended up not bothering. It was more of a Jesus kind of thing, I guess.

Little Venice was large and open-concept, though there were some meeting rooms in the middle of the office with glass walls – ryplr had purchased what used to be a newspaper office and renovated it. We were in the open concept part, so the view from our workstations was basically just people walking by all day long. Like Smarmy Dave from sales would walk by.

“Check out Mr. Businessman,” I would say.

“He strikes me as the kind of man who watches pornography quite a bit,” Jesus might reply, leaning back in his chair.

“He seems the sort of gentleman who would not refuse cocaine, were it to be offered,” I might retort.

And we’d laugh.

Sometimes Dave would stop outside the Room of Coffee and inevitably strike up a conversation with Poor Rebecca while he slowly stirred his drink literally a hundred times. We called her Poor Rebecca because she was always rushing around in a panic like she was the only person at the office who was busy, and also because she always talked to Dave. They went out for lunch one time, which whatever. Her car had a purple bumper sticker that read, “Your story is not who you really are!” and he could make any sentence sound creepy just by uttering it, so I’m sure it was great. Anyway, whenever me and Jesus saw them talking, all work stopped while we adlibbed their conversation.

Jesus (as Dave): The way things are done at this company are stupid.

Me (as Poor Rebecca): I agree, Dave. I would not have done things this way if it were my company.

Jesus Dave: Oh, I hear you. We should start our own company one day.

Poor Me: Hahaha. I know, right? I’m leaving any day now.

JD: Haha. Yup. Welp. See ya around!

And so on. Monday to Friday, this was our thing.

“Gotta make a buck somehow,” I’d say, in the universal bro voice.

“Beats workin’,” Jesus would reply. And so on.

We also had this thing where we would call some people from the office by a word that they used a lot or that they had said in a meeting one time. Like we called Hilary from Infographics ‘Dance Pants,’ because one time she was talking to Josh from Optimization in the Gravy Room and was trying to think of the name for Hammer Pants but couldn’t, and had said dance pants instead. So whenever Hilary walked by, we’d turn to each other and one of us would quietly say ‘Dance Pants,’ and then we’d repeat the phrase in a variety of ways. Jesus might say it in a Japanese accent, for example, then I’d sing it like a Teddy Pendergrass slow jam – “Girl, take off those Daaaance Paaaants.’ He’d then counter with a variation on the Batman theme song, and et cetera.

Or we might amuse ourselves by mocking “Tiny Dancer,” a song that concerned a woman who was, the lyric tells us, a “seamstress for the band.”

Jesus said: “What kind of band would employ a full-time seamstress? When was this band active, the 1930s?” Then he started singing, “Blue-eyed lady / Milliner for the band.”

Then I said, adopting the persona of a smug band member talking to a rival band, “Oh, you guys don’t have a seamstress?”

Jesus (in classic voiceover voice): “Laurel Canyon, 1973. The great seamstress exodus began not with a bang but with a whimper, and an unforeseen run on glitter thread.”

Me, as infuriated band member: “I’m tired of my stage waistcoat having frayed buttonholes!”

And so on.

Anyway.

In my mind, we could have gone on quite happily like this literally forever, two content marketing drones goofing off in between pushing out listicles on filtering your photos for optimal social media performance, which was the reason ryplr existed. The company had gone from two co-founders to 120 employees in six months, after some Instagram star had non-ironically informed her 7 million followers that our app – which created a weird ripple effect on your photos that pretty much ruined them, if you ask me – was ‘hype, yo.’

I had been part of the initial hiring spree back at the old office in the wake of the Hype Yo tsunami, which gave me grizzled veteran status, at least in my own mind, compared to the know-it-all, squeaky newbies who had been hired in the months after me, like Smarmy Dave and Poor Rebecca. I had drifted in after bouncing around in Joe jobs for a few years post-grad. Jesus predated me by a week, and had referred me for the job, which he often mentioned to others. Because of his week’s head start, he was a Senior Content Manager, while I remained the Content Associate I was hired – and who knows, maybe born – to be. I called him ‘Senor Content’ sometimes, as one of our little jokes, and he would reminisce about the extravagant catered lunch the co-founders had provided the Wednesday before I was hired. Jesus wasn’t my boss, but he wasn’t not my boss. But like I say, I was happy for this to go on forever. Nothing our company did hurt anyone, and they had Happy Hour Thursdays and benefits, and the office was like a 10-minute walk from my place.

Things changed, though, like they do. (Dun dun dun!!!)

One day, we were in the Hype Yo meeting room for the company’s weekly Freaky Brainstorm session. At meetings, most of the newbies wanted to be all professional and sound smart and get their two cents in, but they always ended up just saying the same things and pushing the same ideas, which Jesus and me always found pretty funny. We also had this fake drinking game where, if someone said a buzzword like ‘deliverables’ or any variation of the word ‘leverage,’ we’d surreptitiously mime the drinky-drinky motion while pretending not to look at the other. Because jokes.

I never said much at Freaky Brainstorm, and if I did it was usually met with something along the lines of a lukewarm meh, but Jesus would sometimes sit up and say something constructive, and you could tell it was the kind of thing that others had been thinking but were not able to articulate until they heard somebody else say it. The kind of thing that seems obvious and inevitable once it’s out there, impossible to disagree with, and that you kick yourself for not saying that time you thought of it six weeks ago. It’s quite a skill, being able to do that. This slowly helped earn him a reputation with management as a thoughtful and conscientious employee, when in reality he was half-assing it as bad as the rest of us.

Anyway, one day was one of those days – ryplr downloads had dropped a bit, and Jesus said what if we did a post on the top 10 ryples of all time, make sure to include some by people with super-high follower counts so they would re-post, and see if maybe that would help. He said it like he just thought of it, and it was met with cools all round. Hot Loren was the VP of Awesome and she said, “Love it. Do that,” and I said, “The cools have it,” which no-one seemed to hear except Jesus, who didn’t look at me but made a face in reaction like he was going to say, ‘Uh, oookaaaay,’ in that way people do when they’re semi-insulted and kind of above what someone just said.

Jesus did the post the next morning in between my first and second trips to the Room of Coffee, and it did just like he said. By the afternoon, hourly downloads were nearing post-Hype Yo rates. By the end of the day, Hot Loren sent around a message calling Jesus the Sleek Freak.

By the next week, he started to get randomly called into meetings with Loren and the other Awesome heads, at first just to get his ‘take’ on the latest campaigns, but then it was regular scheduled meetings twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays at 1:30. At first, Jesus treated it like a joke, whispering, ‘Time to kill it, man,’ in an ironic bro voice and giving me a fist-bump before heading to the Hype Yo. Then it just became a regular thing and, if I turned to him at 1:29 on a Thursday with my fist out and said, ‘Time to crush the world a better place,’ he was already half out of his seat and increasingly likely to say, ‘Heh. Yep,’ and leave me hanging. Soon, we just stopped acknowledging it. The frequency of our little jokes started to slow then, and stopped for good the day he got promoted to Emperor of Ideas, and was moved to a new desk in the Unicorner in between Hot Loren and Smarmy Dave, who had recently been promoted to Cap’n Sales Crunch.

We made the occasional effort at first to keep up the old times. There was a company-wide email about how to use some new social platform that was all the millennial rage, and Jesus sent me a reply with a gif of a gorilla looking confused and the message, ‘I just don’t get all this … MUMBO JUMBO!’ We might go back and forth on some classic Poor Rebecca quotes, or one time he messaged me when he found another ‘Sock it to me,’ stuff like that. But then those stopped, too, and we’d just end up nodding or doing a ‘What’s up, man’ if we ran into each other in the Room of Coffee, or the adjacent Room of Cream and Sugar.

Instead of promoting me to replace Jesus, they moved Dance Pants over from Infographics and we were both just Content Associates under this guy Marvin Kelp they hired from outside and who worked from home because he “divided his time between San Fran skate parks and the foothills of the Andes,” as his Slack bio helpfully informed me. “WFH,” he’d unnecessarily message every morning, and every morning I would make up a new explanation for the acronym. “Oh, Marvin’s Watching Fuller House,” I’d think to myself. Or “Weird Foot Hives? Sounds gross, Marv,” and I’d consider messaging one to Jesus and decide not, because it would require a whole explanation and blah blah blah.

I missed him and didn’t.  

One day I was sitting back in my chair and sighing loudly, trying to annoy Dance Pants, when Jesus walked by, dressed in a long-sleeve T-shirt that was made to look like he was wearing a full suit.

“Hey Hilary, check out Mr. Businessman,” I said, and nodded in the direction of Jesus.

Dance Pants turned around, said: “Who, Jesus?” shrugged, and turned back around.

“Yes,” I said to her back. “Jesus.”

 

Neil McDonald lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada with his wife and son, surrounded by an assortment of black and white cats. His work has previously appeared in The Story Shack and The Flash Fiction Press.

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