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Thomas C. Archer

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Happy Fucking Birthday
By Thomas C. Archer
Sunday, January 06, 2008

Rated "R" by the Author.

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Opening chapter of my novel BURNT POPCORN AND CHEAP PERFUME.



            Fuck my life!

            It is 5:30 a.m. My alarm clock screams at me that it is time to get up. Time to rise and shine and smell the burnt popcorn and cheap perfume the day ahead will nauseate me with. These are the perks of sitting in a cubicle between two of the most obnoxious women in the world.

            I punch the alarm button on my clock. It crashes to the floor next to my bed. “Mother fucker!” I throw the blanket onto the floor and stand up. My eyes are sore from a restless night of sleep. I stumble to the shower. Stare at my reflection. This is my life. Monday morning. June 1st. I am thirty years old today. Thirty years of life has produced a wasted existence that fills me with longing and regret, boredom and grief, and the desire for change, although I am not sure what it is I can change that will make me feel better. All I know is another week of a life not worth living is about to begin.


            I arrive at the office at 7:30 a.m. I step off the elevator that takes me up to the tenth floor of a dilapidated building. One would expect the Computer Services department of an affluent liberal arts college in Philadelphia to be modern. But this shit hole is where I spend forty miserable hours a week, trapped in front of a computer, surrounded by people I pretend to like. Being that it is the first day of the week I prepare myself for the mandatory “how was your weekend” bullshit I will have to sit through, and I try to think of a reason to look forward to the evening hours.

            Since today is my birthday, I am supposed to go to dinner tonight with my mother, her boyfriend, Richard, and my half brother and sister, Patrick and Colleen. I would look forward to it if I felt I had a reason to celebrate. But all I know is that I am trapped in a world I despise, a career and a life that leaves me so unfulfilled I almost cannot bear to wake up in the morning.

            The elevator beeps an irritating noise announcing my temporary weekend escape from hell is over. I take a deep breath, do my best impersonation of someone who can genuinely smile, and make my way to my cell.


            The scent of Terri, one of the fat fucks who shares a cubicle next to mine, is the first thing I encounter when I open the door to the office that is home to forty or so computer programmers. I make my way over to my office, my five by five cubicle. Before I can sit down, unnoticed, log into my computer to check my email, I hear that  voice!

The one that sounds like a combination of a two year old’s and Woody Allen’s.

            “GOOD MORN-ING! How are you? How was your weekend?”

            My briefcase leaves my hand and crashes to the floor. “It was good. How was yours?”

            Come on over, little pig. Barge into my cubicle, uninvited, so that you can smother me with your stench, the one that smells like a mixture of piss, shit, fish, and puke. Bring it on, Terri, because I like you. I do. I want to hear all about your weekend. Tell me  about it. I care. Seriously.

            “Well, let’s just say moving in was a lot of fun.”

            Oh yes, that’s right. Tell me about moving into your new eight hundred thousand dollar home, the one that has been so troubling and time consuming. Please tell me. Treat me like I am your best friend. Please?

 She walks into my cubicle. Her round body barely fits through the doorway. She is dressed in turquoise pants that make her hips and legs look like they belong to an elephant. Her shirt is a lighter shade of her pants. The neckline has tiny pebbles of white, blue, and pink. Her eye shadow is the same color as her pants. Around her neck is a beaded green, blue, and white necklace. Almost every one of her fingers are decorated with a loud and obnoxious diamond ring.

“Well, first off, the movers didn’t get to our house until late afternoon. And by this time Steve is taking it out on me, telling me that I probably forgot to call them. So I called and left a nasty message on the machine of one of the drivers.”

“Weren’t the movers Steve’s friends?”

          “Yeah,” she says, widening her eyes. “But that doesn’t mean that they’re gonna fuck around with me. And I made sure they knew it!” She illustrates how serious she is by thrusting a long, pointed red fingernail forward.  “Steve wasn’t too happy about it and so he decided to reprimand me, but let’s just say I showed him who was boss too.”

            I move some papers around on my desk, pull out my chair, and sit down. “Well, by now I think Steve should know this.”

            Terri laughs. “You think he would, but he still needs help being reminded.”

            “A HA HA HA HA.”

            Oh here we go! Time for Nancy, the pig in the cubicle to my right, to come over and join in all the fun.

            “Wait a minute! I have to hear some of this, Terri.” Nancy appears. She is dressed in her usual. A pair of black jeans, sandals, and a t-shirt. She pushes the casual work environment as far as she can.

            Standing next to each other Terri and Nancy look like they could be sisters even though they have different complexions and hair colors. While Terri’s is dyed a dark orange color, short and slightly wavy, Nancy’s is long, dark and limp, hanging lifelessly past her shoulders. They both have the same round faces. Terri’s is painted heavily with as much makeup as she can apply, whereas Nancy’s is colorless aside from the black eyeliner she wears. Both of them are no taller than five foot two and weigh between two hundred to two hundred fifty pounds.

            Nancy is finishing her first Diet Pepsi of the day. She chugs the rest of it and then places the can in my trash bin. “So what went wrong?”

            Just as Terri is about to answer, Anne, the Asian woman who sits across from Terri’s cubicle walks past, and interrupts by saying, “How did your move go?”

            “Well, the parts that weren’t a disaster went okay,” Terri says, trying to display a sense of humor.

            This startles Anne to the point where I think she will pass out. Anne has the unfortunate habit of taking every word uttered as a life and death situation. She holds her right hand up to her heart as if she has just been shot and gasps. “A ZI-ZAH-SUH! WHY ZI-ZAH-SUH?”

            Somehow Terri and Nancy are able to keep a straight face at Anne’s outburst. I am only able to because I fill my mind with how disgusted I am by this redundant morning ritual.

I look at Terri’s stupid looking orange hair and I feel like grabbing it and pulling it like a fucking two year old baby would. Then I would spit on her and Nancy and tell them that they both make me sick.

“We had problems with the movers,” Terri continues as Anne tries to begin breathing normally again. She slowly lowers her right hand away from her heart and says, “But everything okay now, right?”

Terri smiles and rolls her eyes. “Well, we’re slowly getting there. But wait! I haven’t told you about my other fun events over the weekend. My daughter, Susan, and her husband decide that they are going to bring the grandkids over for us to watch while they take a trip to the shore. Once again, Susan can always prove that I am one of the greatest advertisements for planned parenthood. Actually all my kids prove that.”

Nancy laughs too long and hard at what wasn’t even funny. Anne just sits there wide-eyed, looking back and forth between Terri, Nancy, and I, as if she is waiting for someone to explain what the appropriate reaction is.

Terri looks at Nancy and says, “And how was your weekend?”

“Oh, it was so much fun!” Nancy raises her hands and opens her arms wide as she says the word fun, like it is something no one has ever been able to experience like she has. “Butch and I left for the mountains right after work on Friday. The weather was nasty on Friday night so we just sat in and read books, drank some wine, and then enjoyed a romantic evening alone.” She giggles like a little girl.

Anne smiles, but her face reveals she has no idea what Nancy is referring to or why she is laughing.   “Thas great,” she says. “You know, is great you able to enjoy yourselves. Is so nice to go to mountains on weekend.”

Whenever I hear Anne talk I am amazed she is able to keep her job, considering she can barely speak English. Even more amazing to me is that she is an excellent programmer and whips through programs with ease while I find every one I encounter gives me headaches and problems, making me want to quit this job so fucking bad I cannot stand it.

“We did have a lot of fun,” Nancy continues. “Saturday morning was absolutely beautiful. I woke Butch up early so we could go for a long five mile hike. All that fresh air and the peace and quiet is just like nothing else. So refreshing. And man, did we get our exercise.”

I am dying inside because I have met her husband, Butch, and just like her, he is about a thousand pounds overweight and does not look like he could even climb a flight of stairs let alone go hiking for a couple of miles.

I attempt to give a hint that I am anxious to get to work when I reach down to turn on my computer. Nancy notices this and says, “Mike, how was your weekend? Did you do anything fun?”

“Not really. Just relaxed,” I say. I am about to tell them that I really need to get to work when in reality the only reason I want to turn on my computer is so I can surf the net for a while, but before I can speak, I hear my boss, Kevin, call my name.

“Mike, when you get a second, stop in my office. You’re fired.”

Everyone laughs because Kevin tells all of us we are fired at least once a week.

“That’s cool. Back home and right the hell back to bed.”

            This makes everyone laugh.

Everyone except me.

Deep down I am wishing I will be fired. I would love for someone to make that decision for me, spare me the guilt of quitting a job everyone tells me I am lucky to have.


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