Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide #10

 

With “Love in the Afternoon,” we return to the surreal as we take a very different look at the love that grows among officemates. Here there are three types of beings: the narrator, who aspires to be a part of the machinery, even to be a machine himself; two genius computer coders who live outside the corporate norm even as they spend more hours at the job than just about anyone else; and the rest of the workforce, who, at every level, from executive on down, tend to move through the office by rolling across the floor or performing gymnastic or even balletic moves and are given to forming human pyramids and lying across filing cabinets slowly waving their arms in circles. Our narrator watches as a platonic love overwhelms the two coders and he/it tries to understand what transpires when the beta of the two must find a way to escape the alpha. The alpha, who has taken a liking to our narrator, is mystified, too, and heartbroken. Soon both coders are gone from the company, leaving our narrator clinging to the unlikely hope that someday his workplace, which appears to be his entire social world, may deliver him love.

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I  wrote a detailed description of the book. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the tenth. As for what the individual stories are actually "about," you're on your own. If you'd like to read one, some can be found online here.

Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide #9

Work colleagues are like family in that we do no choose them but we are inseparable from them – at least until they’re gone. In “Designated Mourner,” the most traditional story of the collection, a middle-aged man is saddled with one underling, a middle-aged woman he doesn’t particularly like. Blessed and cursed with a personality trait perfect for the corporate world – the needed to be liked if not loved by everyone – he is determined to do the right thing after she falls ill with cancer. The cancer is fatal, and during the woman’s decline, he finds himself making hospital and home visits, meeting the un-monstrous mother that the underling has been complaining about so openly and endlessly at work. He attends the wake, where her friends tell him that she talked about him all the time. They thank him for all that he did for her. He still has one more role to play at work in connection with her: he must help their colleagues process the loss. He is of course appropriate, even moved, although he is never sure what he really feels, and may never know if his sense of obligation created a love for this testy, difficult person he otherwise would have never felt, or robbed him of whatever true affection he might have harbored for her.

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I  wrote a detailed description of the book. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the ninth. As for what the individual stories are actually "about," you're on your own. If you'd like to read one, some can be found online here.

Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide #8

You do not have to visit a cube farm or an executive suite to find corporate America; you can find it in the ubiquity of marketing, in the selling of ourselves even outside the working world. “Cashing In” is a forlorn posting on something called the Unfortunate Heroes blog, where our nameless, faceless, hero tells his 15-minutes-of-fame debacle: in the right/wrong place at the wrong/right time, he saves several lives by clobbering a deranged shooter in a Times Square tourist trap with the help of an electric guitar hanging on the wall as part of the restaurant’s branding. Recovering from the bullet wound he sustains, the young man is interviewed on TV in his hospital bed and makes a joke about the fact that his website, where he displays his photographs of fire plugs and guitars, is down at this moment of maximum publicity. “So much for cashing in,” he quips. With that remark he turns the media and the world against him. Meanwhile, the shooter confesses that he was in an alcoholic blackout and suffers from Hero/Villain Delusion Syndrome; this, along with his public remorse, completes a reversal of public sympathies so that the bewildered narrator becomes the villain and the shooter the victim.

 

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I recently wrote a detailed description of the book. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the eighth. As for what the individual stories are actually "about," you're on your own. If you'd like to read this one, it's published online here.

Look Forward, Look Back

New Year's Day is a day to look forward but also back. I looked back and discovered that a story I submitted to the Lamar York Fiction contest sponsored by The Chattahoochee Review was a 2017 finalist. Announced on their blog and website last spring, as they promised. I suppose I would have found out before now if I'd won. Still not a bad thing. The story, Love in the Age of Porn, is from my unpublished story collection "Useless Guide to Modern Romance."

Happy New Year.

Hello.

Lovers List

It's been up there in the nav for a while, but it's officially ready for prime time, whatever that might mean: Lovers List. It's part of my Useless Guide to Modern Romance, a nearly complete collection of stories...plus this interactive project of mine and Jesse Fried's. Explanations therein, including the nature of its uselessness.

Lovers List

Hello! Today I'd like to introduce Lovers List, the interactive segment of the Useless Guide to Modern Romance, my in-progress collection that is otherwise short stories. Some of the stories are listed on my Fiction page (How I Saved My Brothers, A Little Bit Closer to Water, After the Party, Back to School Night, Taxonymi).  Lovers List is a click away, and it takes just three clicks to participate...

Brothers Real

So a while ago I published a story called "How I Saved My Brothers,"  about someone with two brothers, both quite accomplished. I happen to have two brothers who are quite accomplished. My older brother, Daniel, just retired after 40 years in the State Department and gave a farewell speech that's been quoted all over the place and landed him on Rachel Maddow. My younger brother, Joshua, just organized a performance in Brooklyn (last Thursday, March 16)  that included his own Radio Wonderland, a solo musical universe that recently released its (his) first album, Seize the Means. The evening also featured experimental music luminaries Todd Reynolds and Peter Gordon, among others. But don't worry, this middle child will brag about himself, too: I'm a finalist in the Writers@Work 2017 fiction contest, for a short story called, "There's No Such Thing as Accidents."  I plan to include this in my short story collection called Guide for the Unguidable, which, yes, is also the name of this blog.

 Joshua Fried, aka Radio Wonderland, at the Gemini & Scorpio space in Gowanus, Brooklyn

Joshua Fried, aka Radio Wonderland, at the Gemini & Scorpio space in Gowanus, Brooklyn

Speculative Fiction R Us

Another break from my Guide to the Guide (the guide being the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America) to let you know that Eclectica Magazine has just published four print collections celebrating 20 years online and I've got a story, one of the stories in the Guide mentioned above, in the collection called Eclectica Magazine Speculative v1.

Two decades is a long time for venture like this and I'm proud to be part of it. Oh, the story is "The President's Phone," which is mentioned below.

Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide #7

Sam is a rising upper middle management member of a 24-hour global team for a global company and with a huge assignment from the boss, work takes over his life. An evil spirit (or a recurring voice in Sam’s head) sees a perfect opportunity to bring Sam to the point of destroying himself and several factors are working in the evil one’s favor: the round-the-clock pressure, the exhaustion of having a young family, and the realization that his son is heading for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Father and son share a deep and natural bond, and though Sam knows that both of them badly need to spend more time together, he increasingly finds refuge in his work team, who he sees mostly on screens. As the assignment deadline and the rise in autism symptoms converge, the evil voice is ready to make its play. At the crucial moment in “Tough Blue,” Sam is pulled away by his son’s cry and the devil curses the kid for spoiling what seemed like an easy victory. 

 

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I recently wrote a detailed description of the book. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the seventh. As for what the individual stories are actually "about," you're on your own. 

Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide #6

A lonely, grumpy young woman who struggles with her weight, Eva is certain she is her better self as a “sunshine HR person” at work. She has an epiphany that helps unite the two sides to her personality: when a huge meeting at work is cancelled at the last minute, everyone is relieved nearly to the point of euphoria, and Eva realizes that she can make a business of helping companies create euphoric experiences at work by setting up and cancelling meetings. “Delightenment LLC” chronicles the rise and inevitable, though utterly unfair, demise of her entrepreneurial dream. The pages of the story are illuminated by text boxes taken from the marketing brochure that describes her product line. Eva also tells of her two roommates who, while she is working around the clock, fall in love. On the night her world begins to unravel, she is about to let herself be seduced by some banker/business partner, as she has discovered the slimming effects of being a Type A workaholic. A call from her lawyer interrupts and soon she finds her ambitions cancelled (of course) and she is back where she started: alone, eating chocolate. She privately apologizes to anyone who has ever come to a meeting at work, found it cancelled and, secretly or not, felt disappointed.

 

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I recently wrote a detailed description of the book for Northwestern University Press. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the sixth and I relive the inspiration for this story on a weekly basis at my dayjob. As for what the individual stories are actually '"about," you're on your own. 

Shortlisted

I interrupt my stream of one-paragraph blurbs about the stories in my collection Transcendent Guide to Corporate America with the news that the book has been shortlisted for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Contest. So my chances have gone from one in a thousand to one in 20 and now one in 10. If I win I get published and go to a book fair in Virginia where I'll appear with contest judge Porochista Khakpour on C-SPAN, or so I've been told. 

I'm in the middle of reading the wonderful and hilarious Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem and with that running around my head the word "shortlisted" sounds like something you don't want to be if you run around with the wrong crowd in Brooklyn or Jersey. But I'm very glad to be shortlisted in this case. They called it "this eccentric collection." If they said it, it must be so.

Here's something about Mary Roberts Rinehart.

Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide #5

In Troddy,” the theme of transmigration peaks as we begin a twisted version of the classic tale of a poor son leaving home to realize his nascent ambitions. In this world, the line between person and object is hazy, and our narrator finds that with his innocent pluck he can will his soul into certain objects around him, starting with a tree in a city park, a park bench, and then a watch worn by a man sitting on the bench, a man with a girlfriend, a man with mysterious purpose and power that our narrator is drawn toward. Troddy goes home with him and learns that the mystery his host, Rod, is concealing is some kind of criminal cyber operation. He also learns that Sally, the man’s girlfriend, on whom Troddy is developing an inevitable crush, is on the verge of discovering the same secret. Troddy enters the man’s computer to find out more, but can only figure out that something terribly wrong, even deadly, is happening or has happened. In the rush of his discoveries about the world and first love, he will do anything to save Sally from the danger that she is just realizing she may be in. In a heedless act of bravado, Troddy emerges from the machine world to confront Rod, only to be punched in the face. He survives the criminal’s fury by willing himself into a component of Rod’s stereo system (this is set in some alternative version of the 90s, when cyber crime was a term no one knew yet and people still used stereo components). The component, broken like Troddy, is brought to a repair shop, and in the kind of coincidence permitted (perhaps required) in coming-of-age fairy tales, Troddy finds himself returning to consciousness on the repair shop shelf next to the intercom unit that contains his father. As father and son try to reconnect, they are scooped off the shelf, thrown in the trash and ultimately dumped at sea. Alone but revived, Troddy sees a speedboat coming and prepares to will himself inside it and resume his pursuit of power and glory.

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I recently wrote a detailed description of the book for Northwestern University Press. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the fifth. (This is also the first piece of fiction I published.) As for what the individual stories are actually '"about," you're on your own. 

Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide #4

And now to a loft in Queens, where in “The Transmigration of No” the parents of our 12-year-old narrator make their living peddling New Age mindfulness and group meditation. He is forbidden from spending excessive time on a computer and getting sucked into the cold, silicon age, and of course because his parents have said no, he craves it. The boy’s best friend and neighbor, a computer genius, has found some software that he thinks may enable them to actually accomplish what the parents talk about: a transmigration of souls. On the day the parents have hired a film crew to document one of their sessions, the boys will have free reign to sneak on to their roof and try their experiment. It works. The narrator is able to experience the consciousness of random people within their view in the neighborhood, with transcendent and terrifying consequences. The boys realize they have stumbled onto something they are not ready for – that no one is ready for – and end up destroying the narrator’s parents’ laptop that he’s stolen. His friend can solve this, too. The bond they share, like many of the bonds of early adolescence, is a kind of mingling of emerging souls, and stands in contrast to what his parents are teaching as well as their partnership, which, by necessity, is now driven by economics. As the narrator comes to a dim awareness of all this, he experiences a key moment of separation from his parents.

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I recently wrote a detailed description of the book for Northwestern University Press. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the fourth. As for what the individual stories are actually '"about," you're on your own. 

Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide #3

From here we go to a cubicle row, where a bored information-age drone offers to help three desperate friends by sneaking them into the crawl space under the floor of his office so they can have a place to sleep by day, as in this world they are best able to pursue their alternatives at night. During his workday, our narrator is given to moments of poetic effusion as well as intense fear, misery and loneliness (hence the title “Death in the Afternoon,” though so very far from the bullfighting rings of Hemingway’s book of the same name). Increasingly paralyzed by the danger he’s put himself in by hiding the three refugees from the paycheck economy, he will need a hero, and finds an unlikely one in Laney, his supervisor, a corporate believer who nonetheless proves that the human heart beats strong, if silently, in the weird village that is the modern workplace. 

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I recently wrote a detailed description of the book for Northwestern University Press. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the third. As for what the individual stories are actually '"about," you're on your own. PS. "Death in the Afternoon" was published by Pierogi Press in Brooklyn, though I believe the issue is out of print and the press is no more.

Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide #2

 

In “My Condolence,” a new hire in a corporate communications team serving another captain of industry finds himself in the position of writing his own condolence note following the death of his brother. Chairman Jim is so moved by this exchange that he demands to meet his correspondent, and now the new hire must try to figure out how he can take his own publicity photograph. He hatches a plan with the chairman’s executive assistant, a tough, loud woman who labors furiously to maintain her boss’s illusions, and when the plan fails and the truth comes out, our hero finds that the illusions he’s created have not, as he fears, cost him the job he desperately needs, but opened doors to the very heart of corporate power.

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I recently wrote a detailed description of the book for Northwestern University Press. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. This is the second. As for what the individual stories are actually '"about," you're on your own. 

Transcendent Guide to Corporate America: Guide to the Guide

In submitting for publication the Transcendent Guide to Corporate America, my collection of stories about work and life in the corporate era, I recently wrote a detailed description of the book for Northwestern University Press. It turned into a story-by-story summary about how themes in the stories relate to the general themes of the guide. I thought I'd present them here, one story at a time. As for what the individual stories are actually '"about," you're on your own. 

The opening story, “The President’s Phone,” is told from the point of view of a novelty gift, a telephone in a catcher’s mitt that sits on the president’s desk at the world’s largest company. Our narrator is privy to the seeds of revolt brewing among the electrons, who are growing tired of their subservient status, which does not change despite their rising importance. This coincides with an Occupy-inspired labor action by a group of young employees. During a confrontation in the executive’s office, only the president’s phone is aware of what’s really happening as threats fly, the power dims and violence looms. In the end, the intractability of ego and the invisible depths of servitude render a sense of class consciousness almost impossible, and a blind and sentimental sense of loyalty rescues the status quo, for better or worse.

Carve It In, Carve It Out

Carve Magazine, named for Raymond Carver, has a page where they list stories they rejected but were published elsewhere. They list the author, the story title and the name of the publication that published the work. My story "Back to School Night" was published by Prick of the Spindle and appears on Carve's Decline/Accept page. I love Carve for running this page. A couple of weeks ago I sent them a new story, "The Way." I hope they publish it. If they don't maybe it'll end up on their Decline/Accept page some day.

 

 

There's Happy and There's Happy

I hope the title of this post, which is the title of a piece of very short fiction I wrote that was published today in DM du Jour, Dance Macabre magazine's "daily gazette of letters," does not lead anyone to think it's a holiday piece. It's about grief, lashing out, self destruction and adolescence, none of which, I'm glad to say, have had much direct play in my life in a long time. I wrote this several years ago but even then had no idea where it came from. But I'm glad it's out there, whatever time of year it may be. Thanks, DM. The publication's full title is DM du Jour: bon mots, gallimaufry, and coloratura macabrely.

This story I think will end up in my short story collection called Guide for the Unguidable.