I Return to Hell

Voice Card  -  Volume 27  -  John Card Number 16  -  Sun, Mar 14, 1993 10:17 PM

This is ONE OF 3 responses to VC 26 John 13 ("Do Bastards Prosper?")...

The Dream Job Saga continues...

Chapter three: I Return to Hell

Yes, faithful readers, it's true. I'm back at my old desk at The Lab. The wheel has come full circle. The evil Baluster is out and I am in! The good news is that I am bringing home some much needed bacon. The bad news is that my soul is in peril. Here is what happened:

Three weeks ago, Baluster's seven month, fifty thousand dollar joy ride through the ruins of the I.S. department finally came to an end. Several incidents brought him down:

  • He managed to antagonize every single manager in the lab (quite an accomplishment!)
  • He was caught trying to slip a political knife in the back of his own boss.
  • Certain facts about his job history came to light (to wit: that he had been escorted off the premises of his last job when he was caught going through other people's files and that he tried to blackmail a consulting agency by threatening to destroy six months of work unless they kept quiet while he cut them out of a lucrative contract).
  • One of the best remaining technicians in the I.S. department quit because he could no longer stand working with Baluster.
  • A delegation of lab workers came to his boss and declared that the program he had written for them was utterly worthless, had scrambled critical data, and would have to be scrapped. They were not amused.
Meanwhile, some of my friends at the lab had been quietly but peristently lobbying Baluster's boss, Mike, to fire Baluster and bring me back. Finally, enough was enough, and Baluster was asked to leave. I was hired back the same day.

I was initially reluctant to return, but our financial situation was dire. Betsy had just quit her temp job at Reebok and my work with Henri had ground to a halt. More importantly, I felt I had something to prove. It's not often in life that we are given a second chance. I wanted to prove, to myself if to no one else, that I could finish the job I started last summer.

So it was that I found myself sitting at the very desk that Baluster had taken from me seven months before. There was quite literally dancing in the aisles upon my triumphant return, but my self-righteous glee was tempered by the fact that I had now inherited Baluster's mess and the I.S. department was still crippled by last summer's massacre.

I was given the same task I had attempted last summer, the task Baluster had botched, a task which was extremely difficult when I had the full support of a first-rate team and which was now next to impossible. Moreover, I soon discovered that the politics at the lab are as thick and nasty as ever.

In some ways, things are much better than they were before. Under Beth, the lab was like a gulag in Stallinist Russia and the workers were about as happy as the monkey people in the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. The day Beth was overthrown champagne corks popped all over the lab. There was no more screaming, no more sobbing, and no more whispering. And when Baluster was finally flushed, the sigh of relief in the I.S. department blew through the rest of the lab like a spring breeze.

In other ways, though, things are worse. An incredible amount of money has been wasted over the last year, and now the day of reckoning is nigh. We are about to hire a new director and the feeling is that heads will roll. The upper managers, therefore, are spending much of their time pushing each other toward the chopping block. They were recently compared to a pack of wolves: when one of them shows any sign of weakness the others turn on him.

A feeling of malaise pervades the rest of the lab. Many of the best people are gone. So many promises have been broken and good work sabotaged or abandoned, that cynicism has set in. The level of paperwork is beginning to increase as everyone learns to defend themselves against future attacks by building walls of memos. Every action must be documented in preparation for the coming storm.

I find all of this rather bewildering. On the one hand, I want to do a good job. On the other hand, as a reluctant footsoldier in the legions of hell, I wonder if I SHOULD do a good job for an evil cause. Which is the greatest sin, doing the devil's work well, or doing it poorly?

There are two common responses to this dilemma, neither of which I admire. The first is the "when in Rome" approach: as long as I'm in hell I may as well be the worst demon I can be. Better a lion than a Christian. This kind of thinking is one reason the bastards are so plentiful.

The other approach is, I think, just as bad: "ride the gravy train." Stay low. Keep quiet. Suck up as much gravy as you can for as long as you can. At least the when-in-Rome approach provides a sense of purpose, albeit an infernal one. The gravy train is the train to Limbo, a kind of waking death.

How, then, should an honorable man behave in a fallen world? How should a sane man behave inside an asylum? How can I keep working with the knowledge that all of my efforts will probably be for naught? Can I find within myself the Quixotic courage of the dance band on the Titanic? Will I have the strength to keep fiddling as the water rises to my lips?

Stay tuned!