A Cigarette Break Behind Heaven’s Gate

Oct 02 2016

When I got the job, I thought to myself, “Someone upstairs finally pulled a string for me.” “Saint” Peter was a jovial, wonderful caricature of himself. His wife heard about my physics background, the subject in which Peter had received his doctorate, and she introduced the two of us. He ran an independent software development company. I worked at a bookstore, at minimum wage. While I felt a vague sense of romance every time I sold a copy of The Catcher in the Rye, it was retail. It wasn’t new to me. It was a product I could half get behind, but salesmanship doesn’t exactly call my name in a sultry and covetous manner.

I came to the interview with lovingly home-brewed quantum mechanics simulation software, (relativistic, no less,) and I was embarrassingly unprepared to recall algorithms in the canon of computer science, even though they weren’t completely alien. Peter hired me on the spot. I had an inescapable sense that I’d done something too wrong to deserve it. Going for that interview in the University Heights of Newark on a crisp spring day was one of the best decisions of my life.

Peter had a shining faith in the capacities and integrity of the typical person practically picked off the street. I had a boss who was following his dharma. Pieces of the office hung on with duct tape, but it was duct tape that was measured and stuck with love. The office bustled with the sounds of people who cared about each other and their work.

My first modern web application was basically terrible, horrible. Peter hadn’t given me anything too expensive to break at first, it took me a little while to realize and stop feeling bad about. I carved out a groove in spacetime, back and forth about an hour to work each day, lunch at the same time, cigarettes at the same time, and learning a little something new each day, to play with at its end.

Peter loved to have us all cozy up to the office table and talk about all the messy political topics that a lot of employers avoid like the plague. It was obvious we enjoyed it. Every person around the table had a different place of birth, a different set of cultural experiences, a different take on the universe in its totality, but we had more common ground than not. We had black and white, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Jain, female and male around the table, liberal youth and even a friendly republican minority. If a group was under represented, I think Peter was at least keenly aware of it, but the sample at any given time was generally less than about twenty people, and he ultimately just happened to hire for his best estimates of value to the company, in a kinder reality.

For my part in it, I liked to make software run fast, despite the creeping involuntary subtext that the dimensional anomaly was now working with Saint Peter and the the Prophet Muhammad, among others that you might not have heard of but probably should have. Hathor and I might have sat back to back, but she still deserves that compliment if I’m wrong. It came up fairly infrequently. People liked my sonnets, at least, and, when my illness kept me out of work for a few days, the office knew the reason, but it might as well have been the flu.

Matthew was another traveler on a vision quest, as we basically all were. Forgive me, for omitting names and faces, because everyone one of has a story or two that doesn’t involve my personal struggle against God. Yeah, there was that time that the purple-haired mathematician said something weird to me, and then I nearly got run over by a car—she’ll probably read this. Then, there was that time that database maintenance took on the character of clerical work in Heaven’s ledger—that was actually some kind of Seventh Seal “juju,” but I’m under a nondisclosure agreement. You know, it was typical work bullshit—End of the World, blood of the innocent, smoke breaks with Bastet, I gave the Antichrist a reference, we ran out of coffee on a Monday.

I’m happy to be under a nondisclosure agreement, for a change. I hope I’m under one for a while. I hope we all are. They probably should have made Bastet sign one, though.

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