Balloons & Cake
He walked into the common area, needing to get to the locker room to put his jacket on the rack and his food in the refrigerator.
The common area was full of people standing around with paper plates of cake. He saw balloons and a large cake on the table in the middle of the room.
He needed to get to the smaller room to put his lunch in the refrigerator and hang his jacket on the rack.
The common area was crowded. In the direct line from the main door to the common area and the locker room stood two women. Each had little plates of cake in their hands. They were talking, most likely about the party or its subject.
They saw him walking toward them. He knew it. They knew where he was going since he had on a jacket and was carrying his lunch. Most people going through the common area were on their way to the locker room. He knew that they knew they were in the way. If they were less focused on their cake and the party and their gabbing, they’d have immediately moved. They waited until the last second – until he had to break his stride instead of running into them – until they stepped aside.
He tried not being angry. He didn’t take it personally. He didn’t take it as a slight against him, like ‘look at this new guy who we don’t need to show the courtesy or respect of getting out of his way.’
He didn’t take it like that at all. He took it like them being like most people who are too dumb to be self-conscious or self-aware enough to consider and comprehend one, maybe two things simultaneously. It’s rare, he knew, to find the ones that can both walk and talk at the same time. He’d noticed how difficult that is for most people. So difficult that in order to perform the tasks simultaneously, many need to slow the pace of their walking – but never their talking – way, way down in order for anything to be commutated or comprehended. It was always a curious thing to him how placing one foot in front of the other at a normal pace might impede on a normal rate of speech or vice versa. It was curious, but something he noticed as quite common. Or, more specifically, he noticed the rate of walking tempered to accommodate normal speech. He’d never seen people walk at a normal rate of speed, yet slowing their speech down like a 45 record played at 33 RPM. He’d never seen anybody slow their speech down to a rate of dripping molasses in order to get from point A to point B at a normal pace. He’d never seen that with their talking, but he’d seen plenty of with their walking while talking. And he was always curious if there was ever an experiment that showed people tripping and falling all over the ground as they were instructed to talk and walk simultaneously, both normal rates and paces.
The women with their cake stepped aside, excusing themselves. He went into the locker room and put his lunch in the refrigerator. He left the room and walked through the common area again on his way to do his work.
He passed someone in the hallway. He hadn’t memorized her name yet. He was the new guy. She didn’t know his name yet either since he was new.
She asked him, “I hear there’s a party going on in there.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“For who?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m new. I don’t know many people yet.”
“You didn’t ask? You don’t care?”
“Not really,” he said. “Like I said, I’m new.”
“What do they have in there?” she asked.
“Cake and balloons. And there’s a lot of people standing around talking.”
She gazed at him as if he’d just urinated on himself.
Finally she asked, “You didn’t want any cake? You didn’t stick around for cake?”
“I’ve had cake plenty of times,” he said. “And I’ve seen balloons and that many of the same types of people standing around talking. It didn’t really pique my interest or curiosity that much.”
Then she realized, he was the new guy. Maybe he would have felt awkward standing around at the party not knowing anyone. It was the only reasonable explanation for his denying himself any cake.
“Come with me,” she said. “We’ll go in together and get some cake. I’ll even introduce you to some people.”
“No thanks,” he said. “I ought to get started. I’m already clocked in.”
“You’re a queer one,” she said.
“Really?” he asked. “Because I’ve worked plenty of places. Seen lots of birthday and anniversary and retirement parties with cake and balloons and a bunch of people standing around. It wasn’t that shocking. It wasn’t that surprising. It’s not something I haven’t already experienced plenty of times. I have a good feeling I know how the story goes.”
He walked away, prepared to begin his work.
Steven stepped up to her.
“What was that about?” he asked.
“He doesn’t care about parties,” she said. “He’s a real queer one. I’m not sure he’s gonna last very long around here.”
“Where’s the party?” Steven asked.
“They got cake?”
“Yeah,” she said. “And balloons.”
“Shit,” Steven said. “So who’s the party for?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “That weirdo couldn’t tell me. He’s new. He doesn’t know many people yet.”
“Well, let’s go and pretend like we care. Don’t wanna miss out on the cake.”
“Yeah,” she said. “And I like balloons.”
They entered the common area. They got their cake and mingled.
When she returned to her desk, she realized she’d left a client on hold. The client was now gone.
“Oh, well,” she thought. “That’s what happens when there’s cake.”
She tensed for a moment, wondering if there would be any repercussion for disrespecting a client the way she did.
Then she realized, if she got questioned about it by her manager, all she’d have to say is, “But there was cake.”
Then she knew for sure her manager would understand.