This piece was originally featured on my personal blog, Face In The Blue.
I remember writing this in a single enthusiastic sitting. It came very easily to me. At the time I was working at a Call Centre for Sprint Canada, so the cubicled workplace was more than a theoretical setting for me. I had also just seen Office Space, so I tried to incorporate what I liked about that into my scene. One of my favourite television shows at the time was the old Brit-Com Yes, Minister, so I adapted a line from that too.
It hasn’t aged as well as my other short play, The Artists’ Farce: The passage of time has left Bill Gates and floppy disks behind, but I guess if you keep in mind it was written in the late 90s it works as well now as it did then. A couple of friends and I acted it out in a drama class later that year, and I remember one of my classmates really threw himself into the gag of falling off his stool… We had a lot of fun with it. Anyway, here it is:
By Geoffrey Micks
[The stage is dark except for a three-sided office cubicle, open to the audience. Inside there is a desk with a computer against one wall and a chair. Behind the cubicle, out of sight, there is a stool.]
Jake: [Enters with a cup of coffee. Sits.] John? You in there? [Bangs on back wall of cubicle.]
John: [Head appears over the top of the back wall. The actor is standing on the hidden stool] Do you have to say, ‘In there’? Isn’t this box enough of a prison as it is?
Jake: Um, I guess so.
John: Is that coffee?
Jake: Yes it is.
John: From home, or is it the office muck?
Jake: I brought it from home.
John: Oh, I hate to ask Jake, but can I have a little bit?
Jake: You’re not feeling a cold coming on, are you?
Jake: Because I caught the last bug that was going around, and I bet it had something to do with you sharing my coffee.
John: I’m fine. I’m as healthy as a horse!
Jake: You took thirty sick days this year.
John: Well, I wasn’t sick. Just ‘sick.’ You know.
Jake: Okay, go ahead. [Hands John the cup, who takes a long swallow]
John: Gee, that’s nice. [hands cup back]
Jake: Well, I try.
John: Are you all set for the inquisition?
Jake: What’s that?
John: The inquisition! Today’s the day! [Pull up a calendar. One day is circled in red several times, with big arrows pointing to it.]
Jake: Okay, I’m impressed. What are we talking about?
John: The Bi-Annual Performance—
Both: [In chorus, from rote] Evaluation of Middle-Level Positions by Upper Management.
Jake: I’d forgotten that was today.
John: I’m doomed!
Jake: You’re a real cheery guy, you know that? You’ve been doomed for the last twenty reviews, and you’re still here.
John: Yeah, but this time I mean it! They’re checking over our work for the last six months!
Jake: So what? You’re not done?
John: Of course I’m done, but I’m a genius! An unappreciated gem! They’re never going to understand how I arrived at my conclusions. They’re upper management! They’re a bunch of lame-brained incompetents, and I’m way too smart—WHOOP! [Head disappears, long pause, reappears]
Jake: You fell off your stool again?
John: Why do they put wheels on these things?
Jake: You know you can take those off with a screwdriver, right?
Bill: [Enters] Take what off?
Jake: His wheels.
Bill: [Looks up at John] You have wheels? Where have you been hiding those? That’s not a euphemism for your–
John: Hi, Bill! How are you? That’s great! So nice to see you! Tell me, to what do we owe the pleasure of your presence so far from the third floor where you belong?
Bill: You don’t like me much, do you, John?
John: No, as a matter of fact. I don’t.
Bill: Well why don’t you go play with your wheels while I have a heart to heart with old Jake here? Got all your work ready for the big review, big guy? [Leans way out into the imaginary aisle towards the audience, as if looking for something.]
Jake: Yes, it’s all in here. [Pats computer affectionately.] Three hundred and twenty regular hours with another forty-seven of overtime. It’s perfect. I can save the company tens of thousands of dollars a year!
Bill: [Distracted] And… Uh… How are you going to do that, Jakey?
Jake: I ran an audit on wasteful spending. Take petty cash, for example: If we bought our office supplies wholesale and in bulk, rather than at retail prices as we need it—
John: Why do you even bother? They’re just going to put you back in your box like they’ve done since we started working here.
Jake: That’s not true. Why just look at our successful Bill here. Bill? Bill!
Bill: [Startled] What?
Jake: What are you looking for?
Bill: Has she been by yet?
Bill: The copy girl!
Jake: She has a name, Bill!
John: Yeah, Wonder Butt.
Jake: Shame on both of you! Women aren’t just pieces of meat!
Bill: That’s true: They cook too.
Jake: That’s terrible! I have a sister—
Bill: I’ve seen her. Not interested.
Bill: Shh! Here she comes! [All eyes follow the movement of a figure offstage. Heads swivel in unison from stage left to stage right.]
Bill: Told you!
John: Wonder Butt!
Bill: You said it. Isn’t she something, Jakey? That girl’s got curves on her in places that other women don’t even have places! [Begins to gesture a voluptuous figure with his hands, almost knocking over Jake’s coffee cup.]
Jake: Watch the coffee! Don’t spill it on the computer.
Bill: Relax, Jakey! You’re all tense. Are you a little nervous? You should come on up to advertising with me on the third floor. How can you mess up advertising?
John: Well, your commercials suck.
Bill: Ah, but that’s marketing’s problem for not using our focus groups to shift our saturated message coverage from our subsidiaries to our key demographics.
Jake: What does that mean, exactly?
Bill: It means it’s not my fault.
John: He’s got an excuse for everything.
Bill: Successful people always do. Oh, hey, look at the time! I’ve got to get to my bi-annual pat on the back. Gotta go, fellas! [Exits]
John: Our turn soon.
Jake: Right. I better pull everything up here…[Taps keys, high pitched beeping] Fatal error 7-1-1. What’s that?
John: God, I love Microsoft.
Jake: No, seriously… What’s a 7-1-1?
John: Well, if I remember right, that’s when a crucial, career-altering file is left inside a computer running the devil-spawn software of Mr. Bill Gates.
Jake: You’ve got to help me!
John: No, I have to go to my inquisition. Wish me luck? [Jake is staring, slack-jawed, at his computer] Fine, Jinx me! I hope you—Oh, what’s the point? You’re fired already, aren’t you?
Jake: I think so…
John: Well, I’ll see you in the welfare office! [Head disappears]
Jake: Okay… Okay… Stay calm… Reboot, and find the back up disk.
Bill: [Enters] Hey, how you doing, kid?
Jake: I just watched my career go down the toilet. [Going through desk drawers.]
Bill: [Not really listening] Say, that’s great. Let’s talk about me now! I go in there, and they’re all over me about how my crummy ads aren’t meeting their objectives and my department is failing in our goals. So I look them square in the eye, nod, and I say, “Yes, I can see you have a problem there. You see, while it has always been company policy to regard policy as the responsibility of management, and the administration of policy as the responsibility of the administrators, the question of the administration of policy can cause some confusion between the administration OF policy, and the policy of the administrators. Especially when the responsibility for the administration of the policy of the administrators overlaps or conflicts with the responsibility of the policy of the administrators of policy.
Jake: [Pauses in search, looks at Bill in confusion] What does that even mean?
Bill: I dunno, but they gave me a five grand raise for saying it. Not as good as last year, but I really shouldn’t complain…
Jake: Has anyone every told you you’re the scum of the Earth?
Bill: All the time: I just love to hear that I’m the salt of the Earth.
Jake: Scum of the Earth.
Bill: [Condescending] No you’re not, Jakey! Just because you can’t hold down a job doesn’t mean you’re scum.
John: [head reappears] Hi guys!
Bill: Oh hi, John.
[Jake resumes his search.]
John: How’d your meeting go?
Bill: I’ve had better, but they really liked my fridge magnet idea!
John: Fridge magnet?
Bill: Oh, yeah. Advertising’s going back to the basics as far as old Bill’s concerned. Here, I’ve got one somewhere around here. [Starts going through his pockets.]
Jake: [Relieved] Hey! I found my back up disk! [Holds it up in triumph.]
Bill: Here you go, John. [Hands magnet up to John, bumps it against the disk.]
Jake: Bill! You moron! You can’t put a magnet next to a computer disk! [Throws down the disk and starts throttling Bill.]
John: [Reaches down, grabs up the coffee cup, and takes another drink.] This really is good coffee, you know?
Jake: [Releases Bill] Oh, shut up! I’m finished! I’m sacked! Don’t either of you care?
[Long silence… Longer…]
John: I get his desk!
Bill: I get his printer!
John: Fine, but I get his computer!
Bill: Okay, but I’m taking the picture of his family!
[Jake takes out a sheet of paper.]
Voice from Offstage: Jake?
[Jake draws a big circle on the paper]
Bill: No fair! What good’s the stapler without staples?
Voice from Offstage: Jake!
John: Does that mean I get his stapler?
Bill: Not a chance!
Voice from Offstage: Jake! Come in here!
Jake: Hey guys? Does this look like a circle to you? [Holds up the paper.]
John: Huh? Are you still here?
Bill: No, that’s not a circle! It’s all lopsided. Now go away. The employed individuals are discussing important matters of serious consequence.
[Jake exits with his piece of paper]
John: Give’em hell, tiger!
Bill: I want his garbage can!
John: White out!
Bill: Dental plan!
John: Dental plan? You can’t take that?
Bill: Why not?
John: You just can’t. That gets cancelled after he leaves.
Bil: Oh, well… When you put it that way… I get his coffee cup!
Jake: [Enters, looking confident] Hi guys.
John: Okay, I really want to know this: Is the pink slip really pink, or is that just a myth?
Jake: [Cocky] The new vice president of internal spending wouldn’t know.
John: I didn’t ask him. I asked you.
Jake: We’re like the same person, buddy.
John: Really? Could you ask him for a raise for me?
Jake: No, I mean I am the new VP for internal spending.
Bill: How did you pull that off, slugger?
Jake: [Pulls the circle page out of his pocket and shows it to the audience] I told them I had proved we were wasting zero dollars a year.
John: But that’s not true!
Jake: I know. I told them what they wanted to hear, and they really liked hearing it.
Bill: So let me get this straight… Ten years you tell the truth, and you get nothing…
John: Zip, Zilch, Zero! [Bill silences him with a gesture.]
Bill: But when you lie to them and say everything is alright, they promote you?
Jake: That is exactly what happened, yes. Isn’t upper management great?
Bill: So, as a VP, does this mean you get to talk to that copy girl?
Jake: Yes indeed it does. I was talking to her on my way back here, actually, and she asked me to give you a message.
Jake: Yes, Wonder Butt says [slaps Bill across the face] she has perfect hearing!
Bill: [Rubs jaw] Good to know. I’m glad she doesn’t hear what we call her up on the third floor. I’d’ve gotten my [clears throat] ripped off.
Jake: Oh, thanks! That reminds me: John?
John: [Startled] WHOOP! [Head disappears, long pause, reappears.] Yes sir?
Jake: The janitor’s coming by in ten minutes to rip your wheels off.
[Bill faints into Jake’s arms. Everyone freezes. Lights go down. Curtain closes.]