Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sample Sunday: The World According to Spellcheck

(This is an excerpt from the opening story in my Short Story Collection: Spellcheck Nation - the protagonist is using the random output that Spellcheck gives for non traditional words to chart her life.)

Confident of its power and accuracy, I turned my office situation over to Spellchecker so I could have an edge. I have never been good at office politics. There are people who when they get a job, hire a strategist to help them navigate the existing employee hierarchy and restructure it for their advantage. Before this job, I was fired because the “strategist” (whose written report I found) told my new boss to get rid of anyone who was adept and confident or a loner and bring in really addled workers who were too busy swooning over soap opera stars and rehashing Temptation Island episodes to strategize. She advised the boss to sprinkle in a few employees who still needed a “note in their lunchbox” i.e. the needy and immature. I was so taken with that analogy I began to like the strategist even though she had cost me my job.
Spellchecker would help me strategize in my own situation. I took all the people in my division and entered their names and kept a list of their Spellchecker personalities. We had a Barbra and due to the deficit spelling without middle a, she was a barber, a barbarian, a bra and a bramble. It all made sense. She ate with her mouth open like a barbarian and she shaved ten to twenty minutes off her work time by arriving late and leaving early. She was christened “the bra” because of her breasts and she was thorny on issues of responsibility. Barbra was definitely and completely her spellchecker self. Lorrie was a liar, a casual liar: a person who lies for no personal gain. Lorrie was also a lorry, a conveyance – and she was. She ran the shipping department and ran it well. Cindy was definitely candy (eye candy) and a cinder (flighty as an ash) and candid like a child. She would say archly, “I’m going to the ladies room to see if I’ve got the curse.” She was always waiting for her period to appear and save her yet again from an accidental pregnancy. Camilla was camel-like, loping and hunched over. Darryl was dark and drawled. Marian was marooned, deserted with two kids by an errant husband who had been a Marine. Simon was simian, with long monkey arms. And Cybil was like a cymbal, she reverberated by repeating the last word of everything anyone said. If she asked you to lunch and you said, I brought my lunch and ate it already. She would echo “already.” And if you said, the report is on my desk. She would echo, “desk.” Ali ailed, a hypochondriac. Nina was terminally inane. She would read the sodium contents of a rice cake and feel betrayed: “ Oh, that’s like so much for a thing to have.” Daria was definitely derailed by a serious case of BDD, body dismorphic disorder – a grim fixation on some flaw about one’s appearance. She also had RMG, route morning grumpiness but that was outside of her spellcheck personality and possibly just a by-product of her BDD.
I was delighted and a little obsessed by my new best friend. It occurred to me that I could refine the personality profiles by also spell checking the legal surname. I entered my own name, one I considered homogenous and a snap to spell. Spellchecker had other ideas. When I typed in Wily it brought up wily. It was so obvious, why had I never seen it? The name was advantageous alphabetically keeping me safely off committees, juries, campaign voter registration calls, etc all filled early and amply by the Andersons and Browns. Now, in just seconds this lifeless name was turned into a Machiavellian bundle of cunningness. Wiliness, in my mind, was a fairytale trait and only came to mind when I thought of that fable about the fox tricking the crow out of the cheese or maybe it was grapes. But as soon as Spellchecker declared me wily, I took on the attribute. It was better than liposuction; it was a personality makeover that promised a life change. I was itchy to exercise my sly and wily birthright and almost immediately an opportunity presented itself.
My company was having a convention and they had chosen three candidates, myself (to pretend they were age blind) and two others, to give a speech on how the business community had improved for women. Agatha (agitate, avatar) had said that it was all so much bullshit. That the company didn’t give a rat’s ass about the progress women had made in the workplace. That all they wanted was to pay as little as possible and excess us when we hit 50. The convention was just an excuse for middle management men to get drunk and get laid and they were only including the feminism segment to deflect bad publicity over a harassment suit brought by one of the secretaries.
I couldn’t believe how much I wanted to be chosen and give that speech. I knew that I would be good at it and also carve out a persona within the company that would get me noticed. When the final choice was made, (surprise, it wasn’t me) the candidate had to bow out due to appendicitis and the second choice (surprise, not me) took her place. I ignored the defeat and wrote a speech that I considered honest and engaging. Each night I honed my delivery in front of a mirror. I even envisioned the laughter and approbation in the auditorium and the company president, a man I had only seen on the business channel explaining to Mark Haines why his company had not met the “whisper number” for the third quarter. In my imagination, after my speech, the CEO rose from his seat behind the dais and gave me a big hug and kiss. Mind you I didn’t really want all this. By this time, I was planning to leave the job which was dull and confining as soon as I had put in enough time to build a compelling resume. My resume at the moment was slight. What could I say? I was married twenty years and cooked seven thousand evening meals? And after all that work, the marriage didn’t work out. If Spellchecker thought I was wily then I had been squelching my wiliness and squandering my potential. I was no better than Cain who sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge (a bible story, I considered carelessly plotted.) If I practiced my wiliness I would have a new key to my personality; stretch and exercise the authentic self that Gary Sukov (succor, solo, sulked and sucked) was always promoting as ideal. I would be more comfortable in my skin.