It was a strange and maddening scene today at a non-descript government office building in downtown Toronto. The 7th floor erupted in an intense brand of contained chaos rarely seen outside prison riots and cock fights.
It started early this morning with a vicious rumour and spiraled into a full-blown conspiracy theory that had a few dozen civil servants whipped into a violent frenzy by lunch time.
Apparently someone whispered that the government was considering doing away with casual Fridays.
The first to react was Janine. Always touted as the office’s most eccentric (ie office talk for “crazy lady”), when she heard she might not be able to wear her open-toed sandals and baggy sweatshirt to the office once a week anymore, she snapped. There was little delay between hearing the news and her reaction. Synapses fired and she acted on pure rage and instinct and simply ran full bore through the wall of her cubicle.
After a moment of stunned silence, as coworkers wiped the cardboardy drywall dust that Janine had stirred up from their eyes, she blasted through another wall, then another, then another. By the time she had made it halfway to other side of the floor, the fever had spread.
Debbie, the office manager, reached across the half wall that surrounded her desk and grabbed the plant on Debra’s desk that had always hung just a little over onto her neighbour’s area. She pulled the plant from its pot with one violent jerk and swung hard and fast. Before Debra knew what had hit her, her nose was broken as a heavy clump of roots plowed into her face, sending a spray of blood, broken glasses and topsoil across the office.
Kenny, the marketing intern, who had been on his phone when Janine thundered through his cubicle, suddenly ripped the entire phone from the wall, screaming.
It was as if Janine had tipped some finely balanced scale in Kenny’s young mind and she’d finally pushed him over the brink into sheer madness. He rolled his chair to the desk next to him, ripping out that phone too, bringing with it a satisfying chunk of drywall. He then proceeded to roll down the hall of cubicles, ripping each phone out of the wall in turn, collecting a little pile of plastic office phones on his lap and screaming the entire time.
Cathy, the vice-president of communications, returned from Tim Hortons and was nearly hit in the face with a keyboard that was being used by Kathy from HR to viciously bludgeon a fax machine. For a second the action stopped; as if somehow the crowd expected this newly arrived senior staffer to grab the reigns and quell the intense storm that was brewing. But far from it – the sight of hard-breathing action and the smell of smoke from destroyed office appliances in the air triggered some sort of savage instinct long dormant in the young VP’s psyche. She poured her lidless, scalding-hot peppermint tea on the exposed cleavage of the wily Human Resourses manager and the two crashed through the glass door to the office in a twisted, primal clash of hair, nails and guttural screeching.
The entire floor was chaos. Acrid black smoke began billowing up from various work stations around the office where once mild mannered public servants had taken the opportunity to exact swift and fatal revenge on whatever technological device had given them the most offence over the years. Oft frozen computers, jammed printers, flickering overheard lamps, spotty fax machines -all were loudly, horribly – and in some instances sexually – assaulted.
There was no time for questions and no time to think about what was happening – only time to react and grab hold of something nearby – and to destroy it. No time to ask where, for example, did Chris get a shotgun? And why was he using it to blast dinner-plate sized holes in the communal fridge? No time to wonder how Sanjib and the rest of the IT guys managed to secure the dozen or so heavy lengths of chain they were now using to wage an all out offensive on the server room. No time to ask where all the German shepherds came from. Only time to get to higher ground to avoid the loud and angry snapping of their foaming mouths.
Every time it felt as though the action was dying down, there would be some new offense to avenge, some piece of equipment found among the rubble that demanded immediate destruction.
But by 2pm, it seemed as if everyone had settled into tribes that were guarding loosely defined territories. Some tribes were defined by interoffice status – the Quality Assurance people naturally stayed together, lingering apprehensively around what remained of a water cooler.
And some tribes were a collection of those with similar interests – the office fat guys had naturally migrated to the snack machines and now fended off any and all intruders with powerful, chocolate stained, arching haymakers.
But then a low guttural rumbling from the staircase signaled that the uneasy truce was about to end. Helen, a lumbering behemoth of a woman and a 25 year veteran of the branch, had long ago disappeared. Some thought that she might be lost, dead somewhere amongst the rubble; others assumed she had slunk off to hide until the action was over – she had a pension to think about after all.
But now she returned, shattering the door to the lobby stairs in an explosion of noise and wood splinters. The 62 year old Records Management Clerk burst in astride a low-slung, vintage Harley 74. It was fully chopped and nothing remained but the bare essentials and that angry, chortling 74-cubic-inch engine. The deafening noise of the engine and the sight of its rider, straddling that throaty iron beast wearing nothing but a Nazi style crash helmet and swinging an antique mace, were enough to set the riot off again.
Blood thirsty battle ensued. Economic Policy Analysts were bashing in the skulls of Database Administrators with three hole punches. Accounting Clerks gouged out the eyes of Development Officers. Budget Directors smashed out the teeth of Health and Safety Officers.
And then somewhere, amidst the carnage, the call went out, “The managers!”
The single thought took hold and the group chanted it like a mantra.
They became a ravenous but deadly-focused mob scouring the wreckage for a manager, any manager, hungry to focus their rage at a suitable target.
“I’ve got one!” came the call from the copy room. A burly female Information Officer had cornered Melvin, Public Relations Manager, who was cowering in the dusty rafters over a bank of unused photocopiers.
The blood thirsty mob assembled, Helen’s Harley pushing her to forefront, burning people’s calves with her tailpipes, muscling her way forward until she sat nearly directly underneath Melvin.
There was only the growl of the engine, the whistling of the 62-year-old’s mace as she swung it above her head and the terror in the PR Manager’s eyes.
Then Melvin’s cheap Casio digital issued two quick, low beeps in succession. The mob froze.
“It’s five o’clock” he muttered.
And because they were government employees, they all went home.