Bapp Bapp BappThe soundtrack to the working life in D.C. goes bapp bapp bapp bappa bapp bapp bapp, a beat thumped out by the sound of young feet in heels and stylish office shoes. The beat starts at 5:30 out in the 'burbs, hammering onto subways, off the concrete and into long marble corridors lined with elevators. By eight a.m. the beat is omnipresent and deafening, rattling the keys in your pocket, waking up winos and sending them packing. The beat whirls pigeons up in great greasy clouds through D.C.'s concrete canyons and shifts off subway rats in an orderly fashion.
I use my fingers to drum the beat on the table in the training room my first week of work, trying to adapt. It’s not just a matter of physically learning how to imitate the beat, but training my core being not to reject it like my body would a chimp’s heart.
If the heels of classy office shoes are the kick drum on the corporate drumbeat, rustling grey wool provides a quiet ride cymbal sound with the tinkling of keys and beeping of Outlook inboxes working as a polyrhythm. Serious young people talk about Bethesda, Ballston and Arlington, lunchtime Pilates classes and after-work happy hours. A real dominant theme in the meet—and-greet in my first training session of my very first day is the decision all these bright motivated 24 year olds made to “enter the private sector.”
I haven’t introduced myself this much since college. Apart from a slight change in verb tense, the introductions are exactly the same: “Where you from, what did you major in, what did you do before you got here?”
Some of these bright young champions worked for other financial institutions, but most just graduated from college this spring. When I say that I was a pizza cook at a bar until two weeks ago, there are smiles and snickers. The laughter is not condescending, but I do wonder what’s so funny.
Men in the training room are all wearing white shirts and a tie, or a sharply pressed navy blue dress shirt. Women wear skirts unless they wear slacks. All shoes are stylish and sensible; all clothes are pressed.
My first-day-of work pants only have a small hole on one leg, right at the seam. I found my sport jacket in a dumpster in Perth. It covers the cooling sweat pooling in my pits from the bike ride to work very nicely. I “ironed” my shirt last night by hanging it in the shower and steaming the hell out of it, re-steaming it this morning with shorter shower.
The beat is deceptively simple—very easy on paper, but hard as all hell to learn. Maybe the corporate beat is like Japanese where subtle fluctuations in tone mean altogether different things and unless you’ve been practicing since birth you’re fucked.
For the entire prolonged adolescence that’s substituted for my adult life, I’ve been able to wrap my pop-coolness around me like a defensive cloak. Now I can’t hide behind a vintage t-shirt and an attitude any more than I can rebuild my cubicle into a fortress made out of my amazing cd collection. I’m just like everyone else and I’ve actually got to achieve to get ahead. I’ve got to practice that beat till it comes naturally. I just hope I don’t forget how to play my way in the process.