Thursday, September 30, 2004

They Thought The Beach Was Something To Eat

It was a client day at work, which means an abrupt change in the dress code. I passed a few dozen people clad in their mutually understood version of “smart business casual” before figuring out that my jeans and rumpled dress shirt were way below par.

My jeans are daringly snug on the best of days. I was hungry for a new look when I tried them on, and felt so Stones in the 70’s in them that I wore them home from the store. But when you’re dressed like “Exile on Main Street” and everyone else is dressed for “Success on Wall Street,” all that sassy confidence just deflates like a hot air balloon with a gunshot wound.

I went into the bathroom to gather my thoughts, took a deep breath and leaned up against the counter close to look myself in the eyes for a pep talk. That’s when I found the puddle. Some clown left a small lake of water around the sink. It all soaked directly into the crotch of my jeans the instant I leaned against the bathroom counter.

The aforementioned story might be true. An alternate truth might be that I take Prozac for mild chronic depression, otherwise known as “being in my twenties.” Prozac is second only to caffeine in the neurological makeup of today’s post-Gen-Xers, so I’m hardly alone here. Those of you that take it know (and do not discuss) this particular drug’s most common side effect: a certain insensitivity in the urethra. This can cause impotence, but in less extreme cases it just makes you dribble like an 80 year old man with a wooden prostate. It basically just exchanges one set of depressing circumstances for another.

The point is that on it my second day of work I was totally underdressed, standing in the bathroom at ten am with a large wet spot on my pants that might or might not have been my urine.

I untucked my shirt. The flaps of the shirtfront covered the spot enough to get me back to my desk. I just spent the whole morning scooted in tight.

I rode home to change over my lunch break, grabbing the first pair of dress pants I could find. The ankles were still rolled up and sandy from that time I wore them to the beach last week. Chain mail leggings would have been fine by me. Then as soon as I relaxed back into my desk, the fire alarm went off. The whole office trouped outdoors, blinking in the sunlight and chattering about nothing. Fire trucks came and went, and we all trouped back in…then the weirdness really started.

A workman on the floor above mine had tripped an alarm by accident, triggering the sprinkler system and flooding the eighth floor offices. All the water had slowly drained through our light fixtures and flooded my seventh-floor cubicle farm. I had to sneak past the building maintenance guys to get my stuff. They were desperately trying to keep everyone away. I thought it was because of the electric hazard, but no…

While we were all smoking and chitchatting out in the afternoon sun, an entire wetland ecosystem sprouted in my flooded office. Clear water, sepia-toned from decades worth of decaying leaves and papers trickled around cypress knees. Water striders flicked around lily pads in the aisles like they had been there forever. People had to get to their desks by way of stepping-stones and abandoned office chairs. I was almost to mine, reaching from a chair to an oval-shaped piece of shale when I splashed into the water.

Remember the weirdness I was talking about? This is where it starts.

The water back by the copy machines rippled ominously towards me. I could make out a squadron of about twenty brownish-black spheres roughly the size of croquet balls moving through the water in tight formation, aiming straight at me.

They moved like a school of fish trained by fighter pilots, veering around obstacles like a single organism, some turning lazy barrel rolls through the water. As they rolled, I could just make out an oval-shaped orifice in the spheres. As they approached, they all flipped orifice-side up and paused. Rippling muscular tongues about a foot long unfurled from each hole. Once the tongues unfurled, antennae probed out of the tips. These animate croquet balls were actually giant snails swimming in tight formation like a school of barracuda, sighting on my ankles and moving in for the kill.

Everything moved so fast, but in slow motion like sprinting in a bad dream. I remember looking down at my ankles in the rich, swampy water in the office, seeing minnows picking at my toes and small clouds of sand emanate from my pants cuffs, offloading deposits of sand form the beach.

The swarm of giant snails divided to surround my ankles. I could feel their twenty mucoid heads jabbing at my feet, the slippery fingers of their antennae caressing my ankles. I was too scared to move, and just stood there astonished. And then it hit me: these weren’t vicious attack snails at all—they were curious and hungry.

The clouds of sand had disappeared from my ankles and most of the snails wandered off. A few smaller ones remained, hungrily licking grains of sand off the pebbles nearby. It dawned on me: this giant school of snails had grown up in an office-swamp environment. The sand from my pants was totally foreign to them, and probably smelled delicious. They thought the beach was something to eat.


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