I’ve been going through my novel to make a “de-pornified,” semi-safe-for-work version for use in the long-postponed Part 20 of the Impala Hell Project series (yes, there’s a connection between the Impala Hell Project and Torment, Incorporated), and I ran across this paragraph that sums up the way I feel about the American office-cubicle workplace.
I was getting into it as well; designing the most unpleasant, soul-crushing work environment would require the hand of a master. I told Charlene to give me a week and I’d have her team slaving in the ideal setting. First order of business was the Annex. I sketched out some plans and rang up some contractors, paying triple-time for fast building. We set the place up in the basement, for that gloomy, oppressive ambience. Since the existing basement was a bit too cheery for our needs, some major remodeling was in order; I obtained several boilers from a shuttered Detroit asbestos factory and had them rigged up to leak steam and heat the place to a miserable, humid 100 degrees. The fluorescent lighting was ripped out and replaced with several 500-watt mercury-vapor floodlights, chosen for their unearthly pinkish-orange light and dismal hum. We rigged up a couple of telephones in a locked office next to the work area and had them set up to ring for hours on end. Scratchy Chinese pop music played on lo-fi PA speakers, punctuated by blaring commands in incomprehensible tongues like Urdu, Basque, and Miwok. The “work stations” really gave me the satisfied feeling of a job well done: I modeled them on the primate-behavior-testing cubicles used by the army to train chimpanzees to find land mines, down to the banana-pellet dispensers and shock-electrode ankle clamps. Each cubicle had a Soviet-era terminal, complete with 9” monochrome monitor and Cyrillic keyboard; the whole mess served by an ENIAC 500 mechanical-relay computer of late-50s vintage. Each programmer would be hooked up to a catheter for urination; each 18-hour shift would have one “defecation minute,” during which the employee would be permitted to shit into a hole in the concrete floor, finishing up with a traditional corncob wipe. They’d sleep in tattered Cub Scout folding bunks and awaken to a bugle call for morning calisthenics, as the rats scurried around their feet, snouting hungrily for banana-pellet crumbs.