It was early afternoon and Jess walked into my office. I was alone and listening to the Beastie Boys on my computer.
“Oh god,” she said. “You’re listening to that eighties crap again. Things must be bad.”
“It’s nineties crap, actually. And yes, things are bad.”
Jess peered over my shoulder. “Working hard as well, I see.”
My screen displayed a Wikipedia entry on the Norman Invasion.
“What can I say? I am very into the Normans at the moment. Did you know they used to blind and castrate their enemies?” Jess frowned. “Yes, when they captured enemy nobleman they’d disfigure them and hand them back. It was considered more effective than actually killing them.”
“It was in a way. They got a lot done.”
“You seem to be in some kind of weird zone here. I was going to ask if you wanted a coffee.”
“Canteen or Costa?”
“Costa – my treat.”
“Then I’m your man.”
In the coffee shop we found our usual corner occupied.
“How selfish,” Jess said. “Look, he’s taking up the whole table with his laptop and paperwork.”
“Yes, why do people do that? If you want to do work, get a bloody office. Stop using our leisure space.”
“Yeah, what a loser.” Jess’s smile chipped at my gloom. She was star-shine and wonder.
The man looked over, so we hurried to the adjacent corner.
“But really.” I sat down. “The Internet has made our lives worse in a lot of ways.”
“Says the man who gets all his dates from the Internet.”
“No, hear me out. I realised something today. I realised that I cannot get through the working day without checking something on the Internet at least every, say, ten minutes. Max.”
Jess tipped three sugars into her skinny latte.
“Yes, its non-stop. And its gotten worse since I moved desks. Now, I face out from the corner so people can’t see what I’m looking at on my screen. It’s ridiculous. They can’t blame me for slacking. They’re almost forcing me to do it. All day long I feel the strong desire to keep checking things. I check my personal emails, I check my notifications on Twitter, I check my friends’ activities on Facebook. I keep checking the Sky News site. See, on top of everything else, it seems I’m checking on world events. Just to make sure everything’s still running.”
“Rita thought it would seem more welcoming if you faced outwards.”
“Welcoming for who, the people I’m about to sack? Honestly, what nonsense. Anyway, I’m talking about the Internet.”
“Marco, get over it. This is how we live now. Look, I’ve got my phone out on the table. If something flashes up, you know I’m going to check. It’s a social norm now.”
“Oh, Jessica, how do you manage to be so calm about these things?”
She shook her head, stirring her coffee.
“You’re stressed,” she said.
“Yes, I am.”
“Don’t tell me, Rita.”
“She hates me.”
“Don’t say that, you’re supposed to be cheering me up here. And helping me cook up a plan. Cheering and planning – channing.”
Jess forced a smile. The quip was substandard.
“But seriously,” I said. “I’m in a jam here. Why did Lisa have to leave? She used to let me get away with stuff, or rather, the lack of stuff. And now, thanks to you, I have Charlotte – another senior manager – on my case.”
“Come on.” Jess said. “You can’t blame me. You messed that one up all by yourself.”
“What, by talking to her?”
“By insulting her mentally ill brother.”
“I did not insult him, for goodness sake. I made a lighthearted comment about him. Jesus. How is that an insult? I blame Twitter and its outrage culture. People are permanently offended these days. And weirdly enough, things are even worse in the corporate world – everyone is so sensitive. Sensitive and vicious at the same time. I mean, what a horrid combination. It’s all very inconvenient. It used to be alright, pre-Rita. Now I have her monitoring me, like some kind of evil dinner lady.”
Jess laughed. “At least you still have your online dating stuff.”
“Yes, that’s something.” I allowed a smirk, to suggest wild success.
“The blog going well?”
“Yes, I have a small but dedicated following.”
“You make it sound like I’m churning out chick-lit. I am trying to make High Art, you know.”
“High art with a dating blog? Come on, Marco, who do you think you are? Don’t tell me, I bet you give all your dates kooky names to conceal their identities.” Then in a husky voice: “I went out with Miss Artist again last night.”
Jess did an impression of what I presumed to be me typing – somewhat seedily – in a darkened room.
“Am I in your blog?” She said.
“No way!” She leaned over the table and slapped my arm. “You are joking. Oh God, you’re not joking. Well, I just hope you’re not being a bitch.”
I rubbed my arm. “I’m always kind, Jessica. It’s everyone else you should be worried about.”
This is a serialisation of my book ‘I am Marcello’.