Tara’s introduction to tradition came in the form of constantly missing Saturday morning cartoons, to clean up her mother’s Friday night binge. The vivid memories of childhood didn’t include learning to ride a bike, which seemed ordinary compared to the extraordinary adventures that conjured classic excuses for school:
“My mother mistook my homework for toilet paper.”
A modern spin on a golden oldie, “my mother’s boyfriend fed my homework to his dog.”
For years, tradition scared Tara, in some aspects it still did. With age comes the wisdom to distinguish fair on an asymmetrical plain and in her best impression of a tightrope artist, she does her damnedest to remain upright in an unfair world. Fortunately, in time extreme fear erodes to a manageable apprehension where she embraced mornings she spotted business attire amongst the casual masses.
“I remember my first day of school,” Tara quipped following the well-dressed newbie as she absently played with the clear straw sticking out of her overpriced latte.
The first day as a game tester versus the first day of a conventional job landed on two ends of a Richter scale judging bad to awesome. It is subjective because where the needle lands relied on the tester’s brand of humor.
“We’ve got a live one,” she heard her colleague and roommate needlessly hum leaning on the wall separating their cubicles.
Chewing plastic, she watched the attractive man maneuver the gauntlet of curious nerds fingering his red tie. He almost lost the bag slung over his shoulder swatting hands away reminding her of a scene with Woody and the gawking alien toys in Toy Story. He recovered his bag again when it slid down to his elbow catching a fray haired gamer peeking inside.
“He’s sexy,” Lafayette observed.
To toy with the gay man she added, “he’s straight.”
“I’m not going to ask him to make a life decision bitch.”
Tara dropped down in the comfort of her cubicle swiveling her chair to her desktop, “you look like the guy who was sitting beside me during the sexual harassment seminar.”
The dark skinned man dismissed his coworker, “bitch, you’re the reason they scheduled it a month early.”
He dodged a ball of paper discerning a half grimace from his roommate. He irritated a raw wound flashing to a carefully crafted heart made of Lego, placed on a certain marketing
executive’s desk. Tara earned her reputation as the office prankster for worse offenses, but the older executive hadn’t appreciated the Valentine’s sentiment. With no material evidence to prove the definite identity of the culprit, people high on the food chain, charged the general assembly to attend a mandatory sexual harassment class.
While Lafayette knew Tara found the executive attractive, he also knew the person responsible for the Lego heart left the company three months ago for personal reasons. It was old news, but through an unofficial warning from her supervisor, she guessed they blamed her. If the game tester had ever entertained the thought or been inclined to act on that attraction, she refused to explore it. Pam, the marketing executive, ruined the bubble of perfection that surrounded her with false accusations. Tara took it personally more in light of rejection before she even mustered the courage to approach the queen of assumptions.
The memory renewed some residual feelings prompting Tara to say, “give me the hat.”
Her dark roommate visibly frowned, “for?”
“It’s tradition,” she stated.
“It’s mean,” Lafayette returned.
“It’s bad luck to ignore tradition Lafayette,” she chose her most ominous tone.
The knowledge of her roommate’s penchant for believing superstitions at first amused her. She wasn’t above exploiting it for times where she didn’t want to right the moral compass she retired for this particular brand of fun—revenge.
The phrase bad luck startled Lafayette. He disappeared from view exaggerating the task of opening and closing his desk drawer.
When he reappeared, “here bitch.”
Behind his scowl and inauthentic green eyes glowing with sympathy hid his amusement. Tara rose with the baseball cap in hand. Folded pieces of paper mixed under her fingers, “you coming?”
“No,” he pouted, his cubicle afforded him a good view.
She resumed her short trek to the humble newbie maneuvering the layout. The Pit was a rectangular room of video game posters, color, 53-inch beanbags, and a burgundy and gold gourmet popcorn machine named Henderson. The adult toy land housed twenty-three professional gamers, who agreed they could be doing worse things for a living because either they had or they liked to claim they had just to fit in.
Tradition is a cultural continuity that sometimes relies on channeling bored energy into an outlandish initiation. From the most diabolical minds shaped by the golden age of gaming and fantasy, everyone inside the hallowed walls of Mortcom is at risk of having a good time if they’re not inclined to take anything too seriously.
Tara greeted the newbie plopped in a beanbag waiting on his sponsor to show him the lay of the land. The colorful jungle had claws and tribes hidden behind the unassuming paunch of men with bad diets and vintage shirts as odes to the games they grew up playing. A language dispersed amongst them on the highest tier of hierarchical nerd syntax few spoke fluently.
The new addition jumped when he heard her straightening his tie with a sheepish smile that almost made her want to abort her selfish mission. In his effort to stand his hand slipped and he started again until he stopped sliding and succeeded.
“I’m Jason,” he shook her free hand, “Jason Stackhouse,” genuinely eager to make a friend like the first day of school.
“Tara,” she held out the left hand since her right was occupied, which would have made for an awkward handshake if Lafayette hadn’t took Jason’s offered hand instead.
“That’s a mighty strong grip,” the darker man teased batting his new eyelashes, “I’m Lafayette, but if it pleases you to call me anything else you go ahead.”
Jason’s smile didn’t falter from the dark man’s blatant flirtation accepting the unconventional welcome committee.
In order to make sense of Lafayette, because putting labels on things made people comfortable with it, some coworkers like to think of her roommate as another species. Lafayette encouraged her to ignore it understanding that people coped differently with homosexuality. Young Stackhouse didn’t flinch at her roommate’s whelming intonation and for that she found she liked Jason, enough to fold the hat in her grip behind her back. She’d have imagine another way to soothe her ego.
Following Lafayette’s compliment on his suit Jason’s cheeks warmed ruby with a comment to augment how out of place he felt.
“Some of these boys have yet to discover hygiene, I’m not naming any names—”
“Lafayette,” Tara warned.
He went on undaunted, “but there’s a guy who showers three times a week and brushes his teeth with a cloth and mouth wash, to each his own honey, but not a work.”
“You came on to the new guy five minutes in,” Tara broached.
“I’m being southern,” he defended.
Jason nodded to the hat Tara held, “what’s that?”
The dark skinned woman stalled, “what’s what?”
Blonde brows hiked when he pointed, “that paper in the hat, ya’ll do Secret Santa this early in June?”
She looked from the hat to Lafayette to help make an excuse. While they struggled a thin man with dimples hovered eager to join the office prank, “we’re pretty tight knit community of gamers. We like to think of ourselves as more than the oompa loompa’s of the game factory.”
Tara cringed as Dylan barreled on enunciating ‘we’ in a way that would make anyone suspicious. She waited for the obnoxious wink that would give them all away.
Dylan continued, “we think of interesting ideas and the new recruits, to feel included, get to pitch them to—”
“Marketing,” Tara jumped in, if she couldn’t abandon ship she might as well restore the course.
Dylan, their tall helper, encouraged Jason to dive in and choose. Jason turned his head to the right and away from the hat meeting the expectant gazes peeking from their respective cubicles.
Eager Dylan questioned, “what’s it say?”
Lafayette and Tara leaned in trying to read upside down.
“Using the Changlar Dance of War to market the C-Verse game,” he frowned.
In the next marinating seconds, Tara thought he might figure them out. Instead, his head came up again with the frown gone. In its place a game face that endeared the dark skinned woman to her new colleague, “I know this dance.”
Through a wary smile, she says, “great.”
Under Lafayette’s accusing glare, she sidestepped Dylan as he took Jason aside to help, “marketing?”
She half listened to Dylan explaining to Jason he had until the end of the day to complete the assignment. After a morning of demanding meetings, pitches, and paperwork Dylan suggested four thirty to present to the head of Executive Marketing.
“Their full of people with a sense of humor,” Tara said.
A box of gourmet chocolates with almond and red wine kept Pam’s secretary Venus pliant and happy. A handler delivered the gifts under the pseudonym of a secret admirer as always with a note of instructions. The executive’s secretary was a link on a chain of secretaries The Pit formed alliances with for insider knowledge on company projects or company gossip. As Lafayette’s brainchild, the gamers remained underestimated, with a flow of information tunneling in from various sources.
With access to a plethora of informational avenues, it only made sense to have a way to watch the humorous and sometimes disastrous performances of enthusiastic newbies. The 60-inch television hung on the wall to watch shows and hold friendly competitions amongst coworkers. It also occasionally spied on the new gamers via webcam streamed from a hidden camera to a computer with wireless access to the screen.
Tara tossed a rubber band ball up in the air to catch it on its descent.
Jason prepared for his slapstick errand while his intended target stepped through the doors of the building from a late lunch.
Pamela Swynford De Beaufort pressed the button to the sixth floor absently. The disproportionate curls of ideas tightened into braids to knot the smaller pieces into a bigger picture for her most recent project. The things that kept her sane most likely sent those broken minds fettered with stress to sail off buildings. She lived for the structure of deadlines secure in the hard sometimes-coarse edges of a purposeful business that answers a need to a consumer who barely knows what they need. The average person hates Monday, a return to the benign pattern that becomes dangerously redundant as the week progresses. She lived for Monday’s too, coffee helped.
The ethereal ding of a new message rang from her purse. When she retrieved her phone, the image of a true lothario of excess popped up as her best friend in his contact picture. Almost every weekend since he announced his engagement they went out in miniature bachelor parties at his behest. Unbeknownst to his bride to be because if she did suspect, Nora might have the good sense to call off the wedding Pam guessed.
Despite a fourteen-year friendship, she couldn’t fathom the bean in Eric’s head that sprouted the idea he wanted to the gargantuan responsibility of marriage. Eric overestimated his prowess in the climb in clouds he thought he could ascend on a provision of love. He never did master fidelity quite as stupendously as he did infidelity. He never cheated on her, as they never packed their connection into the inflexible corners of a relationship. Their colorful
history scaled the height of pleasure up until they became bored with each other. From the ashes of friends with benefits, a new platonic camaraderie emerged consisting of conversations about thriving careers or nonexistent sex lives. The nonexistent sex life was Pam’s personal contribution.
Along the way, they assured and reassured envious lovers like Eric’s fiancée Nora they were just friends. If only the woman knew, Pam was the only woman safe from her future husbands’ advances.
His text said: I see you’re future ex wife.
When Eric wasn’t worrying that her vagina might reach the consistency of sandpaper if she didn’t get laid, she served as a confidant and occasional wingman. Their friendship afforded these random messages where Eric met women under the pretense he was admiring them for Pam.
A lanky intern pushed a cart of files and drawings across the hall, barely missing her shoes when she exited the elevator. He skirted passed when he recognized her ducking under the predatory glare burning him.
She heard the ring for another notification. Eric cared, but it was hard to take the man seriously when she expected a sister message stating this mystery beauty accepted his proposal for a trial date. Simply put, he would romance her, sleep with her, and spare Pam no detail. The notches added to his belt worried the executive. Had all the sensible women moved away leaving a population of idiots that fell repeatedly for the line, ‘you look like my best friend’s type’?
Women like that gave the general population a bad name and feeling as if she had to over compensate Pam was often mistaken as a snob. Unapologetic for her confidant energy she strode to her office forgetting Eric and the intern still rolling around with the squeaky wheeled cart. She liked to think people admired her tenacity as a designer and her business mind. With a healthy ego how could she not? She never entertained feminist ideologies, but she admitted to tendencies that filled her breast with pride receiving an ingratiating glare from her male counterparts. They were under the impression, she didn’t belong and if given a chance they could do better as their genes dictated.
The erudite well she was sure they thought they possessed with their swinging advantage didn’t intimidate her. Women were the complicated species and in a move that ended her similarities to a staunch feminist, she took the challenge out of life and chose a career that catered to the masses often satisfied by base desires.
Video games weren’t her first choice to spread her proverbial wings. Through a friend of a
friend, she began her research eventually learning it was a billion dollar business. With the rising popularity of online games rising exponentially, it seemed perfect to begin her career. Rising in the ranks had been as perfunctory as unwinding with a glass of wine with a tray of cheese and grapes.
People enjoyed entertainment more than they enjoyed living. People begrudge the price of entertainment, but they pay it anyway because they prefer to rely on the outside of imagination to make them forget life is hard. The escape from boredom or reality in general into a virtual oasis where an avatar did all the hard work and a gamer guides them. That’s the business she was in and business was good.
Pam greets her secretary, “any messages?”
Venus answered by springing from her seat to follow her stoic boss into her office. From ascending order by priority, she gave her mail and messages. During the briefing, Pam relaxed into her seat with her purse and jacket distributed on her couch.