It continues to amaze me how individuals hold down jobs (not physically, of course, although I suppose some occupations call for it). People actually work for money, as if it were a natural state of being. The reasonable man or woman on the street puts up with 9 to 5 employment, with a commute thrown in as a bonus. That is in the best-case scenarios. Plenty of corporate serfs put up with much longer hours, which do not often equate a better salary.
In Manhattan, the added bonus of the commute quickly transforms itself into urban warfare. One could be quietly listening to Billy Joel’s Piano Man on one’s earphones, trying to resist the primal drive to push fellow commuters onto the tracks, when, suddenly, a fight breaks out stage left because a woman is using her purse as a medieval siege weapon.
No wonder the common office worker develops the urge to go live among bonobos, or escape to grow cucumbers in Vermont. I was just thinking such thoughts on my way to UNDO (the United Nations Development Organisation, for those of who, no doubt, fell asleep when it was first mentioned – if you stayed awake, you have the true making of a civil servant). Of course, my thought did not involve bonobos (I have an unfortunate history with simians) or cucumbers. My relationship with the vegetable mostly limits itself to finger sandwiches served on a Commonwealth village green.
I was day dreaming of leaving office life and spending my days shopping through the Western World’s golden square (east of Fifth Avenue, west of the Ringstrasse, south of Oxford Street, and north of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II).
My bubble was burst as I was visualising sipping champagne at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Place Vendôme. Evidently, throughout my day dreaming, my legs had been on autopilot as I now stood before Michael Beaconsfield-Outremont. I dispersed before he could issue his traditional Montrealer bonjour-hi, and found Mr. Ducale waiting at my desk.
“Good morning, Vanessa. I was just going over your latest report on the meeting you attended last week.”
“I trust it is satisfactory. I believe I rendered the true spirit of the meeting unto paper for posterity. My writing skills are quite celebrated, as it were. You might not know, but my Mayfair Conundrum has…”
“Yes, I am not questioning your literary merit. I am sure it is very unique, and appreciated by some. Indeed, one of the reasons why you were chosen for this position, among, of course, numerous other characteristics of importance to the United Nations, such as professionalism, competency, respect of diversity, and the ability to work as a part of a team, was because of your communication skills.”
I should remind those of you who drifted off through that sentence that Pietro Ducale, taking his role as an international public servant to heart, speaks in paragraph length sentences. Indeed, such is his attachment to public service, that it appears he has dedicated his life to talking in circular paragraphs. The crux of the matter, if that is the expression I am looking for, lay in the second paragraph.
“The point which I wish to raise, and which is not necessarily a point of contention, but rather a point on which we may both mutually benefit, is the style and format of the report to be sent to UNDO headquarters in Geneva.”
I was perplexed.
“I’m perplexed, Mr. Ducale. I respected the one page format, for, as you said, nobody ever reads the second page, which is reserved for things one must communicate, but does not want registered. I found a snappy title and put it in bold. I even wrote a summary at the top.”
“Yes, that is all very well. It is the content that is troublesome.”
“Ah,” said I, as it was an ah moment. “I am not responsible for the content, whether it be content of characters or content of meetings. I merely report on it. Embodying the true spirit of the journalistic tradition…”
I had a theatrical tirade at the ready, but Mr. Ducale once again intervened.
“Granted, Vanessa, but I highly doubt that the Geneva staff need to know who wore their suits best, whether stripped ties are in season, and if so, in which direction, and that one of the Permanent Representatives’s nose was itchy.”
“I forgot to specify that that was the British Permanent Representative. We were briefly acquainted in the Security Council. You see, he sat in my chair by mistake. Being a true lady, with impeccable manner, I yielded it to him.”
Mr. Ducale gave a frown that was eerily similar to the one that Uncle George directs towards untrained terriers.
“I must ask you to, in future, keep your literary flourishes to the private sphere, like most UN staff. Plenty of colleagues are poets, dramatists, and writers for the arts, but they keep their talent away from their work. You see, a dedicated international civil servant, such as myself, does his thinking outside the office.”
“So what do you suggest?” I dropped the last sentence with frigid indifference.
I am not always certain of things in life. That is why I have Ypres by my side. She has always proved useful in that way, particularly that time I ended up down a mine shaft in Düsseldorf during carnival. Yet, I am supremely confident in one of my abilities, and that is writing. I am to the literary world what that actress with the big hair is to Broadway. My works, or rather, my oeuvres, as it is said in the better parts of Brussels, are magnum op somethings rivalling only Shakespeare’s sonnets. The Vasa name easily finds itself next to that of Dickens, the chap who wrote The Jungle Book, and that Wodehouse fellow. So it is with guarded scepticism that I awaited Mr. Ducale’s next paragraph.
“Your task is to inform our head and field offices on activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York so they can perform their tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible. This means that your reports, reviewed by me, must be as informative as possible. They must capture the essence of the meeting and transmit its relevance to UNDO in a matter-of-fact style. Nonetheless, that style must not be bereft of human sentiment or emotion, that is our comparative advantage: to capture the mood of the meeting and what is truly being said or not said.”
“I did capture the mood of the meeting. The man from UNICEF wore his suit best, ties are being worn with thin horizontal stripes, and the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom’s nose was very itchy. That was the subject of the elevator talk following the meeting. The meeting itself was irrelevant. It met because it was scheduled to meet, and no one wanted to call it off. No doubt because unpaid interns are at the ready to take notes!”
The last sentence escaped me.
“I see. Well, we still need to send a report to Geneva. It will simply have to be written so as to appear that something was done, and that UNDO’s role was critical, especially the New York office, and that we will continue to monitor the situation and liaise with the appropriate departments. I am certain your second draft will be able to capture that sentiment. Anything else?”
The conversation, so far, had motivated me towards boldness. I cleared the clouds of doubt, and struck a commanding pose.
“Yes, about the possibility of paid employment? I noted that consultants are sometimes hired.”
Mr. Ducale lay silent for a moment. It might even have been considered two moments.
“You are correct, but unfortunately, I do not think you possess the passion to be a consultant, and recommending you to be a consultant, if you do not truly want to be one, would not be appropriate. After all, you would be taking someone else’s spot. It is for your own good. I am, however, more than happy to provide you with a reference once your internship is at an end.”
At this point, I untied my Hermès carré, and lodged it around Mr. Ducale’s neck. Taking advantage of the surprise that rendered him immobile, I pulled at both ends of the carré with all my strength! “How this for passion!” I screamed maniacally, watching as his eyes pleaded for mercy, my foot (bedecked in Louboutin) pressing against his chest for leverage.
Unfortunately, for me, and, I am quite convinced, for humankind, that was only a daydream. Of course, I would never resort to such an act of violence. An Hermès carré should, under no circumstances, be used in such an act of strangulation. It is a fashion item to be enjoyed through wearing, not as an accessory to murder.
I left Mr. Ducale unscathed.
I did have one tool at my disposal to express my displeasure, and that was not to invite Mr. Ducale to the party I was planning with Ypres. The party was the next step in Ypres’s plan. It was finally a step I could get behind.
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