1 A funny turn at the office

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1   A funny turn at the office

"Are you ready for this?" calls Raven to me from the corridor outside my office. "Don't forget we're pressing the button tomorrow!"

I sink back in my chair, my feet resting on my cluttered desktop. "Oh, I'll remember, thank you."

"OK, then. Goodnight." The main door hisses and clicks shut after her, muffling her steps across the stone floor of the outside lobby, where a lift-bell rings. To my left, the sun sinks over the Hudson River, turning its water into twinkly pink vertical strips between the towers of Battery Park City.

It's been a labour-intensive week, finishing a 300-page prospectus issuing nearly a billion dollars of notes for a blue-chip banking client. And now that it's all done, at noon tomorrow we press the button, as Raven said—meaning transmit it electronically to the cold light and scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission. At which point, it had better be right. I think everything is right; but pressing this particular button is my responsibility, and if there is still some screw-up lurking somewhere in the document, then this particular promising little financial law career of mine could quickly head down the toilet. Sometimes I think that might be more interesting for me ... but this isn't the moment to test that out.

It's eight-thirty. I'm the only one left on this floor of the building. Zoë will be here soon, to clean the rooms. It's funny, she so much reminds me of my ex-girlfriend, to look at. I've been tempted to tell her this, just for fun, but it's probably a good thing I haven't. I yawn. All right: I shall wake myself up with one more coffee, look through my SEC checklist for the last time, and then bust this joint.

As I wander down the corridor towards the kitchen, I am surprised to feel the gnawing of an entirely new disgust at these familiar surroundings, with all those trappings to be found in any big office: the endless heaps of paperwork, all so important yet always adding up to the same old shuffle of money among a small bunch of hidden, faceless, super-rich individuals; the weary photos of horrible babies on desks; the limp, cosy newspaper cartoons pinned to the beige partitions around the secretaries' desks; the cluelessly unpleasant items of clothing draped on chair-backs; the corporate photos of white middle-aged idiots with bad facial-hair choices, frightened eyes, stale smiles and crabbed imaginations. Average, bland, unthinking, unquestioning—stupid, in short! Ugly beings, wastes of life.

—No, hold on, what am I saying here? Ugly beings? That's not right... OK then, well why isn't it right? I'm sure the ugliness I just perceived wasn't merely an illusion; so where and what exactly was it? I reach the kitchen, where several trays of ornate sandwiches, ordered to excess for some earlier meeting, lie around uneaten and ready to be binned by Zoë. Altering my drinks plan on a whim, I press the "CreamiChoc" button on the drinks machine. "Ugly beings" isn't right, I see, because what's ugly is not the beings themselves but the uses to which they are put, the dreary shapes and flavours into which so many of them have been squashed by career and survival. I taste my CreamiChoc, give it a nod of surprised approval and decide, on reflection, to add a little sweetener. Most people here seem as if there is nothing in their daily lives of any real enchantment, of any imaginative aliveness, of any of the bright inventive magic that some of them must have had something of once, long ago. They seem as if all that remains is what batters and constrains them into lazy habits. One or two may be doing a good job of concealing some kind of imaginative enchantment behind a veneer of drabness, but most of them are surely not such fine actors. I've talked about this deadening process a few times with my good friend Alaia, and she is less forgiving of its victims than I am: rather than blaming the situation they are caught in, she's more inclined to blame them for getting caught in it.

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