Stepping Over The Red Line
Inside Enemy Lines
You ever beat off in the shower, Brian? Ever have any homosexual thoughts?
Robert, I really don't think that's...
None of my fucking business, you're damn right it's not. – from Enemy of the State
I suddenly realise he is really angry. My work has no relevance to his brand or position, but he is very perturbed about something.
Tweetie is scribbling with a pencil in a notebook, but not words. Tweetie seems not keen to make eye contact with anyone, least of all me.
"What seems to be the problem?"
"Be quiet Mr. van der Leek. I am talking. You will get your turn. What do you do at this company?"
I'm guessing since I've been told to shutup I should shutup…
It's the correct assumption, because he continues a moment later. "You are not a movie reviewer, Mr. van der Leek. Is that correct Esther?"
"I've told Nick this on numerous occasions, in fact -."
"Thank you. So I have this email here and this is what you've written: Personally I am appalled at the lack of involvement from our own brands and the flagrant disregard for one of our own products. Do you remember that?"
"I am speaking! Now as a result of this letter the heads of departments have been at each other's throats. This has gone to the highest levels. Can you explain why? Can you explain why you have written this?"
I glance from him to The Devil. For the first time, she resembles Gollum. Her features have a dull leathery grey appearance now, and her eyes seem to have expanded. You know how one's pupils dilate when you're in love; well hers are like that, except the irises are bigger too. Very Gollum like. I can swear she looked…happy.
He begins to read another paragraph: "I also wonder why the Black Sweater and The Express movie pages are so under-developed? I have made recommendations, but thus far, for the Black Sweater especially, there is no dedicated section for movies."
He glares at me.
"Well, what do you have to say for yourself? Are you an editor? Are you the editor of Black Sweater?"
"I am," The Devil says.
She's the idiot.
"Mr. van der Leek I asked you a question?"
"Oh, I thought she had answered it. Er…no I am not the editor."
"Are you the editor of The Express?"
"And you've written here asking tha-."
"I know what I wrote. I wrote it after all. I don't need to have it read back to me. And I don't think a single sentence that I wrote was untrue."
"Personally I am appalled at the lack of involvement from our own brands and the flagrant disregard for one of our own products. What do you have to say about that?"
He glares at me, daring me to say something. But I'm onto his game. If I say something it sends him off on the next rant, plus he gets to say I am talking or something.
He glares and I glance at Tweetie, The Devil and back to him. I wonder whether I should look at my watch.
"And here is a letter from a citizen reporter saying that you harassed her, that you gave them company secrets, that you're a vegetarian. Is any of this true?"
Tweetie is drawing a picture of a vegetable. It looks like broccoli.
The Devil is nodding, big eyes blinking, sharp teeth visible through her salivating mouth.
"And then there's a complaint from a competition sponsor. What do you have to say about THAT?"
I wait for a few moments.
"Would you like me to speak?"
I shift in my chair and dip my nose in the direction of the email he has printed out. "Well, the citizen reporter is exaggerating when she says I harassed her. She made some slanderous remarks about our brand on a blog, and then on one of our blogs she didn't approve that I had said I was concerned about this. So we were conducting a conversation on a blog, and wanting to resolve it, I phoned her up. It was a Sunday and I had been at work for 2 hours, and instead of me typing a comment and then waiting for her to, which we had been doing for a few minutes, I thought we could talk about it and sort it out."
"So you admit to this harassment. You phoned her private number."
"Well, we had been emailing on a number of occasions and I thought we were on fairly familiar terms. So I don't think phoning her was a big leap, no."
"Did you sleep with this person?"
Did I sleep with this person? Are you fucking deranged?
"In sum, your allegations – if your allegations are her allegations – are a bit cooked up. The fact that she implies that I thought one of the publications would be closing down is conjecture from her side. It's a baiting ploy. In any event, Joe was sitting right behind me on Sunday. There was nothing irregular about our conversation, other than the fact that she took hysterical offence at having herself pointed out for a mistake. Ironically, a week earlier she had emailed every single team member to ask us to change a mistake one of us had made, and wanted apologies all round. So we're not talking about a very balanced individual."
"But you do admit to calling this person."
"Frankly I am surprised I didn't get a little backup from my colleagues," I say, not looking at The Devil. "I mean, isn't it a priority to the company if someone is slandering one of our brands, calling us lazy? I mean, one of us made an error, we fixed it, but during the period that the error came into existence, she threw a tantrum and posted nasty comments on the internet. It's only fair, once we've fixed the error – and all it was was a comment falsely attributed to her – it's only fair once we make the change, you can acknowledge that. And if you can't, well, fine."
"Did you make this error of attribution?"
"No, I'm not involved in posting letters and comments on the site."
"It was either Jack or Samantha, but as I recall it wasn't a serious oversight," The Devil said.
"This is making a mountain of a molehill."
"Mr van der Leek do you think I am interested in what you have to say? From now on you will not involve yourself on blogs, or on facebook. You will not liase with anyone, either within or outside of the company. And you will ask for permission for any story you wish to write. Did you know that you need our permission to publish your writing?"
"It hasn't been raised until now, but I have made some casual references to what I have been doing."
"Mr van der Leek I am not interested in your opinion or anything you have to say. You are not important. And neither is your blog. Have you read our policy on blogs?"
"My blog existed before I came to work at this company, and I never blog about work, so I am not sure how this is any of your concern."
"Blogs are a concern."
With your fucked up attitude I'm sure they are.
“And I have copies of some things you have written on your blog, Mr. van der Leek.
And he began to read…”
While some have raised salient points about the legality of the particular disclosure involved the bottom line, as I see it, lies not in the technical details of what was said. It is the obvious ethos, the sentiment underlying all that Kerzner wrote.
As he reads his mothy eyebrows swoop and squat. A python begins to curl around my abdomen. He’s referring to some comments I posted about Herbert Kerzner, a sub editor that got kicked out of the building for writing something on a blog. My comments are ironic given that Kerzner worked for Black Sweater, and the print aspect of Black Sweater have treated the word ‘blog’ as a swear word ever since. This man making reference to my blog, I realise, is the corporate equivalent of pulling out a shotgun and laying it across his crossed legs.
I cannot shake the growing sense of doom. This guy is so pissed off, he has scoured everything – emails, the internet, everything I have ever said – to settle the score on the NU Tube Embarassment. And this, quoting my comments and thoughts from my own blog – there is nothing funny about this. I find it in the sort of bad taste that a schoolgirl experiences (I imagine) when she gives her first blow job. It reminds me of some film, Enemy of the State I think, where Will Smith asks his interrogator if he ever masturbates, if he ever has homosexual thoughts. His interrogator is about to vehemently respond when Smith yells “BECAUSE IT’S NONE OF YOUR GOD DAMN BUSINESS.”
It is quite obvious that Kerzner’s unfortunate post contains a high level of bitterness. Many nasty resentments are unfortunately expressed towards his workplace.
Publishing so many unhappy sentiments on a rival publications’ blog is – for the lack of a better word – a disreputable thing to do. This is the word the hearing uses, and it is appropriate, for indeed Kerzner’s musings are by turns disgraceful, scandalous and even seedy. Would he really say these sorts of things openly over a lunch table with his boss? The ‘animal farm’ references irk, and one can imagine management feeling stung by the excessive vitriol invested by the writer.
I look over to The Devil. The flat-chested bitch has crossed her legs and is rocking slowly too and fro likes she’s holding back an organsm.
As someone who actively blogs, I would naturally be drawn towards sympathizing with Kerzner…
Those dark eyebrows lift. He waves the printout at me saying nothing, but through the gesture he’s saying: You’re in a lot of trouble. Anything to declare?
"Well, I won't be writing about this meeting on my blog,” I say, conscious how my demeanour, and my voice, is almost pleading. Part of me hates myself. “I don't blog about work, as a rule."
His eyebrows soften.
“Mr. van der Leek you seem like a sensible person. Well, there’s one person who says some sensible, I’d even say intelligent things. And then there is this other person.”
Now he sounds like Agent Smith in the Matrix.
Agent Smith: It seems that you've been living two lives. One life, you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and you... help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias "Neo" and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not. He was like a balloon that was slowly deflating.
"Can I ask you a question: Is this a warning?"
"No, it's a discussion. We're just discussing a few things."
The Devil who had changed color to a happy Gollum-like upgrade of her former self, now chameleons from pale grey back to contaminated nicotine yellow, her eyes sink in her head, going from icy blue to puke green, swivelling behind two scheming slits. Blood drains from her lips, turning them purple. She is back to her old self.
Goosen glances at Tweetie. "You've made notes?"
I see it is a cauliflower, not a broccoli, and there is a small face, a clown's face, under the cauliflower hair. Tweetie nods, covering the doodle with the pencil-less hand.
"I will draw up a document for Nick to sign, based on what was said at this meeting," The Devil offers helpfully.
"That's okay, Esther," he says, stands up and leaves the room.
I raise my eyebrows, staring at the vacated chair in front of me. Some of that monologue is still echoing in my frontal lobe.
I don't care what you think. I'm not interested in your opinion. And this company is not a democracy.
If you're saying you don't care what I think, you obviously do care. Why else would a nobody like me be worth talking to by a Somebody like yourself. Why else would be doing all this Research on me, fucking trawling through my blog for Christ’s sake.
I drift on the series of escalators strangely pleased with myself, while the upper reaches of the building grows dark. The Devil is sitting by herself in the room in a Black Mood.
I step into the newsroom.
'HA HA HA."
But that wasn't the last laugh. Not by a long shot.