High School Cubicle

Troy hated staff meetings because it meant he had to come in a half hour early to make coffee.  The two years he’d spent in the La Habra Dinner Theater’s Up With People production had only partly prepared him for the rigors of keeping the decaf, dark, and mild roast carafes straight, so he arrived at a logical solution.  Screw it—French roast for everybody.  Nobody has to know.

Being office assistant at the intellectual property law firm of Phillips, Curb, Kirshner and Davis was not what he had in mind when he stood at the center of the basketball court with the world at his feet 12 years ago.   He was the epitome of what it meant to be a Wildcat, an icon of  high school perfection.  But knees being knees, they couldn’t be expected to handle all the stair leaps, bends, swings, “star” kicks, full court presses, and balcony shinnies of his youth without paying a terrible price.   And of course later came the groveling, which is the knee’s worst enemy.

As the coffee brewed, he stared at his reflection in the pantry’s paper towel dispenser, adjusted his forelock to cover a hairline retreat, and detected yet another line between his eyebrows.  He sighed.  On his lunch break the day before, a young blond bumped into him, an “accident” which he read as a come-on until she, pink with embarrassment, said, “Oops—excuse me sir.”   Sir.

After delivering the coffee (“Where’s the half-and-half, Bolton?  Mr. Donahue likes half-and-half.  And don’t try to pass off Sweet ‘n Low for Equal like last time. He knows.”), Troy returned to his desk, where a stack of documents for copying awaited him.  The copy machine was not even fifty feet away, but it may as well have been at the top of the Mexican pyramids.  Those knees.

By the time he’d started the machine for 25 copies—collated and stapled—a sudden paper jam threw 30 minutes of work into the crapper.  Then there was the queue.  The goddamned queue.   9:30 in the morning and already a wait.  He was fifth in line.   The two before him were 50 copies each of a 300-page doc.  Full color.  No lunch again. 

By four-thirty he was fried.  He sipped at a cold cup of coffee with a skin of cream on the surface.  Several teeth ached when it was too hot, and his dental plan had a $2000 deductible, so he opted for modifying temperatures instead.  He sensed someone at his cubicle.

“It’s Thursday.  That means karaoke night at Dimples.  Join us?”  Mrs. Rodriguez, a middle-aged woman in accounts receivable, was flirting again.  Jesus.  But Gabriella might be there.  She worked Thursdays at Dimples’ late shift (“At Dimples, Thursday’s the New Friday!”) coaxing drunk office workers to try songs like “Till My Heart Finds Out” and “Hotel California.”  She wouldn’t look him in the eye anymore. 

Why should she?  After his shenanigans with her roommate during their first semester at college, she could never trust him again.  He left the school, ashamed and contrite.  Out of spite she dated—then married—Ryan Evans.  Together they did a road tour of Promises, Promises! till one night in Olwein, Iowa Ryan ran away with another man, leaving her with only her dreams and his faded Wildcats sleep shirt.  She had only Troy to blame.

Troy always got a small taste of stardom again at Dimples when he sang his signature “Start of Something New,” but nobody recognized him, and three people always fought him for the microphone to sing along, so his head was seldom in the game.  Still, it was his song.  Their song.   It was time to find a new karaoke bar that would cash his check.  His mind picked at the scab of resentment until his boss poked her head over his wall.

“Heads up, Bolton.  I’ve got a five o’clock, and I need you to go to the basement and pull some 2002 files.  There’s only about 30 of them.  Should take you, I don’t know, a few hours.” 

Troy limped to the staff pantry to eat something, a tasty pasta salad with last week’s expiration date, some Pringles, and a Diet Dr. Pepper.  At least that’s all he could pinch from what was left in the refrigerator.  He felt his belly and what remained of an ab.  Monday it’s back to crunches.  On the counter, was a collection of old magazines that people had brought in for community reading, each with the address label torn off.  Troy randomly grabbed a Forbes from the center of the pile, which featured the magazine’s “100 Best Bosses in America.”   Sharpay Evans was on the cover as #9.  Troy felt his stomach turn over. 

It had certainly been Sharpay’s year—covers of Cosmo (“Show Him Who’s Boss in Bed”), People (“What Makes Sharpay Run?”), Parenting (“Incorporate Your Home!”), and Jet (with her husband, Chad Danforth).  Chad had gone on to the NBA (“Million Dollar Knees” and the cover of Sports Illustrated), and Sharpay had a six-year streak of dance singles and hit albums before she started her own music management company. 

A voice broke his punishing reverie.  “Bolton—you busy?”  Jack Bolton always called his son “Bolton” to avoid any hint of favoritism, but he needn’t have.  He rode Troy harder than any three employees. 

“I’m on a break,” Troy said. 

“Since graduation,” Mr. Bolton said.  He clutched a cluster of papers.  “Make some noise with that fax machine and you can knock off at six.”  Troy hated the fax machine.  Machines conspired against him. 

“Will do,” Troy said.  Eighteen semesters of community college theater and business management classes and here he was. 

“You’re a star, Bolton,” Mr. Bolton said, thrusting the papers at Troy’s chest.  “Shine.”

Twenty-six faxes and a trip to the basement later, Troy looked at his watch.  It was 10:30.  Ed Carnahan from legal would be singing “Whole Lotta Love” by now, and Mrs. Rodriguez would be waiting, brimming with drunken tears, to sing her now “standard” tune, “What I Did For Love.”  He was glad he wasn’t there.

Troy gathered up his things and caught the last bus to his neighborhood.  As he slid the key into the deadbolt, the door opened.  “I kept dinner warm, sweetheart,” his wife said.  He ate by himself, looking down the hall to the open bedroom door as she, the woman who had never lost hope in him, combed her hair at a small night table mirror.  “You have an audition for Princess Cruises tomorrow afternoon, darling,” she said.  “I know you’ll get this one.  I made you a star once, and we can do it again.  What do you say?”  she said.

“Great.  I’ll be right there.”  She giggled and continued brushing her lush gray hair. 

“Mrs. Troy Bolton,” she chirped happily to herself. 

At least Ms. Darbus—Ms. Darbus-Bolton--had his back.  Time to shine.


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