OPERATION CORPORATE COCKBLOCK
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Saints"
Originally featured on 04-23-2008
As part of our series "Marching On"

The six words Michael dreaded on any formal document were printed at the very top of the application and underlined, standing in bold, all caps, like armed guards at the gate: “PRINT YOUR LEGAL NAME IN FULL.” When applying for part-time employment at restaurants and video stores during his summers as an undergrad, it was not unlike him to stand up and walk out the door the moment he looked down at the application and saw the words “LEGAL” and “IN FULL.” The dialog was the same every time. The awkward, befuddled expressions might as well have been stamped on. First there was the double-take, then the indignation, then the choppy, aborted glances at him, trying to figure it out, then their jaw would shake like they wanted to laugh but didn’t know if they were supposed to, and then there was the cold silence.

The explanation was what differed slightly. Michael got a little bit better at it each time.

The receptionist took the clipboard with Michael’s completed application and said, “I’ll dial Mr. Zumo and tell him you’re here. It'll be just a moment.” Her eyes fumbled at his application as she paged Donald Zumo, the Director of Sales and Marketing for Plasgko & Corrigans Machining Solutions. Michael looked at the tiled wall. He knew exactly what her face was doing. He imagined a chunk of his brain about the size of a baseball devoted entirely to memories of faces doing what hers' was doing. First it was elementary school teachers, then coaches, doctors, financial aid counselors, now it was receptionists. If the coroner at his autopsy could hook his head up to a video monitor feed, they would see a never-ending montage of unvarying reactions. Granted it had gotten him laid more than once, upon flashing his driver’s license to the incredulous after a few mixed drinks, but that hardly made it worth it.

“Sir?” The reception was nervous and hid it poorly. He was the interviewee, shouldn’t he be the nervous one?

“Yes?”

“Can you spell your middle name for me?”

A baseball of neural tissue…the knowledge of four Ph D’s could fit inside a baseball. His parents must have thought they were reeeeeeeeeeeeeeal funny. Or high on something.

“Michael?”

Mr. Zumo shook Michael’s hand and led him upstairs to a conference room. Mr. Zumo had a black goatee and a thick torso and looked like he could be a Civil War general.

Michael waited for it.

“You’re certainly qualified, and judging by your cover letter — which, by the way, was outstandingly well-written — I believe this position is right in line with your interests. I haven’t discussed with you the competitive salary and benefits we offer, but I think it should appeal to you. You present yourself as if you’re serious about this opportunity.” He shook his head, his chin moving not unlike a rotisserie chicken in a deli. “I don’t get it. Unless this is a phenomenal Freudian slip to which you're still aloof, it suggests a sense of humor that’s a cross between the Jerky Boys and testosterone-laden nihilism. I’m genuinely uncertain, help me out. Is this an interview, or am I on Candid Camera?”

“It’s not a joke. I can show you my birth certificate.”

“Your folks…”

“Yeah, let’s just say we don’t talk much.”

“That’s- I’ve never…well, okay, moving on.”

“I’ve been meaning to get it legally changed. It’s just a lot of paperwork.”

“I take it your parents weren’t in marketing.” His smile was labored, and that made it easier for Michael muster an equally labored chuckle. “I’d hate to see what our clientele would look like if our business card read Plasgko And Corrigans Effing Machining Solutions.”

Michael F. Meridian. The middle initial could have stood for Frank. Frederick. Ferdinand. Floyd. Faust. He had spent a good portion of his childhood dreaming of all the normal, pleasant sounding names that people would naturally assume went with the initial. In most of his dreams he had one of these names and had always had one of these names, and it was at some point between the day’s first piss and the application of hairspray that he remembered who he was.

“Michael Fucking Meridian.” When he recited it in the mirror, it was hard to deny that he liked the sound of it. The looks of it printed on letter-sized paper had no umph, no authority. Even written out in longhand, the name could never carry that unspoken chudspa, that unintentional straightening of the spine, broadening of the shoulders and planting of the heels. In all practicality, it was just an unfortunate byproduct of what had probably seemed like a pretty stellar joke at the time. Michael imagined his father losing a poker game and the victor saying you can pay me five grand in cash, or you can give your firstborn child an expletive for a middle name, up to you, bucko. Like a regretted tattoo.

 

Rumor spread around the office promptly upon Michael’s being hired.

Fuckboy’s first task was the filing of CCB reports. CCB stood for Competitor Cost Benefit, but he didn’t know that until he read through one. According to everybody he asked, the initials stood for Corporate Cockblock.

Mr. Zumo envied Michael’s name. Everybody did.

"Are you trying to waste my time?"

"No sir." Michael’s stomach tingled.

Mr. Zumo liked to make it impossible to decipher whether he was being facetious or sincerely irate. "Then why are you asking me the meaning of terms you already know?"

"But I don’t know the combined-"

"Do you know what a cockblock is?"

"Sure."

"Tell me in plain language."

Michael lowered his voice. "It’s when you're trying to get with a woman and someone stands in the way."

"And why would they stand in the way?"

The clatter of keyboards in the room quieted like a wave holding its breath.

"To protect the chastity of the lady."

Selena, the Purchasing Director, looked up. She wore a beaded headband and no expressions.

"Really?"

"Well, there are two kinds of cockblocks; a cockblock in the defensive — I call those domestic or internal cockblocks — and a cockblock in the offensive — conversely dubbed the foreign cockblock. The first-”

“Sounds like you’ve done a lot of research on cockblocks.”

“As a bachelor, one must be well versed in the rules of engagements of one’s social environment.”

Somebody behind him — or, more likely, several people — rolled their eyes. He could almost hear the scrape of pupils against sleep-deprived skin.

Mr. Zumo was enthralled. “Please, educate me.”

“A defensive cockblock is when the sober friend or guardian figure whisks the lady away to prevent her from making a bad decision. The offensive cockblock — more likely the type you're referring to — is an intervention by which the cockblocker, some horny bastard, can remove his rival—the cockblockee—from the playing field. This is usually accomplished by exercising seniority in the form of some previously established bond of friendship with the lady. The objective of said intervention is a decidedly opportunistic one."

"Which is?"

"Boning the chick."

He felt a slight draft in the room as the heating system reset itself. It felt like applause.

"Do you know what a corporation is?"

"A legal entity founded by a group of persons or-"

"You stood right there and told me the definition of a corporation and a cockblock, and you're asking me what a corporate cockblock is? You been snorting paint thinner on your lunch break?"

"No sir."

"Then tell me in plain language what a corporate cockblock is."

"It’s when a company stands in the way of another company’s pursuit of business."

"Why would a company do that?"

"Because, sir, we want to bone the client ourselves."

“And what qualifies us to do that?”

“Our preexisting relationship with the client. Unless of course we can actually manufacture the product at a lower cost than that quoted by our competitor.”

“And if we can’t?”

“We cockblock.”

"I’ve told you nothing. I ricocheted your questions, much like a shrink would do, and you answered them yourself. Do I look like your goddamned shrink? Should I put a couch over there?”

“Perhaps that would be a sound investment.”

“How much are we paying you an hour, kid?"

"I shant say."

"Do you know how much I rake in?"

"That knowledge is not part nor parcel of my expertise as relates to my productivity in this department, ergo it would be pointless — and not to mention rude — of me to inquire."

“Wrong.”

“How much do you make?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, um, time is a company resource. Training initiates burns time. Knowing the relative value of people’s time will enable me to minimize my ecological footprint on company resources when the necessity arises to ask a question. I can see I’ve aggravated you by once again furnishing my own explanation after expressing ignorance.”

"My salary is none of your business. My time is worth more than yours, that’s all you need to know."

"I apologize for the interruption."

"I like interruptions. That’s why I hire sharp, inquisitive little punks."

“May I ask a non-work-related question?”

“There’s no such thing.”

“That was very philosophical of you, sir.”

“What’s your question?”

“Ah, never mind.”

When Mr. Zumo dashed out the door for a meeting with Engineering, Kyle, the older gentleman who wore a tie with the caption “Ties are for idiots” reached under his desk, produced a bottle of mouthwash and placed it on Michael’s desk.

“What’s that for?”

Kyle grunted. “If you keep kissing ass like you're doing, your better half might object to making out with you when you get home. And take it from my experience; the bacteria on Donald’s ass is hard to kill.”

“Remind me, what do you do here exactly?”

Kyle chewed on his lip.

Selena, the Purchasing Director, got up to stretch. “Kyle heads up the sarcasm department; his duties include lightening the mood by making the same jokes every week like clockwork.”

“And what’s your role?” Michael asked Selena, knowing full well that she was the Director of Purchasing.

“I’m the senior scapegoat. When a bad part goes out the door, accountability is a vague and inefficient process — better to allocate all blame to one person by default. And since taking crap from everybody leaves little time to do my actual job-”

Kyle’s hands were on his hips. “If you’d do your job correctly, we wouldn’t be giving you crap.”

“Hey Kyle, you still divorced?”

They both looked at Michael and then smiled at each other.

 

“What do you think?” Donald asked Michael over vegetarian Beef Stroganoff. Michael had just been reviewed for promotion after four months with the company, and Donald took him out for a celebratory dinner.

“They're a rabble of comedians in there.”

“See this?” Donald pinched a patch of gray hair on his crown, knowing exactly where it was. “If we weren’t comedians, we’d all be dead by now.”

Michael spun his fork.

“How do you identify a freshman in a college dining facility?”

“What?” Michael then realized that this was most likely the premise for a joke.

“Do you know how?”

“You look for the people wearing university sweatshirts?”

“Close. It’s the person who says ’syllogism' out loud while standing in line for the salad bar.”

“Or the friend who one-ups them with a five-syllable waammy to describe the texture of their steak.”

“They learn quickly to stop that. But week one, you hear those words ring out from the clatter of utensils and you know that that poor, insecure, pretentious little twit had learned it in some lecture that morning, whipped out their dictionary in a bathroom stall and then spent all day looking for a conversation that would warrant its use. You want to make fun of them but you can’t, because you know that that was you just a couple years back. Maybe you didn’t know what a syllogism was at the time, so your big guns that day was 'confluence' or 'physiognomy,' or maybe it was some stale, cheap tongue-tickler that you’d assumed to be synonymous with sophistication because the token nerd in a Saved By The Bell episode used it more than once, something like 'ramifications.'”

“May the loquacious inherit the earth.” Michael raised his glass of white wine for a toast and was denied one.

“And then you start thinking, wow, little miss syllogism over there is smarter than me. That makes you want to screw her. But her freshman friends will probably cockblock for her when she gets drunk and starts simplifying her language to blossom into the righteous truth-seeker that she is… She’s too good for you anyway, and you can’t think of a good enough syllogism for why she should sleep with you, so you let her enjoy her salad unharassed. Five baby tomatoes in a star shape, and she has to spin each one to make sure it won’t escape the barricade of green peppers on a bed of spinach — the bitch is too good for lettuce — topped off with a dainty sprinkle of sunflower seeds, and you think to yourself, damn, this chick is seriously fucked up, like, genius fucked up. She gets distracted and makes some emphatic point with her arm raised and her thumb poking at the air like it’s trying to deflate something, the clincher of their debate, then in her moment of victory she realizes that she forgot to grab three florets of broccoli. She doesn’t even like broccoli, but she learned about the Labors of Hercules in her mythology class that afternoon and she wants to make a spontaneous-sounding joke about Cerberus the three-headed dog when she looks down at her plate.

“The next time you see her she’s passed out, draped over the lip of the Greek fountain in front of the Business quad at three O'clock in the morning. You check for a pulse and she says I’ve seen you in the cafeteria. You talk about the academic bullshit of the day, you tell her your little theory about freshman and their big words, she laughs, six years later you're married with a Golden Retriever and three cars in the driveway. But you still can’t think of a good enough syllogism for why she should sleep with you, so you get divorced and she keeps the Golden Retriever and you take stock of your life and realize that there’s only one thing that matters.”

“You're not going to tell me, are you?”

“Of course not. The point is, it was important that you used the word 'ramifications' over dinner because you had yet to confirm whether you belonged, so you did what everyone does. You fake it. For your own growth.”

“Am I faking it right now?”

“Goddamn it, you're way ahead of me. I’ve seen a lot of entry level studmuffins figure out how to…figure it out, and it’s the same dance you do at that salad bar. It’s a form of vanity, and you know what? I fucking love vanity.”

“The obvious question then would be, am I vain enough for you?”

“We'll see, kid. We'll see.”

Michael washed down his last bite of Beef Stroganoff with his last sip of wine.

“You can finish out the week. And then kindly consider yourself retired.”

“What?”

Donald laughed. “You see yourself as some kind of caged animal, don’t you?”

Michael’s mouth remained pleasantly closed.

“If you're under thirty, there’s no other way to see yourself. I’m not going to sit here like an old fart and give you fatherly advice. I’m not that kind of boss.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Donald folded his hands on the table and sat back. “It’s those covert messages, the ones you don’t even know you’re hearing, but you’re hearing them: get on board and figure it out. You heard it in the cradle and you hear it at commencement. So you get up to speed. Getting up to speed is important. But God help you if you do the other stuff, because once you’ve figured it out figured it out, it’s already too late.”

“Let me guess; when you came up with this speech in your head last night over whiskey, it made sense.”

“It’s those little messages. In reality, higher education has nothing to do with jousting big words around at the dinner table, but before you get there, you sure as hell think it does. And this… You think you’re supposed to work five days a week, do your taxes, take your kids to soccer practice on time, mow your lawn biweekly and, I don’t know, let off steam by screwing the babysitter. No, no… Maybe you want to be a jazz musician, maybe you want to backpack in tropical rain-forests, maybe you want to paint surrealist seascapes, who knows. I read through your resume, and I don’t have a clue. You’re bright, nubile, you’ve got the resources. You can work for me if you want to. I want you to. The wild blue yonder is my competitor. If we make you an offer quickly, you won’t notice the offer it’s making you. You’ve been cockblocked. I’d hate to see a cock as virile and idealistic as yours leave the party, collapse into bed and beat off into a six-figure salary and a suffocating marriage and a soulless existence. So before you get that haircut, stop and think for a second; are you serious about a career with Plasgko & Corrigans Machining Solutions?”

“Mr. Zumo, I don’t believe we’ve been formally introduced. I’m Michael Fucking Meridian and I’m never changing my name.”

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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