Stranger in a Strange, Cubic Land
Agent Oogle to Mission Control. Do you read me, Padre? Here’s my report on a crazy little planet called Earth.
My ship set down in the middle of the night in a huge, man-made canyon called Downtown. They tell me that when you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go Downtown.
But I found the place a desolate island illuminated only by your usual bright lights, big-city fluorescence. At first I feared we had missed that brief period when this planet sustained life forms until I heard sounds coming from the 10th level of one of the man-made mountains. There, a solitary man danced around with a mop and sang the poignant refrain, “I feel good.”
I was about to approach this lone survivor of what I perceived to be a major catastrophe when a spark of light shone through a crack between two mountains. Suddenly, numerous moving vehicles began to enter the canyon. From them, citizens emerged and populated what, by light of day, appeared to be a bastion of rectilinear fetishism.
Within a short period of about two hours, several million of these earthlings pumped up on a drug called coffee began moving so swiftly past me that I hid under the refuge they call newspapers. One citizen stopped and threw a coin on me.
The women earthlings moved about on their toes supported by little stilts. The men wore brightly colored leashes around their necks. I disguised myself as an Earthwoman and followed a man with a paisley-and-teal leash into a building.
Everyone laughed at me when I walked into the offices of Telefax Limited. At first I feared that I had the shoes on backward and was walking on my heels. But I discovered that my tail was sticking out. I quickly tucked it into my lingerie.
Inside, I found a huge labyrinth in which people were divided into three castes: the wall-less, the cubicled and the enclosed. The wall-less people sit at little desks surrounded by machines. The cubicled sit in little booths surrounded by machines. And the enclosed sit in little offices surrounded by machines.
The majority seem to exist in the cubiculture, where they huddle under semi-walls. They assert their individuality by decorating the three semi-walls of the cubicle with photos of their children or cartoons or religious expressions like “Question Authority.”
One group, known as “the slobs,” covers every inch of wall with matter. Another group, known as “the up-and-comers,” have framed portraits. A woman known as “The Boss” has only late 19th-Century French Impressionist prints.
Several earthlings offered theories on the meaning of the cubiculture. One woman with red nails and orange hair said it was to create an illusion of privacy while at the same time allowing spies to determine if workers were engaged in personal calls to their brokers or lovers.
Another theory from the teal-leash guy was that the mobile walls allowed for a corporate ritual called “redesign,” enabling companies to expand or contract. He said it served to remind the employees that they, too, could be disassembled and carried away.
A final theory came from a woman who refused to surrender her rubber shoes and wear the stilts. She said that walls represent success and give the people in the cubicles something to strive for. A current popular myth called “Working Girl” is the story of one heroic woman’s effort to get walls.
Oddly enough, on the window of one of these enclosed offices, I saw a sight that made me homesick. It appeared to be a stuffed feline smashed against the glass trying to escape. It reminded me of those suction-cup Garfields we see all over our own planet, the universal symbol of bustin’ loose.
Commander, I share with these people the fervent desire that I may be home soon.