The Painted-Steel God



Three men sit around a circular conference room table, staring up at a whiteboard.  To call this whiteboard white doesn't do it justice.  It is a glistening pearl, marked with the freshly-cleaned scent of formaldehyde.  It carries the look of fallen snow on a sunny day.  The quality of this painted-steel product is impeccable.

The board beckons to the three men, calling out for their strokes, but it must wait.  Two more guests are on the way.

It doesn't matter when the other two men arrive, because it doesn't matter when they leave.  The only progress they are concerned with making is the passage of time.  One commutes three hours each way, the others less.  They all have strategically chosen distant homes, so that they can enjoy a healthy commute.  Hours upon hours are spent in their cars, listening to books on tape, arguing with talk radio hosts, sucking in car exhaust and smiling all the way.  Two have wives, who enjoy their money but not their company.  One has children, a boy and a girl, though he has more of a connection with his mouse and keyboard.

The only people who matter in their lives are the ones just like them.  The other Road Warriors.  The other Afternoon Coffee Drinkers.  The other Dress Shirts & Slacks.  The other I'll Be Home Late Tonights.

When the other two men arrive, fashionably, amusingly late, the whiteboard is still left untouched.  It would be uncouth to start without them.  Eventually, someone stands up from the table and approaches the board.  It is a holy gesture, like approaching a cross or a dead body, and a pen is selected -- a blue Expo Dry-Erase marker, which magically adheres to the whiteboard without binding with or absorbing into it.  The noxious scent it produces, now uncapped, is potpourri to their eager nostrils.  In the hands of one of these men, that Expo is a weapon, one that unravels time itself.

It starts simply enough.  A scribble, a doodle.  Nothing too serious.  The marker needs to warm up.  As do the whiteboard worshipers.  But no one here is in a rush.  The whiteboard represents endless possibilities, and these men will ensure that all of those ends are explored.  The dry-erase will flow.

And so it does!

Soon, lines are scribbled over other lines.  Legible words become unrecognizable in their original tongue.  The whiteboard transforms into a battleground.  Emphatic dots rain down on the repellent surface like mortar-fire.  Underlines and circles stab and slash, hacking apart what was whole.  But it is not all so violent, so destructive.  Vague shapes begin to form across the board.  A new layer of artistry emerges through the rubble, revealing a language all its own, a language that only these men can decipher.  It is nothing.  The language of nothing.  They do not care what's on the board, only what's not.  Empty space is anxiety.  It's a challenge.  And it must be met head on with multi-colored markers.

Another man stands up, grabs his own foul-smelling sword, and starts a counter-attack over the last snowy oasis on the board.  These men argue and bicker over options they will never use.  More is added to the board, and then more, until the entire white sheet is sparkling with the still-wet remains of the dry-erase war.  The men grunt and gesticulate before the great white monolith like furious chimpanzees.  Bowing before their painted-steel god.

In another hour or two, one of these men will return from a bathroom break with a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey.  Though he doesn't drink, he knows his counterparts do, and the sign of friendship and camaraderie  he has offered will keep them all locked in that conference room until the well is dry.  No one minds.  With the meeting winding down and the whiteboard filling up, the reasons for being there -- however thin those may have been -- are dwindling.  If they don't do something soon, they will have to leave.

They use phrases like, "On the other hand" and "Have we considered" to extend the zombie meeting, to puff new life into its cadaverous chest.  But it isn't sustainable.  The meeting eventually passes on, and the men must head out into the smog and fog, back to their books on tape and idiot talk show hosts, and, eventually, home.  Home to their wives, their pets, home to the emptiness that consumes them while they are away from their beloved whiteboard.  Unsurprisingly, these men have installed whiteboards at home, too, lest they be without one on the weekends or a holiday.  For Christmas one year, the one with kids gave each of his children a small whiteboard as a stocking stuffer.  They're well on their way.

One of these men is lucky, however.  He doesn't have to go home.  He sleeps right in his office, on a red futon he purchased from IKEA.  They keep the building HVAC running just for him.  Above his office bed: Two whiteboards, mounted side-by-side into the drywall.

It is a simple cycle: Years of nothing, followed by retirement, followed by years of nothing.

And they wouldn't have it any other way.