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Last Day for the Man’s Tool

Packed up

Packed up

While work has been over for nearly two weeks, its laptop is still with me. Supplied by the contracting agency, it belongs with them. While this has the unfortunate consequence of leaving me without a laptop, it’s right that things return to the point of origin. Full circle has a satisfaction. The return means I really am done.

Back in 2005, when I got my first contract, the job was handled over the phone and through Fedex. A box showed up one morning with a Dell laptop. I had finished a community college certificate program the month before and resolved to take the first job that came my way. Irony placed the agency in Dallas even though the job was at Microsoft: oh, that free-market efficiency. The box was heavy, bright, efficient, prompt. It insinuated everything authoritative and strictured about a job. I could hardly breathe holding it; my hands shook opening it, the laptop like an alien artifact. I put the box in a closet and fantasized about the joyful day when I’d take it out again, put the laptop back in, ship it back.

Seven years have changed things. Jobs aren’t the monolithic terror they once were, at worst a source of annoyance and emotional constriction. I don’t have bosses that scream at me, or unrealistic expectations of too much to do. The work can be frustrating but it seems to always shake out. I’m good at it now. The money doesn’t seem like I’m cheating anybody, and I’m not: I have never billed an hour I didn’t work.

When the job ended in 2005, the panicked delight I imagined for that laptop’s return was nowhere when the day of return came. All I remember was Thanksgiving having happened, the last day the next Wednesday, and riding the motorcycle to work in the rain. I think I was happy to send it back, but not elated. It was something satisfying, for once in our insta-culture a ritual to mark something’s end.

Yesterday the agency is having a team lunch (as such things are called) on this side of the Sound, at a restaurant in Redmond’s noveau-corporate planned attempt at an old-town center. I have fuzzy memories of Texas mall parking lots as I find a nice tree to park under, turn in a few circles, and find the place. The tall blonde woman waves me over, introduces me to a sharp-dressing marketing guy and a compressed HR woman, all dressed in sharp corporate standards. I wore sandals only because I had some in the car already. The bags are handed over with unavoidable awkwardness. She is sorry that the contract wasn’t extended, as everyone always is, and I smile and offer that it’s fine, it’s superb and unsurprising. There is a little chat but not much to talk about, like I have returned an unwanted baby.

The day is brilliant and warm. It feels strange to be so free, to be required nowhere. Disorienting. A little bland, maybe. I have no grand plans and wonder if I should. Is it a problem I have no problems? An old voice encourages worry.

Today I am laptopless. The space on the desk is free and cool. There is nothing wrong with a free, cool desk. It can stay that way a while.


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