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My University

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   My University
  
   "Il ne faut jamais etre exclusif. Quand on vit avec des fous, il
   faut faire aussi son apprentissage d'insense."
   Alexander Dumas
  
   "If one's lot is cast among fools, it is necessary to study
   folly."
   Alexander Dumas
  
  
   .................................................................................................
  
  
  Perhaps, you've heard the name "The Red Blizzard." It is a GMU basketball team - the last college championship's prize-winner. We like the red color. The emblem, posters, banners, tablecloths in the cafeteria and conference room and the university sport uniform are also red. My colleague-programmers and I occupy two lines of cubicles and offices on the sides of the first floor of "The Red Hall". Those with higher seniority work in the offices. The most senior bosses have big sunny rooms with tall bookcases and glass doors in a separate department of the building.
  
   I press a button on the wall and check my mail. I am not in a hurry. Why should I be?
   - Did you see him? -an operator asks an elderly thickset man, lying on the bunch of books with his eyes closed in the first cubicle to the right of the computer room. He starts in fright.
   - Whom? - Answers a senile, quivering, sleepy voice.
   - Him, Tom.
   - Who?
   -Well, Tom. Did you see where he went? I have here something for him.
   The old man gets up and heavily advances to the next cubicle.
   -Whom, whom? No, I didn't understand. Ah, no. What?
   He groans and hobbles to his place on shaking, unbending legs, sits himself on the hard chair (for he has hemorrhoids) and continues typing. Suddenly he stops and scurries down "The Red Hall" with his widely spread legs as if he were bearing a child, with a folder in his left arm and a newspaper under his right. The architects of "The Red Hall" were not thoughtful enough to realize how inconvenient their long lines of cubicles and offices project can be for people like Stefan. He can hardly make it to the bathroom, and he does it fifteen times a day. Sometimes he falls asleep at his desk, rips one loud and snores. When the telephone rings, he awakes abruptly and drops something clumsily on the floor. He is hearing impaired, looks as if he is seventy years old, though he is not fifty five yet. Because of his uncle who used to be an important person at GMU Stefan drinks coffee and thoroughly masticates bagels here, instead of doing it in a nursing home.
   - Please, be quiet, you are talking too much - whispers he to an imagining interlocutor, who prevents him from listening to his own conversation.
  
  
   - Everybody has a nice title. Why is he called a programmer if he does not program? And that one... an administrator if he does not administer? He is a manager of what? I could be a manager like him, - pensively says Mary, our new junior programmer. She is a recent graduate and greatly differs from all of us by her unbelievable youth, beauty and inquisitiveness.
   - You should already understand what we are all doing here.
   She is not just beautiful - tall, with radiant curly hair and dark Jewish eyes, fair skin and long lashes, but she is very clever. Her GPA is equal to four, and she catches on quickly and asks fewer and fewer questions.
  
   When Frank, Mitik and Romeo look at her, their faces show fear and bewilderment. Frank's rosy face flashes even more, Mitik's pear-shaped physiognomy lengthens and Romeo's narrow eyes screw up with grief. I sympathy with them in their sorrow, but can't help them anyhow.
   - This girl knows rather much, - Romeo gives Mary a puzzled look and speaks with a nasal twang. If nobody stops him, he will turn to the subject of "parents and children," then "friendship between nations" or "the origin of mankind," and we will forget what we started with and how we got there. - The question is: will she be able to use her knowledge here?
   Romeo is sweet, benevolent and obliging. He would gladly offer the university, which took him to work six years ago, his competence and erudition. He enters "The Red Hall" early in the morning, fills in all necessary forms and is ready to give everything. Romeo is always at the front line helping others: during the laptop distribution between freshmen, or when someone of his colleagues is transferred from an office to a cubicle and vice versa. There are many professions where he could be useful - a floriculturist, taxi driver or door-keeper, but he chose to be a programmer.
  
   - I've never seen Romeo so upset, - a fussy, short-haired woman says to me in irritation. - He is the lowest payable programmer in our department, and he is extremely limited and sensitive. - Her skinny, unfeminine body is shaken with cry almost turning into a scream:
   - People are different and you should know how to work with people.
   Not long ago Laura moved to a new office with a glass door and started participating in daily one hour meetings with the vice president. "From each according to their abilities," - .the beginning of the Karl Marx's motto written in his "Criticism..." - has been approved by Laura as equally binding for all, but, its second part has been revised. Necessity is determined by her. I am a realist and do not unfeasible tasks in front of myself. I make no attempt to explain my thoughts to the boss.
   Sensitivity is a quality, which can be found often among many of my colleagues. Paul Steven is also very sensitive; regret, despair, repentance and awkwardness - this is not a complete list of senses clearly shown on his plum, kind face, small restless eyes and huge figure with prominent belly. The first five words of the person whom he talks to, including pronounces and interjections, he listens with a strained attention, and then his intellectual perception is shot down, and he grows weak. There are ten people who report to him, his office is large and light with a nice view of the Central Square, his salary is decent. Injustice makes his tender soul suffer keenly and deeply... Nobody was amazed when Laura asked Tom to yield his office to Paul Steven. Tom is sort of quiet, and if he talks, it's in Chinese. He never complains and is never discontented with anything. He is frail and puny, but he neither pants nor coughs, nor has difficulty breathing. His legs are healthy. He can easily sit on a regular chair and squeeze himself through the regular door, not touching it by his belly and thighs. Paul Steven's weight exceeds six hundred pounds, and every time he gets a slight cold he needs to be put in bed and take a course of therapy procedures. So he is not burdened with work. Formerly, he signed "The Separation Agreement", and received a considerable lump sum amount of money for the discomfort when retired from the university, but then, using some old connections and imperfection of the document came back. However, it may be more profitable for the university to pay him twice as much on the condition that he would never appear inside of these walls again. But he is very sensitive, and Laura together with the Human Resource people is aware of that.
  
  
   ...Usually "The Red Hall" is as noisy as a market place. The topics to disturb my colleagues - a baby's loose stool, pain in somebody's arm, a menu for lunch, somebody's car insurance or tragic experiment, which let to a complete system failure, - become the public's possessions. We are skillful pretenders to do something useful. Romeo and Stefan who are in my team also look very busy. Being warn of the consequences, I do not distract them from their discussions on various subjects - Stefan is carried away with himself conversing to Stefan, and Romeo readily and eloquently opens his ideas to everyone. I can't get an intelligible answer from him, though he willingly answers to a different question. Both of my subordinates are harmless, inoffensive and punctual. Stefan never cuts the cheese overtime and he as well as Romeo leaves for home at five sharp. "Two idiots and I" - this is how I call our small collective body.
  
   Mitik, Vovik and Gregory are my compatriots. The first one never studied in college and was a military clerk in Uzbekistan; the other one was expelled from two Russian colleges and worked as a KGB agent. And Gregory is a computer person. During several years Mitik has started the same job; he accurately types the complicated task's name consisting of seven letters and does not misspell it. If something is wrong with the data, he comes to Vovik, and they look at the screen, then poke in the code and move lines from the top to the bottom and from the bottom to the middle - back and forth, again and again. Their labor is as productive as Lenin's devoted companions' on the famous Lenin's Subbotnic. Day after day they "carry the same log". At times some of the users discover a mistake in data or Laura subdues to an unsolved task, and the problem disappears by itself. It happened only once that the method of "try and be at fault" somehow resulted to a correct conclusion.
   Mitik hates everyone - Jews, Chinese, Blacks, homosexuals, bald, fat, sick, old and stooped. He never looks at anybody's eyes and speaks unclearly and abruptly, with short, sharp phrases. His hatred to Peter (from the corner office) and Frank is furious. Obviously, he has many reasons for that - Peter happened to be black, fat and homosexual simultaneously, and Frank is a religious Jew in a yarmulke... Mitik has been divorced three times, and now he is dreaming again about a deserving bride. He searches everywhere, mostly on the Russian spaciousness, and many of his working hours are used for that purpose. Vovik is the only one who has remained intact and survived a big layoff of "The Communist Labor Team". They had to go not because of their uselessness (it would make cense), but purely by accident. Six programmers, immigrants from Eastern Europe, China and North Vietnam, worked in peace and friendship - one for all and all for one. If they made a mistake (a frequent event, as the team practiced the popular method "try and be at fault"), then it was impossible to find the culprit.
   - Who did it? - I used to ask Vovik looking through the product which had a merit - it did not produce syntaxes errors, and had a couple of shortcomings - wrong sorting, absurd totals numbers and meaningless titles in the reports, - I just want to look at his or her eyes.
   -All, it was all of us, - followed the answer of the true Leninist.
  
   Vovik fails every other task, assigned to him, but he carries out all others - with help of good-natured, reasonable and not ambitious Gregory. "When your affair gets done, help your comrade", one more famous principle, encourage by Laura. Vovik does as much as his faculties allow. But for years he has been tortured with high opinion of himself and low blood pressure; in addition to it, he is a family man with two children: a boy and a girl in Flushing, and one boy in a small provincial town in Ukraine. So Laura never crosses with him and speaks to him in a sweet, attentive voice full of motherly love.
   After lunch Stefan moves to a cubicle next to me to insert student's records. He types slowly and cautiously with his shaking pale fingers, letting his big bald head with ugly glasses fall on the keyboard, paper and books: "Unix for Dummies", "SQL for Dummies", "C for Dummies" and leftovers of rice and pasta, plastic bags and paper cups spread untidy on his desk. Having worked not more than 15 minutes he, fussily looking back and to the sides, with short steps minces along the corridor and on the way cuts one more loudly and drawly. "Work, work, work!" - mutters he under his breath. On return Stefan takes two huge yellow pills; they cause drowsiness and regulate digestion. He deals a dull blow on the desk and mumbles:
   - Oh-oh-oh, ta-ta-ta, sch-sch, - whether he sings, or weeps, or moans. - Where is she? Katy! It can't be! What? Wonderful!!! This is something new! This is funny. Shot up! Oh-oh... What is going on? What? Oh, holly-holly mountain! Where is the guy? O, god! Sally? Shut up! Not this one! I saw him, how did I see it? Where is it? Damn it! - He nervously, gurglingly laughs, hiccups and farts again. - Who closed it? How did I close it? Oh, damn, tomorrow... One, two, three, I got it. I did it. Why did I do another one? Who was here?
   - Romeo, look at this document! - Stefan drew the paper nearer to the face of his colleague walking near by.
   - Today is Thursday, - insists Stefan, - What? How?
   - No, I am sure, today is Thursday, - gets exited Romeo.
   - Sorry, but you are mistaken, today is Thursday, - angrily interrupts him Stefan.
   By the way, it was Wednesday, and a calendar was hanging on the wall in front of their eyes...
  
  
   Since the last three years parking lots for faculty, administrators and students, the main library, red lawns and dorms - all territories stuffed with top secrets - have been put under video camera surveillance. Lady's rooms and showers in the gym and stadium complex are going to be next. Our complicated databases support hundreds of objects that trace every user's step and modification. As a result, tuition has been essentially razed, computer system functions slow down, but the super secrecy in all aspects of student's life, our salary increase and manager's bonuses is kept rigorously on the necessary level...
   "Security, security and again security" - this is the subject of our meeting. Mary is half hour late - she was delayed at the hairdressing salon; I look through the window and watch a group of students rush about in red shorts. Vovik listens with obsequies air, and Gloria comments each reporter with well known truth and asks appropriate questions. Everyone, as well as she, knows the answers to all of her questions, and everyone is pleased -her smooth speech with no accent demonstrates excellent understanding and complete agreement with the management's opinion.
   Gloria is my friend.There is something in her I try to follow, but I am not always successful. For she has a baby, she could have worked at home like other women in "The Red Hall". But her high conscience prevents her from using the favorable circumstances. "I want to be Isaura", - she used to repeat before getting pregnant, meaning the legendary mom of two young kids who comes to see us twice a year. But when little Jenny turned five month, her mother returned to her habitual life stile - the job, where she is not replaceable, and meetings in the city, where she learnt how to lose weight, run a home budget, stop drinking and taking drugs and get adjusted to alcohol- and drug-addicted relatives. At twenty seven she married to a stumpy fellow, whom she met in prison. Manny was exactly what she was looking for - blue-eyed, muscular and well built. He did not want to kill, but the owner of the house came home not in the right time... Now Manny serves his to-life time in a maximum correctional facility in six hour distance by car from N-k, and she never sleeps with a man. She visits him on the weekends, brings him food (her husband's appetite is excellent), and his step-brother's greetings. The three young men were recently dismissed from different N-k's prisons where they spent a couple of years for insignificant crimes. In the afternoon Gloria seats the baby into a crimson carriage in her office and while the little girl dully looks at the walls, she pretends to be working. Jenny has been developing with a delay, but it is playing into her mother's hands - it brings less trouble. Gloria's career and low weight are two goals she follows relentlessly, and nothing will stop her on the way and break her firm and indestructible will. During many years she has not tried wine and drugs, and also sugar, fat food and flour. By herself she has come to know what is a difference between non profitable and advantages, and twenty three years of psychotherapy helped her to distinguish the wrong from the right and smooth out or evade all disputed matters.
   The GMU's administration treated the young single mom kindly. Gloria was transferred to the same room with Frank, where she could cover the glass door with a poster and nurse her baby, while Frank was gazing at the screen concentrating on their programs. On her birthday Jenny got many nice presents from her mom's colleagues and a new laptop from Laura (at the expense of the university). Frank is dreadfully afraid to lose his job and takes up any assignments, so he copes with Gloria's and his responsibilities.
  
  
   Following her colleagues example, Mary has been getting smarter before my eyes, and she learnt how to find time to have manicure done, meet with her friends and study for her GMAT test during working hours. Several times she tried to be amidst those who get "according to their needs", and she planned to gain weight as much as Paul Steven did, but understood she would never accomplish it as none of my readers. Finally, she managed to catch some painful illnesses - chronic hypertension and a special variety of flu with awful complications on all life-supporting organs. Excellent American doctors set her on her feet. After that she stopped correcting Romeo's mistakes, staying at work until late evening and helping Vovik and Mitik. And then Laura anxiously observed:
   - Something happened to you. You've changed.
   She can become Isaura by a traditional method, as in contrast to Gloria she prefers normal men with arms, feet and all the rest, and she does not have to search for sperm in a sperm bank. But yet, her idea did not come true, and there are still tall barricades between her colleagues who get "according to their needs" and her...
  
  
  
  
   Every day looks the same; my co-workers hasten along the corridor, talk loudly, gather by two, three and bigger groups. Larry whirls at full speed almost knocking down other runners, and patters showing extreme employment. He gazes in front of himself at the beautiful future, and he sees no one. He fulfills his responsibilities thoughtfully and accurately; he builds up rows and columns of boxes filled with some tools and instruments and invents new paper forms for all of us to report when work gets done. Each such document consists of at least fifteen paragraphs and a number of fields. Using them we describe our workaday routines... Ramul is always on his speaker phone to seem important and considerable. He is young, determined and promising. He is somewhat familiar with his job and, probably, in ten years he will acquire the necessary experience, but at the moment in case of an extraordinary failure the management thinks it is an enemy's intrigue. He can hold a screwdriver, nails, hammer, pieces of iron and pincers, and he supposes it is everything what he has to do. If someone would have said to him, that there is a difference between Shells, he would be surprised in a great extend, as he merely surmises that they exist. His face is round with three chins, his bones are thin and fragile; they broke easily and often he stretches his lower extremities put in a plaster and walks using a pair of crutches humming an Eastern tune. Ramul is one of two Freddy's subordinates. Freddy started in 1975, before fat Paul Steven, as a computer operator, and he is a university most old-timer. His title is a director with no details and no responsibilities. It sounds nice, modest and incomprehensible. He talks a lot to Stefan, Ramul and himself and cries when he gets up and sits down - he is tortured with bad osteoporosis. He and Stefan are good bodies, and Freddy treats Stefan carefully, with sympathy and tenderness. "Stefan, dear Stefan, do not sleep, please, do not sleep", - he pulls the sick man about, when Stefan snores slightly or loudly on a bunch of books not at the right time. Freddy is Stefan's only company in the cafeteria. They eat in silence, not saying a word to each other, but later for hours discuss their senile illnesses and changes on market in Freddy's office. Stefan is a very successful player on Wall Street. He came into an enormous fortune. "You have to be insane to gain on Wall Street", - they say, and Stefan's case perfectly proves that.
  
   -Do you th-th-ink th-th-ey w-w-ill f-fire m-m-e? - For the hundred first time asks me Frank anxiously stuttering.
   He always looks pitiful, disturbed and funny, no matter what he does, and especially, in the gym with his bald head dangling from side to side, ear plugs and half open mouth on his pink face.
   - Well, Frank, you are such a good programmer! - I want to comfort him, he is a father of three babies, but I have no doubt he will be fired in spite of his hardworking. He takes Zoloft and Prozac to get rid of the awful pain in his stomach, take away tension in his body and restore normal sleep. Neurologists, nutritionists, psychologists and psychiatrists can't help him, although he is not hopeless. If Gloria moves to a new office with a glass door, as Laura's, then his fate will change immediately to the best. But today the second part of the Communist's motto does not applied to him.
  
  
  
   ...Romeo puts on white ribbon gloves and spread an air spray on everybody's desk. Then he collects three huge bags of garbage which has been accumulated in "The Red Hall" for years - books for Dummies, newspapers, cups and napkins, old shoes and yellow print-outs. He really can do it - he is a great garbage man! He helps Vovik, Mitik, Stefan, Tom and Gloria. Gloria's desk was covered with mold as much as Stefan's one and also with leftovers of milk and baby's food. When her desk is clean and shiny, she rushes ahead with heavy, confident steps of a general. Her goals are certain; she knows which school her young daughter will go to in four years and which fruit she will eat for tomorrow's dinner. All her life is planned in advance. There is a note in her notebook, which states where and when she will meet her parents who live in three minutes from her house. Constantly she has been improving her character and her body, never flirts with anyone, her face is gray, gloomy and worried. Twice a week she uses a vibrator, and daily checks her weight. It does not exceed the necessary numbers, but she forgot how to show even a prepared smile. When she talks - does not matter what is this about - her voice is serious and severe. She walks fast, as many of my colleagues, with raised shoulders and does not say "hello" to anyone. The red plastic identification card hangs on the chain around her neck and loudly hits her stomach in time of her strict steps. Larry (from the office with a glass door and view at "The Red Gates") is the only person who runs faster than her.
   - I am happy! - says Gloria to me when we approach "The Red Gates", pulling the carriage with dozing off Jenny, and suddenly her face becomes affable and pleasant. She needs so little to be pretty, just a smile. In the afternoon she had an appointment with her therapist, and after an hour conversation with the woman (who previously was a man and who also keeps her appointments with her therapist) Gloria feels happy living her imagining life. In this unreality she has them all - a loving mother and father, husband and friends, a brother and sister.
  
  
   On Fridays the university is closed. It is not a rule, but an exception; nevertheless, it has existed for fifteen years since the reconstruction began. Everyone who does not get by their needs is an exception from the exception and works a full weak.
   - Did you finish your work? - Asks shiny, cheerful Romeo, - see you on Monday!
   - Why do you think I`ve worked? I am like everybody else, and my chair is warm.
   I go by a scarlet stand, stare at the local newspaper "The Red Student", and read the leading article experiencing deep satisfaction:
  
   - When it comes to technology and education, GMU is a force to be reckoned with...
   We want to put GMU and its students on the radar of the N-k area's technology leader...
  
  
  
  
  
  
   The epilogue
  
   We do not exist anymore. The place is abandoned and empty. Nobody is there, just black fat roaches and Stefan...
  
  
  
  

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