Flash Fiction by Lucy Zhang
Updated: Nov 1, 2019
Quality of Life
Andy hates his job. He hates that his coworkers, supposedly holders of computer science degrees, fail to write the most basic of Python scripts and instead compose “daily status report” emails and attend meetings with senior directors and VPs all day, leaving the bulk of the work to him–and even then, only when his code fails does he get reprimanded and when his code works, he is just doing his job. He hates that he sits at a desk in an open office environment, caged in a supposedly modern-style glass box, where he can hear arguments of engineers defending their code to the death. He hates how incompetency runs rampant, yet no one (including him) will confront higher ups else risk getting entwined in a political kerfuffle. He hates the traffic that transforms his seven mile, fifteen minute drive, into a thirty minute drive, postponing his walk with his adopted mutt, cramped up in his apartment for over eight hours, ready to tug his arm out of its shoulder socket.
So Andy comes into work at nine AM and leaves at a compromised time–between “as soon as possible” and “I don’t have children so no earlier than 4:30 pm”. The next performance review cycle looms; the breeze picks up around five pm instead of seven pm; all new projects limbo between planning and implementation. It’s that time of year. Andy wonders what kind of soup the cafeteria will serve for lunch–a hearty beef chili and for the vegan option, roasted vegetable and corn soup? No no, for the sake of the planet and climate change, he must resist the beef chili. Vegetable soup and some free bread, then. Only two hours and twenty-nine minutes to go until lunch. He decides to spend this time, at least while no one peers over his shoulder at his monitor, writing a list of actionable items to improve his happiness–because that’s what productive people do.
Andy titles the document “Ways to improve life”.
1. Ruin your life–only then can you experience great improvement. You can do this by being duped into a shiny job entrenched in politics, strongly opinionated people (always a bad thing), and no opportunity for growth unless you define growth as the gradual disillusionment of working at a “cutting edge” company. You can also marry your long time girlfriend who, due to anxiety and insecurity, refuses to work–so now your salary needs to support two, but at least you get a tax cut. You hope this will offset the cost of your girlfriend-now-wife now that she believes she has free reign over your money. Naive hope leaves more in life to ruin.
2. Meditate. Think about the geese that leave poop hidden among tall blades of grass and how difficult it is to dodge that. Chant a mantra “artichoke artichoke artichoke” because this is the one food that will not make you hungry.
3. Convince your manager to allow you to work from home three days of the week. You will need those three days to provide emotional support for your dog and exercise your cooking skills with the unused air fryer your wife purchased with your wedding fund among the other one-time-use items boxed up in a closet.
4. Move to an apartment further from work. This will provide the ammo you need to implement #2. Traffic and missing the shuttle provide ample reason to Work From Home, sipping Sapporo beer, and running your script every once in a while when you’re not petting your dog or scrolling through Reddit.
5. Drink bubble tea. The special kind at Happy Lemon where they mix salted cheese and whipped cream into the beverage, resulting in a fatty, sugary, just a hint of savory indulgence. The seven dollar, could-buy-a-meal bubble tea. The bubble tea you sip and forget all woes, because the problem presented now bothers you more than anything else: how to drink equal amounts tea and boba so that neither ends up leftover without the other.
6. Start playing ranked League of Legends games. You need a goal: getting to Platinum will take effort but should be doable. You already have the perfect game setup: the entire living room contains only your PC that generates enough heat to warrant AC despite your frugal intentions to live with open windows, desk, and speakers–no TV, no couches. A pure and unadulterated gaming room. This is how you grow the list of things-more-important-than-work.
7. Lift weights at the gym. Being fit can be another goal. You want to lose your manifesting beer belly and be able to carry your wife without struggling (not that you struggle today). You long for the days of 90% muscle body composition and you remember what you looked like in high school–the jock who failed classes but looked hot doing it. Maybe you should have stuck with the look-good route rather than the nerdy route where it is a commonly held belief that brains are what get you far in life.
Andy looks at his Apple Watch on his left wrist and flicks away a notification. The left and right monitors flicker to black as they sleep, only the middle monitor facing him still lit. He stands up, stretches his legs and feels his skinny jeans squeeze his calves a bit too tightly, finds his excuse to abandon his desk through the empty water bottle sitting near his mouse pad, and heads towards the cafe. Humans need water to survive and the thought of an early lunch fills his head with such levity that he imagines by the time he returns to his desk, he will be on a different team, under a different manager, with a big fat bonus.
Lucy Zhang is a software engineer and holds a B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science. She watches anime, writes poetry and fiction (when patient enough), and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being. She can be found at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter (@Dango_Ramen).