The chief was Hanno Tiffle, and once upon a time he had aspired to leadership, but after languishing at the head of various sub-departments, divisions, sections and bureaus, he’d fallen into the indifference of middle management, and considered it a job well done whenever he hit the forward button on an email. A convert to Catholicism upon his second marriage to the canon lawyer, Mixta Clarke, who had represented him in the annulment of his first union, a weekend home in Sag Harbor, and a few years away from maxing out on his pension, he was perfectly content to let History take the rudder.
That was until Stanislaw Brandi, who had arrived after the Great Real Estate Bust of ’08. Through unknown contacts higher up the decision tree, he had been made Tiffle’s Deputy, and had immediately begun a second career out of second-guessing his boss. Although he dreamed of a triumphant return to Mortgages-R-Us, he hedged his bets: he wanted Hanno Tiffle’s job, or at least his pay grade. So he held Tiffle in contempt, when he wasn’t kissing his fanny.
But the real trouble began one day on the carpeted strip that passed between the glassed-in managerial suite and the field of cubicles where all us subalterns were crammed in like veal calves. It was known as the Perp Walk because of the motion-triggered video cameras that had been installed under a new workplace incentive program. Fitbits had been handed out as gifts to all staff, and a post-tax penalty was assessed based on the number of steps after the fifteen-hundredth. However, if you didn’t go past 500 steps, you were automatically entered into a lottery for an end-of-year bonus in bitcoin, a sort of company scrip.
Stanislaw Brandi stopped me as I passed his area on the way to my lunch break.
He came out from behind his desk and pointed at the Fitbit, which I had decided to wear with my ID on a lanyard around my neck.
Tuning up your sexy phone, La Joya? he asked.
Saxophone. I said that it looks like a tuner for a saxophone.
But I’d caught his little lapsis linguae.
No, Mr. Brandi, I responded cautiously. It’s my ID and Fitbit.
Ha, that’s funny, he said, and just looked at me, eating pistachios while he leaned against his doorframe.
Nice threads, he added.
That day I was wearing a green glen plaid three-piece from a sample sale, but had left the jacket hanging from the single hook allotted me as a new hire. We talked a little about different vest styles and necktie widths for a minute.
After we’d run out of things to say, I asked, Is there anything else, Mr. Brandi?
Nothing else, he said, and smiled while he shook the empty nut shells cupped in his palm with a gesture that could have been taken for shaking a martini or something much lewder than I preferred to imagine.
Well, then, I’ll be going on my way, I said as merrily as I could, and began to walk away. Brandi didn’t move, and I thought I caught him checking out my ass.
I took my fifteen minute break in the staff room standing up, because management had decided chairs were too suggestive of leisure. It was my third week on the job, temp-to-perm, and I was still getting a feel for it. From what I could make out, everybody worked on the same vast floor in the same division of a large department in an important but obscure government contractor’s office—obscure not because it was secret or trendy, but because it was specialized and dull and hard to explain. We processed things there, documents and copies of things with acronyms such as ARCOs, BFAs, RAISNs, and DDs. People needed these pieces of paper in order to get other pieces of paper, so that the system could run without a glitch. And to that purpose, everyone was supposed to work together, to be able to perform everyone else’s job. It was all part of a new job-sharing paradigm. In fact, no one was allowed to claim any personal work product. Maybe that was why no one knew what was going on. No one but Hanno Tiffle and Stanislaw Brandi seemed to understand. But they had private offices.
On my way back from my lunch I had to pass the glass booths again, and this time, Hanno Tiffle called me into his office. He asked me to sit down across from him, which I did. Was I being pink-slipped so soon?
I saw you speaking with Mr. Brandi, he said. On the productivity monitor, he said, pointing at a bank of screens on one of his walls.
Yes, Mr. Tiffle, I answered. Um, he’s a very interesting person, I said, trying to think of something to say.
Is that so?
Yes. It seemed as if I had given the wrong answer.
After staring at me for an uncomfortably long time, he asked, What are you doing Saturday night?
His question didn’t quite register. I’m not sure, I told him.
It’s just that I have an extra ticket to Hamilton.
The play? My face felt flushed all of a sudden.
The play, he answered.
Really? We had hardly ever spoken before, and yet he could only think of me. Naturally, it appealed to my vanity.
I can think of no one who would appreciate it as an HH.
Can we go? Please say yes, he said, deepening his voice. It’s a hip-hop musical.
The way he looked at me… Hamilton tickets were impossible to come by, and who wouldn’t want to see something no one else could see?
What do you say? he asked again.
Si, se puede? I replied.
I love that! Hanno Tiffle replied, laughing and punching the air, exciting me in the way I usually felt only when watching Wayne Brady.
Well, the play was underwhelming but the seats were excellent, and Hamilton’s spit or sweat landed on me once, and everyone gasped and watched to see whether I’d collect it in a vial or lick it or something, but I’d never been good at monetizing.
Wasn’t it great? Hanno Tiffle wanted to know.
The best! I said.
Let’s get a drink and discuss.
Why not? And so we did. We drank at Anderson Cooper’s ex-lover’s boite de nuit, and it was all terribly chic. We drank some more at the Alan Cummings Club where Cummings sat barfly-like on a stool, dunking bread rolls into a plastic tumbler of potato vodka. Hanno Tiffle showed me wallet photos of his family and told me treacly stories about his progeny. This made me feel superior and I got grabby, of course, having been at this take-my-wife-please rodeo a few too many times.
He protested just a little but we made out for a while, and although he wasn’t a bad kisser, the booze helped a lot. Oh, I don’t know what’s come over me, and all the rest of it. We went into the backroom for a while, and when that wasn’t enough we went back to the office and used the conference room. The carpeting rasped like a loofah.
When the exfoliation was all over, he asked me to spend the night.
Here? I was incredulous.
No, hot stuff, at a hotel. I’m not ready to say good night. I don’t know what’s come over me! Let’s rideshare it over to the Brooklyn Marriott. It’s romantic.
Oh Hanno, mi amor, I said, I would love to, but what about your wife and kids?
They’re at my mother-in-law’s.
So much for that dodge.
The next Monday I ran into Stanislaw Brandi at the weekly staff meeting. Over our steaming paper cups he asked if I would like to go to a Justin Vivian Bond concert at Joe’s Pub.
The fact that this 55 year old ex-titan of real estate even knew about the off-kilter chanteuse surprised me, and I answered, to test him and buy some time.
That’s the usual venue, isn’t it?
Oh yes, V’s lovely in the lounge, he explained.
I was trying to come up with something more to say, but Hanno Tiffle, who up until then had been content to smile and nod at me from a distance and otherwise keep it discreet, came over.
Good morning, Stan, La Joya, he said, nodding at each of us in turn.
Good morning, we both replied in unison, then giggled to cover up our embarrassment.
Hanno Tiffle blushed. What’s so funny?
Nothing, Stanislaw Brandi answered.
Nothing, I repeated.
I see, Hanno Tiffle said. Well, the meeting’s about to start. Let’s take our seats, shall we? And without waiting for an answer he took me by the elbow and guided me to a chair next to his.
After the meeting, during which Stanislaw Brandi and I shot glances at each other and Hanno Tiffle stared ahead at the power point presentation on the sustainability costs of privacy laws, I wanted to find out more about the concert. When we were the last two in the room, I approached.
Oh, I thought you weren’t interested, he said, picking lint from his sleeve.
He’d turned the tables on me a bit. Of course I’m interested, Mr. Brandi! It’s just that Hanno, I mean Mr. Tiffle, uh… I mimed being pulled by my elbow.
I see, he said, lifting up his hand as if he were going to take an oath. You were forced. Say no more. It’s this Thursday night.
Can you make it with me?
Yes, I can, I answered.
Er, make it.
I’ll pick you up in the Denali.
The week went by with the usual set of probationary joys and sorrows. Two RAISNs, one DD (which was returned for missing fields) and one BC-X, which doesn’t happen very often. And then it was Thursday. Sonnez la cloche! Stanislaw Brandi picked me up promptly at eight in front of my building, The Derby Dangle, an old SRO-to-co-op conversion, where I still clung to my rent-controlled efficiency, through four mayors, seven slumlords, and Airbnb trying to take over.
I borrowed a tuxedo jacket from a friend, one with doll-head epaulets, and put on my tightest pencil jeans. Stanislaw Brandi had pulled his comb-over into a thin ponytail and was wearing a guayabera and too much Aramis. But I didn’t mind, we had a lovely time. V fumbled lines and rumbaed and salsaed and told jokes in Spanglish. At the end she brought out Willie Colon and they sang a vehement rendition of En Mi Viejo San Juan.
All through the evening Stanislaw Brandi had behaved like a gentleman, but now the check was due for that other thing.
Why don’t we get a nightcap, chulito?
Sure, I agreed.
The Brooklyn Marriott?
I couldn’t believe it!
I thought the porters and bellhops recognized me as we glided up the escalator for the second time in one week. We made our way to the small bar, and sat looking out over the government buildings, sipping our bourbons. By one o’clock, he told me he was a bit too tipsy to drive me home and then drive himself back to Hoboken.
Let’s get a room, he suggested, with a wink.
Stanishlaw, I slurred, are you sure?
All right, we were more than a bit too tipsy.
Why wouldn’t I be sure? he asked. And call me Shtan, he said.
It’s just that you’re so, so, straight, I said.
Stan was stoked with alcohol and umbrage.
I’m not straight! He stood up and wobbled.
The bartender looked at us and nodded in agreement.
Shtan, I said, you win.
Hard to believe, but our room was the same room I had shared with Hanno Tiffle. It overlooked the service driveway where one dumpster after another banged empty.
Good thing for the noise because Stan was doing debauched things with his sexyphone I didn’t know were possible. A few of the doll heads on my jacket fell off and rolled here and there, but by morning shame was merely an aftertaste.
This sort of thing went on for a while. I’d alternate evenings, and daytimes too, first with one and then the other. Hanno Tiffle began asking me to work on special projects in order to keep me after hours. I didn’t get paid overtime, and come to think of it, I didn’t get paid at all due to being a probationary hire. Stan noticed, of course, and would ask me all sorts of questions, needling me with jealous remarks. He couldn’t give me anything to compare, he complained, and he resented Hanno Tiffle even more.
On my rare nights off, I would go home to recuperate and reflect. Hanno Tiffle brought back memories. He reminded me of an old lover who had dumped me over a minor indiscretion. So what if I had slept with his boyfriend? It was 1981! Could karma be sending Hanno my way to do things right? Stan was passionate but driven by scarcity, it seemed. But ultimately, he was someone who could find satisfaction in the little things. Oh, I’d been the pawn of powerful men before—the bum in the public lavatory, the chubby priest in the parking lot of a strip bar, the drunk construction worker on the dawn ferry to Provincetown. But if I could provide that little something special, provided that he, or they, provided me with something too, then maybe this time things would be different.
Through no fault of my own, however, they each found out about the other. Looking back, it wasn’t that difficult to figure out. Under the No Personal Space rule, Stanislaw Brandi had relocated me to the first cubicle opposite his office. Hanno Tiffle, being Stanislaw Brandi’s boss, didn’t think he was being surveilled by his underling, but by repositioning a workflow observation mirror, the kind they used to catch muggers and shoplifters, Stanislaw Brandi saw him stop by to say hello.
What were you two doing? Stan asked me as soon as Hanno had strutted back to his office.
I had to think fast.
Discussing pernicious anemia.
Isn’t that a HIPAA violation?
Not really, Stan, I answered. Not if you don’t name names.
No, seriously, tell me, La Joya, Stan said, and no fooling. Were you really discussing pernicious anemia? There was so much earnestness in his voice!
I blushed. No, not really, Stan.
What were you doing?
I felt bad. Stan was looking at me with his irresistible Keane eyes.
We were making plans, I answered weakly.
Plans? Stan’s countenance darkened. What plans?
For the weekend.
My confession had a terrible effect on Stan, and later that evening, at an exclusive dinner party given by his real estate friends, I also made my confession to Hanno Tiffle. I thought the gig was up.
Stan and I are having an affair, too, I whispered so as not to draw attention.
Having a relationship. You know, I said, monogamy is so old-fashioned. I tried to laugh it off as if it all were a meaningless play of floating signifiers.
You are a slut, La Joya! he hissed.
And you’re an adulterer, Hanno!
We both fumed for a while as we crunched on our ortolans, hunched beneath our napkins.
There is only one thing to do, I said, peeking out at him.
And what’s that? he whispered. The beak of the ortolan, which had been protruding from between his lips, fell to the plate with the tiny sound of mandible on Limoges.
We join forces. All of us.
Olé, I said, giving my napkin a toreador flutter. And Hanno Tiffle agreed.
Our polyamory took off like an Elon Musk rocket ship. It was as if my two friends had been waiting all their lives for a chance to shed the false contrails of heteronormativity. They took to posing as somdomites. They dared speak Love’s name. They changed their wardrobes and changed their hairstyles. They changed their diets and began to exercise. They spent money on me while I taught them good times meant cash on the barrelhead.
Things were fine for a few more months. But they began to grow restless with the same chore-wheel roundelays. Difference trilled and beckoned once more. I thought I could keep these two interested and my payday coming if I spiced things up.
I have an idea, I said to them both over decaf skim chai lattes. I have a friend who throws parties.
Yeah, so what? Stanislaw Brandi complained.
Where anything goes… I let it sink in.
Hanno Tiffle asked, Anything?
Legal, of course, I answered.
He, more than Stan, needed coaxing. The converted Catholic thing, you know. Zeal of the fresh convert and all that jazz.
No drugs? he persisted in his examination of my conscience.
Nope, I answered.
Well, I’m game, he assented. You? he asked Stanislaw Brandi.
Sure, why not? Stan said, which endeared him to me. The truth is, I had fallen for Stan.
I called up my friend Black Illy and got us comped into his underground sex party in Brooklyn. Who would have thought three men of a certain age would find a niche for themselves? And that in the middle of Williamsburg there was so much perversion? But Lucy Law and Betty Badge had ceded the territory to the Shomrim, and as everyone knows, extreme public morality is pure oxygen for private deviance. It could have been Teheran or Pyongyang or Vatican City for all we knew, except it was the eruv strings that crisscrossed the block that ensured everything would remain kosher. Hanno Tiffle was scandalized. Stan scoffed.
And it just so happened that it was the General Admission Party that night, where all proclivities were celebrated. We were like kids in a candy store. From one room to the next there were worlds to be explored. Straight, gay, bi, trans, intersex, lesbian, in short, every taste in hue and size and shape. As the DJ spun, there was intersectionality everywhere. There was even an aromantic and asexual corner, which seemed almost too radical.
But all good things must end. Hanno and Stan grew closer to each other. At work they began to spend more time in each other’s offices, talking in whispers. They formed a diversity committee at work, which they co-chaired themselves. Hanno Tiffle got a tribal tattoo and was giving motivational talks. Poor Mixta Clarke was threatening legal action. Stan had moved out of Hoboken and was refusing gender pronouns. He stopped answering to his old name and became San, because the letter T was phallocentric. The final straw was when they began to look down on me as ‘merely an old-fashioned gay’, and therefore not as highly-evolved as them. How could this have happened?
But I could not have predicted their final cruelty. They called me into the conference room the day before my post was to become permanent. I really needed this gig as I wasn’t getting any younger. They knew I coveted health and dental and a pension plan.
La Joya, San said to me.
Yes? I answered.
I’m sorry to tell you this, but your position is being insource-outsourced.
What? I couldn’t believe my ears. What?
Hanno Tiffle stepped in. We’ve decided to subsume all your functions into the new paradigm.
I hadn’t been born yesterday. I knew what was going on.
You’re dumping me!
Calm down, they both said, almost at the same time, motioning palms-downwards with their hands, which frightened me. Had they been practicing?
Monsters! I said. I’ll sue! I’ll call the union! I have rights, you know!
Stop being so old-fashioned, La Joya, San told me, in the very calm work-voice I hadn’t heard for months.
He’s right, Hanno Tiffle clucked, taking San’s hand into his own. There it was, the marriage of George and Martha, before my very eyes.
San said, your job will be shared by others, based on merit of course.
Naturally, Hanno agreed.
Fitbit, please, San said, gesturing toward my step-counter.
I meekly handed it back.
Oh Hanno, Oh San, I began to plead, but they cut me short.
LaJoya, Hanno said, San and I are both sure you will like it in the mailroom. Try and maintain some dignity. They have a nice incentives sharing program in the mailroom, plus voluminizer extraction, too.
We’ll help you gather your things, they said one more time—in unison.The three of us made our way back to my desk, while I tried to hike up my saggy dignity. My short-lived idyll was over. I’d been overshared and now I was redundant.
Gerard Cabrera’s fiction has appeared in the literary journals Acentos Review, JONATHAN, Kweli, and Apricity. His novel, Homo Novus is forthcoming from Rattling Good Yarns Press in 2022. Gerard is a Massarican from Springfield, Massachusetts, the birthplace of Dr. Seuss, Timothy Leary, Absorbine, Jr., and the first American dictionary. He lives and works in New York City.