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TODAY

Saturday, April 20

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Airbags

A Door Ajar

There are catnip mice outside the door. Peep has slid them there, chased them under the jamb. When the door is opened, he starts forward, nosing toward the pale light of the hallway. Where is the old apartment? Where is Mike? Where are the other cats? He steps forward but is blocked and pushed back by a large pair of human legs. The same legs that slide his mice back inside the apartment. He sniffs at them and then turns to wander off and doze by the bed, which sits at a strange angle in the middle of the room, amid boxes unpacked and clothes still unwashed. In a short time, the legs have gone and his eyes pulse into slits and then close.

He dreams about a large man, sitting at a desk. The man looks hungry.

I glanced over at the edge of my editing table. I'd been working for a large part of the afternoon.

"Lunchtime yet?" I asked my coworker behind me. He sat, facing the opposite direction at the second edit bay.

"Steve says we can't go to lunch at the same time," said Jason.

"Whatever," I said. "I gotta eat soon, though. My body's all sore from moving."

He spun around in his chair. "How did your move go yesterday?"

"I moved Friday. Landlord called, I packed up and moved everything."

"By your-se, yourse-lllf?" His voice hitched up a little and he started to cough.

"No, a friend came and helped me out. I managed to fit ever-thing into my car."

"Huh," said Jason. "That's good to have that done with. I hate moving." He turned, grabbed the mouse and settled into his seat. On the screen, little icons representing television programs moved around. "This thing — STEVE! I wish we could just go in and delete the media. No, Steve's too much of an idiot to give the go ahead and I told him that I was going to do it and he just laughed like 'Heh heh, I wouldn't do that if I were you.'"

"Tour De France special aired last week?" I asked, shaking a snack bag of almonds into my mouth. I waited for Jason to respond. He coughed again and then quietly replied that he thought so. I looked at my cell phone. No messages, 2:03pm.

I checked my email. Nothing. My head still spun a little from drinking the night before.

"I got loaded last night," I announced. Jason turned in his seat.

"You think we should go ahead and output that sequence and then go to lunch?" he asked. I picked a chunk of almond out of my teeth and scoffed.

"Hell no. Lunch, then output." Just as I finished my sentence, Steve knocked twice and opened the door quickly.

"Hey, um, did you guys output 1403? For the session?" I stared at my computer screen.

"I did that last night," I said. "The tape's on your desk." He paused for a long moment before responding.

"Did I tell you to put it there?" he said. Without looking up, I could tell from his voice that he was wearing jeans and an ugly collarless button shirt. He sounded like someone trying to talk around a mouthful of soggy cereal.

"Well, that makes the most sense. I mean," I removed a long string of graphics from a timeline, "do you want us to follow you around just to hand you a tape for the next day?"

After a long pause Steve asked Jason something and then left. When I looked out the window, my stomach growled.

"Stomata," I said. "Stomata, the small rigid opening that allows plant cells to intake carbon dioxide and expel oxygen. My stomata is wide open. I'm leaving." Jason typed something into the body of an email and then stood up.

"One second," he said, stepping out through the door with a finger held in a gesture of pause. Fifteen minutes later, I had a new obsession — flying cat photos. The internet was full of them. Jason came back into the room and started typing furiously.

"Now? Can I do this?" I asked.

"Don't interrupt me — please, I need to write this letter before..." His voice trailed off as he typed. "Just go, I can take my lunch later."

"I'm doing it, I'm out of here," I said to the back of his head. "I am. Leaving you right now."

I left the room and wandered to the back area, to the better of the two bathrooms. I saw that Tim was setting up his new desk area. People come and go at this company so frequently, it's hard to have a desk that is considered a permanent fixture. Much less a job.

Tim was a personal demon of mine from a previous production and it looked as though he was back in place, despite his constant under-breath insisting that he hated his fucking job. When he was my boss and in charge of the editorial assistants, I was let go at his request. Shortly thereafter, the show ended and he was let go. He was always a real catty son of a bitch.

"I'm telling you, she is such the bitch these days," he'd whisper and wait for you to respond. I'd agree with silence or mutely shrug at most of these declarations. Even after months of working together, my first impression was the one that stuck — that he didn't treat people with respect, that he somehow felt that shouted commands were the only way to get things through to the stupid people of the world. I hate base-level napoleonics, in girlfriends, in bosses. The day he shouted at me and told me to fucking stay in line, he looked straight at me and glared, red-faced, until I sheepishly and gently apologized. Everyone else, seven or so people, stopped moving and stared.

I noticed that he'd even brought his stuffed animal collection back and was now arranging the markers in the tray of a dry erase board.

"Hey, Sean!" he said, beaming like an old classmate.

"Hey, Tim," I said, flatly. I walked past him and then turned left at Steve's desk. Steve was typing and stopped long enough to look up at me as I circled by.

"Sean! Got a second?" he asked.

"Sure. Actually, I was just about to go to lunch."

"You've got plans for lunch? I was going to ask if I could take you to lunch."

Fuck, I thought. "No, a friend's going to go to lunch with me in about ten minutes," I said. Actually, I was driving to West Hollywood to interview for a director I wanted to work with. It was common knowledge among my superiors but I wasn't sure that Steve knew or that I wanted to be straight with him. "I hope that's OK."

"Yeah, uh." Steve beamed at me as he pushed back from his desk. "I, hey, just a second." I abandoned the bathroom and turned around for a moment, just as Jason paged me over the intercom. Steve stood up. "Need to talk to you a second."

"Sure thing," I said.

I started walking back down the hallway. Finally, near the main conference room, Steve started speaking, this time in a lower tone.

"We're real happy with everything you've done for us, I want you to know that DME really appreciates everything you do here. That's why we're hoping you're OK, since I guess you have this other job, OK with us moving you to nights." I slowed my pace, trying to show as little surprise as possible.

"S'fine by me." I stopped at a random computer and wiggled the mouse to wake it up. I was thinking quickly, how much it hurt to work nights, crazy insomnia. I had planned on staying with days while I helped the director.

"Good, that's great, thanks a lot," Steve said. "OK. Talk to you after lunch." I could hear a smarmy smile in his voice as he drifted away.

The monitor blinking to life. It stretched a single pixel into two and then popped on. Jason paged me on the intercom. I looked at the corner of the screen. JULY 14TH.

I picked up the phone and called Jason back. "What?" I asked. I watched the screen continue to glow brighter and brighter. "If a ten ton truck crashes into us," I said over the phone. "What?" asked Jason. "Nothing," I said.

I slipped out for the interview and then returned to work, still hungry. Finally, I went home. After arranging boxes and unpacking more books, I lay in bed. I looked at the ceiling, staring into the fan. The cats lay in delicious sleep, draped over the chair and at the foot of the bed. I turned in the unfamiliar dark of the new apartment. I closed my eyes.

I remembered seeing the door close when I walked away from the office, knowing that I'd be taking a huge pay cut with my new position. They'd keep me on a long leash, giving me a night every week or two. Just enough to forego unemployment benefits.

I listened to the cars outside and the cats moved a little at my stirring. When I realized I couldn't sleep, I got up and stubbed my toe into the wall. The kitchen was dark and all unpacked, in heaps of broken-down boxes. Outside, the empty courtyard was silent. I stared out the window. A small animal skittered across in the moonlight and disappeared into the ink of a shadow. I watched for a long moment, drinking the glass of milk in my hand until it was just white foam at the bottom.

It may have been the cat hair stuck to my tongue as I lay down again to sleep that caused my dream. I saw Peep at my office, marching along behind a moving cart. He swipes at a stack of videotapes. They fall with a clatter as he pads along. Someone says something from a desk above but Peep keeps moving along. In the editing bay, he hops into the chair. He sniffs the keyboard and looks up only when the computer screen in front of him springs to life. Moments later, a producer enters the room and gives him a long list of editing duties, none of which involve anything he is even remotely interested in.

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About the Author(s)

Sean U'Ren is a video editor who recently moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. In this occasional column, he shares his experiences transitioning from one city to another.

Revenge of the Second City will return next week.

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