Running Up That Hill

an excerpt



October 31, 1986, will be one for the history books.

Jeremy Saura had scrawled that single sentence in his journal almost two weeks ago, after having been interviewed by a woman in a Raggedy Ann costume. That woman, Frances Gilchrist, was now his boss. She apologized several times during the interview, claiming she'd been "coerced" by coworkers into dressing up for a raucous Halloween party at the otherwise staid law book publishing company. Her insistence that the whole situation was so wrong and unprofessional should probably have been Jeremy's first clue that Frances might run her department at Mercury Publishers with a conservative hand.

It turned out it wasn't just Frances who was resistant to change. In fact, everyone in the department had watched the delivery of the Wang word processors with some trepidation.

Claudia Hart, the veteran of the department, who'd been with the company since the 1950s, eyed the machines suspiciously, but didn't outright condemn them. That was left to Abigail Lawton, who was behind Claudia in seniority by only two years.

"I don't like not having a paper trail," Abigail said. "When we use slip copy, there's always a paper trail to track problems. I don't see how you can do that on these word processors."

"The transition won't happen right away," Frances assured everyone. "We'll still be using slip copy for many, many months. But I'm afraid my hands are tied. These word processors are what they want us to eventually use."

Jeremy tried to envision his future trajectory within the company. When he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English, he never dreamt he'd be hunched over a desk, counting hundreds of slips of paper crammed in a box.

But…he was thankful to have a job. Really.

"Jeremy, you got any questions?" his group leader, Yvette Rios, called out just minutes after she'd given him his very first assignment: citation updates for a reference volume called the BrownBook series. She was fond of shouting over the cubicle wall. It became clear pretty quickly that this was standard in the department. Jeremy sat in-between Yvette and their other group member, Ellen Budd. Yvette and Ellen often communicated back and forth over Jeremy's head.

"No, not yet," Jeremy said. "It seems pretty straightforward."

Yvette stood up. "Well, you yell if you have problems, 'kay?"

"I will."

She stepped past Jeremy's cubicle. She leaned against the copy room wall and craned her neck. "Mija, is there a way to change the brightness on this thing?"

"Hell if I know," Ellen answered back.

Ellen Budd was what Jeremy's mother would call a "plain Jane." His father would say she had a "trucker's mouth." In contrast to Ellen, Yvette was stunning. Yvette and Ellen were best friends. The pairing seemed so odd, so comical, to Jeremy.

"I haven't even turned the damn thing on yet," Ellen continued. "It's just cluttering up my workspace right now. It's a pain in my ass."

Ellen's choice of words was always a good indicator of whether or not Frances was in her office. Clearly not at the moment.

Yvette's phone rang. She scooted back to her desk. "This is Yvette. Yeah, yeah, sure. I've got our new team member working on it. Sure. Oh sure. I can send him right up." Yvette hung up the phone. "Jeremy!"

I'm right here. Right in front of you. Six feet away! "Yes?"

"Listen, you need to go up and see the editor for your project. There was some mix-up in Volume II. He'll explain it all."

"Okay."

Jeremy waited for further instruction, but heard only the tapping on a keyboard. The sound became louder and more frantic.

"Mija," Yvette shouted, "we need to create passwords on these things?"

Jeremy stood up and peered over the cubicle wall. "Who is the editor? And where is he located?"

Yvette stared at the Wang. "Huh? Oh, it's Adam Fleuren, up in Hartfield 5. You know that's the other building, right? You know you can take the skybridge, right?"

I do now. "Okay, thanks. I'll find him. Do I need to take the slip copy up with me?"

"Oh, this machine is shit! What did you say?"

"The slip copy. Should I bring it with me?"

"Oh, yeah, sure. I don't know."

Jeremy picked up the box. He headed toward the elevator. As he waited for it to arrive, he could hear the two veterans, Abigail and Claudia, in a discussion at Claudia's desk.

"We've used slip copy for thirty years," Abigail said. "Makes no sense, this change."

"I retire next year," Claudia replied.