The Inbox

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Check The Inbox

Tall & Terrible Tales of the 21st Century Office

Tower Archive #66721: The Inbox

What follows is an account so ghoulish and wholly devoid of any remedial value that the only possible motivation for writing it could have been to lend the author some degree of personal alleviation from the chronic ailment herein mentioned. Indeed, in his own words he writes that he published it “to relieve myself of any iota of restlessness imposed by this unremitting Inbox…this ever-present pestering – in dreams or plain workday – of ‘You’ve got mail!’ ‘You’ve got mail!’ ‘You’ve got mail!’”. Whether the document proved at all therapeutic is beyond our knowing. Thorough investigation revealed only that the author’s position at The Tower was terminated shortly after this document was forwarded to all 47,859 Tower personnel under the subject line “Mailroom Drama”. There are rumors, rumors kept to a whisper, about the author’s unbecoming, but we are in the business of reporting only that which is strictly fact, and so we will not publish them here.  

The tale of Art’s fight against The Inbox is a relatable one for any Tower employee. Alas, if you’ve discovered this archive while in pursuit of solutions for your own battle against the incessant notifications, you won’t find help here. For you, this will only serve as proof that others too have suffered this predicament against their will and want. Your best and only ally is your own steadied temper. The delete button will only breed regrettable bliss, though you will surely turn to it anyway if you have not already.

Whatever brought you here, read on with caution, this was the last ever letter of a good man on the edge, written at a time when he was willing to abandon his moral compass in search of any solution. It has had the effect of disheartening Tower staff, unshackling them, before falling by the wayside as “You’ve Got Mail” beckons their attention forever more. 

The following are Art’s own words with no edits made by the discovering party, the investigative team, or the publisher.

 

Message Received: 10:00 a.m.

Fellow Tower Employees,

I do not know if this message will reach you. I will proceed as if it has. I referred to the Kit for your contact information, tediously copying each address from every line for months in hopes that one or two of you might be turned back towards sanity by reading my account. It is too late for me. Selfishly, I should note, I wrote it to relieve myself of any iota of restlessness imposed by this unremitting inbox…this eternal pestering – in dreams or plain workdays – of ‘You’ve got mail!’ ‘You’ve got mail!’ ‘You’ve got mail!’.

The Mailroom

The full recitation of my upbringing would be of no interest to you, so I’ll skip­­ any detail that is any less than necessary. I was raised in the backwoods of Central Pennsylvania, a place where speech is honest and emotions undressed. My father was a lumberjack and his forefathers, too. The only stories we Pennsylvania boys ever read or heard were those of mighty men chopping lumber well. Naturally, I imagined I’d be a lumberjack, too, and had no reason to think the profession was anything but noble. I grew broad and able. By 18 I could swing an axe with such might that the strongest tree would fissure while still in my backswing (remember this point as it will explain the “server issues” you might experience before your review of this document is final).

I was drunk and excitable when I met and fell for a girl on her summer vacation. The details of our love’s development would be of even less interest to the reader than my upbringing. What’s pertinent is that I made announcements and decisions that surprised even myself and led to the girl and I being married and living together near the city of Philadelphia. For money, of which we needed more in a month here than we would have in a full year back home, I took the only position I was accepted for: Tower Mailroom Operator. 

We settled in the suburbs. Neighbors called me Art, a Tower guy. We lived between Carlos, a Tower guy, and Mel, a tower lady. I was proud of my Tower classification and subdued my inborn carnal backwoods nature.   

The erosion of my once sound mind began in the winter of the third year at the Tower. It was then that I was promoted to Mailroom Manager, granted a substantial salary increase and, in a footnote of the contract, assigned an e-mail account (I quiver at the pronunciation of the very term). 

The instructions for the account were left on my desk alongside the username and password, “to notify personnel of changes to the status of their mail or pass important information to the appropriate party. Contact information for any Tower employee can be found in The Team Kit.” A proactive tool for people of status, I thought it to be. A packet was attached with the advertised information. The branded green cover and binding of the thing were such that it appeared out-of-shape, as though some demonic text were barely contained by its rigging. There were 50,000 names, at least, with contact information for each: phone numbers, e-mail accounts, even the physical address for the homes of every employee. Mere sight of the Kit evoked a pang of despair in me, though I did not know why.

Keen to establish a more democratic mailroom culture than past department leaders, I wedged the packet beneath my new office door to pry it ajar. My mind wandered to the sensible ordinances that I would propose and impose. I inscribed the ones I liked best on the managerial-brown desk: to keep good posture, to always be polite... They would call me Art, the Fair. I crouched beneath the desk: Art, the Fair was here. Before rising I noticed a second inscription: Check The Inbox!!! And a third, and dozens more etchings of similar exclamations. The previous manager was discharged for conduct “detrimental to company productivity” and so it was no surprise to find such nonsense scribbled about in his former office.

The Kit, and the e-mail account, were less than pressing matters, and so in my early days as manager I paid them no attention. if I’d only understood then that there are no more pressing matters than The Inbox!  

I would’ve blissfully withheld any future concern of the account had a well-mannered lady not appeared the following week inquiring about an unanswered message.

“Hello.”, she graced, “I’m Meesayana Cornucova, Manager of Op. Negotiations. So sorry to be a bother. How are you?”

“Hi-ya. Art the mailroom guy. Pleasure to meet your company. Somethin’ I can do you for?”, I asked, forcing a Philadelphia drawl. She was my first guest. I’d thought deeply about how personnel should be treated upon arrival in the mailroom and was determined to establish a healthy first impression with the first of doubtless many future outsiders.

“That’s so great! Oh, wonderful! Well, listen, I won’t take your time – I left a message here, to Art, just yesterday. I’m sure you’re horridly busy this time of year. I’m wondering if it was received?”

“Where’d you leave the message?”, I dug at the mess of papers across my desk.

“I sent it via e-mail?”

“E-mail, hhuuum. ‘Fraid I haven’t checked it once since – weel – never have checked it. Mailroom boy – not used to all this technology.”, I chuckled and sat up straight, for the Mailroom’s second ordinance was to keep good posture always.

Her countenance at once fell deathly ill and in the absence of any sign of life in her face I felt compelled to check her status. “Miss – everything alright?”

I-er – yes, yes. It’s fine. I just – the e-mail. The inbox. Always check the inbox. Check the inbox.” She was perspiring – violently I should say –  as she looked back toward the hall inquisitively. “Timely…careful not to miss any. Inbox.”, she murmured.

“I’ll check this very moment. Come in, sit sit. No bother at all, please.” I stood to encourage her stay.

“The inbox. Got to – get back to the inbox. You’ve got mail.”, she smirked, pupils flitting about like flies trapped in the whites of her eyes. “Oh, well – you know how the inbox is. Must go, messages to respond to. So many messages. Important. Always. Mail is here. Oh – mail is here! Weeeee!”. She tittered with menace and dropped her gaze toward the floor, noticing the packet wedging the door ajar. Her grin receded and waned. “Wh – the, the Team Kit. Lovely Teeaam Kit. Oh, but it’s on the floor. No, it shouldn’t be on the floor. Why is it on the floor, The Team Kit?”

She looked to me with a child’s inquiring eyes. They turned red and ancient when I answered, “Don’t really need it. Best as a wedge.”

She twitched as if malfunctioning and, saying nothing, clambered back into the superhighway halls of floor 77. I followed her out, hearing her intonations of “inbox…inbox…new message always. Inbox….” as she distanced herself around the corner and out of sight. 

I looked down at the directory and kicked at it to make sure it was good and fixed in before returning to my desk for her message, now believing it to be of the utmost importance and not wanting to stifle any company production and find myself discharged like my predecessor.

I found the sign-in page for the account to be the Home Page on the internet browser. It could not have been more accessible or intuitive. Ever so carefully – one measured press at a time, for my only experience with an inbox was a heated and extensive e-mail back-and-forth with a wedding planner some years prior – I keyed in the information to access the account. Access was granted and I was greeted both by the friendliest and briefest of show tunes followed by a soft voice – much like that of the visiting lady – which announced “You’ve got mail!”. To which I whimpered, “Hooray.” And then, upon noticing the number of unread messages – four hundred and sixty-seven – belted, “Whaa?!”

Four hundred and sixty-seven? Can I describe the discomfort that gripped me, so that you might relate if you haven’t already been numbed by repeated exposure? The second ordinance to keep good posture always was abandoned at once. Unwittingly, I fell limp to my desk. My shirt came untucked; my shoe came untied. The number – 477 – reduced me to pity incarnate. A general clamminess overcame my hands, feet and face. I was compelled to rip my collared shirt apart and gnaw on the shreds. The voice spoke again: ““You’ve got – You’ve got mail!” 2 new messages! I was quite literally unable to process the request – 479, no. Instinctively, I reached up and pressed in the power button for the few seconds it took to strangle the box unconscious. I pressed with force and then in uninvited anger until the screen collapsed to black and I was met with my own bloody reflection. I’d never looked so old, and would never look so young again. I sighed fresh air and had no trouble removing the burden of 479 from my naïve and spoiled mind.

It didn’t take more than a few business hours for supervisors, superintendents, office managers, middle managers, and higher-ups to descend upon me in fevered inquiry. For weeks, I was assailed by men and women alike – hideously kind and apologetically invasive. It was the disarming tone of their voice – practically a croon – that fooled me into filing their inquiries as less than urgent. I can assure you now – as any future Tower employee will invariably discover – unresponsiveness at The Inbox is no less than sedition, and practically on par with full-on Tower treason.  

I tried to explain to each visitor – kindly, though with rage on-call – that the most effective way to contact me was offline, either through a note passed by one of our many full-time couriers, by phone, or in-person. Each of them declined my preference. One late Friday visitor quipped that “if you’re not online, you aren’t working!”. She said so, of course, with a forced grin (you know it is fixed when the mouth smiles but the eyes do not). I felt that her sentiment was shared by the lot of them – and they were a lot. I averaged a dozen visitors per day. On the busiest mornings, full lines would form along the 77th superhighway: businesspeople giving pause to busy schedules to check in on messages that had only been sent minutes ago.

After some weeks with an open-door policy I moved the packet to leave the door only slightly ajar. This dissuaded no one, and in fact only engendered a new pronouncement: “Yoo-hoo”, they’d say. “Anybody in there?”. 

“Mmhmm”, I’d admit. “Yes. What’s urgent?” 

I decided to extend each workday a full hour to address pending e-mails. It was a race to 0, to the surface, to rest. The system would pronounce itself: “You’ve Got Mail!”. I would oblige, “Yes, Mas-tah”.  In time, though, my conversations with The Inbox grew sadistic until each morning at the start of my hour I could easily be heard berating my screen with the most terrible indiscretions I could surmise in that moment. I asked the janitor, Olly, if he’d ever heard my yelling. He told me “yeap, from every dang on of ya’s.” For weeks after Olly told me this I made a morning effort to walk the halls. I was surprised to find that on each floor hyper-caffeinated employees of the Tower were indeed bellowing similar calls of outrage and malice. Some turned beastly and struck the screen. The violence appeased them. I was thrilled to find the mass of Tower employees in agreement that The Inbox had grown to unproductive proportions and was certain change was soon to come.

Alas, no sensible ordinances came from above. My New Message number never once dipped beneath four hundred. Most of them were packed with pure folly, which, after the first few, dissolved any motivation to work through many hundred more. 

I was either mediating a senseless debacle in an e-mail chain between several departments or enduring a salvo of suggestions from unknown – and unknowing –  foreign parties. Worse, each sender took offense to my honesty in response. I quickly ascertained that it’s best to mask the truth in favor of a soft landing. When in doubt, add an exclamation point. Always leave a sign off, preferably “all the very best”. Great care need be taken to use manners in the Inbox. Words are strategy. Full exchanges: war. By the third month I needed a stress ball and mouth guard to brace myself in squeeze and bite before addressing each message, as if preparing to be pegged, cudgeled, or otherwise struck. 

It wasn’t long before The Inbox invaded my home life. I often discovered myself silently fuming about a day’s message as my lovely wife sat beside me at the table. She tried to help, I tried to explain. But I didn’t have the words and she didn’t have The Inbox. Eventually I learned to evade even her suspicion with feigned smiles and small talk. Our marriage suffered.

Months passed and my capacity to operate without worry of The Inbox grew thin. Concern of it was hardwired to my mind. Yes, one of the Tower values was work-life balance, but I could find none. For a while I blamed myself for being too slow. I worried that I was incompetent and my job would be better suited for nimbler fingers. It wasn’t until my encounter Olly, poor Olly, that my backwoods senses were returned long enough to know what needed to be done.

I hesitate to share this next part. Mind you, Olly had always been kind and caring. Not once had I received an inkling of real or passive aggression from him either online (he had absolutely no need for an e-mail account) or during one of his many stop-ins to my small office on the 77th floor. One day, though – a Wednesday, the 4th of July – I had stayed to answer e-mails well past the allotted hour. My sweet wife was away with parents for the week and I thought it an opportunity to make unprecedented ground. It was just after 9:00 p.m. when I heard the elevator door ding and the unmistakable mop cart come wheeling down the empty corridor. It was Olly. I was delighted to hear his company and shot up from my cowered position to greet his arrival.

Sqqqqu—eerr–, he came closer, my eyes widened.

Sqqqqerererererer, he moved slowly – like never before.

Sqqqq-, he stopped a few feet before coming into sight outside my door. I yelled for him, “Olly? That you?”

And then I heard it. And then I heard it. Why Olly why!  

“Inbox….”, he murmured. “Olly says thank you kindly for messaging me today. Won’t you message me tomorrow?”

I sprinted for the door only to find him soundly defeated. He’d be assigned a cellular device, and as that device’s only application an Inbox was downloaded. I found it to be active – more active than even my own – and poor Olly was transfixed on it, literally unable to do his job: I looked down into his mop cart and found it full with fresh milk splashing about.

“Olly!”, I gripped his shoulders and shook him violently. “Can you hear me, son?!”

He looked at me with those same darting eyes as my first visitor had months ago. I am sure he had never used a device of any sort before being assigned one. He broke immediately, and was forever lost. I held him in my arms and wept as he scrolled through and responded in a timely manner. “Oh, Olly. Why you! Just keep the floors clean. Who needs an Inbox for this sort of work!”

He was placid in my arms and soon told me had to go to find better connection, for the network on the 77th was “weak relative to the 18th, the 42nd, the 39th, the 104th, and especially the basement, where it’s best beside the server room.”

The lumberjack in me rose again. I knew what had to be done……

I do hope you can debark from your trajectory before the burden of constant surveillance spoils your mental capacity for joy. This tomfoolery, this skullduggery, will do no good for you other than to train you as a master typist. Unless to be fast-fingered is your ultimate goal, turn yourself over to unemployment at once!

Now, on the matter of my swinging ability which I asked you to remember at the top of this document: On the basement floor, just beside the server room, sits – not coincidentally, I suspect – a red emergency axe to be used for clearing locks and obstructions in case of fire. 5 minutes ago (depending on your reading speed) I ascertained said axe and slipped past the security officer and into the server room. As you’ve read this document – no doubt all 47,789 were present at their desks and read this at once upon seeing “Drama” in the subject line – I’ve stood over the cooling server racks stretching my shoulders, arms, and lower back as the lumberjacks do each early morning back home. 

By now, if you’ll look at your network status, you will probably notice a problem, and soon your many devices will each receive Tower Alerts. This is due to a lumberjack from Central Pennsylvania beneath your feat cracking black boxes with a backswing and a promise. You can be assured it was my pleasure.

I hope that this short time away from your Inbox provides some measure or relief or, less likely, complete absolution from the suspense of the omnipresent “You’ve Got Mail!!!!”.

All the very, very best. Yours truly truly. Hugs. 

In the name of Olly,

Artu

Tall & Terrible Tales of the 21st Century Office

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