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Today's Story by Scott Lambridis

There is no humor in the corporate world. I will probably die here.

Re: Sugar

On Feb 14, 2011, at 9:11am, Caitlin Sass wrote:

Hi Joseph,

I’m not entirely sure if stocking the office kitchen is still within your purview; if it is, may I enter a small, but potentially well-appreciated request? Packets of raw cane sugar. There are two reasons for this:

1) There is a very real, practical possibility, that for those employees who are so pressed for time as to delegate the cleaning of their dishes and cutlery and especially coffee mugs to their less-booked coworkers, inspiring you to send out your weekly emails scolding these unnamed and inconsiderate persons for their dorm-room propriety in what should be a professional setting, then the time saved in switching from bulk cylindrical sugar-delivery to packet-based sugar-delivery would offset that time-cost of dish-cleaning and these persons might actually clean their dishes, saving you the heartache and anger expressed with so many capitalized words and exclamation points in your emails to the Watercooler email list (which we both know goes only to anyone not sharp enough with their email application management to not create a rule that auto-filters emails to the “Watercooler” distribution list into a separate folder, outside the inbox, which can’t be called Junk, since that already exists, but something similar, maybe, out of kindness, simply “Watercooler”). I am not one of those people. I enjoy your emails. But given the time-management pressures we already face, consider how sugar delivery during coffee filling affects us. As you know, the office currently offers two sweeteners: granulated bleached white sugar, contained in a one-liter bulk-cylindrical container with its plastic top and die-cut punch-hole opening (it’s important to note that the cylinder is opaque, not transparent); and sugar substitutes, the brand names I lose track of, available in either light pink, light blue, or light yellow single-serve packets. Apparently we are comforted by the soft colors as we decide on an artificial sweetener.

Consider the mental calculations involved in every bulk-cylindrical sugar-delivery:

·  The number of sugar grains in a each individual packet of sugar, multiplied by two, or maybe even three in some cases.
·  Flow dynamics out of a cylindrical container, accounting for cohesive and adhesive forces that diminish with gravity’s effect as you near the tipping point.
·  The calculation of the tipping point itself, as the pie-slice opening builds up an eddy of sugar, making the tipping point shift to a more obtuse angle of tilt as you raise your wrist higher, higher, to get more.
·  The maintenance of a mental model of the amount of sugar already delivered to the dark brown liquid, now invisible.
·  The average undercompensation required, not just because we all know it is impossible to undissolve sugar (at least using tools found in the office kitchen), and not just because this will no doubt have been the last full cup in the thermos (thus leaving the coffee-drinker with the time-consuming chore of refilling it, or else risk the internal shame of having left an empty thermos for the next would-be coffee drinker), but because the second-greatest amount of uncertainty in the tipping point calculation mentioned above occurs comes at the end, when you’ve already realized you’ve poured plenty, but you forget to realize that the final upward tension of your wrist flexors inevitably allows a certain, unestimated value n more sugar into your cup before gravity can restrain the rest behind that sugar eddy. This undercompensation is key.

That is a lot of gymnastics. A lot of stress. And before the caffeine can take effect! Is it any wonder our esteemed colleagues have no time to wash their dishes?

I’m sure you’ve already realized that relieving us of these calculations can be addressed by a change to any type of packet-based delivery model, as has been provided for whatever sits within those little pink and blue and yellow packets. Now, I am not a hippy, I promise; my refusal of these sugar substitutes has less to do with health concerns than it does with the desire for consistency. It has been proven that raw, unprocessed sugar is metabolized more efficiently by the body, prolonging the insulin response of glucose-breakdown, and thus sustaining the energy over a longer period of time, which means less need to return for another cup, or an afternoon snack, which of course saves money.

It’s all about efficiency.

Just a thought. Please add it to your list.


Caitlin Sass | Junior Product Manager

On Feb 14, 2011, at 10:42am, Caitlin Sass wrote:


Take a look at the email I just forwarded to you before you read this.

I took your advice. I’ve never sent a message like this before at work, but as you said, there are many more ways to stay unnoticed than there are to get noticed, and you have to embody success if you want to find it. So I wrote this email, and as I sent it, I was filled with pride. Maybe Joseph will only read it and chuckle and get the sugar packets and that’ll be that, but what if he reads it, and in my request he recognizes my value as an analytical thinker, or how easy it is for me to think of ways of saving our company money, the way I pay attention to the bottom line in everything I do. I know he’s just a facilities manager, but he has access to the same emails that we all do, so, what if he forwards mine on to someone more important, like my boss, or my boss’s boss, or even the CEO? It could only help Joseph as facilities manager. It would show that he recognizes talent. That he realizes that if I had this idea for saving money in just a casual walk to the office kitchen, then just think what else I would think of if put in a position of more power. And think of what he could do, having such ability in recognizing talent, if he was made, oh, Human Resources Manager or something. We’re both valuable. We could be listed as assets on the balance sheet. They just needed to put us to good use, and I’ve provided them with that option. Luck favors the prepared, right? Perhaps the CEO would start to wonder what type of person I really was, and what it was that they hadn’t seen in me in my initial interview, through all these subsequent annual reviews. What if he even desired me? What if it led something even more than just a raise or promotion, but a romance, or a family?

I know this is ridiculous. But I couldn’t deny these thoughts as I hit send and waited.

Within the hour, I received the following reply from Joseph:

“Caitlin, really? That long of an e-mail about sugar? Not to be rude, but I did not read this. If you want raw sugar just request it and I will see what I can do.”

Mom, there is no humor in the corporate world. I will probably die here.



On Feb 14, 2011, at 3:01 PM, Marcus Lintner wrote:


As CEO, I rarely read messages from our facilities manager (as I’m sure you know, he spends a disproportionate and inappropriate amount of time emailing the other hundred and fourteen employees of our agency about proper dishwashing etiquette); however, when our new CFO Rochelle forwarded your message to me, and I read it, I have to tell you that I cried.

No, not just cried. I broke down. I had to lock my office. The excess of my tears transformed the light blue streaks of my new tie to something resembling dried blood, a dark reddish purple, I don’t know why, something with the intricate stitch pattern or perhaps these new synthetic fibers, I don’t imagine they think to tear-proof them. I even thought about calling my mother, but the reason for my tears is not the type of thing I would tell my mother.

Rest easy though. I do not hold you responsible.

You could never have known this, of course, but I recently lost someone dear to me. A brother of sorts. Her name is Jenny. She had two brothers with whom I was very close as a boy, but they might as well have been three brothers given Jenny’s boy-ish sensibilities (she could beat any of us up, and would much rather hide in the dirt playing war games than bother with nails or shopping). The four of us became inseparable, and went to the same college where, through a blood pact, they took me into their family. It began with an inebriated conversation standing over a red pedestrian bridge well known for the prevalence of suicide jumpers in our college’s business program, but when sobriety eventually raked itself back again and we faced each other, the pact remained unbreakable. Whichever of us died first, the others would procure and clean the skull of the skull of the deceased and drink wine out of it as if it were a chalice (we hadn’t specified the type of wine, we were potheads and drinkers then, even if we were 4.0 students). That night and the following morning was one of the happiest of my life. Of all of ours I believe. We belonged to each other. We always would. We could do anything, and just thinking about our pact on that bridge and the look on each other’s faces in the morning, those half-smiles, Jenny’s bite-marks on her lip, and then our consecutive nods, well, it fills me with that same ocean’s volume of wind that inspired me to form this agency.

Jenny died two weeks ago. She was the first. Her brother Frank, thankfully, was in residency at Cornell, only a few hours from the city, where Jenny died, and promised us that he’d take care of bringing her to us.

But Frank was too late. Their parents made the decision while he was in traffic en route in his busted up Ranger, I can’t believe that thing still runs, and Jenny’s body was already interred and cremated, so when Frank arrived at my house, not long after Bob, the two of us standing around the butcher block in my kitchen, Frank removed a red cylindrical plastic sugar container from his backpack, not unlike the one you described as being stocked in our own company kitchen. Frank stood it on the butcher block, and told us that all he had were her ashes, and that he had stolen them from the mortuary, slipping them into an empty sugar container so that he could make his getaway unnoticed.

We did not hate him. It was the best he could do. We agreed immediately, as if we were of one mind, not three, that we would simply divide Jenny’s ashes equally into three wine glasses, and we would toast her and then drink her.

I promise you, we would have cleaned her skull if we had the chance. We did not take this consolation prize lightly, so we took the following steps extremely seriously, you may say overly seriously, in an effort to make up for our guilt.

At any rate, our primary task became the dispersal of Jenny’s remains equally, precisely, from a bulk cylindrical sugar delivery system, with its pizza-pie hole and its little fucking eddy, and all the intricacies of calculation, acceleration, adhesion, cohesion, flow dynamics, wrist flexor reactivity, etc, that you have so perfectly outlined in your email. Ashes do not have the same density as ashes, but in terms of simultaneous equations, this is a difference of constants, not variables. In fact, ashes seem to clump in ways different from sugar, further complicating things, though I am not so observant or eloquent as you to explain exactly how.

We made one crucial mistake. We poured the wine first. To anyone else, I would have to explain how challenging this can be.

The first shout of “Stop! You’re pouring too much!” erupted from Frank, at me, deservedly. From there things went downhill. I have since come to terms, personally, with the disrespect we have afforded Jenny, but Frank and his brother have not, and while they know they cannot put all the blame on me, they are not yet ready to stop trying. Your description of flow dynamics at the spout brought all of this back up, all of the swirling emotions I had been stuffing away through board meetings and a switch from wine to scotch, and more than raising these emotions it is the precision, the precision, Caitlin, of the memory, which is to say the precision of the mental processes involved in my mind at that very moment when all the world went away and it was just me and a few ounces of Jenny’s silent, ashen remains, that remains. All these forces and processes that control our actions, our thoughts, our very selves!

Caitlin, given all that we have now been through together, I think you can understand why I have to let you go. You are a special person, and I am sure you will find another agency that appreciates your attention to detail, your creativity, and your focus on the bottom line. Unfortunately, I cannot give you a reference either. Publicly, I cannot know you. Rest assured, Joseph has been let go as well, for his response to you. We want to foster the type of thinking that you exemplified, not squelch it. I will admit it crossed my mind for a moment to suggest you take his place, but that’s too much irony for my blood. As you can see, there’s simply no other option.

Best of luck.


Scott Lambridis’ stories have appeared in Storyglossia, Black Static, received the Leo Litwak award in Transfer, and are forthcoming in New American Writing.  Scott is the founder of Omnibucket.com, and while completing his MFA at San Francisco State (where he received the Miriam Ylvisaker Fellowship), he’s working on a novel about the scientist who discovered the end of time. You know, the usual. Read more at scottlambridis.com.

This piece was read as part of a production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket

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