Zamboni Buttfinger was named after an ice-surfacing machine, which wasn't so bad by itself, and so he let it slide, but because he came from a long, proud line of Buttfingers, he found he could not do anything whatsoever about his last name. A combination of paradox, bullying, and lassitude led inevitably to Zamboni becoming a deeply bitter and angry young man.
Office work, he discovered, suited him, as he had a natural ability to perform dull and overly complicated administrative functions for extended periods.
One day found him building binders for an executive retreat. Properly collated, binder pages can be placed between dividers with impressive efficiency. It helped that Zamboni had used color-coded paper for each section so he could tell instantly where each went without having to resort to scanning for content. A rhythm of assembly quickly developed: Zamboni would pop open the binder, lick a finger for proper purchase on the dry leaves, shuffle the sections to the proper place, plop the paper in, and pop the binder back closed: pop, lick, shuffle, plop, pop. Pop, lick, shuffle, plop, pop.
This may or may not have been annoying to other people. Open office plans had become all the rage several years before. Their ostensible value as collaborative spaces was just a ruse for their cheapness: lack of partitions meant the ability to cram more desks in less space. Zamboni's sense of what annoyed others had been blunted by years of senseless haranguing; at least, he thought, if I am annoying others, I can provide a little music with it.
On another occasion, during yet another cycle of the pop, lick, shuffle, plop, pop symphony, Zamboni's boss appeared, as he was wont to do, seemingly out of nowhere.
"Buttfinger--" he said it in a manner both gruff and non-accusing.
He was "making the rounds," committing random acts of management in an attempt to conceal the deep hole of his utter friendlessness.
"Buttfinger—where the hell does that name come from, anyway?"
Zamboni was about to explain about the ice-surfacing machine when Janice Thompson rounded the corner from the elevator and waltzed toward accounts receivable. Perhaps "waltzed" wasn't the right word. Zamboni thought about it a second and realized that he wasn't even sure he could identify a waltz if it waltzed up to him.
Janice was the sort who wore long, flowing dresses all year, knee socks that vaguely resembled stockings, and cut her grey hair in a tight bob. Her oversized glasses boasted violet frames. Janice was slightly tall for a woman in that part of the world, and, a decade older than Zamboni, left him with a lasting impression of the way the creases of her smile framed her lips.
Janice caught the boss's attention—a matter of minor workflow suddenly rising to take the place of his idle curiosity. Soon, they were both off toward her desk, office talk quickly smoothing over any awkwardness.
It wasn't that Zamboni was lonely—not like the boss.
Zamboni had long ago adjusted to his own independence. Like most, he might have preferred the company of certain people more often than not. Not having them around, though, bothered him less than one might have thought. At home was a miter box in the basement and a fat housecat. Perhaps the game was on the television. Perhaps Zamboni Buttfinger read a decent novel now and then, between reading a few trashy ones.
The ash tree in the back yard, after all, was spectacular, splayed out as it was, a giant's hand holding the whole expanse of grass in place against a sky that sometimes seemed to want to suck it all right up.
Not that Zamboni believed in it all that much.
He didn't believe, but he believed in the words, in the idea. The words seemed so much more solid—like the ash tree—than the slippery negotiations that lead to a Sunday congregation.
Once, at a garage sale, he bought an antique wooden bowl made of ash-wood because it reminded him of the tree in his own back yard.
Imagine that, he mused, buying the dead wood to remind me of the living tree, a tree I can see anytime I want to, anytime I am home.
The office, left to its own devices, went dark.
What doings there, after business hours? A cleaning woman came through, emptied the trash and swept the floor, her vacuum "rrr-ing" like an engine in a cartoon. Yet she never disturbed a single file folder, cleaned around, yet never so much as shifted, a single page in a stack of papers Zamboni may have left to deal with the next day. Her care went unnoticed, the delicacy of her operation, the inherent pride that underlay her nine bucks an hour. Zamboni took it for granted with his coffee; he noticed, but he did not notice it.
What calm day had allowed him to see the ash tree? To imprint upon Janice's wrinkles or the way she moved, all thin limbs on a single pivot?
The cat leapt from his lap and slowly licked a massive paw.