Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (1): “Living in a Cubicle “

Posted on December 12, 2007

my faithful old ride ‘One-Four-Victor’, subsequently destroyed in a crash, that killed the pilot…

Living in a cubicle

We were flying along in a Bell helicopter, quite happily, enjoying the strange magic of the African coastline, with a pale blue wintry sky. Cirrus clouds were weaving their thin, ephemeral presence at some dizzy height above us, and the wind, blustering from the south east, was whipping up some respectable waves below us. The white pluming crests, riding along briefly like proud peacocks, spoke of the forces of nature at work below. Then they would crash over backwards, and float ignominiously down the back of the advancing wave, reduced to little more than a dirty, foaming scum. I reflected wryly that their brief ride in glory could be construed as a parody of the fate of crooked business men.
“Just like some people I know “, I thought, quietly reflecting on the infamous ‘Enron’ and ‘Worldcom’ stock market disasters, and the greedy buffoons who I had seen parade smugly across my television screen. Their high priced lawyers, who had worked overtime (wrapping immorality and deceit in legally correct technicalities) had been on incessantly as well, proclaiming the innocence of their clients. They bridled with anger and indignation at any suggestion of wrong doing. The simple fact that a child could sense that it must have taken hundreds of people to collude shamelessly, raking in millions of dollars in the process, whilst tens of thousands of retirees and their families were to end up destitute, was ignored with a display of high browed lawyer indignation. Their poor clients were wholly unaware that anything was amiss. The fact that they had sold their shares at the market’s peak, and that everybody else, including long serving loyal employees, had been encouraged to buy, was just a case of their clients good market judgment, and absolutely (the lawyers would positively sputter with indignation) absolutely NOT the result of any nefarious undertaking. And the unfortunate fact that later, those same loyal, long serving employees had been prevented from selling their company stock… that was just an unfortunate miscalculation. The best and most sincere management motives had been appallingly misconstrued by the media.
I had watched the fracas unfold, and listened to the sad stories from the victims of this, a shameless heist, in the best traditions of Al Capone. A friend of mine, a fellow pilot, had lost three hundred thousand dollars, almost his entire 401(k) retirement fund. And his marriage. He was not alone. I had lost not a dime, but I felt the hurt nonetheless. It was easy to pick up on the sense of betrayal that many felt. The sense of helpless rage and frustration, as the lawyers worked overtime to decorate up a robbery as an unfortunate happenstance. All strictly legal of course…

I banked the helicopter slightly, and watched some dolphins cruising along purposefully, rising up and down out of the water in an age old rhythmic formation. I pointed, and my front seat passenger, a slightly pale looking young man, nearly jumped out of his seat. His eyes were like saucers, and he looked breathless.

I thought of those men, those leaders, standing in front of the cameras, flanked by their wives and lawyers. And I wondered about the middle ranking managers, those who had been high enough to get their fingers in the honey jar, and yet not high enough to have been targeted by federal prosecutors. The gray ones, the shadowy ones, who had profited so mightily from the quiet whispered conversations in the hallways. They who could have stepped up, but did not. They who could have restored at least a modicum of my faith in the human predator species, but did not. They, who will always proclaim their innocence, whilst secretly counting their retirement fund balances with six, seven, and even eight figure numbers. As if they could pay for a slice of eternity, or invest in immortality, with all that holy loot, safely (and legally, of course!) stashed away in offshore holdings…

The pale young man beside me was in his element. The helicopter flight was for him an adventure, an epic, and he did not know where to look first. His excitement, and the hunger in his eyes, was refreshing. All I knew about him was that he was a V.I.P., some back room boffin, with a string of advanced degrees, all the way from the tall skyscraper, with the tinted windows, and the long corridors, and the packed elevators. All the way from corporate head office in Houston, Texas, to a promising offshore oil field off the west coast of Africa.
The foreman, sitting in the back of the helicopter, had been very careful to extend to his important visitor every possible courtesy. His courtesy had almost been a trifle overboard, a trifle fawning, with the word “obsequious ” floating vaguely through my mind. I had observed it, but it didn’t worry or disturb me in the slightest. I formed no judgment of the foreman in my heart. He, doubtless, thought he was doing a good job, right down to explaining to me sneeringly over the intercom that this gentleman earned three times my annual salary. I had looked at my pale front seat passenger, and smiled gently. The VIP, possibly a little embarrassed by the foreman in the back, had smiled back, with a slight raise of his eyebrows. I, for my part, formed a liking for him, my pale young passenger. There was a humanity there, a sensitivity, that a stratospheric salary had obviously not transformed (yet?) into a worldly, false, haughty know-it-all cynicism. His interest in his surroundings was enthusiastic, with almost a hint of the child-like. I wondered how well he fitted in at corporate head office….

The platforms we were heading for were now appearing over the distant horizon, and I explained our whereabouts to my young friend. His interest and thirst for knowledge was keen and unfeigned. I guessed he was delighted to leave his office, and the theoretical concepts and dry statistics his working life revolved around, and to witness for himself first-hand the workings of this oil producing pumping heart in Angola, Africa.
Soon we could identify our destination platform, large and looming, a multi billion dollar investment, towering above the surrounding much smaller wellheads.
We had five minutes to go, and I would offload my charges, and I might probably never see him again. Perhaps the same thought crossed his mind. Perhaps we sensed one another’s mindset. He turned to me, thoughtfully.
“Thank you for the flight. It’s been wonderful. Thanks for the explanations. ”
I assured him it was nothing. He continued.
“I have to tell you, I love your job. What you see and experience from your cockpit, it’s… simply wonderful. It’s true I make a lot of money… ”
His voice trailed off. He was staring out the windscreen as if he was desperate to soak up the last few precious moments of this ride, before it was all over. He shook his head, wonderingly, almost musing to himself:
“….but I live in a cubicle. All I see is four walls covered in seismic survey reports, and production data. Most of the day I’m staring at a computer screen. I’m surrounded by hundreds of people in other cubicles. All doing the same thing… I can’t even begin to tell you how soul destroying it gets to be…. ”
There was silence from the back seat. I wondered what the foreman was thinking.
I found myself speaking softly, but with a deep conviction:
“Yes… money isn’t everything, is it? You can’t buy a slice of eternity with it, and you can’t take it with you. It’s a tool, often a useful one, but if it becomes the ‘be all’ and the ‘end all’… Life itself slides by, and we blink, and we miss it… ”
Our eyes met, and I sensed his agreement. The back seater remained silent.

I dropped him off, and he shook my hand. Then he was gone, this earnest young man, with the thoughtful, soft eyes. Who earned three times my salary. And so was the foreman, scurrying along behind his very important guest.
I pulled in power, alone again, and the turbine spooled up smoothly to deliver the torque required. The machine quivered expectantly, as the skids became light on the metal helideck. Then I became one with my chariot, and I felt her up..and up… and over the deck edge, vulnerable and low over the hungry waves for a few seconds, and then up into the infinite sky. I climbed through three hundred feet, five hundred… and turned on course in a rotor thumping symphony in A minor…
I flew along, and my mind was free. Free from envy. Free from hate. Free from judgment. Striving, not to feel… contempt.
They… the clever ones, the smart, well connected men with the multi million dollar homes, funded with plundered retirement dreams of thousands of little people… I envied them not. I knew full well I would not trade places with any of them for a moment. Oh, how big they thought they were… how clever… with their lawyers, and their offshore holding companies, and their dummy shell corporations… and yet, how foolish they were. How blinkered their sight, how dry their spirit, how cold their hearts…
How much apple pie and ice cream can you eat? How many hours will you lie by your marble tiled swimming pool, surrounded by the swooning attentions of the scantily clad, large breasted, brainless piranhas attracted only to your vulgar wealth?
You, perpetrators of some of the most outrageous crimes, dressed up in the fancy colored ribbons of technical legalities, do you sleep at night? When you remember the tens of thousands who lost their life’s savings, and who face their old age with fear and bewilderment? Yes, you probably do. You probably sleep just fine. Oh, it was all legal. Nobody can touch you. Your legal poodles saw to that. Yes, you sleep just fine. And that is the proof of just how shallow a spirit you are. It is proof of just how callous, how unthinking, how insensitive, the modern day intellectual business moron can be.
Oh, he will wear a nice suit, a pleasant after shave, and his finger nails will be manicured. He will be polite and charming, have some powerful University degrees, be well connected, and pump your hand with a well practiced display of white teeth and succulent charm.
And then he’ll rob you blind…

And the saddest thing, is that he is living in a small cubicle. Not a physical one, measuring eight feet by eight. But a cubicle nonetheless. A cubicle of the mind and soul, a cubicle of bondage to greed, a cubicle of hardness of heart, and a cubicle of utter ruthlessness…

I thought of my pale faced passenger, with his earnest eyes, who lived in a cubicle, but knew it, and who longed to soar above it all.
His awareness set him free…
And I thought of them, the faceless ones, the ones who got away with millions, who lived in much darker cubicles, but who knew it not…

And I, a simple one, unsophisticated, with dirty finger nails, and stinking of Jet A fuel, sweat and grease, I, for my part, pulled in another notch of power, and savored the rush of air around my cockpit, the beat of my rotor blades, and the howl of my Rolls Royce gas turbine engine. And the view from my office window…

Compared with you, I am relatively poor. Just a working class, front line helicopter jockey. But I am rich. Richer than all you, cubicle dwelling sewer rats of the high finance big city lights.

And I wouldn’t change places… for all the millions, and all the houses, and all the apple pie, and all the ice cream you feel you have justly earned.

Sleep well, in your self imposed protective cubicles of ignorant bliss. Sleep well.
For the night is coming.

When you shall suddenly awake. And discover, the flimsy walls of your protective cardboard cubicle…

blown away…


Last edited by Francis Meyrick on October 17, 2009, 8:48 am

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