Volume 29, Number 4

A Day at the Office

Dan Wilson

In 2016, Monozan, the international retailer/financial service/food service giant, started their expansion in all major U.S. cities. In their fervor to attract the company, cities and their states offered unheard-of tax breaks. These breaks turned out to be ruinous, as the local governments were soon unable to supply their citizens with basic needs. The local governments turned to the federal government for aid. But, by 2020, the federal government had all but eliminated taxes for the wealthy and corporations and had run out of money. The federal government contracted with Monozan to provide basic services to the local communities. In return, the federal government ceded the rights to all federally owned entities, including national parks and monuments, which Monozan turned into highly profitable enterprises. Relieved of all responsibilities, and beset by a myriad of scandals (see also: ethics, bribery), government in the U.S. disappeared and Monozan ran the country. This came to be called the Monozan Ascension, also referred to as the MA.

from A Brief Financial History of the United States (Monozan Press, 2022)

The red brake lights in front of me were the only color in an otherwise colorless morning. The low winter sky pressed its greyness down onto the grey cement roadway.

“What’s going on?” I ask IRIS.

“Monozan is improving our driving experience.”

Meaning the pavement had collapsed. Five years after the MA, the roads, other than those adjacent to Monozan airports or offices, had deteriorated, and traffic was often bottlenecked.

“IRIS,” I say, “let’s take an alternate route.”

“Alex Worthy,” she responds, using my full name even though I had tried to program her otherwise, “Traffic Command says it is better to wait for entrance to the expressway.”

Eventually we resume our journey. We arrive at the Monozan Towers, and I thread my way through the cement pillars that divide the interior into isolated pockets. Tall tropical trees that have never felt sunshine or rain tower in immense planters. Above all that, the grey sky hovers over the skylights.

I reach my office and, not for the first time, feel weary of work. Maybe at 70 I am just ready for a change. Back in 1968, when I started working, it was calculated that I could retire at age 65 in 2016 and then, that seemed so far away. But as the federal government became decimated by years of disastrous storms, both natural and political, the retirement ages had been expanded by ten years to preserve the dwindling Social Security fund.

Inside my office, I switch IRIS from mobile to office. Then a morning dedicated to the screen that dominates my workspace begins. The messages appear like the moles in that old video game—whack one and two more pop up. I have a system, though, to deal with them. The emails, I mean. The messages that are within my realm of authority, I forward to IRIS, with a green flag, who in turn routes them to members of my team using an algorithm only she knows, to keep the workload balanced. Those outside my authority I also forward to IRIS; those with a red flag, which she routes to one of the committees that will handle them. The ones I don’t know what to do with, I mark “unread” and recycle to the electric bottom of my in-basket. And so the morning passes in a quiet broken only by the electronic pings of messages sent and received.

The quiet is interrupted by a message from IRIS. “Lunch and one-on-one meeting with Gene Ric in 30 minutes.”

Shit, another month had rolled around and it was time to have lunch with the boss. The convivial setting was also an opportunity for us to have a one-on-one discussion where we both could, presumably, be completely candid about “how things are going.”

“IRIS, show me my notes from the one-on-one meetings.”

I scroll through the notes even though I know that each meeting was, with few variations, the same. Thus prepared, I leave my office.

All the booths in Cylinders, on the lower level of Monozan Towers, are equipped with video screens. In previous incarnations of the bar, these were used as a means of customers being able to flirt with each other without the inconvenience of human contact. Now they are mostly used for business meetings without the inconvenience of human contact. I am seated, sign in and set the screen to Private. I order a dirty vodka martini.

I sip my drink and look out the window at the Detroit river. Canada is on the other side, but of course you can’t see it because the view is blocked by the immense concrete silos that house the Monozan goods that are to be distributed throughout the Midwest. Helicopters and drones flit above; ships prowl the lanes between the silos.

I finish my drink and move the empty glass out of the range of the screen as IRIS announces that Gene is here. I change the setting from Private to Conference and over the image of an Monozan Motors factory, I hear Gene’s voice.

“Good day, Worthy. I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”

“Not at all. Just sat down.”

“Well, let’s get to the agenda.”

Here is where I tune out, as the meetings are mere regurgitations of previous ones. When I started working, first for Gemini Motors, which became America First motors and now, of course, Monozan Motors, meetings were held in conference rooms, and we had coffee and doughnuts while discussing matters. Now I stare out the window at the small pavilion that is all that is left of what used to be Hart Plaza, where festivals and concerts were held. There are two vendors selling hot dogs, pop and other snacks. A few old men sit in the square, the vendor’s customers, reminiscing. Occasionally, a young person will go to the square to look at the four trees that mark the boundaries of “Old Detroit.”

Then I hear Gene say, “Your updates, Alex?”

“My team was able to detect and block an attempted hack last week. Security is estimating that four terabytes of secure information, including the company’s design strategy for the next five years, would have been stolen.”

“Yes. Good work. I don’t seem to have a report on that. Feasibility, security report and meeting minutes with head of security. That sort of data.”

“Well, we stopped a major hack into the system. I filed the standard security incident report.”

“Yes, well, but we talked before about planning your team’s work and making sure everyone stays on track. Was this part of your monthly plan?”

“No. It was an emergency.”

“Just make sure that you meet your goals. I have a meeting with Illya next week, and he is very goal-focused. Gotta stay on track.”

“I do want to talk about adding more staff. My responsibilities have grown, and my team is hard-pressed to keep up.”

“Was staff expansion part of your goals? I don’t remember you including that.”

“No, that wasn’t in my goals, but at the time I submitted them, I didn’t know Ali and Srija were going to be deported.”

“Well, Worthy, good planning is everything.”

“But …”

“Good meeting, Worthy. Looking forward to progress on those goals. Go Lions.”

And the screen goes blank. I press the “order” button and order another martini.

“Are you sure, Mr. Worthy? You usually don’t have another drink until after 6:00.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Well, your profile is coded for one drink at lunch.”

“Can’t you override it?’

“I’ve never done that before.”

“Never mind.”

I leave the restaurant, get on the moving walkway, activate IRIS and say, “IRIS, take me to the river pavilion.”

“But, Mr. Worthy, the lunch meeting is over, and there’s work to do.”

“But, I didn’t have lunch and I want a hot dog from the vendor on the pavilion. And I want some fresh air.”

“We’ll get you back to the office and I’m sure you can get something healthier than a hot dog. We can start up the wind simulator and it will be just like being outdoors.”

I start to argue, but again feel weary and allow the walkway to take me back to the office.

* * *

After work, the car is again halted at the entrance of the expressway.

“IRIS, let’s take an alternate route.”

“Alex Worthy, Traffic Command says it is better to wait for entrance to the expressway.”

Frustrated, I push the override button and the car, no longer in IRIS’s control, lurches forward. I push on the brake and consider returning control to IRIS, but hell, I used to love to drive. I remembered Friday nights cruising the hamburger stands or at the drive-in with a girl and a six-pack of beer. I drive the car away from the expressway and after a few blocks turn onto Woodward Avenue. I am at the intersection where I used to take the bus to work when the city had two million people and downtown was thriving. Obviously, since MA, there is no federal money to help the states and cities, and urban areas have become deserted. The corporation requires so much space that it bought huge tracts of land along the waterways for silos and shipping. In the suburbs it bought land for its airport. Consequently, personal housing was concentrated in complexes like Monozan Motors Lifestyle Center North, where I live.

As I head north on Woodward, the cars from the buildings where Monozan conducts business—banking, policing, administering a myriad of district activities contracted to them from the government—are headed towards the expressways. Monozan, as Venetian merchants did, built near the water. In a few blocks these buildings are in my rear-view mirror, and I now see abandoned buildings. There is one in particular I look for. When I reach it, I park my car, ascend the stairs and pass the statues, now chipped and covered in graffiti, that guard the entrance. The sign on the door reads Detroit Institute of Art. Closed indefinitely due to lack of funds.

I stand there remembering times past; a young woman comes out of the building.

“Are you the speaker?” she asks.

“No. What do you mean speaker? Isn’t the museum closed?”

She comes closer, and I see that she has auburn hair and a spray of freckles across her nose.

“It is closed. I’m with the Detroit Historical Society, and Monozan lets us use this building once a month. Part of their ‘Good Partner’ policy. Tonight, we were to have a speaker to talk about the history of Detroit.”

“You can go on line and take a VR tour.”

She laughs with a sound reminiscent of wind chimes. “I suppose so, but we want to hear from people who lived here when it was a city, not a distribution center. He cancelled for tonight, but I thought maybe you were him.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

She touches my arm. “Don’t apologize. Come in and have some refreshments. I’m Dawn.”


I follow her inside. The interior was gutted, the paintings having been sold to keep the city running for a while before the building was sold to Monozan. Inexplicably, the Rivera murals—the colorful tribute to American workers—remained. I always loved these detailed paintings and the stories of early factories they tell. Stories they don’t tell anymore; stories that should be told. The murals are still here until they find a way to remove and sell them, I suppose. We pass under the gaze of the silent workers, and Dawn leads me into a small gallery where perhaps thirty people sit in folding chairs facing a stage. They applaud our entrance.

“Dawn, I thought the speaker wasn’t coming?” a man in the audience asks.

“This isn’t the speaker. This is Alex. I asked him to join us for refreshments.”

“No offense,” a woman in the audience spoke, “but you look old enough to remember Detroit’s past.”

“Yes, I do.”

Dawn asks, “Will you tell us your memories?”

I assent, and a microphone is clipped to my shirt, and I start to talk. The memories burst out like unruly children at recess. “The first time I was here was when my sixth-grade class took a field trip.”

“They had VR tours then?”

I explain field trips to a generation who had only known virtual reality schools. I tell them how my class got on a bus, with a bus driver, and we came downtown to the museum. I tell them of other visits downtown to the old Hudson’s department stores where people shopped with other people, not online.

I talk for I’m not sure how long but when I stop, I feel a melancholy that I hadn’t felt since my wife died six years ago. There is applause, and Dawn leads me to the table where water, coffee, soft drinks and pastries are. I sip from a water bottle and answer questions. I feel tired and tell Dawn I’m leaving; she walks outside with me.

“Alex, we are here the first Tuesday of the month. You are welcome to come back. To talk. To listen.”

She stands on tiptoes and kisses me on the cheek.

* * *

The next morning, I reactivate IRIS and go to work. When I get there I, as usual, start my email—1,236 unread messages. However, instead of starting the Sisyphean task of responding, I ask IRIS, “Do we still have a conference room?”

A pause while she searched. “Yes, on the 70th floor.”

“Good. Reserve the room for 10:00 and have my team meet there.”

“Okay, Alex Worthy. I will have them activate the VR screens at 10:00.”

“No, I want an in-person meeting. Please set that up”

Another pause. “I have never done that.”

“Never mind,” I respond. “I’ll take care of it.”

I start my Messaging app, but change my mind. I get out of my chair, having decided that I will go to my team’s cubicles and invite them in person.

Before I leave the office, I say, “IRIS, call food services and have them deliver coffee and donuts to the conference room.”