Joshua Ferris is the bestselling author of three novels, Then We Came to the End, The Unnamed and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. The Dinner Party, a new collection of short stories, was released in May of this year. The workplace and effects of technology on culture are among the many themes his work explores. In 2010, Ferris was named one of The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” writers. He was a finalist for the National Book Award, winner of the Barnes and Noble Discover Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award. His third novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize. His short fiction and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, and Best American Short Stories.
I was working at a place called Hedges & Balk. It was a communications firm located just south of Columbus Circle, on 7th Ave, floors 40-42. It’s no longer around. I was a staff writer. I drew up reports, press releases, that sort of thing. Sometimes a more specialized project presented itself, a white paper or a product launch, something guerrilla-style. To be honest, there was very little we wouldn’t engage with, if a request for proposal came in. We’d have willingly expanded in any direction, serviced any client. We were in fighting trim from a staff perspective, cutting margins razor thin. We had hammered down costs, just hammered them flat. It felt at times we moved with the synchronicity of the dragon’s scales. Sometimes it was real to me, other times like a mad cocaine rush. Everyone was pitching new business, everyone hurling themselves across town at a moment’s notice. We went up to White Plains, out to New Jersey—where do you need us, how can we be of help? It was the time of our lives, for most of us, though we had our fair share of bunglers, too. It wasn’t all conquer, conquer, conquer, crush crush crush. Nor was it some cabana in Madagascar. It was business-casual corporate America. It sucked lint balls one-third of the time. Still, we usually had our Sundays. We had our ten days in August down the shore. This is not really the story of all that. That’s the background, the telephone trilling inside some distant office, the murmuring voices that never completely ceased. The real story, my story, took place almost entirely within, amid private moods, subtle shifts in weather. They did their best to bring me along. It didn’t always take. I was not always a team player. This is that story. America was our client. It’s grand but true. Caterpillar and Boeing, Anheuser-Busch. We knew the histories, wore the hats. We all had these canted models of the Dreamliner on our desks, sent to us just before its maiden voyage. You go up in the Dreamliner like the Princess of Monaco and come down again like John Glenn. It was the myths we were marketing, the canyon curve and prairie dew, the cowboy at dawn with his horse. And then all those we could invent ourselves: Schick versus the Bic Flex5. The revolutionary Flush 4-in-1 Reviver. It was kinda fun. We could turn to our loved ones after the slick commercials aired and indulge in a little behind-the-scenes gossip. We were privy to trade secrets, treated like family. Test product arrived and we tore into it. We had blenders going in the kitchens, fake strudel baking in the ovens. We plugged a dryer into the wall socket and stood around listening to its soothing silent hum. Tropicana, Pepsi-Cola, Bausch + Lomb. Much later, when I leveled the gun at his head, he didn’t even flinch.