Sûrah XI
HÛD
"All that they contrive here is vain and all that they are wont to do is fruitless."

11
DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT

If ever there was an argument for completing my degree, this nine-to-five for the government has to be it. It's four fifty-three—seven mini-eternities shy of liberation. It's also Friday, Saints be praised; payday, by my reckoning. Four fifty-four, yet stymied still by the time-clock's tick, tock, tick—like doing penance for the sin of A-B-D. For those of you unfamiliar with that onerous designation, it means All But Dissertation—my unenviable plight: a grievous sticking point like gum on the sole of my college Oxfords, a splotch of pigeon shit on my would-be cap and gown, a pox on the hallowed parchment of my overdue diploma. Take your pick; each amounts to a blot on the Pinkney family name. Four fifty-five. I'm shuffling papers... shredding documents... stocking shelves... going through the motions of a job for which I'm painfully over-qualified—four fifty-six—its mandatory shirt-and-tie a dismal dress rehearsal for up-and-coming drudgery, should I persist in what my Father labels "academic foot-dragging." "Scholastic indecision" is the tagline I prefer—a status, like this placement, destined to be temporary? Ooh, a cheerier prospect never was entertained. Four fifty-six. The very thought of spending more than a month—what am I saying; more than this week—at such brain-benumbing placement, is enough to make me comatose. Four fifty-seven. Nope; can't do it. There's a limit to the workingman's patience; mine was reached past-tense.

FRANCHONE

Five fifty-eight; I'm outta here! First lemming to the sea. Follow me if you dare, but don't presume to stop me.

Franchone scurries through a labyrinth of cubicles, rodent-style, comic footsteps rushed, his exit noted with looks that range from critical to amused—reactions he cavalierly disregards.

Was anybody watching? Well, a few were; saw some grins. Saw grimaces, also. For many a time-clock wage-slave, freedom never comes. Mortgage payments, credit card debts, insurance on car, health, and house guarantees that chains stretch well beyond the workplace—drones, by any other name, who have sold their souls themselves. Did them all a favor by pointing that out, by rubbing it in? Demonstrating the difference between lowly-laborers them and uppity post-grad Pinkney? Hm. Writer's-block vindictiveness may be closer to the truth; venting my frustrations on fellow worker-bees. Franchone alias Pot calling his Kettles-in-Common "black." Cliché touché. Ought to feel camaraderie with such platitudinous lifestyles. Though some of my depictions transcend prose prosaic. Can words we choose transcend the humdrum of our existence, or is life deathly dull regardless the way it's phrased? What I need is drama, escapades extraordinary.

Once outside, Franchone turns his stutter steps into less frenetic strides, slackening his pace midst rush-hour's helter-skelter. The underground, clogged already with madding-crowd commuters, strikes him as an option not to be entertained. Fair skies, warm breeze, weekend exploits pending, he decides to walk the mile-and-three-quarters home.