Author: Leigh Buchanan Bienen
Issue: Issue 104, Article 4, pp. 192-271
Description: A short novel about an unemployed young man from Trenton, New Jersey, who through a series of circumstances applies for and gets a newly-created job of execution technician with the State of New Jersey which focuses on the use of bureaucratic procedures and language to obfuscate and confuse when the state is doing something it wants to camouflage or lie about.
Tommy Angelino had been out of work for over two months when, on an otherwise ordinary hot and muggy summer day, the first Sunday in August, his father slipped the folded morning newspaper between Tommy’s bent head and his plate of bacon, potatoes, eggs and muffin. The kitchen where Tommy and his father George were sitting, kitty-cornered at the square red and white table with its silvery chrome trim, was blooming with yellow sunlight. Outside the window a cardinal, a streak of red against the unrelieved gray concrete of the back yard, perched on the cement birdbath and ruffled his pleated wings. Behind them the living room and the dining room windows were dark, the shades and heavy curtains drawn against the heat wave which had kept the temperature and humidity up, above ninety-five all week all over the east. The Angelino’s small wooden house in Trenton with its velvet sofa and chairs and triple drapes smelled slightly sour, as if a feverish sleeper had tossed and turned all night, pulling the air in the house around him like a damp sheet.
In his eagerness to get Tommy’s attention George pierced the bright, bulging yolk of Tommy’s egg with the folded corner of the newspaper. Then, making matters worse, he apologetically grabbed Tommy’s arm, causing Tommy to bite down painfully on his fork, all before Tommy was properly awake. Before his pale blue eyes were open. Tommy wasn’t strikingly handsome, or even good looking. But his pale blue eyes were almond shaped – pretty, too pretty for a guy, his fiancee Arlette said. Tommy shook his head and continued swirling his fork with potato and egg on the end around the plate. Even though he was only in his mid-twenties, Tommy worried about eating too many eggs. But his Mom still made him eggs, bacon and fried potatoes for breakfast on Sunday. And now that he was living home again, the sweet, curling smell of frying bacon drifting up to the third floor got Tommy out of bed on Sundays. His dad didn’t mean any harm. But still! At times like this Tommy longed to have his own place.
In May a narrow, colored slip of paper no longer than a pencil had unexpectedly been included with Tommy’s biweekly paycheck. At first Tommy thought it was one of those cheery solicitations for a donation to the Red Cross or to the society for crippled or homeless animals. The slim pink message had flown out of his pay envelope and helicoptered onto the black tarmac of the parking lot, and Tommy almost didn’t bother to pick it up. His back always twinged when he bent over, from an old high school athletic injury. Then when he stood up with a groan and casually read the typed message, Tommy felt as if he had received a body blow to the stomach: “We regret to inform you that as of May 30, 1983 your services will no longer be required by the Hogarth Pharmaceutical Company…