Despite the glaring and repeated evidence to the contrary – i.e. life hitting me about the head with a virtual pneumatic hammer – I remain, remarkably, one of the world’s optimists.
I wander merrily along like Wilkins Micawber, constantly believing that something will turn up. The fact that it never does has yet to curtail this sunny disposition. As long as I’m breathing, have a roof over my head, something to eat and a good book to read, I’ll always be fine.
And one of the upsides of my outlook on life is that every workplace I have ever been enslaved in has had at least one person with the exact opposite view on life, for whom everything is a disaster, every change will always be for the worst and if you think the present is terrible then the future is certain to be ten times worse. Thus, one of my simple pleasures in life has been to rub the pessimists up the wrong way. To have a little fun at their expense.
I think it’s important at this juncture to point out that you shouldn’t let the fact that I am a cheery optimist confuse you into thinking I am a nice person. I am the sort of man who SJ Perelman said would walk up to a bar and say, “Have you the wherewithal to wet my tyrannous whistle?” The sort of man who finds a fantastic source of distraction from the tedium of employment by teasing the local misery-guts.
So writing about all of this makes me think of a place I worked in some time ago. I actually liked the job and so it was with no slow-stepped walk to the gallows that I set out on a morning, rather I left the house each day with the gambolling gait of a spring lamb, trotting like a little pony to the bus-stop, alternating between singing like a lark and whistling up a symphony, looking forward to whatever the day may bring. More specifically, thinking of how I could bedevil the gloom-monger.
And so it came to pass that the perfect opportunity presented itself, in December 1999, to wind them up in a way which still has me chuckling to this day.
Remember, if you can, all the fuss about the Millennium Bug (which never happened) and the various cults who prophesied the end of the world (also a no-show) and other various catastrophes that were sure to befall us simply because calendars were changing four digits at once in the Year column. That is the fevered backdrop to this particular tale. Now you have the setting, allow me to tell you a little about my nemesis, the pessimist.
It was a woman, roughly my age, for whom every item of work was akin to unravelling the Gordian Knot – an intractable chore forced upon her by uncaring monsters who, in her eyes, sought nothing less than her humiliation followed, in short order, by her ultimate destruction. The fact that none of these operations were outside of the detailed job description when she had applied to work there made no impact on the overwrought neuroses and persecution-complex she routinely brought to even the lightest of tasks. In her mind “THEY” were out to get her.
I found myself flicking through the newspaper on my break when I read a story that I immediately recognised as having unlimited potential for a masterly falsifier such as myself. According to the article, Egyptian archaeologists had identified an, as yet, unopened chamber in the Great Pyramid and part of that country’s Millennium celebrations were to involve sending a tiny remote-controlled robot carrying a camera down the extremely narrow shaft that seemed to be the only entrance and into the never-before explored chamber of antiquity. The endless possibilities that just a tiny layering of imagination on top of this factual event would allow excited me beyond words.
“Have you heard about this?” I called over to her, before relating the story exactly as it was written in the newspaper.
“That sounds quite interesting,” she replied, in the voice of someone who couldn’t care less about pyramids, tiny robots or undiscovered chambers.
“Well, yes and no. It could spell big trouble.”
This mention of possible trouble – something she was eternally on the lookout for – sounded her internal Impending-Doom-Klaxon. She turned to face me, at last showing some genuine interest.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I suppose you’ve read about all these cults who reckon that the end of the world is coming at the Millennium…”
“Yes. Yes I have.” Of course she had. She devoured news of any potential apocalypse like a Labrador in a dinner jacket sat in front of a plate of pork chops.
“You see, there is a legend that when Satan was cast out of heaven…”
“And fell to earth…”
“That he was imprisoned inside the Great Pyramid at Giza.”
By now her eyes had taken on the unhinged stare that old photographs of Rasputin portray. A nervous tic had started to develop in one of her eyelids as I gradually unfurled my monstrous untruth.
“And some people,” – I was keeping it vague – “some people believe that an ancient prophesy foretells that, on the night of the Millennium, The Dark Lord will manage to escape his earthly prison, directly because of mankind’s blind technological blundering, and be set free to wreak his terrible havoc upon the human race.”
A keening wail left her lips before she half-said and half-screeched, “Oh my God, why doesn’t somebody stop them?”
“Mind you, a lot of people think it’s a load of old crap,” I said to her in reassurance as she fled, careering into filing cabinets, utterly out of her mind with panic, stumbling into the next room to relay the calamitous news to our manager.
I closed the newspaper and smiled to myself before the inevitable shout of the boss, trying not to laugh, came from the next room:
“Frank, how many times have I got to tell you? Do not tell her that Satan is trapped in a pyramid.”