Charles Rammelkamp, 11/17/2014
Current Occupation: RETIRED
Former Occupation: ADJUNCT ENGLISH PROFESSOR and TECHNICAL WRITER
Contact Information: Charles Rammelkamp has published a novel (The Secretkeepers), two collections of short fiction, two volumes of poetry and half a dozen chapbooks of poetry. A new chapbook of poems, MIXED SIGNALS, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.
“You should write a novel about this place,” Bill Foster advised Brookmeyer at his retirement luncheon the week before. “Blow the lid off the agency. The nepotism, the racism, the cronyism, the incompetence. Most of these managers couldn’t find their own ass with both hands in their back pockets.” Foster knew that Brookmeyer dabbled in fiction and poetry, assumed he wanted to launch a major literary project.
But it was precisely the pure bland nothingness of the bureaucratic government work that had driven Brookmeyer to retire in the first place. Whole days spent in administrative drivel without any sense of accomplishment, just the dull anxiety of deadlines.
The word “bureaucracy,” originally coined in the eighteenth century, had had a satirical intent from the start. It referred to a body of non-elected government officials devoted to the administration of its on rules, policies, procedures, but had come to include any large organization with the same purpose. Sociologists and philosophers had argued back and forth over the centuries about the necessity and efficacy of bureaucracies. The German, Max Weber, believed they were the most rational way to organize human activity. John Stuart Mill wrote that bureaucracies stifle the mind, the individual, and inevitably become “pedantocracies.” Kafka’s fiction was suffused by the notion that bureaucracies were dehumanizing, alienating.
What could Brookmeyer write about the agency that was at all compelling? There were “colorful characters,” all right, Foster among them, but this was nothing anybody would ever care to read about.
“Now that you’re retired, you can come back as a contractor,” Ben Taylor suggested. “Get your pension and a paycheck.”
But it wasn’t money Brookmeyer cared about or particularly needed. He did have that pension, after all, and his nest egg. Just making more money was not going to give him any sense of accomplishment or mitigate the stress of time wasted in pointless activity.
He remembered the parable about the Zen master who had a satori experience while he was chopping wood. What did he do after he had the satori experience? After he’d achieved “enlightenment”? He went on chopping wood,
That’s what I need, Brookmeyer thought, some wood to chop.
Nicely mordant piece, with an aftertaste of some regret.
Nicely mordant piece with a bittersweet aftertaste.
A plaintive cry! Well done, charles.