{ The Shoulder-Bump Tape }
Robert Isenberg

We play it a lot. After all, the tapes are just sitting here. Hundreds of them, collecting dust on the metal shelves in the basement. Of course, the glaringly dramatic tapes take precedence, like the woman and her secretary having aerobic sex in the ladies' room (a very liberated use of the sink). And a personal favorite, the guy who picks a fight with the stock boy, who then pounds him into the loading dock's concrete. These tapes tell us a lot. Our discussions are long and involved. We analyze every frame over coffee and donuts.
   But we prefer the subtlety of what we now call "the Shoulder-Bump Incident." Every couple of shifts somebody will say, "Hey, let's put in the Shoulder-Bump Tape," and only Santino the custodian groans, because he doesn't really appreciate the acute power of it.
   Here's the play by play:

CAMERA 2345:
cameraFrom the perspective of the ceiling, we're looking down two deserted, intersecting hallways on floor 23. We see pale white walls and two remote offices with flashes of human movement. The video is black and white, of course, which lends itself to crisp angles of closed doors and oblique (from our POV) wall paintings. At 15:34:22, a man appears down the right corridor. He wears a suit and is handsomely balding. His shoes are too shiny; he clearly takes hours at a time to polish them. He is approaching the camera, carrying a stack of papers under his elbow. He is unconcerned. We call him Shiny Shoes.
   At 15:34:26, a second figure emerges, more silhouetted, from the left corridor. He is young and spry, his abdomen marching determinedly ahead of his legs. He wears a tie that severely clasps his neck, and he carries a potted plant. He is the Intern, obviously, as no one else would deign to touch actual green vegetation in the office; that would be workaday, but more importantly connected to dirty, dirty soil and spit-bugs and other living things. He has no gloves, but his strange, diagonal posture suggests he doesn't care, as long as his supervisor, whoever that might be, is impressed.
   At 15:34:32, after six seconds of dramatic tension (Shiny Shoes stops to adjust one of those oblique paintings, as he, having worked in this office for years, is among the few employees qualified to straighten paintings), the two protagonists are on the verge of meeting. At this second, we have a tendency to pause the tape and admire them, so diametrically opposite, one spastic and eager to please, the other pumping himself with caffeine, his lids half-closed. Neither has any idea what is directly around the right-angled corner, how their lives will perpendicularly intersect. In a sense, both have, until this moment, known nothing but grudging peace.
   At 15:34:33, they broadside each other. Each man offers equal unsuspecting force: their elbows smack into each other, the papers fall from Shiny Shoes' clasp—straight for a second, then bursting into a flittering upside-down mushroom cloud. The Intern's face deteriorates into jagged lines of horror: What Has He Done? A tiny clump of potting soil is spat out of the plant and lands on Shiny Shoes' shoe, tarnishing it forever.
   What's remarkable is that by 15:34:37, four whole seconds later, their faces are nearly interlocked. They are staring at each other with such immeasurable terror, their irises nearly touching, that they look something like clowns, cartoon characters. They are so close. For four gorgeous seconds, each is balancing against the other, their chests joined. Were one to stand back, the other would topple forward.
   At 15:34:38, they both reel back, all four hands spread out as if to avoid contact with all the others. Some of us think this is just the homophobic straight-laced male reaction, but we who know better theorize that the two men, Shiny Shoes and the Intern, can't stand the touch of another human being. It's unclear whether either of them is married, or at least regularly getting laid (we phrase it “getting laid” because neither seems like the respectful-and-passionate-lover type). Indeed, where two comfortable straight men might make a joke about Civil Unions, Shiny Shoes and the Intern literally propel themselves, with gravitational improbability, in opposite directions, approximately back into their respective corridors.
   By 15:35:02, they have each scrambled to clean up their messes. Although the video is silent, their lips never move, and despite the black and white, their white complexions darken morosely.
   We must consider the timing, too: both men will be let off work in about one hour, twenty-three minutes, and fifty-eight seconds. They have therefore already worked for nearly a full shift, taking a break two hours earlier for a meager lunch (we have lots of those tapes, too; watching executives push each other in the cafeteria line is a riot). The last thing they want is to experience physical contact, in this case nearly skin-on-skin contact, giving the brief mutual magnetism of their faces. After reviewing the tapes many times, most often in glacial slow motion, we've begun to notice the peculiar blemishes: the mole on the Intern's neck, the spots where Shiny Shoes nicked himself with a razor. Both of them have uneven parts, Shiny Shoes most especially, despite the shocking efficacy of his comb-over.
   For the remainder of the tape, Shiny Shoes returns to his cubicle and the Intern returns to his corner of a meeting table.

   This is an overhead shot of the Intern, whose sweat is visible even from the camera's obscure location above the communal bookcase. He wipes it away aggressively, no doubt concerned that he has ruined everything; there will never be a second chance; he has encountered another man for nearly a full minute (of relevant footage, anyway). This is where the humor becomes harder irony, and those of us who are still interested after the Shoulder Bump proper, we think we've begun to see into his soul. He even touches his chest, his heart is pounding so hard. He looks around—only the empty cubicle walls, the distant scalp of a worker bobbing in and out of view by the coffee machine.

   This is the most unexplainable moment—our Rosebud, if you will: Shiny Shoes doesn't go directly to his cubicle, but steps into the view of Camera 2351, which is positioned somewhat uselessly over a very large, very thick office window. The glare is formidable, and the lens struggles to adjust as he steps into view, fading in and out of the blinding over-exposure. He is still carrying the papers, now shuffled hopelessly out of order, and sets them down on the wall's low-positioned radiator. He touches the window frame with his fingers, feeling along the edges, and his shoulders suggest pulling. The romantics among us think he has had a moment, an epiphany: he will throw open the window and toss all those useless papers to the wind. He will run through the corridors with a Magic Marker and draw long, wavy black lines as he goes.
   The more skeptical among us have a darker view: he will leap out the window, twenty-three stories to the pavement. He's been planning it for a long time. Now his papers are out of order, destroyed. Mirroring his dismal life, of course (this is all conjecture), and if he could only get this fucking window open, he could end it all, at last, at last.
   There is no way to know, since the tape suddenly ends. On that day, June 6, the power went out unexpectedly on three floors, the twenty-third included. This is the real reason, we think, that the videotape still resonates with us: in the static that follows, we can only see our own reflections. We are not guardian angels who munch three extra-large pizzas each night. We are not apathetic demons, taunting the images on screen. We, too, are ghosts, a fleeting segment of frames; waiting for someone to bump into us, for a window to open. For the power to come back on three minutes and forty-two seconds later, the static ending, Shiny Shoes gone, the space by the window over-exposed and empty.

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