Kelly’s sin was that he didn’t understand how loud his voice was. That’s why everyone in the office made fun of him behind his back, anyway. Whenever he solved a problem at work he’d scream, “Yes!” like he was watching a World Cup game in South America. “I got it! You guys!” He didn’t lower his voice when he called his wife “Baby” on the phone. “I know, baby, okay, baby. I’ll be home soon, baby.”
It was a small office and it was annoying but I felt for the guy. To be the outcast among this crowd seemed a little cruel. We were all just geeks, all wanting for social skills in our own ways. It seemed unfair that he would be selected to be picked on.
When I started at the job, it was in the early oughts, so, this company was still riding some of the trends of the late nineties internet boom. We had lunch bought for us on Fridays, along with beers and the Friday afternoon movie, which started at noon, effectively giving us half days.
I had a few friends there. I knew Jon from a previous job and I became fast friends with Bharat. We played foosball with Craig, one of the designers. Bob was the systems administrator and who made borderline inappropriate jokes but was a good guy. Both of his brothers were powerful in Hollywood (one brother in particular is often thanked in Oscar acceptance speeches) but he was a Staten Island family man with a brush cut.
Looking back, there was nothing obvious about Kelly that would make him not fit in. He was almost a pseudo hipster. You know the guys in the East Village who are middle aged and clearly haven’t come to terms with the fact that The Ramones are all dead? They wear that standard black leather jacket, a t-shirt, jeans, and Chuck Taylors. They look like what The Strokes were trying to look like. That was Kelly. He had a square jaw and broad shoulders. He looked like a dorky Henry Rollins with shoulder length gray hair and glasses.
But then he would get some piece of code working. “Yes!” And then he would call his wife. “Baby…” And everyone would roll their eyes.
Bharat and I would get lunch together. I’d bum one of his Marlboro Mediums and we’d bitch about the job.
“So that new guy Kelly is kind of loud, right?” I said.
“Yeah. You know he’s actually a pretty good developer, though.” Bharat was a Java developer and worked with him on some stuff. Kelly and I actually never worked together directly.
We had a company Christmas party that year without assigned seats. Kelly and his wife sat at a table in the middle, holding hands. No one else joined them.
The company made credit and debit cards for kids but I guess the endgame the whole time was to build a codebase to be bought by larger company. That’s what happened. Our little, forty-person company was bought by a credit card processing company with fifteen thousand employees. We had become a satellite office.
That’s when the job got a lot more boring. No more beer on Fridays, no more movies, no more foosball.
They hired a few Indian java developers to work on the new platform. They were cool once you got them talking and if they went back to India, they would bring back sweets. Indian sweets might be the best candy on planet earth.
Craig moved to California. Jon eventually left to go to law school. He said to me, “You know that quote from Shawshank? Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’? Yeah, well, it’s just time to do something with my life.”
There was a lot more for Bharat and me to bitch about during our lunches. One of the Indian developers used to follow me into the bathroom. Seriously. He would linger in there and look into the stalls. Apparently he was doing it to other guys in the office too because he was fired.
It was a strange time.
This is when we noticed that Kelly started dressing differently. He started wearing blouses. He also seemed to be wearing rouge on his cheeks.
The hushed conversations about him behind his back changed. People started speculating that he was transitioning. I didn’t see it. Yeah, he was wearing makeup but he was still square jawed and nothing else about his demeanor had changed. My own theory was that he used to have sort of a Ramones CBGB thing going on; perhaps he’s going through his Bowie phase? Maybe going for a glam rock look?
He no longer yelled when he solved a particular problem. There were not more calls to “Baby.” His desk was empty more and more. I don’t remember where I heard it but I think it was from Bharat.
“You know he used to be a heroin addict, right?”
This detail might be fiction from my memory but I could swear that one day, under his chair, after he had left for the day, I saw a syringe.
I would never find out why he was wearing blouses or rouge because he wasn’t a part of the company anymore. I assumed that he had been fired but Bob told me he hadn’t been. He had just stopped coming in. Apparently, you don’t need to fire someone who doesn’t show up.
Weeks and months passed. I remember a day where Bharat was feeling particularly down. He was just going through a rough time. I was too but he really needed someone to talk to. We talked for a while and the conversation took a lot out of both of us.
On the way back to work from the lunch, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kelly. He was wearing a boot over a cast on his foot and he was going through the trash on the corner of our street. Was that really him? Was my conversation with Bharat so intense that I was hallucinating? Maybe there was an explanation.
The credit card processing company that bought us was bought by yet another, bigger credit card processing company and we moved offices. My responsibilities shrank and shrank and I didn’t seek out new ones. Now that I was part of an organization numbering in the tens of thousands, it was easy to get lost. I came in late, left early, took hour and a half lunches, browsed in the bookstore by Bryant Park.
Things outside of work were changing and I felt like I was staying the same. I was still doing stand up comedy without progressing in any real way. I was starting to be the only single person at the table when I would meet up with my friends.
My friend Josh had his birthday on the Lower East Side at a Japanese bar called Chibi’s, which was named after the owner’s French bulldog. We drank a lot of sake. Everyone had to work the next morning. I didn’t care but everyone else did, so, we all left the bar and started saying our good byes.
And that’s when he came up to me. He was in his leather jacket. He didn’t look strung out or anything, still square jawed, wearing his glasses.
He approached slowly but not sheepishly. “Hey,” he said, “can you help me out with some change?”
So, it really was him that day going through the trash. I said, “sorry, man,” and shrugged my shoulders like I do when most people ask me for change.
I thought he might have been more disappointed or he would have pleaded but he just turned and started walking away. But then he turned back and said, “tell them what they did to me.”
Back at work, I actually got a couple of performance warnings. The funny part is that the guy who gave them to me actually left the company for a higher paying job. So, nothing ever came of them. In fact, because of the companies that kept buying us, I kept getting raises. I felt like I was disappearing.
About a month later I saw Bob telling some coworkers a story, no jokes this time. He read in the police blotter (why he was reading the police blotter, I still don’t know) that Kelly had murdered someone. He had stabbed someone in the throat early in the morning on the Lower East Side outside a club that Moby owned. A quote from the story described Kelly as the local homeless man around the neighborhood.
I think this all happened for him in less than a year. He went from the loud guy in the office to a murderer.
I have no idea what happened to him. I don’t know if he’s in jail. I don’t know what happened to his wife or what she went through. I just know that I sat a desk or two away from this guy at work. During the week, we spend more time with our coworkers then we do with our family and friends. Who are they, really?
And on those days where it seems like you can’t handle any more stress, how close are you to really losing it?