Demographic, Environmental
Security Issues Project


November 2005


by Ronald Bleier

Arthur liked to imagine himself on top of the world. At night, snug under his covers, he would use his remote controls to switch between his TV, his radio, his tape recorder and his CD player. He liked to read before going to sleep accompanied by his favorite classical music. He delighted in his ability to wield such power from his bedside. When he was ready, he’d switch off the music and before turning out the light, he would look around his bedroom, smile into the big mirror facing his bed, and consider his domain with satisfaction.

He once read a story about an elderly lady who didn't believe in any of the newfangled astronomical notions. She insisted that the earth was resting on top of a giant turtle. When asked what supported that huge turtle, she said that there was an even larger one holding it up. And underneath that turtle, there was yet another one, ad infinitum, all the way down. Arthur liked to think of himself, lying in his bed, tucked in for the night, his remote control at his side, on top of the world, resting comfortably on the back of a turtle.

In the morning, on the way to the train station, he picked up his copy of The Wall Street Journal. Maybe I'll get a seat this time, he thought as he waited on the station platform. He scanned the headlines. More and more he was getting disgusted with the news. War, rumors of war. budget deficits, hurricanes out of control, illegal immigration, global warming. inflation, housing bubbles.

A train pulled up just as Arthur got to the platform. Luckily, it wasn't absolutely stuffed. Arthur spotted a seat but while he obediently waited for the passengers to exit, others pushed past. In the end he had to stand. Damn, he thought. I was hoping today would be my day. He turned to his newspaper without much enthusiasm. Not far away a pretty woman stood, looking uncomfortable. She happened to look his way. Arthur quickly turned back to his newspaper. A little later Arthur noticed an ill-dressed middle-aged black man, taking up two seats. The unkempt man seemed a bit addled. Arthur wondered what it would be like to be out of a job. What was it like to collect unemployment? Arthur imagined people standing on long lines in large, uncomfortably lit rooms on cold mornings. A shiver ran through him.

Arthur got out at 34th street. As he walked through the passageway leading to the stairs, he passed by several men and a woman in her thirties lying on pieces of cardboard a few yards opposite the ramp to the stairs. Arthur was used to seeing homeless people in this area of the station. The phenomenon didn't bother him so much anymore. What really irked him was the smell of urine that was strong in the staircase leading to the street. He had heard on the radio a city official protesting that the smell, while unpleasant, didn't represent a health hazard. Arthur would sometimes try to hold his breath as he walked up the stairs. He never seemed to quite manage to escape the smell. He had nothing against the homeless. He only wished that they weren't so visible, so present. If he were mayor, he would issue orders to the police to remove them from busy train stations--at least during rush hour.

Arthur got to work only five minutes late. He quickly slipped into his cubicle and removed his coat. He wondered if Mark, the chief of the bank's tax and overseas finance unit, noticed him. Mark always noticed everything, but he was a good fellow and had helped Arthur out in the past.

Arthur used to be friendly with two or three people in the department especially Alice and Harold. The three of them and perhaps one or two others from the same division used to get together for lunch every so often as their schedules permitted. Somehow, that wasn't happening very much anymore. Arthur realized that he couldn't remember the last time he said more than “Hi, how are you?” to Alice. It must have been weeks ago, he thought. Well, let's see what we've got in front of us today.

As Arthur set down to work, he couldn't help wondering what was happening to the reports he had been writing. He noticed that his work didn't come back with revisions as it used to. Nowadays he would send out his work and nothing seemed to come back. Was he slipping? He wondered where his reports landed. Perhaps, he smiled to himself, they're going straight through to the top.

Arthur worked hard until lunch. He wasn't looking forward to lunch. He didn't like to eat alone. He postponed leaving the office until well after Alice and Harold left together. He thought about the last time the three of them lunched together months ago. Harold and Alice were laughing and having a great time but Arthur couldn't follow their small talk. He felt left out. At a certain moment, he ventured a comment.

“Did you hear about the latest backlash regarding Google?” They had been talking about the stock market.

To his dismay, Alice responded: "He's been quiet all this time, and now he's trying to get into the conversation.” Arthur flushed with embarrassment and said nothing. Harold and Alice soon resumed their banter and ignored Arthur for the rest of the lunch.

Arthur thought of that incident as he sat alone in a cafeteria several blocks away from his office. Why did she have to say that? Arthur turned the incident over in his mind. I thought she was my friend. Actually, she was smiling when she said that. Maybe she didn't mean to embarrass me. But why did she have to say that? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?

Alice reminded him of his last girlfriend, Serena. He and Serena split up months ago and now he was alone. Serena and Alice didn't look at all alike, but there was something similar about their manner and the way they spoke. He couldn't put it into words exactly.

After his solitary lunch, when Arthur returned to work he felt tired and drowsy. I could use a nap, he thought. Let's see, which report is up next? He was working on a plan for saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, who knows, maybe millions, in tax deferments for his company. He needed some data from the Boston branch. Serena, Serena, why did you leave me? He thought about their lovemaking. He thought of one time in particular towards the beginning of their relationship. They were in his bed and he was on top of her. He remembered watching how her breasts shook while he thrusted inside her and her body responded to his. “I’m fucking you, I’m fucking you,” he screamed. “I’m in you.”

Heads turned. He was standing, his hands clenched in fists. People looked up at him to see what was the matter above their waist-high cubicles. Arthur was startled by the attention. As he silently mouthed again the words, “I’m in you,” he ventured a smile to a near-by colleague and resumed his seat. What's wrong, he said quietly to himself staring at one of the documents on his desk.

Arthur tried to get back to work but his head was spinning. He had trouble breathing. I've got to slow down, he said to himself. Ok, let's see...Oh yes, the figures from Boston. Where was I? He wondered if he should approach Johnny to help him download the information from Boston. He didn't feel like bothering Johnny right now.

Ten minutes later Mark came over. Mark's face reflected a mixture of concern and sternness.

How're you doing?" Mark asked.

"I'm fine," Arthur answered nervously. "This report is giving me some trouble. I don't have the figures I need--"

"Listen,” Mark said, a note of impatience sharpening his words. "I'll tell you what. Why don't you take the rest of the afternoon off”?

"But my report,” Arthur responded weakly.

"Don't worry about your report," Mark said comfortingly. "We'll take care of it. Listen, why don't you leave everything just the way it is, get your coat and I'll walk you to the elevator."

Uh, ok, sure," Arthur, said. "If you think that's best."

"Yes,” Mark said, "I think that’s the way we’ll do it."

Arthur stood up, gathered his papers neatly on his desk. He removed his coat and scarf from the rack and turned to leave. As he walked by the rows of cubicles, he glanced at the people at their desks. They seemed to be concentrating on their work. Mark was right behind him. They passed through the glass doors to a bank of elevators. Mark pressed the down button. Arthur felt his throat tighten. He didn't know what to say. He said nothing. As the red light flashed, Arthur began, "I'm sorry--"

"Oh, don't worry about it," Mark said. The elevator door opened. As Arthur moved toward the door, Mark held him back.

"Listen,” Mark said, "I'll tell you what. You get a good rest. Don't worry about anything. Don't worry about the reports."

Arthur wondered about the elevator. He felt he should enter. At the same time, he wanted to respond to Mark. What was Mark saying? Just as the elevator door was closing, Mark sprang forward and held the door open for him. The people already on the elevator were staring at them.

"Listen," Mark said, as he made way for Arthur to step into the car, "We'll call you when it's time for you to come back."

"Ok," Arthur said, in some confusion. He didn't want to make a scene. He figured that he'd hear from Mark in a couple of days. If not, he could always call the office to let them know he was ready to return.

"Yes, sure," Arthur said. "Thanks, Mark, for everything." The doors closed.

Inside the elevator, Arthur felt giddy. A burden was lifted from his shoulders. Now, he thought, I can get everything straightened out. The elevator made several stops on the way down. Arthur started to hum a song that had been on his mind for a while.

I got a peaceful, easy feeling,
I know you won't let me down,
'Cause I'm already standing
On the ground.

At home that night, in bed, Arthur felt secure under his covers. He had to laugh. What a glorious adventure, he thought. I can't really lose, whatever happens. After all, even if I fall off one turtle, there's another one, an even bigger one, right underneath to catch me. Ha, ha, ha, ha, Arthur laughed into his reflection in the mirror. There are turtles all the way down.


Demographic, Environmental
Security Issues Project