It started with a meeting—a three-and-a-half-hour meeting. The whole department was there, with eleven execs teleconferenced in from around the country. We talked about whether the colon in a heading should be bold or not.
When we write an internal report, the heading might be Funding or Departmental Interface. That’s in bold. No controversy there. But after, say, Funding, there’s a colon, right? Some people were putting that colon in bold, some people weren’t. And everyone got very worked up about the issue. There were factions: pro-bold-colon faction; anti-bold-colon faction. You want to know what faction I was in? I was in the extreme don’t-talk-to-me-don’t-look-at-me-because-I-don’t-even-give-a-walrus-fuck faction. But I was the only one in that faction. Everyone else had really strong views and saw nothing wrong with sitting around talking about it for three-and-a-half hours.
Fine, you say. One meeting, and then it’s settled. No. The meeting just served as a kind of opening salvo to what would become an all-out war. It spread to all other departments. There were email chains, conflicting style guides, appeals to the writings of Michel Foucault, Steve Biko, David Hume, Martin Luther King, and Enid Blyton. Seating arrangements were completely overhauled, canvas partitions were set up, and there were post-work meetings—well-attended and completely voluntary—where officers were elected and minutes taken. Leaders emerged.
“I can’t believe Henry,” Janis said to me one morning. “He knows he’s wrong. It’s all just ego at this point.”
I saw Henry later that day.
“Man, can you believe those people? It’s like Salem 1692 with them.”
He drew comparisons to inquisitors, Maoists, Dickensian villains, and of course Nazis. All because they wanted to put a colon in bold. No. Wait. He wanted the colon bold. Sorry about that. Henry and his cohort wanted the bold colon.
One day it all came to a head in the breakroom. Henry and Janis screaming, throwing things, people backing their champions with chants and handclaps and hysterical insults. Butchers of decency. The harsh punctuation of terrorism. Two dark dots of hegemonic wrath.
Great, then. Have we gotten it out of our system? Can we go back to being humans? No, we’d just fortified the armies, drawn the battle lines a little clearer. No one was going to back down. This was going to tear us apart. Well, someone had to do something. In a world gone mad—as you may have heard—a hero must rise.
That Monday evening I went to the library, created a new email account, and wrote to Janis:
If you do not agree to boldface the colon I will reveal everything. I have access to your computer. I’ve seen it all.
I sent the same message to Henry, changing bold to unbold. Then I waited. Janis came in early the next day, surly and unkempt, but she sat down and did her work. Henry didn’t show.
“Sick, I guess.”
The next day he was still missing. The day after that the Boss called us for an all-hands meeting.
“It is my sad duty to inform you that we have lost a friend and a colleague. Henry Porter took his own life on Monday evening. There will be a memorial service on Friday.”
There were gasps and inane expressions of disbelief. And crying—real genuine sobs from the folks in his faction. They were rudderless, bereft without their sage and seer. Even the women in editorial who were against him on the colon started tearing up a bit. The Boss worked the room—pressed a few shoulders, murmured a few sensitive words. Finally, Janis spoke up.
“Sooooo. No bold on the colon, then?”