James O. Incandenza’s Wave Bye-Bye to the Bureaucrat
a synopsis by David Foster Wallace, part of the world created in Infinite Jest
A bureaucrat in some kind of sterile fluorescent-lit office complex is a fantastically efficient worker when awake , but he has this terrible problem waking up in the A.M., and is consistently late to work, which in a bureaucracy is idiosyncratic and disorderly and wholly unacceptable, and we see this bureaucrat getting called in to his supervisor’s pebbled-glass cubicle, and the supervisor, who wears a severely dated leisure suit with his shirt-collar flaring out on either side of its rust-colored lapels, tells the bureaucrat that he’s a good worker and a fine man, but that this chronic tardiness in the A.M. is simply not going to fly, and if it happens one more time the bureaucrat is going to have to find another fluorescent-lit office complex to work in . It’s no accident that in a bureaucracy getting fired is called ‘termination,’ as in ontological erasure, and the bureaucrat leaves his supervisor’s cubicle duly shaken. That night he and his wife go through their Bauhaus condominium collecting every alarm clock they own, each one of which is electric and digital and extremely precise, and they festoon their bedroom with them, so there are like a dozen timepieces with their digital alarms all set for 0615h. But that night there’s a power failure, and all the clocks lose an hour or just sit there blinking 0000h. over and over, and the bureaucrat still oversleeps the next A.M. He wakes late, lies there for a moment staring at a blinking 0000. He shrieks, clutches his head, throws on wrinkled clothes, ties his shoes in the elevator, shaves in the car, blasting through red lights on the way to the commuter rail. The 0816 train to the City pulls in to the station’s lower level just as the crazed bureaucrat’s car screeches into the station’s parking lot, and the bureaucrat can see the top of the train sitting there idling from across the open lot. This is the very last temporally feasible train: if the bureaucrat misses this train he’ll be late again, and terminated. He hauls into a Handicapped spot and leaves the car there at a crazy angle, vaults the turnstile, and takes the stairs down to the platform seven at a time, sweaty and bug-eyed. People scream and dive out of his way. As he careers down the long stairway he keeps his crazed eyes on the open doors of the 0816 train, willing them to stay open just a little longer. Finally, filmed in a glacial slo-mo, the bureaucrat leaps from the seventh-to-the-bottom step and lunges toward the train’s open doors, and right in mid-lunge smashes headlong into an earnest-faced little kid with thick glasses and a bow-tie and those nerdy little schoolboy-shorts who’s tottering along the platform under a tall armful of carefully wrapped packages. Kerwham, they collide. Bureaucrat and kid both stagger back from the impact. The kid’s packages go flying all over the place. The kid recovers his balance and stands there stunned, glasses and bow-tie askew. The bureaucrat looks frantically from the kid to the litter of packages to the kid to the train’s doors, which are still open. The train thrums. Its interior is fluorescent-lit and filled with employed, ontologically secure bureaucrats. You can hear the station’s PA announcer saying something tinny and garbled about departure. The stream of platform foot-traffic opens around the bureaucrat and the stunned boy and the litter of packages… The film’s bureaucrat’s buggy eyes keep going back and forth between the train’s open doors and the little kid, who’s looking steadily up at him, almost studious, his eyes big and liquid behind the lenses… The bureaucrat’s leaning away, inclined way over toward the train doors, as if his very cells were being pulled that way. But he keeps looking at the kid, the gifts, struggling with himself… The bureaucrat’s eyes suddenly recede back into their normal places in his sockets. He turns from the fluorescent doors and bends to the kid and asks if he’s OK and says it’ll all be OK. He cleans the kid’s spectacles with his pocket handkerchief, picks the kid’s packages up. About halfway through the packages the PA issues something final and the train’s doors close with a pressurized hiss. The bureaucrat gently loads the kid back up with packages, neatens them. The train pulls out. The bureaucrat watches the train pull out, expressionless. It’s anybody’s guess what he’s thinking. He straightens the kid’s bow-tie , kneeling down the way adults do when they’re ministering to a child, and tells him he’s sorry about the impact and that it’s OK. He turns to go. The platform’s mostly empty now. Now the strange moment. The kid cranes his neck around the packages and looks up at the guy as he starts to walk away: ‘Mister?’ the kid says. ‘Are you Jesus?’ ‘Don’t I wish,’ the ex-bureaucrat says over his shoulder, walking away, as the kid shifts the packages and frees one little hand to wave Bye at the guy’s topcoat’s back as the camera, revealed now as mounted on the 0816’ s rear, recedes from the platform and picks up speed.