COWORKER: Are you doing the office March Madness pool?
YOU: I don’t really follow college basketball.
COWORKER: Only a ten-dollar buy in. Winner takes all.
[Your COWORKER hands YOU a bracket. YOU examine the boxes and lines, how they serve as a blueprint for transforming your otherwise tedious time at work into weeks of thrilling competition. YOU marvel at all this simple piece of paper has to offer: excitement, opportunity, purpose.]
YOU: Sure, why not.
[With trembling hands YOU give your COWORKER the ten dollars, a pittance for the new exhilarating life YOU desperately hope it will purchase.]
COWORKER: I’m already off to a bad start. How’s your bracket doing?
YOU: Pretty good. I mostly went with whatever team was ranked higher and that was usually the team that won.
[Your COWORKER stares at YOU with a mixture of revulsion and scorn. YOU have defiled something sacred with your dispassionate and undignified selections. YOU dare not speak of your method for picking the team to win it all.]
COWORKER: Who’d you pick to win it all?
YOU: The top seed… with the fierce bird…
COWORKER: You went by which mascot you liked the best.
[Your COWORKER rolls his eyes. YOU will both lose to someone who chose the winner based on the fact it was the hated rival of an ex-girlfriend’s alma mater.]
[YOU and your COWORKERS sit in a bar near your office. It is 3 p.m. on a weekday: too late for a late lunch, too early for an early happy hour. There are two minutes left in the basketball game on television, which means it could go on for hours of fouls, free throws, and turnovers.]
COWORKER: We should really get back to work.
YOU: We really should.
[No one moves, but not because YOU are anxious to witness the end. As long as the game drags on it feels as if YOU have unspoken permission to be somewhere YOU should not be, doing what YOU should not be doing, and being semi-buzzed on half a beer YOU should not be drinking.]
THE GUY WHO NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP ABOUT DUKE: After this you guys want to play hooky and stick around for the Duke game?
[The basketball player on TV bounces the ball at the free throw line. He eyes the basket, and then bounces the ball some more. YOU can’t be certain this game will actually ever end. There is no need to respond.]
[The coffee machine struggles to sputter a few drops of coffee into your cup and then abruptly stops.]
THE GUY WHO NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP ABOUT DUKE: The only two things in life you can count on are the office coffee maker not working and Duke winning the NCAA tournament, am I right?
THE GUY WHO NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP ABOUT DUKE: Did you know the President of the United States picked Duke to win this year in his bracket?
YOU: It must have been fun to go to a school with such a good basketball team.
THE GUY WHO NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP ABOUT DUKE: Oh, I didn’t go to Duke.
YOU: Are you from North Carolina?
THE GUY WHO NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP ABOUT DUKE: Nope.
YOU: Did your parents go to Duke? Did you grow up watching the games?
THE GUY WHO NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP ABOUT DUKE: Nope. I just love Duke. They’re the best.
[THE GUY WHO NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP ABOUT DUKE struts off to spread the gospel of Duke. YOU covet what he has. A COWORKER enters and places their cup under the coffee maker’s nozzle. As the machine whirs to life, YOU secretly root for it to defeat its opponent. The coffee machine struggles to sputter a few drops of coffee into the cup and then abruptly stops. YOU smile victoriously. YOU have found your champion.]
COWORKER: You watching the game?
[Your COWORKER knows YOU are watching the game. He saw YOU put in your earbuds and then furtively glance over your shoulder to ensure the BOSS was not around before opening an ESPN.com browser window. Your COWORKER’s words are intended to provoke. The team he picked to advance is beating the team YOU selected to win.]
COWORKER: What’s the score?
[Another attack. YOU know he is watching the game too the way he stupidly bites his lip or bobs his head when a team scores. He is truly shameless in his aggression.]
YOU: It’s close.
[A effective parry. YOU will not take the bait. YOU will not give your COWORKER the satisfaction that his barbs are effective.]
[Damn him. YOU hate your COWORKER and this opposing basketball team with all of your heart. After this game, YOU will likely never have a strong feeling toward either of them again. This fleeting hatred is a nice change of pace from the profound ennui YOU usually experience at work.]
[YOU and your COWORKERS watch in disbelief. There are only three seconds left. A #9 seed is about to defeat a #1 seed. Three… two… one… It is done.]
BOSS (from his office): What? Impossible!
[YOU now know that nothing is impossible. Rankings and job titles are arbitrary limitations doled out by flawed decision-makers. Mere feet from YOU a #1 seed sits in his undeserved office waiting to be toppled. YOU long for a simpler time before this terrible knowledge and its corresponding burden.]
COWORKER: Bracket’s busted.
YOU: Mine too.
[Without any personal stakes, YOU will not watch the last few games. The Bracket gave them meaning and in return they briefly provided YOU with something meaningful.]
COWORKER: You ever consider doing fantasy baseball? Makes watching baseball games actu—
YOU: Absolutely not.
[YOU take solace in the fact that some people are hurting even worse. With Duke out of the tournament, THE GUY WHO NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP ABOUT DUKE has finally shut the fuck up about Duke. He dissolves in a brilliant cascade of blue and white, not to be heard from again until next college basketball season.]