Ken Sollop, Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E.!
Revolving doors aren't made for dramatic entrances, but I did the best I could, safely and responsibly removing myself from the exit path of the people behind me, then pausing suddenly and purposefully to survey the interior of the huge office building. Hands on hips, I swung my head left, then right, taking in the comforting diversity of my surroundings--a Sikh man wearing a turban, an Indian woman wearing a sari, and an individual of indeterminate gender wearing a belly shirt, all within shouting distance. Relaxing a bit, I proceeded toward the reception desk.
It was manned--pardon me, womaned--womyned? By a bla--by a person who appeared to be a nonwhite female and looked like she may have had ancestors from Africa. If one were to guess. If one were to stereotype. I never do. And besides, aren't we all from Africa, originally?
I greeted her, confirmed her pronouns, and told her I was here for the job. It was the truth, but "the job" wasn't the one I was applying for. It was the one I already had.
"Fill out this application, please," she said, sliding over two stapled pages, along with a small, mini-golf sized pencil. It had no eraser. I'd have to be careful.
I filled out the form, no real problems until I came to the ethnicity questions. I'd been tipped off about them. They were optional, but their mere presence jolted me from the calm and peaceable exterior I usually maintained.
"I identify as Scottish-American, but there's no box for that."
Not looking up from behind her desk drawer, where she was searching noisily for a pen or something, the woman said, "Caucasian." It was a verbal violation of the worst kind, but no one said this job would be easy. "I don't identify as Caucasian."
"It sounds like that's what you are, though," she said, still rummaging through the desk. She'd found a pen, but seemed suddenly fascinated by the drawer's other, long-forgotten contents. "You can leave it blank if you'd like."
Of course. You can certainly choose not to stand up and be counted. I took a step back and scanned the high ceiling.
"Leave it blank, eh? I'm sure that's what your faceless corporate superiors up there would like, isn't it?"
She gave me a deadly stare that meant I was close to the truth--even though her words said otherwise. "This is a governmental agency, not corporate. And I assure you, my superiors all have faces."
It was the kind of jokey, insensitive slip-up I might have made myself, once upon a time. But no more. "Are you implying that it would be a problem if they didn't have faces? Because you'll note that I never said that."
The drawer was closed now, but she was looking down again, at some paperwork. Probably embarrassed at being exposed as a face-ist--just a short step or two away from being a fascist.
"The easiest thing is to just leave it blank," she sighed.
"The easiest thing, eh? Well, I never make things easy." I was loud and proud. "Allow me to introduce myself... Ken Sollop, Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E."
"Pleased to meet you," she nodded. "You're an agent of change, huh?"
"Capitals and periods." I pointed to the application, where I'd squeezed 'Ken Sollop, Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E.' into the space for 'name'. "It's an official title, I've got the certificate from C.H.A.N.G.E. to prove it."
She looked up, skeptical. "You're saying 'C.H.A.N.G.E.' is a real group?"
"It's not just me saying it. C.H.A.N.G.E. is a registered trademark: 'Caucasians Helping All Nonwhites Gain Equality.'"
"You don't identify as 'Caucasian', even though the word is right there is your group's name?"
"Even C.H.A.N.G.E. needs to change sometimes. No should tell me how to identify myself while fighting for equality. Besides, just because it's a Caucasian-based group does not mean that we discriminate against non-Caucasian applicants. Far from it. 5% of our current membership is non-Caucasian."
"But who's counting?" she muttered before returning to her paperwork. "Okay," she said, obviously intrigued, despite her continuing lack of eye contact. "And how exactly do you do all this fighting for C.H.A.N.G..E.?"
One of the first things an Agent needs to do is develop a solid, inspiring "elevator pitch", a few words that summarize what he or she (or ze, or sie, or ve)--and C.H.A N.G.E. are all about. I'd practiced mine in the mirror countless times, and more than that on real people. My favorite targets were people coming out of the play Hamilton: An American Musical.
"This is me, can't you see? I expose hypocrisy in this democracy. I debunk assumptions that make an ass out of you and me." I was crouched low, eyes closed, feeling the beat and jabbing at the air with devil-horned hip-hop hands. "I guard personal rights, yes, vigilantly. This is my decree, my guarantee... no absentee plea, oh, no sirree! We all should be free, I hope you agree--with equality." I stopped, opened my eyes, and spoke the final word with forceful, commanding, inspiring impact. "Respectfully."
She looked confused, possibly horrified.
"But if you're an agent... sorry, I mean, an Agent--shouldn't you be keeping that to yourself? You know, working in secret?"
"We're not secret Agents. The goal is to be seen. Unless the risks outweigh the benefits, in which case I'll wear a mask. Preferably a Guy Fawkes mask."
She was familiar with the central figure of the Gunpowder Plot, but familiarity seemed to have bred contempt. "Isn't he a symbol for anarchists?"
"I doubt he would have identified as such," I noted.
She didn't hesitate with a barbed rejoinder. "A symbol for failed, violent attempts at governmental change, then?"
She'd obviously been brainwashed, probably the result of reading only traditional history books, by "historians". I ignored her comment, and continued explaining the mechanics of C.H.A.N.G.E.
"Some organizations specialize in covert ops, but C.H.A.N.G.E. is based on Observable Overt Ops, or 'OOO!' for short. We don't believe in working behind the scenes. If people can't see it happening--if what we do isn't immediately recognized by at least one other person--it's a waste of time."
"Doesn't that seem a little narcissistic?"
I raised an eyebrow in mock confusion. "Narcisssistic Personality Disorder is an official psychological disorder. You're not making derogatory comments about the mentally disabled, are you?" Converting to a cold stare, I narrowed my eyes and said, "Because I could have a flash mob protesting this building inside of ten minutes if that were the case."
"Maybe I should get my manager," she said. It was a phrase I'd heard a lot during my time as a truth crusader, though of course I'd never refer to myself aloud as a crusader, due to the unfortunate anti-religious freedom connotations of the word.
"No managers!" I cried. "We believe in change from the ground up, starting with the reception desk. Plus, managers tend to frown on our group. They claim we create distractions that reduce productivity and lower morale. But in reality, they're just bound to the status quo."
"In reality, I'm also bound to the status quo. That's kind of why they pay me." She looked at me quizzically. "What did you say you identify as? Just write it in under 'other', please."
She sighed again. "I guess that's appropriate, you being an Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E. and all." Her hands were unexpressive, but her voice indicated air quotes around 'Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E.'.
"Typically it's others, less self-aware than me, who are led to change. But having to deal with all of this persecution, I now identify with the struggles of the bla--the nonwhite."
"You're saying you identify as black."
"Ho ho!" I backed away faster than if she'd pulled the pin on a grenade. Which, figuratively, she had. "I didn't use that word, you did! Is there a security camera to confirm?"
"'Black' is an acceptable term and category for ethnicity, sir."
"Oh, really? Is "red" an acceptable term for Native Americans? Is "yellow" an acceptable term for Asians? What if I don't accept what you consider acceptable? What if I don't accept the idea of race or color?"
Sighing, unable to process the profundity of my questions, she pointed and asked, "What color is your shirt?"
I smiled. "Ha ha, nice try. It happens to be white."
She raised her eyebrows, waiting for me to acknowledge what she saw as a victory. "So you do recognize color, then."
Sometimes I feel even sorrier than usual for the unenlightened, the ignorant, the differently-abled. This was not one of those times.
"The joke is on you... because white is the absence of color! Mic drop, we out!"
I was immediately ashamed of my superiority, and vowed, in that moment, to never be superior to anyone again. Also, I'd come dangerously close to committing cultural appropriation. Luckily, I knew a bla--a dark-toned guy, growing up, so it was okay.
"Look, it's on the form. 'Black'. If you don't like it, send a letter to the government."
"A letter? That's not very fun, and not very media-friendly. Maybe a press conference, though..."
"You really think you know better than everyone else, don't you?"
Ah, a trick question. C.H.A.N.G.E. had trained us for this. "Absolutely not! No way! See that homeless guy sitting against the wall? He knows just as much as me. Everyone has exactly the same amount of useful knowledge. I'm merely making my truth known."
Whew! That was close. People sometimes moan about society seeking the lowest common denominator, but anyone who remembers fifth grade math knows that there's no better way to solve difficult problems, such as dividing a whole into fractional pieces.
She looked over at the man. "How do you know that guy is homeless?"
Gah! Talking to this woman was like walking through a mine field. Time to duck and cover. "I was speaking hypothetically, as in: If he was homeless. I was not assuming that he was homeless, just because of his appearance, smell, cup for spare change, and sign reading 'DOWN ON LUCK, PLEASE HELP'."
"Why don't you go see him, Mister Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E.? You've must have some change to spare, right?"
"I don't give change. It has to be created."
"Nice dodge. And what kind of change are you trying to create here, exactly?"
"The good kind, mostly. But any kind in a pinch."
"Well, you've certainly changed my day."
Sweet validation. "Just doing my job, ma'am." I hesitated, unsure if she would take offense at the honorific. On closer examination, she looked to be a few years from ma'am-worthy.
"Please don't examine me so closely, sir," she said, withdrawing a bit and giving me the stink-eye.
Sir? Geez, the last thing I wanted was to perpetuate the social hierarchy of white men. And a violation of personal space was just sloppy work on my part. I'd have to do better next time. At least she hadn't seemed bothered by the ma'am thing.
"My apologies," I said, with sincere and humble body language. "In fact, let me apologize for any offense my errors or omissions may have caused during this conversation." Ahh. That felt better. Nothing like a blanket apology to help you sleep at night.
Whoops! Almost forgot!
"I also apologize for the actions of my friends, family members, ancestors, and descendants!"
She took it all in stride, probably because she could see how earnest and sincere I was being. "It's okay," she said. She paused a moment, then added, "Can I make a suggestion?"
"Sure," I said. I was always eager to enhance my perspective by being open to the ideas of others.
"I think you might be a little off-base here."
"That's utterly ridiculous," I replied.
"Why don't you try to just talk to people normally? If we all talked to each other normally, like regular people, a lot of the other stuff might take care of itself, without all the fuss."
This was the language of a victim who doesn't know she's a victim.
"Where are you off to now?" she asked, hinting that I should be going. Her manager must have been unhappy that she was being exposed to the truth, and given her some secret signal to end the conversation or else. I was morally obligated to protect this woman's path to prosperity, so I prepared to leave. I didn't want the job anyway. I was already employed full-time, righting wrongs and saving the universe from hate.
"Who knows where I'll be needed next?" I replied. "An anti-gentrification or anti-G.M.O. protest? Or just making the world better, one employment application at a time?" I replied. "There is, and always will be, a need for...
KEN SOLLOP, AGENT OF C.H.A.N.G.E.!"
Peter Dabbene’s poetry has been published in many online and print literary journals, and collected in the photo book Optimism. His stories can be found online at www.defenestrationmag.net, www.mcsweeneys.net, www.wordriot.org, and elsewhere, and his comic book work can be seen in the graphic novels Ark and Robin Hood. He has published two story collections, Prime Movements and Glossolalia, and a novel, Mister Dreyfus' Demons. His latest books are the humor collections Spamming the Spammers, More Spamming the Spammers, and The End of Spamming the Spammers, along with the essay collection Complex Simplicity. He writes a monthly column for the Hamilton Post (viewable at www.mercerspace.com/blog/pdabbene) and reviews for BlueInk Review and Foreword Reviews. His plays have been performed in New Jersey and Philadelphia venues. His website is www.peterdabbene.com.