First thing on your first day, you were instructed to go down the basement and have a picture taken for your security pass.
Down there, they told you a joke and said, “Now hold that smile and look at the camera.”
They printed the photo and handed it to you. You were pleased with how it turned out. Your smile was genuine. The joke they’d told you was a good one.
Then they passed you a piece of sticky tape and said, “Stick the photo to your forehead, please. And smile a little more.”
They printed the second photo – of you smiling a little more with the first photo stuck to your forehead. Handed it to you. Told you to stick it to your forehead.
“Please smile more and look at the camera.”
They handed you that photo. “Stick it to your forehead. And can you smile a little more than that, please.”
This process continued through your lunch break and into late afternoon.
“More.” ‘Click’ “Even More.” ‘Click’ “More still.” ‘Click’
By 5pm, the floor was scattered with discarded photographs and pieces of used sticky tape mottled with dead forehead skin. Lactic acid paralyzed your jaws and cheeks. The corners of your mouth trembled, not daring to drop south.
They asked if you’d stay a few more hours. They just wanted your security pass to be perfect.
“Of course,” you said.
Finally, they clipped clothes pegs to your cheeks and hoisted them towards the ceiling.
You showed your security pass to your new boss and got asked why 745 unanswered emails had built up in your inbox since the morning. This, you were told, was not in keeping with #1 and #177 of the Sacred Company Values: ALWAYS HAVE A CLEAR INBOX.
At your retirement party sixty years later, you preach all 177 Sacred Company Values in a stirring speech that you cap off by raising your glass and saying, “More more more!”
Your employees applaud. Raise their glasses high. Hoist the clothes pegs on their cheeks higher still as they repeat, “More more more!”
Afterwards, in private, you make sure your inbox is clear before unhooking your own sixty-year clothes pegs. Your cheeks droop to the floor and dangle by your feet like tired rubber bands.
You place your security pass on your desk. Before leaving the office for the last time, you stare at the old photo: your innocent face; its plush hoisted cheeks; your trembling mouth; the photo taped to your young forehead.
You look at the photo within the photo, then into the photo within the photo, the photo within that photo, the photo within that. You keep going. Deeper. More deep. Deeper still, until your eyes pinpoint the first photo taken on the morning of your first day. The one with the genuine smile.
It was a good joke, you remember.