“Orientation” by Daniel Orozco is a monologue of the speaker introducing the office environment to a new employee. It begins with the speaker briefly explaining to the the new employee how he should handle his work. The rest of the monologue consists of the speaker taking the newbie on a tour of the office, elaborating on the company’s policies, informing the speaker of office protocol, and giving extremely detailed backgrounds of the new employee’s fellow co-workers.
The personal struggles of the co-workers become increasingly bizarre as the tour goes on. First, we are introduced to John LaFountaine, who gets his kicks by harmlessly marauding into the women’s restroom. The speaker also gives a complex overview of the overlapping love triangles that seem to engross most of the employees. There is not a single pairing of employees that have feelings for each other.
So far, the employees have pretty ordinary struggles and desires. With the introduction of Anika Bloom, things get darker. Anika has supernatural episodes in which she prophesied the death of Barry Hacker’s wife, as well as the once-innocent newbie Colin Heavey; consequently, her social life is nonexistent in the office.
The employees’ backgrounds become even more absurd. Barry Hacker steals from the refrigerator to cope with his grief of his late wife, who passed in an incredibly tragic, drawn-out, painful manner. In fact, the entire office is haunted by the spirit of Barry Hacker’s wife. Finally, Kevin Howard, arguably the most ridiculous character to be working in a normal office. He’s a serial killer, and all the employees know it. Nobody cares though. He’s the fastest typist, after all.
The speaker interjects descriptions about office procedures and employee benefits.The tour ends with the speaker and new employee marvelling at the magnificent view they have on the seventeenth floor. The chronic tension is the tragic fate of the newbie, and the acute is the cementing of the fate the cubicle job subjects the new employee to.
Two of the elements of “Orientation” that I think make the story compelling are the apathy that the speaker shows towards the employees and the futility of the characters, the absence of happiness or purpose from their lives.
First, apathy. The indifference the speaker shows towards the employees makes the story both hilarious and disturbing. It parodies the lack of camaraderie among the employee and employer in the modern workplace. Orozco exemplifies that the workforce is driven solely by the necessity of money, and in no way are personal relationships relevant to an employer. A boss’s primary job is to keep things going. The people that he oversees are like the gears in a machine that crank out his paycheck. In “Orientation,” the speaker is blind to the many tragedies of his employees. His in-depth descriptions of the employees are only to warn the new employee of entanglements that may interfere with his work, to ensure the efficiency of the workplace. Otherwise, he may have to be let go. Satire! The absurdity of the descriptions take the comedy to a darker level, to a point where the characters’ lives are so messed up it’s difficult to relate to them.
Next, the futility of the employees. I touched on this while going over apathy, but Orozco does an amazing job of producing false senses of hope. Just about every character has his quirks, but once the speaker finishes describing them, you realize that the employees have zero hope, no direction in life, nothing worth pursuing in the time they have left on Earth. Each character’s lack of purpose is because of different reasons, but they all share the same pointlessness. If a character loves someone, the person they love either hates them or barely acknowledges their existence. If someone appears happy externally, they are a mess internally. Others simply have had their lives ruined by a particular event. In the end of the piece, the newbie is presented with what the joy and hope in life they will lose forever, by gazing out the office’s window.
Two of the many things you could possibly take away from “Orientation” and use in your own writing are the structure and tone.
Nothing happens in “Orientation” besides some supervisor dude talking about the employees, explaining how to pay for coffee, and looking out the window with the newbie. Nevertheless, the story still has a beginning, middle and end, increases in tension and has some sort of climax. Orozco doesn’t flesh out a sequence of events, he paints a picture. With every bit of information the speaker reveals, the tension increases, the tension being the tragedy that awaits the newbie. The beginning, middle and end are made up of stages, each sequential stage with progressively messed up characters juxtaposed with progressively vanilla office protocol. And the climax of looking out the window. The coming to terms with the future. So, in our own writing, we just need to realize that as long as a character is getting into a troubling and more troubling situation in the understanding of the reader, and we take a step back somehow to comprehend the scope of the situation, we can have a story.
The way tone functions in the story is another thing we can learn from. It sort of reads like a how-to story. The tone is prescriptive regarding how to interact with the employees and the utilities of the office, but descriptive in presenting the backgrounds of the employees. The tone also serves to characterize the speaker, showing his flippancy, knowledge, and detachment. What we need to know is that tone should have at least function, but it can make a story better on multiple levels, such as characterization, making the message more powerful, and efficiency of words.
- How does the juxtaposition of ordinary office orientation and the absurdity of the characters give the story more punch?
- Why does Orozco repeat the phrase “or you may be let go”?
- How does Orozco tie in supernatural aspects? Do these work for you?