It's daybreak at Seated Pharmaceuticals. Workers trudge though the revolving doors, grey ants marching through a greyer day. Their minds are blank, or focused only on the pain the coming work day will bring. Pencils? Unreachable. Backs? Aching. Minds? Unstimulated. Blood? Barely circulating. Butts? Sore. Very sore.
It wasn't always like this. There was a time at Seated Pharmaceuticals when there was justice in the workplace: when there was a hero, an entity dedicated to protecting the backs of the employees, raising their productivity, improving their relationship with the environment, and bringing just a little beauty into their lives. That entity was the Embody Chair.
Created by legendary office philanthropists Bill Stumpf and Jeff Weber, the Embody Chair was sturdy, comfortable, energetic; it was young, and it was beautiful, and it was in and out of the lives of the workers at Seated like brief sand through the hourglass.
Where had the Embody Chair gone? No one knew. Some speculated it had gone on to some other company, increasing the productivity of someone younger, better. Others thought the Embody had allowed itself to be recycled to contribute to a sustainable and energy efficient world. Some thought the Embody Chair had simply grown tired of them, tired of easing their pains and freeing up their arms and shoulders, and fled for some greener pasture—retirement, little Embody Chair children. But only one knew the truth.
Jon McColl was, by all accounts, one of the worst bosses of his time. Miserly to a fault, the standard-bearer for boss-man contempt and a stickler for dress code and company policy, he'd read every manual cover to cover and written some himself. And he'd hated the Embody Chair. Hated it with such gusto, with such passion, that on several attempts he had attempted to cripple the Embody and its progress with workers by limiting the amount of time they could spend sitting down. He was also, as fate would have it, the new CEO at Seated, the previous chief corporate officer himself having disappeared under a cloud of suspicion.
He sits in his office, gleefully tallying up the results of last week's employee payouts in "McColl dollars," an absurd currency he'd created just for the pleasure of taking it away. More conspicuous than McColl's childlike and hateful cackling, however, was the sound coming from a double padlocked closet in the far corner of the office: a muffled banging punctuated by the occasional sound of distress. It was the Embody Chair by Herman Miller, locked away in a purgatory of non-sustainable, non-productive, non-comfortable, non-lovely existence, consisting of a closet and a series of chains.
Mike Weber was new to Seated, an intern right out of college looking to make some money and a few connections. He had gotten nowhere. The staff was totally demoralized, the management cold, and McColl ... well, McColl was McColl.
Weber wanted to quit, but a strange sense of responsibility to his fellow workers kept him hanging on. It wasn't as if they looked up to him, but the simple presence of a young man whose back hadn't yet been destroyed and whose muscles and joints weren't so damaged was a small ray of sunshine. Of course Mike had heard about the Embody Chair, about the days when it used to roam the halls and watch out for the backs, brains, and butts of the whole staff. It seemed like a dream come true; or a dream deferred.
He sat in the same cubicle with Andrew Farrar and Jake Scarbrough, old hands who'd been through the wars and didn't much like the other side. They tried not to complain too much, but the pain and the lost productivity were getting to be too much even for grizzled vets like them. Today they discussed their usual topic. Now that the Embody Chair was out of their lives, when were they finally gonna quit?
Weber listened more than usual. He had grown to respect these men, and he hated to hear them like this.
"Last night I climbed into bed and couldn't sleep for hours. That new mattress Stacy got me can't do enough to counteract these ridiculous folding chairs McColl's got us sittin' in."
"Tell me about it, brother. Yesterday I stood up and my butt was so numb I fell over!"
"Well that's how it is now that that jerk McColl's runnin' the show. Gosh, I'd give anything for that Embody Chair to come on back ..."
It was Jon McColl. He'd rounded the corner seconds before and heard enough of their conversation to know they'd be losing some McColl Bucks.
"You two are losing 100 McColl bucks each!" he screeched. "That means you'll be parking in the far lot this week, and getting last pick of dessert in the cafeteria! Now shut up and do some work, you feeble ingrates!"
With a fussy, insecure twirl, he was gone. Andrew and Jake just sat there, whipped dogs. "This wouldn't have happened if Embody was around," said Andrew.
Weber started to feel a burning in his gut. McColl just couldn't treat people that way. Not while he was around. There may not be a superhero like the Embody Chair in the building, but there was a hero: Mike Weber.
He got up from his desk and took the stairs, all the way up to the door marked "McColl." He didn't knock.
Entering the office was like entering a crypt. McColl kept the heat turned off to cut costs and keep minions shivering while they sat in chairs much lower than his across a desk that seemed to stretch an acre. But Weber wasn't intimidated: he was juiced, running on a full tank of righteousness, and ready to let fly.
"Just who do you think you are?"
McColl turned slowly around in his seat (a rotating bar stool) to stare at Weber.
"I think I'm the CEO of this company. I think I am the printer, treasurer, and arbiter of McColl Bucks, 10,000 of which you just lost. Straighten your tie or you'll lose another 100."
"Bollocks to your bucks. I didn't come here for that. I want to know why you're running this place the way you are. When the Embody Chair was around..."
"Silence! Shut up! I will not hear anymore seditious talk about that infamous Embody Chair! It had outlived its usefulness! Who wants their workers always happy, pain-free, productive, and energetic? It's a recipe for insubordination, creativity, and comfort, and who wants that? Employees ought to sweat for their money, they ought to pay through the back and thighs! The Embody Chair is gone and it won't be coming back!"
Mike opened his mouth to speak but, upon hearing a strange sound, he stopped; it was coming from the double-padlocked closet in the far corner of the room.
"What is that?" "What is what, you scum! Get out! You're fired!" "That banging, what's in there?" "Nothing! Some personal items. Get out of here!"
Weber turned to leave, his hand poised above the polished-twice-daily knob of the door ... but then he turned. Turned and sprinted towards a startled, red-faced, and sputtering McColl. Quickly, in a single motion, he overturned McColl's chair, entangling his gangly limbs in the legs of the stool. He then seized his keys, kept in a large ring attached to his immaculately pressed khakis, and leaped to the door.
Fumbling with the lock, he began to suspect what might be inside. Could it be the Embody Chair? The answer to the prayers of all the workers downstairs? The hero Seated Pharmaceuticals had been waiting for?
As he put the key in the last lock, a bony, manicured, oddly strong hand gripped his own. It was a fight of turns: who could turn the key from the others' grip, and fastest, and in the preferred direction. Weber struggled mightily, and felt a rewarding click: the door—long closed, padlocked and forgotten—was open.
As water from a burst pipe, oil from a fresh strike, the Embody Chair sprang from the room, bowling over both men in its way. With a wink (reminiscent of St. Nick) it gave its thanks to Mike before rolling over McColl's new manicure on its way out the door.
"Nooo!" The high-pitched scream was torn from McColl's throat. But it was too late. The Embody had done broke jail, and it was on its way to freedom: the freedom of others, that is.
The Embody shot like a bolt of lightning into the depressed bullpen of Seated Pharmaceutical. Almost immediately, backs were soothed, shoulders uncramped, thighs relieved, brains turned on, circulation restored. It had brought hope back to the office. Slowly, but ever more quickly, the sounds of a happy room came to life. Seated had been re-animated; there was conversation, the ringing of phones, the click-clack of hands on keyboards. Moreover, there was rejoicing. The Embody had come home.
Mike Weber made his way down the stairs slowly. He had been a little bruised by the Embody's charge, but mostly he was shaken by the sight of McColl breaking into tears and sobs fit only for a girl of five. But as soon as he entered the main floor he brightened: his work had brought relief to a place in desperate need of comfort, design, sustainability, and productivity. Hoisted on the shoulders of his fellow employees, he made the rounds—finally coming to a stop in front of the great hero itself.
"Thanks," Mike said. It was all he could think to say to a chair.
"Don't mention it," Embody responded. "It's my job to take care of your behind."