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Cubicles of mass destruction

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Right around the time that the NASDAQ crashed, I sat through a presentation on office furniture. The salespeople, armed with PowerPoint and shiny smiles, gushed about the cutting-edge furnishings they were going to bestow upon us.

It was patterned on a hexagonal format that mimicked honeycombs and open arms. In other words, we were good little worker bees who deserved desks that said "hug me." When the Q-and-A started, I was briefly in fear for their lives. (The company I worked for ultimately went a different way.)

Office furniture, as anyone who's ever coveted an Aeron chair from the depths of their cubicle knows, looms larger than the average dinette set.

For one thing, unless you're a waiter, you spend way more time at your desk than you ever will at a dining table. For another, if you don't like your table, you can save up and get a different one.

If you don't like your desk? Well, at least you can put up pictures of your pets and kids to disguise it a little. The premier example of this phenomenon is Milton, from Mike Judge's '90s cult classic "Office Space." Milton will endure any indignity as long as he can keep his red Swingline stapler.

In his very funny debut novel, Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris gives us Milton's spiritual heir: Chris Yop, a 40-something ad man who will risk arrest for the sake of "his" office chair.

Set at a Chicago ad agency at the turn of the century, Ferris's novel is for anyone who chuckles over "Dilbert," can recite lines from "Office Space," or has an appointment on Thursday nights with "The Office." "Then We Came to the End" is a vicious sendup of cubicle culture that somehow manages not to lose sight of its characters' humanity.


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