Care of McSweeney's
Vladimir Nabokov Didn't Have to Put Up With Payroll.
BY Shane Ryan
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He didn't waste a precious second considering the proper allotment of shift differential or overtime pay. And you know why? Because, back then, people respected creative genius.
Teri, you're my bossâ€”my "patron," if you willâ€”and all I ask is similar treatment.
Vladimir Nabokov never had to worry about the vending machine. He didn't have to keep a constant vigil to ensure that Lydia, the overweight Group Leader who becomes frustrated when the peanut M&M's get stuck, wasn't in the process of wrecking the whole contraption with violent shakes. No, old Vlad didn't concern himself with those matters. People took care of him. They understood an artist's need for serenity and isolation.
Vladimir Nabokov didn't have to hide a box of plastic spoons under his desk. He never had to dole them out individually to employees as though he were dealing with children. He didn't live with the depressing reality that people in his office would actually steal cheap silverware if given the chance. The V-Man was protected from those ugly truths. Admirers flooded him with compliments and gifts, and they never asked anything in return except the eventual realization of his talent.
Vladimir Nabokov was never rebuffed by the secretary. Let me tell you something: If he came on to Jen? Game over. She'd melt on the spot. And, yes, I know he's been dead since 1977, and is therefore technically unable to seduce anyone. But the point remains. What she wouldn't do is assume that haughty demeanor, call him "pathetic," and ask that he "please stop leaving musical voicemails, because they aren't cute." And she never would have gone to you with that harassment complaint, Teri. In Nabokov's day, secretaries threw themselves at his feet, and he told them all to go to hell. But, man, if he sang "Blue Moon" over the phone, a-cappella style ... you'd see some swooning then, believe you me. I'm talking old-school, hand-to-forehead legitimate faints. I'm talking hordes of teens with bouffant hairdos screaming hysterically while John Lennon sings "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
Vladimir Nabokov was never questioned about the content of his reading. That's a fact. Sometimes an author has to do research. Ever heard of the concept? For God's sake, his most famous work was about a pedophile! And I've got to take heat for visiting one lousy website with a "Soccer Babes" theme? Spare me your indignation, Teri. You may be my boss, but you don't understand art. Plus, the soccer babes were exclusively 18 and older. It says so right on the home page. You ought to be thanking me. Why is this even an issue?
Vladimir Nabokov never had to face the mockery of security guards because he liked to dance on the elevators. He was a brilliant man, but, just like me, he could not have known about the cameras. Why are there security cameras on elevators, anyway? What's the point? Are elevators in an office complex really a hotbed for crime? And, yeah, maybe my dancing was pretty "out there," but I still think Andy's impression was exaggerated. There was certainly no call for the other staff to videotape the burlesque and put it on YouTube. That's unprofessional. Maybe you should be talking to them, Teri.
Vladimir Nabokov was never questioned about strange noises he made in the handicapped bathroom. That was nobody's business but his own, and he'd have resented the hell out of anyone asking. But they wouldn't, because he was a writer and writers are eccentric. I'm a writer, too, OK? I was probably doing a crossword, or composing a sonnet. That was the noiseâ€”pen on paper. I write rhythmically, and with above-average force. Sonically, that can be misinterpreted. And, no, I'm not handicapped, Teri, but there's only one handicapped person on the floor, and, frankly, I think Gerald abuses the privilege of having his own restroom. It wouldn't kill him to share.
Vladimir Nabokov was never punished because of a little frustration. Did you know he once tried to incinerate the only working copy of Lolita? You probably didn't know that, Teri, but it's true. If it weren't for his wife's quick reaction, one of the greatest novels in history would be nothing but ash and memory. So I find it more than a little unfair when you reprimand me for hurling the coffee machine out of the pantry. I got a little crazy, sure, but that's artistic temperament! Take that away and you've taken my very soul! The fact is, cappuccino mix got on my clothes. Ever been overwhelmed by the smell of cheap French vanilla? It's no picnic, and I think my reaction was partly justified. Of course, I regret that the machine hit Jen (whom I did not see coming, contrary to her hysterical claims). It's never fun when someone breaks a foot. But let's not pretend she didn't deserve it. (See above.)
Lastly, Vladimir Nabokov never faced termination for going on mental flights of fancy. Do you realize he spent most summers chasing butterflies around mountain passes in Switzerland? That was his hobby. That's when his imagination ran free. He was a dreamer. And, Teri, I'm a dreamer, too. When you found me slumped on my keyboard this morning, apparently sleeping, your anger prevented you from recognizing that aspect. I was dreaming, Teri. I was creating. For that moment, I was beautiful.
So fire me if you will. But, like Nabokov's associates, some of whom became secondary characters in his impressive oeuvre, you risk being memorialized in the literary canonâ€”or at least in my blogâ€”as a philistine. Choose wisely!