insignia of bureaucracy

The bureaucrat's dreadful staple remover, symbol of might and magic

Having rewatched “Brazil” and talking about bureaucracy going rampant, this one’s well overdue. When years ago I for the first time read Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon” (Stephenson 1999)—in my opinion by far his best book—I especially was delighted by this passage:

Randy grew up in a college town in eastern Washington State, graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle, and landed a Clerk Typist II job at the library there—specifically the Interlibrary Loan Department—where his job was to process incoming loan requests mailed in from smaller libraries all over the region and, conversely, to mail out requests to other libraries. If nine-year-old Randy Waterhouse had been able to look into the future and see himself in this career, he would have been delighted beyond measure: the primary tool of the Interlibrary Loan Department was the Staple Remover. Young Randy had seen one of these devices in the hands of his fourth-grade teacher and been enthralled by its cunning and deadly appearance, so like the jaws of some futuristic robot dragon. He had, in fact, gone out of his way to staple things incorrectly just so he could prevail on his teacher to unstaple them, giving him another glimpse of the blood-chilling mandibles in action. He had gone so far as to steal a staple remover from an untended desk at church and then incorporate it into an Erector-set robot hunter-killer device with which he terrorized much of the neighborhood; its pit-viper yawn separated many a cheap plastic toy from its parts and accessories before the theft was discovered and Randy made an example of before God and man. Now, in the Interlibrary Loan office, Randy had not just one but several staple removers in his desk drawer and was actually obligated to use them for an hour or two a day.

And now imagine the chill that ran down my spine when, at my first day of being a state officer at the university, our magnificent secretary stopped me when I was just about to enter and claim my very own office, saying “You’ll need this one,” and handing me, by means of a somber ritualistic gesture, above pictured device. Instantaneously I realized that now I was no more an academic, but a true bureaucrat.

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