Dan Gutstein is the author of non/fiction (stories) and Bloodcoal & Honey (poems) as well as stories and poems that have appeared in more than 95 publications. He lives in Washington, D.C., works in Baltimore, and cheers for Swansea City in the English Premier League. His newest nickname is El Gringo.
I Depreciate That
A group of colleagues—friends and enemies alike—had gathered at my cubicle, a sort of wake for the living. I had been tasked with depreciating all the telephone poles in the United States of America. “Does that include territories—like Guam?” said Emma, one of my fiercest competitors. “There are new poles,” said another observer, “old poles, and ordinary poles.” It was an extreme, a polar, assignment, and while I understood it in theory, I could not devise the spreadsheet, the statistical framework, the mathematics. Reddick had begun, already, before I left his office, to help me with the numbers, but the terrific abstraction of his ‘help’ only served to muddy the muddy assignment, and while I nodded as if I understood his advice, at the same time, my inner voice was commenting that I had no bleeping clue. “Take a representative state,” said another in the gathering, “Maryland, let’s say, or Missouri, and multiply. Or break it down per capita.”
We were a group of scientists, dismal scientists, economists, pontificators, in a fast-track firm that ruled its industry. “Wait, wait, wait,” said Eloise, the senior staffer in the ruck. “Are we talking wires, too? And those big nails … the footholds the repairmen step onto, to scale the poles? Are we talking substations and capacitors?