CHAPTER 1: The Meeting
There's no such thing as love at first sight.
Jim Halpert had discovered that once you graduated from college, dreams burned to a crisp. Instead, you ended up trawling through job sites for hours until your patience snapped and you picked anything short of dealing drugs.
Well today, he had avoided crime. Today, he stood on the cusp of an exciting future, as Mrs. Jan Levinson-Gould had proclaimed during his interview. Where was this exciting future? Inside a concrete block that quietly announced itself as Scranton Business Park number 1725. Undoubtedly, number 1725 was not an address, but an indication of how many years he would spend behind a desk.
A company named Dunder Mifflin Incorporated, which, by the way, did not sell muffins or mufflers as the name suggested, felt delighted to offer him a position selling paper. Yes, paper. Jan had told him over the phone that he shone during the interview; she could not think of a more promising paper salesman if she tried. Maybe so. For the interview, Jim had applied liberal amounts of grease to his hair, had been sweating, and had made unrealistic promises.
Now he need only seize his future and the sky was the limit. But where was the sky, exactly? He glanced up, but only concrete filled his view-- concrete and windows with blinds. Scranton Business Park had evidently been modelled on a prison, and he was on the cusp of a life sentence.
Clutching his messenger bag, he bowed his head, entered, and asked the receptionist for directions to his cell-- otherwise known as an office.
For some reason, Jan, determined to sell this job as being delivered from the heavens, had become uncommunicative when he had asked about the Scranton branch's working environment under the regional manager, Michael Scott. Instead, she had turned away and mumbled something into her pinstriped jacket about unorthodox behaviour.
As soon as he mentioned Dunder Mifflin, the receptionist and security guard at Scranton Business Park went from smiles to grimaces. Before either could reply, however, Jim heard raucous laughter.
“Well hello, hello, hello!” said a voice.
A man stood behind him, a man with slick black hair and bulging eyes who puffed his chest and threw his arms out wide. Jim had the sudden fear that if this man puffed his chest any further or threw his arms out any wider, he might burst, spreading glitter and streamers everywhere.
“Good morning,” he said, blinking. “Do you...work here?”
The man pulled a face and stuck his hands on his hips. “Sandra, why didn't you tell the lanky kid I was coming? Practised that pose for hours. Wasted.”
Sandra gave the man a forced smile. “He just arrived, Michael. I'm sure even you can see that.”
Michael. Jim raised both eyebrows, waiting for confirmation-- please God-- that this fanatic wasn't the same Michael Scott who worked for Dunder Mifflin's Scranton Branch.
“That's the way we like it, Sandra,” said Michael, with a manic grin. “Build up suspense until the big reveal. Michael Scott here.”
Jim blinked, then forced himself to speak. “Jim Halpert. Nice to meet you.”
Michael Scott's handshake felt like an iron vice, another reminder that, after finding a regular job, he would likewise be clamped to his desk. What a life, one that had barely begun, and yet he knew every detail for the next four decades. Life was where dreams went to die.
“Shall we?” asked Michael, with a dramatic wave.
Jim followed his new boss into an elevator, making some monotonous remarks about his pleasure, excitement, and dedication to hard work. But Michael Scott wasn't listening. After a pause in the conversation, the regional manager complained about Sandra's attitude, then poked fun of her bra size with a cup half-full analogy.
“Get it?” said Michael, cackling like The Joker from Batman. “Cup half-full?”
Wincing, Jim forced a smile. He wanted to slice off his ears like Van Gogh, but it would be rather difficult to make sales calls for the next forty years.
“And here,” said Michael, shoving the door open with a flourish, “is my kingdom. Far as the eye can see.”
What a kingdom. Paper, paper, paper everywhere. White paper, coloured paper, A4, A5, post-it paper, lined, plain, and every other kind. Boxes of paper surrounded the receptionist's desk, which also had a rack of message slips dotted along its ledge. The arrangement reminded him of fresh napkins at a restaurant, except here, a waiter would surely trip and break his neck.
Paper draped over the sides of every desk he could see and undoubtedly those he could not see. It peeked out of folders, slid off in-trays, poured out of wastepaper baskets, sprouted from files, and peeled off walls.
Where no paper existed, he saw white and green boxes, pens, catalogues, telephones with endless wires, computers, and recycling bins. It was as though every object had insisted that this office deserved no space. Nor should it have silence: the telephones rang every few minutes, and quiet voices answered. So too did the photocopier hum, answered by the growl of a shredder.
Last of all, he noticed life. People existed in this sea of paper, yes-- but they didn't fight the deluge. Instead, they nestled within the sheets until they were almost invisible. Nobody observed his entrance.
Michael cackled again, marched to the receptionist's desk, and pounded his fists on the ledge like a toddler. Jim would have protested, except he had to save a box of jellybeans that had threatened to spill.
“Pammy!” said Michael to the woman, who had been writing. He didn't apologise for alarming her. “Or should I say, the Pamster? I mean, you do eat a lot of salad. Get it? Anyway, stop what you're doing and meet my new friend, Jimbo.”
Like Sandra, this woman stared at Michael in quiet resentment. But her expression changed when she met Jim's eyes.
“Hello,” she said quietly.
“Well?” asked Michael, after a pause. “Whatcha say, Jimbo? Do I hear signs of life up there? You are looking at Pamela Beesly, our receptionist here at Dunder Mifflin. See the tag? Receptionist! Old as this office, aren't you, Pammy?”
“It's nice to meet you,” Pamela said, offering her hand. “You can call me Pam. I assume your name is Jim, rather than Jimbo.”
Jim didn't answer; he shook her hand, but was still staring.
“Do you have a last name?” she asked, with a shy grin.
“It's Halford, isn't it?” said Michael, giving him a curious look.
Now he had to speak. “It's Halpert.” His voice had gone raspy.
“OK,” said Michael, “close enough. Pammy here will tell you that I do not remember names: I play with them.”
He glanced at Pam, who gave him another tiny grin before returning to her serious, intimidated expression. Suddenly, he wanted to laugh, but restrained himself just in time. When Pam grinned again, her green eyes were shining.
“Well,” said Michael, drumming his fingers on the ledge, “since neither of you have anything to say, let me say that I haven't got all day to chat. Any messages, Pam? Yes?”
“I gave them to you this morning,” said Pam. Her voice was softer than the cashmere sweater Jim received last Christmas.
To distract himself, he glanced round at the other employees to see what they made of a boss who couldn't remember his own messages. However, everybody else continued working. So he was forced to watch Michael deny seeing any messages, question Pam's eyesight, then, after some needling, finally surrender.
“Pam is such a pipsqueak,” the manager said, turning to him without a hint of shame. “Real uptight about dumb messages and forms. You'll get used to her nagging in the end. Hey Pam, why don't you show our new salesman to his desk, you know, make yourself useful? I'll find those goddamn messages. Orientation video at 10, Jimbo.”
And with those words, Michael Scott, regional manager at Dunder Mifflin, sauntered to another room and slammed the door. Through the blinds, Jim saw him slump into a chair and rifle through his desk, presumably seeking those elusive messages.
Only after that exit did a few people turn around or look up, give Jim a shy smile and then return to work as though nothing had happened.
Hearing a small cough behind him, he turned back. Pam Beesly now stood next to her desk, smiling apologetically. Dressed in a grey cardigan with never-ending sleeves, a rose-coloured shirt, and a pencil skirt, she looked every inch the receptionist. But her hair was golden brown like honey, pinned back from her face and flowing across both shoulders. A dusting of freckles covered her nose. She had inquisitive eyes that sparkled with amusement, and, when standing, leaned to the right with her hands clasped together.
“Hi,” he said, dazed.
Pam blushed and ducked her head. “Don't ask.”
She giggled, which made her eyes shine brighter than the ceiling lamps. Then she cleared her throat and offered to show him to his desk. Her voice had such a musical sound; Jim felt he might rob a bank if she asked him nicely.
“Here you are,” she said.
His new desk sat adjacent to that of a frowning, pouting man whose eyes were magnified by his wire-framed glasses. He spoke on the phone with a clipped accent, as though pretending to be British.
Then Jim noticed that the man's name tag said Dwight K Schrute and immediately changed his assessment from a fake British accent to a precise German one.
“Enjoy this moment,” said Pam, leaning close, “because you're never going to go back to this time before you met your desk-mate, Dwight.”
Jim stared at her again, his smile growing even wider. “Thanks, Pam.”
Then he watched her traipse back to her desk, tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, and pick up the phone. He watched her for a while, ignoring Dwight's expectant stare and outstretched hand, ignoring Michael Scott's muffled “I found them!” from the room behind, and ignoring the distant sound of a shredder.
Years later, he would remember those words, and he would realise that he had been wrong from the beginning.
Love at first sight did exist.