It was a gift. A gag gift, to be specific. And a rather passive-aggressive one, the type that passes for good-natured ribbing when it’s your boss who picks it out. The kind you’d better good-naturedly put on as soon as you receive it to show that you’re not offended, despite how offended you actually are. And then everyone has a good laugh, which you’d better join in on, because in the world of office politics a sense of humor just means that you’re okay with being humiliated. But, of course, you’re not that good an actor, and just the tiniest shadow of the spiteful demon inside shows up on your face, and the office suck-up—the one with the perpetual whine who pronounces his w’s with h’s in front of them—he notices and just can’t let it…
No. I can’t continue down that road. Just keep smiling.
You have to. You’re wearing the damn hat. Suck-up’s call-out set the tone for the rest of the office. (No one likes him, but everyone wants to be him.) Now, whenever anyone wants a to quote-unquote earn a cheap laugh, or even if there’s just a lull in the conversation, all they have to do is point at me and bark out, “Hey, Tommy. Still got the hat on?”
Yes, I have the damn hat on. That’s why you can see it on top of my head.
I don’t say that, though. I smile. The hat forces me to.
And I mean that literally. It’s a Happiness Hat.
A woman invented this thing to force you to smile. If you don’t smile, if the corners of your mouth aren’t pointed upward at the requisite 28.4 degrees, or whatever the hell it is, you get jabbed in the back of your head, with relief only coming when the grin is plastered on once again like you’re some creepy statue surrounded by dead roses and a crow.
“Never thought I’d see Tommy so happy!” cries out Steve. One drink of very mildly spiked punch and he’s already an asshole, and a redundant one at that. I convert my smile from sincere to sarcastic, although I don’t know if the difference is enough to show.
Frankly, I’m losing feeling in my jaw.
The damned metal spike burrows into my skull. I give the requisite yelp, because—as if you need to be told this—it hurts. Everyone in the room ejaculates fresh hysterics at this, and every one of them points as if I’m a shiny piece of tin foil and their sheeplike brains have been damaged to the point that a shiny piece of tin foil is the single greatest thing in the universe.
The smile that I put on as soon as I can stop shrieking in pain is somewhat less than sincere.
“There he’s spreading sunshine again,” observes Betty. She waves. Does she think I don’t know that she’s there? Her voice is just as bad as the metal spike. The only difference is, the spike makes a gaping hole while her voice peels your skin off in layers.
The spike pounds again. “I was smiling!” I scream, because I a,. The servo that keeps pressing the spike doesn’t care, however.
“That’s not what the hat says,” chortles Big Boss Man, but he is an imbecile; my mouth has never been more cheery. I can take no more. I rip the hat off my head, and hurl it to the floor, and I stomp on it, and when I hear the motor has stopped spinning, I kick the remnants with every bit of force I can muster.
This, apparently, is a breach of office protocol.
“If you didn’t like it, you just had to say,” whimpers Big Boss Man. It’s the most credible imitation of an emotion I’ve ever seen from him, and I’ve seen him fire a dozen people the day before Christmas.
I don’t care. The back of my head throbs, and I rub it out of some instinctive belief that the act will lessen the pain.
There’s an indentation back there. My pointer finger slides in, maybe halfway to the first knuckle.
Not life-threatening, I guess, but not normal. Unsettling. I shouldn’t poke it anymore. My hand comes forward, and my fingertip is splattered with blood. I hold it up, accusing—this is what you did.
“Did that come from you, buddy?” asks Big Boss Man. “I guess you need to smile like you need a hole in the head!”
Merriment ensues. I believe I have given the party its fair consideration, however. Without the threat of serious brain damage, people soon stop watching me, and I am able to slip out; if anyone notices and cries out, “Hey! Whereya goin’!” they do so quietly enough that I do not hear and need not respond.
I sit at my desk. This will pass. It always does. And if, one day, it fails to—if the humiliation accumulation proves greater than my repressive capabilities—well, I suppose I don’t know what happens that day. Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to be around for it.
Ooh! Fiction ripped from the headlines! And let me make it clear that this is a work of fiction. (Although if you really needed that spelled out, then you have problems. Frankly you should be kind of offended that I’m making it clear like that. I know I am. But I’m also assuming that eventually I’ll be famous, and therefore rich, and I’d rather keep some of my riches rather than losing them all in a lawsuit over a hat.)
The story is fiction, but the Happiness Hat is a real thing. It operates, as near as I can tell, about as I described it. I don’t think it runs amok in the way I wrote it, but hey… it’s comedy, and comedy is more comedic when amok is run.