originally published in Jersey Devil Press Issue 66
I’m the only female swan in the office of a very successful start-up. Vanity Fair and Fortune have profiled our CEO, a handsome teenage grizzly bear. He has no idea what he’s doing. He lumbers around, throwing fish from the $100,000 custom aquarium (we still aren’t even profitable!) into his mouth, talking about how great salmon is for his fur while the rest of us fill out spreadsheets and make him rich. Only in San Francisco could you have a CEO who hibernates for six months a year.
The bear has a temper. If something displeases him during a meeting he roars and growls like a madman. During these outbursts I roll my eyes at the golden retrievers from sales while the bear’s assistant, an aggrieved sparrow, tries to feed him whichever cold-pressed juice BuzzFeed says is best for nerves. Watching a bird try to feed a bear an $8 bottle of juice is enough to keep a draft of my resignation letter in a secret folder, believe me.
The worm asks me to lunch almost every day, and occasionally out of professional decorum I feel obliged to eat with him. Last week as we waited for our orders in a café he sank back into his sticky tube of a body, looked me up and down and asked, “Hey now, so how do you keep so fit?” I told him through a pursed beak that I fly to work. He’s a worm who eats roast beef sandwiches for lunch and he has the nerve to ask me questions about my body? Do you see what I have to deal with here?
Recently I went to a business dinner in Los Angeles with the bear. He drank too much in front of customers. He was an embarrassment aside from being a bear, which is saying something. When we got back to the hotel he said, “Bears mate for life too, you know.” He turned over his paw to display his room key, to ask me up without saying a word. I honked a terse goodnight and he went inside alone.
Once at a sales meeting I sat with ten males in the conference room listening to the retrievers explain why they weren’t making progress with a customer.
“We have tried everything,” one of them said, his tail stupidly thumping on the carpet. “We might need to consider lowering our price point.”
You would’ve thought someone just opened the car door at the vet! I was worried the bear might kill us all.
“Alright, buddy,” he said. “Maybe we should try sending in the swan to sweeten the pot.” He winked and patted me on the tail feathers, right there in the meeting! Relieved to not have been killed and eaten, everyone laughed riotously. What could I do? I laughed along with them all, hating myself.
Today we are at the largest technology conference of the year in Las Vegas. We are press darlings. We are the brightest new menagerie of innovators from Silicon Valley according to everyone from Cat Fancy to The Verge. The bear, the worm and the retrievers are feeling like kings and want to celebrate at a strip club, which sounds about as appealing to me as being plucked for a pillow. But I am part of the team. I don’t have a choice.
Inside the club the bear puts his arm around me and surveys a lineup of strippers.
“What type of woman do you like?” he asks me.
Do I need this? Do I need to be sexually harassed, groped and have my life threatened on an almost daily basis by a horny five-year-old grizzly bear with an anger disorder and a habit of commenting on every single one of Rihanna’s Instagrams with the kissy face emoji? No. No, I do not.
I reach my breaking point. I lean in. I raise my wings and hiss, charging through the hallways and champagne rooms. Turns out an angry swan can create great hysteria around naked woman and sad little boners. The women scream and the men hold up fists, like they have a chance of landing a punch on a swan in the dark! All eyes are on me and the room is deadly quiet aside from the song “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence, which lends a certain measure of gravitas to the situation. I spot the bear, the worm and the dogs in the swirling purple spotlights. They are staring at me with their tails between their legs. They are terrified wild animals. I think the worm is scared of me too but - as you can imagine - it is hard to say.
I have said my piece. I waddle elegantly towards the exit where a stunned bouncer stands with his back against the wall.
“Excuse me, sir? You should really think about calling animal control,” I say.
They can take that as my resignation.