Santa: [from inside the bag where he is kidnapped] “Me on vacation? On Christmas Eve?”
(The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton, 1993)
“You better watch out, you better not cry,” sang the voice.
We could hear it from far away, and, thankful as we were for the advance warning, hurriedly hiding our just-bitten-into sandwiches under a stack of project papers, we also could not help wincing.
It was a learned response, triggered by frequent negative stimuli.
“Better not pout, I’m telling you why,” sang the voice, much closer now. The voice resounded loudly, even if it didn’t always hit the right notes.
It was the voice of our master, or rather, our mistress for the night. Long experience with the acoustics of the vast empty night time floors around us indicated that she must be just around the corner. We bent our heads.
“He’s making a list, and checking it twice; Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice”
Singing the lines with relish, our Shift Leader entered the Center of Global Excellence.
Everyone looked straight into their screens and moved their hands as fast as possible, something that was actually counter-productive to the execution of the complex graphics we were working on, but was considered evidence that we were not slacking off.
“Santa Claus! Is Coming!!” Walking between the rows of desks (which involved a lot of squeezing and near-misses with foot tripping bags and fallen documents because we were packed in so tightly), she raised her volume even further. “To Towwwwn!!!”
Once, only once, my desk neighbor, who was a struggling artist during the daylight hours, had called up a cartoon image of the Shift Leader driving a sleigh spiked with red pencils, swinging a fearsome whip over a group of cowed elves with reindeer antlers, wearing leg irons that looked like the gaping mouths of our foot rests.
I let him know that I had seen it, but said nothing. This is a place where alliances are unreliable, but blackmail can save your skin any night.
I didn’t dare to look, but I could hear her breath as she passed behind me.
“You better watch out, you better not cry.” The singing stopped. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I froze. My desk neighbor couldn’t hide a sigh of relief, then assumed an innocent expression. I felt everyone’s attention on me, although nobody was looking.
“Sit up straight!” the voice shouted, next to my ear. I jerked up and assumed what I hoped was the correct position.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake,” she sang triumphantly, passing on to the next row.
“Santa Claus! Is coming!! To Towwwwn!!!”
Every year, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the Most Successful Bank in the World is taken over by a gaggle of Zombies, called the “Skeleton Staff.” I know because I have been part of that Skeleton Staff myself several years running. And just like you, I was human once…
Two main methods of Zombification are practiced: one for the bankers, and one for everyone else.
The Zombie Banker:
Officially, of course, the Bank supports family values. Everyone proclaims they want to go home and spend time with their loved ones.
But when it comes to the point it turns out that the Bank can, of course, never close down completely. It just is not possible. The planet would come to a standstill, and then what? We would all fall off (This year we may have fallen off already of course, if the Mayans turn out to be right after all).
Deals are still being done in the “non-Christmas” zones of the world, and emergencies can arise at any moment.
And once that has been established, it often seems that the holidays are an excellent time for the 27th revision of a pitch book that will ultimately be used sometime in February. Or maybe never.
So, like fire fighters and doctors, some bankers have to sacrifice themselves and become Skeleton Staff, roaming the deserted floors in search of – what is it, again, that Zombies are so notoriously in search of? Can’t remember… These Zombies are essential to the Bank. Or are they? The very highest of bankers take the last flight out on Christmas Eve.
The Center Zombie:
My own zombification is a lot less distinguished.
In the Center of Global Excellence, we, too, are reminded of family values, but in our case it is to encourage as many of us as possible to “take time off” over the holidays.
The bankers, as higher forms of Zombiehood, have salaries. We are contractors (when it suits the bank to treat us as such), which means “no work, no pay.” The Bank may need us in its last line of defense against chaos, but, please, do watch the bottom line.
So there won’t be enough shifts for everyone. So – see above.
Every year, around the time of writing this article, we Center boys and girls engage in a high-stakes gamble: take time off, or scramble for whatever shifts we can get.
It’s not unlike the trading floor: we make blind bets, and we don’t control the outcome. All we can go on is a gut feeling.
I hope it’s not going to be like last year, when all throughout the twelve days of Christmas, we got four-hour shifts instead of eight-hour shifts, “to make it fair,” resulting in long, extra-expensive commutes for half the usual money almost every day.
Maybe we’ll get just three or four full shifts over the duration – but then, of course, the shifts could get cut short and would be only four hours anyway. There is no way of knowing.
Is it worth the investment to gamble on the shifts? Well, if I take time off I don’t get any money at all – plus I have to pay for my travel.
Is Zombieland a good deal or a bad deal? I am betting on an unknown future of a commodity – just like the brokers downstairs (Maybe I could apply to upgrade? I feel I’m prepared).
The only difference is that now I risk my own money.
Nevermind, it’ll all be alright in Zombieland.
Mince pies after midnight
“You better watch out, you better not cry…”
The Shift Leader was singing again, and why not? She was bringing us Christmas cheer. And the closer we got to the holidays, the cheerier it all became.
We knew that Zombieland was near when she started to bring in THE BAG.
This Bag is filled with mince pies from the local supermarket, where they have been marked down repeatedly until our Shift Leader gets them for ten pence apiece just before midnight.
Add lying around for a few hours on the dusty desk next to the printer, and who can blame the pies if they go very dry and suspicious-smelling inside, while their crust goes hard and soft in all the wrong places?
And who can blame us, you may well ask, if we are less than delighted when the Shift Leader comes around and puts them on our crowded desks during the small hours?
Well, the Shift Leader can, and she does. She watches all of us with an eagle eye, and those who, for whatever reason, don’t eat up find themselves on the short side of any favors, such as the better Christmas shifts.
Some people try to hide their pies by crumbling them down the narrow slits of the desk partitions, but of course that only encourages the mice. Yes, we have plenty of mice, as well as fleas, in the Center of Global Excellence and elsewhere in the Most Successful Bank in the Universe.
Maybe a pitcher of mulled wine might help those nightmarish pies go down, but, of course, alcohol is strictly prohibited in the Bank, at least officially, as are all other drugs (also “officially”).
The bankers go to the company Christmas party, unless it is cancelled for “macroeconomic reasons.”
If it goes ahead (and sometimes even if it doesn’t), we help them prepare their ‘jokey’ presentations. Whatever happens, we must enforce the style guidelines. And, of course, there’s always a comedian who tries to sneak in a picture of naked women.
We take those out and endure the stupid comments. If they put them back in we don’t know, because, mostly, we are not invited to the party.
“Permanent employees only.”
Once in my seven years here, when the Bank had made a record profit and someone apparently suggested that the real-life male/female ratio at those parties could use some re-balancing, we were actually invited.
Some of us went, “just to see what it was like.”
Those who went said there was good, but not fantastic, food and later some attempts at dancing. I don’t know because that night, too, I was part of the Skeleton Staff. The bankers who were non-essential that night and could therefore attend, told themselves (and each other) how fun the party would be and hopefully exchanged hangover cures well ahead of the occasion.
More cheer was introduced by the raucous telling of boast stories about Christmas Parties Past. The universally acknowledged winners of these boast competitions were those who had drunk so much that they could not remember the parties.
I suppose the Bank could have saved itself a lot of money and bother by just taking them all down to the Third Basement and no one would have been the wiser, as long as enough alcohol was injected into their systems. We Skeletons upstairs could have Photoshopped their pictures into the most exclusive night club backgrounds.
But of course, that never happened. “Cost-cutting measures” that sometimes took our very tea bags away never extended to the locations of Christmas Parties, even in the years of austerity.
New Year’s Eve, as it is traditionally called (but the Bank doesn’t have the time for fully formed words, and, in the interest of efficiency, uses acronyms wherever it can), was in many ways the opposite of Christmas in Zombieland.
While it was considered almost a compliment to be indispensable over Christmas (and perhaps, if truth be told – which it never is at the Bank – occasionally a secret relief to some of us to exercise our family values from the safety of our desks in the City), working on NYE would make a banker not only into a Zombie, but a very sad Zombie indeed.
NYE was another one of those occasions when a banker could (and probably should) get so drunk that he couldn’t remember anything, but this time all on champagne. Opinions varied on the relative boasting rights of paying for this yourself, especially when it was an opportunity to impress less fortunate friends, or being invited by those who could extend more privilege.
Unfortunately, the public celebration of NYE also carried the risk of being outed.
Outed as one of the 99% of entry level bankers who didn’t have a girlfriend, or who had lost her in the course of duty at the Bank. Or perhaps didn’t really remember what she looked like because they never saw her.
Frantic attempts were made to find a legitimate escort for NYE, and no, it couldn’t be your mum, however much she might be the killer cougar.
I’ve known quite a few bankers (even on higher levels, after a divorce or three) who preferred the quiet of Zombieland on the working floors, and looked up in irritation from their spreadsheets when the fireworks went off over the Thames, a spectacular show that we always watched from the windows of the Center. After all, we did have the best view in London. And we weren’t the most senior Skeletons here.
But whatever happens over the holidays, come the first week of January it will be business as usual again at the Most Successful Bank in the Universe, except for those who broke a few limbs on the slopes and now really do walk the Zombie Walk.
And if you miss out on all the Secret Zombie fun this year, don’t worry: Just stay close, and one day, you, too, will become what we are and join us as one of the Skeleton Staff.