It must be the time of day, or my mood, or this seemingly neverending trickling up through stairs and sweat. Or something. But each step up feels like a century, a moment in time perfectly defined. Frozen, bottled up and packaged for selling to the highest bidder.

I feel my heart beating fast. Images storm my head. One-liners.

I love the smell of Napalm in the morning.

No, that's not right. Let me try again.

I love the smell of clean carpet in the morning. That smell, you know, that plastic-bleach smell?

It smells like... victory.

The blaze of tracer bullets going past my head. Cognac, nighttime, a tender kiss. Sanitized images of war that come to me through the remembered echoes of a thousand movies and newscasts. I begin to wonder whether my life is really mine at all, or simply a reflection, a pale resonance of something bigger that's happening somewhere else. Missile strikes, smart bombs, crosshairs seen through nightvision cameras in pasty yellow or green approaching a building, and then nothing, nothing at all. Green, spring green, Amazon green, jungle green, like I've seen over and over through electrons emitted by a TV screen, mango trees, impossibly large flowers and dense foliage that quickly turn into an impenetrable rain, until all I see is a courtain of soft water whose only intent is to blind me. Images that aren't really mine, images borrowed, stolen from the nightmares and dreams and hopes of others, images that haunt me even though I've never felt them, felt them in the flesh, felt them close, like a bullet searing hot through my muscles, or that perfect touch that we've been sold on time and again, that perfect phrase, that perfect kiss, that perfect moment. We have been sold on so many fantasies of perfection that we can't seem to love reality for what it is anymore. We have forgotten the pleasure of those imperfections that make the universe bearable.

Plus, fantasies are useless when events clearly go against them.

Like now.

I don't understand what's happening here anymore. I get reports that should have been sent to my manager. Reports that, it seems, I've sent myself. Only I know I haven't. Or have I? That perfectly built edifice of pretense that passes for reality is breaking down. And quickly.

It's the adrenalin, that's what it is.

Random turns. Images of Empire. Roman. Spanish, French, British, German.

American.

Yes, that's what it is.

It is the adrenalin. Adrenalin that breaks through my most basic rational mechanisms and leaves me alone, naked, wrapped in incipient darkness.

Jordan.

I see her eyes. Blue, intense, going through me like armor-piercing bullets. I hear her laugh. I remember those last few words. I wonder, where is she now?

She has wisdom, and knows what to do, Jim Morrison sings softly in my ear, just as another number half my height, red, almost menacing, is left behind. Fifth floor. Not bad. I'm on my way.

She has wisdom, and knows what to do. And it feels true somehow, but then I wonder if the whispered tunes or misguided poetry of a million rock stars could really express what I feel right now.

And then it happens.

A golden moment. Gold.

Bullion.

Bullion?

You mean those little cubes you put in hot water to make soup? A voice says.

No. Not the little cubes you put in hot water to make soup, George Clooney replies.

Hey, Mr. Clooney, I say. Love your work.

Thanks, he says. Want an autograph?

No, I say. I want my celebrities happy, healthy and remote. I wouldn't want to, you know, feel like you're human or anything.

Human?

What? You go to the bathroom too? You don't say...

And that's our problem, isn't it? We think that it's better to pursue perfection, as long as we don't actually have to do anything. Besides, we know it's awful. But we need it there, somewhere. So we need a bunch of people to do, say, endless takes for three seconds of a movie so that they can make us feel, for one second, alive.

Well, I'm alive now. And I still feel that sometimes. What does that make me?

We need this even for seemingly small things. Like our job. Ted's smile shows up. You have to increase your happiness, his face says.

Give me a raise, and I'll be happier.

You are not your bank account, says Brad Pitt.

Damn. Even revolution has been institutionalized. By Twentieth Century Fox, no less.

What are we supposed to do?

I know. Not Anarchy: Anomie.

Go ahead. Look it up. You know what I mean anyway.

Be horrified at the dictionary.

Anarchy is too tame for what we are. Simply to institutionalize chaos won't do.

That's what's in store for us.

Here, let me help, says a movie star as they hold your stomach. And in the movie world that's in your head, even puking by the side of the road rates as a great experience. You know what I mean?

Of course you do.

I know what this is now. Change. That's what it is. The sands of predictability are shifting under my very feet.

Change.

We are not bred to like it.

The door. The number. My floor.

I turn the doorknob and open the door. Into the light beyond. A new day. Fluorescent tubes and remote reflections of the sun greet me.

Maybe I've got it wrong. Maybe it's not the office that is changing. Maybe it's me, even if the shift is subtle, impossible to pin down. Even if everything else is the same, I'm not.

Not anymore.