The Bouncers at the Buffet

(or A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Form, Again)

This piece is some absurdist black comedy I wrote in 2023 when I had reached the end of my tether due to logging in umpteen times a day at work. Some of the metaphors have more impact if you know the exact context, but I think you will catch the drift all the same.

“Hello Mr Owen, good morning! Could I just have your password, and could you just touch this weird electric metal thing again please?”

It’s 9am and I’ve just arrived at the Charlie’s Buffet Restaurant once again, ready for another day of assembling and eating plates of delicious food. Mr. AnyConnect is stationed diligently at the entrance, and he is very strict about making sure that certain parts of the restaurant are only accessible by authorised personnel. I wince and write in my passphrase (which is shorter now than it used to be, I’ve written it so many times). I reach over and touch the weird electric metal thing I have to touch every morning too, which I think also writes out a lot of letters onto Mr. AnyConnect’s ledger.

“Oh, sorry Mr Owen, network authentication attempt timed out.” He chuckles in the way of someone who can only chuckle at a common inconvenience that doesn’t really affect them. “Must be your network, could you please do that all again sir?”

“But my network has been working fine for an hour, and it timed out in no time at all?”

“Well I don’t know, that’s just what it says here in the eff ay cue”— he reads off something on his ledger in a slow and labouring manner.

Your network was probably not initialised—that’s what it says.”
He shrugs, holds out the ledger again, and stares off into the distance.

“I’ve got something here that writes the passphrase for me in one hit, could I just use that t—”

“Oh no certainly not Mr. Owen, that would be, I believe, outside of the design parameters of this system, and MIGHT not be totally secure. We need to do this one BY THE BOOK, I am sure you understand. Programmers you know, they are expensive and probably do have better things to do with their time than support that anyway.” He looks at me with a knowing sparkle in his eye.

I sigh and I write the passphrase in full once again and push the weird electric metal key thing.

Mr. AnyConnect spins for a bit (a strange man really), checks my posture meets his standards (you must be standing just so), and finally disappears, leaving me to walk in through the sparkling rotating doors of the restaurant.

Once inside I try to forget about Mr. AnyConnect. I hopefully won’t see him again for the rest of the day, but you never know, sometimes you find yourself back outside the restaurant randomly with his ledger thrust back in your face. Hopefully not today though!

Now onto the job of assembling a delicious plate of Data and Tasks. Data and Tasks is really the core food that sustains me, and there are just so many different dishes of data and tasks at Charlie’s Buffet Restaurant. I pick up my favourite plate, one adorned with a tasteful depiction of an African safari in relief on it. The artist has playfully chiseled in an okapi eating an apple in one part of the series of tableaux. The apple is kind of out of place in a safari scene, possibly hinting at some broader metaphor the artist is trying to make.

I see a blazing sign “AMPLITUDE” over one of the food stations and I start my trek over there with my plate to ladle a delicious dollop of analytics onto its gleaming clean surface. Just before I reach the station though a large and burley man dressed in a green and blue suit two sizes too big for him steps in front of me, hand outstretched in a “halt” gesture.

It’s Mr. Ark.

“Just one moment Mr. Owen, sorry” he says. He looks past me while raising a hand to an ear piece “I’m trying to auto sign you in please wait” — he names this activity with a slightly ironic leer. He knows it isn’t going to happen, but he just wants to make it look like there might be a chance of less hassle happening than necessary here. Plus, it takes up more of my time, and I think he secretly enjoys that.

“Mr. Ark, this never seems to work, could we just get to the next bi—”

He leans forward, slowly, until his face is just a few inches from mine. “Sorry. I’m… trying… to.. auto… sign… you… in… please… wait.” He drags it out, and there is just the slightest hint of menace mixed with indignation.

He backs away and regains his stance and aloof demeanour, and take his hand away from the earpiece.

“Sorry Mr. Owen, can’t auto sign you in right now I’m afraid. Going to need to see a 2nd factor.”

It seems very stereotypical that Mr Ark sounds like he is from South London, almost like whoever would dream of this scenario is terribly hackneyed.

“Mr. Ark, we did this same thing yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, don’t you remember me?”

Mr. Ark squints at me and looks nonplussed.

I’m not entirely sure he is called Mr. Ark. He has a badge that is embossed in black text stating “Cyber Ark, Restaurant Security” but he also has another badge that says “I. Daptive”. Is he Mr. Daptive? I’ve always called him Mr. Ark, and he doesn’t seem to mind. Then again, he never really gets fussed about anything.

“I can’t recall seeing you yesterday, or ever before I’m afraid sir. Going to need to see a 2nd factor or I can’t let you near the buffet. Rules are rules, I’m afraid Mr. Owen”

“But then how do you know my name is Mr. Owen?”

His eyes drop down to my chest, and I follow his gaze and realise too late that of course I’m wearing a badge with my name on it and the shimmery hologram of the three headed dog Kerberos. I wear this badge every day in the hope that maybe I won’t have to see Mr Ark so often, but he doesn’t seem to really trust it.

“Never mind, I see”

“Right you are sir, now if you could please select which 2nd factor you might like to using today, we can get you on your way.”

He is very nonchalant and not at all hasty about bringing up the thing I need to press and process, dripping with the malicious laziness of a low ranking official who knows they are an impediment and loves the power trip of being needed and critical and holding sway over success and failure, bliss and frustration. He produces a ledger and I tell him I’d like to use the weird electric metal thing as my 2nd factor.

“Very good sir.”

He takes the first ledger way, and then laboriously reveals a second ledger. As he does so, he sees the plate I’m carrying is the Safari scene one with the picture of an okapi eating an apple and he tut tuts and feigns an exaggerated grimace.

“Sorry Mr. Owen, you’re going to have to press another button first before I’ll accept your weird electric metal thing as 2nd factor. There’s nothing for it I’m afraid.”

“But Mr. Ark—please!—I saw just the other day over there at the Bit Bucket Bar people with safari plates get treated the same as the people with those shiny chrome plates!” He shrugs and points at the special extra button he’s going to make me click before he’ll take notice of my weird electric metal key.

I sigh and I push the special extra button and wait a little while before he gives me the nod that I know means he will finally listen to whatever telepathic message my weird metal key is going to send him. Finally, with the weird metal key touched in the correct way, Mr Ark steps out of my way and I arrive at the Amplitude food station.

After ladling a heavy serve of fresh analytics onto my plate, my attention turns to the smell of Redash Browns, and I follow my nose over to that station. Just as I am about to reach its welcoming glow I am intercepted by someone.

It’s Mr. Ark.

“Just one moment Mr. Owen, sorry” he says, palm outward and arm outstretched. He touches his ear piece with his other hand. “I’m trying to auto sign you in

“Can I just get—”

He leans forward, slowly, until his face is just a few inches from mine, a darker scowl creasing his visage. “Sorry. I’m… trying… to.. auto… sign… you… in… please… wait…”

I wait a moment, the smell of nearby data and tasks in my nostrils.

“Sorry Mr Owen, can’t auto sign you in right now I’m afraid.” He brightens. “Going to need to see a 2nd factor.”

“Didn’t you just see my 2nd factor over at the Amplitude station not more than 10 minutes ago?”

“Which station sir?” he quizzes, suddenly nonplussed.
I gesture over the way toward the blazing “AMPLITUDE” sign.

“Oh no I’m sorry sir, I don’t think that was me,” he says with sudden relief. “I don’t remember that at all sir, I’m pretty certain I would if it had happened, yes I am sure of it.”

I wait for him to produce the ledger with the 2nd factor options. “Weird electric metal thing” I intone exasperatingly.
“Very good sir, you be key as they say.”

He again slowly reveals the 2nd ledger that accepts my weird electric metal key. His eyes spy my plate, drawn to the scene of the safari with the okapi which is not totally obscured yet by the single serving of analytics I’ve heaped upon it.

“Oh, sorry Mr Owen. Going to need you to click another button first before I’ll be able to listen to your weird electric metal key. It’s just the way of these things, you understand.”

I glower at him.

“It’s the safari plate, you see,” he offers while rolling his hand over toward my plate in a placating gesture he knows very well will not be at all placating.

I press the special extra button because I like to use the safari plate, wait, and then I finally press the weird electric metal key.

Mr. Ark spins on his heel several times and then disappears in a puff and I can now see the Redash Browns stand that was obscured behind him. I tong some of those golden pieces of data on to my safari plate, and the way that they roll around on there has me thinking that I should also mix them with some of the gear over at the Tableau stand.

But before I do that, I take my plate over to the restaurant’s cheery greeter, Mr. Hello. Mr. Hello is great. He is full of cheer and stories and doles out data and tasks onto my plate freely. Best of all, he seems to have some sort of deal with Mr. Ark that means I never have to talk to Mr. Ark in advance (it’s either that or they hate each other).

Mr. Hello tells me all about the other people who have visited him today, and I enquire about the status of various goings on in the restaurant. He peels off some useful pages onto my safari plate, and I see some interesting links on quite a number of the pages that I’d love to sip.

“Can I open a tab for some of these links?” I ask, pointing at the pages.

“Oh of course Mr Owen sir, as you well know a benefit of using a plate in a data and tasks restaurant is that you can open as many tabs as you’d like with us, management doesn’t mind at all! In fact, it’s one of the main reasons people carry a plate around here”. Unlike the south London twang of Mr. Ark, Mr. Hello talks like a Yorkshireman. Or is he a Lancashireman? I am not good at this stuff.

A links server quickly arrives at my side. “Could I offer you something to link sir?”

They wait patiently while I point at all the links I’d like to order from the page Mr. Hello gave me on my unlimited open tabs.

“No worries Mr Owen, I’ll get those prepared. Don’t worry about paying right now, we’ll put them on your tabs.”

I bid goodbye to Mr. Hello.

I’m on my way over to the Tableau stand for which I see Mr. Ark standing there already, when I am intercepted by a fellow diner who taps me on the shoulder from behind.

“Zoom over to table 8 at 3pm, I want to talk about the stuff on your plate and see if you can take some of the stuff off mine.”

By the time I turn around they are already vanishing off into the dim haze of the restaurant proper, but I do manage to grab a glimpse of their name tag if not their face.

Mr Col Leeg

I haven’t met or seen a Mr Col Leeg before in this restaurant, but there’s a nice VIP Lounge right nearby that houses a slot machine called the Employ-E Directory where I can insert a coin engraved with a person’s name and pull a handle to spin up what matching patrons look like and what they do and how long they’ve been coming to this restaurant. It’s only just next to the Tableau stand so I take a minor detour towards its welcoming arched threshold and flashing lights.

Just as I am about to enter the lounge with the machine though, I hit something solid and unyielding and bounce off abruptly.

It’s Mr. Ark.

“Excuse me Mr Owen, sorry” he says, brushing off some of the Analytics I’ve just spilt on him from my plate. He touches his ear piece with his other hand. “Let me just try to auto sign you in please wait”

I don’t think he was there a second ago, but he has a preternatural ability to appear out of nowhere at the most inopportune times.

I say nothing. A page comes over the public speaker system in a soft robotic monotone “Notification for Mr Owen, you have some slacks at the concierge.” I ignore it.

“Sorry Mr Owen, can’t auto sign you in today, going to need to see your 2nd factor.”

“Mr Ark, I didn’t need to sign in or show even one factor let alone a 2nd factor last year when I needed to use the Employ-E Directory machine, why do I—”

“Oh, it’s for upgraded security you see. Can’t have just anyone seeing who else is in this restaurant it was decided. We need to make sure you are you. I am sure you understand, if by you, you really are you, that is”.

He stands there stoically.

“But Mr. AnyConnect and yourself have already checked—”

Mr Who!?” He suddenly looks nonplussed.

I change tack and gesture at some cookie crumbs on my safari plate that were left over from my very first visit to the VIP Lounge with the Employ-E Directory.

“Can’t you see these VIP Lounge cookies mean I’ve already been here before with this very plate, so maybe just this once I could just—”

“Oh I don’t know anything about cookies sir, I am sure they are tasty and all, my job is simply to try to auto sign people in unsuccessfully and check 2nd factors. That’s what I have dedicated my training to sir, just as the proprietor asks.”

He thrusts out the ledger with the menu of 2nd factor options.

I turn on my heel and march toward my table, I’m not going to touch the weird electric metal key just to get into the VIP lounge with the Employ-E Directory machine, and I do probably have to make sure my plate is in order for my 3pm luncheon with Mr Leeg. I won’t really know what they might do here or what they might know or need to know but I’m sure I’ll figure it out while they are pushing some fresh tasks off their plate onto mine.

When I get close to the table I see no fewer than six Mr. Arks standing in a row in front of it. The server from earlier passes by and pauses to whisper in my ear.

“Sir, here are the links you ordered. I’ve put them on your tabs.” They gesture over toward the tight coterie of Mr Arks.

“Oh what were those links again?” I genuinely can’t remember what I found tasty on the menu.

“Sorry sir, I can’t divulge that, you’ll have to check with Mr Ark and he’ll let you drink them once he is sure you are you.”

The server disappears into the gloom and din of the restaurant.

Each of the Mr Arks standing there are just as inscrutable and identical as every other Mr Ark I’ve seen. They give no hint as to what link they are holding behind them. I sniff a few times to see if I can catch a whiff of what link I ordered again (it was so long ago, at least 15 minutes) but nothing useful is forthcoming from this attempt.

I can’t bear to talk to Mr Ark six times and touch my weird electric metal 2nd factor key another six times so I dismiss them with a wave of my hand, and they march off, taking my links (whatever they were) with them.

I meet Mr. Leeg at 3pm at their table, and we look at each other’s plates. They scrape off some tasks from their plate on to mine, but I still have room for more data. I think I was going to pay a visit to the Tableau stand, but when I take a quick glance over I see Mr. Ark there, staring at me, with those stone cold eyes he always has.

I walk over to the concierge and go through all the slacks that have collected for me there through the day. It’s a weird restaurant where people send you lots of pairs of pants, but I do also remember a time long ago when pants were much more precarious here and they had to post a sign near the exit to make sure people hadn’t forgotten to wear theirs. They are definitely vital, so I guess they want to make sure we never run out of pants now.

Soon it is the end of the day, and the restaurant starts to empty before closing time. I see columns of patrons start to stream towards the doors, many of whom bear the haunted and ashen faces of the thousand-ark- stare. I set my plate down in its special place as I join them and make for the exit. It wasn’t nearly as full as I wanted it to be. Mr Ark is stationed nearby and holds the door open for me as I approach.

“See you again tomorrow Mr Owen,” he says with a lazy swivel of his head and a wink and a wry smile. “You have a nice night now—don’t worry I’ll be sure to sign you out of everything after you leave, nice and secure like! We’ll make sure you are you again with great vigour again tomorrow, no need for concern.”

He gives an annoying chuckle, the only time I ever actually see him happy.

That night as I drift off to sleep, I see a large shadowy hulk of a figure materialise in front of a distant dreamscape. It’s Mr. Ark, or at least someone who very much looks like Mr. Ark.

“Good evening Mr Owen, sorry” he says. He looks past me while raising a hand to an ear piece. He’s a little bit blurrier in this scene but the motion is unmistakable.

“I’m trying to auto sign you in please wait…”






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