VitriaThe Invisible

I was an instructor with Vitria for a short time a little over a year ago. We were just rolling our classroom instruction program, so we only had classes in a few places in California along with Phoenix and Las Vegas. Most of the time I stayed in Sunnyvale and worked out of a space we had set up in our own head office. I had spent most of my career as a writer, but the other people involved in this pilot project had come from sales. They were much better at the job than I was.

I was working at this job for about six months when I had a fellow come up to me after a session and ask me about where he could stay in town for the night. "You don't want to stay in Sunnyvale, " I told him. "Go to San Francisco. Enjoy yourself."

"I have to catch a flight in San Jose tomorrow morning, " he told me.

"Didn't your firm arrange accommodations for you before you came?" I asked him.

"The hotel didn't have my reservation, " he said. "I think HR screwed it up."

"Find a place near the airport, then, I suppose, " I said.

"I can't do that, " he said. "Do you know what that's like? It's like you're not even on planet Earth. "I hate airports and the way everything looks when you're near an airport."

"I know what you mean, " I told him. "But I don't think I can help you. I'm not exactly up on this sort of thing."

"I don't like coming here, " he said. "We used to work with a different company out here. Everyone tells you how nice it is in California, but I can't stand it."

"Some people like it better in the south, " I said. "It's a lot different down there."

"That information is not relevant to my current situation, " he told me.

"I suppose not, " I said. "Sorry I can't offer anything else."

I heard the next day that the guy had managed to hide himself inside our building overnight and that a developer had seen him leave the next day. What I mean is that the developer had shown up early to work and was having a coffee in the lobby when he saw this stranger in a crumpled suit stumble out of the classroom, which was just down the hall. Some people thought we should phone the police, since we had all of his information, but I don't think we ever did.

Anyway, I was living in San Ramon in those days. I used to do a lot of contract work from home, so it didn't really make any difference where I lived. The problem is that the economy got bad and the work dried up. I was lucky to find the position at Vitria. Somehow they had managed to get through the worst part of the recession all right and were still hiring. The Bay Area was in miserable shape in those days. The most miserable I'd ever seen it in, anyway.

The strange thing is that after that particular session I went home and pulled up some of my own writing. The best part about the contract work is that I could do my own stuff on the side without ever having to leave my computer. After I started working at Vitria I'd come home and I would be so tired that I wouldn't even want to think about dropping myself down in front of a computer screen. Of course now I don't even own a computer and have to go to the library if I want to use one.

Anyway, as I was saying, I opened up a document I was working on and picked up where I had left off. "We might say that the world is composed of three basic units, " I wrote. "There is the corporeal. That is to say, there are those things which are tangible, and that we are able to access via the senses. The second unit is the ethereal. That is to say, those things that exist but that are difficult to detect with the senses. The air that we breathe would fit into this category, as well as the moisture that is bound up within in. That leaves us with the third category, which is the invisible, or, perhaps, the undetectable. These are the things that the senses cannot access in any way, shape, or form. Such things have been the subject of discussion since the beginning of time."

This was one of the few moments during my time at Vitria when the writing came easy to me. "Corporeal objects are those that are most familiar to us, obviously, " I wrote. "Yet a corporeal object can be slightly deceiving. For what we perceive to be completely corporeal may actually contain traces of the ethereal and, most importantly, the invisible. I pick up a glass, for example. I can feel its surface. I can feel the pull that gravity has on it. I can look at the distorted images it reflects. Yet how well do I really know this object? What of the invisible is contained within it? We allow these objects into our homes. We buy them at the store and then bring them home and think nothing of it. Yet I propose that these supposedly harmless objects are actually intruders. They come in with invisible baggage that we do not see, and this invisible material may seep out of these objects and spread out in all directions. Traces of it may be found in our walls and in our floors, if we were able to detect is. Yet the very problem is that we cannot detect it. The invisible is the enemy, yet we do not treat it as such."

I kept on going because it was all coming so easy to me. "How many of you are dissatisfied with your lives?" I wrote. "How many of you come home and realize that you cannot stand the place you are living in? This is the ultimate tragedy, you must realize. If you cannot stand your home, it is difficult to lead a normal live. You will slowly drive yourself insane. Yet when this does happen to us, we blame external factors that seem to be causing the problem. We decide that our job is unpleasant, and that it is putting us in a bad mood that lasts long after we leave our places of work. We think about our pasts and imagine how our lives could have turned out if we had made different choices. We slip into nostalgia and into regret. We make up ideas and then blame these ideas for warping our minds to the point that we can no longer stand being in our own homes. We blame ourselves for so many things, yet we do not consider the issue of the invisible. The invisible enemy may smother us and attack us and we will not even notice. That is to say, we notice the effects that such attacks have on us, but we do not properly consider the agents responsible for such effects. We believe that something else is responsible. We believe our emotions and our memories are plaguing us. We believe that the mind is attacking itself with the information contained inside of it. It is this belief that has caused centuries of misery. It is embedded in our philosophies and in our religions. The actual truth has been buried beneath endless layers of misinformation. Yet now is the time to free the truth."

After I went back to work the next day and heard about what happened, Spencer called me into his office to discuss the situation. Spencer had been managing the group for only a few months. He had a sales background, so I know that he preferred dealing with my co-workers and didn't think much of my abilities. This issue with the fellow who slept overnight in the classroom only made things worse. "What did he tell you before you left that day?" Spencer asked me.

"He was looking for a hotel, " I told him. "He had a flight to catch early the next morning, but he didn't want to stay near the airport."

"So what did you tell him?" Spencer said.

"I don't know this area well, " I said. "I didn't feel comfortable making any sort of recommendation."

"We have a list of places where people can stay in town, " Spencer said.

"I don't think people should stay in Sunnyvale, " I said. "I don't much like the place, to be honest with you. So I didn't use the list."

Spencer thought about this for a moment. "This is a real problem for us, you know, " he then told me.

"I don't see why, " I said.

"Word gets around, " Spencer said. "That's something you don't understand about this business. I guarantee you that the news has already spread outside these offices. People send messages to their friends who work at other places. And pretty soon everyone knows about what happened. Or maybe they hear an exaggerated version. Like maybe we locked someone inside the classroom by accident. That's how these things work."

"It's a reputation issue, then, " I said.

"We're still trying to build this program, " Spencer told me. "It's not so easy, you know. We have to sell these companies on the idea of coming all the way out here, or at least to one of our other classrooms. But for some of our customers it's a long way to go. And now we have this story hanging over our heads. Do you understand me? We'll be trying to sell someone on the idea of taking one of our classes, and all they'll be thinking about is the guy that we locked inside the building that one time."

"I think that there was something wrong with him, " I said. "He told me he didn't want to stay near the airport, like I told you. I don't get it."

"You're missing the point, " Spencer said. "That's not the part of the story that will stick in people's minds."

"I don't know what I could have done, " I said. "I checked the classroom after I left. He must have snuck in afterwards. The room is never locked. I didn't think that we were supposed to lock it."

"Well, we never made a rule about that, but obviously that's going to have to change, " Spencer said. "I don't even know what to do with this. I suppose the best thing is to keep quiet. If there's gossip, we're not going to be able to stop it. We better just hope that the damage is minimal."

"It's not something I could have predicted, " I said.

"There are strange people out there, " Spencer said. "The more time you spend dealing with our customers, the more you'll understand that."

I don't resent Spencer for the way he talked down to me. The fact is that he got the blame for what happened, and they moved him to another department. The whole teaching program was shut down soon after that. The company offered me a different position, but I turned them down.

I have a lot of time on my hands now, given all that has happened. But I don't write much anymore. I kept a printout of the work I did that one evening, which is why I could reproduce it so easily here. But most of the rest of my work is long gone.


  • Oh
    OhioResident20 Oct 08, 2010
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    Verified customer

    I worked at Vitria for a few years before I had to take a break for medical reasons. I live in Santa Mateo and work part-time. It will be this way until I start to feel better. I keep my expenses low so I can get by.

    As part of my work at Vitria, I wrote up customer testimonials about our products that went up on the company website. They weren't completely fictional. I did have to meet with clients and take notes and incorporate a few lines of what they said into my work. But I typically had to get quite inventive in order to produce an entire article. We also had to take pictures of the people I talked to and their offices. So the company hired a photographer to come along with me.

    Mind you, these interviews could get rather bizarre. I remember once I had to go out to meet with the head of a company that made owned ATM machined throughout the Bay Area. They were a small outfit, and their machines were the kind you'd find tucked in the corner of some grubby gas station off the highway. But the marketing people were really eager to show off how out software could be used even with such chaotic and dynamic data streams. So off we went to their offices in San Mateo.

    The CEO of the company was a fellow named Gunn who looked like the owner of a sleazy nightclub. His dress shirt had a few too many buttons open at the top and he had a pair of sunglasses tucked up over his forehead. He came out to meet us after we got out of my car. "I thought they were sending the sales guy back here, " he said as we shook hands.

    "I do the writing for the site, " I told him.

    "Good to hear, " Gunn said. "I couldn't stand that guy, to tell you the truth. I mean, I like your software. It's good, from what the tech people tell me. But you need a new sales staff. I'm telling you."

    "That's not my decision to make, " I said.

    "Pass that along though, will you?" Gunn said. "You're costing yourself sales with people like that. I'm telling you."

    We went up to his office, which looked like you'd expect it to. Paint was peeling off of the walls. His desk looked like something you'd find thrown out on the side of the road. The outside the window was of the parking lot below. We sat down across from each other, while the photographer took a chair in the corner.

    "I didn't really want to do this, you know, " Gunn told me.

    "I didn't know that, " I told him.

    "You have to understand that this is a competitive business, " he said. "It can get pretty nasty at times. We've had machines defaced by our competitors. Of course they won't come right out and say that. But we'll get a call from someplace where we have a machine and they'll tell us that someone came in with a hammer and went to town on the thing. But, you know, they're not looking to take any money. They just want to increase our maintenance costs."

    "I guess you won't tell me if you've ever retaliated, " I said.

    "We run a clean business here, " Gunn said, smiling.

    "I assumed as much, " I said.

    "The thing is that we don't want too much publicity, " Gunn said. "I know that this might sound counterintuitive. But if our competitors think that we're trying to seek the spotlight, we'll have a big bulls-eye sitting on top of us. Do you know what I mean? We all sort of keep a low profile. It's a gentlemen's agreement."

    "This is more publicity for us than it is for you, " I said. "It'll go on our website and we'll show it to new clients. But it's not exactly something that's easy to find. It's not like putting up a billboard on the 101."

    "Right, right, " Gunn said. "I don't even know why I'm in this business. I'm not sure how I ended up here."

    "Things work out that way sometimes, " I said.

    "It's like you wake up after ten years and you think, 'How did I get here?'" Gunn said.

    "Well, how did you get into this business?" I asked him.

    "I was in sales for a while for another company, " he said. "Then I got my MBA, and I came here and rose through the ranks."

    "A typical story, I suppose, " I said.

    "But that's just it, " Gunn said. "It's so terribly typical. I don't get it. What happened to me? Surely I must have been more ambitious when I was younger."

    "We all we more ambitious when we were younger, " I said.

    Gunn sat back in his chair and pulled his sunglasses down over his eyes. "What can you do, right?" he said. "I suppose I can't really complain."

    "There are a lot of people who'd like to be doing what you're doing, " I told him.

    "Is that really true?" Gunn asked me. "You're starting to sound like that sales guy you sent over here."

    "I'm sorry that you didn't like him, " I said. "You should have said something. You know how these companies work. They would have fired the guy on the spot if you'd complained, and then they would have assembled a whole new team designed purely to meet your needs."

    "I don't doubt it, " Gunn said. "But I just wanted to get the whole thing over with. You know, this fellow was telling me what a 'cutting-edge' business we were in over here. He kept using that term over and over. What is he even talking about? There were cash machines around when I was a kid. There's nothing cutting-edge about this business."

    "They're taught to talk like that, " I said.

    "I was in sales, and I never talked like that, " Gunn said.

    "Maybe that's why you're not in sales anymore, " I said.

    Gunn laughed at that. "There's something I want you to do for me, " he said. "I'm asking you to do this as a favour. I'm going to tell you what I would like you to write about us on your website. You don't actually have to use this. I'd just like to say it out loud, as if it were actually going to appear on the site. Does that make sense?"

    "I'm not sure, " I said.

    "Write down what I say, " Gunn said. "I don't care what you do later on. You can throw it all out for all I care. But let's pretend that this is actually going to appear on the website. Once I'm done, I'll give you some stuff you can use. But it won't be nearly as interesting."

    I thought about Gunn's request for a moment. "I suppose I can do that, " I then said.

    "Fantastic, " Gunn said. He then got up out of his chair and started pacing back around the room. "Write down every word, " he said.

    "I know, " I told him.

    Gunn then began to tell his story. "Bay Area Banking was founded in the nineteenth century during the Gold Rush years, " he said. "Its purpose then was to provide quick cash to prospectors in a safe environment. You have to understand how dangerous it was for folks in those days. The murder rate was even higher than it is now. Bay Area Banking opened up secure offices, with gunmen positioned around the perimeter of each site. A prospector could take his gold to one of our sites and he would receive cash on the spot. For a fee, we would even let him borrow one of our security men to lead him to a bank or other location where he could stash his cash."

    Gunn paused for a moment before continuing. "During the postwar years, Bay Area Banking embraced the age of the computer, " he then said. "We were one of the first financial companies in the state to store our records on magnetic tape. In those days our company still specialized in the business of providing easy cash to its customers, though now those customers were coming in with checks and money orders instead of gold. Bay Area Banking even dabbled in the loan business for a while."

    Gunn stopped for a moment to look out the window, and then he kept talking. "These days Bay Area banking is as the forefront of new security technologies, " he said. "We are involved in cutting-edge research that will soon render current cash machines obsolete. We are currently testing machines that use retinal scans and voiceprint technology, as well as high-end surveillance equipment to ensure the safety of our customers. We are also experimenting with live customer service via video streaming, so that you may talk to a Bay Area agent right from one of our machines. We strive to provide our current customers with the same peace of mind that made life so much easier for those who used our services in frontier times."

    Gunn sat back down behind his desk when he was done. "Did you get all that?" he asked me.

    "Pretty much, " I said. "But you know I can't use any of this."

    "Of course not, " Gunn said. "It's a good story, though, isn't it?"

    "I'm not sure if it really makes any sense, " I said. "If I'm being honest."

    "Probably it would have been better if I had written it down, " Gunn said. "It didn't sound quite right when I said it. I think I forgot to say a few things."

    "You can always send me a revised version later on, " I said.

    "I can't do that, " Gunn said. "I had my one chance to get it right. I did the best I could."

    Once we were done with that, Gunn told me a few other things about his company, and then we took all the pictures we needed. It was getting late, so I offered to drive the photographer back to his house in Fremont.

    "That was a strange character, " the photographer said when we were back on the road.

    "I don't think he's very happy, " I said.

    "I'm not so sure, " the photographer said. "Don't let people like that fool you. I've seen his sort before. They like to pretend that they hate themselves. But the truth is that they like to project that image. You heard him with his story. He thinks he's so important."

    "I thought it was kind of pathetic, " I said. "I'll give you that."

    "It wasn't pathetic, " the photographer said. "He wants you to think he's pathetic. That's the kind of game those people play. They make you feel sorry for them. It's automatic to them."

    "I guess you might be on to something, " I said.

    "Of course I am, " the photographer said. "Listen to yourself. You were sucked right into his whole routine. You bought it all."

    "Maybe I did, " I said.

    "You have to be careful, " the photographer told me. "People like that are dangerous. They know what they're doing. They act like they're making things up as they go along. But they have a plan. They have everything mapped out."

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