Michael Maher’s Strange Obsession
He’d brought his kitchen knife with him, just to chop his sandwich in half
This piece is part of the Soaring Twenties Social Club Symposium. Each month we collectively produce art around a specific theme. The theme this month is ‘Work’. This month is also that famous celebration that happens on October 31st. So I thought I’d do something themed around that thing that happens on October 31st.
Michael Maher ‘murdered’ rooms. In fact, he’d just ‘killed’ it. Tonight, he’d murdered a room full of members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He’d delivered his scintillating speech on Upholding Professional Standards in Building Surveying1. He’d rallied the troops to adopt higher global standards. He’d gotten a standing ovation. For 30 seconds as well. A good length standing ovation. Andrew Waddington had whispered to Jon Fairbrew that this was the first time in RICS history that it’d happened. Carol Hopper had already drunk-tweeted the standing ovation and even used a rocket emoji.
Michael Maher did kill people, yes. But that wasn’t what truly thrilled him. Nothing thrilled Michael more than walking the halls of a freshly-plastered skyscraper. Getting into his overalls. Pulling on his white safety mask. It was appealing to be the first person to take the newly-installed lift, whilst listening to Pick Up The Pieces by Average White Band on repeat. Being the first to inspect the piping. Being the first to run his hands across the floors. Preparing his spirit level and being the first person to spot check the angles. Being the first person to log a building error2. Being the first person to have a cup of tea from a Thermos in the empty penthouse suite, sitting cross-legged in the middle of a stark nothingness. He’d brought his kitchen knife with him. Nothing weird, just to chop his sandwich in half. He did have a weird obsession with kitchen knives though. This one had ‘murdered it’ engraved down the blade.
He wasn’t here to just sit around eating sandwiches though. There was serious surveyance to be done3. Even though Michael was an old hand at surveying, he kept up his work to ‘Sharpen the saw’, as Stephen Covey said. He didn’t need to do this work. He could get his juniors to do it. Michael often jokingly said ‘sharpen the knife’ instead, to see if anyone would correct him. Nobody ever did. He was too well-known for that. Too ‘respected’. He took a long slurp from his lukewarm Thermos. He always winced when he thought of that word. ‘Respected’. He spat out his tea when he said it. Respected, for what? Surveying things? Looking at things? Spending a long time at university? Being the only man in surveying who wasn’t a complete twat, and was actually capable of talking to a room full of people? He could have retired five times over by now, charging 10 grand a pop for one of those silly speeches to his gaggles of giggling and gargling surveyors. But he hadn’t.
There’s wasn’t soul in telling stupid surveyors how to be better surveyors. ‘Killing’ rooms came easy to Michael. Throw in a few topical jokes about that new building regulation #3456 and how it sounds exactly like that old building regulation #3455 and you’d have them rolling around on the floor choking on their daddy’s silver spoons4. That wasn’t work, was it? This was the work. Michael screwed the lid back on his Thermos and rolled it around in his hands. He looked up at the walls and the high-vaulted ceilings. This was the craft. Sure, it wasn’t a sexy craft. Michael wasn’t painting the Sistine Chapel or writing a book. He wasn’t recording a new Beatles album, but he checked the work. He checked artist’s work, and that required a higher attention to detail than an artist could ever muster.
Artists—as architects often liked to call themselves—were not detail oriented. They didn’t care about building regulation #3456 or the other 3455 that preceded them—
Michael had forgotten about building regulations and had become briefly distracted by his shadow on the floor in front of him. The way the sun was angled made it look like the Thermos in his hand was his dick popping out between his legs. The combination of Average White Guy playing in his ears and his heavily-endowed shadow made him burst out laughing.
—yeah, architects only cared about designing the most ludicrous building possible, usually fashioned in their own image. In his experience, they’d either be fashioned on the architect’s face or their genitals. Micheal would spend the first 30 minutes of his surveying in a new building trying to work out which it was. Spoiler alert: most buildings were usually based on a dick. Designed by a dick, based on the image of a dick, usually built by a bunch of dicks to house even bigger dicks. Michael told a watered-down version of that joke last year at some surveying conference somewhere in Amsterdam. They loved that one5.
The truth was, no buildings, dick-shaped or otherwise, would ever be signed off and completed without people like Michael. People like Michael sweated the details that everyone else in the entire process hadn’t given a toss about. He sweated the details that had been too inconvenient to deal with. And most of all, he sweated the details that the others had just been too incompetent to notice.
Noticing things was Michael Maher’s strange obsession. He’d recently taken his noticing things to another level: following people. When he wasn’t admiring the details of a fresh building, he’d be admiring the details of a person. Honing his new craft. This craft shared many of his current attributes. He’d need to be patient. He’d need to enjoy standing around looking at things. He’d need to be observant. Be able to spot movement patterns. Be able to spot fear and weakness. He’d come to grow into this role in the next couple of years. He’d come to learn to love wearing his blue overalls and white mask.
Michael would get lucky. His exploits of his strange obsession would get turned into movies. Not major movies, he’d be quick to correct you. He’s humble. His first movie based off of his exploits would end up becoming a surprise hit. But he wouldn’t admit that. In fact, he still refers to them as his ‘little movies’. Sure, they’d change his name slightly. Change his surname to ‘Myers’. It sounded more Hollywood, the producers told him. He didn’t mind. They were ‘works of fiction’ anyway. Just ‘crazy ideas’ Micheal had dreamed up. Michael’s true work would always lie elsewhere: building surveying. That was his ‘work’. And that’s where we picked up today’s tale. A few years before Michael picked up his strange obsession with following people and kitchen knives and brutally butchering people.
Running time: 44 minutes, 50 seconds. Michael always aimed for 45 minutes. Being 10 seconds out irked him. You know, as irksome as when you stub your toe. It’s annoying for a short while, but then you turn around and shout at the mantelpiece and everything is OK again.
Nothing excited Michael more than logging a building error. If Michael had a particularly dull week, he’d save up several building errors for Friday evenings to really liven up the beginning of his weekend. He often pretended to walk to the toilet and joke to his colleagues he was ‘about to drop a log’. But he meant a different kind of log. That’s just how crazy Michael was.
Michael had a bumper sticker on the rear window of his car that read “Keep your distance: there is serious surveyance to be done.”
Here’s the joke:
“November saw the introduction of building regulation #3456. I had to double-take though: I could have sworn that this was building regulation #3455. It appears to me, after close surveying, that the only difference is the punctuation. That’s another thing for the architects to ignore.”
Here’s the joke:
“Have you ever noticed that architects design all their buildings in their own image? It’s always either their face or their genitals. And from the thousands of buildings I’ve surveyed, there’s a much larger requirement for surveying with extensive gynaecologist experience than there is anything else. A butt-load more.”