The only thing that’s worse than getting fired from a job is not getting fired.

That isn’t to say that getting fired doesn’t suck. It does. And unless you go out with middle fingers raised to the sky, giving that final speech where you tell everyone exactly what you think of them – the speech we all rehearse every morning on the drive in. The one where you finally get to tell Betty down in HR just what you think of her cubical full of cat pictures and her fucking email memos about copier etiquette – getting fired is the ultimate walk of shame.

But getting fired isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Say you get caught masturbating. I’d happily clear out my desk if it meant that I’d never have to look those people in the eye again. And we’ve all done it. You can’t stick the average twenty-something anywhere for eight to ten hours without them sneaking off to rub one out. I know a girl who came during a funeral. It’s not something she’s proud of. It’s not a war story she passes around but to hear her tell it, surrounded with that much grief and sadness the only thing she could do to stay sane was force herself to feel something else. And pleasuring one’s self in the bathroom is less intrusive than say, sparking a joint or diving head first into a flask of whiskey.

And if she’s running off during the funeral service, what hope do the rest of us have, stuck at a desk?

But it’s one of those things that you absolutely can’t get caught doing. Once you’ve been caught, the whole house of cards comes down. This fiction that we’re at work for anything other than a paycheck – that we’re not just killing time until we can go home and get loaded – is over.

And that fiction is important because it allows us to dress like assholes and spend all day surrounded by people we actively dislike. It lets us pretend that we find the work stimulating, engaging, fulfilling. Because we don’t want to be in it just for the money, whoring ourselves out to the highest bidder. We want to believe in what we’re doing, that at the end of the day we didn’t just make a living but maybe made the world a little better.

But sadly that isn’t the case.

I knew a guy who got caught. But Jim didn’t get caught just rubbing one out. He wasn’t sprawled out on the toilet with his pants around his ankles thinking about the cute temp in reception. He was standing. One hand wrapped around himself and with the other, he’d stuffed his thumb in his own asshole. Lost somewhere in his inbox was a memo from Betty that the bathroom door latch was sticking and that maintenance would at one that afternoon to fix it. If he’d waited forty-five minutes I wouldn’t be telling you this story.

Jim didn’t get fired. He got a note in his HR file for ‘Inappropriate Workplace Behavior’. He attended six one hour sessions of required counseling and spent two more in a sexual misconduct seminar. Eight hours of trying to explain why he felt the need to touch himself at work.

Those are the types of conversations no one wants to have. You can’t say that you masturbate at work precisely because it is inappropriate. Because while you might be willing to trade away slices of your life for a shitty paycheck, you’re not willing to trade in your very soul.

Alcoholics have it easier. Everybody understands that alcohol deadens the pain enough to make it in by eight every morning. As a culture we’ve created entire systems, entire classifications of disease to explain our need to bury and burn away those parts of ourselves that can’t handle so called modern living.

But no one wants to talk about those acts of rebellion that make us feel alive. That allow us to turn the middle finger outward, back on our employer. Fucking at work is so common that it should be an Olympic sport. It’s an act of rebellion that allows us to connect with another person, to do something life affirming and honest

And masturbation is just the fiction that we’re fucking. Masturbation at work is just a lie buried within a lie.

For poor Jim there are no lies left. He’s a constant reminder that we’re all fucking ourselves behind closed doors. He might as well be invisible at work. No one can stand to look him in the eye. He’s become the white elephant in the room reminding us that even unspoken, we all know that we’re all just faking our way through the day.

All that’s left for Jim is to sit at his desk for eight hours a day not daring to move. Because the moment he stands up the question will hang over the whole office ‘what new perversion is Jim into?’