Lovecraft gave us all many a horror in “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” From froggy fish people to urban decay and alienation, the subtle horrors of racial crossbreeding (um…), and unabashed verbosity.
But the dilapidation of Innsmouth and the terrors within just might mirror your own freakish, everyday terror.
I ask, do you work at Innsmouth?
Your ride to work might well mimic Robert Olmstead’s bus journey to Innsmouth. The road there was, objectively, nothing to worry about. Just the ocean and some lonely beaches. Nothing ominous there.
Well, not to Olmstead. What he saw was foreboding, with a doomed sense of what waited for him ahead. And he was right.
What do you see during your commute?
Sterile office parks, or big chain store clusters that are sixty percent parking lot, forty percent overpriced Swedish furniture?
To some, these sights are unworthy of any ill repute. But what do you see? That office park is identical to every other, like some cancer metastasizing across the planet, unceasing, until we’re all sleeping next to the Dunder Mifflin dumpsters out back.
You might see that big chain store as a black economic abyss, where employees submit to a faceless entity that drives them to work for minimum wage until they succumb to rheumatism, their digits afire with arthritic anguish as they ring up zombies during every 50% off mega-sale.
And like Olmstead, you’re probably right. Because once you get to work you might not find any greasy fish-frogs, but…
Your coworkers might be monsters too. They won’t chase you through the office with an amphibious shamble, but you’ll meet people you scarcely thought could exist.
Bro-dawg company men abound, the kind of guys who are excited to be part of the thrilling world of warehousing and logistics, or take seriously the peddling of ugly suits at Men’s Wearhouse, who’ll knock your teeth out if question their devotion to their accounting firm.
You’ll happen upon angry career women who think being vindictive and contemptuous to underlings somehow makes them a testament to gender equality in the workplace.
Back in the warehouse you’ll find men transformed into grumpy organic machinery, having spent forty years in the same gray, dank confines. They’re a grim lot, largely silent, looking forward only to shotgunning a Keystone Tallboy and gobbling enough Cialis to maintain an erection whilst gazing at gas station porn upon returning home.
Every workplace has a Zadok Allen. You probably won’t need to goad him into talking to you by filling him up with liquor. It’s also unlikely that your real life Zadok will break into endless, pages-long monologues but he will offer you plenty of warning right away.
Hopefully he does it on your first day, when you’re still smiling and bright-eyed, or even already aware of the vibe coming from your new workplace.
Like Olmstead, you won’t want to believe Zadok’s crazed stories about how the company cuts overtime or lays you off right before your probation ends or how, yes, this job is full of motherfuckers and don’t trust Steven in Human Resources in particular.
Olmstead was able to barricade himself in his hotel room before the monsters converged on him, you, though, will have no such option. They’ll come for you too, while you’re riding your forklift or editing fine print or fretting over spreadsheets.
The creatures will pull you into petty water cooler drama, office politics, and heated bro-dawg arguments about who can stack boxes faster.
As for Zadok, he’ll eventually disappear once the fish-frogs overhear him badmouthing the company. Probably on some obscure blog of his that the company sniffs out, because new corporate policy dictates that freedom of speech doesn’t apply when the bosses don’t agree with it.
But it gets worse.
The Cult of Dagon is real though they won’t identify themselves by wearing strange fish-god tiaras.
The bro-dawgs and intimidating alpha ladies and broken, half-zombie workmen are still, at heart, human. They could very well still cling to dreams, their aspirations, and still consider their job just that, a job.
You don’t become a Deep One right away, after all.
But our real world Cult of Dagon equivalents have internalized corporate mission statements. They invite you into their offices to talk about quotas with cold eyes and humorless grins.
Whereas they may have had passions once, they now take pleasure only in the act of inventing new acronyms or posting benign slogans around the warehouse, adorned with meaningless mantras and efficiency exclamations.
In Lovecraft’s world, they worshipped Dagon. In ours, they worship the Fortune 500. They are the fully metamorphosed corporate fish-frogs.
They are the Deep Ones.
The Cult has no room for dissent. Much like your friend Zadok, don’t criticize the company too loudly. They’ll find out and you’ll be gone, too.
Yet, that may be a blessing.
Because you can hear the call of Cthulhu. The octo-faced giant was, like many of Lovecraft’s creations, a symbol for human insignificance and existential dread.
“Hey Mack, you meandering drunkard,” you say. “My job sucks, but it’s no Cthulhu.”
Isn’t it? In the course of putting numbers into spreadsheets, folding pants, or working the cash register, you’ve never looked at the great creature of production all around you, dwarfing you?
Those feelings of insignificance aren’t fleeting for a reason. Because we are insignificant in the face of all that industry. That’s why we drink too much and dance like jackasses, or use a color filter on our profile pictures, or spend all our money on nifty doodads that’ll make people with smaller salaries jealous.
None of us want to feel small. We yearn to be significant.
But you won’t, not in Innsmouth. Cthulhu, Dagon, and the rest of the real world versions of Lovecraft’s spaced out slobber monsters will always dwarf us if we measure ourselves on their terms.
No matter how many times you meet your quotas or create a snazzy new mission statement or dutifully supervise those seventeen-year-olds at Old Navy, you’ll never be special. You’re still a cog in a wheel.
There may very well be unique snowflakes humping boxes at Home Depot, but no one will ever become a unique snowflake by humping boxes at Home Depot.
The worst part is this: We may never be able to leave Innsmouth. You might only be able to switch Innsmouth for another. You might one day become a fish-frog yourself, just like Robert Olmstead.
But there’s a silver lining. Once we realize that we’ll always be insignificant at our jobs, we may then figure out a way to make ourselves significant elsewhere.
Paint a picture. Write a poem. Teach your kid how to play the guitar and, good God, don’t ever get to a point where you and your wife have nothing interesting to talk about.
Passion is significant. Love is, too. These things matter to us, even as we flail about in cosmic obscurity. Embrace them.
RESIST THE FISH.
Read more of Mack’s incoherent ramblings at his blog.