Zoom Zoom

Shayan Kashani
9 min readJan 7, 2024


Michael Fairbanks pressed the button for the 37th floor as the elevator doors closed.

He looked in the mirror.

He was nervous — no doubt about it.

“You’re doing the right thing,” he said to his reflection. Then he added, “I think.”

Michael was born in 1982. The same year Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and Michael Jackson’s Thriller made indelible marks on popular culture. The year David Letterman had his first episode of Late Night and the second year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Nineteen eighty-two: When a gallon of gasoline cost 90 cents, and the average cost of a new home was $82,000,

He grew up in the lower-upper-middle-class town of Skokie, Illinois, where he’d shown an interest in computers and excelled at math and engineering. He also played hockey, was Student Council president, and churned out a 3.94 GPA, which got him into Columbia for applied mathematics.

Then, just as his second semester was getting underway, 9/11 happened.

The attacks impacted everyone in the country. But if you were in Manhattan on September 11th, 2001 — and Michael was — your experience was viscerally different.

Only those who were there will be able to understand.

It was hell on earth.

Fourteen days after the attacks, after fourteen sleepless nights, Michael dropped out of school and enlisted. He was nineteen years old.

His patriotism and loyalty made him an exemplary soldier. His charm and intelligence helped him rise through the ranks.

Throughout a distinguished career — including four tours of duty, one in Afghanistan and three in Iraq — he became a highly commended Captain in the United States Marine Corps.

Known simply as ‘Cap’ to his men, Captain Fairbanks received a Purple Heart and two bronze medals. He was also considered for the Medal of Honor, but the decision ultimately went a different way.

Then, in 2013, Edward Snowden leaked classified documents showing widespread malfeasance, misconduct, and abuse of power by the United States government, which came as a monumental shock to Michael.

In the same, swift fashion he’d quit Columbia to enlist — spurned by patriotism and betrayal — he left the armed forces and moved to Brooklyn, where his parents and sister lived. He was thirty-one years old.

What he wanted was to get back into computers. But a lot had happened in the decade-plus he was fighting illegal wars against the wrong enemy.

Catching up seemed daunting.

Besides, the skills Michael had acquired as an exemplary soldier and senior officer didn’t exactly translate. So he did what a lot of veterans do. He took the easy road and applied to the NYPD, where his distinguished service and off-the-charts test scores once again put him on the path to advancement.

Immediately after he started, he noticed the politics, bureaucracy, and systemic biases plaguing police operations. And as he rose through the ranks, the corruption became more evident.

This was also the beginning of a new chapter in the American civil rights movement.

In Michael’s first year, 2014, it was Garner, Brown, and Rice.

In 2015, it was Scott; 2016, Sterling and Castile; 2018, Clark.

Then, in March of 2020, having risen to the rank of Captain in Brooklyn’s 65th Precinct, Breonna Taylor was shot eight times by a police officer in Kentucky. Two months after that, George Floyd was choked to death by an officer in Minnesota.

As the Black Lives Matter found new fervour, Michael Fairbanks retired prematurely, unable to continue with the government institutions he’d dedicated his life to. He was forty years old.

Since leaving the force, Michael wanted to pivot into a career in computers and tech. In his eighteen years of service, a complete transformation had taken place in the industry, and the rise of the internet ushered in a technological renaissance no one could have predicted.

Just like before, it was daunting to try and get a foot in the door so late in the game. He’d sent out resumes to tech companies in the tri-state area, but his age and lack of experience routinely resulted in no one taking him on.

But Michael wasn’t going to make the same mistake he did when he first left the Marine Corps. He kept at it. He sent hundreds of resumes, cold-called companies, and dropped into offices, always pitching the same thing: a chance to intern and learn the ropes.

Eventually, he got his chance at a tech company originally founded in Silicon Valley but now headquartered in New York. Getting wind of Michael’s unique application and distinct lack of tech experience, the hiring manager was intrigued. He agreed to interview Michael over Zoom, where he was thoroughly impressed by his extensive military and police background.

Michael was less impressed. The guy was young, much too young to be a manager, and he talked funny. However, the company’s astronomical rise to success made it one of the best places to work and learn the inner workings. Michael was offered a unique three-month internship, mostly job-shadowing, sitting in on brainstorms, and doing other entry-level work. His hiring was seen as an opportunity to bring in a ‘fresh take’ as the company prepared for its initial public offering.

Today was his first day at the office.

“Thirty-seventh floor,” a soft, robotic voice announced as the elevator opened, leading to a bright, open office bustling with activity.

He was immediately greeted by a young woman behind a desk with the letters BossNYC on it.

“Hello,” he said, looking past the woman at the space beyond.

Unlike the cubicle layouts from the bygone era, it was an open-concept office. Thirty or so people were there, talking, texting, huddled around desks and computers, on the phone, and walking around.

Michael saw two people playing on an air hockey table next to an empty foosball table. He also saw a room encased in glass walls. Inside was a big screen TV and several people sprawled on bean bag chairs, eating popcorn and watching a movie.

Then, he suddenly realized something else: everybody was so young. They all looked like interns. Everyone could pass for a high school senior.

“Hi,” Michael brought his attention back to the front desk, “my name is Michael Fairbanks and I’m supposed to be starting here today as an intern. I think James is expecti — ”

“Mike!” James shouted as he walked to greet him.

James McCormick was the hiring manager at BossNYC, the east coast rebrand of the original Boss, whose disgraced co-founder and CEO ran the company into the ground after returning from a sixteen-day Ayahuasca retreat in the Peruvian Amazon. The board did its best to undo the damage, but in the end, the team decided to salvage what they could, moved to the East Coast, and rebranded as BossNYC.

Boss to BossNYC, Michael thought when he first heard the story, doesn’t sound like much of a rebrand to me.

Like most tech companies, BossNYC was constantly growing and evolving, but their application had put them on the map.

“Basically, it’s an app that vibe checks the end users through a propriety algorithm that avoids their triggers, then based on that data, it streamlines their productivity workflows, both intuitively and in real-time.” That’s what James had told Michael during the interview, which Michael didn’t understand.

He did, however, understand what James said next, “It’s been the number one download among productivity apps the last four years running,” which is the only reason Michael took the job.

“Mike is in the house!” James said again as he reached out his hand, “Thank you for your service.”

Michael didn’t mind being called ‘Mike,’ but only by some people, and to a point. It was like wearing shorts and sandals. You did it when the occasion called for it, but not every occasion did.

He let the Mike thing slide.

“Hello, sir,” he said, “of course, it’s a pleasure to meet you in person.”

“Whoa!” James said, “Mike, take several seats. You don’t need to be so formal. We’re a big company but with a family attitude. You can lose the sir.”

“Yes, si — yes,” Michael said, a little unnerved already, looking around for a seat to take.

Just then, a young coworker who looked like he had only emerged from the other side of puberty five minutes ago walked by, briefly placed a hand on James’s shoulder, and said, “I just have to say, the coffee, in the break room today, is a vibe. Thank you,” and walked away.

Noticing the confused look on Michael’s face, James said, “Oh, don’t mind, Brandon. It’s just that the coffee machine we had in California was straight fire, but we couldn’t bring it over. Then, there were inventory problems and delivery issues with the company. It was a whole mood. Don’t ask. But finally, two days ago, we got one that slaps!”

Not knowing how to respond, Michael just said, “It’s pretty impressive seeing everyone already here and working before eight on a Monday. I like it.”

“Oh, we stan a Monday here. Big time,” James said. Then he put a hand on Michael’s back, “So, you don’t have much technical experience, but that’s not what we need from you. For your first day, the first three days actually, you don’t have to do anything except observe. That’s how everyone starts, and it’s the first step in learning our culture. To observe. After that, we’ll brainstorm ways you can contribute. We probably won’t have a formal orientation until Friday.”

“A week without orientation! How am I supposed to …” Michael was genuinely surprised. You couldn’t do shit in the army without orientation. In the police department, you couldn’t even take a shit without one.

“Don’t worry,” continued James, “I’m gonna set you up with Caro here. You’ll be her shadow for day one. She is literally the best person to shadow on your first day. No cap.”

Did he just call me Cap?

“Excuse me?” Michael asked.

“Caro is the best,” James said, ignoring Michael’s question, “you’re gonna love her.” Then he turned to her, twisted his hands into a heart, and said, “Please be respectful; the man is a veteran. He fought for this country. And if he has any questions, just be as thorough as possible so he understands the assignment. Okay?”

“Will do!” Caroline said, and James walked away with a final nod. Caroline turned to Michael and said, “I know what you’re thinking. Everyone’s gonna wanna vibe check the new guy, but I promise, today is gonna slap.”

“Right.” Michael said, then quickly followed up with, “I’m sorry, did you say ‘slap’?”

“Oh,” Caroline laughed, “it’s just slang. It’s a good thing. It means it’s gonna be a good day. And we usually get food delivered on Mondays, so it’ll be bussin’.”

“Of course,” Michael said, more confused.

Caroline, a petite brunette with the skin of a teenager and the shoes of a child, sprung out of her chair and waved after Michael, “Follow me. Let’s drop in on a blue sky session; maybe the ideas will be lit!”

Michael nodded and followed. They walked past the table games and entered a room with glass walls and a conference table. Six people were sitting around it talking, all of them in their twenties.

It must have been quite the tableau, him walking in there. Captain Michael Fairbanks — six foot five, two hundred and thirty-five pounds, bald, bearded, and scarred — wearing a suit and tie, walking into a room with kids half his age, dressed in confusing clothes.

“Hello team,” Caroline said, “Mike, this is our rock star creative team. Team, this is Mike. He’s gonna be interning with us for a while. It’s his first day today and he’s observing.”

“Hey Mike!” “What up, Mike?” “Nice to meet you, Mike.”

“Two months ago,” Caroline continued, “this team’s presentation on our new AI initiative was on fleek. We’ve all been dead at these sales figures. That’s Ken,” she pointed to one of the lads. He looked about the same age as the boys Michael used to play soccer with in Baghdad, “he’s the chief creative officer, and this is his team: Brad, Jessica, Makeila, Honey, and Steve.”

“You absolutely split it at that presentation, for real,” one of the girls said, “you always wig when presenting.”

“It’s not me,” said Ken, “the marketing pitch slays.”

“Yeah, but sheesh, you nailed those follow-ups.”

“No cap, that presentation was fire,” said one of the other guys.

“Remember Josie? Imagine she had to put that together? With her design skills? Big yikes.”

“I know, right? She had a glow-up for fifteen minutes and walked around flexing for a month like she was the main character.”

“When she first started, her ideas were so whack I literally used to stan whatever she discarded and half the time the shit would fly.”

“No cap.”

“What’s that?” Michael said out of reflex, and everyone turned to look at him.

“Would you excuse me for a moment, please,” he said again, then he turned around and walked out of the room, office, and building and didn’t stop till he hit a pub on the corner of 7th and 36th.

“W’can I getcha?” asked the bartender, a gruff man in his 60s.

“A time machine,” said Michael, and he spent the rest of the day drinking and thinking about why he ever joined the army to begin with.



Shayan Kashani

Writer — Philosopher — Teacher — Runner — Reader — Nomad.