Am I a pervert? Dennis wondered, sitting at his desk. After years of thinking about looking at pornography at work, Dennis started looking at pornography at work. It was a transgression, but so what. Everybody looked at porn at work. Nobody cared about smartclick software. The IT department was contracted out of Singapore. Maybe somebody in Singapore was tracking Dennis’ sorority-haze-porn. So what.

Sorority-haze-porn wasn’t even all that salacious on the scale of pornographic tastes. For reasons Dennis avoided dissecting, he liked to watch college coeds diddling each other in front of their older sorority sisters. It was the tainted innocence Dennis appreciated. Not that long ago, he had been in college.

He had once heard, or read, or something, that if a person could actively wonder whether they were insane, then logically they were not insane, because a truly insane person wouldn’t even wonder. Maybe it was the same with being a pervert.

One did not become an office pervert overnight. It took years of sitting in cubicles, counting the threads on the carpet, listening to the disjointed birdsong of voices in the open office layout, starring at your computer screen with nothing to do, and realizing that your company was a third-party outsourced organization that didn’t actually make—or even really produce—anything. Dennis’ company was the helpdesk for one of those services retailers used to stream music in their stores. If CVS’ in-store music suddenly crapped out in the middle of Hall and Oates, some assistant manager had to call Dennis. After six years of troubleshooting, Dennis was promoted to supervisor.

The promotion was a critical step down Dennis’ ladder of depravity. He had his own office, with a door, separate from the shared open office space of the customer service reps. He was also now a regular on company conference calls, during which he could close his door, open his web browser, and watch lusty coeds service muscular frat boys.


Shortly after Dennis began taking Zoloft, Riley started working at the company. Riley was in her early-twenties, pretty, with ripe, fleshy curves. She wore tight outfits. Dennis found it hard to concentrate. He wasn’t exactly attracted to Riley. She was nice, and smiled a lot, and talked a lot. With her frantic lemur eyes and toothy grin, she looked like exactly the type of girl who only a few years earlier had perhaps decided to pledge her college sorority and gotten more than she bargained for.

It was her voice that ensnared him. Her desk was only two cubes down from the doorway, and he heard her burbling chatter constantly. Riley was a grown woman with the voice of a little girl. Dennis was accustomed to the Little Girl Voice, which had become ubiquitous, culturally, in the ten or so years since he took a Bachelor’s Degree in English Lit. But now it was right in his ear. He would come back from the bathroom and pass Riley’s desk, and she would coo “Heeeey, Dennis,” the way a six-year-old might talk to her doll.

“Riley,” he would say, deepening his voice for some reason. “How’s everything going today?”

“Super-chill, Dennis. I’m rockin’ it. Killin’ it.”

It’s almost annoying, he thought. Almost as annoying as the boners he got when he covertly listened in on her service calls. Riley was, like, ohmygod, super-friendly on the phone. Male assistant managers from Walgreens’ all over North America flirted openly with her, batting their wings like moths at the porch lamp. Some dink in Elko, Nevada was goddamn ecstatic that Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” was skipping all over the place while people were trying to buy hair dye and exfoliants. Riley, with her Jujyfruit voice, made everything okay.

Dennis found lots of reasons to visit her desk. He was missing a pen; had she seen it? Was her Internet working, or was it just his that was acting weird?

“No, everything seems to be working fine for me,” she said, a small pout on her face as she stared at her web browser. “I was just looking at the cutest thing.”

She beckoned him over. He leaned over her desk, and watched a little video of two baby pandas kissing.

“Ticklebear sent this to me,” she said.

“I’m sorry?”

“Ticklebear. That’s what I call my boyfriend. He’s like a big, furry teddy bear. I guess I’m one of those girls who’s into chubby, hairy guys.” She laughed.

“Ha. Yeah,” said Dennis. He gave her a stupid thumbs-up and sidled back to his desk.

There was no separation between public and private life anymore. A person’s bedroom nickname became their popular moniker. Pillow talk became office talk.

“Ticklebear?” Dennis whispered as he slouched at his desk. Now it would be impossible to think about Riley without imagining her being tickled by a hirsute Sasquatch man, her naked legs kicking in the air above the bed. He wondered what kind of chirps she made when she was tickled.

Dennis could still vaguely remember the bad old days, before the #MeToo movement, when it was only women who felt uncomfortable at work all the time. Now everyone felt uncomfortable. You couldn’t just say whatever you wanted, even though it seemed like that’s exactly what everyone did. Dennis was sometimes glad he didn’t have a girlfriend, because it spared him the strange embarrassment of having to casually make reference to her around his coworkers. Most of the men he supervised—and all of the women—talked incessantly about their significant others. Sexual practices were discussed casually, dates were described in detail, the differences between current S.O.s and exes were hotly debated. And yet, Dennis was terrified of ever telling Riley she looked good in her snug blouses and slacks, which she always did. There was a nebulous gap between what was okay to talk about and what was not okay. For example, Dennis knew, from unavoidably listening to Riley, that Ticklebear garnished his junk with scented skin cream, making his balls smell like fresh laundry. Yet when Riley wore a particular red and white sweater sometimes during the winter, Dennis never dared complement her, even though he liked the sweater.

It was a confusing time. Any hetero male worth his Dockers could tell instantly, at any time, what kind of underwear a woman was wearing. Soft, uninhibited posterior bulges indicated a thong. Riley wore thongs almost every day. Dennis, the good supervisor, rose from his desk at least once each morning and once each afternoon to slink self-consciously around the office, checking on the reps, feeling like a narc. Passing Riley’s desk, he flashed a glance at her thrusting posture, the glimmer of whale tail between the back of her chair and the small of her back. Oh, the pink one today, I see.

“Dennis!” Riley cried as if she hadn’t seen him in months.

“Hello,” Dennis said, stopping mid-stride beside her cubicle.

“Look what Ticklebear gave me!”

She picked up a little stuffed teddy bear, held it up to her face, brushed her cheek against it.

“Well, isn’t that something,” Dennis said.

“Look at her little pink skirt. Isn’t it super-cute?”

So the bear was a she.

“What’s, ah, her name?” Dennis asked, feeling ridiculous.

“I’m calling her Ticklebear,” Riley said.

“Oh, okay. There you go.” Another ridiculous thumbs-up. “Well, she sure is cute.”

“Feel how soft she is.” Riley thrust the bear toward him, and he politely squeezed its paw. It was soft and surprisingly stimulating.

“I just love her,” Riley said.

Dennis nodded and returned to his office. This girl is no more than ten years younger than me, and she acts like a baby, he thought. What is going on?

He closed his door. Riley’s unabashed glee was infecting him. Her cuteness was like a pretty disease. He wanted to feel sorry for her—she was so young, and acted like an idiot for some reason—but that was hard when he was already getting a boner. There were too many mixed signals. Either she was a hopelessly regressed baby-nymph, oblivious to the power she exuded over him, or a sinister genius of psycho-sexual manipulation, a she-devil to whom he had unwittingly traded his soul.


Dennis’ therapist upped the dosage on his Zoloft, and that’s when Dennis started masturbating at work. Many men complained that anti-depressants choked their libidos, but Dennis’ wood strengthened from balsa to mahogany. Sorority group showers no longer tickled the bear inside him. He spent long conference calls pumping furiously through full-on fraternity gangbangs, where three or four doe-eyed, supple-breasted pledges ritualistically satisfied the entire football team. Dennis was terrified to glimpse the sticky crime scene beneath his desk.

Riley did not stop wearing thongs to work. She did, however, introduce the not-at-all-amusing habit of communicating to others in the office through Ticklebear.

“Heeeeyyyy, Dennisssss,” she would burble in an even more falsetto voice, wagging the little stuffed bear at him as he walked by her cubicle.

“Good morning…Ticklebear,” Dennis would grin through clenched teeth. Everyone else at the office loved Ticklebear, and started talking to each other in the Ticklebear voice. Dennis wondered if it was time to look for another job.

But instead of quitting, he retreated further into his office, shutting the door for longer periods of time, snapping out of HazeHouse reveries to find himself Googling obscene terms like “Ticklebear massage party” and wondering what in the fucking fuck he expected to find.


One Friday afternoon, he decided to be the most super-chill supervisor of, like, ever, and let everyone in the office go home an hour early. He would answer any service calls himself, he told them. It was like letting kindergartners out for recess. The entire staff disappeared in a flurry of coffee cups and coat tails.

Dennis sat at his desk and took several deep breaths. He stood up and walked out into the cubicle area. There was not a sound in the office except for the low hum of sleeping computers. He realized that if he had had a job where important work actually needed to get done, now would be an excellent time to buckle down. But his entire job, his sole purpose, depended on the random failure of the Muzak at JCPenney in Bumblebee, Minnesota. Dennis was all alone in the office, and he could do whatever he wanted.

He walked over to Riley’s desk. Sat down in her chair. Ran his fingers over her keyboard. There was a sweet female warmth to the cubicle. The ambiance was not sour or farty, like his own office.

He flexed his cheeks in Riley’s chair, imaging her sitting there every day. Her throne of a thousand thongs. His jockeys began to swell.

There on the desk sat Ticklebear. He picked up the cute little muffin and squeezed its velvety fur. Touched his fingers to the soft nub of its nose. Peeked beneath its pink skirt. He held it to his face and inhaled. An orgasm of scents filled his head. Perfume and lip gloss and shampoo. Riley’s hypnotic bouquet. He closed his eyes and rubbed Ticklebear over his face. Suddenly, he was transported to the basement party room of the hottest sorority on campus. He was a linebacker on the varsity football team, a naked he-man, his erection a jouster’s lance. Riley shuffled in, wearing only a thong, guided by her cackling sisters. Her first week of college had taken an unexpected turn.

The phone rang. Dennis sat up with a jolt. He stared down at Ticklebear. He was squeezing it so hard it had burst a seam. A gaping fuzzy hole opened in its crotch.

He quickly put on Riley’s headset. Flicked on her computer. Clicked onto the call.

“How may I help you?” he mumbled, trying to sound professional.

“Yeah, I’m calling from Sears in Altoona, Pennsylvania. It’s time to close the store and I can’t get the damn music off.”

“Sir, please hold while I access your account,” Dennis said.

He could barely remember what to do. He stared at the ruined hole in Ticklebear. Fuck. He held the bear to his face again. It smelled not so much like a doll, or even like a girl, but like his very concept of intimacy, like the bedsheets of his freshman girlfriend, like the body heat of a free-frolicking co-ed.

He let the Sears dude wallow on hold. Glancing over the low cubicle walls, Dennis unbuckled his belt, inched his pants down to his knees. Ticklebear was just big enough to accommodate his boner. He slipped himself inside the tear in its crotch.

Never even considered he might be allergic to the fuzzy material inside.