Monday, July 23, 2012

Part 1

“Leigh, come see me in my office.” Fred is standing halfway down the hall, leaning against the whitewashed cement block walls. With his cup of tar in hand, he is trying to look relaxed and at ease. He is failing. He looks ominous and imposing. That’s the way he always looks. His shoulders are too broad; he is too tall; the clenched muscles in his jaw are too severe; and his eyes are too sharp, always ready to catch the slightest indiscretion.  

“Sure boss. Lemme get my computer cranked up and I’ll be right down.” I am much better at pretending to be relaxed. I duck into my office away from his gaze and fall into my chair. What does he want? Man, that guy knows how to put me on edge first thing in the morning. Can’t he give me a couple of minutes to ease into the day? No, my work day usually starts with blunt force trauma and a blood pressure spike.

I push the start button on my tower and lean back in my chair, letting the beeps, clicks and whirs of the booting computer wash over me. I scan through my email quickly to see if there is anything there that might warn me about what’s on his mind. It’s all inconsequential. Hell, this whole trip to his office could be inconsequential. It’s normal for me to arrive to find him stalking around waiting for me, looking like the world is going to end, all to tell me that the staff meeting has been cancelled or he needs my help planning the company picnic.

Whatever, let’s get this over with.  

I push away from my desk and trudge down the hall. The doors to the offices that I pass are all closed. We are in the heat of the summer, the whole two weeks of it, and my colleagues are hording their precious AC, unwilling to see it wasted on a common space or a hallway. The temperature isn’t too bad now, but by noon the stark passageway will be in the low 80’s.

My scuffing feet are muffled by the dirty brown carpet that I am sure is older than me. Most things in this building are. I’m 26 and have been here for just over five years. This place? I think it used to be a bomb shelter in the 50’s or something like that. Most days I consider myself lucky to not be using a typewriter or sending correspondence via snail mail, though we do that for some stuff.

Fred’s door is open and I slide into my usual spot, leaning up against his filing cabinet, and I knock my knuckles lightly on the metal to announce my arrival. He spins around, away from his computer, to face me. He doesn’t offer me a seat. He doesn’t have one to give me, even if he wanted to. He’s a miserable middle manager, crammed into a shoebox of an office. The room is just big enough for his small desk pushed into the corner; a bookshelf with Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and a few other self-help management books; and the gunmetal grey industrial filing cabinet that I am leaning up against. At least he has a window. It is a prized and rare commodity.

“Fletcher called,” he starts. Inconsequential dribble. I tune him out, nodding and answering on autopilot. He tells me stuff I already know. He just wants to hear himself talk.

After a few minutes of ramble, he pauses and any modicum of ease disappears. Here is comes, the real reason he has me in his office.

“There was a memo that went out last week about time and attendance.”

I nod. I was well aware.

“You didn’t get in until 8 o’clock this morning.”

“Yep, you know I’m not much of a morning person.”

“Well . . . are you going to change your schedule in TAL? You are currently scheduled for 7:30 to 4:00.”

My blood begins to simmer. What exactly are you insinuating? I’m your most productive employee. I have cancelled vacations for you. I am a non-smoker. I don’t drink coffee. I work through lunch. I’m rarely found at the water cooler. I practically live at my desk and in your office.

“You know . . . I just have to make sure I’m getting my full eight hours.”

Really? Did he really just say that? I feel my jaw tighten and my blood goes from a simmer to a boil. Cool it, Fish. This guy isn’t worth it. My jaw aches as I force a smile and tame my temper. Despite my attempt to mask my frustrations it must have been too little too late, because he stiffens and leans back into his chair. Another failed attempt to look relaxed.

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

No, it’s not. It’s just an excuse for you to flex what little authority you have.

“It’s just . . .”

It’s just what?

“There have been times, lately, that I have needed you and you weren’t here.”

Needed me? Like that blonde I saw you with last month down at the dive on the other side of town? I know why I was there. I was picking up my drunk-ass cousin. But what were you doing there? I know that wasn’t your wife. I’ve met your wife. Maybe she could pass for your daughter, but that would make you even more of a creep than I thought you were.

He’s never actually hit on me, but there have been times when he has been so awkward and his words have come out so jumbled that they could have been easily misconstrued. He has danced precariously close to that undefined line. Don’t get me wrong. I’m single and he is fairly attractive, even if he is almost twice my age. There was a time when I would have been flattered, even welcomed it. But then he opened his mouth and I got to know him for the douche he is.

I feel a switch flick in my brain and all the tension melts away. My sneer morphs into a toothy grin and I shrug. “Yea, sure. No problem. I’ll work on getting in at 7:30.”

He looks relived as I back out of his office. I return to my desk and spend every minute of my eight hour day being as unproductive as possible.