Current Occupation: Librarian
Former Occupation: Body Piercing
Contact Information: Samantha Pilecki is your typical librarian who collects dead bugs and spends time with her pet rats. She enjoys strong green tea and Fuente cigars. More of her work can be found at El Portal magazine

 

#

Bulletin Board

    Kat worked at the Library. She loved books. She loved her job, which required working with books; putting them where they belonged, straightening them according to the myriad stickers on the spines. She answered phone calls and created paper decorations for the Children’s Department.

    That’s where the trouble began. With the decorations.

    “I don’t know. It doesn’t…do anything for me.” Lisa stood, hands on hips, surveying Kat’s newest bulletin board. “There’s too many colors. Too much going on. It feels…scattered. I know, I’m the last one who should say anything. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. But I feel…” Here she trailed off, the dissatisfaction on her face evident of what remained unsaid. Lisa sighed, and settled into her four hour shift which consisted of checking her Facebook and match.com accounts.

    Lisa’s ambivalence wouldn’t be so harmful in itself, but when coupled with her twenty year friendship with Irma, the library’s Director, it became dangerous. Irma agreed with Lisa, and then made a point to summon Kat.

    A summons to Irma’s office had all the ominous connotation of a trip to the principal’s. As most Library girls had been good pupils in school, the dread of a closed door and the damned visit weighed heavily. No one wanted to go into Irma’s office; no one wanted a scolding. No one wanted to be on her bad side.

    Irma could make you miserable. Irma could ruin your life.

    During the first visit, Irma told Kat she wasn’t working hard enough. Kat thought about Lisa’s binges of social media and cigarette breaks, but didn’t say anything. Irma already knew her lap dog had a lazy work ethic, and didn’t quite care.

    So Kat worked harder. She needed this job.

   She ran for phone calls, organized the library’s collection until it was immaculate, and made bigger and more intricate bulletin boards. Dinosaurs hung from the ceiling. Letters lit up. Her creations could be window displays, instead of bulletin boards.

    This only increased Lisa’s ire. “This really burns my biscuits.” Lisa shook her head, coffee mug in hand, and stood, sipping and critiquing, for the first fifteen minutes of every day. She had nothing else to do. “Doesn’t Kat know someone can get hurt? What if those fancy LEDs start a fire? There’s too much…I can’t say she did a bad job though. It’s just a concern of mine, that’s all.”

    On the second visit to Irma’s office, Kat learned she was written up. Three write ups in a year could get you canned. Kat wanted to know why she was being written up, and Irma showed her a letter stating someone ‘felt threatened’ by her. It was in the suggestion box. Irma was such a good director, she read these suggestions personally “I’m sorry, Kat, I don’t feel you’re a threat, but we need to be careful about these things in this time. It’s only policy I have to document it. Maybe you should concentrate on your work.”

    So Kat worked harder, and harder. Her bulletin boards were sensational; she knew it from people’s reactions. Her blog began featuring her library inspired creations and she was ‘an artistic sensation.’ A library magazine interviewed her, and wrote an article on her work.

    But Lisa clucked her tongue as she read the blog comments. “Well, I guess I can see how some people like it. But would you look at these people?” She stabbed pictures with her finger. “I bet they do this sort of silly thing all day. Just like Kat. You know, you’d really think folks would do something more productive with their time …oh silly me, what am I saying. I’m happy for her.”

    The third time Irma summoned Kat, she was told to stop decorating. No more bulletin boards. “Knowing what a success you are, with your obvious talent…we feel this is something that’s personal, and should be developed on your personal time. Not on work time. It’s just more appropriate that way.”

    When the library patrons complained about the lack of decorations, Irma hired Tabitha, some college kid. Her job was exclusively the bulletin board. Tabitha had some mighty big shoes to fill, and tramped around in a mist of glitter and hot glue, spending her days covered in paint and looking for rulers. Kat knew the girl put a lot of work into her creations; Kat envied her.

    It wasn’t long before Kat hated her.

    Now, Kat stands with her coffee cup, in front of Tabitha’s work. She’s twenty pounds heavier, and shows no sign of slimming down; the march of the scale has been steady. She wears fuschia lipstick, her signature, the only bit of color left to herself. She has finished her first pack cigarettes, and is thinking about buying a new one.  

    Kat blinks at Tabitha’s bulletin board and sighs. “I’m confused why she wanted to put the puppy dog there. It feels off balanced. There’s no symmetry.”

    “You know, I wasn’t going to say anything. But I feel the same way,” Lisa says.

    Tabitha walks into Irma’s office. The door is closed. Tabitha works harder.

 

Current Occupation: Freelance Editor and Writer
Former Occupation: Intern
Contact Information: Susan Vandagriff is a recent college graduate currently working freelance and seeking formal employment. 

#

Larry Scroggins

My phone is haunted by a former employee. When I got to work today I had eleven missed calls. Honest to god eleven, by 7:30 in morning.  Not for me, for Larry Scroggins. His name is on the phone, and the desk, and the stapler. It’s printed on the pencils in the top left drawer.

I’ve already made coffee for everyone, turned on all of the thick antique computers, and begun proofing today’s stories when the writers arrive at 9:30.  The editorial room is divided into sections, sports writers in one corner, photography in another, and features and dailies. I sit at the leftover desk at the back of the features and dailies section, facing the wall.

Suddenly my phone rings.  Everyone else has cheerful ringtones like a saxophone, a bell, or chirping birds, but my phone sounds like a sinking submarine. I hate answering the phone. I know the call isn’t for me. I’m the interning copyeditor. No one calls the interning copy editor. My job is to give and take away commas while making as little impact on the writer’s work as possible.  So I ignore it. But around the fifth depressed whoop, my section’s writers, Wilton and Gina, and the managing editor Angie turn to stare at me.

“It’s Leslie Lipking,” I say, looking at the caller ID.  “Should I answer it?”

Wilton and Gina exchange a look. Angie takes off her glasses and cleans them with a sigh.

“No, Jen. It’s not for you,” she says finally.

Jane, I think. My name is Jane, but I smile and nod to show how competently I can not answer a phone. I go back to the accident report, adjusting a misplaced modifier that suggests the car’s decapitated head flew six feet from the site of impact.

“I don’t like to talk about people’s personal lives at work,” Angie continues.

I smile and nod some more, and then Angie pulls her chair over to my desk to tell me about someone’s personal life.

“Leslie Lipking is Scroggin’s ex-wife,” Angie tells me, leaning in, though Gina and Wilton’s desks are so close there’s no way they aren’t hearing this too. Of course they would already know. They worked with Larry before he was fired.

“Oh. Okay,” I say, hoping my smile shows eagerness to please, polite interest, sympathy, and sorrow at the decline of the American marriage. I want to return to my modifier, but Angie isn’t through.

“They have a child,” she says, widening her eyes. I think I’m expected to swoon or something.

“Oh.”  

She can’t remember my name, but the details of Larry’s marriage, sure.

“Larry had,” Angie sucks in her breath and begins polishing her glasses again, “a very messy personal life.”

“Ah.”

Wilton and Gina aren’t even feigning work at this point. Larry’s a fascinating void, like the space left by a lost tooth.

“I’m guessing,” she says and replaces her glasses, “she doesn’t know he got fired.”

“Should we tell her?” I ask.

“No, no, Jen. I don’t want to get involved,” Angie says. Of course she didn’t want to talk about personal lives either, so I figure it’s only a matter of time.  I clear the missed calls list, and go over to Wilton’s desk to collect the obituaries.

“Hang on,” he says, jabbing the print button. Wilton is one of the oldest writers on staff and has a partially detached cornea from a hedge trimmer accident. This means he needs to close his eyes for extended periods of time throughout the day. Sometimes he snores. His desk, like most of the writers, has tidy stacks of yellowing newspapers. No one ever seems to throw anything away, which is really starting to concern me. I don’t know where the trashcan is, and I don’t want to bother anyone by asking. Every night I carry all of my trash home in my backpack. The worst time was the cookies. I’d brought a box to work, but no one noticed or took any. After two weeks I dumped the dusty, molding mess into my backpack. I’m waiting for the day someone blows their nose so I can follow them and find out where these people hide their wastebaskets.

On the side of Wilton’s desk is a mustachioed Civil War soldier. This is my in.

“I see you’re a Joshua Chamberlain fan.”

Wilson looks nonplussed.

“I’ve seen the memorial. At Gettysburg,” I continue. My feet are sliding around in my shoes, the faux leather lining slick with sweat.

“What?”

“Your magnet,” I say, pointing and praying that there wasn’t another Union general that resembled a skinny walrus.

“Oh.” He leans over to look, his chair groaning. “I’ve never noticed that before. Thirty years I’ve been here.” To my relief the printer spits out the last death notice.

“Here you go, Jen.” Wilton says and hands over the goods before returning to his monitor.

My mother had brought up the Gettysburg trip only a few days before when she and my older sister Miri were planning the speech for Miri’s rehearsal dinner.  

    “We could talk about the time we left you at Gettysburg!” Mom said.

    “That was me,” I interrupted.

    “No, honey. That was Miri. I remember.”

I remembered too. My dad, a history buff, drug us to Gettysburg when I was in the second grade. We had climbed Little Round Top, the hill Joshua Chamberlain defended, as well as Big Round Top, aptly named larger hill that Chamberlain also defended.  I wandered around examining the trees for bullet holes, while my parents and sisters hiked back down. They reached the Visitors Center before they realized they were a child short of three. They found me shivering and sobbing with snot clotting in the polar fleece of my jacket sleeves.

After the paper goes out at eleven, we have our newsroom meeting. Everyone pulls their chairs into a circle at the middle of the editorial room, each writer says what they’re working on, and Angie writes it on a whiteboard. Wilton, seniority dictates, goes first, and begins the list of deaths, engagements, births, and weddings.

And then I hear the submarine, water rushing in, the crew scrambling. It’s probably Leslie, for Larry again. And why shouldn’t he be here? His name is on the stapler, and the phone, and the desk, and the pencils.  But then Angie’s phone lights up. Leslie wouldn’t. But Larry is determined to infiltrate every level of the office. Angie excuses herself and returns to her desk. My fingers are compulsively exploring a hole in Larry Scroggins’s chair cushion.

“So, Gina,” Wilton says, sitting back in his chair and resting his hands on his stomach. “How’s the boyfriend?”

Gina, sniffling occasionally, begins to fill us in on her long distance boyfriend who works in the West Indies.

Angie has been talking for a long time. I wish I knew how to read lips. I wish Gina would shut up. I continue to decimate Larry’s chair. Angie frowns and turns away from the meeting, talking still, and I’m leaning after her.

“And he said, ‘I’d like to make this an open relationship.’ And I told him, just because you met a supermodel from Aruba over the internet,” Gina is sobbing, “you think you ca—”

“Sorry, about that,” Angie said, as Gina honks into the tissue Wilton offers. “That was Leslie, Larry’s wife.”

The whole office snaps their head towards her en masse, like meerkats on Nature.  I, on the other hand, am staring at Gina, who at any minute could reveal the location of the secret trashcan.

Angie pulls out her glasses cloth and begins kneading the lenses between her fingers. “She didn’t know about Larry. She’s a very nice woman, and I was able to clear that up.”

Everyone is exchanging glances, well, except Gina who’s still buried in the tissue hiccupping. She gives a final blow, and then she folds the tissue up and sticks it in her pocket while I groan internally. Maybe they don’t even have a trashcan. My black serious-working-adult pants are covered in bits of yellow chair-interior foam.

As soon as the meeting adjourns, the office is buzzing and not about the inevitable demise of Gina’s long distance relationship. It won’t be that time the intern revolutionized grammar, but the time Larry left his messy personal life trailing through the office. I’ve lost the summer to Larry Scroggins.

Larry wasn’t even a good employee. Gina says he stole her staples all the time. Wilton chuckled once that his messy desk was like a falling rock zone. I glance at my own backpack, filled with litter. Maybe he didn’t know where the trashcan was either, so he could only pile the garbage higher and higher while fearing that an angry ex-wife would attack his phone.

As if sensing my thoughts the phone begins it’s sad whooping. I pick up Larry’s stapler and begin picking at the label. Into the backpack goes “PROPERTY OF LARRY SCROGGINS.” I feel like declaring “I am Mrs. DeWinter now!” but I doubt anyone here has read Rebecca, and they struggle to remember my name now without my confusing them. The phone is still ringing, so I answer, “Larry doesn’t work here anymore. I work here, and my name is Jane.”

“Are you the person who told my ex-wife I got fired?” The voice does not belong to a Leslie. I look down at the caller ID, which now, like the desk, stapler, and pencils, reads LARRY SCROGGINS.

“No.” It’s like talking to a celebrity. The Larry Scroggins. Of cubicle fame.

“So, Jane. You’re my replacement. Good luck with that.” Larry laughs, not unkindly.

“I’m an intern. You left your stapler here.”  I look guiltily at the crumpled label in my bag.

“You can keep it, Jane,” he says. I knew it wasn’t a hard name to remember.

I do a chair pirouette. Wilton is asleep over his computer, Gina is crying, and Angie has moved to some other part of the office. “Thanks. Angie told on you,” I whisper.

“Of course she did. Not one to get involved in others’ personal lives, that Angie.” He laughs again, and I join in this time.

“I should probably go,” I say, twisting the phone cord around my thumb.

“Well, have fun doing all the work, Jane.”

There’s a click, and Larry is gone. I hang up, then turn to find Angie standing behind me.

“Hi.” I sound like one of the friendly mice that dress Cinderella.

“Whenever you get tomorrow’s C5 page formatted, could you bring me a copy?”

“Absolutely.” I’m excited. The C5 page is the horoscope, advice columns, and crossword puzzles. You read it to check that nothing is capitalized that shouldn’t be, the dates are all correct, and the “Astrograph” has the appropriate spacing to stretch the column longer. Nobody wants to do it, so it goes to me. But, I have the C5 page done now. And the C5 pages for the next two weeks. That’s probably a record.

I carry my collection of perfectly formatted pages over to Angie’s desk. Look how competent and driven I am, what a team player who’s self-motivated and detail oriented. I put them down gently, with my most benevolent smile, like Mary putting Jesus in the manger. I facilitated this miracle. You’re welcome.

“Thanks,” Angie says.

“No problem. I went ahead and did the next couple of weeks too.”  

“Oh, okay. Thanks, Jen.”  She doesn’t even look at them. The “Astrograph” spacing could’ve gone to hell for all she knows or cares.

“You’re welcome,” I say, bouncing slightly on the balls of my feet. She’ll notice how many proofs there are. Any minute, she’ll notice.

She lifts off tomorrow’s page and hands me the rest. “I’m sure these are fine, you can hold onto them.”

“Right.” I return to my desk, and consider writing profanity on the proofs with a Larry Scroggins pencil. Luckily the phone rings.

“Hey Jane, by any chance have you found an umbrella that has ‘Larry—”

I cut Larry off. “Did they pay attention to your work?”

“No. And they aren’t going to pay attention to yours either Jane.” He laughs. “No matter how good it is.”

“What did you do to get fired?”

Larry’s silent for a moment, and I worry he’ll hang up.

“Well I was working my ass off to no avail,” he says, and I’m nodding though he can’t really tell. “I mean the only way you any recognition there is if you’ve been there for centuries whether you do anything or not. Like Wilton. Unless things have changed?”

Wilton is snoring softly on a pile of papers from 1988-89, Gina’s mascara and snot are streaming as she screams ‘But I love you!’ into her phone, and Angie is windexing her glasses.

“No,” I say, cupping the phone close to my mouth. I imagine Larry with stacks of proofs on his desk, getting up at the crack of dawn with his mug of coffee, being called Lenny or Lester.

“I figured. I asked for the raise I deserved. I told Angie I wanted to be a writer with a writer’s salary. And when she said no,” he paused for a moment, “I went on strike.”

“Wow.” I want to ask how you strike as a copyeditor, but Angie is approaching in the reflection of my computer screen. “I’d better go.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about me, Jane, but Wilton and Gina were threatened by me. Don’t let them take advantage of you too.”  Angie stops at Gina’s desk and appears to be asking her to lower her volume.

“I won’t. I’ll make sure,” I promise before hanging up.

“Jen, who was that on the phone?” Angie asks glasses in hand, and I spin to confront her.

“Jane. It’s Jane. Not Jen. I’ve been here for three months, and you haven’t called me the right name once.” I say, noticing that Wilton raises his head off the desk at the sound.

I’m pleased to see Angie has frozen mid-lense.

“I’m sorry Jane, but could you refrain—”

“No, I won’t refrain. Not only have I been here for months, but I’ve been doing a great job. You think these computers turn themselves on in the morning? You think any of these people can spell on their own?” All of the whispered rants I’ve been giving the bathroom mirror are spewing out. Suddenly I’m standing and jabbing an accusatory finger at Angie.

“And you never notice me, just like you didn’t notice Larry. And when he asked to be noticed, you fired him because you and the other writers were threatened by his talent,” I continue. I’m shouting now, loud enough that all the writers can hear it.

“His talent?” Gina hiccups from her desk.  She’s hung up the phone, and her eyebrows have nearly disappeared behind her bangs. “He never did anything. And when he decided to ‘strike,’ he sabotaged everybody’s work, he added errors that weren’t there.”

“And he lit the trashcan on fire,” Wilton adds. Behind him I see other writers craning their necks to watch.

“And he deleted a full day’s paper from the system,” Angie sniffs, returning the glasses to her nose. “It didn’t matter how talented he might’ve been,” she continues. “We had sufficient reason to fire him.” She gives me a final glance, goes to her desk, pulling out a file I’m certain says Jen Anderson on it.

My face feels like I’ve been in the sun for too long. The whole office hums. People cluster around the water cooler, near the copier, by Wilton’s desk, and they talk about Larry Scroggins and me.

 

Current Occupation: Marketing Assistant
Former Occupation: Waitress
Contact Information: Jessica Lynn is a 23-year-old marketing assistant from Randolph, NJ.  She has loved writing ever since she was little and wants to one day make a career out of it.  Jessica's prior publication credits include Pif Magazine, Madras Mag, and Artifact Nouveau, among others.  In her spare time, Jessica enjoys reading, drinking wine, and cuddling her pets.  If you would like to connect with her further, please find her at @JessTheWriter33.

 

#

Most Days I Love

My Body, Except

When I Really Don’t

 

Today I sit at the table

at work.  Around me,

people talk, chattering

faster than the wind

blowing outside

which knocks tree branches

against the half-opened

screen door in the kitchen.

 

Alone in my wind-battered

thoughts, I drink apple cider

so cold

it cracks my lips

like a window.

 

My feet ache

the same ache

as one thousand other working women

who sink into their couch

after their shifts

and wonder if this is all

that life is meant to be,

 

and I remember last night

when I cried silently

to the face in the mirror,

    when I cursed the hips

    and the non-flat stomach

peering back at me.

 

There are scars on my

ankles wrists shoulders

from the days where it hurt

to trust myself.

 

So today, staring down

at the place in my thighs

with no gap, and my hint of stomach

underneath my shirt,

I love my strong body, able

to keep walking forward

even when the earth is giving out.

 

Current Occupation: Call Centre Operator / Customer Relations
Former Occupation: Retail Sales for a High Street Fashion Store
Contact Information: Writing under the name of iDrew, to co-ordinate with her titles, Essex girl Drew has previously been published both on-line and in print.  She enjoys shopping, boys and clubs, claiming these are merely research for her writing.  She is one of the founding members of the Clueless Collective and to be found at:  Clueless Collective – Home

#

iHungover

 

at night

al chohol is my best mate

he makes me laugh and dissolves

away my inhibitions but

come the morning come the sunlight

moody al becomes my nemesis

makes me suffer for

drinking tea tortures me by taking

an axe and split-

ting my head forcing

nasty evil daylight

into my eyes as shameful

memories slowly crawl into my brain

no work today i’ll stay

in bed i’ll phone

my boss to say i’m ill

the icky girly thing

i think in future i’m better off to

stick with spliff and pills

 

Current Occupation: Janitor
Former Occupation: Supportive Living Specialist
Contact Information: Emily lives with her husband and their children. She likes to complain about her job to her ex-coworker and envision how she would word her two weeks notice. Emily likes to hike, read, and generally do anything unrelated to cleaning. 

 

#

Automated Idiocy

 

Julie and I were contacted by our third manager at this point. I didn't even bother to learn his name. He introduced himself and gave us two papers which had our names and employee codes.

"The timecards are now going to be off an automated system so you won't have to fill one out and send it in. You'll call in, enter your employee number, it’s right on the paper, and hit either the one or the nine and then the pound key." He instructed. "Make sure you don't go over your time."

"Okay." Julie and I nodded.

He asked if we had any questions and Julie piped up.

"Should we call in now, as in starting today?" She asked.

"Yes, that way you'll get paid today." He replied and about ran out the door.

We both pulled out our phones and dialed the number.

"Por favor, introduzca su número de empleado" The automated voice asked.

We tried again.

"Por favor, introduzca su número de empleado" The voice repeated.

I immediately looked for the manager and thankfully he was still parked out front of the building– spraying his work truck wind shield with someone else's supply of window cleaner.

"Uh, we've tried calling in, and it’s in Spanish." I abashedly said, calling the number for the third time.

He chuckled and said, "I may look like I can speak Spanish, but I actually can't."

"I have a cousin who has the same problem." I replied trying to make small talk.

He had to call two different managers. The first one didn't know how to fix the problem and the other finally said that we had to press nine for the instructions to be in English.

I walked back into the building, hitting the number to call again. I pressed nine and immediately it changed into English. “Please enter your employee number,” it asked. I clocked in and walked Julie through the process.

"Were we just profiled?" I jokingly asked Julie. "I mean do they just assume that we're Mexican because we're janitors?"

"They probably didn't realize two white people would even work for them, especially with how shitty the job and company are," Julie replied.

I knew she had had enough though. She really didn't appreciate this last manager basically treating us like we were a bother. Plus, with the constant change in managers with no notice, the lack of getting supplies when we need them – when the company is located just 45 minutes away – and the dismal hours with the equally dismal paychecks; she quit.

I was torn. I had just lost my second job due to that company closing and so it would mean a bigger paycheck, but then I would have to deal with these idiots all by myself.

Two weeks later, I was looking forward to the bigger paycheck. When I checked my account it was the same as if Julie worked with me. I texted Sophia about the problem immediately. I let her know that Julie had quit and I think she had sent the message to Reynaldo. I didn’t tell her that Reynaldo’s email was the only email Julie had to contact the company or that Julie had only given two days’ notice, as she was so fed up.

"He don't work with the company no more." Sofia texted back.

Neither does Julie! I wanted to scream. What’s with the automated system if you aren't going to check it?!

    I texted Julie complaining about the whole situation and asked that when she got paid, if she would give me the money. I even offered to share it with her. Julie texted back that she hasn’t called in since she quit and as the money was technically mine as I had done the work, she would happily hand it over.   

    I still get asked if Julie is going to work with me for the week. I still reply with the same answer, no. I’ve been asked to let them know when she does come back to which I politely reply that I will. It takes everything I have not to reply, “She don’t work with the company no more” and to be completely honest, I can’t wait to tell them that “I don’t work with the company no more.”

Current Occupation: Website Content Coordinator at a non-profit media company
Former Occupation: High school English teacher
Contact Information: Greg Hill is a writer and voice over talent in West Hartford, CT, whose works have appeared in Queen Mob's Tea House, Black Heart Magazine and elsewhere. An MFA graduate of Vermont of College of Fine Arts, he writes poems that are not inspired by working a desk job in some media company’s web department. Most of the time, anyway.

#

DVD Title Input Using PayPal to Online Store via Drupal       



 

Start of Program “DVD Title Input Using PayPal to Online Store via Drupal”

Subprogram “Sorting Master DVDs”

Desk table

Create Set “Master DVDs Pile”

Select one Master DVD not equal to contained in Set “Master DVDs Pile”

Item equals “Active Master DVD”

If Active Master DVD is not for sale, remove to storage (refer to Storage Protocol)

Active Master DVD is equal to contained in Set “Master DVD Pile”

Place Active Master DVD on top of Master DVDs Pile

If quantity of Master DVDs not equal to contained in Set “Master DVDs Pile” is greater than zero, repeat to Subprogram “Sorting Master DVDs”

End of Subprogram “Sorting Master DVDs”

Computer tower

Push On button

Left-side screen

If left-side screen is not equal to Startup screen, then wait

Keyboard

Hit Control+Alt+Delete

Type password

Hit Enter

Left-side screen

If left-side screen is not equal to User mode, then wait

Mouse to “Start” button

Left click

Mouse to “All Programs”

Left click

Mouse up

Scroll down

Mouse to “Google Chrome” folder

Left click

Mouse to “Google Chrome” button

Left click

Keyboard

Hit Control+N

Left-side screen

Mouse to active tab

Left Click and drag to right-side screen

Right-side screen

Mouse to URL field

Left click

Keyboard

Type “paypal.com”

Hit Enter

Right-side screen

Mouse to “Email”

Left click

Keyboard

Type email

Hit Tab

Type password

Hit Enter

Right-side screen

Mouse to “Merchant Services”

Left click

Mouse to “Create payment buttons for your website”

Left click

Mouse to “Button type: Add to Cart”

Left click

Keyboard

Hit Alt+Tab

Left-side screen

Keyboard

Type webmaster access URL for Online Store via Drupal

Hit Enter

Left-side screen

Mouse to “Username”

Left click

Keyboard

Enter username

Hit Tab

Enter password

Hit Enter

Subprogram “Title Input”

Desk table

If number of Master DVDs in Master DVD Pile is equal to zero, then GOTO Subprogram “Close Tabs”

Remove top Master DVD from sleeve

Item equals Active Master DVD

Discard empty sleeve (refer to Storage Protocol)

Place Active Master DVD on top of Master DVDs Pile

Left-side screen

Mouseover “Content Manager”

Mouse down

Mouseover “Create Content”

Mouse right

Mouse down

Mouseover “DVD”

Left click

Right-side screen

Mouse to “Item name”

Left click

Keyboard

Edit name (refer to Naming Protocol)

Right-side screen

Mouse to “Price”

Left click

Keyboard

Type Active Master DVD sale price (refer to Pricing Protocol)

Right-side screen

Scroll down

Mouse to “Create Button”

Left click

Mouse up

Mouse to “Website” tab

Left click

Right click

Mouse up

Mouse to “Copy”

Left click

Mouse down

Mouse to “Create similar button”

Left click

Left-side screen

Mouse to “PayPal Link”

Right click

Mouse down

Mouse to “Paste”

Left click

Right-side screen

Mouse to “Item name”

Triple left click

Right click

Mouse down

Mouse to “Copy”

Left click

Left-side screen

Mouse to “Title”

Right click

Mouse down

Mouse to “Paste”

Left click

Mouse to “Title”

Left click-and-hold

Drag to highlight team names and date from title

Depress left click button

Right click

Mouse down

Mouse to “Cut”

Left click

Mouse to “Team vs Team”

Right click

Mouse down

Mouse to “Paste”

Left click

Mouse down

Mouse to “Input format”

Left click

Mouse down

Mouse to “PHP code”

Left click

Scroll down

Mouse to “Year”

Left click

Keyboard

Type year (refer to Naming Protocol)

Left-side screen

Scroll down

Mouse to “Save”

Left click

Remove Active Master DVD from Master DVDs Pile

Place Active Master DVD into storage (refer to Storage Protocol)

Repeat at Subprogram “Title Input”

End of Subprogram “Title Input”

Subprogram “Close Tabs”

Close left-side screen open tab

Right-side screen

Close right-side screen open tab

End of Subprogram “Close Tabs”

End of Program “DVD Title Input Using PayPal to Online Store via Drupal”




 

 

Current Occupation: Behavioral Health Technician, caring for people who are mentally challenged
Former Occupation: Twenty years as a Food Service Supervisor, mostly in a 300-bed hospital
Contact Information: donnarkevic: Weston, WV. MFA National University. Recent poetry has appeared in Blue Collar Review, Off the Coast, and Kentucky Review. Poetry Chapbooks include Laundry, published in 2005 by Main Street Rag. Plays have received readings in Chicago, New York, and Virginia. FutureCycle Press published, Admissions, a book of poems, in 2013.

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I FALL TO PIECES

 

    I’m a secretary at the law firm of Gray and Overy, both men dead as Jacob Marley. I type faster than Supergirl on PCP and spell better than the Oxford unabridged dictionary. So the boss, the senior partner, likes me. I’m his girl. Like The Temptations, he calls me, “My Girl,” but without the soul. I haven’t been a girl since I sat on my father’s knee. I have a black and white photograph of me balanced on his drunken knee, a beer bottle held in his left hand, me knowing that if it came to a fall, he’d catch the Schlitz.

    By the way, my boss doesn’t call any of the female lawyers, “my girl.” There are none.

Like me, my boss is Polish, and I can pronounce his name like an anthropologist. His last name, Krzywoszyja, rolls off my tongue like a French kiss. I received my first and last French kiss from my late husband. The first occurred on our first date in 1961 at the Crescent Movie Theater during The Guns of Navarone. My mouth full of popcorn, his darting tongue nearly choked me, kernels bouncing around like spent howitzer casings. My last French kiss occurred on New Year’s Eve 1963.The band played, “I Fall to Pieces.” Scientists claim kissing releases dopamine, the body’s own pleasure drug. For forty-nine years I’ve gone without my fix.

The company is merging with Kurosawa and Maki, both men alive and kicking ass. To be proactive, I brushed up on my Japanese. Kurosawa means “black swamp,” and Maki means “black pine.” Mr. Krzywoszyja’s name is mud, the company swamped in red ink, the merger, an attempt to get back in black. As with any merger, rumors of layoffs buzz like Kamikazes. Will I be tossed out like a sixty-four-year-old piece of sushi, or will I be Kurosawa and Maki’s new onnanoko? That’s Japanese for girl.

    One day last week at the copier, like a faithful Bartleby, I made 5 copies of a 500-page brief. While walking back to my desk, my left leg transformed into a wooden peg, like Captain Ahab’s. I lumbered back to my desk and hid the prosthesis under my desk. Actually, Captain Ahab’s leg was made of a Sperm Whale’s jaw bone. But, at the time, I couldn’t recall any other one legged characters. With a letter opener, I pecked at it like a dart board. Pine? Ash? Curley Maple? Why hadn’t I paid more attention in arboriculturist class?

Pretending to mimic the Japanese work ethic, I pretended to work late. After locking up the empty office, I limped through the belly of the vacant parking garage, my peg leg echoing like underwater sonar. Run Silent, Run Deep, a movie in which Clark Gable plays a US submarine captain obsessed with sinking a particular Japanese sub. No peg leg but a definite Ahab syndrome.   

When I got home, I Googled Daphne, a nymph in Greek mythology. Apollo, the sun god, had the hots for Daphne. He pursued. To protect her virginity, she prayed to the gods, hoping for a restraining order. In answer to her prayer, some nib shit god transformed her into a laurel, Laurus nobilis. At my age, no one pursues me, except the neighbor’s Miniature Schnauzer. And my virginity, well, my late husband picked that cherry a long time ago, leaving me with the pit.

Then I reread Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis, the story of Gregor Samsa. Gregor, a traveling salesman, wakes to find himself a man-sized insect. I’ve seen my share of those at the local bars. But I was no traveling salesman. No Willy Loman. Or Lowoman, for that matter. My late husband, however, was a traveling salesman. He sold industrial lubricants. On the wall above his desk hung a salesman-of-the-year award from 1963, the first year of our marriage. Ah, the wonders of dopamine.

My research left me clueless, so before going to bed, I sanded and shellacked my new leg, smooth and shiny as a Louisville Slugger.

    For some reason, the next day, no one at work noticed my wooden leg. I used to have gams like Betty Grable. But bulging blue varicose veins turned my legs into road maps to nowhere. The blue on maps denotes rivers, streams or similar bodies of water. I used to have a body like Veronica Lake. Now it’s more like the Nevada Mud Flats.

At the big merger meeting when I crossed my legs, no one gave me a second look. So like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, I repeatedly uncrossed my legs under my short black skirt, revealing I was not wearing underwear. Later, when Mr. Krywoszyja said his new client didn’t have a leg to stand on, I looked for some hidden reference to me, but he just dumped the case file on my desk like a load of two-by-fours.

Then, something else happened.

Last Friday after work I went out for drinks with the new crop of boy lawyers from Kurosawa and Maki. Not a female in the bunch. Ahso! After my husband died, I started drinking. The boys don’t nibble on me at these affairs like they did twenty years ago. I’m too old, an abandoned apple left to fall on the ground, gravity winning in the end, my body rotting in the dirt, the birds eating me up, shitting my seeds on the head of city hall’s bronze and sterile Doughboy on his way to a lost generation.

As we sat at the bar, I sipped on an Apple Martini. The piano man played, Can’t Take My Eyes off You. And there, floating at the bottom of my glass, one of my eyes peered up at me. I couldn’t believe my eye. I ran . . . hobbled to the little girls’ room. Inside a few young beauties preened in front of the mirror. To stall for time, I hid in one of the stalls. To kill time, I read the graffiti. Graffiti in women’s bathrooms are much longer than in men’s. With men all things are done quickly: sex, eating, romance, sex, etc. Women prefer to linger, to savor the moment, even when sitting on the toilet. I especially enjoyed this quote from Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong: “It was easy enough to kill yourself in a fit of despair. It was easy enough to play the martyr. It was harder to do nothing. To endure your life. To wait.” Done waiting, I exited the stall and limped to the mirror. My peg leg skid on the slick tile, and I fought for balance. Grabbing the sink, I looked into the mirror. There it wasn’t. No right eye. I began to feel like a pirate but without any booty. Years ago, my booty dropped like a swayback mule.

Makeup was useless. I had no eye to make up. I felt like God, starting from scratch, scrounging for something with which to make Eve, like maybe some old soup bones. Was I blind drunk? I only had one . . . okay, five Apple Martinis. I freshened my lipstick and returned to my bar stool. I looked at each of the boys in the eye . . . eyes. No one let on. No one openly discussed Mike Wazowski, periscopes, Cyclopes, monocles, or the Citizen in chapter twelve of Joyce’s Ulysses (metaphorically).  Okay, I was reaching on that last one.

I spent the rest of the night winking, hoping to catch someone’s eye. Thinking I had too much to drink, the boys hailed me a cab. From the back seat, I winked at the cab driver, but to avoid eye contact, he adjusted his rearview mirror. I guess he subscribed to Satchel Paige’s theory: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” To top it off, the doorman ignored my one-eyed dilemma. He just tipped his hat after I tipped him with a dollar bill, asking him if he noticed any similarity with me and the Eye of Providence, which is on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States of America, which is on the reverse side of the United States one dollar bill. He just smiled and showed me the door. I should have gotten a door prize for being able to explain that coherently after downing five . . . okay, nine Apple Martinis and after losing one eye . . . on one leg.

What I got was a Saturday morning . . . afternoon hangover.

In church that Sunday morning, it happened again. This time, I lost my hands. My hand to God. When the priest asked the congregation to join hands while praying the Our Father, my hands disappeared. I stood there like Venus de Milo, except without the perky breasts. A man sculpted the statue, thus the perky breasts. Archeologists believe the sculptor painted and gussied up the woman with armbands, necklace, earrings, and crown. Her missing left hand is believed to have held an apple, tempting and delicious as, well, as a perky breast. Men go gaga over painted women be they flesh or stone.

During the Lord’s Prayer, Jay Jenkins on my right and Betty Paberanska on my left reached out to me, but I had nothing for them to hold on to. They seemed unfazed. Trance-like they prayed. All I could think of was gloves. What was I going to do with seven pairs of gloves?

That afternoon, I ordered Japanese. The delivery boy smiled like an oversized cookie jar. The chopsticks. Japanese chopsticks are superior to Chinese. They are lacquered instead of unfinished wood. Japanese chopsticks are shorter, perfect for little girl’s hands like mine. And, Japanese chopsticks taper to pointed ends instead of the blunted Chinese. So, let me be blunt. Chopsticks seem like a cruel device, cruel enough to be used at the Salem Witch Trials. If a handless woman like me could eat Japanese food with chopsticks, she must be a witch. Call me Cho Chang. No, too young. Broom-hilda. Nawh, too green. Лилли Александра. Too obscure. Medea. Too ancient. Glinda, the good witch of the South. Perfect. If Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had been a witch, she would have been Glinda. Jacqueline’s maiden name was Bouvier. Women change their last names as easy as movie marquees. After the death of my husband, I changed back to my maiden name. The children said they felt like orphans. The boys at the office didn’t notice my new nameplate. And the mailman kept delivering mail to a woman who didn’t exist.  

That night I tried to sleep. Between dozes, I heard the tight-lipped voice of Rod Serling:

“Imagine, if you will, a woman, like an aging automobile, slowly losing her parts. Although she limps along life’s highway, she believes she will find her destination. But unknown to her, she’s on a one-way road to a dead end street in a tiny berg known as the Twilight Zone.” Then that hideous music, like Salieri pushing a Mozart symphony down a staircase.

In the morning, I woke to Patsy Cline, singing, “Faded Love.” I dressed. To hell with it, I thought, slipping into a strand of pearls my late husband gave me as a peace offering in his effort to smooth things over after I found out about his affair with that girl twenty-some years his junior. To hell with it. I could still spell the pants off any misogynist. But looking in the vanity mirror, I noticed I had disappeared altogether. “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” No, sir, I didn’t like it.

And damn me for quoting a man.

 

Current Occupation: Free lance classical music and theatre arts reviewer for STYLUS and community activist. She is currently involved in national work to end use of the Death Penalty in America and in prison reform
Former Occupation: Academic hospital administrator and grant writer
Contact Information: Carolyn Gregory published her second full length book of poetry, "Facing the Music", this year in Florida. She has been involved with a weekly writing group called Jamaica Pond Poets for nineteen years. This year, she has done public readings in the Dire Series at Out of the Blue II Art Gallery, and was a featured poet at the Boston celebrations for National Poetry month 2015 at the Boston Public Library. She also did a featured reading for the monthly "Chapter and Verse" series in Boston. Gregory has published poems and music/theatre reviews in American Poetry Review, Seattle Review, Bellowing Ark, Main Street Rag, Wilderness House Literary Review, Cutthroat and Off the Coast. She was previously nominated for a Pushcart Prize for Poetry and won a Massachusetts Cultural Council Award. Her first full length book, "Open Letters", was published in Boston in 2009.
 

 

#
ONE BRIDGE LEADS TO A BIG SUIT

The little boy in a big suit stares out
the window at bridges going out of town and north.
Floor plans spread out around a long desk.
He's got a file drawer full of ties
for different meetings,
another drawer with diplomas
and a family portrait framed in silver.

The director visits him
followed by an architect and a nurse.
When they leave, he gulps his lunch,
staring out the window
where sailboats roll by.

Twelve hour days, food on the run
dodging traffic, a house in the suburbs,
a pretty wife and baby —
Is there anything more?

The little boy gets frustrated in his cage.
One bridge right, one bridge left,
someone's clock does not match his own.

The tie and suit feel pretty tight sometimes.
One hospital floor leads to another,
one budget turns into three.
How do you get out?

Current Occupation:  Blogger and Writer  My blog is workinginthe21stcentury.com and compiles resources and news items, and I write book reviews and editorials about work, careers, pay and benefits, and other 21st century employment issues.

Former Occupation:  Besides working in a bakery in high school, I've worked many part time and temporary jobs and newspaper reporting. My professional work history includes Media Buyer for an Advertising Agency. American Red Cross, Disaster Services. Office Manager, Diversified Business Credit. Admissions, Capella University where I was allowed to write for the department's newsletter as part of my responsibilities.

Contact Information: Writer and blogger. I earned a BA in Labor Studies and Communications, University of Minnesota. My fiction and nonfiction writing has appeared in several online journals and newspapers. Besides writing, my interests include gardening, quilting, reading, photography, travel and spending time with family, friends and two cats.

 

#

C.O.R.E.

 

Mindlessly following a routine started 15 years ago, Myrna settles onto the teal, synthetic linen of the upholstered task chair at one of scores of taupe, fabric-covered workstations on the 35th floor of the TCR Tower.  On automatic pilot, she flips on the desktop computer.  While it boots up, she settles in for the day stashing her purse into the lower, right hand desk drawer.  She walks to the employee cafeteria to put her lunch into one of the refrigerators.  Removing her coffee cup from the dishwasher, she fills it almost full, then adds a splash of cold water so she can start drinking it immediately.  

 

Myrna is the Administrative Assistant to the HR Vice President, Nancy Brown, at Sel-Mor Insurance.  Once the computer is up and running and the caffeine starts coursing through her body, her brain begins to engage as she hunts for news that might impact the insurance industry and human resources.  She checks her bookmarked business, insurance, HR and favorite news sites.  If she finds something of importance, she forwards it to Nancy or others at Sel-Mor.  This morning one article, about a company named Trak-Eze, Inc., attracts her attention.  She bookmarks it deciding to read it at home.

 

Myrna Garner is in her mid 50’s.  People try to tease her age out of her, but she doesn’t bite.  Co-workers know she is widowed.  They know that after her husband died of a lengthy illness; she took a mission trip to Guatemala through her church and ended up adopting a three year old orphan, Ana, from the orphanage near where she helped build a school.  Ana is the joy of Myrna’s life.  Ana is attending college now, and Myrna is extremely proud of her daughter.  Photos documenting Ana’s life adorn Myrna’s workstation.

 

Preferring to wear navy blue because she thinks navy is slimming and professional, Myrna’s navy dresses, jackets, slacks and pumps are like a uniform.  She accessorizes with sparkly scarves around the holidays, a green scarf on St. Patrick’s Day and other scarves and pieces of costume jewelry.  Her co-workers joke that Myrna never has to spend time debating what she will wear that day.  “It must be awfully dark in her closet,” Sandra said once to peals of laughter.

 

She brings her own lunch every day and usually sits alone eating and reading in Sel-Mor’s employee dining room.  The book is always wrapped inside a homemade cloth book cover.  She and a few other women in the company share paperback romance novels bundled inside canvas totes.  The book cover hides the steamy covers from view.  In Myrna’s opinion, co-workers and fellow train riders don’t need to know she is reading The Cowboy and the Girl in the Hot Pink Chaps, or Love the Way You Lie, or Playing with Fyre.  Often new employees ask her what she is reading.  Myrna answers, “A novel.”  Co-workers answer, “Literature.”

 

Despite the jokes, Myrna is well-liked.  She is always approachable.  Sel-Mor’s employees know, if they have a problem, they can bribe Myrna into taking a break by offering to buy her a cup of tea at the coffee shop on the ground floor where she listens and guides them in sorting out their issue.  If it is emotional, family-related, financial or legal she refers them to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  With work-related issues Myrna can ask a few questions and usually a solution becomes evident.  If the problem needs more attention, Myrna refers them to Sandra Graham, the HR specialist.  Employees who get to know Myrna trust her. She will take a lot of secrets to her grave.  

 

Myrna is old enough to remember when HR was Personnel.  She prefers that term to Human Resources, a term that reminds her of Animal Husbandry.  Raised on a farm, Myrna knows the ramifications of that term.  She believes dignity, meaning and community result in the best performance from employees, something she learned in a “Productive Workplaces” seminar.  She began a policy of sending greeting cards signed by supervisors, co-workers and HR when anyone is ill, grieving or celebrating the birth of a baby to create a sense of a caring community.  She works with direct supervisors on team building events for their staff.

 

Management views Myrna as the perfect employee.  Rare is the day she calls in sick or comes in late.  She’s never a source of office friction.  The HR VP, Nancy Brown, totally relies on her.  Sel-Mor’s management and board members trust her with confidential information.  Myrna will question decisions, but never in a confrontational manner.  She makes it very easy for management to take her for granted.  She’s a widow putting her daughter through college.  She is a lifer in their eyes, and management doesn’t feel they must offer her promotions or inducements to stay.  

 

Myrna’s degree is in Library Sciences, and one of the projects she works on is documenting the history of Sel-Mor.  She compiled a library in a room across the aisle by her desk containing all the old annual reports, press releases, news articles as well as popular business books and trade publications.  If someone has a question, Myrna can look through her digital card file and pull an Insurance Journal article for them to read.  Employees can borrow books ranging from Who Moved My Cheese to You Branding: Reinventing Your Personal Identify as a Successful Brand to How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Myrna loves this part of her job and views herself as the information and education hub of Sel-Mor.  

 

The economic slow-down and eventual crash of 2008 hit Sel-Mor hard.  Nancy was darned glad she had Myrna to confide in during this time.  At one point Nancy realized management wasn’t inviting her to their top level meetings.  She thought they were planning to fire her and began pondering her future.  When one day, Dave Carter, the CEO, called her into his office, she assumed the worst.  When she got seated at the conference table with him, Dave said, “The board approved a lay-off and we need to shed 10% of the staff.  Work out the details with Department Vice Presidents, come up with a list, and summarize the salaries and benefits so we can see how it will affect the bottom line.”  “We don’t want any laws broken, but look at people who are at the top of their pay range, or those with substantial vacation time, and marginal employees” said Dave as he looked directly at Nancy gauging her response.  “Any questions?”  “Who knows about this?” asked Nancy.  “Only the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee,” answered Dave.

 

That day was one of the few times Nancy cried at work.  She cried because the order from Dave was a total shock.  She felt so left out of the loop she began to question her own value to Sel-Mor and its management team.  Didn’t Dave trust her?  He evidently did not value her experience and expertise.  A down-sizing was devastating to those let go, and made the remaining staff angry and mistrusting.  There was no opportunity for her to suggest alternatives since they didn’t consult her.  But the list was drawn up, presented to Dave and approved by the HR committee of the Board.  She asked Myrna for help and they carried out the carnage.  After it was over, she came back to her office and found a Gardenia bonsai tree on her desk.  She opened the gift card and read, “I hope and pray this is the only thing you ever need to prune again.  Myrna.”

 

The down-sizing didn’t solve all Dave Carter’s problems.  Sel-Mor’s dip in income required even more cuts in expenses.  These are the times that test the mettle of any CEO.  The unspoken message of investors is “fix this or the next expense to be excised will be you.  There’s plenty of other talent out there who would relish the chance in the top spot, and they will do what needs to be done.”  Few can withstand the pressure.

 

Someone asks Dave at every board meeting to make more cuts.  He does, but limiting the number of pencils or the variety of sizes of legal pads doesn’t make a dent in expenses.  One VP complained, “If I find a paper clip on the sidewalk, I pick it up to bring to work.”  Another said “my assistant is tired of raiding her children’s pencil boxes for supplies.”  Dave is miserable.  He dreads getting on the elevator with an employee.  He fears their accusing eyes.  He holes up in his office asking his administrative assistant to bring him a thermos of coffee so he can keep working and avoid meeting anyone in the hallways or kitchen.  He looks for ways to cut costs even in his Zolpidem-induced sleep and hounds his department managers.  It began to look like they need another lay-off.

 

Then a salesman, Bryce Morrison, came to introduce his product to Dave.  Bryce, familiar with Sel-Mor’s recent downsizing, said, “I want to introduce you to the solution to your financial challenges.”  Dave perked up.  Bryce works for Trak-Eze, the developer of Corporate Overview, Reporting and Evaluation System (C.O.R.E.), a business productivity software

 

Bryce told Dave that according to Forbes, “64 percent of employees visit non-work related websites every day at work…21 percent waste five hours per week, and 3 percent said they waste 10 hours or more doing activities unrelated to work.”  It didn’t take Dave long to figure out how much all that wasted time cost.  “If everyone at Sel-Mor worked at their peak capacity, you could shed more jobs through attrition,” said Bryce.

 

“The optimal time to install C.O.R.E. is immediately after a lay-off, while the remaining staff is in shock and the memory of the downsizing is fresh,” Bryce told Dave.  “It is critical management promise the remaining staff that they are working towards cutting costs without going through another unnerving, demoralizing downsizing.  C.O.R.E. identifies underperformers for supervisors to coach so they meet or exceed the goals established.  Eventually management can weed out the underperformers and the unmotivated.”  “This is the future in management,” said Bryce, “if Sel-Mor doesn’t invest in this software, they won’t be able to compete with companies that do.  Right now you can become the first company to implement C.O.R.E. in the United States and be seen as an industry leader as you gain ground on your competition.”

 

Sel-Mor purchased the software with one add-on, the feature that tracks purchases employees make at online shopping sites like Amazon, Costco or Best Buy.  Sel-Mor made the down payment on C.O.R.E. and signed an annual contract.  Part of the sizeable costs of C.O.R.E. software includes support for management during implementation and IT support once it is in place.  The tech team from Trak-Eze loads C.O.R.E. onto the network server and each desktop computer after hours and weekends.  

 

A computer cable with a wrist band containing a sensor at one end is attached with Velcro around each employee’s wrist and plugged into the work station at the other end.  C.O.R.E. tracks time logged in, number of keystrokes, volume of work completed, completion time, time in meetings, travel time to and from meetings, personal time away from desks, websites visited, emails sent, and phone calls made on the company phone system.  Each task is analyzed and completion averages calculated, and supervisors can use those standards to evaluate their employees’ efficiency.  The sensor on the wrist-band keeps employees honest by recording their actual time in their workstation.  

 

At some point, this version of C.O.R.E. is capable of being programmed to measure heart rate and temperature as part of a wellness program through this wrist sensor.  Sel-Mor can choose at anytime to add other options constantly being developed.

 

Myrna was assigned to oversee the implementation and training.  After studying the literature, Myrna mentioned to the Project Manager that there are often outliers, tasks that require more time.  He reassured her that tasks requiring more than the average time are figured in so no employee is penalized.  “C.O.R.E. is a tool to assist supervisors to get employees to perform at their most productive level,” the Project Manager said.  “Adjustments can be made at any time.  It’s not intended to be punitive.”

 

Once the installation was thoroughly tested and every assurance made that it was functioning accurately, managers were gathered for introduction to this new management tool.  Myrna set up the kick-off event.  First, Dave reminded them of the competitiveness of their industry and how difficult it is to find any job, let alone a supervisory or managerial level job in this economic climate.  A graph of the decreasing number of middle management jobs in the marketplace and a diagram depicting salaries falling were shown.  “The down-sizing was tough on all of us,” Dave said.  “We value all of you and want to keep you on our management team.”

 

Next they viewed a video produced by Trak-Eze’s marketing department.  It was a tearjerker.  Several employees who lost jobs because their co-workers weren’t productive spoke about their job loss.  A single mother, who couldn’t buy new shoes for her children for school, talked of the stigma of hunting through garage sales for the right sizes of used shoes, jeans and backpacks.  A father, fighting back tears over his job loss and then his family’s home, railed against his self-centered coworkers for not being productive enough.  A department manager, who lost his job because his employees couldn’t meet productivity goals, told of finally finding a position with a commercial cleaning company cleaning offices at night, only to find himself assigned to clean the offices of his former employer including the office that once was his own.

 

As Sel-Mor’s supervisors sat in stunned silence, the team from Trak-Eze’s promotion department marched in with great fanfare, releasing balloons and confetti.  “All is not lost.” they announced.  “Your management, in an attempt to avoid any more lay-offs, purchased the C.O.R.E. business productivity software because they care about you, your jobs and your employees.”  The cheering went on for a good five minutes while Dave Carter stood beaming just watching his managers’ joy when they heard of his concern and willingness to shell out the dollars needed to keep his staff safe from the market bears.

 

They broke into smaller work groups and, over coffee, orange juice and bagels with cream cheese, discussed implementation.  The moderators told them “You are the key to this organization’s success.  Your job and those of your employees is dependent upon the implementation of C.O.R.E.  C.O.R.E. insures that some aren’t over-worked while others get by with goofing off.”  “Keep an eye out for the few that resist C.O.R.E,” said moderators.  Anyone mentioning “ball and chain” or “big brother,” for example, needs a referral to HR.  “Myrna is the go-to person and will arrange the necessary counseling,” moderators said.  Any manager not possessing the necessary skills to implement C.O.R.E. may request training through Myrna.

 

Myrna posted signs throughout Sel-Mor’s offices informing employees something new and exciting was coming.  She sent out invitations asking staff to sign up for one of the mandatory meetings.  Each employee received an ID tag to wear during the meeting.  In the conference rooms, C.O.R.E. was already at work filming activities in the room.  Cameras fed the video into a computer and an analysis done almost in real time identifying expressions of confusion, anger, fear or other negative reactions, based on facial expressions and body language.  It created a report for Supervisors and Trak-Eze counselors using the sensors in the ID tags to identify the employee.

 

Nancy stopped Myrna one day and asked, “What are your thoughts about C.O.R.E.?”  “Well,” said Myrna, “it’s definitely a different way of doing things.  I guess if it increases productivity, it’s a good thing for Sel-Mor as well as our employees.  To be honest, though, I have a funny feeling about it and can’t put my finger on it.”  “How about you,” Myrna asked.  “I have concerns, but it seems to be the direction workplaces are heading,” said Nancy.  “We’ll see.”

 

At one C.O.R.E. introductory session, Pauline commented that the wristband seemed too much like a ball and chain.  Immediately the C.O.R.E. SWAT team interfered and told her they’d answer her concerns.  They escorted her from the room.  There were no more questions other than how long training would take and when it would start.  Each staff member received the wrist band cable to plug into their computer.  Myrna told the staff they could borrow the training manuals from the library.  She would set up training sessions.

 

Motivational and introductory posters were hung throughout the offices.  The break room had a “Time Killers Harm Us All!” poster showing a young woman with her feet up on a chair chatting on the phone.  Another showed a fist with the pointer finger facing forward with the slogan “There Are a Billion People in China Who Want Your Job…C.O.R.E. Keeps Your Job Safe!”  There was a photo of an explosion.  The slogan was “This is War!”  At the bottom it said, “With C.O.R.E. We’re Going to Win!”  An email sent out showed bar charts superimposed over a smashed plate labeled “Productivity.”  There were lines for each employee and two columns.  One was the “Goals” column and the other the “Actual” column.  At the bottom it said, “With C.O.R.E., We’ll Smash All Expectations!”  Productivity summaries for the past week are sent to everyone on their team by Supervisors each Monday morning.  Management expected to see productivity skyrocket.

 

Sel-Mor became the first major American corporation to install the C.O.R.E. system.  Top management received invitations to speak at many business forums about the software, training, management support and results.  In fact, the C.O.R.E. sessions were far more popular than the "business legislative agenda" sessions, or the “eliminate the minimum wage” sessions and even the "off-shoring for soaring profits" sessions.

 

It didn’t take long for the less motivated staff to figure out ways of circumventing C.O.R.E.  They could take a couple of minutes before meetings to fill their water glass, make a quick call home or dart into the rest rooms on the way to the meeting.  If the meeting started a bit late, C.O.R.E. doesn’t know.  They just had to return promptly.  They discovered if they wanted to make a phone call privately or run a quick errand, they could hand the wrist monitor to their neighbor.  C.O.R.E. was incapable of differentiating.

 

A few weeks after C.O.R.E. was in use, people began approaching Myrna with their gripes.  They complained they hadn’t signed up to work in an electronic sweatshop.  Some felt it demeaning to have to check out for bathroom breaks.  Myrna’s usual response was, “change is hard, but management is asking us to buy in to this to prevent more lay-offs.  Let’s give it a try and see the result in a few months.”

 

“Can I see you for a moment?” Nancy asked one morning.  As Myrna came in, Nancy said, “Shut the door behind you.”  Myrna sat in front of Nancy’s desk.  “I wanted to tell you first,” said Nancy, “that I’m leaving Sel-Mor at the end of the month.”  “Frankly, Myrna, the downsizing was hard for me.  I want to work where I’m not dealing with unhappy people and justifying practices I’m not even sure are legal.  I also feel my role has been diminished.  I’ve been hired as the Executive VP of HR at Comity Insurance.  I really like their business philosophy and corporate culture.  I’ll give my notice here in six weeks.  There may be an opportunity for you too, if you are interested.”  “I would be interested,” said Myrna with no hesitation.  

 

“Great!” said Nancy, “I don’t think you will regret leaving here and moving to Comity.  I think we can create a position for you that you will really enjoy and raise you to an officer level.”  “Give me a couple of months to settle in, then I’ll ask my staff to send you the benefits package, a job description and letter of employment.  As Myrna rose to leave, Nancy said, “I’m glad we’ll be working together at Comity.”

 

Myrna heard more distressing things.  Work was oppressive.  It seemed there are more exceptions to the norm than C.O.R.E. allows so formerly good employees found themselves below productivity.  Jeanine, always slender, is losing more weight.  Married to a deployed serviceman, she needs this job to supplement his income to care for their three kids and keep up the car and house payments.  She is always stressed out when he is gone, but she seems even more so these days.  Every Monday, she checks to see how she compares to the others in her department.  Usually her productivity is the lowest.  

 

Jeanine’s co-workers began complaining that she isn’t pulling her weight.  “I know she is struggling to get all her housework, yard work and errands done while raising three children when her husband is gone, but we all need to meet expectations, not just some of us,” grumbled one employee.  “At least she has a husband,” said another, “we all have personal problems.”  Forgotten were the accolades and many customer service awards she won over the years because of all the complimentary letters and phone calls Sel-Mor got from customers who appreciated her patience and cheerful assistance.  They aren’t factored in by C.O.R.E. anyway.

 

After a month, management announced that employees not meeting or exceeding expectations wouldn’t get raises.  Employees started hurrying and that caused errors.  The errors cost Sel-Mor time, money and disgruntled customers.  An employee error column was added to the productivity chart.  C.O.R.E. recalculated productivity factoring in the errors.  Too often it seemed anyone who slowed down to research everything accurately then slid below expectations in productivity.

 

Jack, the senior employee in the life insurance department was the go-to guy because he was so knowledgeable.  People noticed he was wearing his power suit and tie more often.  Then he gave his two-week notice.  Myrna did his exit interview.  He assured her that the new job was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.  There were other exits, and each time one person left, productivity for the entire group slipped below expectations.  Supervisors complained that when they are constantly training new staff, the old productivity figures are meaningless.  No one laughs or talks during the day anymore.  Most people don’t even greet each other when they come and go.  The office is totally quiet except for the tapping on keyboards.  Management announced that the entire staff working in departments not meeting or exceeding their goals wouldn’t get raises.

 

People came to talk to Myrna.  She felt helpless.  She could counsel better ways of communicating or recommend training or make referrals to professionals.  But Myrna could not think of a way of reducing the stress of staff trying to meet C.O.R.E.’s expectations.  She started researching the issue to see if she could find a solution.  She called her contact at Trak-Eze and asked for her input.  She was told those not meeting goals would have to go.  

 

Myrna slipped a note onto the desks of several employees throughout Sel-Mor.  The note asked them to meet after work at The Factory, a downtown restaurant and bar, for happy hour.  She asked people not to mention the meeting to anyone and to leave one-by-one.

 

By 5:15 p.m. nine of Sel-Mor’s long-term employees gathered with Myrna at The Factory at a large table near the back.  As they chatted, ordered drinks and hors d’hoerves, Myrna handed out copies of a newspaper article.  “This is the reason I wanted to get together,” said Myrna.  “Once you’re done reading, we can talk about it.”

 

“The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), today, announced a campaign against Trak-Eze, Inc., a software company headquartered in the Cayman Islands, to induce them to immediately stop selling their software, Hu-Op (Human Optimizer).  Trak-Eze markets other forms of the productivity software in the United States, Europe, and Australia, known as C.O.R.E.  That software is not included in the requested ban.

 

Hu-Op is sold to companies operating in developing countries.  It incorporates C.O.R.E.’s productivity software and is Trak-Eze’s most intensive productivity and management tool.  Each new employee has a port surgically inserted into a vein on the inside of an arm.  Each day the employee hooks the monitoring node into the port.  When hooked to the computer, Hu-Op can monitor heart rate, blood pressure, enzymes, cholesterol levels, infections, diet, DNA, red and white blood cell levels, and drug use.  

 

Trak-Eze’s marketing materials state Hu-Ops’ capabilities benefits workers as well as corporations.  Early detection of illnesses, behaviors leading to absenteeism, pregnancies and stress levels can result in early referrals of employees to the health advisor in HR to start a lifestyle change program.  It leads to early prenatal care leading to healthier babies and counseling about the high costs of having a child.  Hu-Op tracks heart rates and blood pressure to predict health issues and insure the employee is functioning at the highest level without being under undue stress.  

 

Former workers say company foremen pressured pregnant women to have abortions.  Women choosing to continue the pregnancy lost their jobs.  Some employees were fired and later diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure.  Hu-Op is used, according to ILRF, to weed out employees who develop chronic illnesses or pregnancies, leaving only the youngest, healthiest employees working in the factories.  

 

Workers told of struggling to meet expectations only to have them raised.  Employers fired those who couldn’t meet or exceed productivity.  Usually the very young girls were the only employees who could keep up productivity demands.  Many employees develop infections around the port that need medical attention.  One woman’s infection was so bad she lost her arm.  Employees often work off the clock to bolster their productivity.  They prefer working a few hours a week without pay to losing their job.”

 

After watching each reader’s expression go from curious to stunned or horrified, Myrna spoke.  “I just wanted you all to know about this,” said Myrna, “feel free to share the article.”  “Can they do this?” asked Mari.  “I doubt they would market Hu-Op in the United States at this point,” said Myrna.  “I knew C.O.R.E. wasn’t a good thing.  Can we get rid of it?” asked Bette.  “Not at this time” said Myrna.  “C.O.R.E. cost Sel-Mor too much money to even consider that.  Dave Carter sold this to the Board and his neck is on the line.  If profits go up at the end of the year, it’s going to be hard to make an argument against it.  We can meet periodically to brainstorm ways of making it more palatable.”  

 

“Darn,” said Joan, “I actually thought things would get better and go back to the way they were before the layoffs.  I used to love coming to work.  Now I dread it and this makes it looks like it may get even worse.”  “We could all go and talk to Nancy Brown,” said Sherm.  Everyone looked at Myrna.  “There’s a couple of other things I want to tell you about,” said Myrna, “but first let’s ask the waiter to bring another round of drinks.”

 

Current Occupation: I drive a taxi in Nigeria
Former Occupation: I was a messenger at the Nigerian Ports Authority
Contact Information: I am 21 years old. I live and work in Nigeria, and was inspired to write by the great literature I have read.

 

#

ME AND OKADA

I call my elder brother Eme, a short feminine rendition of his very masculine name, Emediong. This is an affectation picked up from my mother, who doesn’t live with us anymore. Choosing to quit the urban roughness of Calabar city a year ago, for the tranquility of our ancestral village, following the death of my father.

    Really I cannot, if called upon by a jury, state that my parents were in love with each other because I’m not sure if that’s the correct way to describe what they had. My mother was nineteen when she met and fucked my father, conceiving Eme in the process, and moving in with him. Among their peers this wasn’t odd.

    My father was slim and fair, his collar bones jut out of his upper chest in a manner that meant they were staying no matter how much he ate. I won’t lie, I frequently wondered what my mother had seen in him to allow herself to carry his seed and deliver me and my brother into this sinkhole we called lives. Our house was a one room shack, with a roof that let in less sunlight than rain. The windows were nothing more than rectangular holes punched into the wall, and nailed across horizontally with two slim planks.

    Eme escaped our father’s slight build, I did not. But I didn’t know then that this physical inadequacy of mine would force me into the throttling corner I now occupy.

    They call me Two-Two, I am a slim, dark boy with arms as thin as carrots, and legs as guazy cucumbers. I have sparse hair, but people say my teeth are good, and that my eyes make them feel they can trust me. I’m fifteen now, I was fourteen when my father died and my mother left.

    My father had been a freelance electrician, this meant that whenever a light bulb got blown in a house, or a switch refused to turn on or off, someone sent for him. His income didn’t keep us afloat, my mother’s vigorous trading did. She sold vegetables at the big market at Marian, and it was from these proceeds that she paid our school fees, shopped from thrift stores, and took us to the herbalist when we were ill. She wasn’t contented with the city, she wanted to return to her village, this she told my father, every opportunity she got, using the success stories of friends and acquaintances that had blown up after returning to the village to draw comparison with our situation.

    After wrestling with a bad kidney did my father in, She finally got her chance.

    Our mother didn’t even try to convince Eme to come with her. By now he’d become muscular, his head as flat as the frying pan used in sunning cocoa, with a nose the same shape as the ones of Benin bronze busts I saw in our history books. He was four years my senior, and because he didn’t follow her I didn’t either. A month after she left, he asked me to drop out of school.

    The problem then became that of deciding a profession. Normally there should have been choices, but my unsteady feet and feeble back limited them. My brother of course wanted me to join his business, but a glance at masonry was enough to convince me that we had no chemistry. These men and boys worked from seven in the morning until six in the evening, sometimes longer if their employer could afford it, since they got paid by the hour. The job included catering head pans stuffed with mixed concrete, from the ground, through the scaffolding, to the building under construction. Also molding and transporting thousands of cement blocks and other heavy equipments. They had to be on site come rain or shine. Clinging to flimsy scaffolding with tense muscles, feet and palms, making sure every detail was done right. Their heads got dusty, their skin swelled with grime, sweat, and dirt. The only break they took was spiced with a bottle of Coca Cola and a loaf of flat bread.

    I found something else, more to my taste. Sleek, fanciful, and lucrative as well. I had my brother introduce me to an Igbo business man who had a small fleet of motorcycles under his command.

    This was the genesis of the greatest adventure of my life so far. I was too young to apply for a license, but that didn’t matter, lots of boys my age were riding motorcycles all over Calabar, and no one was giving them tripe.

    The job went like this: you either bought your own motorcycle or you worked for someone who owned a motorcycle, either way you still had to belong to the informal Commercial Motorcyclist Union of Calabar. That meant paying your dues, and observing professional courtesy (things like not haggling with your colleagues over passengers, and helping a brother out if he needed to break his currency into smaller notes to get change for his passenger). I started my day at seven in the morning, meaning Eme and other Okada men could call me lazy, since the latter usually began their stroll at five.

    I just got out of bed, warmed my bike, and drove off. No time really for preening. I’d even stopped brushing regularly since age eleven. Teeth brown with age no matter what you do, so why bother? As for bathing, this was impractical for other reasons. No rushing water in our makeshift apartment meant I and Eme had to go to the reservoir down the street where a bucketful cost ten Naira. Also, it was usually cold in the morning. If you ask me, I’d say taking your bath with cold water on a cold morning is a comprehensive manifestation of stupidity, and also a waste of costly time. Not to mention the fact that half the passengers who clambered onto the back seat of my bike didn’t give a shit about my coiffure.

    With the license problem you didn’t really need to dodge the police. A Naira here and there helped you temporarily block their eyes until next time. The tough one was getting the precise timing on every route, making sure you’re in place when the customers are thickest. Then there was the headache, muscle pull, cramps, and strains that came attached to the job, like monthly electricity bill to a wired house.  

    It was barely a month before I realized I enjoyed cruising the highways, streets, and alleys of Calabar. Zipping my bike on the deserted speed lane in the afterword of  the rush hour, feeling the heavy surge of cold wind whack my head, eyes, and ears, the breeze like the mournful hymn of a banshee in my head, promoted me to a plane of paramount bliss, which although I haven’t been there before, reminded me of heaven.

    Every borough of the city had its own peculiar look, smell, and feel, and I came to learn them all. Ikot Ansa with its cramped lanes and brackish gutters. The textbook look of Marian. The jumpy dust roads of Ekorinim. In time I even became fond of these places.

    It wasn’t difficult for me to find friends among my colleagues. I made two close ones easily; Pilot and Eddy (short for Ededet) were both older than me by at least six years. Eddy I preferred to Pilot, probably because he was playful, with a carefree attitude, or maybe because he was shorter, almost my height, seemingly more approachable. Pilot was more dogged, he once boasted to me that he’d gone two years straight without failing to wake and go to work by five every morning, keeping at it until ten at night. This anecdote stuck with me, and I feel ashamed of my laziness whenever I remember it.

    It was Eddy who gave me the name Two Two. I was trying to report a movie I’d seen to him, imitating the sound of a firing gun, and it’d come out sounding like “Two Two”. Together we created a game. We didn’t name it, we didn’t need to. It had no rules.

    On slow afternoons we rendezvous and purposefully became nuisances to other road users. We’d drive against a one way, or zigzag in between traffic, or shadow car bumpers, all the while screaming insults and making obscene hand gestures at the drivers. Sometimes Eddy rode close to me, then he’d hook his leg on the passenger foot-rest of my motorcycle, and we’d ride like that for a while, inconveniencing anyone who tried to overtake us, the smile on our faces resembling those of Ad actors.

    It didn’t matter that people barked at us, or threatened to call the road safety police. We weren’t breaking any rules as far as our de facto Union was concerned. By then the recklessness of Okada men was already legendary. Motorcycle accidents sent more people to hospitals weekly than malaria. We were complained about all over the state. Some, who felt the government was being too docile, took matters into their hands, running us over on the road, and pouring sand or salt into the fuel tank of our bikes when we left them unattended.

    This only made us wilder, like when you keep poking a chained dog after it has begun snarling at you. We smashed their rear lights with the front end of our motorcycles and zoomed off, punched their doors, spat on their windows – anything that’d incense them.

    One day I turned a bend and found a big black car in front of me, the kind used by government officials and men with a lot of money. A suitable target. The weather was breezy so I took my time planning the attack. I’d have to be fast and precise. I lolled behind the car waiting for the wind to reduce. Throttling sharply as soon as it did, I pulled up to the passenger side. Then I pursed my lips and encountered a sight I wasn’t prepared for. A young boy my age, with dull, inattentive eyes gazed at me from inside. The glass wasn’t tinted so I could see his sleek skin and watery hair, his general handsomeness and confidence. We beheld each other until the sound of an oncoming vehicle pierced my trance. I hurried to spit at the windshield but it was too late, a brusque gust of air caught the saliva as it left my mouth and hurled it back in my face. I stepped on my brakes, swerved behind the car, and dodged into a side street as words of abuse chased after me.

    Not long after this, the governor went on air and banned us. We were told to park our bikes and find new jobs in less than four weeks. The news came to me during the day as rumour, and when I got home Eme was waiting in our sitting room, which had a single sofa, given to my father by one of his patrons, now rundown with age. The power rationing schedule of the city meant it wasn’t our turn to have electrical power, so he sat in semi darkness, the dull light of our kerosene lamp casting a wan glow like the tint in the eyes of a yellow fever sufferer. I barely saw his face.

    “I’m sure you’ve heard,” he said.

    I wished it’d been a question. “Yes,” I replied, trying to keep my voice gruff free.

    “So what are you going to do?” he asked, shifting where he sat on the bare floor, so he faced me better.

    I had been standing by the door since I got in; he’d been too enthusiastic to begin the discussion to let me settle. Now I walked into the room and sat opposite him, my back resting on the wall.

    “So?” he prompted again.

    “I don’t know.”

    He raised his voice, “What do you mean you don’t know? What are you talking about?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Then get your buttocks off the floor and follow me to the site tomorrow!”

    If I could hold my own against him in a fight I’d have attacked Eme. Instead, I got up and walked out of the house, banging the door as a retort.

    The next day I caught up with Eddy. We talked round the topic for a while until I couldn’t take his side stepping any longer. “So what are you going to do?”

    We had rendezvoused at Etta Agbor, the most noisy and cramped street of them all, with houses, shacks, stalls, bars, schools, restaurants and petrol filling stations all stuffed into one area. We drove into cars and pedestrians at a higher rate here than anywhere else. You couldn’t really blame us, most people who came to Etta Agbor came for the booze. We were sitting on our motorcycles under the shade of a shack. Eddy started his bike and smiled at me. I had to ask what he was doing. “Getting back to work of course,” he said, with a look of incredulity playing across his face. Despite myself, I felt stupid for asking.

    “I asked what you’re going to do.”

    “Let’s see where the breeze blows, and start from there.” With this, he turned his bike and whooshed away, nearly being hit by a truck.

    I cursed myself for not engaging him on the phone. Why did I believe that I could have a rational discuss with Eddy on a matter of such Importance? Without running an Okada service a lot of people would be out of jobs, this meant a lot of hungry families, a lot of men unable to pay their rent, a lot of youths turned into idlers, a lot of potential criminals and thugs just waiting to be franchised.

    It was noon. In an hour’s time Pilot would be taking his first break (he allowed himself two), a moment of respite before the second rush hour of the day (there where usually three), when school children dismissed from school would need to get home. I couldn’t work, I rode aimlessly, wasting fuel until it was time for me to ride to Pilots’ favorite restaurant. He was alone at one of the tables outside the restaurant. He had just finished his meal.

    He nodded at me as I came over. Pilot was the sobriquet given to him because of his entrepreneurial spirit. He owned his own motorcycle, bought his own kit, worked routes other people avoided.

    “You’re wondering how to get out pickin?” he said, after we’d exchanged pleasantries.

    I nodded.

    He took a long pause before going on, “Good thing, because I’ve been having the same thoughts.”

    “And…”

    He looked at me like I’d walked up to him in a bar, confusing him for a celebrity, asking for an autograph. “And what?”

    I didn’t know what to say. I made an effort but only grunts came out.

    “Wait, you thought I’d have a solution?”

    I couldn’t answer him. Who can answer such a question?

    “Listen pickin, everyone is wondering how to get out, but don’t you think that if we knew how we’d have done so already? We wouldn’t be riding motorcycles up and down Calabar? Who do you think wants to be an Okada man? You get no respect, customers shout at you if you’re too fast, complain if you’re too slow, haggle over your charge. There’re police and touts everywhere waiting for the slightest opportunity to invoke the law of the state or that of the street, as the case may be, to collect money from you. I don’t even think my children are proud of their father’s profession, I work this job to save them from this life,” he paused and gulped from the bottle. “Figure out a way boy, and when you do, let me know, I need a job too.”

    But I wanted to be an Okada man. I couldn’t think of a way out because for me there was no other way. We might suffer all the things he says we do, but still, it beats masonry.

    I and Eme weren’t talking anymore. He kept to his bedroom, the one he’d inherited since our mother left, and I isolated myself in the parlour. The news had gotten to our mother in the village, and I returned home to a letter from her. She was illiterate so she couldn’t have written it herself, a school teacher probably had, but the voice was very much hers.

Dear son,

We’ve heard what the government said. I know you’d be angry and sad. But the truth is, I’m happy. I take this as a sign, and I want you too to see it as one. Return home; I have planted, and the crops need tending to. I could use help on the farm. So far I do the easy work myself, and hire young men for the harder jobs. With you here that problem would be solved. Return home, and may God bless you.

Sincerely,

Your mother.

    I squeezed it, threw it into a dustbin, and went to bed.

    After the ban was enforced most Okada men parked their motorcycles, some, like Eddy and I continued riding. We removed our commercial number plates, and illegally ferried people looking for cheap transport.

    It was afternoon the day my phone beeped with the message that Eddy had been arrested by the police. They had been cramping us one by one. The warm sweat on my forehead turned to ice. I was riding behind a lady driver, suddenly she braked. My handle bar bruised my palms as I gripped my bike, braking and swerving manically. I pulled up to her, an ammunition of choice curses already loaded, when I saw what was in front.

    A man lay on the asphalt, his upturned bike a few feet away, three policemen on him with batons. A small crowd was forming around the crash scene, so I was able to slip away unnoticed. I rode straight home. Into a corner.

    I was in the sitting room when Eme returned. “Welcome.” Our first word in days. He stopped and stared at me. “You’re back home early,” he said.

    “I could say the same thing about you.”

    “What of work?”

    “That’s over.”

    “So, you’re coming with me tomorrow?”

    “I guess.”

    He went into his room.

    Two months later, one evening, I was on my way home. I had to flag a number of taxis before one stopped. They were the new form of transportation that had replaced us. It was my look and dressing that discouraged them. Sweat, sand, and dust – who wants these in their car. I bent my head to the glass to tell the driver my destination, and it was Pilot’s smiling face I met. We laughed and clasped each other’s hand, then I got in. I asked about him and his family – they were all fine. When it was my turn, I gave brief answers and stared out the window instead.

    He pushed back my hand when I paid my fare. “Listen, I know a man who runs a service like in the old days. You drive, you give him a percentage – in time you make enough money to buy your own taxi.”

    I was silent.

    “I’ve a number now, do you have a phone?”

    I shook my head.

    He pulled open his pigeon hole and took out a small piece of paper. He wrote his number and passed it to me. “Think about it pickin, I know you’d love this job, it’s just like the old one.” Then, “What of Eddy, haven’t seen him in a while. Do you know where he is?”

    Again I shook my head.

    “Well think about it, and give me a call when you’re ready.” He patted my hand and drove away. It was the rainy season, a time when night falls in rapid swaths. His tail lights disappeared into dusk. A cool breeze made the paper flutter in my hand.

    Something most people don’t know is that Okada is the brand name of cheap Japanese motorcycles that got imported into the country in the 1990s. Pilot told me this a year ago.

 

    

   

 

    

 

Current Occupation: Retired
Previous Occupation:  Financial Systems Analyst
Contact Information: Australian born poet, US resident since late seventies. Worked as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Coe Review, Abbey and Cemetery Moon with work upcoming in South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Harbinger Asylum.

 

#

DEAD END JOB

 

What kind of job is this?

Obituary writer for a major metropolitan newspaper.

The phone rings.

Another woman breaking up over

her husband's final bout of cancer.

You can hear the black dress in her voice.

Then it's make sure you spell all the children's names correctly.

And Jake, the one who married that floozy,

and lives in California…list him last.

Brian…he was a clerk at an automobile dealership.

No, make that assistant accountant.

And "loved", no, "much loved",

no “very much loved."

And, "instead of flowers."

No, no. I love flowers.

Forget donations. The Cancer Society

has too much money as it is.

 

Really, what kind of job is this?

I'm bent over a keyboard, down in the tombs.

And yet, after bombardments of sympathy,

they appreciate my business-like voice and manner.

Besides, I don't know these people,

can't mourn along with strangers.

It's a job, like sports reporter.

Today's score; burials 10, cremations 7.

The coffin crew kicked a field goal in extra time.

So I listen to their teary spiel

then quote them price and word limit.

 

Then what kind of job is this?

Something to do with the price of a man,

the limit of what mere words can do.

#

TO A DROWNING MAN

 

Only five o'clock can save this man.

He is drowning in a sea of incoming emails

and overflowing in-box.

There's no use looking to his fellow workers.

They're flailing just as badly as he is.

 

The supervisor walks by.

His haughtiness

won't even toss a life-preserver.

Only the clock on the wall,

slow and antagonizing,

so duplicitous in his current situation,

can grasp his helpless body

and drag him back to shore.

 

Finally the rescue hour arrives.

He emerges from the depths

gasping for breath.

Then, accompanied by

a couple more of the saved,

he heads to local bar

for a little CPR.

 

By the time he can breathe freely again,

it's 8.30 in the morning

and the swirling, threatening ocean beckons.

At least it's payday.

A check floats his way –

a raft made out of paper.

#
WHAT I DO FOR A LIVING

 

At work, I'm not a poet.

I'm a grunt,

Seneca of the grindstone.

I'm just another worker,

cube, swivel chair,

chained to a computer.

 

And I get ordered about.

It's not at all like

the right word in the right place

being all down to me.

They say jump

and I'm a grasshopper.

They stay stand straight

and I'm chimney first class

but blowing no smoke.

 

Sure it's no way to make a living.

It's nasty. It's demeaning.

My sense of honor

will do anything for a pay-check.

 

It's twenty four hours

since the reading,

alone on stage,

the ears of the audience

in my narrow-fingered hands.

 

What a transition.

Now my audience is

Larry in Supply.

Or Martha in billing.

 

Need more paper, Larry.

What's this number mean. Martha.

Well at least they don't murmur

"Interesting."