Martin Barkley, 1/11/2016

Current Occupation: One of the under-reported masses
Previous Occupation: Office admin savant
Contact Information: Martin Barkley's fiction, poetry and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, The Texas Observer, Arcadia Magazine, and Queen's Mob Tea House. His story collection, The Lovesong of Smith Oliver Smith, will be published by Red Bird Chapbooks in 2016. He lives in Austin, Texas.


Excerpts from the HR Files

On a dusty warehouse shelf, in a jumbled archive box, in a yellowed file folder…

HR Files I

The Fragrance Memo

25 April 2001

To: (In)human Resources, Neptune Global Solution Modules, Inc., Dallas HO

From: Smith Oliver Smith, Sub-Divisional Asset Processing Specialist IV, Austin Div.

Re: Intolerable smells in the office, and the ill effects thereof

To Any ADULT Holding the Reins of Authority:

Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

                Wm Shakespeare

I want to call your attention to certain individuals in our offices who make a habit of pomading themselves with fragrances, colognes, perfumes, deodorants, etc. You should be aware that these personal hygiene habits do impinge upon the space, liberty and well-being of others who have allergies, aversions, and acute sensitivities to such said fragrances. In other words, these fragrances—some of which smell like kerosene, naphtha, or napalm—make me physically ill with the inhaling of them. Indeed, they send me into violent paroxysms of vomiting, the severity of which you cannot imagine; my office waste basket is a daily battleground for periodic retching. This is nothing less than an assault on my body and person, and therefore I respectfully ask that you invoke a policy of NO PERSONAL FRAGRANCES in the confines of Neptune GSM’s offices.

With gratitude in anticipation of your immediate action,


HR Files II

Crossing T’s and Dotting I’s, or Not

Notes on Personal References: Hong Duc Pho, Micky Ford, Samuel L. Clemens. Two of three references were reached by phone. Mr. Pho could only speak broken English. He was very friendly, but not very helpful re: evaluating Mr. Smith’s employment eligibility. An older gentleman, Mr. Ford was exuberant in his praise of Mr. Smith’s abilities. Samuel L. Clemens, however, could not be reached, because the phone number given was not a working number. Candidate’s application pushed to next stage at DM Stickley’s discretion based on strength of candidate’s initial interview.

Notes on Resume: Attached cover letter flagged. Confirm sender. Is this a prank? Resume indicates fifteen years experience in office administration. Four-year degree in non-business related area. Numerous gaps in employment history. In a phone interview with HR, Mr. Smith explained these gaps as “periods of ferment and personal growth in between the natural boom-bust cycles of market capitalism.” We had him repeat the explanation; the quote is verbatim exactly what he said. Phone calls to his previous employers yielded information re: dates of employment, but, as is standard now, none of the corresponding HR offices would offer an assessment of Mr. Smith’s work performance. Against stated company policy, tight job market dictates decision to hire based on Mr. Beattie’s authority.

Background Check: Full criminal and financial background check done. Cost $19.95, charged to Austin Division. No misdemeanors, no felony convictions, no outstanding warrants, no civil actions pending, no bankruptcies discovered.

Signed Agreements Checklist: 1) Binding non-disclosure agreement. 2) Two-year non-compete covenant. 3) At-will employment acknowledgment. 4) Corporate Mission Statement.

ID Checklist: Texas Driver’s License and Social Security card photocopied. E-verify executed. I-9 submitted and filed. Mr. Beattie instructs us to CYA and watch this one closely.


HR Files III

The Binding Non-Disclosure Agreement

(A Euphemism For: “We Might Have To Hurt You”)

We at Neptune Global Solution Modules, Inc., acknowledge two types of secrets: 1) Proprietary information vital to our business model and products, which must never be shared with anyone outside the Corporation; and 2) Sensitive information (that is, secrets) unknown to anyone except the few who occupy a trusted inner circle within the Corporation. In the one case, we keep secrets from the world, our competitors; in the other, we keep secrets from each other. We expect you to know the difference, and why, without being told. If we have to explain secret to you, you probably should not work for Neptune GSM. Violation of this policy is grounds for immediate termination and possible legal action.   

HR Files IV

A Cover Letter Expressing Interest

15 March 1999

Neptune Global Solution Modules, Inc.

13631 Industrial Blvd.

Austin, Texas 78758

Dear Sirs, Madams, Hiring Managers, Senior Executives, et al:

I recently saw your advertisement for employment of a “Sub-Divisional Asset Processing Specialist IV,” and would like hereby to express my interest in the position.

Having spent fifteen years as an administrative savant, I bring to the table an array of skills vital to success. In addition to my penchant for swelling the progress of corporate goals, I am a superb multi-tasker, and have managed resources, both human and tangible, with amazing aplomb.

My education is in the liberal arts, but please do not hold this against me. Classical learning in the language arts, history and philosophy was for generations the spine and shoulders of business training. I will warrant that my informing—that is, the edifice of my soul—is equal to any MBA hack against whom you might wish to compare me. Why, you may ask, am I the superior talent? Because I have classical training and business experience, that’s why. Whereas your average business student cannot see beyond raw statistical data, I bring a breadth of knowledge and experience to any task at hand (Cf. e.g. William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.)

However, I must emphasize that I intend to bring a high standard of professional decorum to the business environment. Therefore, please note: I will not tolerate thieves, shirkers, backstabbers, or otherwise dishonorable fellows. Also, if we come to an agreement of gainful employment, you must understand that I will not, as your Sub-DivAssProSpec IV, allow alchemy in the scales of commerce. I stand by creeds, academic and spiritual, which foreswear me against such falseness—viz. the Academic Code of Honor and the Hallowed Apostles’ Creed—and I flatly refuse to be unequally yoked with those holding to lesser standards.

Finally, as a personal note, I can tell you that the authors I most admire are not contemporary, but you will, no doubt, have passing familiarity with Homer, Virgil, Dante, Petrarch, Cervantes, Shakespeare, etc. At times, I find it edifying to analyze business dealings by giving literary references apropos of a given business impasse. Wherever possible, theory and praxis should operate in concord. To wit, logos and ethics must not be at odds in the course of a day’s activities.

Yr Obdnt Srvnt,

S.O. Smith


HR Files V*

DM Stickley’s Notes on Smith Oliver Smith


March 11, 2000. Today, on hearing the news of the falling stock market, Smith bemoaned the bad economic tidings, then apologized to me for his foul body odor. He said when absorbed in a deskbound task he loves, he usually sweats in steady drips from his armpits, which “give off a sweet but nevertheless human odor.” However, when fearful, he further explained, he perspires from pores all over his body, as if he is physically exerting himself, and in this state his clothes become soaked through with a garbage-like smell <quote> “not unlike the Samizdat journals Soviet Russian dissidents produced using paper and glues made from landfill trash and animal fats.” (?) He then pointedly asked if he would be laid off. I laughed and replied that his low pay should probably save him from that fate. Somewhat downcast at this statement, he apologized again and said he would wash regularly, even during the day if needed, to address his stink, but severe allergies would prevent him from using any deodorant or cologne.

Leonard Stickley

DM, Austin TX


May 26, 2000. At his one-year anniversary of employment, Mr. Smith inquired about his annual review, which, he said, was already late by two months. He added that he would gladly make time during the workday for a meeting with me, but I had to inform him that Neptune GSM does not do performance reviews. He became highly agitated on learning of this policy. He asked me: “How am I supposed to know if I’m doing my job well or not? Why don’t you want to talk to me? Communicate? What’s wrong?” (I suspect that the tech-bust has compounded his already-present anxieties.) I reassured him if there were problems, he would know by now. He persisted, though, and wanted to know if that meant he would only hear from senior management if he did something wrong, incorrect, or against policy. I replied yes. (That is the current policy, right?) He then sniffed the air and said he could smell on me the “distinct bio-scent of fear.” 

Leonard Stickley

DM, Austin TX

April 3, 2001. Today, Smith O. Smith called in sick. He informed me by phone that he was unable to work because his erectile dysfunction medication had caused him to have a sustained erection in excess of four hours. Just like the commercials caution about. Somehow he thought this was—what? Funny? I required a note from his doctor, which he provided, but still not funny. I think this may be a passive-aggressive response to our refusal yet again to review his work performance. I can’t prove that hunch, but I’m afraid his motivation will flag if I don’t underpin his efforts with facile affirmations. Which, if that turns out to be required, I will address.

Leonard Stickley

DM, Austin TX

April 27, 2001. TO HR DEPT, Dallas HO. Please accept my apology for Smith's ranting memo on personal fragrances in the office; he did not consult me beforehand, and I just found out about this. His stress over the smells issue, among other things, has been a major blowup here in the Austin office. I assure you, I will take care of it/him/whatever. In the meantime, please be advised, I have banned all fragrances from the Austin office.

Leonard Stickley

DM, Austin TX

December 21, 2001. Today, 7 a.m., Mr. Smith unexpectedly attended the weekly sales meeting and lectured the staff on the need to do paperwork correctly. He had their attention until he started quoting Shakespeare. (It was from Macbeth, I think.) Glen Hiverson interrupted and asked why Smith couldn’t just fix whatever paperwork was done incorrectly. Smith’s response was: “Methinks the Lady doth protest too much. Your paperwork, Glen, is not my responsibility. It’s your job to document your sales of Solution Modules. I only process what you execute. When you defecate, am I required to wipe your ass for you? No, absolutely not. You may leave the turd floating in the bowl, sir, but I only flush down the tube what you produce, and that proximity is as close as I want to get to your vital essence. Now, may I continue?” (!) I told him not to come to the sales meetings if he’s going to do that sort of thing. He then became angry with me and said that Shakespeare provided “perfectly apt examples of proper business decorum, particularly the tragedies.” Whatever that means. Then he demanded to know in what hellish ablution had I doused my body today. (I paraphrase, but that’s pretty close to what he said.) He then said: “You smell like a two-bit Paris gigolo. All perspiration and patchouli.” Now that’s exactly what he said! Then I told him it was soap, just plain soap, nothing more. Angry for having explained myself to him, I got frustrated and told him to get the hell out of my office. He only left after getting down on his knees and throwing up in my trash can.


DM, Austin TX

January 4, 2002. After the holidays, I personally gave Smith O. Smith a copy of our Employee Handbook, even though I know he already has a copy. I specifically pointed out the sections on at-will employment and communication, and advised him to get on board with our corporate culture. He smiled, said nothing, and took the Handbook.


April 19, 2002. Water cooler incident noted here. AdminRetSpec II Margo Rubers set Smith off today (what else is new?) when she made an assertion regarding her religious faith. She said she had been elated to learn, from a recent sermon she’d heard at church, that her cat, Miss Maggers, would indeed join her in Heaven at the time of the Rapture, an event which she predicted would happen in our lifetime. Smith, of course, huffed at this notion. Then he sniffed the air in the cubicle where Margo works, and told her: “Yes indeed, I do detect the pungent ammonia of cat feces on your person.” Fortunately, Smith did not malign her religion as such, but he did upbraid her for “thinking something that craps in a box could possibly have eternal standing.” Margo began to cry at this, but she hasn’t mentioned Heaven or the Rapture again, or even talked to anyone since. Later, I spoke privately to each separately, and told them both to refrain from discussing religion or politics in the office. Numb assent from both parties, but Smith whispered to me: “The woman is a heretic worthy of the pyre.”


April 22, 2002. Margo Rubers quit without notice today. Had she stayed, we probably would have kept her on, but given the on-going slumping market conditions, we will not fill her position. Which only puts more strain and extra work on Smith to process sales orders for Solution Modules. But that’s completely his fault. Good thing is, he will no longer have time to preoccupy himself with fragrances, noxious odors, apropos literary quotes, etc.


May 2, 2002. For two years now, I have been making these entries into the Division’s proprietary Solution Module, but I never hear anything back from HR about what I’ve written. Surely you must see what I’ve had to say, and yet I hear no response. So, until I’m told otherwise,  I will assume that you are fine with the situation re: Smith Oliver Smith. Perhaps you’re right, there is no problem, just leave it alone, maybe that’s the best approach.


June 3, 2005. After a long stint of mostly satisfactory performance, today Smith informed me that I had the smell of death about me. Somewhat non-sequitur, he then lamented that the tradition of offering flowers at a funeral was so pervasive in society. Now he could no longer enjoy flowers for just smelling like flowers. For him, their scents, so wonderful and varied, would always be a semaphore of death. “It’s just soap,” I insisted again, but I don’t think he heard me. (Smith has recently lost his mother, and no doubt his remarks on flowers reflected that singular experience.) He then said that we all—meaning the entire office, I guess—had driven him “fucking nuts” with our <quote> “myriad death stenches and gaping paperwork deficiencies.” I really think he has burned himself out and can no longer see his duties objectively. I would have fired him then, on the spot, for this gross insubordination, if not for Mr. Beattie’s insistence that all terminations filter through corporate Legal Services first. Written warning to follow? Please advise.


* The information recorded here is for internal use only. Division Managers’ comments must be reviewed by Legal Services before use in official evaluation of an employee’s performance; and, of course, Neptune’s proprietary Solution Module is the required interface for these sensitive communications. Any questions regarding these policies should be directed to Human Resources.

HR Files VI

A Passionate Corporate Mission Statement

For many years, Neptune Global Solution Modules, Inc., operated just fine without a mission statement, but mission statements became de rigueur the fashion, then an absolute necessity, so now we have one.


Purpose: To solve your company’s unique problem before you even know you have one.

Motto: We were born ready to find Solutions.

HR Files VII

The Official Handbook Verbiage

In compliance with State laws, your employment with Neptune Global Solution Modules, Inc., is at-will. At-will employment means that your employment may be terminated with or without cause at any time by either you or Neptune GSM. Also, in accordance with State laws, no employment contracts shall be offered or obtain herein; therefore, the statements rendered in the following policies should not be construed as a contract guaranteeing future employment, your well-being, or the pursuit of happiness.

—Neptune GSM Employee Handbook, “Introduction, Section 1A.1”

Neptune Global Solution Modules, Inc., takes prides in its efforts to foster communication with employees and feels that communication is at the heart of good employee relations. Employees should always feel free to share their concerns with supervisors. Complete resolution of problems is not always possible, but employees may offer courteous, respectful in-put until the conflict or impasse is resolved in a satisfactory manner. Accordingly, managers and supervisors should always listen to employee concerns and seek to resolve matters in accordance with company policy.

—Neptune GSM Employee Handbook, “Communication, Section 13C.13”


The Non-compete Covenant

(A.k.a. the FUD Clause: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)

For a period of two years effective from the date of my termination, I, Smith Oliver Smith, agree not to work in competition against Neptune Global Solution Modules, Inc. I understand that the term “competition” includes contract work, direct employment, or the formation of new businesses. Whether I am terminated or choose voluntary separation, this agreement obtains, as does the legal at-will clause pertaining to my employment. Consequently, in the future, I may be unable to work in my chosen field for the specified duration of this agreement, and therefore I very well may end up unemployable, indigent, and living on the street.

HR Files IX

Smith’s Resignation Memo, Draft #1

(Bridges Maintained with Tact)

10 June 2005

Neptune GSM, Inc.

13631 Industrial Blvd.

Austin, Texas 78758

Re: Offer of resignation

Dear Sole Proprietor Wendell Beattie & Division Manager Leonard Stickley:

I hereby tender my resignation as Sub-DivAssProSpec IV with Neptune Global Solution Modules, Inc., Austin Division, effective two weeks from the above date, or at your discretion, of course. Having valued my tenure with Neptune GSM, I will—your foul odors and stenches aside—always have the fondest memories of our association. However, the time has come for me to seek opportunities elsewhere. In particular, I wish to make a foray into the world of ideas before dementia and a failing corpus overtake me. Please know, though, that you have my undying regard. I shall never forget my most interesting experiences with Neptune GSM. A forwarding business address will be forthcoming, but I hope to remain with you long enough to pass the baton to my successor, and to resolve any outstanding issues requiring my attention.

Ever Faithful,

Smith Oliver Smith   

Smith’s Resignation Memo, Draft #2

(Bridges Burned with Concision)

10 June 2005

Neptune GSM, Inc.

13631 Industrial Blvd.

Austin, Texas 78758

Re: Resignation

Division Manager, et al:

You stink. And not just metaphorically, either. I quit.

Goodbye, and go to Hell,

S. O. Smith   

Smith’s Resignation Memo, Draft #3

(Bridges Torched with Style)

10 June 2005

Neptune GSM, Inc.

101 Neptune Way

Dallas, Texas 75081

Re: Immediate resignation

Sole Proprietor Wendell Beattie, His Senior Management & Effing HR Svengalis:

For six years I have struggled to preserve my job through blind compliance with your inane, fraudulent, stupid-assed, self-defeating policies, but now, God be praised, I have finally decided to announce that you may take the sum total of the breadth and depth of my duties and insert them—as high and/or deep as you deem physically possible—UP! your malodorous corporate rectal cavity.


You stink (and not just metaphorically, either),

Smith Oliver Smith,

Sub-DivAssProSpec IV

Austin, Texas

cc: Leonard Stickley


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